Wanna Be Free?

The mantra of our society is “freedom,” which leads many to reject God, morality, and accountability. But Tim Keller explains why, in the absence of these elements, life has no meaning and “freedom” is anything but. If you want to understand why our culture is in such a mess, this will be thirty minutes of your time well spent.

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Science and the Skeptical Mind

David Gelernter’s recent article on “The Closing of the Scientific Mind” in Commentary has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. Most of the article deals with the conflict surrounding the topic of human subjectivity, but I was struck by a broader observation that Gelemter made near the end:

Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument.

Science is caught up, also, in the same educational breakdown that has brought so many other proud fields low. Science needs reasoned argument and constant skepticism and open-mindedness. But our leading universities have dedicated themselves to stamping them out—at least in all political areas. We routinely provide superb technical educations in science, mathematics, and technology to brilliant undergraduates and doctoral students. But if those same students have been taught since kindergarten that you are not permitted to question the doctrine of man-made global warming, or the line that men and women are interchangeable, or the multiculturalist idea that all cultures and nations are equally good (except for Western nations and cultures, which are worse), how will they ever become reasonable, skeptical scientists? They’ve been reared on the idea that questioning official doctrine is wrong, gauche, just unacceptable in polite society. (And if you are president of Harvard, it can get you fired.)

On the whole, science has proven to be a boon to mankind. Yet for all its contributions, science is susceptible to the same prejudices that have corrupted every other human endeavor—including religion. For science (or more correctly, scientists) to position itself as the final and absolute arbiter of truth is to assume an arrogance that will eventually tarnish its credibility.

Contrary to popular opinion, science does not have all the answers. A healthy dose of humility is in order for those who pretend otherwise.

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Into the Abyss

Opponents of same-sex marriage have long argued that a departure from the one-man-one-woman-for-life model would open the gates to a wide variety of non-traditional marriage arrangements, including polygamy and polyandry. Their fears were dismissed as fear-mongering, and gay marriage has now become mainstream.

Well, guess what? “Thoughtful discussions” are already underway exploring the pros and cons of legalizing polygamy. And — surprise! — a sizable number of the participants believe it’s time that we open our hearts (and laws) to yet another alternative marriage arrangement.

At this point, I doubt that saying “I told you so” carries any weight. It’s clear that in our culture, personal liberty now trumps all other considerations, at least in the realm of sexual behavior.

Let’s be honest about what’s happening here. In a single generation, two thousand years of hard-fought progress in securing protection for women and children is being thrown out and replaced by the same decadence that ruled humanity in ancient times. Progressives who are pushing this agenda are not progressive at all; they are regressive, recreating an earlier social paradigm in which women were playthings to satisfy the lusts of men and children were disposable property. No-fault divorce, gay marriage, polygamy, abortion on demand — what else could we have done to so thoroughly destroy the very safeguards that made the family the cornerstone of Western civilization?

As America plunges deeper into the abyss of hedonistic self-expression, we’ll see more of this kind of thinking and behavior. And, as in ancient times, our women and children will continue to bear the heaviest burden.

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God and Suffering

 

Peter Kreeft is a deep thinker, but has a gift for summarizing complex arguments in an easy-to-understand manner. This video is an excellent response to the argument that the presence of evil in this world disproves the existence of God. On the contrary, he argues, we cannot judge anything as evil without presupposing an objective moral standard, i.e., God.

[Updated Jan. 25, 2016 with link to new video location.]

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From Atheism to Faith: One Woman’s Journey

If you’ve not heard of Jennifer Fulwiler, you should get acquainted. She is a sharp, witty, young wife and mother from Austin, Texas. She is also an ex-atheist. The story of her journey from strong unbeliever to passionate believer is a great example of the intellectual struggle that is experienced by everyone who seriously grapples with the God question.

In addition to the video above, check out an expanded version of her story on her blog, Conversion Diary. She offers this analogy for her atheist friends who insist there’s not sufficient proof for the existence of God:

If you are standing back and waiting for the data alone to convince you that God exists, that’s like holding a piece of litmus paper above a solution but never dipping it in. You can have a complete understanding of how the hydrogen atoms in the liquid would potentially interact with the dye on the paper, but until the paper has contact with the solution, the experiment is not complete.

And guess what: in the God experiment, your entire life is the litmus paper.

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God and Evil

One of atheism’s strongest arguments against God is the existence of evil. If there really was an all-powerful and benevolent God, He would eliminate the scourge of evil in the world. But evil exists; therefore, God does not exist.

