Archive for March 2012

Book Review: “Learning to Jump Again” by Anthony Weber

Anthony Weber’s work, Learning to Jump Again, is part memoir of a lost father, part philosophical treatise on the problem of suffering. The focus throughout is Weber’s father and the issues with mourning, suffering, and heroism his life and death brought up.

The book starts with “the Journal”–a series of entries from Weber’s journal during the time surrounding the death of his father. As one who is very close to his father, these entries truly struck home. There were many moments where this reader just lost it in tears. Weber does not hold back, at all. His father was suffering from jaundice due to cancer. He writes, “A friend stopped by that weekend to borrow some tools, and I stammered through an explanation of why my visiting father was yellow… He [the friend] knew that after the fall comes winter, and after the chill comes the cold, and he was mercifully silent” (2).

Weber does not restrict the period of mourning or the discussion thereof to the months immediately surrounding his father’s death; rather, the Journal contains entries as far as eight years (and later) after his father’s death. Christians reading the book are forced to the realization that it is not easy to struggle through these issues. When a beloved father dies, it is not something that passes with the seasons. Even eight years later, he wrote of his withholding himself from his wife and children, and the realization that came with it that he must trust in God, “even if I don’t always understand him” (76-78).

Yet the journal section is not merely a reflection. Weber shares lessons and thoughts he has on mourning, God, and the reality of pain in the world throughout his memoirs. He notes that too many people know about God without knowing God (72-73); refers to the experiences of wrestling God (45); and contrasts the ways and beliefs of “the flesh” with that of reality (33). Throughout this section, there is much for readers to take away.

The second part of the book focuses on the issues behind suffering and the Christian worldview. Weber’s discussion is an admirably easy-to-read introduction to many of the philosophical issues surrounding the problem of evil and other issues. In particular, his discussions of emotions, dreams, and prayer in particular offered a number of insights that readers will be interested in reading more about. Weber included a lot of resources for interested readers to explore, so the book serves as a valuable resource in that regard as well. His discussion of the problem of pain does an excellent job introducing difficult notions like distinguishing between types of the problem of evil (122ff). His discussion of the various possible routes theists can take to discuss the problem of evil is also brief but informative.

Throughout the book there are numerous quotes from various authors. Many of these are novelists such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Dean Koontz, Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis. Others are from people like Helen Keller, Phillip Yancey, and Scripture. These quotes are often profound and fit the context perfectly. As a reader, this reviewer admits to frequently skimming past quotes when I see them in texts, particularly when they are out of context, but with Learning to Jump Again, the quotes all draw out new emotions, thoughts, and ideas very well. They add to, rather than distract from, the text.

Learning to Jump Again was a bit of a surprise for me. The section of the book that was a memoir served poignantly to draw readers into the heart of a mourning man. But it did not leave readers with that; rather, Weber constantly struggled with issues that Christians at all stages must deal with. Further, the philosophical section which encompassed the latter part of the book is an excellent survey of a number of issues. Many will benefit from the insights Weber provides. The book tugs at the heart strings and gets the mind working. Readers who have already extensively explored the issues of the latter part of the book will benefit from viewing the issues in the context of a memoir. Those who have not will benefit greatly from the discussion throughout the book. I recommend it very highly.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Naturalis Historia: Is Young Earth Creationism True?

I recently came upon what is, in my opinion, the finest collection of essays challenging the scientific aspects of Young Earth Creationism to date. The blog, Naturalis Historia features a broad spectrum of posts offering challenges to Young Earth perspectives from a scientific viewpoint. I can’t recommend the blog highly enough. Below are a few links with brief summaries of the contents.

An Ancient and Alien Forest Reconstructed- the recent finds of several fossilized forests have revealed alien landscapes not similar to our own forests in any way. In fact, many of these ancient forests lack any kind of flowering plant whatsoever. If the biodiversity found across all of fossil history is compressed into a young earth timespan, the possibility of explaining these anomalous forests without contemporary features becomes extremely difficult for young earthers. Another forest found in New York exacerbates the problem.

The impact craters from various meteorites presents another difficulty for YEC. Dating these craters puts them well beyond the allowances of a young earth perspective, but the young earth explanations stretch credibility beyond the breaking point.

What of dinosaur eggs? The fact is that these eggs are found across the various strata. Now most YECs I have read argue that the large amounts of sediment across the earth were deposited by the Flood. If that is the case, then how did these dinosaur nests appear across various layers. Natural Historian put forward this challenge in the post, “Juvenile Dinosaur Fossils In a Nest…”  One current YEC explanation is that the dinosaurs moved on top of the sediment as it was deposited and laid their eggs on the various layers, which were then covered as the rains continued to fall. The problem is that discoveries have now been made of juveniles in these nests, which would mean they would have had to hatch and grow before being buried by the Flood. Again, this truly stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

What is the point of linking to these posts and challenging YEC? I am a devout Christian and I’ve struggled with the issues involved in this debate myself. I’ve written extensively on the topics involved and I continually seek to read and understand more about the debate. So why have I been focusing on rebutting YEC? The more I’ve read on the topics involved, the more I’ve realized that YEC truly does undermine the Christian faith. I’m not suggesting those who defend YEC are actively seeking to discredit Christianity; no, I think that YECs generally have their hearts in the right place–they are seeking to defend what they view as the only possible Biblical position against attack. The problem is that when one investigates the scientific evidence, one finds that if one ties Christianity to YEC, it simply cannot hold up to a deep investigation. The issues above are just a number of peripheral problems with YEC, and I don’t see any feasible answers forthcoming on just those topics. There are a great many to be found over at Naturalis Historia, as well as across the web. We must not marry Christianity to positions that are indefensible.

Adam, Animals, and the Fall: A response to ‘Defending Genesis’

I recently argued that Young Earth Creationism makes a theological blunder in that its picture of God is morally impermissible. Please read the full post here, as well as my response to the Answers in Genesis critique here.

The post has generated a large amount of discussion and a number of critiques. I am thankful for numerous thoughtful responses and while I can’t respond to all of them I’d like to at least answer a few more criticisms.

First, let me restate the argument:

1. If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.

2. Animals are incapable of sinning (they are not morally responsible agents)

3. Therefore, animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin.

From this, I concluded that because God kills animals due to Adam’s sin, and not their own, this would make God unjust. As  I noted in my response to Answers in Genesis, “The argument as it stands contains a few assumptions which I’ve found in YEC literature. 1) Animals did not die before the fall; 2) Death is inherently a bad thing; 3) all physical death is the result of sin. Now a denial of these assumptions can undermine my argument; I grant that. My point is that if one holds to these three assumptions, my argument shows that YEC is morally impermissible.”

