Gay marriage and the fall of American civilization?

I recently stumbled across a short article of prominent Evangelical philosopher, theologian and apologist William Lane Craig where he laments the inexorable progression of same-sex marriage into the heart of America.

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Something very significant happened over this past weekend that we need to be alert to. As you probably know, several weeks ago the Supreme Court refused to hear a case concerning a federal district court’s decision to strike down all of the pro-marriage laws that have been passed by various states – Idaho, Oklahoma, and others out west. These were regarded as unconstitutional because they declared marriage to be between a man and a woman, or in other words, they prohibited same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court refused to hear the decision, thereby in effect ratifying same-sex marriage in the United States by judicial fiat.

When this happened, I just felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. I struck me that the whole American culture had just shifted. Yet there was no outcry; there was no great protest. This event passed almost silently, it seemed. It is astonishing the degree to which people’s thinking about marriage has changed so rapidly. It made me wonder: where is the United States heading morally? The institution of marriage lies at the very foundations of culture. Have we passed a kind of tipping point, now that marriage is no longer between a man and a woman, and is our culture just going to continue to decline from here? It is very disturbing when you think about this sort of trend on into the rest of the century and the next century.

But then I was absolutely stunned to read in the newspaper last Saturday morning that a different federal district court has upheld the ban on same-sex marriage in Michigan and Ohio and certain other mid-Western states. This virtually guarantees that the Supreme Court is going to have to take the case now because you have got two federal district courts at least (actually there are more) that are in contradiction with each other on the question whether or not the states have the right to pass laws saying that marriage is between a man and a woman only.

So this is probably going to go to the Supreme Court. According the paper it will probably be heard around next April or so. For me, at least, this is a call for renewed and intense prayer about this Supreme Court case. I have personally decided to covenant with the Lord to pray every day about this decision until the Supreme Court renders it – to keep the Supreme Court in prayer that these justices will make the right decision, or that if God so wills he might remove one of these justices and replace him or her with a different justice who would make a right decision.

This is entirely within God’s power to do. The Lord hasn’t seen fit in the past to save us from our own folly in this way, but I don’t think that is a reason not to pray. I would encourage you to think about this in your own life, too – whether or not this might be a matter about which you would covenant to pray. For this case truly represents a huge cultural watershed for the United States.

I appreciate that Christians differ on the question of whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed. I think a lot of younger Christians especially have a sort of inclusivist attitude, thinking: how does it affect heterosexual marriages if you also allow marriage between same-sex partners? It doesn’t make any difference. It is just wider and broader, but it doesn’t affect anything, so it is all right. This attitude is very naïve. Since marriage is not a private institution but a civic institution – a public institution –, it carries with it certain civil rights that must be respected in the public square. What this means is that those who continue to regard marriage as exclusively heterosexual in nature are going to have their civil rights infringed or trampled upon. This is already happening. There was a court case in Massachusetts where a wedding photographer declined to film a same-sex wedding ceremony because he didn’t believe in same sex marriage. He was taken to court and had to pay $6,000 for not doing this. There is a wedding chapel in Idaho that is now under threat of being closed because the owners don’t want to perform same-sex marriages in their chapel. Their decision is regarded as civil discrimination.

So the idea that there can be a sort of peaceful co-existence of two concepts of marriage is just naïve; it is not true. When I’ve talked to homosexual activists at academic conferences, they acknowledge this themselves. They say the peaceful co-existence view is a naïve view. If same-sex marriage goes through, it is going to change things. That is exactly the activists’ intention. One of them said to me, “Really, same-sex marriage is old hat. That is not really what this is all about. We don’t think that marriage is an institution that should be recognized by the government at all. It is discriminatory for the government to give special privileges and benefits to people because they are married.”

So the same sex marriage issue is really just a thin-entering wedge to deconstruct marriage altogether. How does one do it? By denying that marriage has an essence or nature. Marriage is not essentially between a man and a woman. Rather, on such a postmodernist view, marriage is a social convention akin to driving on the right-hand or left-hand side of the road. There is no objective truth about it. So you can define it any way you want. If we go that route – if we deny that marriage has an essence and is just a social convention – then, of course, it is completely malleable and can be turned into anything. So the drive for same sex marriage is actually an attempt to deconstruct marriage under the mask of obtaining equal rights, marriage equality, and so forth. But that is not the real issue.

I feel free to speak about this issue because I think it is not merely political. It seems to me that this issue is deeply spiritual and moral and, frankly, does represent a kind of watershed moment in American culture. The institution of marriage itself is under assault. So I hope that some of you will join with me in praying for our Supreme Court as we approach this decision.

