The Problem of Evil - Part 3

The Common Solution

Given the fact that the Problem of Evil has been around for centuries, it should be no surprise that Christians have come up with (what they believe to be) solutions to the problem. And although many different approaches to solving this have been attempted, one approach in particular stands out as the most common. This is typically termed the Free Will Defense.

As the name implies, the Free Will Defense starts with the assumption that people have free will, and therefore have the ability to choose to do either good or evil. According to this view, God didn’t create robots (that would not be a loving God, after all), and so the existence of evil is therefore a potential situation. Since people have the freedom to choose to do good acts or evil acts, it is ultimately their freedom of will that brings about these evil deeds.

There is, however, a large problem with this particular line of defense. All the unbeliever need do is bring up the subject of Heaven, and the free will defense completely collapses. Why is this the case? Well, consider that there will be no sin (i.e. evil) in Heaven, but there will be people there who purportedly still have free will.

The unbeliever may point out that since the inhabitants of Heaven have free will, and free will can lead to evil (the very basis of the free will defense), then what is to guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven? It seems that the Christian must either give up free will, or the existence of evil in Heaven, or he must rethink his defense.

Now, in response to this challenge, the Christian might claim that God actually keeps people from sinning in Heaven[1], as that is the only way to be certain sin will never enter his presence. In other words, God actively works in people in order to keep them from sinning. However, the unbeliever can simply point out that God could also do the same thing on earth. If God is able to suppress people’s ability to sin in Heaven, then he certainly could do so here on earth. He is an all-powerful God, after all.

The Christian might instead claim that the inhabitants of Heaven will be able to sin, but that God knows that they will not sin. In other words, the claim that there will be no sin in Heaven is purely prophetic, rather than decretive[2]. For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

But the unbeliever is bound to ask some questions. For instance, how many variations of creation did God “test drive” (by looking ahead at an eternity of people’s choices) before creating the world he did, in order to guarantee that none of the people who end up in heaven will ever sin? Besides, the fact that God chose to create a universe where he knew people would sin (at least on earth) still makes God the ultimate cause of sin, it seems.

In addition, and more to the point, why didn’t God simply create earth just like heaven in the first place? Didn’t God know ahead of time how people would act? Didn’t he know that they would sin and do evil deeds? Doesn’t the fact that God could create a place free from sin (even if it partially owes to man’s free will), and yet he didn’t, mean that he is not all-loving? Doesn’t the fact that God knows there is evil going on right here and now mean he is also to blame for not stopping it by using the same “fix” he uses in Heaven?

The fact is, no matter what tack this Christian takes in using the free will defense, he must be able to provide an answer to the Heaven Test. The existence of a sin-free Heaven is a real problem for the Christian that chooses to use the free will defense.

In addition to the free will defense, there are a variety of other approaches that Christians use, each of which ultimately fails the “Heaven Test”. If God could have created earth just like Heaven (or just skipped earth altogether), then he is either not all loving for being unwilling to do so, or he is not all-powerful, for being unable to do so.

Next time we'll look at what I believe to be the Biblical (and only possible) answer to the Problem of Evil.

-- BK

[1] Of course, it should be obvious that this answer presents a real problem for anyone presenting the free will defense in the first place, as it would seem that God is messing around with the will of people, in order to keep them from sinning.

[2] A purely prophetic claim means God “looks ahead” at the choices his creatures will make, and realizes that none of them will sin in Heaven. A decretive claim indicates that God, in some sense, is in control of Heaven and does not allow any sin.

Is it sinful to call evidentialism...sinful?

Recently I was directed toward a blog post found here:

I must confess that I am unfortunately not familiar with this particular writer.

In his post Calvin Dude presents a number of arguments against the use of the presuppositionalist method in certain contexts. The arguments look as though they are almost wholly based upon misunderstandings of the presuppositional method. As best I can tell this writer’s concerns are dealt with directly in most presuppositionalist literature.

The author of the entry begins by taking issue with an apologist who claims that presuppositionalism is the only valid method of apologetics, which leaves me completely confused since the author appears to have actually read a great deal about the subject of presuppositionalism. Are there any presuppositionalists who believe that other methods are valid? Perhaps there are, but I am not so concerned with this question as I am with what follows.

The more pertinent question here is whether or not it is actually sinful to approach apologetics from something other than presuppositionalism. As radical as it appears, and as “mean” as it may sometimes sound, those of us at Choosing Hats recognize other methods as being sinful. We are not the only ones. In fact Bahnsen did as well.

Thus I find it a bit odd that we (not directly, obviously) should be compared to Dr. White’s “cage stage” Calvinists – those who are new to Calvinism and, lifted with pride in newfound knowledge, attempt to force it upon everyone they can. None of us here have just now read Bahnsen for the first time. Nevertheless it is apparent that we find other methods of apologetics to fall short in many ways. I am not sure I understand how Bahnsen himself could be used in this supposed parallel either. He certainly was not reading his own work for only the first time while he was going about calling other methods of apologetics sinful!

Does Scripture ever use evidentialist arguments? No. Rather evidences are always offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Read that again. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism. Does Scripture warrant evidentialism? No. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 state that God is known to exist. God is clearly seen through what has been made, so much so that people are without excuse. God is known and God is seen. Clearly. So much for traditional arguments! An especially relevant example here is the teleological argument, but there are many other syllogisms which essentially (I mean that literally) deny that God is known and clearly seen through creation.

Presuppositionalism involves a higher view of evidences than does evidentialism. Both evidences and unbelieving responses to them are to be understood in terms of God’s revelation, not in terms of would-be autonomous thought. God’s glory is manifest in nature. I can honestly say that I have never run across a single presuppositionalist who denies this. That God’s glory is manifest in nature is not an evidentialist argument in the sense of Scripture using an evidentialist as opposed to a presuppositionalist method. Presuppositionalists do not deny evidence or its use. How many volumes need be written on this misunderstanding before it is cleared up?

Presuppositionalists are at fault for not addressing other-than-atheist manifestations of the non-Christian worldview with the same rigor and thoroughness as they do atheism. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Presuppositionalists are at fault for keeping their material largely inaccessible, often using philosophical language and argumentation that the vast majority of people would not be able to understand. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Every non-Christian, whether Muslim, Mormon, Atheist or whatever else; is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. We do not therefore treat them as though we can agree upon certain assumptions and evidences. We cannot. Evidences do not speak for themselves. Assumptions which are necessary for intelligibility can only be accounted for if one presupposes Christianity. That’s the argument. It is biblical and it is cogent.