Now, the post has received another lengthy critique from “Defending Genesis” over at http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/. The post in question can be found here.

I’d like to thank Rev. Tony Breeden for his thoughtful criticism of my post, but still offer my response and hope that any dialog that continues can ensure that iron sharpens iron.

One criticism that has been repeated, and Rev. Breeden continues in this vein, is “At no point does his [my, J.W.'s] argument start with the Bible because he is supposing he can simply use Young earth Creationism’s presuppositions against us. So he’s not asking if Young Earth Creationism is Biblically correct but whether it will stand up to his rational critique. In this regard, his objection is more philosophical than theological.”

Others, like Elizabeth Mitchell at Answers in Genesis, have stated the objection more simply, “He cites no Scripture…”

Again, I must reiterate that in no way is exegesis the limit of theology. Those who wish to discredit my argument by this subtly veiled ad hominem seem to be unaware of the entire practice of analytic theology. I can’t help but think that these two examples are much less an attempt at getting to the issues as they are an attempt to discredit me personally because I did not use a passage from Scripture in my argument. Let me point out something: if someone’s theological background leads their position to paint a portrait of God that is unjust, that is very much a theological problem.

Moving on, the Rev. Breeden writes, “In any case, we can firmly establish that he’s not starting with the Bible as his ultimate authority.”

I’m very curious as to where this statement comes from. Clearly, God is my ultimate authority. The Bible, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is God’s inerrant word. I can’t help but think that this quotation is a not-so-subtle ad hominem. Perhaps it’s not, but one can’t help but wish that those criticizing my argument had stuck to the premises rather than going off on tangents and speculation.

Unfortunately, that is not the only tacit hint at my lack of Christian fortuity hinted at in the article. The Rev. proceeds to say, “In his rebuttal, Wartick admits that he remains oblivious [to Romans 8:20-22]…” Of course, in the post to which he is referring, I do not say anywhere that I remain oblivious. Rather, I pointed out that the verses do not establish that which Answers in Genesis (and apparently Rev. Breeden) want them to.

Thankfully, Rev. Breeden does turn to the arguments eventually. He agrees with my contention that animals are not moral agents (he says that it is “true enough”). Yet the Rev. does not believe that God’s character is called into question despite the notion that if YEC’s contentions are true then God would have apparently decided to start killing animals due to Adam’s sin. Rather, he turns to Romans 8:20-22 and a bit of exegesis in order to draw out this point.

Writes Breeden, “The passage referenced [Romans 8:20-22] notes that all of creation has come under the bondage of corruption. It also admits that the whole of creation was not made subject to this futility willingly, which admits the point that it suffers but not of any decision it made itself. So why was it made bondage to decay, so that the whole of creation groans and travails in pain until now?”

Again, as I read this, I note that there is nothing here which states that animals did not die before the fall. Rather, as will be seen shortly, it seems the YEC control belief that animals could not have died before the fall forces this interpretation of the passage. Note that Rev. Breeden’s own words say that creation is subject to bondage and decay. There is nothing which mentions the explicit death of animals suddenly starting to occur post-fall.

Moving on, he writes, “The answer is found in Genesis 1:28, where God gave dominion over all creation to Adam. This is the answer to Wartick’s objection and to the more common atheist objection that God is unjust for making the rest of us culpable for Adam’s sin: just as when a kingdom suffers for the actions of its king, all of creation [including animals and humanity itself] suffered for the sin of the one who had been given dominion over them.”

Now this is the exact response one astute reader of the original post gave, and I admitted that this does seem to have some plausibility (of course my admission to plausibility was translated by Rev. Breeden into “So it appears his argument is refuted by his own admission…” which is hardly the case–again it seems that I am refused a fair hearing. But what is the problem with this interpretation? Let’s look at the verse in question, Genesis 1:28:

 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)

Does this verse establish a link between Adam’s death and animal death? I do not see how it does, at all. In fact, one could just as plausibly read it in conjunction with Romans 8:20-22 to show that mankind’s fallen state has lead to a misuse of man’s dominion over the earth which has indeed subjected it to decay and ruin–as anyone who does research on our impact on the environment could attest to. Such a reading does no damage to the text. Adam’s fall led to the corruption and decay of the earth due to Adam’s subjugation and dominion over it.

As pointed out by GeoChristian, the passages YECs cite to support their  contentions only lead to this support if one assumes YEC is correct to begin with. And here again we see that the reading of Genesis 1:28 in conjunction with Romans 8:20-22 is linked to animal only by the control belief that animal death is the consequence of the fall. The verses don’t say anything about animal death; that is simply read into the text.

Thus, it seems to me that despite my initial nod to the potential plausibility of this response, the texts that YECs use to support it do not offer anything near the robustness of the link between Adam’s dominion and animals’ death that is required for their position.

Moving on with the ad hominiems, we find that:

“For example, he [I, J.W. Wartick] suggests that a traditional orthodox reading of the text is incorrect and must be modified. This impugns the doctrine known as the perspicuity of Scripture, for he suggests that the traditional reading of Genesis is unclear; it also suggests a form of neo-Gnosticism, for it suggests that the Scriptures cannot be understood without an understanding of 21st century science.  While he claims that his argument shows that the traditional Biblical interpretation of Genesis is morally impermissible, he admits that his argument is partly a reaction to [dare I say, rebellion against] the point that a compromise with extraBiblical millions of years requires pre-Fall animal death, and that, as he notes, ‘animal death before the fall makes God morally questionable.’”

I would like the Reverend Breeden to point out where I made these assertions. Nowhere have I suggested that a “traditional orthodox reading of the text is incorrect” (unless one assumes that the YEC reading is the traditional, orthodox reading, contrary to evidence that as far back as Augustine, this has not been the required reading). Further, I do not suggest that reading Genesis is unclear. I have nowhere done this. Nor do I endorse neo-Gnosticism.

I noted on his blog that there seemed to be at least one subtle ad hominem in his post (and one seemingly can’t deny the string of unestablished claims about my Christian character above) and the Rev Breeden responded, saying “This is not an attack on you personally, but on your presuppositions, which begin with man’s fallible ideas rather than the Bible…”

I must object and point out this is simply false. One can’t help but notice several points throughout the post where Rev Breeden poisons the well regarding my character. A quick survey: “If you’re reading that from an orthodox Christian worldview [contrasted with my worldview]…”; “we can firmly establish that he’s [meaning me, J.W.] not starting with the Bible as his ultimate authority”; “if he were to examine the consequences of his own worldview, he would come to some troubling conclusions” [again suggesting that I am not an orthodox Christian]; “your [my, J.W.'s] presuppositions, which begin with man’s fallible ideas rather than the Bible” [in other words, I am accused of not taking the Bible as authoritative (again)]; “I would expect an apologist to recognize the difference between an ad hominem and a critique of one’s starting points” [a not-so-subtle hint that I am an inadequate apologist].

