Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NoSCo on Morality

Irony can be funny. For today, Nick Peters -- who voices NonStampCollector in my TektonTV videos on him -- provides us with a written response to an entry NoSCo wrote (yes, he actually can write, can you imagine?) on a freethought blog. Maybe eventually NoSCo will also get noses for those stick figures of his.


Recently, the NonStamp Collector (NoSCo) posted an argument about Christian morality with someone asking about the holocaust and saying “If Hitler had won the war, would we say that the Holocaust was right?” NoSCo issues a number of statements in reply.

Firstly, we wouldn’t condemn Hitler for having done it. That’s part of the analogy, I know, but it’s worth stating again. We would possibly admire him for having done it, if we were brainwashed enough, although that is not necessary for the analogy to hold. At one extreme we’d praise him for it, at the other, we’d just be hush-hush about it with a tacit acceptance. Chances are there’d be a middle-ground between adoration and tacit acceptance that most people would occupy. All, though, as the example specifies, would pretty much be in line with the idea that Hitler had done the right thing.

Interesting to say that we have to be brainwashed to accept that what Hitler was did was not wrong. This would imply that indeed, we do know that it was wrong. It’s also noteworthy that NoSCo thinks we’d all be in lock-step saying this was right. There was always opposition to Hitler and there’s no reason to think that it would stop had he won the war somehow. Of course, it could be that everyone who disagreed enough would be killed. Could it be NoSCo just would not disagree enough? Still, it is difficult to argue such hypotheticals, but I find NoSCo’s first admission to be revealing.

What we would think, at the very least, is that it had been necessary. That’s the kind of justification that would come out for it, and would be held by just about everyone, even those not necessarily praising Hitler for having done it. We would look back and think, and maintain, that in the case of the early 20th century, things had gotten so bad, or were about to take such a massive turn for the worst, that drastic action had become appropriate, and the genocide had been a viable option, even if not necessarily the only one. For some, it would have been the best option. For others, simply necessary and justified.

There is no reason given for this. Upon what does NoSCo base this? Today, we do not look back at a number of great tragedies in history and think that they were necessary.
If we were all brainwashed by propaganda, as the example mentions, then that propaganda would, again, necessarily, include the idea that the Jews had deserved their genocide. Even if we didn’t share Hitler’s zeal, we would all at least be sitting around saying that yes, there had been extenuating circumstances that had deemed it necessary in that particular case for the Fuhrer to have carried out such an incredible act.

Once again, we have to be brainwashed. In other words, we have to be taught to believe that the holocaust was okay. Keep in mind the question is about asking if the holocaust was really wrong. What we would do in response is interesting, but if the holocaust was wrong, it was wrong regardless of if we all stood up and praised Hitler forever.

Now, the hypothetical seems to be suggesting, that no matter the propaganda, it would still have been wrong to have carried out the Holocaust. Read it again and check the language. The analogy ends with a kind of suggestion that indeed this is part of the whole moral argument for the evidence for God, as a necessary objective moral law giver. “Would it still be wrong…?” Because, presumably, we all do know that it was wrong. I mean, certainly the world gets along on that assumption.

This is indeed what is being suggested. If something is wrong, it is wrong. There cannot be excuses for it. This does not mean that everything is clearly black and white. There are areas of difficulty in ethics, but the only reason that gray exists is because of the clear reality of black and white. This is the fundamental question that needs to be answered. Was the holocaust really wrong?

Instead, NoSCo ignores the argument with this:

But look again at the picture I was painting there. Doesn’t it look familiar? Making excuses for genocide? Pointing out its necessity? It should be very familiar: It is comprised of exactly the kind of responses that Christians give when challenged on the Old Testament genocides.