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My response follows.
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Dear professor Craig,

I thank you so much for allowing comments on your blog. Even if I don’t expect any answer from you, given your overloaded schedule, I want to let you know my own response to what you just wrote.

It is fair to say we’ve very different starting points. You hold fast to Biblical inerrancy (as defined by the Chicago statement) whereas I’m a progressive Christian believing that the different Biblical authors might speak with conflicting voices on some topics.

Nevertheless, both of us are sincerely trying to follow the Risen Christ and we both agree that the entire Christian ethics can be traced back to Love (for God and, which is equivalent, for one’s neighbor).

And this is why I am NOT opposed to Gay marriage.
God made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath. It stands to reason that a perfectly good God would not forbid us things arbitrarily , that is to say according to his good pleasure.
Therefore, if something is wrong and forbidden, it must be harmful either for the individual or for society (I don’t limit “harm” to physical pain but also include anything hindering us from becoming better persons and growing in Love).

Therefore, if homosexuality is wrong, it must be detrimental in some ways. But all available evidence shows us that lifelong committed gay couples are not being harmed or impaired in their cultivation of love when compared to heterosexual couples.

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Since I reject the idea that a morally perfect being could issue arbitrary laws, I reject the idea that God prohibits Gay marriage.

You wrote that you “just felt as if you had been kicked in the stomach”.

Are you feeling the same way towards poor children not receiving any decent healthcare even if they suffer from life-threatening conditions?
Are you grieving about this Christian psychotic man who is going to be put to death in Texas for murders stemming from his sick and irresponsible mind?
Are you saddened by the prison industry which (by using the war on drugs) puts countless black and other socially disadvantaged people into jails, thereby ruining their whole lives?

Should these egregious and tragic states of affairs not be “a call for renewed and intense prayer”?
It seems to me that the priorities of American Conservative Evangelicals aren’t really the same as those of the Biblical writers.

Finally, let me say that I respect Conservative Christians disagreeing with me on homosexuality.

I do NOT approve of resorting to propaganda and judicial power to silence political opponents.

I radically oppose bullying opponents to Gay marriage.

I can’t fully sympathize with the Gay lobby due to all their excesses and lovelessness.

I agree that a part of the movement wants to abolish marriage and promote any lifestyle causing no direct and immediate harm. This is something I am strongly opposed to and I think that any form of relationship not fostering the growth of selfless love, commitment, humility and kindness should be rejected.
This is why I don’t approve of One Night Stands and of polygamy, even if for many Biblical writers, God had no problem whatsoever with the latter.

I am deeply convinced that your belief that combating Gay marriage should be one of the main priorities of modern Christians is profoundly misguided and dangerous for the Church.

To my mind, the greatest wickedness of the American society consists of caring more for the rights of a small wealthy minority while failing to meet the basic needs of the poorest part of the population.

This is objectively wrong and egregious. And this is something which should lead any Perfect Being to disapprove of (or even “curse” if you prefer) a culture.

Sincerely and fraternally yours.

Was William Lane Craig lying for Jesus?

This is what is currently puzzling me.

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William Lane Craig is undoubtedly the most popular defender of the Evangelical faith and for both believers and unbelievers, he represents the very best Christianity has to offer.

While trying to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, William Lane Craig often presupposes the existence of God as background information. I think this is a very clever move for the way probabilities are assessed  in that case can largely vary according to the truth of atheism or theism.

But there is a problem here: William Lane Craig also uses the resurrection as independent evidence for demonstrating God’s existence.

Jason, the questioner asked:

“So for the first argument stated, you contend that the resurrection of Jesus serves in itself as evidence for God’s existence. In your Resurrection Hypothesis, you appeal to the evidence for the existence of God as a part of the specific evidence used to show that the Resurrection Hypothesis is more probable than not.Are these arguments not then circular reasoning?”

Let us see what Craig’s answer was.

“My studied view, then, is that one first establishes theism on the basis of the arguments of Natural Theology like the cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments, so that when one comes to explaining the facts pertinent to Jesus of Nazareth, one may include as part of one’s background information the existence of the God of Natural Theology. You misunderstood the Defenders lectures. There I challenge the assumption that the probability of the resurrection on our background information Pr (R|B) is very low precisely because we can include God’s existence as part of our background information. We’ve already completed our Natural Theology before we come to an examination of Christian evidences.

So why do I frequently present the resurrection as part of a cumulative case for God’s existence in debates? Well, the reason, frankly, is evangelistic. I don’t want to leave students with just a generic God common to all monotheists but with some warrant for believing in the Christian God, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth.

