A Definitive Diagnosis

February 28, 2008

I received a comment in response to my last post from someone who says he is an atheist who believes in absolutes and went on to define absolute good and making oneself happy, often by making others happy. My response is to ask where one gets an absolute truth if they do not believe in God but hold to a naturalistic worldview. Who defines that happiness is the ultimate goal of man?

The following is a passage from Ravi Zacharias’ The Real Face of Atheism. This is a book I have greatly appreciated as I’ve gone through it (and am now nearing the conclusion). The section is entitled A Definitive Diagnosis.

‘The Christian answer is a strong counterperspective to naturalism – and rightly so, for it challenges human beings in their claim to absolute autonomy. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “We do now want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.”

The atheist makes two very serious mistakes in his starting point for moral discussion: first, what morality is, and second, what purpose morality serves. He asserts that he can, by the power of unaided reason, arrive at the nature of morality and at a satisfactory moral law. So natural is the capacity of the mind, says Kant in his Groundwork on Ethics, that a person can turn away from a direct encounter with Christ, and, independent of Christ’s influence, be able to reason through to the right conclusions. In The Sovereignty of Good, Iris Murdoch has a perfect response to this Kantian belief:

How recognizable, how familiar to us, is the man so beautifully portrayed in the Groundwork, who confronted even with Christ turns away to consider the judgment of his own conscience and to hear the voice of his own reason… This man is with us still, free, independent, lovely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy. The ‘raison d’etre’ [‘reason to be’] of this attractive but misleading creature is not far to seek. He is the offspring of the age of science, confidently rational, and yet increasingly aware of his alienation from the material universe which his discoveries reveal… his alienation is without cure… It is not such a long step from Kant to Nietzsche to existentialism, and the Anglo-Saxon ethical doctrines which is some ways closely resemble it… In fact, Kant’s man had already received a glorious incarnation nearly a century earlier in the work of Milton: his proper name is Lucifer.

To be precise, this man is not post-scientific or incarnated for the first time in Milton’s work. In fact, we meet him in the Garden of Eden, where he arrogated to himself the godlike characteristic of defining good and evil, and doing so apart from God. This reality is at the heart of the Christian argument for morality. It asserts not only the inevitable sense of alienation within any belief that places man as the measure of all things; it also defines what it means to be immoral. The word is “pride,” “hubris” – an autonomy that will its independence from God. Knowledge and education in the hands of one who claims no higher accountability or authority than one’s own individuality is power in the hands of a fool. The English poet Alexander Pope said:

Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguided mind;
What the weak head with strongest bias rules; –
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was only half right when he said, during his voyage to England and Ireland:

The French want no one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The French man constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The English man lowers his beneath him with satisfaction. On either side it is pride, but understood in a different way.

The problem is not with the French or the English. It is with all mankind. None of us likes authority. It all began in the first days of creation, when the first man and woman refused to allow God to be God, and wanted to be God themselves. Thus, sin entered the world through the rejection of God and the choice for autonomy and self-will. Men and women became the authors of their own moral law, and murder showed itself in the first family, followed by the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The fall was a fact, and is a fact. All of the vociferous arguments from Huxley and others will never quench the fire of rebellion that rages in the heart of humanity. Malcolm Muggeridge has astutely observed that the depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable. Humankind has denied God, and in that vertical rebellion begins our lostness. Society is not jeopardized as much as individuals themselves.’

(Zacharias, Ravi. The Real Face of Atheism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. 129-131).


The Problem With Relativism

February 26, 2008

We live in a world that says there is no such thing as absolute truth and morality, or at least that there is no way to know for sure what is right and true. The problem with such a worldview is that it provides no answers at all to life’s questions. The whole purpose of a worldview is to define how you understand the world. But if your worldview provides no answers, it is incoherent and thus not in touch with reality. If your worldview is not in touch with reality, it cannot be correct. If your worldview is not correct then you can be sure you have not understood this world or your existence.

“A Monk No More”

February 23, 2008

He thought they were going on a family vacation, and was utterly shocked when his mother informed him that she was leaving him in their ancestral homeland of Cambodia at a Buddhist monastery until he “changed.” It was two years before he returned to the United States. He seemed to have learned some discipline and was almost silent for the first few weeks. Then things went pretty much back to the way they were, minus the drugs and police contact. Gone is the training to “not want stuff” and now he works because he likes to make money. He doesn’t do his chores or keep his room clean. His mother says she is disappointed, but is glad at least he’s not on drugs anymore or in trouble with the law. This is the story that ran in the Yakima Herald Republic’s faith section today (sourced from the Seattle Times). It was titled “A Monk No More.”

So what happened? After the initial shock to his system this young man seemed to have settled into the monastic lifestyle. Why would he turn back to a “normal” American teenager after two years as a monk?

The problem lies in the failure of the Buddhist system to deal with the root of the problem. A disciplined lifestyle will always fall apart if it is done on the person’s own strength. The problem is not that of discipline or self-will, but of sin.

The Bible says that everyone is born into the sinful nature. Everyone may not get into drugs as a teenager, but every does live as a slave to sin apart from Jesus Christ. That’s why no matter how much self-will you may have you constantly find yourself slipping back into old habits until you are changed from the inside out. And the only one capable of changing the sinful nature into a new nature cleansed of sin and alive to righteousness and holiness is Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; The old has gone, the new has come!”