I’ll let the reader decide here. Read through my site, and notice that I defend the inerrancy of the Bible; that I argue for the existence of God; affirm the deity of Christ; have defended the Trinity against errors; have continually attacked naturalism; etc. Contrast that with Rev Breeden’s comments, in which he implies repeatedly that I am not orthodox, that I am “oblivious” to the Bible, and that I do not use Scripture as a starting point for my theology.

Frankly, I’m insulted, but I’m here going to publicly offer my forgiveness to the Reverend Breeden for his hopefully unintentional poisoning of the well in regards to my character. If he wishes to continue this dialog, I’d be happy to do so… but only provided he abstains from insulting my character in the process.

Conclusion

To sum up my answer to this criticism. First, my argument clearly has not been answered by “Defending Genesis.” As I pointed out, the majority of the criticisms were in fact just thinly veiled (if at all) insults, for which I have offered forgiveness. The substantive part of the critique focused upon a few verses for which I’ve pointed out at least one alternative, and which I have noted do not, in fact, establish the point that “Defending Genesis” attempted to make. I pointed out that only with the assumed truth of the control belief that animal death is the result of the fall will those verses be read as YECs do. I noted that the case for linking animal death to Adam’s dominion is not nearly as robust as it would have to be in order to establish the link YECs hope to establish.

Thus, it seems my argument has not been refuted. It still seems that if we grant the YEC control belief that animal death is inherently bad and link it to the fact (granted by “Defending Genesis”) that animals are not moral agents then we find that according to the theological tenants of YEC, God unjustly punishes animals.

Finally, I have made an appeal to those in this debate to stay away from personal attacks. I have demonstrated that I have already weathered some of these, but have offered my forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ for these  personal attacks. Going forward, I hope these can be avoided.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R%C3%B8d_r%C3%A6v_(Vulpes_vulpes).jpg

The Hunger Games Movie: A Christian Perspective

I saw The Hunger Games this weekend and wanted to share my thoughts.  There are spoilers here.

I’ve already written about the whole trilogy and my thoughts on talking points a Christian can take away from it, and the movie really brought to light a number of the things that I wrote about there. I’m not going to bother to summarize the movie here. Rather, I’m going to provide what I found to be some talking points that Christians can take away from the movie along with my general observations. At the end I include a brief note for parents who might be concerned with their children seeing the film. See also my look at “Catching Fire.”

Christian Talking Points

The movie portrays a world in which there is a stark contrast between those in power and those without it. District 12, whence Katniss Everdeen hails, is a bleak place. The imagery seen on screen evokes mental images of the Great Depression and the photography from that era. There are sad faces looking out the windows, people marching to the coal mines, and children playing with sticks in the mud because they have nothing else with which to play.

That contrasts starkly with the decadence of the Capitol. At the Capitol, the people spend their time on frivolity. They decorate themselves as much as they decorate the places around them. Their showers cover them with the scent of the day; they can bring up whatever pleasant imagery they would like on their screens; their food is the best; they do whatever they want.

The imagery throughout the movie portrays this stark contrast. The children themselves are called upon to battle to the death, yet everyone is congratulating them as though this is some great honor and opportunity. They are required to dress their best for the “reaping” in which the Capitol personnel select contestants who will fight in the arena. The people of the Capitol pack the stands to watch the introductions and interviews of the contestants; they cheer wildly for their favorites and root for those they choose. Yet the whole time the movie makes it clear there is something deeply wrong happening. How can these people be so excited, so utterly out-of-touch with reality, when children’s lives are at stake? 

The world of the Hunger Games is a commentary on our own. The world in which we live is one in which our greatest goal is comfort, yet their are children dying in our streets from starvation. This is not just far away, it is right in our own country. This is just one talking point for Christians and the Hunger Games: what is it that we should be doing to curb our own “capitol”-like tendencies?

Yet it seems like that alone doesn’t take it far enough. The film also portrays clearly the level to which people deceive themselves about right and wrong. There is a struggle in the movie (and the books) that goes beyond the strangeness of the contrast between the districts and the Capitol. The struggle is a fight over what is right and wrong. The society of the Capitol has relativized morality. They have decided that might makes right and that their comfort is the greatest good. Yet the entire movie gives imagery to that view and one can’t help but notice the feeling that something is just wrong throughout the film. How is it these people who are living lives of such great comfort are so oblivious? The meaning is subtle, but it is throughout the whole movie: there simply is something wrong, and it is the dismissive attitude with which people treat right and wrong when it comes to their own comfort and desires.

It is telling that President Snow comments on the reason the Hunger Games have a winner is in order to give hope, but “too much hope” is a bad thing. As the leader of the Capitol, Snow realizes the power of hope and how it can work even better than fear to control the masses. As long as he provides the districts with hope, he has them in control. But if they get too much hope, they will break, and the cracks start to show near the end of the movie.

The Hunger Games, I think, provide a stunning critique of our society. We live in the Capitol; we exist in a society which relativizes morality for its own convenience. And when we are presented with it in our face, when the imagery of a film like The Hunger Games shows us the very kind of decadence and futility which we so often celebrate, we are repulsed. The wrongness of the situation comes to the forefront and we must act.

Christians, I think, have much to take away from the movie (and books). We know that there is wrong in the world, and we know the dangers of comfort and futility–we are warned of these things in our Scriptures. The Christian path is one which fights against this futility and points to the one true Hope: that of our savior.

A Word to Parents

This is not a film for children. It is rated PG-13 and I think could very easily have been R. Children are killing each other. The film is, however, I think appropriate for teenagers, and parents who keep in mind some of the talking points listed above could utilize the film as a way to discuss some of the very real world issues it hints at.

Links

Check out the Christianity Today review of the movie.

For those concerned with whether Christians can/should use movies like this to interact with the culture, check out my post on “Engaging Culture” with movies.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 3/25/12

The recommended posts this week feature some extremely important topics. I can’t emphasize how much I recommend each one. As always, check out my brief description, browse as you want. Let me know of any other great links! Topics this week feature atheistic hermeneutics, after-birth abortions, the Reason Rally, Harold Camping’s admission of sin, Mormon scriptures, and apologetic methods. Like I said, a great array!