God converts people, not presuppositionalism or evidentialism. Apologetics are a means to an end ordained by God. No one amongst us is disputing this; it is an obvious truth. God uses means to accomplish ends. For example, God uses the preaching of His Word to bring about repentance and faith. God uses even terrible preaching to bring people to Christ. Terrible preaching is nevertheless a sin. Utilizing preaching methods which go against those prescribed in Scripture is sinful, even though it may be a means by which God chooses to save someone. Likewise in the case of apologetic method. If presuppositionalism is prescribed by Scripture, as I argue that it is, and if evidentialism is warned against by Scripture, as I argue that it is; then evidentialism is sinful. I do not think this evidence of presuppositional cage-stageism on my part or on Dr. Bahnsen’s part. I distinctly remember thinking that Bahnsen was a bit off his rocker and harsh the first time I ran across his work. I thank God that I nevertheless returned to his writing and saw more clearly what it is that this man gave his life to.

Calvin Dude’s post reveals some places where presuppositionalists could really clean up their acts; I am not excluded. I touched on a few of these above. I do not believe these weaknesses to be found in the method itself. He is correct that the context of the apologetic encounter, involving such factors as the person in opposition to the truth, bears heavily upon the way in which we use our method. However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.

A Study of "Always Ready" - Part 2

waYesterday afternoon, three of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our second Study of the book "Always Ready" by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. This time we kept it under an hour!

Click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

-- BK

A Study In The Nature Of God's Word (Authority) - Part 3

The foundations of knowledge

Philosophers have been debating the foundations of knowledge for centuries. And we shouldn't be surprised that they don't all agree on just what it means when we say we "know" something! One thing they do agree upon, however, is that our process of knowing things must have a foundation – a starting point, if you will.

Let me illustrate.

I could make the claim that there is a UFO hovering overhead at this very moment. Some of you would probably question my sanity if I said this. But let's say I claimed to know this – say I became very adamant about this. What is it that you and everyone would do in order to verify my claim?

If you had any interest in finding out whether my claim was true, you would no doubt walk directly outside and look up in the sky yourself, right? And why is that? Well, it is because the primary way we verify what someone is saying is by trying to "see it" for ourselves. Of course we can't always see what it is someone is claiming, sometimes we smell it, hear it, touch it, etc.

The point is this – we humans rely greatly upon our senses in order to determine whether a claim is true or not, right? In other words, the assumption that our senses are reliable is foundational to process of knowing. Just stop for a moment and think about all the things you claim to know that are ultimately dependent upon an assumption that your senses are reliable.

Now this approach seems to serve us quite well. But when it comes right down to it, is it really sufficient for us to claim we know something just because of what our senses tell us? Our senses aren't always accurate are they? It doesn't take too much to fool someone into thinking they see something that isn't really there. In fact, all of our senses can be fooled. We can make a recording of someone's voice and play it back with such fidelity that we would swear that person is actually in the next room.

Now, my point is not to get you to start doubting everything you see or hear! My point is simply to demonstrate that our senses are not 100% accurate every single time, meaning we could be wrong about something we claim to know at any given point in time.

And so what does that mean from the standpoint of knowledge? It means that our claims to know something begin with a great big assumption! Basically, we have faith in the reliability of our senses. In that regard, one part of our foundation of knowing things is faith. Let me state this now, because this is another one of those catch phrases that is so crucial.
Knowledge begins with faith.
Augustine said it this way:
I believe so that I may know
Our ability to know is ultimately grounded in one or more faith commitments that we make. Probably one of the strongest faith commitments is our belief that our senses are accurately telling us what is happening around us.

So why is it I say that relying upon our senses as the basis for knowledge is a "faith commitment"? It is the fallible nature of our senses. Although reliable, our senses are not perfect, meaning that they can be wrong at any given time. Relying upon our senses therefore takes a certain measure of faith – a faith that they are accurate.

Look at it from the opposite standpoint – if the nature of our senses was that they were infallible then they would be the perfect starting point, right? Infallible senses would be a most excellent foundation for knowing things just because we would be assured that every time we saw something we would know with 100% certainty that it was really there.

So what does this faith in our senses do to our ability to know things? We'll tackle that next time.

-- BK

The Problem of Evil - Part 2

The Argument Formalized

Sometimes it is useful to formalize an argument in order to work through it. The argument we have presented already can easily be placed in such a form as follows:
a) God is all powerful
b) God is all loving
c) God knows that evil exists
d) Evil does exist
e) Therefore, God does not exist
What we can see here is that the first three premises seem to describe a being that knows evil exists, wants it to go away, and is able to make it disappear. Therefore, the introduction of the fourth premise, that evil actually exists, seems to form a contradictory state of affairs. That is, the seeming conclusion is that if evil does exist then it is logically impossible for a being described by the first three premises to exist. If this is the case then it is indeed a problem for Christians!

The Weight of the Problem

Although it should be apparent it is worth clarifying that the Problem of Evil does not simply claim that it is most likely the case that the Christian God does not exist based on the preponderance of evil. Rather, it boldly asserts that such a God as described in the Bible cannot and does not exist. In other words, since God and evil cannot both exist, and evil does exist, then God does not exist.

It is at this point that the average Christian may simply write this problem off as irrelevant. After all, for him it is clear that God does exist and so any argument which seems to dispute God’s existence must be invalid and isn’t worthy of discussion. Furthermore, this Christian may be quick to remind the unbeliever that we believe in God based on faith[1], not on logical arguments. For as God transcends everything, even our understanding, any argument that disproves God’s existence can simply be ignored as coming up short in relationship to God’s transcendent nature.[2]

What is particularly ironic about this situation is that the Christian in this example has made use of a very specific logical truth (that a contradictory state of affairs cannot exist) in order to justify a dismissal of the claim that the existence of the God of the Bible (along with evil) is a contradictory state of affairs! He has made a practical use of logic in ignoring this problem thereby implying that logic is necessary in some situations but unnecessary in others. To be consistent, the Christian must confront this issue head on in a logical manner.

Furthermore, although this Christian may be able to satisfy himself that no problem exists, it is the unbeliever (who doesn’t already believe in God) who is presenting this challenge to the Christian. Therefore, it is the unbeliever who can rightly[3] say that God logically cannot exist, based on this line of argumentation. In fact, it is very possible that the Problem of Evil, if not properly dealt with, may be all it ever takes to keep an unbeliever from coming to Christ.

Next time we will look at the most common solution to the Problem of Evil and see why it fails.

-- BK

[1] It is indeed the case that our belief in God is one that is based upon faith – the Bible itself is very clear about this. However, Christians must pay attention to and deal with claims that even a faith-based belief in God is illogical.

[2] I recall a slogan that a local Christian College used to tout. It said “Don’t Think Logically, Think Theologically”. Now although there is benefit in some sense to this catchy phrase, there are too many believers today that take it literally, choosing to ignore reason entirely, and cling to the Bible purely on faith alone (something the Bible doesn’t even tell us to do.)