But this argument implodes upon itself. In order for the atheist to construct this argument, he must first define “evil.” That sounds easy enough; but is it?

Consider the atheistic worldview: This universe and all that is in it, including humankind, is nothing more than a random collection of atoms, without any purpose or meaning. In the words of Carl Sagan, “the cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” If that’s true, then the very concept of evil is purely arbitrary and illusory. Everything that happens is no more or less “good” or “evil” than anything else. From an entirely selfish standpoint, I may not like what I see around me (or what happens to me); and others may or may not share that opinion. But in the absence of God, there is no objective standard by which we can judge anything as evil.

The average atheist doesn’t see the inconsistency of his reasoning. In order to make this argument, he has to assume the existence of some objective value that he calls “evil.” But by embracing a purely materialistic explanation for the universe, he has destroyed any rational basis for such an objective value. Expressed another way, his very appeal to values of “good” and “evil” presupposes the existence of some universal standard of morality. That’s what we believers call “God.”

Some atheists attempt to escape the force of this conclusion by appealing to the shared experience of mankind. But this reduces morality to merely a numbers game. Which culture’s values shall we use as the basis for this shared experience? That reasoning has been used in the past to defend slavery, misogyny, genocide, and a host other evils. (Oops, there’s that word again!).

I freely grant that believers must likewise struggle with trying to reconcile the existence of God with the presence of evil. But at least we have a basis for identifying some behaviors as “evil,” thus rendering the struggle a rational one. The atheist has to borrow the very concept of evil from the believer before he can even begin to think about the problem.

The problem of evil, far from disproving the existence of God, has actually led some atheists to abandon their disbelief and embrace a God who, although allowing evil to exist for reasons known only to Himself, at least offers a hope that someday all the ravages of evil will be reversed.

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Children and Divorce

A recent BBC program explored the traumatic effect of divorce on children. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown shares some sad details from the program, and offers this conclusion:

While nobody should feel they must stay with bullying, abusive or truly unsuitable partners, once you have children, you can’t just please yourself or indulge your own desires.

It is truly deplorable watching how so many children are treated as objects by divorcing parents.

As for me, seeing such damage first-hand has made me value a secure family life more than ever before. I just pray we will all get to the end intact.

In a divorce, children are not tangible assets like furniture or pets. They are people with still-developing personas who will be dramatically affected by the break-up of their home.  Sadly, too many parents fail to appreciate the extent of that damage when fighting their battles with each other, and do not realize the true cost of their divorce until years later, when their adult children must struggle with their own demons—often born of their childhood experience with divorce.

So should a couple who are no longer in love stay together “for the sake of the kids,” condemning them to all the anger, conflict, and hatefulness that characterize the relationship? No, they should stay together for each other’s sake. They should seek counseling to resolve their differences, and relearn how to love each other again.

That’s not realistic, you say? Probably not. But let’s be honest with ourselves here. Divorce doesn’t “just happen.” It is always, always, the result of selfishness on the part of one or both parties. And the children are just collateral damage. In contrast, successful, happy marriages are the result of two people treating each other as more important than themselves. People get out of marriage what they put into it.

In the family, as in every other arena of life, character has consequences.

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Do Stay-at-Home Moms Have Value?

Princeton alum Anne-Marie Maginnis uses her considerable literary skills to review the state of the debate currently raging regarding the decision on the part of some highly educated women to stay home and raise their children. She takes strong exception to the sentiment expressed by some that such women are wasting their hard-earned degrees by taking on such a menial task.

If a woman at home doesn’t need an elite degree, as Goff argues, one wonders, does she need a college degree? A high-school degree? At what point is a woman not worth educating at all?

This perspective completely disregards the inherent worthiness of educating a human mind to know the world, to think independently, to judge accurately, and to live confidently. For these reasons alone, an elite education should be available to the best and brightest minds. To concede Goff’s point would be to reverse hundreds of years of progress in women’s rights.

She concludes,

When a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture.

Having received the wonderful gift of an elite education, I didn’t leave it behind. I carry it with me in who I am today. It enriches my life in ways that no salary can measure. It is worthwhile in a way no measure of productivity is needed to justify. Passing on this education to my daughter, a human being whose worth I know intimately, I see even more clearly that broadening a girl’s mind, filling it with beauty, is never, to quote Goff, “a wasted opportunity.”

