Dawkins, Deism and Jesus

Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist. But many are now asking whether the dyed-in-the-wool critic of religion may be, well, evolving in his views about God. You see, in a recent debate with theist and Christian John Lennox, he let slip what many would regard as a major blooper: he actually admitted that there might be a case for theism of sorts.

Here is the background to the story. In October of 2007 Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins debated his Oxford colleague Dr. John Lennox in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a lively affair, with Lennox arguing for theism in general and Christianity in particular. Lennox is a worthy opponent, since he is a philosopher of science and a mathematician. So he can match Dawkins on the scientific issues.

That debate, which is well-worthwhile watching, can be seen here: http://www.dawkinslennoxdebate.com/  And everyone should really get hold of the brilliant book by Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion, 2007). It is a devastating critique of Dawkins in particular and naturalistic evolutionary thinking in general.

A second debate between the pair was held at Oxford’s Natural History Museum last week (21 October). In this debate Dawkins spent much of his time attacking the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Jesus, while Lennox of course defended it. But early on in the piece Dawkins made this amazing remark: “A serious case could be made for a deistic God”.

Now the debate does not yet seem to be on the Net, so I have only second-hand accounts to go by here. But if these reports are correct, then this is a very startling admission indeed. One person who attended the debate was British commentator Melanie Phillips. I will deal with her remarks and observations in a moment.

But first let me say a few words about deism. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about what deism actually is. Indeed, I get many atheists on my website talking about deism but they clearly do not understand the concept very well.

For example, in 2005 Professor Antony Flew – perhaps the most well-known and important atheist in the world for many decades – announced that he was no longer an atheist. He said the evidence forced him to abandon atheism, and that he was now a deist. He even wrote a book about it all in 2007 called, There is a God (HarperOne).

This was a worldview change of seismic proportions. It was a most remarkable turnaround. For someone who had spent over five decades championing the atheist cause to all of a sudden renounce it was an incredible achievement.

Of course fellow atheists were livid, and denounced him in most scathing terms – or, sought to ignore the whole affair altogether. He was seen as a traitor, a turncoat and an apostate by other atheists. So much for the tolerance and open-mindedness of unbelief.

And whenever I would mention Flew and his conversion to theism, I would have angry atheists write in accusing me of lies and deception. ‘He is not a Christian’ they would exclaim. ‘He is not even a theist – he is just a deist.’ Of course I never said he was a Christian. Flew has never claimed to be a Christian either. However it is quite interesting to note that at the end of his book there is a chapter on the resurrection of Jesus Christ by NT Wright. Flew said this about the case for Christianity presented by Wright: “It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful.”

Thus Flew is not a biblical Christian, but he seems pretty open to it. So what about Flew’s deism? My atheist buddies keep trying to say that Flew is not a theist, but a deist. For some reason they cannot seem to grasp the fact that deism is simply a subset of theism. Very simply stated, deists believe that there is a God who has created the world, but he now acts as an absentee landlord.

That is, deists believe in a creator God, but nothing further. They do not think God continues in any way to be involved with this world, or interact with creation, or answer prayer, and so on. He created the universe much as a watchmaker winds up a watch, but then the world, like the watch, is left to unwind on its own.

Thus deism is clearly a far cry from revealed religion (eg. Judaism and Christianity), and is largely the playground of rationalist philosophers, not biblical believers. Deism denies God’s immanence (his personal involvement in this world) and of course denies basic Judeo-Christian beliefs, such as miracles, divine revelation, and a personal relationship with God. It posits a transcendent, but impersonal God, and is very much the God of the philosophers, not the God of revelational religion.

But deism still asserts belief in a creator God, no matter how far such a notion of the divine differs from the Judeo-Christian understanding. So this brings us back to Dawkins and his claim: “A serious case could be made for a deistic God”. For an anti-supernaturalist, materialist and atheist like Dawkins to even open the door ever so slightly to allow the possibility of a deistic God is a huge ideological jump indeed.

It seems however that he backtracked on his comments almost immediately afterwards. As I mentioned, Melanie Phillips was at the debate, and she had a chance to ask him a few questions afterward. I let her pick up the story: “Afterwards, I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position and become more open to ideas which lay outside the scientific paradigm.  He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression. But he also said other things which suggested to me that some of his own views simply don’t meet the criteria of empirical evidence that he insists must govern all our thinking.”

“For example, I put to him that, since he is prepared to believe that the origin of all matter was an entirely spontaneous event, he therefore believes that something can be created out of nothing — and that since such a belief runs counter to the very scientific principles of verifiable evidence which he tells us should govern all our thinking, this is itself precisely the kind of irrationality, or ‘magic’, which he scorns. In reply he said that, although he agreed this was a problematic position, he did indeed believe that the first particle arose spontaneously from nothing, because the alternative explanation – God – was more incredible. Later, he amplified this by saying that physics was coming up with theories to show how matter could spontaneously be created from nothing. But as far as I can see – and as Anthony Flew elaborates – these theories cannot answer the crucial question of how the purpose-carrying codes which gave rise to self–reproduction in life-forms arose out of matter from which any sense of purpose was totally absent. So such a belief, whether adduced by physicists or anyone else, does not rest upon rational foundations.”

“Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?”

“The other thing that jumped out at me from this debate was that, although Dawkins insisted over and over again that all he was concerned with was whether or not something was true, he himself seems to be pretty careless with historical evidence. Anthony Flew, for example, points out in his own book that Dawkins’s claim in The God Delusion that Einstein was an atheist is manifestly false, since Einstein had specifically denied that he was either a pantheist or an atheist. In the debate, under pressure from Lennox Dawkins was actually forced to retract his previous claim that Jesus had probably ‘never existed’.”

So what is one to make of all this? Well, as much as ol’ Richard may not like me saying so, miracles evidently still happen. If uber-atheist Antony Flew can abandon his atheism, and even consider the case for Christianity, then maybe there is a God after all! And if Richard can even contemplate the fact that his materialistic straightjacket is just a bit too tight, and allow for something other than his doctrinaire atheism, then there may be hope yet for all of us.

Suffice it to say, I have been praying, and will continue to pray, for Flew, Dawkins, Harris and others like them. I pray that Flew keeps going in his spiritual quest, and finally discovers the liberating experience of undertaking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I pray that Dawkins and the other belligerent atheists also see the light. Of course even if Dawkins concedes only a little ground to deism, then he will not believe there is a God who will be interested in my prayers. But my God is not the abstract rationalistic construct of the philosophers, but is the living God of the universe who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and who invites every single one of us to abandon the dead-end roads we are on, and come into newness of life with Him because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf at Calvary.


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63 Replies to “Dawkins, Deism and Jesus”

  1. Hi Bill,

    Interesting, isn’t it? I guess the lesson to draw is that when it comes to God’s existence it’s always God who gets the last word. LOL!

    Just a distantly related comment on that “theism” vs “deism” thing – I agree that atheists really don’t seem to get the MAJOR metaphysical distinction between theism of any sort (including deism – a subset, as you rightly say, of theism) and atheism.

    In particular, I’m continually bemused by the atheist claim that they just believe in “one less god” than Christians. As though the move from polytheism to monotheism to atheism were just a matter of how many gods rather than a major metaphysical issue in and of itself.

    That, of course, has nothing very much to do with the above – I just thought I’d throw it in!

    It’s great that you mention praying for the fundamentalist atheists, by the way. I would only add that we should ALSO pray for Christians like Lennox and McGrath and so on who regularly engage with them. May the Lord bless their apostleship to the atheistic intelligentsia!

    Murray Hogg

  2. Thanks Murray for the quite insightful comment, and the reminder to pray for those who engage with the atheists as well. Well done.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Thanks for the very interesting and informative background, Bill. I wonder, if Dawkins is playing with the idea of Deism as a credible belief, he may not be a bit intimidated with the prospect of all his back-slapping mates going ballistic should he come out and do a 360, as they are wont to do.
    That would explain why he so strenuously denied and covered up his slip when he was called on it.
    It’s worthwhile praying for any person to come to know the truth and certainly for Dawkins who has knocked himself out to influence so many against Christ. After all, look at the change in the Apostle Paul.
    Dee Graf

  4. Albert Einstein repudiated the idea of a personal God, a God who come and speaks to us. However, he certainly understood the limitations of the scientific method as a means to seeing the totality of creation and the paradox that as more and more scientific mysteries are uncovered so science itself becomes an increasingly blunt tool for grasping total and universal truth.