What Happens When Atheists Don’t Care About Hermeneutics?- A really excellent post highlighting the importance of intellectual honesty and humility in dialog.

“If there is no difference between a fetus in the womb and a new born baby, it should follow that neither should be killed.  But, granting the scientific evidence demonstrating the continuity of life, some “ethicists” and pro-abortion fanatics are coming to a different conclusions:  Since we can abort fetuses, we should also be able to “abort” new-born infants.  So says an article in one of the most influential journals in medical ethics…” Check out the article and a brief evaluation here.

Atheistic fundamentalism? Is it a contradiction? No, not at all. The Reason Rally is full of it.

Harold Camping, who infamously failed in a number of doomsday predictions has confessed his sin. I’m honestly quite touched by this level of academic honesty and what seems like a sincere confession and repentance from another Christian brother.

Often, Mormons will tell you that if you just read the Book of Mormon and pray you’ll know it’s true. I’ve done so and not been convinced, but so have others. Sean McDowell points out some of the difficulties he found in the Mormon scriptures.

Holly Ordway has a simply fantastic series on effective communication in apologetics. Check out the first post here.

Finally, I couldn’t resist a plug for my favorite band. Check out this interview with the Christian Metal band, Demon Hunter.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions

Christian Apologists seem to only rarely focus upon world religions. Perhaps that is because many Christian apologists feel uncomfortable interacting with other religions. It is easy to be weighed down by fears that one might say something wrong and be deemed either ignorant or bigoted. It may also be simply that Christian apologists don’t feel they have the expertise do operate in this area. It is my goal in this post to paint in broad strokes and provide areas of development for Christian apologetics and theology regarding world religions. Because I’m painting in broad strokes, I’ll be raising many questions I’ll leave unanswered for now. I’ve included links at the end of the post for those interested in reading more.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics and World Religions

It has been said that evangelicalism needs a theology of religions. What does the existence of other religions mean? Do they have truths? How do we interact with them? These questions must be addressed by Christians who desire to explore the reality of their faith. Christian apologists, in particular, must be learned enough to know what position they take on these issues before they seek to defend their faith.

The study of another religion should not be done superficially. It is a good start to have a general volume on “world religions” and then read each religion’s respective section, but it is not nearly enough for the Christian apologist to do if the apologist desires to interact with believers from these other religions. A study of another religion, particularly for those interested in witnessing to them, must be more in-depth. The holy book(s) of the other religion is(are) necessary reading. But one cannot stop there. Few religions are based upon one book. Christians can readily acknowledge this, having had much thought and belief defined through tradition, apostolic and patristic. Similarly, when a Christian studies another religion, he or she must be willing to delve into the religion, to understand it from an insider’s perspective.

It is not enough for the apologist to read books about other religions, seeking to find fast and easy ways to refute them. Rather, the Christian apologist must engage with believers of other faith, acknowledging shared truths where they exist and seeking to understand the differences. Certainly, apologists must know the areas of weakness in other religions so that they can point these out as they debate and dialog on the religions. What I’m suggesting is that this cannot be the only thing Christians know about other religions. They must not be satisfied merely by knowing a series of arguments against those from other religions. Rather, they must be willing and able to engage with those in other religions.

Thus, this vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions is a vision not just of debate but of dialog; a vision of give-and-take. The Gospel will not be heard where it is beat into people. It will not be heard where the only avenues for its witness are arguments. Paul wrote,

Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. (1 Corinthians 9:19)

The attitude of the apologist is a servant’s heart–one that seeks to understand. In understanding, he or she will win many. Thus, when apologists approach another religion, they must understand that religion enough to engage with those who believe it and who live it. The Christian apologist must not deceive, but rather seek to understand. In understanding, Christians will understand more about their own faith, and be better able to spread it to those of other faiths.

There are five major things to keep in mind when doing apologetics regarding world religions:

  1. Know what the other believes. Never assume you know their faith as much as they do.
  2. Read their book. Nothing will open up avenues for discussion as much as the knowledge that you have read the books they find holy.
  3. Know Christianity. If you don’t know what you yourself believe, how are you to share that with others? As you engage with people of other faiths, you must continue to learn about your own faith and its answers to the questions others pose.
  4. Preach the Gospel. The goal should not only be to rebut the others assertions and beliefs. It should be to guide the other towards Christ crucified and the salvation provided for by God.
  5. Build a Genuine Relationship. It isn’t enough to simply engage in dialog; one must show they are interested in what the other has to say and what they believe. They must also be more than an occasional debate partner; they must build a relationship and become a friend. I’m not suggesting deception here, the relationship must be genuine. By showing a Christlike life to others, we can show them the intimate joys of Christianity.

Going forward, it is time to turn to a method for Christian Apologists to learn about other religions.

Studying a Religion: A Method of Learning for Christian Apologists

  • Read general discussions about the religion. A book on world religions is a good place to start, but be aware that these are, by necessity, generalized.
  • Read what other Christians have said about the religion. Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan is a simply phenomenal resource which surveys the world religions from a Christian perspective.
  • Read the holy books of the religion with which you are going to interact. If you wish to engage a Muslim, read the Quran. If you want to interact with a Taoist, read the Tao Te Ching. As you read these books, keep in mind that you will find truths in other religions due to God’s natural revelation to all people.
  • Seek out believers from the religion, and engage with them in discussion. Ask them what they believe, but don’t allow your questions to be that general. Instead, focus on specifics. For example, “If I were seeking to learn more about your religion and beliefs, how would I go about doing so?”; “What is[are] your favorite passage[s] from your holy book, and why?” Questions like these will show them you’re not seeking to attack but to understand.
  • Read web sites dedicated to explaining other religions to those seeking. In this way, you will get a basic introduction to the religion while also viewing it from an insider’s perspective.
  • Read other Christians who have engaged these religions in dialog and mission work.
  • Consider responses from scholars within the religion to Christians working in that field. Be familiar with arguments for and against the positions you seek to put forward.
  • Above all, read God’s word. Only by being familiar with the Bible will one become an effective apologist and missionary. Jesus’ words will draw people from all backgrounds, and the Bible’s richness and truth will gain a hearing from all nations.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive. It merely provides avenues for research.

What to do with the knowledge?