Now if one includes the resurrection itself as part of the evidence for theism, as I often do in debates, one cannot include God’s existence as part of the background information (though one could still include evidence like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the reality of objective moral values, etc.). What one will say in this case is just that we’ve got no reason to think that Pr (R|B) << 0.5.

So I hope you’ll find that I’ve been consistent in including God’s existence in the background information only in cases in which I am not using the resurrection as part of a case for theism. When using the resurrection as part of a theistic case, one should simply say that the resurrection has not been shown to be improbable on the background information because we’ve not heard any good arguments for atheism.”

The problem is that in such debates Craig leaves to most of his listeners and readers the misleading impression that one can, on a neutral agnostic ground, prove the resurrection and use this as evidence for God, even tough he seems to recognize at other places that you need to consider God’s existence as granted before doing this.

Is this a real inconsistency? Is that perhaps even a true deception?

I don’t know.

 

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The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson

The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson 

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The question of why God or god(s) would allow evil to exist has been a very perplexing and troubling one for every believer attaching to them qualities such as goodness and benevolence ever since the time the Old Testament and parallel near-eastern myths were written.

Recently, British philosopher Jonathan Pierce, Counter-Apologist John and Justin Schieber from Reasonable Doubt, a podcast aiming at challenging the Reasonable Faith ministry of William Lane Craig and promoting “Godlessness”, have had a very interesting conversation about the problem posed by evil for theism before a virtual (white Belgian?) beer.   

Unlike many people deeply involved in the culture war raging between secularism and fundamentalism, the three intellectuals have a very respectful tone towards their opponents and develop pretty challenging arguments worthy of the consideration and attention of every thoroughly thinking religious person.

They should be really applauded for that approach and not resorting to the favorite techniques of village antitheists such as the heavy use of emotional bullying and ridiculing everyone not agreeing with their materialist worldview.

My agnostic Christianity

Before going into objections to the different arguments they presented I feel obliged to indicate where I’m coming from.  

I am an agnostic Christian, in the way Thom Stark uses this term, that is in the absence of good reasons to believe that theism or atheism is true I choose to hope there is a God.

I view the books contained within the Bible as being inspired in the same way books outside the Canon such as those of the Church fathers, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Wesley and C.S. Lewis are inspired: they depict us, to use Thom Stark’s wonderful expression, “human faces of God” that is man’s thoughts about and experiences with the divine. I don’t base my theology on allegedly inerrant Holy Scriptures but on the very idea that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

 

During this discussion of approximately 90 minutes, the three godless apologists do cover a lot of ground and raise many interesting questions which cannot be addressed within a single blog post.

I don’t agree with their objective Bayesian approach but also think that the evidential arguments for theism fall short of showing there is a God, tough I do believe they pose serious challenges for many popular forms of atheism out there, but these will be the topics of future discussions.

 Moral intuitions and God’s goodness as a heavenly father

They seem to rely on the belief that

1) Our moral intuitions are largely correct and

2) They can be applied to God who is supposed to be a heavenly Father far better any earthly father could ever be.

 

While I strongly doubt that step 1) can be taken by naturalists, this is certainly a key-element of the theology of Jesus and Paul and many writers of the Old Testament. But I think then that all our moral intuitions should be taken into consideration and not only those related to pleasure and pain as evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt discovered liberals typically do.

Step 2) is extremely important to prevent us from developing abhorrent theologies, like God issuing arbitrary commands about homosexuality even if it is neither harmful for the individual nor for society.

I utterly reject theistic voluntarism, the idea that whatever God wills is good, for this can lead and indeed leads to many absurd and atrocious beliefs such as God predetermining the largest part of mankind to eternally burn in Hell.

Interestingly at one point the three atheists seem to recognize that the problem of evil could be greatly diminished if the doctrine of hell is given up and they jokingly told each other that it would be already a victory in and of itself if they could push Christians to let go of „abhorrent“ teachings. Actually, it is clearly one of the main purposes of my blog to make other Christians deeply think about the implications of noxious doctrines, so we seem to have at least one goal in common.

 

That said, I do believe it is crucial to take into account the particularities of God’s position and the perspective of eternity before drawing any analogy with an earthly father.

 Free will, soul making, Skeptical theism

I believe that the problem of evil is extremely diverse and that the various theistic responses (such as the soul-making defense, the free-will defense and Skeptical theism) are all valid in their own rights and complement each other.

Generally I consider it extremely likely that God does have good reasons to limit Himself and not only allow free will in His creation but also randomness as philosophers Peter Van Inwagen described, in the same way I find computer simulations with random numbers far more interesting than deterministic ones. Such a position is compatible with Open Theism and some forms of divine omniscience.