    “But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

    “The area of scientific knowledge has been enormously extended, and theoretical knowledge has become vastly more profound in every department of science. But the assimilative power of the human intellect is and remains strictly limited….Every serious scientific worker is painfully conscious of this involuntary relegation to an ever-narrowing sphere of knowledge, which threatens to deprive the investigator of his broad horizon and degrades him to the level of a mechanic. ( like Dawkins)”

    “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist ( Richard Dawkins) whose fervour is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

    “What separates me from most so-called atheists( like Dawkins) is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”
    “For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is , and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values.”

    “The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of true religiousness.”

    “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details.
    I see a pattern, but my imagination cannot picture the maker of that pattern. I see a clock, but I cannot envision the clockmaker. The human mind is unable to conceive of the four dimensions, so how can it conceive of a God, before whom a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are as one?”


    But the question for Albert Einstein is that even on a human level not any old person is going to divulge their most intimate thoughts to him. They are not to be treated as objects under the scrutiny of the microscope. It was surely only with those with whom he had a close personal relationship that deep communication became possible.

    I have contributed inelegantly to this article of Melanie’s and I must say that to attempt to enter into the mind of articulate humanists or atheists and do battle with them is an extremely daunting task. Unless one has the patience, wit and concentration to follow their tortuous logic, we will never be able to learn to communicate with our present age. For instance one of the contributors, Nick Kaplan, for whom we must also pray, I believe is a window into the soul of our time. If anyone has the time or energy to pitch into that debate, I and a few other Christians would be extremely grateful.


    David Skinner, UK

  5. Interesting, but the real problem of Dawkins has not been addressed. Dawkins wants us to accept a metaphysical naturalism. Indeed, Dawkins claim of finding a deistic god acceptable does not compromise his basic advocacy of metaphysical naturalism.

    Dawkins concedes that science arose once from within Christianity. The work of the Baylor University Rodney Stark is a good example of these arguments.

    Dawkins then argues that science has gone beyond Christianity. It has replace superstition with facts. That Darwin’s evolutionary theory provides a rational explanation. Those areas of science that do not have a unified theory like biology’s evolution are “yet to have their Darwin.” It is the reverse of the god of the gaps heresy.

    But the real problem is the failure by Dawkins to recognise that he is promoting another religion with its own revelation and eschatology. It fails the same scientific tests as Christianity because it is not a metaphysical science. We need to start looking at Dawkins theologically.

    We must agree with Dawkins, religion should not be a private matter except in one respect. Religion should never be dictated to us by the state. However, ones religious views should be open to public discussion within civil society. Dawkins trick to escape the same scrutiny is to maintain the falsehood that he is not promoting a religion. It has no god but has faith and a supernatural views.

    Michael Boswell

  6. In “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, Dawkins says that there may be an “intelligent creator” but it would definitely not be any of the known God (hindu, allah, Jesus, Jehova, Zeus, etc).
    Edgar Sanchez

  7. Hi Bill,

    The highlights from Melanie’s article were fantastic. But the best part of your commentary was the reminder for us Christians to continue to pray that “eists” of all stripes come to know and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thank you & Amen!

    Duane Proud

  8. Hi Bill,
    I enjoy reading your articles and the comments of the readers. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    I’m an atheist. But I’m not too keen on some of Dawkin’s ideas and statements. But, I can’t help feel that we have to hear the full debate before judging what he said and the context he said it.

    Afterall, the amount of “quote-mining” that goes on is deplorable. A classic example being creationists quoting rhetorical questions from Darwin’s writings which were actually originally wrote just to whet the appetite of the reader.

    If Dawkins said ““A serious case could be made for a deistic God”. I’d like to know the full context he said it in.

    He may of simply said “If we could prove X, Y, Z. A serious case could be made for a deistic God”

    Dawkins has been a victim of quote-mining many times before. (The film “Expelled” contains a snippet where they suddenly cut him and a narrator blurts in and goes ‘wait a minute, did dawkins say…). So i feel it is only fair to listen to the full debate before drawing conclusions.

    Ian Webb

  9. Thanks Ian

    I did mention that I had not seen the actual debate yet, and I did mention that Dawkins quickly seemed to back-pedal on his remark. So I do not think I am guilty of “quote-mining” here! But it will be interesting to see the whole debate when it does go online.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Thanks Bill,
    My apologise, I did not mean to accuse you of quote-mining. Rather I was trying to point out the dangers of drawing conclusions based upon quotes that may be taken out of context. (The quote-mining point was aimed towards the type of writer who draws conclusions AND knowingly deceives the reader by neglecting to mention certain details).

    Back to the dangers of concluding….
    You do conclude at the very top of the article. It is not until paragraph 5, that we realise that the conclusion is based upon 2nd-hand quote that may not given in its original context. Although there is nothing wrong with this, I do think it is a little unfair to the reader who is trying to draw their own conclusions.

    Quote: paragraph 1. A conclusion:
    ‘…he let slip what many would regard as a major blooper: he actually admitted that there might be a case for theism of sorts’.

    Also, you stated that Dawkins ‘back-tracked’ (or back-pedalled above). Again this may be an incorrect conclusion since the Melanie Phillips quote you give says Dawkin’s “vehemontly denied” changing his position regarding. Back-tracking is very different to a denial.

    Apologise, if I’m been picky. Your articles are your opinions and of course you have a right to draw any conclusions you want. But, I’m just illustrating that perhaps we should wait for the full story before doing so.

    Ian Webb

  11. Thanks Ian

    The point of the article was simply that if he did indeed say this, then it was an amazing admission. If the quote is not accurate, I would imagine Dawkins would have sued Phillips or the Spectator by now, or taken some sort of action. So we have no legitimate reason for believing the quote to be false, or Phillips to be lying here. But as I have said several times now, it will be interesting to see the actual debate when it becomes available. Like you, I look forward to seeing it. So we probably no longer need to belabour this particular point. But thanks again for your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Hi Bill,

    Should we be using a capital “G” when referring to a deistic god???

    Ben Green

  13. Thanks Ben

    That might be both a matter of English grammar and theology. A deistic God may well be a proper noun, but not all deists may view such a god as personal. Thus I hedge my bets here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Ian Webb why not just say “taking things out of context” instead of trying to discredit and put a prohibition on all searching for the truth by calling it “mining”. “Mine away” I say and keep on mining. The truth, as Schaeffer says, is that the atheist cannot live 24 hours a day consistently with his world view; he is forced to put in little pockets here and there of sense. He says in Chapter 1 of “He is There and He is not Silent”, “Perhaps you remember one of Godard’s movies, Pierrot le Four, in which he has people going out through the windows, instead of through the doors. But the interesting thing is that they do not go out through the solid wall. Godard is really saying that although he has no answer, yet at the same time he cannot go out through that solid wall. This merely is his expression of the difficulty of holding that there is a totally chaotic universe while the external world has form and order.”

    If this world really has no order why is it that atheists are quick to seize on apparent contradictions in the Bible? By appealing to some unifying force in the world that encompasses everything they have given the game away.

    David Skinner, UK

  15. Thanks Bill, yes i too look forward to hearing the debate. Btw , thanks for posting the link to the Lennox/Dawkins debate.

    not sure of your point here, but thanks for the link. The J.W. quote they refer to is pure phobic ranting in my opinion. I’m surprised they took it seriously enough to write an article refuting it.

    yes I should have said that. I think you may have mis-understood the term ‘quote-mining’ – it is not a prohibition to seeking the truth, please refer to wikipedia for a good definition. I agree with BIll, no point belating my previous point.

    I agree an athiest cannot live consistency with their worldview. That is because our view changes as we understand more and fill in the gaps (eg. discovering the world is not flat)

    I am not familiar with the Schaeffer quotation, so please let me catch up on that. But i’d completely disagree with the point that the universe is “totally chaotic”. We know this not true because a lot of it is predictable once we understand it. Eg. laws of motion,… a snooker ball hitting another ball cause it totally predictable direction. If i boil a pot of water, it is predictable that it will boil at 100degrees celsius.

    It is a bit difficult to answer you question because it relies on that assumption. But all i can say is that science (not just athiests) look at at evidence / observations to seek out the scientific truth. Contradictions simply raise further questions which are dug into until the logical truth is found.

    Ian Webb

  16. The claim of deist god – a creator who has nothign else to do with the continuation of the universe is not that far from calling the big bang. Or calling the beginning of the universe “X”. It does nothing to explain how the universe began since it the deist god has no definitions. What it does do, is undermine tireless efforts to understand and investigate the beginings of the universe (if there is one) by the was of science – that is, observation, hypothesis testing and refinement.
    Tzu-yen Wang

  17. Thanks Tzu-yen

    Actually a deist God would have many attributes by which we might define him. Such a God would most likely be personal, intelligent, powerful, volitional and eternal, for starters. That is a far cry from X.