Christians must engage with those of other faiths. Seek out those who are willing to discuss their faith with you. You will find that many interesting discussions will follow and you will learn much about yourself and Christianity in the process. Never stop seeking truth. All truth is from God. If someone from another faith says something which challenges you, seek the answer. There are thousands of years of Christian writing out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only that, but simple searches online will turn up innumerable apologetic resources. Do not let the discussions turn into debates only. Debates are good when there is an audience of people who may be swayed one way or the other, but in individual conversation, your goal should be to spread the Gospel, not to win an argument.

Become a prayer warrior. Do not let a day go by where you do not pray for those with whom you are engaged in discussions about the faith.

Tap your fellow resources. There are many other Christians working in the areas of religions, and they are willing to help. Do not be afraid to ask for it when needed.

Conclusion

The vision for Christian apologetics and world religions I’ve put forth here is admittedly vague, but I hope it will provide a way forward for those interested in dialog with those of other faiths. This vision has followed five primary thoughts: know the other’s faith, read their book, know Christianity, preach the Gospel, and build a genuine relationship. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian it is your duty to spread the Gospel. Do not let yourself come in its way.

Resources

Some argue that there is no real way to tell whether any religions are true. That is not the case. There are some very real ways to determine truth in a religious paradigm. Check out this post: “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.”

What about the truth found in other religion? How do we relate that to Christianity? Kenneth Samples is an amazing writer in this area. Check out this post in which he provides a way forward for thinking about other religions from a Biblical perspective: “Thinking Biblically About the World’s Religions.”

I highly recommend Winfried Corduan’s book Neighboring Faiths. Check it out here.

What about some of those unanswered questions–what about the unevangelized? This is matter of considerable debate and there are numerous books on the topic. I would recommend “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” for an introduction to these views. For those wanting to explore inclusivism further, see No Other Name by John Sanders. Those interested in exclusivism/particularlism, see Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald Nash.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Animal Death?- A Response to AiG Critique of My Argument

I recently wrote a post called “A theological argument against young earth creationism.” In it, my stated claim was “YEC is morally impermissible…” Why? Because “on YEC, animals died because of Adam’s sin…” not because of anything they themselves did. This argument is intended to use the YEC assumption that animal death is an inherently bad thing against them. Let’s outline the argument:

1. If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.

2. Animals are incapable of sinning (they are not morally responsible agents)

3. Therefore, animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin.

The argument as it stands contains a few assumptions which I’ve found in YEC literature. 1) Animals did not die before the fall; 2) Death is inherently a bad thing; 3) all physical death is the result of sin. Now a denial of these assumptions can undermine my argument; I grant that. My point is that if one holds to these three assumptions, my argument shows that YEC is morally impermissible.

Now, Answers in Genesis has provided a critique of my argument, and I must say that I’m very appreciative of their interaction on this important topic. Elizabeth Mitchell wrote the entry, check out her critique, in its entirety, here (under the “And don’t miss…” section). Let me examine the criticism below. (I recommend reading my entire post prior to this one in order to have proper interaction with it.)

First, Mitchell wrote, that my post “…attempts to show young earth creationism is wrong by demonstrating death documented in the fossil record preceded human sin and was unrelated to it.”

I admit I was a bit befuddled when I read this, because nowhere in my post did I try to “demonstrate death document in the fossil record preceded human sin…” I’m not sure where this claim was made in my original post. I don’t mention the fossil record anywhere in the original post and so I’m a bit concerned by this apparent misreading of my article.

Then, she wrote, “He cites no Scripture…” Indeed, I did not cite a single Scripture passage. However, the argument is directly based upon the assertions that some YECs make. But what kind of rebuttal is it to say “He cites no Scripture…” anyway? An argument must be dealt with whether it has Bible passages in it or not.

The argument itself is based upon the logic of the YEC argument against old earth positions. The picture to the right here demonstrates pictorially the view most YECs present of old earth positions–that animal death before the fall makes God morally questionable (image credit to AiG, accessed here). For example, premise 1 is backed up by this quote from the AiG critique: “the connection between Adam’s sin and animal death…” Premise 2 is indeed mostly an assumption, but I think it is one that most Christians would grant. Animals are not on the same level as humans; they are not moral agents made in God’s image. Three is again backed up by the quote I put above; the AiG (and more generally, YEC) argument assumes that all death is the result of Adam’s sin.

Now, AiG does claim that the Bible backs up this position. They wrote, that I “[seem] oblivious toRomans 8:20–22, which explains the connection between Adam’s sin and animal death” (Mitchell, cited below). Well no, I’m not oblivious to Romans 8:20-22, which makes no mention of animal death. In fact, the word “death” is not even used in the passage. Thus, it looks like this an inference from Scripture, not an obvious connection. And an inference is subject to presuppositions. The YEC presupposition is that animals did not die before the fall, so of course their inference will lead to a reading of Romans 8 in light of that presupposition.

Mitchell argues in regard to my statement, “The post on Answers in Genesis hints that it is because animals are cursed due to the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve,” that “…we [AiG] teach no such thing” (Mitchell, cited below). That’s fair, and I appreciate the clarification. The reason was that I read the following quote on the original post I was working from: “The first recorded death and passages referring to death as a reality came with sin in Genesis 3 when the serpent, Eve, and Adam all were disobedient to God” (Hodge, cited below).  The wording here does seem to at least “hint” at a connection between the serpent and the rest of animal death, but I could be mistaken here and I’m fine with that.

To sum up, my argument was based upon rather firmly established YEC assumptions. That animals did not die before the fall is argued throughout YEC literature, and both posts I cite have this idea in them. That animal death is due to the sin of Adam is demonstrated in the AiG response to my post. That animal death is somehow inherently bad is shown in the picture above as well as throughout YEC literature. For just one example, Bodie Hodge wrote, in the article I was originally linking (cited below), “God gave the command in Genesis 2:16–17 that sin would be punishable by death. This is significant when we look at the big picture of death. If death in any form was around prior to God’s declaration in Genesis 1:31 that everything was ‘very good,’ then death would be very good too—hence not a punishment at all.” But just from these three theses I can construct my argument (as above) which leads to the conclusion:

“Animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin…” (on the YEC position).

And, as I argued in my original post, this seems to undermine the goodness of God on YEC, for “the animals didn’t do anything. One day, they were happily living potentially infinitely long lives, eating plants, and doing their animal things. The next day, Adam sinned, and so God decides to start killing them all… not because they themselves sinned” (here).

So, given the assumptions that YECs make, I have constructed an argument that shows their own position is morally impermissible. What does this entail? I suggest it entails that the reading of the texts that YECs present is incorrect and must be modified. I suggested a few ways to do this in the original post, so I won’t repeat them here. Ultimately, it seems my original post has not been refuted.