Yes, they (very mostly) say: genocide is bad. Objectivity bad. Absolutely immoral. It’s just that in this case, the case of the Israelites entering the promised land, genocide was actually moral and morally necessary. It has to be viewed in the correct context to be correctly understood morally.
Glenn Miller has dealt with the idea of how badly NoSCo is dealing with this, as well as the improper appeal to "genocide". Bt at the start, there is a difference in that Israelites were dealing with the behavior of a people in one region that they (the Israelires) were entitled to be in and were not on a path to have a final solution to the pagan problem. Still, there is something worth noting here.

NoSCo does not deal with the argument.

Instead, he does a tu quoque with saying “Your position is inconsistent!” Well even if that was the case, which it isn’t, it does not mean that NoSCo’s position isn't as well. If NoSCo wants to argue against objective morality, then he has lost any argument against the “genocides” in the OT. If he wants to argue that the events in the OT were ipso facto wrong, then he needs to have a moral basis as the argument suggests, and it has not been given here. 

Later, NoSCo goes on to say:
You’re using the bible, and the morality inherent in the bible, to judge the morality of the bible.

So many atheists regularly have this ignorant position that Christianity teaches that no one can know right from wrong unless the Bible says so. This is just the opposite of my position. I contend that when the Bible says X is moral or immoral, it points to a truth independent of itself still. For instance, it is not the case that Jesus was crucified because the Bible says so. Jesus was crucified and the Bible says so because it’s true and it’s true in what it reports. The saying of it in the Bible is not the reason why it’s true. 

In fact, in the history of Christian thought, this has been the case with Natural Law thinking. The very argument from morality implies this. After all, how could the arguer point to NoSCo’s judgment of right and wrong unless it was to be assumed that NoSCo ought to know this and he doesn’t need the Bible to know it?

NoSCo wants to have it both ways. He wants to avoid objective morality, but when he wants to condemn God, he wants objective morality. He cannot have it both ways and he will need to choose which one he wants to go with.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Snap: A Jigsaw Gude to Making Sense of the World