    And the idea that the universe had a beginning is certainly becoming accepted by many in the scientific community. Scientists can point to the expanding nature of the universe, cosmic background radiation, the second law of thermodynamics, and so on. Those who accept the Big Bang also find a beginning point, or what can be considered creation out of nothing.

    Also, you seem to confuse origin science with operation science. Neither Darwinists nor creationists can use the science you describe – “observation, hypothesis testing and refinement” – in their discussion of origins. What you describe is operation science. While operation science deals with present regularities, origin science deals with past singularities. The origin of the universe is of course a one-off event that none of us can recreate in a lab. The beginning of the universe is not a repeatable occurrence, but a once-only event which no one was around to observe. So both evolutionists and creationists have to come up with theories which best seem to account for our understanding of how the universe came into existence. We can then test these theories by forensic science rather than empirical science.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Bill Muehlenberg,

    Can I ask how you could substantiate the idea that a deist god could have some form of definition? And even if a deist god existed, it’s definition would mean nothing in the context of how the universe operates since the god would not intervine.

    Origin science is not impossible to decifer with operational science. Just because an event in the past cannot be ever be revisited, it does not mean it that observation/hypothesis testing of the current universe cannot increase our understandings our origins. An example of this would be the orbit of pluto and the rotation of the galaxies. We have never lived long enough or will ever live long enough to observe the complete cycle, but we have a good idea that pluto orbits around the sun once ever few hundred years. Not 100% certain, but better than no effort. Which brings me back to the point of by calling our origins a deist god, it does nothing to improve our understanding of our origins.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  19. Thanks Tzu-yen

    A deistic God is by definition a God who has at least created the world. Thus we know that much about such a God. And by looking at the created world, we can learn a lot about the creator, including those attributes which I mentioned in my earlier post.

    As to origin science, as I say it deals with one-off, unrepeatable occurrences. But yes, then we resort to forensic science. We look at the present world and try to come up with an account for it which best fits what is there. The idea of an unguided, purposeless process does not seem to best fit the evidence. Everywhere we see evidence of design purpose, order and complexity. The idea of an intelligent designer seems to offer a very plausible explanation for such a world.

    Plenty of scientists can be cited here. Paul Davies, for example, argues that the precise structure of the universe leads him to believe that it has been “rather carefully thought out” and is “compelling evidence for cosmic design”. That takes us at least to a deistic God it would seem to me.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. Bill Muehlenberg,

    If the evidence for a creator’s attributes is in the world that is created, there are plenty of things I can cite apart from the ‘nice’ things people can see (love, flowers, beautiful mountains). What about natural disasters? What attribute does an earthquake that kills 80 000 people imbude on the creator? A design that randomly kills people like that is not an attribute I would hope a creator has. And suppose the same earthquake happend in Australia instead of southeast Asia, maybe a few thousand will die instead. Hardly seems like a well thought out creation, especially if god is unable to interveine post-creation.

    I can think of countless other bad things as well. including the thousands tha starve to death or has diarrhea and dies of dehydration simply because there is no clean water. There is plenty of beauty in this world, but just as many things opposite.

    When I talk about this issue, my friends tend to say the creator has a grand plan. What do you think?

    And on the issue of intelligent design. Unless advocates can provide an explanation to who/what designed god, the idea cannot be of any use. Clearly, from your argument, god is much more complex that the universe. trees, mountains, cellular biochemistry are all complex matters and advocates think that a designer (even mroe complex) must have created it with a goal in mind. This train of thought leaves a burning question – who/what designed the desiner? I am sure you are familiar with this argument and I would glady hear your views on this.

    In addition, intelligent design also implies that everything in this world was designed. Does that mean earthquakes were designed? or was the designer unable to contain a side-effect of making techtonic plates move? On a smaller scale, what about the direct connection from the world to the pertironeal (abdominal) cavity of a woman’s body? and why do people get chronic pain?

    For me, there is a simpler explanation for what happens in this world – good and bad. it requires no god, no designer, epecially an all powerful, all loving and all caring one. We may both not know exactly how the universe began, but my view does not require me to justify the suffering of this world and the countless imperfect designs in this world.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  21. Thanks Tzu-yen

    As to a “flawed” creation, a few things can be said. One, the Judeo-Christian view explains it quite easily: things are not the way they were meant to be. That is, we live in a fallen world. God’s original good creation has been marred by sin. All of creation has been affected by the rebellion of mankind against God. Thus our free choices to reject God have brought immense suffering into the world. But the good news is, in spite of us thumbing our noses at God, God entered the world in the form of his son, Jesus Christ, took our pain and suffering and sin upon himself, and offers us a way to get back to his original good intentions for us.

    Two, we all actually believe in original, non-flawed creations, at least to an extent. When we buy a computer, it is in good working order. If we do not follow the instructions of the manufacturer, but start messing around with it – eg., pouring molasses into the keyboard or some such thing – we will find it no longer works, and it seems flawed and useless So good creations can be screwed up when we don’t follow the instructions, and think we know better than the maker.

    Three, many human activities result in negative environmental outcomes. If we mistreat the environment, we will experience bad results. Selfish human actions can destroy rivers or contaminate the air, for example. So on all three counts we have no sound reason to reject the notion of a creator God, just because we find the created order to now be less perfect than we think it should be.

    As to who created God, the argument is not that everything must have a cause, but that whatever which begins to exist must have a cause. Being can’t come from nonbeing. So what caused God? Is God self-caused? No, that is impossible. Nothing can be self-caused, not even God. Thus we would say God is by definition an uncaused being. He always and necessarily existed. God is an eternal, necessary, non-contingent being.

    And this is not so different from atheists saying the universe always existed. So we simply pick an option on faith here: either we have an uncreated eternal universe, or we have an uncreated eternal God who created the material universe. And since the evidence seems to suggest that the universe had a beginning, then we must look for a cause which is outside of the space/time universe – in other words, a transcendent cause, which we usually call God.

    Finally, you speak a lot about good and bad. But on your worldview such moral talk makes no sense at all. Crap just happens in a purposeless and undirected world. What comfort do you offer the grieving parent that has lost his whole family in a tsunami? What comport can any materialist or Darwinist offer in such circumstances? All they can do is say that crap happens. At least atheists like Richard Dawkins are honest here. They admit that morality really makes little sense in such a world.

    Dawkins said this: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” So Dawkins is willing to confess to his theory’s weakness here. Are you? (For more on this topic of God and morality, please refer to my recent article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/13/god-and-goodness/ )

    Indeed, you are trying to smuggle in a moral universe when none exists in your purely naturalistic world. To even talk about good and evil you have to appeal to a worldview other than your own reductionistic materialism. It is your worldview that is the one lacking in any hope, comfort, or reasonable explanatory power. So try asking some hard questions about your own belief system Tzu-yen. Your view is far too problematic. Indeed, I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. The claim of deist god – a creator who has nothing else to do with the continuation of the universe is not that far from calling the big bang. Or calling the beginning of the universe “X”. It does nothing to explain how the universe began since it the deist god has no definitions. What it does do, is undermine tireless efforts to understand and investigate the beginings of the universe (if there is one) by the was of science – that is, observation, hypothesis testing and refinement.

    I must take issue with the very first claim that led to the recent dialog between Bill M and Tzu-yen Wang.

    Firstly, the Big Bang idea is proposed as a naturalistic solution to the origin of the universe, whereas a deistic solution (“God created”) is decidedly non-naturalistic. So at its core it is quite different. A deist would suggest (like a theist) that the naturalistic explanation for the order in the universe is inadequate as an explanation. Just because both the naturalist and the deist propose “the universe had a beginning” does not mean that their explanations are in any way alike.

    Appealing to just any old hypothetical “X” is also very different. If I said “the cause of the universe is an explosion” vs “the cause of the universe is God”, then there is an “X” which can represent both “God” and “explosion”, but the two ideas are not at all related. One involves potentially purely naturalistic forces, whereas the other involves agency.

    It is also incorrect to suggest that the deistic God has no definitions. I would recommend reading up a little on what deists actually believe (ref: http://www.deism.com/deism_defined.htm). As an example, deists themselves define God as:

    — universal
    — creative
    — lawgiver
    — designer

    Right, that’s that off my chest … carry on!

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  23. Bill Muehlenberg,

    Your refutal of why does good and bad exist in this world is all too often heard. Can you explain why earthquakes happen in a world designed by god of a powerful, caring nature – even if god is unable to interviene. Do you really believe mankind is to blame for earthquakes? If anything that we do on earth can trigger an earthquake, it may contribute to less than a fraction of the entire cause. So, the god that you believe in, was he/she able to for-see what whas going to happen to this world (including the earthquake)? was he/she very powerful and loving?