Sources

Bodie Hodge, “Biblically, Could Death Have Existed before Sin?” Answers in Genesis. 2010. Accessible here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin

Elizabeth Mitchell, “News to Note, March 17, 2012.” Answers in Genesis. Accessible here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/03/17/news-to-note-03172012.

J.W. Wartick, “Animal Death?- A Theological Argument Against Young Earth Creationism.” 2012. Accessible here: http://jwwartick.com/2012/03/12/against-yec-theology/.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Where the Conflict Really Lies” by Alvin Plantinga

There are few names bigger than Alvin Plantinga when it comes to philosophy of religion and there are few topics more hotly debated than science and religion. Plantinga’s latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies (hereafter WCRL) has therefore generated much interest as it has one of the foremost philosophers of religion taking on this highly contentious topic.
Plantinga minces no words. The very first line of the book outlines his central claim: “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, and superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.”1

The first part of the book is dedicated to the superficial conflict between science and religious belief. The reason this alleged conflict is important is due, largely, to the success of the scientific enterprise. Because science has shown itself to be a reliable way to come to know the world, if religion is in direct conflict with science, then it would seem to discredit religion. Not only that, but, Plantinga argues, Christians should have a “particularly high regard” for science due to the foundations of the scientific enterprise on a study of the world.2

In order to examine this alleged conflict, Plantinga first takes on the article of science most often taken to discredit religion: evolution. Here, readers may be surprised to find that Plantinga does not try to argue against evolution itself. Rather, Plantinga draws a distinction between the notion of evolution and Darwinism. The former, argues Plantinga, is consistent with Christian belief, whether or not it is the way the variety of life came to be, while the latter is not consistent with Christianity because central to its account is the notion that the process of evolution is unguided.3

WCRL then turns to Richard Dawkins. Plantinga argues that “A Darwinist will think there is a complete Darwinian history for every contemporary species, and indeed for every contemporary organism.”4  Here again there is nothing which puts such a theory in conflict with Christian belief. Writes Plantinga, “[The process of evolution] could have been superintended and orchestrated by God.”5 But Dawkins (and others) claim that evolution “reveals a universe without design.” But what argument is provided towards this conclusion? Plantinga draws out Dawkins reasoning and shows that the only logic given is that evolution could have happened by way of unguided evolution. But then:

What [Dawkins] actually argues… is that there is a Darwinian series of contemporary life forms… but [this series] wouldn’t show, of course, that the living world, let alone the entire universe, is without design. At best it would show, given a couple of assumptions, that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design. But the argument form ‘p is not astronomically improbable’ therefore ‘p’ is a bit unprepossessing… What [Dawkins] shows, at best, is that it’s epistemically possible that it’s biologically possible that life came to be without design. But that’s a little short of what he claims to show.6

Plantinga then moves on to argue that Daniel Dennett’s argument is similarly flawed.7 Paul Draper’s argument that evolution is more likely on naturalism than theism is more interesting, but assumes that “everything else is equal.”8 But then, everything is not equal. Theism provides a number of relevant probabilities which weigh the argument in favor of theism instead.9

The arguments against theism from evolution are therefore largely dispensed. What of the possibility of divine action? Some argue that God doesn’t actually act in the world—in fact, the argument is made that even most theologians don’t believe this, despite writing that God does act in various ways. The argument is made that because of natural laws, God cannot or does not intervene.10  However, one can simply argue that the correct view of a natural law is that “When the universe is causally closed (when God is not acting specially in the world), P.”11

Plantinga does acknowledge that there are some fields in science which do provide at least superficial conflict with theism. These include evolutionary psychology and (some) historical critical scholarship.12 Evolutionary psychology generally doesn’t challenge religious belief. “Describing the origin of religious belief and the cognitive mechanisms involved does nothing… to impugn its truth.”13 Now some suggest that religious beliefs are due to devices not aimed at truth, and this would provide a reason to doubt religious belief.14 However, the way that most do this is by conjoining atheism with psychology or operating under other assumptions which undermine religious belief a priori. While this may mean that specific conclusions in psychology are in conflict with theism, these conclusions only follow from the anti-theistic assumptions at the bottom. Thus, while some accounts of evolutionary psychology are in conflict with theism, they don’t provide a solid basis for rejecting it.15 Similarly, varied methods of historical concept may draw some conclusions which are in conflict with Christian theism, but these methods are themselves undergirded by assumptions that theism is, at best, not to be entered into historical discussion.16

There are, Plantinga argues, significant reasons to think that theism is in concord with science. First, the argument from cosmological fine-tuning, he argues, gives “some slight support” for theism.17 The section on fine-tuning has responses to some serious criticisms of such arguments. Most interesting are his responses to Tim and Lydia McGrew and Eric Vestrup—in which Plantinga argues that we can indeed get to the point where we can assess the fine-tuning argument;18 Plantinga’s discussion of the multiverse;19 and his discussion of relevant probabilities regarding fine-tuning.20

Michael Behe’s design theory is discussed at length in WCRL.21 Plantinga offers some additional insights into the Intelligent Design debate. He argues that one can view design not so much as a probabilistic argument but instead as simple perception.22 He reads both Behe and William Paley in this light and argues that they are offering design discourses as opposed to arguments.23 This, in turn, allows him to argue that design is a kind of “properly basic belief” and he offers a robust discussion of epistemology to support this intuition.24

Further, there is deep concord between Christian Theism and Science when one looks at the very roots of the scientific endeavor. Here, rather than simply listing various theists who helped build the empirical method, Plantinga argues that science relies upon various theistic assumptions in order for its methods to succeed. These include the “divine image” in which humans are capable of rational thought;25 God’s order as providing regularity for the universe;26 natural laws;27 mathematics;28 induction;29 and simplicity and “other theoretical virtues” (like beauty).30

Finally, Plantinga turns to naturalism: does it really resonate so well with science? Plantinga grants for the sake of argument that there is at least superficial concord between naturalism on science, if only because so many naturalists trumpet this “fact.”31 Yet there is, he argues, a deep conflict between science and naturalism: namely, that if evolution is true and naturalism is true, there is no reason to trust our cognitive abilities.32 “Suppose you are a naturalist,” he writes, “you think there is no such person as God, and that we and our cognitive faculties have been cobbled together by natural selection. Can you then sensibly think that our cognitive faculties are for the most part reliable?”33

Plantinga argues you cannot. The reason is because we have no way to suppose that evolution is truth aimed, but rather it is merely survival aimed (if indeed it is aimed at all!). He also argues that because naturalists are almost all materialists, there is no way to adequately ground beliefs.34 Finally, because naturalism and evolution conjoin to give a low probability that our rational abilities are reliable, we have received a defeater for every belief we have, including naturalism and evolution.35 Thus, the conflict “is not between science and theistic religion: it is between science and naturalism. That’s where the conflict really lies.”36

WCRL covers an extremely broad range of topics, and will likely be critiqued on each topic outlined above and more. The book touches on issues that are at the core of the debate between naturalists and theists, and as such it will be highly contentious. That said, the book is basically required reading for anyone interested in this discourse. Plantinga provides extremely valuable insights into every topic he touches. His discussion of biological design, for example, provides unique insight into the topic by locating it within epistemology as opposed to biology alone. Further, his “evolutionary argument against naturalism” continues to live despite endless criticism. The list of important topics Plantinga illumines in WCRL is extensive.