[3] By way of clarification, I do not mean that the unbeliever is objectively warranted in continuing in his or her disbelief based on this argument. Rather, I am saying that this argument makes sense to the unbeliever, based on their existing assumption that God does not exist. It provides them with enough reason to cease from adopting a belief in God.

Zoroastrianism, Part 2

The contributors to make an apparently radical claim: People cannot know anything if God has not revealed Himself to them. Certainly then, people cannot know God without revelation. Our epistemology is revelational; we start with the presupposition that God has spoken and stay there throughout our thoughts and actions. Finite, fallible, sinful humanity can know nothing of God apart from His revealing Himself to us, hence Christian apologists who desire to move from some would-be autonomous position to the conclusion that God exists engage themselves in futility. Likewise for those who wish to prove the existence of some non-existent god like Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism. We therefore set forth the challenge to religious unbelievers to prove to us the existence of their gods while noting that they have not the slightest opportunity to get anywhere if they do not start from something which claims to be a revelation of their god. Framing the challenge in this way significantly narrows the field of what people may consider “competitors” by virtue of their alleged revelational epistemologies. There are few world religions that even claim to have anything like what the Bible is to Christianity. Zoroastrianism might be counted among the few, but the claim is easily shown to be incorrect.

Zoroastrianism teaches that Zarathustra received revelation from Ahura Mazda to be given to humanity. Thus, we understand the nature of the challenge to Christianity stemming from this religion. Unlike most other religions of the world, Zoroastrianism claims to have divinely inspired texts. Discrepancies between secondary literature on the subject of Zoroastrianism abound, likely due to a lack of information pertaining to the history of the religion. Zoroastrianism is often presented as having so many parallels to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity that it is considered by many to be the predecessor of the “big three”. The “many” just mentioned may especially include students sitting in history and religion classes. Special mention may be made of a messianic figure called Saoshyant, an “Armageddon-like” final battle, a bodily resurrection, a final judgment, and a heaven and hell. Again, many historians of religion believe Zoroastrianism to be the source of other religions sharing these themes. However, it should be pointed out that parallels amongst religious literature are often exaggerated and disappear upon closer inspection. In any event, parallels do not prove borrowing, and even if they did, the direction of the borrowing would not be clear. Attributing the origin of other belief systems to Zoroastrianism is a difficult move to defend as may be inferred from the aforementioned discrepancies in secondary literature stemming from a lack of knowledge regarding the religion in its historical context. Zoroastrianism is certainly not monolithic and has changed over time. Likewise there have been various sects of teaching within the religion. Zoroastrian doctrine is full of complexities, and questions about the origin of particular doctrines is extremely unclear. That is, we simply do not know enough to make judgments about when the specific doctrines listed above actually appeared in Zoroastrianism. They may very well have been borrowed from Christianity, for example.

The lack of information discussed above is apparent in current accounts concerning Zarathustra, the “prophet” of Zoroastrianism who is said to have delivered a unique revelation from Ahura Mazda to his people. Zarathustra, or “Zoroaster” in the Greek, is considered to be Ahura Mazda’s prophet. “Zara” means “yellow” and “ushtra” means “camel”, however “ushas” means light and hence later followers of the teaching of Zarathustra referred to him as the “Golden Light” or “Shining Star” rather than the earlier “yellow camel”, which would likewise have carried a sort of sacred significance because of the status of the camel in Zarathustra’s time and culture. (Camels were considered a necessary and significant part of everyday life and sacred.) Traditions concerning the life of Zarathustra are contained in the Pahlavi Denkard and the Zatspram. Both documents came into existence long after the death of Zarathustra, the former being contained in late commentaries and the latter being written in the ninth-century AD by a high priest of the religion.

Sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC mass numbers of Aryans brought their ancient polytheistic religion to present day Iran (“land of Aryans”). These religious teachings involved the worship of divine beings (daevas) and rituals, most all of which were opposed by Zarathustra, who acted as a kind of religious reformer. For a taste of what the Aryan religious practice may have been like one need only look to India, the present day home of Hinduism, a religion which was early on based largely upon Aryan religion once the Aryans moved to northern India.

Zarathustra lived between 1500 and 500 BC, probably about 1200 BC in Azerbaijan province in Northwest Iran, although he may also have lived on an oasis in Eastern Iran near Afghanistan. This second possibility is brought to our attention by linguistic and archaeological evidence. The later traditions about Zarathustra’s life already mentioned claim that he began his reformation of religion when he was thirty years old after he had visions of Ahura Mazda and received the god’s message for humanity in its entirety. No one believed Zarathustra for ten years, with the exception of his cousin, who converted. At some point the supposed prophet managed to anger religious leaders enough to be thrown into prison where he somehow was able to convert King Vishtaspa, who is known as Hystaspes in Greek. This was accomplished through healing the king’s horse upon spiritual or religious conditions being fulfilled by the king. Most of what has been retold here is according to the late tradition mentioned already.

Let us not forget that the details of this alleged prophet’s life are at best exceedingly unclear. In fact, what we know the most about are the teachings he left behind (at least according to legend and tradition), which we will examine in future entries. Zarathustra primarily promoted Ahura Mazda as the supreme god and condemned all of the other deities or daevas worshipped by the Aryans and company. Likewise the people themselves were condemned along with their rituals; with the exceptions of the drinking of haoma juice and rituals involving fire. A dualism of good and evil was also given a major role in Zarathustra’s teachings.

The foundational sacred writing of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta, which as far as we can tell was comprised of roughly 22 books on history, medicine, law, and liturgy. These pieces were written in Avestan, the rare, archaic language related to Sanskrit but written in modified Pahlavi characters. This language is extremely rare…so rare in fact that the Avesta is the only example of it we have. Add to this that only a small part of this work survived; the rest is believed to have been destroyed by Alexander, a rather plausible part of Zoroastrian legend. A portion of the Avesta is called the Yasna, which contains 72 chapters of prayers and liturgy. In the middle of the Yasna is what is what is really significant for our purposes, the Gathas. Here one will find hymns written in an even older dialect of the strange Avestan language. These hymns are believed to have been written by Zarathustra himself and make up about fifty pages. There were later Zoroastrian texts written in a much more modern Persian language. One example is the Sad Dar, which means “One Hundred Doors”. It was the first Zoroastrian text known to the West through its being translated into Latin, which did not transpire until 1700 AD.