    Good and bad. Morals. Again, by implying that atheist have no morals or is unable to have your level of morality is another issue that religious people fall on. first of all, let me clarify my views on god. I am strictly not an atheist, but I happend to understand that I can never prove that god does not exist. I just choose to say that god, in my everyday functional life, is very very unlikely to exist, espcially the god that the major religions believe in.

    Back to morality. An example I will give is hurting or stealing from others. when the view point is on 2 individuals, the person who steals and harms the other has all to gain and very little to lose (perhaps a scratch). however, on a population level, it makes sense not to steal and harm others. Ther person who steals and harms must also expect other’s to do the same to him. therefore, it’s best not to do it at all. To believe that naturalistic world is unable to develop morals is just ignorant. Quoting Dawkins like that is to say that you probably havent read his books either. He, being a biologist, has written extensively on how morals develop in a natural world and that religions are not required for this development. Morals exist in the non-human animal world too.

    Now, I am 2 weeks from being a doctor, and from what I can see and do, as an (near) atheist, I think i am not that not lagging in my moral development either. For people that are harmed, i think i offer plenty of help and assistance. Based on what you might ask? The love of humanity – not the permeance of god in all of us. In the hospital, do you know who have the hardest time dealing with loss and death are? Very devoted religious people.

    Yes crap happens. But at least it dosent happen because an all powerful, knowing and loving god created this world. Blaming humans for mucking up gods creation is not an adequate explanation either. What comfort is that providing? God knew the world was going to be like this anyway.

    Also, I agree that by defining god as the starting point of existance is no more closer to the scientitfic explanation of the origins of the universe. however, what it does do, is hinder investigation.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  24. Thanks Tzu-yen

    But with all due respect, you have been reading too many atheist tracts. If you are really seeking after truth (and I hope that you are) why don’t you try reading a bit more widely here? I am happy to suggest some titles. Or, like most atheists, is your mind already made up, and you will not allow any countervailing evidence to budge you?

    You sadly misrepresent what I have been saying here and in other posts about morality. I never said atheists cannot do good. I have simply said that the atheist worldview makes no sense regarding such things. But the biblcal worldview does. The reason you are seeking to do good is because you are made in the image of a good God. You certainly are not being good merely because of a bunch of selfish genes, and the survival of the fittest. So your very aim to even be good gives lie to your naturalistic worldview, and shows its intellectual bankruptcy.

    And you atheists want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to claim every good thing that happens in this world is somehow part of your own moral choices. But then you turn around and want to claim that every bad thing that happens in this world is somehow God’s fault. Sorry, but which is it?

    If you really want God to intervene every time evil is about to be committed, you do not know what you are asking for. Let’s say God will put an end to all evil at midnight. Guess what Tzu-yen? You won’t be around at 12:01. Neither will I. Or anyone else for that matter.

    We are all evil, fallen, and sin-soaked. God in his grace does not intervene every time we do some selfish and evil thing. But that grace will not extend forever. One day he will judge all mankind. Every right will be rewarded and every wrong punished.

    That in part is the comfort of justice that we offer to all people. Christians may not have an answer for every particular tragedy that happens (and neither do atheists), but we know that there is a God who is too loving to be unkind, and too wise to make a mistake. And we know that if a parent loses a two-year-old, that child will live again, forever.

    But I again ask you Tzu-yen, what words of comfort do you offer those parents? The child is gone and that is it. Crap happens, and this life is all there is. You offer nothing by way of help and hope for those who are grieving, except your cold, dead-end materialism.

    I would much rather live with a bit of mystery, knowing that an all-wise and all-loving God is working things to a greater end, than to believe there is no end at all.

    And yes I have read Dawkins and Co. And no, morality is only about that which volitional agents can do. Spare us the animal morality foolishness. And all the more honest atheists admit to the lack of morality in a naturalistic system:

    “Nature has no concern for good or bad, right or wrong. . . . We cannot get behind ethics.” -naturalist Simon Blackburn

    Ethics “is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate,” and “the way our biology enforces its ends is by making us think that there is an objective higher code to which we are all subject.” – evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson

    “Morality is no more … than an adaptation, and as such has the same status as such things as teeth and eyes and noses. . . . [M]orality is a creation of the genes” -evolutionary naturalist Michael Ruse

    “No God. No life after death. No free will. No ultimate meaning in life and no ultimate foundation for ethics.” -atheist biologist Will Provine

    There are plenty more such admissions. They are the ones being candid here. You should take note Tzu-yen.

    As to your last remark, sorry, but wrong again. As has been widely admitted, it was the biblical Chrsitian worldview that made the rise of modern science possible. Far from hindering science, it led to its development. As Oxford professor John Lennox has noted, “Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendal, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk-Maxwell were all theists, most of them Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it.” So please try to move beyond your atheist song sheets. They are so unhelpful here.

    I wish you well in your last two weeks and in your medical career. Yes, what you are doing may well be motivated by a “love of humanity”. But that love does not come from your selfish genes, but it exists because you are made in the image of a God who very much loves and cares for everyone one of us. I pray that you will know his love in a personal and real way, and that you will stop running away from it, and hiding behind your faith in dead-end philosophical naturalism.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  25. Bill Muehlenberg,

    By throwing a blanket over all the good things in ths world and call it god’s makings you are blindly ignoring all the bad things that happen in this world. It’s no as simple as god gave us free will, or humans mucked it up and therefore we suffer or have to deal with it.

    You clearly miss-interpret the issue hear. Natralistic views are satsfied with the good AND the bad of this world. It’s when I hear religious people claim that everything good and beauty is attributed to god that the problem arieses – because i then point the finger at the bad things that happen and demand an explnation for it with respect to the their god. So it’s not a double standard from my view. Rather, it’s the religious people who have double standards on good and bad.

    An your suggestion that i offer nothing but cold materialism to my patients? Well, the love and care coming out of me, where ever you may think it comes from, does help people. But more importantly, I can only laugh at the people who believe in a god what will send me to hell simply because i didn’t believe in god. It shows not only how people have no idea what their beliefs entail, but also the ability to justify that kind of cuelty.

    A naturalistic view of this world can provide an explanation to everyday events that we observe in this world, whether you are satisfied or not. For a victim of a randrom drive by shooting or an gas explosion, what comfort is there to believe in a god that knew about the event and had the power to change it? Perhaps a lesson god is trying to teach? For what cost?

    It’s all to easy to quote biologists/atheist that say science is unable to explain ethics and morality but this by no means suggest the Judeo-Christian god that you believe in is actually true. I doubt the biologists that you quote actually believe in a god that fits the decription of what you and other major religions decribe.

    The developmt of science may have stemed from religion, but again you missed my point. I have specifically decribed the origin of the universe as a problem neither religion or science has an answer for. Yet, it is science that continues the exploration rather than call “god did it”

    It is interesting

    Tzu-yen Wang

  26. Thanks Tzu-yen

    Of course I am not “blindly ignoring” the reality of evil. The Christian worldview offers a plausible and rational account of both good and evil. Naturalism does not and cannot explain either. That is why the honest naturalists will not even admit to the reality of morality. It makes no sense in their worldview.

    And your refusal to answer the question I have twice posed to you is most revealing. Your naturalistic worldview has absolutely nothing to offer to the grieving parent who has lost a loved one in a tsunami or a drive-by shooting. All a naturalist can say is ‘Crap just happens, and you will never see your son or daughter again, so get over it.’ A naturalist certainly cannot speak of this as being either right or wrong, it just is. Right and wrong presupposes a transcendent moral standard that is not a part of nature. Nature can only give us “is,” not “ought”.

    The Christian can not only say there is eternal life to come, but that God very much cares about the tragedies and suffering of life. The freedom we have to choose means we may well misuse that freedom, and do bad things. Every one of us misuses our freedom, not just the drive-by shooter.

    But God is not aloof or unconcerned about our abuse of freedom. He entered into the human situation, suffered as a man, dying on a cross, in your place and mine, so that evil and suffering can be overcome and defeated. He has taken steps to remedy the problem, and in due course he will come again to set everything right.

    One day all suffering and evil will come to an end, and eternal justice will be meted out to all of us. The drive-by shooter, Hitler and you and I will all stand before our maker one day to give an account.

    And of course here you go again, blaming God for all evil – in this case a drive-by shooter. Why not blame the drive-by shooter? He did the killing, not God. God may have allowed the killer to be born, but the killer is responsible for his own actions. I don’t know if you have a family, but if you do, you have allowed another person to enter the world. But are you then responsible if your child turns out to be a killer?