I'm still catching up after a conference last week, so I'm pleased to have this review by our ministry partner, Nick Peters.
Puzzled By This Book
I recently received from my ministry partner, J.P. Holding, a copy of Alex McLellan's "A Jigsaw Guide To Making Sense of the World," with the reason being that since it was a book more along the lines of my interests, that I should review it for Tektonics. I was glad to do so. I liked the idea at the start being a fan of jigsaw puzzles and I was expecting to see much that was good since Ravi Zacharias, a personal hero of mine, endorsed it.
But in the end, I was puzzled.
Why? I do agree with McLellan's approach overall, but as I went through the book, I found that very little was said and some aspects seemed quite contradictory. Repeatedly I was told that under naturalism the world does not make sense and theism makes sense of the world. I was told that under theism there is a basis for objective morality and there is not one under atheism. I was told told that Christianity does make sense of the world.
All of these statements I agree with, but what was missing was why I should agree with them. The only arguments I remember seeing for God's existence other than meaning were the first cause argument, fine tuning, and morality. None of these were really spelled out. There was about a single paragraph on saying how the apostles were willing to die for the claim that Jesus rose from the dead (A dangerous statement to make since we don't have a firm foundation for the deaths of ALL of the apostles), and in the final chapter, an end note could lead someone to the works of Walter Kaiser and F.F. Bruce on if the Old and New Testament documents are reliable.
Much of the book read as a psychology of religious belief. More and more my personal psyche seemed to be being discussed. There were times that I thought McLellan was about to deliver a great point, but I was let down. Instead, it all became more and more internalized and I was left thinking that this might work on someone who is more emotionally geared, but if someone is not, then what is one to do?
An example of the way the message seemed contradictory was that in the third chapter which is on belief, he does say that we should not emphasize feelings. He gives the illustration of how Mormons came to him and what did they go to but their inner testimony of the Holy Spirit? He tells the story about how an atheist spoke to a crowd once and no one knew how to answer him until a preacher got up and said he didn't have any learning really, but then got an apple out of his bag and began to eat it and asked the atheist how it tasted. Was it bitter or sweet? The atheist said he couldn't answer since he hadn't tasted the apple. The preacher responded saying neither had the atheist tasted his Jesus. The crowd applauds and the atheist leaves. McLellan rightfully says that this is not the right approach.
Yet all throughout the book, it seems his approach is on feelings. He talks about how we just know that there is something wrong with the world. We all know that reality is supposed to be meaningful. We all know that there has to be something more. Now I do agree with the idea that life is meaningful and there is to be more, but an atheist reader who was informed would see right through this and say "There you go. They only believe for emotional reasons."
This is quite sad since there are many points McLellan gets right. He points out correctly that faith is not blind and even points out on page 107 that the Greek word translated as faith is translated as proof in Acts 17:31. Unfortunately, he does not state anywhere I recall what faith really is. There is no idea of it being seen as trust in the one who has been providing and that it is thus necessarily based on evidence.
On page 134, he rightly states that too many people are disappointed with what they receive at church today as the culture is superficial and unwilling to dig deep into the truths of Christianity, or religion period for that matter. He is correct in that. He is right in that even people of faith do not know the treasures in their midst. He then goes on to describe studying under Robert Saucy and how it was. At this, I have two concerns.
First, McLellan talks about systematic theology, but the book he cites of Saucy's is not a systematic theology per se but a book on the church. This is part of systematic theology, but not the whole. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a book that just covers a part. I am not saying every book on theology has to cover every aspect. 
Second, and this was the far greater concern, was that after hearing about the awesome resources the church is missing and hearing about the grandeur of God McLellan said he was learning, I expected to hear more. Instead, I heard nothing. I was told we should reflect on what we believe, but I was not told what exactly it was that makes God so awesome. This was a recurring criticism I had. McLellan gives the impression of bouncing from point to point without diving in deep into any of them.
On page 160, he says atheism is at a disadvantage when we take a common sense approach to making sense of it all. As one who has debated a number of atheists over the years on the internet, I can state with certainty that the atheists will say the exact same thing. They are the position of common sense and we who believe in miracles and something "supernatural" are those who lack common sense. I always have a problem with an appeal to common sense. If you need to state it, it's not common sense. If it is common sense, why bother stating it? 
On page 164, McLellan writes that some will answer that if this world is broken due to our freedom, it would have been better had God not created it. McLellan replies with "Apparently not, since God created us with it, and he delights when people use it to reach out and ask him to start putting the broken pieces of their lives back together."
This was extremely problematic to me. I view it this way. The argument is against God's nature and existence saying "A good God would not create people with freedom knowing they would use it for this kind of evil." This is a real objection and fortunately people like Plantinga and others have answered it. McLellan's response comes across as "But we know that God created this way." That's the very point under dispute! It does not answer the objection to say "God thought it was worth doing" since the questioner is confused on God's existence.
I do think McLellan could have dug a bit deeper and given some good thorough answers to questions and good apologetic arguments. I do not doubt he knows them, but there was little presentation of them. New atheists are sometimes cited, but not really responded to. One of my criticisms of the new atheists has been that they do not interact with Christian scholarship in their works or evangelical sources. I have the same problem with McLellan's book. 
Another looming problem is the constant pointing to one's own experience, although that does not seem valid when he addresses the Mormons. If anything, for most of us, our problem is that we think about ourselves far too much. I am told often in here about how God longs to have a relationship with me. I find this odd since this is not anything I find the apostles teaching. I see them teaching the kingship of Christ over the cosmos and we need to get in line. This focusing on ourselves heightens an individualism that is more problematic than the problem McLellan wishes to address.
It is my contention that one will still be better off elsewhere. For a good start on Christianity, one should read something like "Case For Christ" by Lee Strobel or "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. For the question of doubt and belief, excellent material can be found in Gary Habermas's "Dealing With Doubt" and "The Thomas Factor." Both of those are in fact free downloads that can be found on his web site.
Perhaps McLellan will write another book soon to further flesh out the argumentation, for at this point, I am indeed, still puzzled.