Is this really the story of a prophet of the true God? I should think not, and I hope the reader would agree. The religious scholar and the historian are always running up against a thick darkness which encircles this ancient religion. Little is known about it as far as specifics go. Alleged parallels with Christianity could have been added in at virtually any time. While a divine inspiration of sorts is claimed for the Avesta, we know little to nothing about the so-called prophet who delivered this message, and worse yet, we know virtually nothing about the message itself! If Ahura Mazda exists, and if the god intended to deliver a message to all of humanity, he did a horrible job of it. There is nothing like preservation in Zoroastrianism, the texts have been destroyed with the exception of one book. Ahura Mazda is apparently incompetent. Remaining texts of the religion are commentaries and such and are not considered divinely inspired like the lost books of the Avesta. At best we possess about 50 pages of hymns written in an obscure language that may have been originally composed by an Iranian man whom we know almost nothing about!

If Ahura Mazda was the one true god, then he failed miserably in accomplishing what he set out to do, for humanity cannot know what he had to say to Zarathustra. Later interpreters and commentators are our main source of information regarding tenets of Zoroastrian belief and practice. As the series continues we will look at some of the specific teachings of Zoroastrianism and why they spell doom for the truth of this unbelieving, anti-Christian system of thought.

Scriptures of the World’s Religions
James Feiser, John Powers
McGraw Hill, New York, NY 2004

Patterns of Religion
Schmidt, Sager, Carney, Muller, Zanca, Jackson, Mayhall, Burke
Thomson Wadsworth, US, 2005

The Problem of Evil - Part 1

The Problem of Evil

One of the most common complaints against Christianity is the Problem of Evil. This particular complaint has plagued Christian apologists for literally thousands of years. For as long as evil has existed in the world, mankind has questioned why a God who is seemingly able to rid the world of such pain and suffering, does not choose to do so.

It was the18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume who popularized the Problem of Evil to the world as “proof” that God does not exist; at least the Christian God of the Bible. But even if Hume had not popularized this issue within philosophical circles, it would still be a problem for Christians to deal with, for no one who has been a Christian for very long has avoided being cornered by a non-Christian who is looking for a solution to this problem.

Why is the existence of evil considered to be a problem for the Christian? To understand, we must first consider the attributes of God – attributes which, when combined with the existence of evil, seem to create a contradictory state of affairs.

The Omnipotence of God

First, God is claimed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent. This is not only a view that is held by a great majority of Christians, but it is one that is easily supported from the Bible. An omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything [1]. This is the very God who is described for us in Jeremiah 32:17 -

“Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee …”
If God were truly omnipotent, then he would be able to get rid of evil if he desired to. If God actually has creative and providential control over the universe (more specifically, the world we live in where evil exists), then he would have been able to create a universe where no evil existed, or he could choose to rid the world of the evil that most certainly does exist. The fact that he does not logically moves us on to consider another attribute of God – his omnibenevolence.

The Omnibenevolence of God

Next, God is claimed to be all-loving, or omnibenevolent. He is, in fact, claimed to be love itself. Again, this is a view that is held by the majority of Christians, and that can be supported from the Bible without difficulty. By way of example, we find the following claim in 1John 4:16 -
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
If God were truly omnibenevolent, then he would want to get rid of evil if he were able to. If God truly were loving in all that he does, and we assume that evil is not something that a loving being desires, then the logical conclusion it would seem is that God would want to make sure that no evil existed. But evil does exist, and so we are once again drawn to another attribute of God – his omniscience.

The Omniscience of God

Finally, God is claimed to be all knowing, or omniscient. Although fewer Christians ascribe this attribute to God than those who believe in his omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it is a view that still seems to be held by the majority of Christians. [2]

If God were omniscient, then he would know for certain that evil exists. Although most mainstream Christians hold this belief, it is actually not necessary for the formation of the Problem of Evil. Although this view would indicate that God is aware of every single evil action that takes place, he would only need to be aware of one such action in order to be placed in the position of deciding whether or not he will take action to stop future occurrences of such evil. Although a belief in God’s omniscience seems to make him all the more culpable, it is not necessary to the argument of the one who is condemning Christianity.

(continued in an upcoming post ...)


[1] More specifically, an omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything consistent with his nature. It is not a being who can do just anything at all. The favorite puzzle that is leveled against God’s omnipotent is the question of whether God can create a rock so large that he cannot move it. The answer to this is no, but such an answer does not negatively impact God’s omnipotence. Rather, it is consistent with the fact that God is unable to actualize a contradictory state of affairs. By way of another example, God is unable to lie (Num. 23:19). This does not reduce God’s omnipotence – rather, it is indicative of the fact that God is constrained to his truthful nature.

[2] Whether or not omniscience can be supported from the Bible is a view that is currently being discussed in many articles and books. It is specifically the view of Open Theists that God does not know all future contingent events (events based on the choices of man). Supporting God’s omniscience is well beyond the scope of this paper, but as we will see, is not even necessary to believe in omniscience in order to be forced to deal with the Problem of Evil.

A Conversation with "Blast"

The other day I had a very interesting conversation with an unbeliever in an IRC discussion room I frequent. I wanted to share it here because I think it is a fairly good representation of how to put the presuppositional method of apologetics into practice.

The conversation lasted about an hour. There was no repentance - no conversion - nothing remarkable like that. In fact, I heard later that the individual "Blast" might not have even been genuine in his side of the discussion. No matter, I think that God was glorified as the gospel was shared and it was demonstrated to "Blast" (albeit in a rather limited manner) in a presuppositional manner, that God is the foundation of morality.

Click HERE to read the conversation

-- BK

The Myth of Neutrality

Is it important to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? Does it make a difference to know Christ first before knowing the "facts"? Our first study in the Always Ready Study Group (ARSG) was focused for the most part on the idea of "neutrality." This is easy for Christians to accept when it comes to "spiritual" issues: as a sinner either you trust in the work of Christ, or you accept the full wrath of God as punishment for your sins, but when it comes to mathematics, history, and science that's different...right?

Truth: Correspondence or Coherence?
In Van Til's book A Survey of Christian Epistemology, he talks about the theory of truth. On the one hand, you have those who claim that we can know a fact is true when we can verify that it matches reality "out there." This is the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

On the other hand, you have those who claim that we know a fact is true when we understand and can explain that fact in relation to all other facts. Van Til uses the example of a "cow." What is a cow? It is an animal. And what is an animal? It is a living thing, and so forth. We can follow this train of reasoning to see that we don't understand a cow, an animal, life, and inanimate objects, unless we understand them all together and in relation to each other. This is the Coherence Theory of Truth.