    God may have allowed for the possibility of evil by creating us with free will, but we are responsible for the actuality of evil. Sure, without free will, there would be no evil, but there would be no good as well. If you do have children, you want them to freely choose to love you, but with that freedom comes the risk that they will choose to reject you as well. Such is the nature of freedom.

    And of course God sends no one to hell. You make that choice yourself. If you will continue in your sin – the chief of which is pride – and shake your fist at God and claim he does not exist, and has no claims on you, then you are making your own bed, and you will have to sleep in it.

    If you reject God, then God still respects your freedom, and allows you to make you own choices as to your eternal destiny. God has done everything possible for people to avoid hell, but if rebellious mankind refuses to receive what he has to offer, then we simply get what we demand. If we demand that God has nothing to do with us, then that is just what we will get – forever.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  27. Back to morality. An example I will give is hurting or stealing from others. when the view point is on 2 individuals, the person who steals and harms the other has all to gain and very little to lose (perhaps a scratch). however, on a population level, it makes sense not to steal and harm others. The person who steals and harms must also expect other’s to do the same to him. therefore, it’s best not to do it at all.

    Hi Tzu-yen,

    I don’t think that your conclusion follows from the premises. You suggest that I ought not to steal (a moral imperative) because a whole lot of people might steal from me? But:

    — perhaps I have nothing of value that they would want to steal, therefore I can steal from them and increase my net worth (and my attractiveness as a potential mate) whilst risking virtually nothing

    — perhaps there aren’t a whole lot of people who are in a position to steal from me … e.g. maybe I live in a castle with big walls, whereas they are peasants who have no capability of breaching my defences, so because I have some armed guards to protect me when I go out, I can steal from them with impunity

    That’s just two trivial examples.

    Q. Why shouldn’t I steal if I can get away with it?

    Q. Are you suggesting a relative morality?

    Q. If relative, relative to what?

    Q. Who gets to make those decisions?

    Q. What if I decide differently and our moral positions result in a conflict? Which one should have priority … and why?

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  28. Stephen Frost,

    It is not possible for someone to steal without any risks, no matter the size of the army, or the castle. Stealers wil always worry about people within the ‘team’ who will defect and steal from them, or dob them in.

    Moraliy is definitely relative. No definite right or wrong. it evolves with time and social development, not because of religion. It was ok to stone people to death in the western world in the past, it’s not ok now (though it’s still ok to do it in some countries). It was not acceptable to most to have an abortion in the past, now more people agree it is morally acceptable. Indeed, if religion provides a definitive set of rules and morality that does not change, then the world would be a rather un-progressive and perhaps outdated one to live in.

    Morality is decided by the society in which it affects. Nothing else.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  29. Bill Muehlenberg,

    My answer to your question is right here. People who don’t believe in religion think that you are just offering cold comfort. Since agnostics/atheists believe nothing beyond death, religious people are just comfortimg themselves on a vacuum. In fact, when religious people pray for victims, it’s no more than self-comfort and justification of the loss. My actions to help people is to assit them to grieve and adjust to the loss. As Betrand Russell says, love and happiness does not diminish in value just because it ends. I will never tell them the god they love also knew that their son was going to drown (which is what your view implies).

    In addition, just because religion can offer comfort and hope, it does no mean its true or not. These are completely different issues.

    And again, I finger point at evil because it is religious people who have to justify it. Not people who have a naturalistic view. Maybe I can ask you a different question. Seems like you believe in the judgement day. Do you believe in heaven too? my question is, does heaven have free-will?

    Tzu-yen Wang

  30. Thanks Tzu-yen

    Ah, now we come to the real fruit of your worldview: no objective morality. So let me get this straight. You believe society determines what is right and wrong. So when German society 70 years ago decided it was right to kill millions of Jews and enslave Europe, that was morally acceptable?

    And if we as a society agree tomorrow that all medical students who happen to be Asians and atheists should be tortured and killed, that is perfectly aright as well? And if someone thinks it is OK to torture kittens for pleasure, that is morally justified? And if someone thinks raping school girls is a good thing, we should just flow with that as well?

    It is interesting that up until recently, the medical professions took seriously the Hippocratic Oath and its key principle, “First, Do No Harm’. This principle of beneficence meant that abortion and euthanasia were wrong, and doctors should have nothing to do with such things.

    But in your view, it seems whatever a society decides is OK we must just go along with. No wonder why some many intellects have noticed a very real connection between the rejection of God and the Holocaust. As Dostoyevsky rightly said: “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”

    Remind me not to be one of your patients Tzu-yen. With your understanding of morality, I don’t think I would want to put my life in your hands.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  31. Morality is decided by the society in which it affects. Nothing else.

    I see … so what happens when two societies disagree over what constitutes an immoral act?

    We know which one would take precedence … the society with the strongest military would enforce its morality on the other … and the only logical position you could take on that is to shrug your shoulders and accept the outcome.

    But my question is this: which morality should take precedence?

    Does it matter to you? If it does, why?

    If it doesn’t matter, then you and I really have nothing further we can constructively discuss on this topic, because you would apparently be arguing for a completely relative morality, and if that were true, I don’t see why I ought to believe you even if you are right … I can just argue that society is in the process of changing from a view that to believe right things is right, to a view that to believe right things is wrong … and then the whole “morality is relative” position apparently becomes incoherent and is self-refuting.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  32. Re: non-intervention in evil:

    I don’t know why GOD allows every specific bad thing to happen in the world. I know I can’t blame GOD for man-caused sins (murders, rapes, etc.) They’re caused by sinful beings. The nature thing seems more tenuous. The Bible says the ground is cursed because man has rejected GOD, and that all of Creation is in groaning. Fair enough. But why do some natural disasters happen at some places and not others? (I know HOW they happen- e.g. tsunamis are caused by plate tectonic movements, etc., but I want to know WHY they happen).

    I don’t think people will always know why GOD doesn’t intervene to prevent every kind of natural evil. But I do know these things:
    A) GOD is good.
    B) He always has a purpose in allowing everything that occurs- including suffering.
    C) GOD is Compassionate and suffers alongside us.
    D) As a Christian, my responsibility is to submit things in prayer to GOD, and also to help poor, suffering people in Jesus’ Name (according to His Character, and for His Sake).
    E) If I do pray for healing/etc., and GOD gives it to me, this is an incredible act of mercy that I do not deserve, and I thank Him for it. But as Job said, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away- blessed be the Name of the Lord. My faith isn’t dependent on what He does for me.
    F) I look forward to spending eternity with no pain, death, suffering or crying (new heavens/earth), because Christ has made it possible for me to be reconciled with GOD and for all of my sins to be completely removed, putting me in right standing with GOD, able to enjoy Him forever.

    Tzu-Yen, you said it is wrong for GOD to send people to hell for not believing Him.

    It would be unjust for a Holy GOD to send sinners to heaven. Remember GOD is good, and created man to be good, and to “know” (i.e. be in relationship with) Him. Man has chosen to sin (i.e. not to be good) and to reject “knowledge” of (relationship with) GOD.

    GOD says the nature of sin is death. This means physical death and spiritual death- spiritual death is an eternity 1) being punished for sins and 2) not “knowing” GOD. In popular vocabulary we call this hell.

    Almost every religion and philosophy on Earth does one of two things in regards to sin. It either 1) denies sin exists or downplays its significance or 2) says that you can “undo” sin through effort- e.g. good works, karma, etc.

    Christianity declares sin to be 1) so infinitely bad against a Holy Creator that 2) NOTHING you do can undo it. This is the bad news: our hearts do not “know” or obey GOD, nor do they want to. We have sinned and we continue to sin because we are sinners. Because of this we should spend eternity 1) feeling the repercussions of our sins 2) continuing to not “know” GOD. We all deserve hell.

    That is the bad news.

    The Gospel, which means Good News, is that although GOD is Holy, He is also Love. He loves you. He has compassion on you in the same way a father has compassion on a Prodigal Son. He is just and so will stand by His Word- the wages of sin ARE death. But because of His great love and mercy He has made another way- “but the gift of GOD is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    As Christians, we believe GOD saw our helpless state- He saw us as sinners, neither knowing Him nor wanting to obey Him. We believe He came in the form of a man (Jesus), never sinned and therefore never deserved to be separated from GOD or be punished for sins, YET HE CHOSE TO DO SO, on our behalf. (He also died a physical death and was resurrected from that, showing His power over physical death, not just spiritual death).

    Since He knew GOD, He was able to make GOD known to us. This He continues to do through the Holy Spirit. He works on people’s hearts, convicting them of their sin, and their need for a Saviour.