Where the Conflict Really Lies will resonate deeply with those who are involved in the science and religion discourse. Theists will find much to think about and perhaps new life for some arguments they have tended to set aside. Naturalists will discover a significant challenge to their own paradigm. Those on either side will benefit from reading this work.

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1 Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies (New York, NY: Oxford, 2011), ix.
2 Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, 3-4. (Unless otherwise noted, all references are to this work.)
3 12 (emphasis his).
4 15 (emphasis his).
5 16.
6 24-25.
7 33ff, esp. 40-41.
8 53.
9 53ff.
10 69ff.
11 86, see the arguments there and following.
12 129ff.
13 140.
14 141ff.
15 143ff.
16 152ff.
17 224.
18 205-211.
19 212ff.
20 219ff.
21 225-264.
22 236ff.
23 240-248.
24 248ff; see esp. 253-258, 262-264.
25 266ff.
26 271ff.
27 274ff.
28 284ff.
29 292ff.
30 296ff.
31 307ff.
32 311ff.
33 313.
34 318ff.
35 339ff.
36 350.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics315 here: http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/02/book-review-where-conflict-really-lies.html

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Animal Death?- A Theological Argument Against Young Earth Creationism

[Answers in Genesis recently posted a critique of this article. I have responded here.] I have explored extensively the varied positions within Christianity about the origins and diversity of life. I come from a background in which I was a young earth creationist for quite some time, but my research has caused me to reject this position in favor of another. Those reading this article, please understand I do not wish to denigrate or devalue those who are young earth creationists (hereafter YEC and YECs). I appreciate that many who are YEC are doing their work in the field because they feel it is closest to the Biblical position and that they often believe science supports their view. That said, I cannot agree. In the following, I present a theological argument against the YEC position.

One of the theological arguments YECs use against other Christian positions (such as Intelligent Design or Theistic Evolutionism) is that it would imply death before the fall. I tried to track down an explicit syllogistic form of this argument and couldn’t find any in the literature with which I am familiar, however the argument is everywhere presented. For example, Ken Ham writes in The New Answers Book 1:

The book of Genesis teaches that death is the result of Adam’s sin… and that all of God’s creation was ‘very good’ upon its completion… But if we compromise the history of Genesis by adding millions of years, we must believe that death and disease were part of the world before Adam sinned… How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering, and death for millions of years as part of his ‘very good’ creation? (36)

Elsewhere, we can find statements like this: “The Bible tells us very clearly that there was no death before sin from many passages. In fact, there are no Bible verses indicating there was death prior to sin.”

Now it is not my point in this post to cite every disagreement I have with such arguments (there are a great deal of them), but rather to show that the implications of an argument like this are absurd. One immediate problem with the argument is that it begs the question in the opening sentence by smuggling in a hidden premise. Namely, the notion that all death is the result of sin, as opposed to the death of mankind or a kind of spiritual death. Further, note the conflation of the terms in the second quote–just because there are no Bible verses which show there was death before sin, it does not follow that the Bible teaches that there was no death before sin. But those parts aside, I wish to show that this argument from YECs actually works against their position.

Suppose we lay out the argument:

  1. Death is the result of sin.
  2. If YEC is false, then things died before sin.
  3. Therefore, if YEC is false, God is unjust.

Now I know this is not the full argument. There are many premises I have left unstated, but it seems that is the gist of the passage cited from Ham. Why do I find this problematic? Well, it seems that the logic is that if death happened because of sin, then animals would not have died before the fall. But if that is the case, then why do animals die after the fall? The post on Answers in Genesis hints that it is because animals are cursed due to the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve (cited below). One is still forced to wonder why all animals are cursed because a serpent–Satan–deceived Adam and Eve. Thus we are led to the following argument:

  1. If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.
  2. Animals are incapable of sinning. (They have no culpability.)
  3. Therefore, their death would have to be the result of morally culpable agents’ sins.

But this argument, it seems, shows that YEC is morally impermissible. For on YEC, animals died because of Adam’s sin. The animals themselves didn’t do anything. One day, they were happily living potentially infinitely long lives, eating plants, and doing their animal things. The next day, Adam sinned, and so God decides to start killing them all, putting countdowns on their lifespans. But why? Because Adam sinned, not because they themselves sinned. Thus, animals, through no culpability of their own, suffered the punishment of death for Adam’s sin. This seems to be morally impossible.

Now it seems the YEC position could be modified to get around this argument, but it would have to drop the argument against the other positions that death could not have happened before the fall. The modification would essentially have to hold that animals were part of the natural world which lived and died. Or, the YEC position could charge that animals were moral agents, but that would seem absurd. Finally, the YEC position could hold that, somehow, the serpent’s culpability transferred to all other animals, but that would seem extremely difficult as well, particularly because the serpent is Satan.

The argument,  therefore, has been that animals are not morally culpable because they are not moral agents. Because that is the case, if they died due to sin, it was through not fault of their own. This would make God seem unjust if He caused animal death due to Adam’s fall. I’ve noted that YECs can avoid this injustice, but only by dropping the argument that Ham and others use against other positions.

There have been some interesting reactions to this article, and some of them are confusing my argument. What I’d like to note is this post is written from a perspective inside of YEC. In other words, I’m using the presuppositions of YEC against itself. What I’m not doing is personally saying that the death of animals is a morally impermissible state of affairs. What I am doing is saying that, on YEC, they assert it is morally impermissible, and so they have to accept the consequences of that argument.

Finally, I’d like to note that even if readers are unconvinced by this argument, they still must contend with other theological problems with YEC. For example, the notion that YEC makes God a deceiver. For this and other reasons I am no longer a YEC.