Those are the non-Christian understandings of Correspondence and Coherence anyway. As Christians we can say that we hold to a theory of truth that has elements of both of these theories, and is closest to the Coherence Theory, but the Christian understanding of "coherence" is different. We see the problem raised by the Coherence Theory of Truth to mean that we cannot understand a cow, an animal, life, or indeed anything in the Universe unless we understand everything, and this means that only God can fully understand any fact. We then conclude that a fact is true and justified if it corresponds to God's knowledge, and if we understand it in the way that God understands it in coherence with all other facts.

So, Christian School or Not?
Let's come back around to our original question. Do mathematics, history, science, etc. need to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? The answer is: Yes. There is a qualitative difference between a Christian and non-Christian understanding of the same fact, and it comes down to the Christian understanding of the Coherence Theory of Truth. A non-Christian understands the War of 1812 as a random conflict that occurred when the will of one nation rubbed against the will of another, and sees nothing more to it.

However, a Christian understands (and seeks to understand) the War of 1812 as an act sovereignly decreed by God as He providentially guides history for His purposes, and must do so to understand it fully and correctly. If we're missing that piece of the story, then we misunderstand the whole thing.

Similarly, the non-Christian struggles to explain how the abstract world of mathematics makes contact with the concrete world of reality. Why is it that we can use mathematics to build bridges and skyscrapers? The Christian sees mathematics as part of the whole orderly creation designed by God, and held together by the power of His word. Again, we see a fact in relation to all other facts in the Christian framework.

So we see that even if we set aside differences in the content of knowledge (i.e. the Christian knows the fact of the trinity, but the non-Christian does not) and method (i.e. the Christian understands the Bible as truth and the standard of truth, but the non-Christian does not), there is still a qualitative difference between the way a Christian and non-Christian understand the same fact. This is what we mean when we say there is no neutrality, and this is why we must say that a distinctively Christian education is necessary.

A Study of "Always Ready" - Part 1

Yesterday afternoon (or yesterday evening, depending on whether you live in Norway or not) the four of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our first Study of the book "Always Ready" by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. For those unfamiliar with the book, this is really the seminal work in presuppositional apologetics. Although the book doesn't go down too far into the details, it definitely gives enough to get started with.

We thought we would try out a little experiment with this study, and so decided to record our conversation. Since we all live in different parts of God's great big world, we relied upon "Skype" to bring us together into a virtual room for this study. We will eventually make a podcast out of this, but for now, just click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

-- BK

In the Church but not of it...

Sometimes it is as if no matter where I go, I cannot cease to be in the world.


Where else would I be? Now, certainly I could lock myself up in my house or my closet...maybe move to Phoenix, Arizona and be an ascetic (oh wait, people actually LIVE out there!), but for the most part I am going to be in the world. That is not the difficult part of the little cliche, "We are to be in the world, but not of it".

Being in the world does not mean living ungodly, saying stupid things, mutilating your body, becoming a pragmatist, accepting the world's standards, or any other such nonsense. It is not that difficult to be in the world, really, unless you are a complete hermit.

As Christians, we are not to be of the world. We are of Christ. All throughout Scripture we find two diametrically opposed views of the world: Christian, and Non-Christian. Read it for yourself and see. There is enmity between the woman's seed and the serpent's seed. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, fools despise it. You either hear Jesus or you are of the devil. The cross is wisdom and power or folly and weakness. You are saved from the wrath of God or you are condemned. There is no middle ground.

The sad thing I see happening in the best of churches and in Christian institutions is Christians rejecting the only standard we have to make sense out of anything, the Word of God. Now, I realize you are becoming bored reading this, for it is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun, this is true. I am nevertheless shocked to hear the sorts of things which will follow coming from Christians who have been in the church for years and in some instances are leaders of large ministries and schools that are supposed to be orthodox.

Apologetics has been known to bring awful heresies into the Church in the past, and things are no different now from what I have observed. I am wearied by poor apologists, who will not simply give the Word of God its place.

For example, I listened to one discussion between the head of a Christian school and an atheist organization. The minister started the discussion with the idea that it is possible God does not exist and that it is possible that the Bible is not God's Word.

Just think about that for a moment. Guess what? It gets much worse.

He called this "common ground". Now, if you share "ground" in "common" with someone, then I would presume you are both on it, that there is something there which both parties believe. Is that not what the analogy is intended to convey? So what was the "common ground"? It was that the Bible is not inerrant. How can it be common to both parties if this man believes differently? This makes no sense!

Now I brought this to the attention of a student of this man. The replies I received almost knocked me out of my chair.

"But, you also cannot assume that a non-believer is going to use a believer's text to believe."

"You cannot use Christian ideas to persuade an Atheist to become or at least even see logic in being Christian. You have to use Atheistic ideas to show them how there is a possibility that there can be a God."

"The problem comes when trying to get others to believe your beliefs."

"You cannot get someone to see your viewpoint on an issue using your viewpoint on the issue."

"[W]hen approaching a person that does not even believe that God exists, it would be ludicrous to present Scripture to them because it would be only words and no meaning."

"Not everyone consciously realizes that God exists."

"I just do not see how it is effective when the person does not believe that it is inerrant. It is hard for a person who does not consciously believe in God to believe that the Bible is His inspired Word."

Are there alarms going off in your head? There should be. I read this sort of stuff and pray, "Oh God, what have we done? Who are we? Forgive us!"

We have left the Word of God and inserted our own. If the very Word of God cannot convince or persuade someone to become a Christian, then what can the poor words of other human beings do? What foolish thinking! I am not proposing that we become like the Mormons, telling people to only believe for the sake of believing, or that we should not have an apologetic. What I am proposing is that our "apologetic" has become an obstacle to the very things we seek to defend!

Read the Word of God Christians, and believe it!

It is not ineffective:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12)

It is not ridiculous to present it to the unbeliever. Even when Paul was on Mars Hill speaking to the atheistic philosophers he used Scripture:

The God that made the world and all thing therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth...giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. (Acts 17:24, 25)

He was paraphrasing the following passage from the Old Testament:

Thus saith God Jehovah, he that created the heavens and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it...(Isaiah 42:5).

There are no true atheists, people who do not believe in God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is *plain to them*, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been *clearly perceived*, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are *without excuse*. 21For although *they knew God*, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1.18-23)

Plain to them

Clearly perceived

So much that they are

Without excuse

They knew God

Scripture is clear. Our common ground is not the teaching of the world! We are not to be of the world, though in it we must be. Our common ground is that this world, not the system run by Satan, but the physical creation, is God's, and so are we. We are created in His image, all of us. This is our "common ground" with the unbeliever. There is no other. We have His powerful Word, which is true and loud and clear. Use it.

May we not make the mistake of letting those who are not of Christ pollute our thinking with theirs, whether it be in our thinking about the Word of God or anything else.