    But why shouldn’t other religions lead to GOD? Why shouldn’t being a nice person’s life lead to GOD? Because these things do not actually remove our sins or cause us to know GOD, or want to serve Him (in fact, in Islam for example, it is considered a sin to say you “know” GOD- they believe you can only know about him).

    John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

    GOD has provided a way for our Salvation. He has provided a way for our sins to be removed (not just attempted to be “diluted”, as if such a thing were possible, by good works) and He has revealed Himself so that we can know Him.

    As a just GOD, if we reject the offer of Salvation that He has made known to us, it is fair enough that He would send us to spiritual death- eternity not knowing Him and being punished for our sins. But as a loving GOD, if we do accept His offer, He completely takes away our sins as if we had never done them, and enables us to “know” (be in relationship) with Him… which is what we were created for.

    We also get eternal life (defined as knowing GOD/Jesus) and the promise of the Resurrection of our bodies to continue enjoying GOD forever after natural death.

    Amanda Fairweather

  33. Bill Muehlenberg, and onthe issueof morality.

    What is acceptable at the societal level can often be very different to what is acceptable on an individual, or group level. Examples where these do not match are found in everyday life, even among religious people. What constitutes acceptable has, and always will change over time. It is just unfortunate that you choose not to accept it.

    Why then are there just as many people convinced as you that there will be virgins waiting for them after death? Who is right and who is wrong? Why do some christians believe in the literal interpretations of the bibile and some just as firmly believe in a non-literal interpretation? In both scenarios, people will come up with a different end-point. By what right do you have to say your opinion is correct? And please don’t answer god told you.

    If you firmly believe a clear set of rules that do no change with time, let me ask you, from what reference could you answer the following question: a liver is ready to be donated. one patient, male, aged 33 has a genetic disorder causing his liver to fail. he has 2 children and a wife. The other patient, female, 27, drank quite alot of alcohol, partly because of her abusive father. now her liver is also about to fail.

    So, for the believers of a hard set of rules, Can you please point to the page/voice/instruction on how to decide which patient should recieve the liver? If you are stuggling. and just need to work on principles from the bibile, please feel free.

    Who is right? What is right? It’s not as simple as though shall not kill.

    On the issue of the hippocratic oath, please refer again to an evolving opinion from the link below. I no longer enter patients houses and there are no more slaves thank you.

    As for abortions, and it’s relevanve to ‘do no harm’. Can I ask, what is harm? is it as simple as life and death? I suppose you would regect an emergency abortion, which incidentally, also harms the fetus before saving the mother.

    You live in a country that still sings the national anthem, but do you give seconds thought on the content? The hippocratic oath principles hold, but please… get with the times.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  34. Bill Muehlenberg,
    So on my previous post, does heave have free will?

    Stephen Frost
    We used to think, and firmly believe that the sun orbits around the earth was right. You might think that the no matter what people though then, the earth still orbited around the sun as we know to day. But just remember, people believe in it as serious as you believe in the existance of god. People also used to think that slavery was right and firmly believed in it. look at the literature on America and the old testament.

    You know, currently, some ethinc groups also believe that man can marry more than 1 woman at a time, another group also believe that a woman can marry more than 1 man. From what concrete, unchanging rule do you say that is wrong?

    When you and Bill claim absolute truths, it shows: one, you have no insight and humbless as to what one can know. Remeber, I don’t actually claim there is no god either.

    You talk about when you pray, god heals. What about the people who are amputees. If they pray (some must do, and are just as serious as you are), why don’t their prayers get answered?

    Tzu-yen Wang

  35. Thanks Tzu-yen

    But with all due respect, I hope your medical ability is better than your philosophical and moral reasoning! Each new comment of yours gets more and more desperate and far-fetched. And your inability or unwillingness to answer simple questions further demonstrates the poverty of your worldview.

    Let me try one more time, and I will keep it simple: were the Nazis right or wrong to exterminate 6 million Jews? Please answer. A simple yes or no will do.

    And you need to stop confusing issues. The fact that some ethical choices may be difficult says nothing about whether universal objective morality exists or not. And given that you say all morality is socially based, then your example of organs is really quite beside the point. If you live in a society which says we have no inherent obligation to save the life of anyone, and taking a person’s organs for whatever reason is acceptable, then the question of who gets the organ is neither here nor there. It simply doesn’t matter.

    It only matters if your worldview says there are universal moral claims, and that the sanctity of human life is a high value, and that we should do all we can to help save the lives of sick patients. But your worldview says, so what? Why sweat over who we should save? Simply flip a coin. It doesn’t matter anyway, in your view.

    And I again would not want to be one of your patients, given your rather poor knowledge about abortion. Over 99 per cent of abortions have nothing to do with health risks to the mother. And when a mother’s life is at risk, as in the case of an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, if nothing is done, both baby and child will likely die. Thus action is taken to save the life of at least one person, usually the mum. That is not an abortion. That is a medical procedure designed to save life. An abortion is the deliberate act of destroying human life. That is a big difference, which I would have thought any medical student should be aware of.

    And I really don’t want to be a patient of yours if you are serious about asking questions like this: “As for abortions, and it’s relevanve to ‘do no harm’. Can I ask, what is harm? is it as simple as life and death?” Um, yes, let me spell it out for you: killing a baby is indeed harmful to the baby.

    And I don’t know what your question about heaven having free will means, so it is very hard to answer it.

    So a reminder Tzu-yen: next time you reply, please inform all of us about your answer to this simple question: Were the Nazis right or wrong to exterminate 6 million Jews?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  36. Tzu-yen Wang, you and I are in agreement on one thing at least: that the practice of morality changes with culture. I don’t think this is in dispute.

    But you have the view that this property of morality is somehow inherent to it, that morality itself is derived from societies. Perhaps you might suggest that if there were no human societies, there would be no morality.

    I have the view that morality itself is transcendent, even though the human practices of morality change from society to society. If there were no humans to act or observe actions, there would still be right and wrong actions that could be performed by other (hypothetical) beings.

    So it would seem we are actually talking about two different things?

    Stephen Frost

  37. After listening to about half of the Dawkins/Lennox debate I had the feeling that Dawkins was trying to pull the audience into some whirlpool of supposed ‘reason’ that lead nowhere. However I couldn’t escape the impression that his ‘scientific’ arguments were a smoke screen for some sort of moral failure (which we all have) but unacknowledged and unrepented of and therefore his elaborate objections to the claims of Christ and having to face up to the consequences of such – a kind of scientific ostrich – if I ignore/deny (‘scientifically’ rationalize away) this God, I won’t have to be answerable to his claims and I can get on with what I want to do.

    I became increasingly uneasy with his arguments after he stated that Darwinism was the answer to questions of life – a quick fix answer that showed him to be a believer after all but in the lesser god of Darwin, to whom he has to give no account, being a dead ‘god’.

    Then the scripture from Ps 14:1 came to mind “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God”

    It’s great that Dr Lennox has a desire and obvious ability to reach out to those who are ensnared in athiesm, God bless and prosper him in this. My concern is that the unwary/uncalled are pulled into this whirlpool of words – Prov 14:8: ‘The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.’

    We are called In Jude 1:23 ‘And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh’. But in doing so Godly discernment is requried. Prov 26:4,5: ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit’.
    So much prayer and godly wisdom is needed in reaching out into this difficult area in order to rescue those that are perishing.

    Michelle Shave

  38. Bill Muehlenberg,

    You do miss the point, and take my argument out of context. I clearly think the actions of killing jews are wrong. And if you actually need to ask me that question, it probably shows how deluded you are.

    And to comment on my anwer about abortion like that shows, again, how ignorant you are to the issues at hand about abortion.I can go on for days about abortion, where as your view of it likely ends at life is a gift of god, and that ‘life’ is defined as from the moment of conception. I am going to makeit simple here. Choice. A mother has the right to choose what she wants to do with her own body. There is no substance in arguing that a fertilized egg has more or equal status compared to a mother.

    And for the 3rd time time.. is heaven a place where free will exist? you seem to be ignoring this question.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  39. Stephen Frost,

    You made a good point – I do believe that what is right and wrong is very dependent on the oberver. But I can’t really say that a trancedent set of right and wrongs exist. Something like killing may see very black and white, but I don’t believe killing is ALWAYS wrong. It is probably because I admit that I don’t know all the possibilities of life, society and universes that can exist such that I can say something with 100% confidence.

    Also, non-human animals have morals too. They operate with some societal rules similar to what we have. So if humans became extinct, moral values will still exist.

    What i could conclude is that if there were 10 different societies with no contact between them, each of the societies would come out with a set of moral values that share similar ideas but they wont be identical. In addition, the moral code wont be applicable in every instance within tha society.