And if this is true, the question is no longer “why did God allow such and such specific evils?” but “why did God choose to create a universe with such properties and features in spite of all the bad consequences?”

 Justin Schieber and the divine lies argument

 This is certainly no easy question and it would be completely foolish for me to come up with more than modest indications about possible solutions. This leads us to the question of Skeptical Theism (ST), according to which there are at least some evils humans are in no position to explain or reconcile with the infinite goodness of God.

Unlike Jon Pierce, Justin Schieber does believe that if theism is true ST is very likely and complained about the horrible ordeal inflicted on him to have to defend a position apparently friendly to theism against the objections of Pierce.

But he then mentioned his interesting Divine Lie Argument (DLA) according to which ST entails the clear possibility that God might be lying to us within Scripture for unknown reasons.

I certainly believe this undermines the Evangelical belief we need an inerrant Bible from God to know how He is and how we should behave.

I reject those assumptions and take the view we can objectively recognize goodness (albeit in an imperfect way) and know that God has to be good by His very nature as a perfect being. I don’t believe God speaks to us through the books of the Biblical canon more than he speaks to us through the books of C.S. Lewis or Ellen White and believe, like the apostle Paul expressed it in Athens, that even pagan authors can get quite a few things right about God.

Eternal happiness in heaven

I think that the perspective of eternity certainly changes the extent of the problem of evil in a radical way. For example let us consider the following scenarios:

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A. there is no afterlife. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ceases to exist.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

 

B. there is a blissful afterlife offered to everyone. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ushers into the presence of God. He quickly recovers from his pain and live happily with his parents in the presence of God during 100, 1000, 1000000, 100000000000, 10000000000000000000000000… years.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

  

Clearly, both scenarios should be troubling for every theist. But the assertion that they are almost equally problematic for the goodness of God is an extraordinary claim.

 

Utilitarianism is a moral theory very popular among atheists according to which the good is ultimately reducible to what increases the pleasure and reduce the pain of the greatest number of persons.

Every moral value which cannot be deduced from this basic principle is rejected as being illusory.

The extent of the evil of a free agent is identical to the extent of his failure to respect this rule. But if God is going to offer eternal life to everyone having suffered between one and hundred years, his moral culpability equals zero since this is the clear result of dividing a finite number by infinity.

So our three atheist apologists need to argue against utilitarianism and show why we ought to reject this theory before saying that the problem of evil is a death blow for every form of theism.

Given all the facts I’ve mentionned, I think we’ve good grounds for thinking there really are not-implausible ways for God to be morally perfect why allowing evils we cannot comprehend.

Of course, I do struggle emotionally a lot with some horrible and apparently absurd things our world contains and it would be a lie to say I don’t seriously call into question either the existence or the goodness of God, like countless characters of the Bible have done.

   Materialism, qualia, moral naturalism

Finally I cannot help but notice that the most popular (and perhaps the only plausible) form of naturalism, namely Reductive Materialism (RM) provides us with a terrible foundation for real objective moral values.

Jonathan Pierce mentioned the possibility that God would create philosophical zombies, that is beings acting exactly like humans but lacking any subjective experience, to be bad people and fill out the entire hell. Fair enough, especially if one believes in divine determinism. But this thought experience shows us a huge (and probably insurmountable) difficulty for Reductive Materialism: making sense of the moral evilness of pain.

According to RM, pain is identical to chemical and physical reactions and processes taking place in a brain-like structure. But why should thoseparticular processes have a greater moral significance than the movements of electrons within my computer?

Since in a materialist framework, pain is defined as being these particular processes, saying they are morally significant because they are painful is akin to saying that these particular processes are a moral concern because they are these particular processes.

But I believe that moral naturalism faces a much greater challenge, namely the identification of moral values with material objects.

Saying that the moral truth “A man should never rape a woman“ is identical to a bunch of elementary particles sounds utterly absurd to me.

To conclude I cannot let unmentioned the hugest and most scandalous mistake they did at the very beginning of the video. They dared tell us that God smoking weed could be an explanation for all the mess we see around us.

That’s bullshit.
I and many fellow French citizens have smoked Cannabis as we were teenagers and most of us were quite capable of performing well in many respects while being really high. 

If this post were to attain one thing, this should be leading them to give up their prejudices concerning pot. I do hope that in their next shows and videos they will cease smearing the goddess Marihuana and say instead “God is probably an abuser of LSD“, “God drinks one bottle of Vodka a day“ or „God cannot think clearly, because due to His omniscience He has no other choice than hearing every day George W. Bush, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Dick Cheney, William Demski (and me for that matter) speaking and thinking during hours.“

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