Zoroastrianism, Part 1

At base, there are only two worldviews, Christianity and non-Christianity. There are numerous instances of texts of Scripture which give rise to this understanding of worldviews. Of course, within the realm of non-Christian thought there are many manifestations of the non-Christian worldview. For example, Islam and agnosticism are two different manifestations of the rejection of the Christian worldview. These manifestations are what people typically refer to when speaking of worldviews. This may serve to raise some interesting discussions about the terms we use when describing the aforementioned entities, but for now we will set this issue aside.

A frequent objection to the presuppositional method of apologetics is that it does not take into account the necessity of answering questions concerning other religions as opposed to atheism. There is a small bit of truth in this only because presuppositionalist apologists have traditionally focused the vast majority of their energies upon going after the "atheist worldview". However, stating this is a long way from conceding that somehow presuppositionalism is inadequate to deal with "religious" manifestations of the non-Christian worldview. Such a concession is unnecessary not only due to its falsehood, but also because no other method is sufficient to take on the challenge of non-Christian religious worldviews. What other worldview would we stand upon? What do classical and evidentialist apologists, who speak of probability and hypotheses and "establishing some of the alleged attributes of a general concept of god" have to offer in terms of responding to religions that share the very doctrines they are supposedly able to establish through reason?

The point in bringing all of this up is to establish that we need not fear answering non-Christians of any type while standing upon our Christian worldview. We do not flee from religious sects, nor do we suddenly turn about and cease to utilize our sound methodology. Rather, we follow the same procedure of showing that our God of the Christian Scriptures alone provides the preconditions for any intelligibility whatsoever and that all manifestations of the suppression of the truth of God fail to render anything intelligible upon their own presuppositions.

Recently I was asked how I might approach the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. Since there are only just over 100,000 Zoroastrians in the world, I presume that the question was asked primarily as a means to uncover a specific example of how to deal with false religions via presuppositionalist methodology. There are only a handful of geographical locations in the world where one might come across someone who adheres to Zoroastrianism. Such questions should nevertheless be asked in order to see our apologetic in action in more specific contexts than what is offered in most current literature on the subject. Thus, the question and answer have practical merit. Aside from this it is worth noting that Zoroastrianism has long been taught about as being strangely and strongly parallel to Judaism and Christianity and as predating the latter two religions. These assertions are sufficient to raise questions and doubts in the minds of some believers. Indeed, raising doubts would seem to be the intention of many texts and teachers of this subject as it is with so many other secular philosophies imposed upon students through allegedly innocent, neutral academics.

So how does one deal with the challenges presented by Zoroastrianism? The general answer is that we approach it in the same way we approach any other version of non-Christianity. We shall set Christianity as a whole over against Zoroastrianism and see which is intelligible on its own terms. This procedure will involve a study of the concepts of revelation, God, humanity, sin, redemption, etc. The specific answer to the original question is the content of the next few installations pertaining to this subject. I hope to see you there.

What's in the queue?

At the suggestion of Paul (Paul seems to have a lot of suggestions), the contributors to this blog will be starting a weekly discussion of presuppositional apologetics, centered around the book "Always Ready" by the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen.

The reason I mention this here is because we are planning on recording the audio from these discussions in order to post on the site. It is our hope that the questions raised and problems tackled in our discussions might be of use to others who frequent this site.

On another note, Paul also had the idea (see what I mean?) that we should organize a conference for Presuppositional Apologetics. I completely agree. Having never organized a conference before (let alone my office), I can see this as a real opportunity for "lessons learned". We will rely totally on God's grace as we pursue this venture. We also would ask for your prayers as we figure out the best way to approach this opportunity.

-- BK

A Study In The Nature Of God's Word (Authority) - Part 2

The nature of faith and knowledge

Some of you might complain about my goal to demonstrate the Bible as inerrant. You might say "Brian, doesn't the Bible speak about faith? Isn't that how we are supposed to approach Jesus Christ - on faith? Isn't all of this discussion about 'proving this' and 'demonstrating that' simply unnecessary, based on what the Bible says about faith?" After all, we don't know the Bible is inerrant, we just have faith that it is, right?

Well there is no doubt that scripture speaks about faith and belief. However, are we supposed to have faith yet never give any reason for that faith? Definitely not! In fact, the Bible speaks of more than just faith – it speaks about knowing things. Let's look at 1 John 5:13:
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (NIV – emphasis mine)
Let me read it again, this time from the message, which I think makes the meaning that much easier to grasp
"My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God's Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion."
John is stating that the reason he is writing is so that we who believe in Jesus as our savior can know that we have eternal life. He is telling us that the words he is writing are intended to give us certainty about our future. Now catch this all important fact - John is in essence telling us that the revelation of God, the very book he is contributing to as he writes, is sufficient to turn our faith into knowledge!

Now let me say this clearly so that we don't miss it – if the Bible is inerrant, then what John is telling us here is that the very words of God revealed in scripture are able to move us from belief to knowledge. His revelation is just that powerful!

So how is this possible? Well, we need to take a moment and talk about the difference between belief and knowledge.

Can all beliefs be considered knowledge? No, I think we know that without thinking too hard, right? I might believe that it is dark outside, but I could be wrong. I have been known to be wrong, after all!

Knowledge is belief on steroids, if you will. Knowledge is something much more powerful than just belief. Knowledge is actually true belief with a reason to back it up! Let me illustrate.

Consider the following two statements:
1) I believe that the Bible is inerrant

2) I know that the Bible is inerrant
I am sure you already recognize the difference in the "force" of these two statements. But let me make it a bit clearer for you, just to be sure.

Consider these two statements:
1) I believe that the Bible is inerrant

2) I know that the Bible is full of mistakes
Now, I think most of us realize that the second statement is much stronger in what it says than the first, especially when we see it worded in such a way as to contradict the first. The conclusion found in the first statement could theoretically be wrong, after all. To say you believe something is not to say it is necessarily true – it is only to say what you believe. However, to claim to know something is to claim that what you are stating is actually true. The first statement makes no claims about truth, but the second one does

We use the word "know" all the time in our every day conversation. In fact, we use the word very loosely most of the time. We say we "know" something when we really only "believe" it, although we might believe it very, very strongly.

Not too long ago the news reported that JonBenet Ramsey's killer had been caught. Do you remember? A man named Mark Karr confessed to her killing. I remember people saying to those who doubted the news reports "I know he killed her!" When questioned as to how they knew, they replied "because he admitted to it!" Ask yourself this question – did they really know, or did they simply believe he did it? What they should have said was "I believe Mark Karr killed her", or maybe "chances are pretty good he killed her". After all, a confession is not a good enough reason to convict someone of murder.