    I guess if you want to represent this as a transcendent moral code, then I have nothing to argue against that.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  40. Thanks Tzu-yen

    No I have not missed the point and I have not taken anything out of context. You told us that there is no absolute morality and that it is merely a social construct. So how in the world can you say the Nazis were wrong? German society back then felt killing Jews was acceptable. According to your view of morality, they were therefore justified in holding to this position.

    But if you now want to tell us that Germany was wrong to kill all these Jews, then that means you do not believe that morality is socially based. So which is it? What do you really believe? Or are you just making this all up as you go along? With all due respect, it seems that logical consistency is not one of your strong suits.

    And the unborn baby is not part of the mother’s body (gee, and you call yourself a medical student?). The unborn baby is a totally distinct and unique human being who simply utilises the mother’s food and shelter for nine months. By your reasoning, a two-year-old child who relies on mother for food and shelter can be killed at will as well, simply because he or she has no human rights other than what mum (and atheist medical students) decide to give them.

    And by the way, it does not help things much every time you are unable to reply to a point I raise to simply call me ‘deluded”. It simply demonstrates that you have not only been reading too much Dawkins, but you have no serious arguments to offer, just name-calling.

    And I have already asked you to explain what your question means about heaven having free-will. I cannot answer a question when I have no idea what it means.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  41. Thanks again Tzu-yen

    But we have had many dozens of cultures growing up independently of one another, and a close examination of all these diverse cultures reveals a surprising similarity in terms of moral concerns. No one expects identical moral concerns, but on so many key issues around the world we find much common ground on ethics.

    This is fully explained by the Judeo-Christian worldview which says we are all made in God’s image and we all have the law of God written on our hearts. But the fall has meant our consciences and moral natures are fallen and corrupted. Such a common morality presupposes a transcendent moral law, which in turn can only be explained by a transcendent moral law giver. It certainly does not arise from a directionless, meaningless, impersonal evolving world where selfish genes call all the shots.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  42. In heaven I believe we have free will.
    When we come to faith in Christ, we are given Christ’s nature. We still have the sinful nature, but for the rest of our lives we are being transformed into the “image of Christ”.
    When we die, we are completely transformed into Christ’s nature, and the sinful nature no longer exists.
    In heaven*, we have free will, but because our nature is good, the exercise of our free will will necessarily be good.

    (*Some scholars, such as N.T. Wright, would clarify the above- the final destination of the believer is the “New Earth”, not heaven).

    Amanda Fairweather

  43. Re: healing, I don’t believe it is GOD’s will to heal absolutely every sickness in this life. I am odds with a number of people in my church denomination for believing that (and in agreement with many others), but I don’t think Jesus’ death and Resurrection is a get-out-of-illness-free card. We have the promise of eternal life with no pain, crying, death or suffering so it is true that every sickness will be eventually healed, but I personally don’t believe that will necessarily happen for everyone in this life.

    I wrote a note about this on my facebook but it’s not working at the moment- will forward it onto you when it does.

    Amanda Fairweather

  44. Basically I think that we have whatever we ask for “in Jesus’ Name” (which means according to His will)… but I don’t think it is always GOD’s will to heal.
    GOD is good and wants good things for us, but we also know that suffering and trials produce faith, character, hope, etc. I think these things are more important than health. So it might actually be more good for GOD not to heal me supernaturally and to allow me to suffer and/or rely on others for my healing, than otherwise.
    Amanda Fairweather

  45. Tzu-yen,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I was just curious about one thing … you write:

    What i could conclude is that if there were 10 different societies with no contact between them, each of the societies would come out with a set of moral values that share similar ideas but they wont be identical. In addition, the moral code wont be applicable in every instance within tha society.

    I am curious why you would think that? Wouldn’t a more logical conclusion be that, taking killing as the example, roughly half would prohibit killing and the other half would encourage it?

    But if there truly is a transcendent morality at work in this universe, then one would indeed expect that most, perhaps all, of these independent societies would have the same view of killing.

    What evidence we do actually have about morality is that it is very nearly universal among all human societies. That evidence fits better with a world view that adopts a universal (and transcendent) morality, rather than one where morality is derived from societies alone. In other words, I think the probabilities are strongly against your view and in favour of mine.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  46. I have read with interest Tzu-Yen’s persistence and appreciate the fact he – at least unlike many other atheists who jump in here and then disappear – is not running away when the going gets difficult, but it seems to me he is nevertheless avoiding the hard questions while throwing up numerous spurious quibbles.

    Tzu-Yen, do you understand that the answer to the question, “was it morally wrong for the Nazis to exterminate the Jews?” is substantially more relevant to us now than speculating about the nature of those saved from eternity without God? How does the answer to the latter issue make any difference to us in this present life? But the answer to the former question affects a great deal as we live here on earth. So deal with first things first.

    Stop avoiding facing up to the logical ramifications of what you say you believe. Your position doesn’t logically allow you to consider the Holocaust a moral evil. I dare you to randomly find 10 people and tell them “Hitler’s Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews, but, how do we know what is actually morally wrong?” and see if the majority are not repelled by that when they realize you are serious. The rejection you would experience is thoroughly explained by belief in Jesus Christ and illogical in a world with the make-it-up-as-you-go morality you champion.

    The evidence is right in front of you carried in the hearts of everybody you know, because each of them is actually made in the image of God, whether they acknowledge it or not.

    With your passion, I believe you’d make an excellent Christian. But your logic is currently lacking. I ask you to forget about trying to make something work that can’t (your atheistic worldview), ask God to forgive you, accept His Son Jesus and instead fall on your knees and declare Him as your Lord and Saviour.

    Mark Rabich

  47. Hi Mark,

    If I understand Tzu-Yen correctly, he is not saying that the Holocaust is not a moral evil … on the contrary, he would affirm that it is a moral evil, and that the reason that it is a moral evil is because our society (I assume he doesn’t just mean some local or regional society, but human society generally) has a majority view that killing Jews is immoral and/or evil.

    The problem with his position, as I see it, is that there is some possible world in which a majority hold a different view (viz. that killing Jews is a moral good). In such a world, Tzu-Yen has no means of disputing their position. So his problem is not in the present world, but in possible worlds.

    Indeed, in that possible world, moral relativists would have to argue just as vigorously for the killing of Jews as they do now when they would argue against it. We see the same slippery slope in operation on questions of abortion, cloning, etc.

    Lets imagine a possible world where there are 1,000 citizens, with 500 approving of the Holocaust, and 500 disapproving.

    Q. What would be the correct moral position to take?

    Q. If one person who opposes the Holocaust dies, leaving a majority of 1 in favour, does that make it morally right?

    Q. If two people who approve die, leaving a majority of 1 against the Holocaust, does that then make it morally wrong?

    Lastly …

    Q. what logical argument can be offered to convince me that this relativistic morality view is correct?

    Q. why should I believe it even if it is correct, given that the majority of people in society apparently have a view that morality comes from God and not from society?

    Q. given that the majority do believe morality comes from God, doesn’t that make Tzu-Yen immoral by his own definition (and he is thus doubly comdemned)?

    Interesting thoughts to ponder …

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  48. Thanks Steve

    But it is not just problematic in possible worlds, but in this world. As I pointed out, most of German society in the 1930s approved of what the Nazis were on about. They voted them into power! So here we have a society in which the majority of people approve of the Nazi ideology. Yet by Tzu–Yen’s reasoning, they were fully justified in doing this, because morality is a social construct.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  49. Another good “shock example” of the problem with moral relativism is the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, also called “female circumcision”). The procedure is abhorrent for a number of reasons but has a 90% prevalence rate in Somalia and is a very significant part of the culture. Many men will not marry a woman who has not had it done. On what basis can we rationally say that the majority of Somalians are in the wrong for believing as they do in regards to this issue (and that we are right for standing against it) if morality is culturally relative?
    Amanda Fairweather

  50. Bill Muehlenberg, You are really saying that a fertilized egg has the equal status as a 2 year old or a 80 year old. Maybe i can ask you precicely, at what stage do you consider that a gorup of cells has attained that moral status?

    Also, the question: does heaven have free will: So heaven, i assume you believe, is where you will go after you die (biologically). When you are there, are you able to choose what you want to do, out of all possible options for a given event? maybe you can just answer the question by explaining what do you think of the idea of free will in heaven?

    Tzu-yen Wang

  51. Thanks Tsu-yen

    As any embryology textbook will tell you, at the moment of conception, we have a genetically unique and distinct individual. It is not just one more cell of the mother, but a distinct and different life. That human life begins at conception (or fertilisation) is not opinion but scientific fact. Indeed, as an article in Nature recently put it, “Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception”. Indeed, some of the more honest pro-abortionists do admit that abortion takes a human life. Feminist Naomi Wolf for example has conceded that the “pro-life slogan, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart’ is incontrovertibly true. While images of violent fetal death work magnificently for pro-lifers as political polemic, the pictures are not polemical in themselves: they are biological facts. We know this.”