The problem with the Pharisees of the Bible is they had an outward form of religion but inside they were dead, just like an outwardly painted tomb still holds dead man’s bones (Matthew 23:27). So it is with anyone who has “religion” but has not been cleansed from the sinful nature. Sin will always creep back in without this change.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

Reason and Revelation

February 20, 2008

We can only reason so much when it comes to faith, because the nature of faith is to “be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). The truth is that at some point the Christian actually became a Christian, and that was a moment of faith. For many that has meant taking the knowledge and evidence accumulated concerning the credibility of belief in God and the message of the gospel and translating that into a real faith commitment in receiving the salvation offered through Christ.

At the point of salvation something very real happens. It is true that faith takes courage because it is put in something that cannot be seen with natural eyes. But it has been said that faith in God is like seeing the wind’s effects on the trees – you can’t see the wind, but you can sure see it blowing the tree from side to side, it’s effects on the things it touches. Seeing God is a lot like that.

Revelation is one of those supernatural things that you experience when you meet the Lord. Not only does the Christian know about God, but they can honestly say they know him because he has revealed himself to them through Christ. This is a life-changing experience. To have a revelation is to have God show you something about himself or his Word, the Bible. It is to have a new understanding or insight that you didn’t have before.

Revelation will always line up with the Bible, what we already know that God has revealed. There have been many false prophets who have come along and claimed to have been given a revelation from God, but that has not resembled the Word in the least. God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) and does not change (Hebrews 13:8), so we can trust that he will not contradict himself in what he reveals to one person compared to another. God is the God of truth (Psalm 31:5).

The Philosophic Implications of Evolutionary Theory

February 19, 2008

Some people say that philosophy and science don’t mix. I beg to differ. If you have a theory it must correspond to reality, otherwise all you have is semantics without essence. A well-worded theory is nothing if it proves to be false.

Science involves just as much semantics as does philosophy. The thing is that philosophy is the one that is known for its word play, while science is looked at from a more material angle. As a result, the semantics of science is usually overlooked. But the truth remains that even a scientific theory is meaningless if it does not play out in the real world.

Science and philosophy do collide. Ethics is a prime example of this. We may be able to clone stuff, but should we? We may be able to engineer the DNA, but is it morally acceptable to do so? Even the highly scientific field of medicine has an ethical system and lines that are drawn which everyone knows should not be crossed. Every doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath.

But ethics isn’t the only field where science and philosophy collide. When dealing with evolutionary theory, the question of origin is being prodded. This is a question which philosophy also deals with. What is the origin of man, and what is his end?

Most importantly and most relevant to our discussions here is the question of ultimate meaning. If evolutionary theory is true, there is no ultimate meaning for life. Sure, an atheistic evolutionist may see meaning in their own life as they live it, but ultimately it amounts to nothing as they die, are quickly forgotten, and their body returns to dust.

The question is not whether I can live in a world without meaning, and I can’t so I’m going to make up something greater to believe in. That is not the question or the answer at all. The question is whether the philosophical implications of what evolutionary theory proposes corresponds with reality. The question is the same as the question of the scientific theory itself: Is it true? Does the real world line up with what the theory postulates.

So no, I’m not going to make up something to believe in because I firmly believe life has meaning. I am going to find out what the meaning is and Whom it comes from, because it is true and right and real. The truth is evolutionary theory has as many scientific questions to answer as it does philosophical questions. And I’m convinced that both areas are completely bankrupt.

Constant Disappointment

February 15, 2008

I am constantly being disappointed by theologians and apologists, and sometimes I don’t know what to make of this. When I read someone, I am not only interested in what they are saying in the particular instance I have come across, but also (sometimes even more importantly) what they believe as a whole theologically and philosophically, and how they lived their life.

As far as apologetics are concerned, I have read enough that I am always looking for the holes in the arguments. As an apologist I want to present a sealed-tight argument. To do this I need to examine every angle of an argument, whether my own or someone else’s, to see what the person I am talking to will find wrong with it. I have found that there is far too much bad apologetics out there. That or the apologist presents a good argument but doesn’t bring it all the way to its proper conclusion, and instead leaves holes and doors open. The result is the person being spoken to leaves the conversation still an unconvinced skeptic instead of the Christian they could have potentially become. The fields are ripe for harvest but the workers are few.

As for the personal beliefs of theologians and apologists, I have sometimes likewise been disappointed. Chesterton and Muggeridge became Catholics near the end of their lives. Many of the loudest voices in Evangelicalism are Calvinists. Not that these systems get absolutely everything wrong, but I can find a lot of biblical evidence against many things they profess. Recently I discovered Barclay. He has a lot of great things to say, some of which the Lord has used to speak to my heart. But I was disappointed when I looked up his biography. Turns out he was a liberal and a universalist. Drat.

The only exception to this observation has been Ravi Zacharias. Perhaps this is what I hold him and his ministry in such high esteem. I have seen blameless lifestyle, great theology and near perfect apologetic approaches in him.

Maybe I’m just a bit cynical as I am always trying to poke holes in my own arguments to make them stronger and things like that, but I really long to find more “perfect” Christians out there, people who have great theology and holy lifestyles. The Bible says that this is the ideal for the Christian, one who knows the Word and lives the Word every minute of every day. Why are they so hard to find?

Worshipping the Self as Maker

February 13, 2008

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
“State of emergency!”
“Sniper kills Ten!”
“Troops on Rampage!”
“Youths go Looting!”
“Bomb blasts School!” –

It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker

(English journalist Steve Turner)

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