And that's the key word here, after all –"reason." What separates belief from knowledge is the existence of one or more good reasons. If you told a group of people that you know there is a flying saucer hovering overhead right now, you can bet they are going to want a really good reason before they accept what you are saying, right? After all, the simple assertion that there is a UFO overhead isn't a good enough reason to accept it as true. Is it?

It shouldn't surprise us, then, that the Bible has something to say about giving reasons for our beliefs. We have already seen that John has told us that we can know where we will spend eternity, if we believe in Jesus Christ. And we have just seen that knowledge requires a good reason, or else it is just a belief. Consider now what 1 Peter 3:15 says.
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (NIV)
Wow, look at that! As Christians we are commanded to be prepared with an answer. What kind of answer are we to have? We are to have an answer for the reason for the hope that we have. The Greek word for "answer" there is apologia, which is where the word "apologetics" comes from. It means a "reasoned statement or argument".

So there it is – we are to be prepared with a reason for why we believe what we believe. Why? Because giving a reason is how we demonstrate, to others and to ourselves, that we know that the Bible is true. Providing a reason is how we move from faith alone directly to knowledge about God's word.

Where knowledge comes from

Does the Bible give us any reasons to claim it is inerrant? What possible reasons could there be in the Bible that would give us the warrant to claim that we know the Bible is free from error?

Before answering that question, we must first consider the Biblical perspective on the source of knowledge. Unless we understand the Bible’s claims about what is necessary to know anything, we can never hope to formulate any sort of argument for claiming that we know the Bible is inerrant.

First, let's consider Proverbs 1:7a.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (NASB)
Now if the Bible is inerrant (and we are assuming that presently for the sake of argument), then fearing God is the first step to knowledge. That is, we cannot know anything at all without fearing God.

What do we mean by fear? Well, the Hebrew word for fear in this verse is yir'ah {yir-aw'}, the most applicable definition of which means to respect and revere God. That means we must hold God up and bow our knee to him; we must respect him for who he is if we hope to know anything. In short, God must be the foundation we rest upon in giving reasons for what we claim to know. Intellectually, he must be our ultimate authority.

Next, let's look at Colossians 2:1-3
"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,
2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (NASB – emphasis mine)
Now that's a pretty long passage, but catch what it says at the end. Jesus Christ himself is the very center of all wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge finds itself in Jesus Christ. Now that's kind of a strange idea, so let's skip ahead to verse 8 of the same chapter as this will help us understand a little better what is being said.
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (NASB)
Here we see that we are not to live our lives according to the philosophy of the world. Rather, we are to live our lives based upon a philosophy that is according to Christ.

It will be helpful for you to go back and read all of Colossians 2 at some point, including the verses between 3 and 8. For now, however, consider verse 8 in light of verse 3. Paul is telling us here to live our lives according to Christ, as wisdom and knowledge itself are found in him. That is, these treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found when we live our lives according to Christ.

Sound familiar? Remember Proverbs 1:7 from above? The starting point of knowledge is reverence for God. To put it another way, knowledge is not available to us unless we begin with God as our intellectual foundation.

Just like we are to center ourselves on God in a pursuit of knowledge, we are to center ourselves on his son Jesus Christ. Our philosophy (that is, our way of viewing the world around us) is to be centered on God and his son Jesus Christ, understanding that our very ability to know anything at all begins with putting God in the position of our intellectual authority.

This is a very important point to capture, because it answers the question of inerrancy for us.

The question of how we know the Bible is inerrant is ultimately tied to the question of how we know anything at all. The reason we can know the Bible is inerrant is the same as the reason we can know anything at all. But before we talk about what that reason is, we need to talk about the foundations of knowledge.

And we will take this up next time!

The Asparagus And The Ape - Part 2

One of the wonderful things about presuppositionalism is that one need look no farther than the very basic teachings of the Bible in order to get one’s answers about philosophical issues which worry and weary the unbeliever. One such problem before the unbeliever is how the essential assumption of human dignity is accounted for in a non-Christian worldview. Our society is ruminated with the implications of human dignity, and yet we saw in Part 1 of the treatment of this subject that there are fatal flaws in attempting to consistently adhere to both a non-Christian view of the world and the premise of human dignity. There are few other “sacred” or religious writings which contain self-attestation to divine origin the way Christian Scripture does. We will not look right now at every other account of origins contained in other religious literature. Such a treatment is beyond our purposes here. We will merely state that among numerous other insurmountable problems (whether scientific, historic, logical, or otherwise), these accounts do not claim to carry anywhere near the weight that the Genesis account itself claims to carry as being God’s revelation to humanity. It is noteworthy that Muslims and (modern day) Jews may exempt themselves from the problem of accounting for the human dignity which we all assume only by borrowing from the Christian account of origins as recorded in the Hebrew book of Genesis and it is obvious that this is precisely what they actually do. What is not always so obvious is that those of other “religious” or “non-religious” views either do the very same thing or as a result of failing to do so, fall right back into the problems raised in the last entry on this subject.

If we think of the unattainable goal of accounting for human dignity within a non-Christian view of things as a joke, the anti-intellectual, anti-scientific theory of naturalistic evolution is its rather large butt. Not only is there an ever present danger of overextending the concept of dignity by ludicrously applying it to other entities like asparagus and apes, but there is the increasingly worrisome truth that within the evolutionary scheme of things we are naught but misshapen blobs that are not even found at the “end” of said evolutionary “scheme”. This is about more than kissing universal healthcare goodbye (that is a joke), this problem results in unacceptable and unintelligible sociological consequences.

We need look no farther than the very basic teachings of the Bible in order to get our answers concerning the justification of the human dignity which is foundational to human experience.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And
let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping
thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And
God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the
earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the
birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that
is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You
shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every
bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that
has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Gen 1:26-30 (ESV)

Just as people communicate with one another, there was communication within the triune God prior to the creation of the first person (and of course, there was communication within the triune God before the foundation of the world). The linguistic tool of pluralistic majesty is not found in such early Hebrew writings as the Pentateuch, and in actuality did not come into widespread usage until so much later in time that it is of no consequence to our study here except to the extent we have already taken it. God is not speaking to angels, for nowhere is it said of humans that we are created in the image of any other than God. Note also that we as humans are created in the image of God, a theological concept which is wider than what our focus will allow us to detail here. Suffice it to say that not only are we like God in many ways, but we are capable of many of the same things which God does as God due to the way He has made us in contradistinction to the way God has made other creatures. We are also given dominion over the rest of creation, as God has dominion over all of creation and us. Not only this; but the account of the creation of the first man comes at the end of an account of the creation of everything else other than man (and of course, God). Unlike the arrogant, speciest jellyfish of Ishmael, we are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We are something special, in that sense, or to put it in much less postmodern language, we possess dignity. Thus according to verse 26, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost agree with one another to create the first man in the image of God and as the pinnacle of creation with dominion over every other created thing.