During the almost two decades I spent working in the corporate world, I encountered several women who fit this description. All were well educated, bright, ambitious, outstanding leaders and managers. In their careers, the sky was the limit. But they all walked away from it for one reason: their kids. Some became part time lecturers at a local university; some did a little freelance consulting; others became fulltime moms to their children. In every case, a conscious decision was made based on a conviction that their children were more important than their careers.

Their critics, who apparently value money and power above people, would do well to sit down with some of these women and learn what they value.

Read the entire article.

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The American Character

Peggy Noonan contrasts two U. S. Presidents in this recent Wall Street Journal piece. I’m less interested in the political angle than in a side comment she throws in near the end. After ticking off a list of horrible incidents that have made the news this summer, she observes, 

We’re shocked. But we’re not shocked. And that itself is disturbing. We’re used to all this, now, this crassness and lowness of public behavior. The cumulative effect of these stories, I suspect, is that we’re starting to fear: Maybe that’s us. Maybe that’s who we are now. As if these aren’t separate and discrete crimes and scandals but a daily bubbling up of the national character.

A nation’s character is no different than that of an individual. Occasional mistakes can be written off as aberrations, if the general thrust of one’s life trends toward the good. But if the “mistakes” become more common and the “good” becomes less so, a noble character slowly degenerates into a shady character. And shady nations, like shady individuals, don’t last long. 

America’s character problem is an amalgamation of the character of millions of individuals. Replacing politicians at the top every few years isn’t going to solve the problem. Character has to be built one person at a time. 

I used to hear people say, especially with regard to politicians, that “character doesn’t matter.” As the evidence continues to mount which contradicts that flippant stance, I don’t hear it so much anymore. At some point, the facts become too obvious—and painful—to ignore. Character matters, starting with our own. 

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Angry at Santa Claus

At some point in every child’s life, he or she learns the jarring truth that, in fact, there really is no Santa Claus. However they come to that conclusion, children eventually accept that their earlier infatuation with the bearded fat man bearing gifts was nothing more than childish mythology.

That adjustment in worldview, however, is rarely traumatic. Children may be momentarily thrown off by the revelation, but soon they shrug it off and move on with their lives. One thing they do not do is harbor a perpetual, deep-seated anger at Santa. I have never encountered an adult who, years after learning that Santa is not real, continues to rail against this mythological character who so shattered the idyllic world of their childhood by, well, not existing in the first place.

Expressing it another way, it’s impossible for a normal, rational human to be angry at someone who does not exist.

Which raises an interesting question: Why are so many atheists angry at God? Not just angry, but blindingly, viscerally,  morbidly hostile toward him. If God really doesn’t exist, why the emotional outrage at the very idea?

Others have noted this phenomenon as well. Laura Keynes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, recently converted from agnosticism to Catholicism. One of the factors that contributed to her change of heart was the irrational emotionalism of many atheists. She explained in a recent article by James Kelly in the National Catholic Register,

One of the things that made me wary of ‘new atheism’ was the strange mix of angry emotion I encountered there: anger at the thought of God; anger at any restrictions on behavior; anger at thwarted will; pride in the exertion of will; pride in feeling intellectually superior; contempt for anyone who reveals human vulnerability in asking for the grace of God. It’s important to remember that where there’s anger, there’s often pain. I see a lot of pain there. I think it stems from clinging to the idea that we’re in control, that we have autonomy.

Psychologist Julie Exline (Case Western Reserve University), in her extensive research on the subject of forgiveness, has found that atheists and agnostics tend to have a greater degree of anger against God than believers. She, too, finds this phenomenon puzzling: “How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God?” (see more details in Joe Carter, “When Atheists Are Angry at God,” First Things, Jan. 12, 2011).

Job was angry at God, too. But his anger was directed at someone who he believed was “there” and was responsible for his suffering. That doesn’t apply here. So why are atheists so hostile to God, but not to Santa Claus?

The irrationality of this mindset has led some to suggest the concept of “emotional atheism.” That is, people reject belief in God not because the intellectual evidence is so overwhelming, but because they don’t want to believe in Him. It’s more a decision of the heart than the mind.

Laura Keynes, whose transition from agnosticism to faith was based on an extensive study of both sides of the God debate, concludes, “All we can do is be sensitive to the anger and note that it’s odd for people who value reason so highly to make such large concessions to emotion.”

Let’s face it: The decision to jettison belief in God has a far greater impact on our lives than the decision to reject belief in Santa Claus. It is no surprise that emotion would play a significant role in such a decision. 

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