    Science and biology are on the pro-life side of this issue, not yours I am afraid. So yes, an individual human being – no matter how young or old – has human rights, including the right to life. It is only when we seek to deny the fundamental humanity and personhood of certain groups that we can get away with their wholesale destruction. Thus slave owners said blacks were not persons, and therefore could be bought and sold. The Nazis said Jews were non-persons, and therefore could be killed. And now pro-abortionists say the unborn are not persons, so we can kill them at will.

    So age has nothing to do with it. Human beings, whether unborn, or in a nursing home, have inalienable human rights, the chief of which is the right to life. That should not be hard to understand for someone in the medical community. I would have thought that doctors and nurses would be committed to preserving and healing human life, not snuffing it out.

    Now that you have explained your heaven question, the answer is this: the Bible does not provide a huge amount of detail as to what life will be like for believers in heaven. But yes presumably they will have free will. But with no fallen nature any longer part of their person, only the new divine nature of Christ, there will be no fear of those with free will making wrong choices in heaven (if that is what you are wondering about).

    In the same way Jesus Christ, who was fully God yet fully man, had a free will, yet he never chose to sin. So one can have free will in the next life, but it will forever freely choose God and his glory.

    Similarly, those who reject God in this life will be forever doing so in the next life – hell. It is in this life that we determine our eternal condition and destiny. That is why our choices are so significant. So we had better choose wisely now, and stop making so many lame excuses. They will not wash when we one day stand before our creator and judge.

    Jesus has done everything possible for people now to choose God and reject sin and selfishness. There is no more that he can do. If we reject his loving offer of forgiveness and a new heart that seeks to put God first, then we determine our own fate.

    Thus I keep praying for you that you start taking seriously the condition of your soul, and where it will be for eternity. You may have a successful medical career for a few decades, but where you spend eternity is far more urgent and important. Choose wisely.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  52. Stephen Frost,

    On the questions you posed, the society circle can be drawn around the 499 people that oppose – it will be wrong to kill. And within the 500 that are for killing it would right to kill. To draw the circle around the 999 people would actually be meaningless. On the issue of circumcision, within somalia there would be people who oppose.

    And most people believe that morals are derived from a higher being. But no majority believe that they come from the Judeo-Christian god, no majority believe they come from allah either.

    Tzu-yen Wang

  53. Also, the question: does heaven have free will: So heaven, i assume you believe, is where you will go after you die (biologically). When you are there, are you able to choose what you want to do, out of all possible options for a given event? maybe you can just answer the question by explaining what do you think of the idea of free will in heaven?

    Tzu-Yen, I have given some thought to this idea recently. In eternity, if free will were unconstrained, then the probability that some soul will choose evil approaches 1. However this would not be so if our free will were limit constrained … e.g. if we had a choice of good and very good acts, but not evil acts. So if God places in heaven in eternity those souls who wish an eternity in His presence and who hate evil, then He can give them the desire of their heart and remove from them the propensity for evil acts. This is in accordance with their will, so doesn’t at face value contradict the principle of humans having free will. I’ve had a brief look around for philosophical arguments along this line, but couldn’t find any, although I’m sure that this idea is likely not to be new and will have been explored by philosophers and theologians.

    But it is not just problematic in possible worlds, but in this world. As I pointed out, most of German society in the 1930s approved of what the Nazis were on about. They voted them into power! So here we have a society in which the majority of people approve of the Nazi ideology. Yet by Tzu–Yen’s reasoning, they were fully justified in doing this, because morality is a social construct.

    Bill, you’re right … however “possible worlds” are simply states of affairs that might have been (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possible_world). So my comments about possible worlds should be taken in that light. Any conceivable state of affairs which might come about in the future is a possible world (e.g. if Nazism were to rise again in Australia in 20 years time, that is a possible world) and I was considering the implications of Tzu-Yen’s philosophy in the light of such possibilities, not just the single concrete hypothetical case that I gave.

    Tzu-Yen’s view that morality is a cultural construct is quite common, however his problem is, I think, that it merely describes observed behaviours (his view is a descriptive one) and does not prescribe behaviour (his view is therefore not a prescriptive one, so it doesn’t tell us what one ought to do).

    Thus we are at cross purposes. By merely being descriptive, Tzu-Yen is actually dodging the whole point of a discussion about morality, which is about what people ought to do, not just about observing what people actually do.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne.

  54. On the questions you posed, the society circle can be drawn around the 499 people that oppose – it will be wrong to kill. And within the 500 that are for killing it would right to kill. To draw the circle around the 999 people would actually be meaningless.

    Why would it be meaningless? They are part of the one society … I don’t think I should let you escape that easily, just by refusing to confront the example head on and see how your view of morality stacks up!

    Okay, lets conceive a possible world with a society of just 3 people. 1 in favour of killing Jews, 1 against killing, and 1 Jew.

    How should they behave? n.b. I have used the word “should”. That is a moral word. You can escape this net by saying that it doesn’t matter, as morality is just descriptive of what people actually do … in which case, there is nothing wrong with the one in favour killing the Jewish person … and that, I think, is what Bill was trying to get you to confront.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne.

  55. Many thanks Melanie for the link and the update on all this. Yet more intrigue from our friend Richard!

    But his many blunders are even worse than what you have documented. He spliced together two sections of my article in which I deal with two different people. The first half of the paragraph which he falsely attributes to you was my description of Dawkins. The second half of the paragraph is actually from a later part of my article in which I am talking about former atheist Antony Flew!

    When I speak of a “worldview change of seismic proportions” I of course was referring to Flew, not to Dawkins, which anyone can see who actually carefully read my piece. So Dawkins is at least guilty of very sloppy reading – both of you and me.

    But he is also guilty of deliberately misleading his listeners, not only by ascribing to you something I had in fact written, but by running my two separate paragraphs together, making for a most misleading reading of my words indeed. The way he has deliberately misquoted me (all the while attributing it to you) totally misrepresents both of us.

    As you rightly suggest, evidently truth is as much of a delusion for Dawkins as is God. Keep up the important work Melanie.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  56. My sympathies Bill, Richard Dawkins reads your blog. Melanie Phillips must have been as surprised as you. Some, including ourselves, might see each other as miles apart. However the older I get the more I willing to yell the basic doctrine of Christianity – the divinity of Christ, the trinity and our dependence on God are even more important.
    Because of this is my growing anger at Dawkins. Because I believe in Christ I am either insane, stupid or a liar. I have spent too much time lying to myself trying to deny the reality of Christ. Hence, I refuse to accept the Dawkins type abuse.
    Michael Boswell

  57. Deism is NOT a subset of Theism[anymore than it is a form of Atheism.]
    Yes when it first came about in the 1600’s it was synoymous, except shortly after it’s birth Deists really started to be distinquised apart. Deism has been plagued by it’s enemies with false charages and comparisons ever since. Atheists and Theists both have long either accused Deism/Deists of beeing of the otherc camp, OR have tried to claim it as part of their own traditions/ideas….

    I’ve been a Deist[agnostic-deist; lately lesaning towards a form of PanDeism/PanenDeism} and an Anti-theist myself for several years. Trust me whe i say you clearly do not understand Deism and what it ahs evovled into in modern times, Thus I clear it up for you.

    In Reason:
    Bill Baker

  58. Thanks Bill

    Sorry, but I had to cut you short here, because you are simply going over old ground here which has been discussed quite enough, and because you are simply off target. Deism of course has come in many forms over the centuries, but the fact that deism is a subset of theism is simply incontrovertible to anyone aware of the relevant literature. Since I tire of belabouring this point, let me simply – and finally – cite one world renown authority here, the classic 8-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edwards. In the ten page entry on deism we read this in the opening paragraph:

    DEISM (Lat. deus, god) is etymologically cognate to theism (Gr. theos, god), both words denoting belief in the existence of a god or gods and, therefore, the antithesis of atheism. However, as is customary in the case of synonyms, the words drifted apart in meaning; theism retained an air of religious orthodoxy, while deism acquired a connotation of religious unorthodoxy and ultimately reached the pejorative. Curiously, however, the earliest known use of the term deist (1564) already had this latter intent, although it was by no means consistently retained thereafter. The situation is complicated by a late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century technical metaphysical interpretation of deism, in which the meaning is restricted to belief in a God, or First Cause, who created the world and instituted immutable and universal laws that preclude any alteration as well as divine immanence—in short, the concept of an ‘absentee God’….”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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