We are given a detailed account of not only creation, but more specifically the first man, who was not produced in mass quantities like the animals, but rather was specially created in an intimate way by the God of the universe. The first man is commanded to subdue these creatures, and he even names them. All of this comes a little later in the Genesis account of course, which I encourage you to read again. The book of Genesis is the only true account of origins, and in it you will find many of the metaphysical truths necessary to make sense of the world as we know it. To reject the self-attesting Word of Christ is to engage in self-contradiction, for Christianity alone accounts for the very concept of dignity necessary for such rejection. Blobs do not write constitutions, and Jesus did not shed His blood for apes.

The Asparagus And The Ape - Part 1

“It was nothing to brag about, just a sort of squishy blob…”

The mysterious squishy blob described above is a character in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The blob lives “half a billion years ago”. Ishmael, a story telling gorilla, relates the details of the blob’s environment.

Nothing at all stirred on the land, except the wind and the dust. Not a single
blade of grass waved in the wind, not a single cricket chirped, not a
single bird soared in the sky…Even the seas were eerily still and silent, for
the vertebrates too were tens of millions of years away in the future.

However, there is an anthropologist on the scene who questions the blob about its creation myth, to which the blob replies, “I want you to understand that…we are a strictly rational people, who accept nothing that is not based on observation, logic, and the scientific method”. The anthropologist is fine with this and desires the talking blob to proceed by telling him about its story of origins. The blob continues with something quite similar to the account we are told concerning evolution, though it is not specified where life began. The anthropologist thus stops the blob to ask whether life began on land or in the sea, to which the blob responds, “I can’t imagine what you’re gibbering about. The dirt and rocks over there are simply the lip of the vast bowl that holds the sea”, obviously revealing the blob’s mindset that the world consists not of land and sea, but rather of sea alone, at least in terms of importance. The anthropologist apologizes and prods the blob to continue.

“Very well,” the other said. “For many millions of centuries the life of the
world was merely microorganisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But
little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes,
algae, polyps, and so on.

But finally,” the creature said, turning
quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, “but finally
jellyfish appeared!”

Obviously the story told by the blob parallels the current story of an evolutionary history. As I read this I thought, “Brilliant!”. Human pride is far too ambitious when it comes to defining itself as significant in the context provided by our alleged beginnings. Indeed, there is more than pride involved here, for the assignment of any value at all to living things, much less human beings, raises some serious questions as to the justification of such value assignments. Daniel Quinn has pinpointed a serious problem with the evolutionary scheme of things; the non-Christian account of origins which currently permeates our world. Essentially this problem is that we are not what we think we are. Ultimately one must accept that there is no way to account for human dignity if one has accepted the view of the world that has become so popular as of late.

The argument Quinn might make, as well as philosophers like Peter Singer (whom I will not be specifically addressing here, but perhaps another time) and religious practitioners like the Jain; is that life itself has value and should be respected. An emphasis on human dignity to the exclusion of other living things is thus really a sort of inconsistency which needs to be addressed. Some recent news articles provide examples of such a step actually being taken.

Spanish parliament recently voted as a majority to “extend” rights to apes. Under new laws, apes will be considered alongside humans as having such rights as life and freedom. It will be illegal to have apes to use in circuses and films. This strikes many as odd, yet there really seems to be nothing to separate humans out from animals as inherently possessing more value. There may be such a thing as human dignity, but this needs to be extended to cover animals as well. While it may be intuitively repulsive, the idea that apes and other animals possess the same value, dignity, and rights as humans is a pretty consistent step within the non-Christian’s view of the world.

We need not stop with apes though. As eastern religions have observed, life itself, regardless of what kind of life it is, need be understood as possessing the same value as human life. In other words, plants are just as dignified as people. Asparagus is on par with apes. As already mentioned more people seem to be taking note of this and attempting to institute change.

A team of Swiss ethicists have decided that plants are entitled to the same respect given any other entity possessing dignity.

A "clear majority" of the panel adopted what it called a "biocentric" moral
view, meaning that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own
sake because they are alive." Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim
"absolute ownership" over plants and, moreover, that "individual plants have an
inherent worth." This means that "we may not use them just as we please, even if
the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the
species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily."

Notice that plants, such as asparagus (mentioned in the title of the article this is from), are deemed to have an inherent worth just like human beings are. Further, this entails that plants are actually, in some sense, worthy of our moral obligation and possess rights. This appears to be nothing short of crazy, but it also appears to be rather consistent with the worldview we are looking at here.

One of the most important assumptions we as human beings make is that there is such a thing as human dignity. A plethora of crucial elements of human experience are contingent upon the reality of human dignity. For example, the time to elect a new President in the USA is fast approaching yet again, and the media will not talk about much else. Those who choose to think deeper in their political philosophy than what the media and cultural climate will allow will inevitably, whether knowing it or not, think in terms of human dignity when it comes to contemporary political issues. While much of the activity surrounding the process of getting a new President into office will inevitably consist of shallow, oft repeated sound bytes, there are those still who think a bit deeper about what it is they are actually taking a part in. This inevitably involves thinking about rights. Every discussion of “rights” in the current political discourse is reducible to a position on human dignity. In other words, human dignity is not something only philosophers squabble about in ivory towers; it is of tremendous practical bearing.

Society is necessarily permeated with the assumption of human dignity. Human life has value and hence is to be respected, which entails that there is an ethical dimension to human dignity as well. Human dignity is appealed to in matters of law, justice, politics, morality, funerals and many other important features of society. Surely there is good reason to adhere to this almost universally held belief in human dignity, but what is it?

The assumption of human dignity has led honest inquirers to search for a way to account for it. This leads one to realize that, given the non-Christian’s view of the world and the actuality of the dignity of humans, there is little reason to suppose that other living things do not likewise possess such dignity. To reject this is speciesism. We have observed several examples of attempts to avoid speciesism, but the deeper and more pressing question under all of this is how human dignity is accounted for at all in a non-Christian view of the world. Humans are not the end or goal or purpose of evolution. We are foolish to think there is much special about us. Indeed we are foolish to think that we possess a shred of dignity or value. If the world is as non-Christians would have us believe it is then we are nothing more than deluded, egocentric blobs.

The assumption of human dignity is unaccounted for and unintelligible given the wider context of unbelieving, non-Christian thought. In Part II we will examine what Scripture has to tell us with regard to human dignity and value.

_ _ _
Daniel Quinn. Ishamael. Bantam. May 1, 1995. Pgs. 54-56.

Martin Roberts. Spanish parliament to extent rights to apes.

Wesley Smith. The Silent Scream of the Asparagus.