But what of the argument itself from YEC? What of the argument that there cannot be death before the fall? I urge readers to check out the following post over at geocreationism: Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective. See also Luke Nix’s phenomenal post on the topic, “Cartoons, Animal Death, and Theology.”
Image Credit- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R%C3%B8d_r%C3%A6v_(Vulpes_vulpes).jpg image by Malene

Sources

Answers in Genesis, “Biblically, Could Death Have Existed Before Sin?” - http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin

Ken Ham, The New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, Arizona: Answers in Genesis, Master Books, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Abortions rates are lower in countries where it is legal- some thoughts on recent pro-choice comments

 Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is high, at 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and Latin America, respectively—regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000. ( Sedgh G et al. cited below)

There it is in black and white. Countries in which abortion is illegal have higher rates of abortion in most cases. What does this mean for the pro-life argument? Some have argued that pro-life advocates should work to make abortion legal. For example, Margot Magawan writes, “It’s clear that top Republican candidates are being short-sighted and ineffective, rushing off in precisely the wrong direction if their goal truly is to reduce abortions.” The argument seems to be quite simple. After all, if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.

There are a number of problems with this argument, however, and I’ll briefly list them before examining them in turn.

1. Those making this argument seek to compare countries unilaterally based on a situation with all kinds of factors which cannot possibly be weighed fairly.

2. The argument reduces the goal of the pro-life movement to reducing abortions only; but the movement has a broader range than that. The argument is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdum which shows that the premise on which it is based is absurd.

3. The argument begs the question against the pro-life position by assuming the position itself is false.

3. The argument assumes consequentialism as a metaethical theory without argument.

1. Comparing Countries Unilaterally

It seems strange to me to compare the situations of different countries unilaterally on an issue like this. For example, it seems to have been shown that many things cannot be compared in this way. Installing democracy into random countries does not have a stabilizing effect. Comparing the economic situation of Rwanda with that of the United States seems almost grotesque. I’m not disputing the results of the study cited above; rather, I’m disputing the application of those results to a moral sphere. Think of all the factors which must be weighed: economic status, education, career choices, etc. To then take the raw data and apply it to a moral sentiment is quite a stretch. After all, it doesn’t take into consideration all the factors that those countries in which abortion is legal may have.

I do not want to make this the focus of my rebuttal, however, because I think the next 3 points are much stronger. To those we shall now turn.

2. Is Pro-Life About Reducing Abortions?

Another problem with the argument is that it assumes the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions. That sentence may seem strange on a first reading, but read it this way instead: “the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions only.” That is where one of the major difficulties arises for those making this argument. The pro-life position is not only about reducing abortions. In fact, while reducing the number of abortions is a goal of the pro-life movement, that is not the only goal or even, perhaps, the highest goal.

Suppose that reducing abortions was the only goal of the pro-life candidate. In that case, one way to reduce abortions would be by eliminating all human beings. If, after all, not a single human being were alive, there would be no abortions! This is, of course, patently absurd. Why? Not just because it seems obviously wrong to murder everyone on earth (or to murder anyone) in order to reduce the number of abortions, but also because this is a gross reduction of the pro-life position.

The pro-life position isn’t just about reducing the number of abortions. It is about advocating for life. In other words, those in the movement are making a factual and a moral claim: the entities aborted are human persons and it is wrong to kill them. But those who want to make the argument that pro-life advocates should legalize abortions in order to reduce them are, on a pro-life view, essentially arguing something similar to this:

Suppose that making murder legal reduced the number of murders. If you are against murder, you should then legalize murder.

The absurdity of this argument becomes clear because no one but a psychopath wants to legalize murder. But then it becomes clear that those pro-choice people making this argument have begged the question against the pro-life person. Let’s turn to that.

3. The Argument Begs the Question

If the pro-life position is correct, then it makes a mockery of this argument. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the advocate of the pro-life position is right: the unborn are not merely embryos (and other stages of development) but are rather human persons who deserve the same rights as people outside of wombs. Now, granting these assumptions, suppose one finds that legalizing abortions reduces them. To then argue that “we should legalize abortions to reduce their number” is exactly equivalent to arguing that we should legalize murder to reduce the number of murders. Note here that I’m not saying legalizing murder does reduce the number of murders; I’m arguing that if the pro-life position is correct, these arguments are exactly analogous. One who argues we should legalize abortions would be the same as one who argues we should legalize murders, if the pro-life position is correct.

Thus, it becomes clear that those who make an argument like that of Margot Magawan have begged the question against the pro-life position. They simply assume that it is morally permissible to have an abortion, and combine that with the false position that the pro-life position is only about reducing abortions. Thus, the argument fails because it begs the question. Without argument, the pro-choice advocate has caricatured its opposition and argued against this false image.

4. It assumes consequentialism.

The last rebuttal is more technical, but I want to keep it brief. Consequentialism is, basically, the position that it is not the status of actions themselves which are judged as moral but rather the consequences. If one takes an action which has morally good consequences, that action is deemed good.

Now consider once more the argument, “If your goal is to reduce abortions, you should legalize them [because if abortion is legal, the number is reduced].”

This argument doesn’t take into consideration the moral status of an abortion [again, see above: they've already begged the question]. Rather, it assumes that because the consequences (fewer abortions) are considered by pro-life advocates as morally good, they should take the action (legalizing abortions) which open the door for these consequences.

Without too much strain, it becomes clear that most pro-life advocates do not hold to consequentialism as a metaethical theory. There are many alternative metaethical theories which are preferable for any number of reasons. If a pro-life advocate holds to a deontological theory of ethics, for example, he will argue that the wrongness of abortion is outweighed by the benefits of reducing the number. Such examples could be multiplied almost beyond comprehension. Thus, the pro-choice advocate has assumed, again without argument, a controversial position and then utilized that position to argue against pro-life advocates. Therefore, the argument fails.

Conclusion

The argument which has been considered here is that “if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.” I have rebutted this argument in four ways. First, it seems to trivialize the enormous amount of factors which must go into consideration of comparing abortion rates across countries. Second, it reduces the pro-life position almost beyond recognition and is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdem. Third, it begs the question. Fourth, it utilizes a controversial metaethical theory to justify its premise. For these four reasons, I conclude that the argument is unsound.

Source

Sedgh G et al., “Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008,” Lancet, 2012. (accessible: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2961786-8/fulltext); summary: http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/abortion-WW/statsandfacts.html.

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prolife-DC.jpg

SDG.

——

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