My Debate on the Grounding of Morality

Was I nervous? Yes, absolutely. Of course, this wasn't my ordinary speaking event. On April 5, about 170 people packed a room at Weber State University, to watch my formal debate with professor of philosophy Dr. Richard Greene. The question: Can there be objective moral values and obligations without God? Each debater had 20 minutes for opening arguments, a 10-minute rebuttal, about 40 minutes of joint Q & A from the audience, and a 5-minute conclusion.

Dr. Greene had home field advantage. He has been teaching classes at Weber State for about eight years and a number of his students came out for the debate. About 65% of the attendees indicated on a pre-debate survey that they held Dr. Greene’s view, that morality is best explained without God.

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Who's Waiting for Your Kids?

Who’s waiting for your kids?  In a few short years, they will leave the safety of your home and church and head off to college.  Who will they meet?  What ideas will they encounter?  What moral choices will they face? 

For most adults, it’s been quite a few years since they’ve set foot on a college campus.  Let us bring you up-to-speed on who and what is waiting for your kids: 

  • Oakland University psychology professor Todd Shackelford, offers class PSY-315 entitled, “Evolutionary Psychology,” where he provides an evolutionary explanation for how religious individuals come to “hold and to have beliefs for which there is no evidence.”
  • Yale, Brown, Harvard, and other U.S. universities sponsor an annual on-campus “Sex Week,” where porn stars and sex workers lead various activities and workshops.
  • Zeta Psi frat boys at Yale University hold up signs reading, “We Love Yale Sluts,” while surrounding the Yale Women’s Center on campus.
  • In February 2011, Northwestern University professor J. Michael Bailey brings two sex workers onto campus for a “live demonstration” after class.
  • According to a 2006 study by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, there is a much higher percentage of professing atheists and agnostics (26%) among the ranks of college professors than the general U.S. population.  In addition, 51% of professors described the Bible as “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts,” while only 6% of college professors said the Bible is “the actual word of God.”
  • According to the Institute for Jewish and Community research, a survey of 1,200 college faculty, more than half have “unfavorable” feelings toward Evangelical Christians.
  • Almost half of full-time college students in the U.S. binge drink or abuse drugs at least once-a-month.
  • In 2006, the Secular Student Alliance, had 50 student-led atheist clubs on U.S. college campuses, but by 2012, there were more than 300 clubs nationwide.
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Coming to Theaters...October Baby

Mark your calendars for March 23. That's when a new movie, October Baby, will hit movie screens.  I was able to preview the film last week and suggest you go see this one in the theater.  I'll be up front, it is a strong pro-life movie dealing head-on with abortion.  But it was powerful and compelling, without being preachy.  The message comes through loud and clear, but in a way that stirred my soul (yes, yes...I cried like 4 times -- it was intense).  And ultimately, the message is hopeful.  

It's exactly the kind of thing the pro-life movement needs more of to make a compelling argument in the broader culture.  It raises important questions like: 

  • Are there morally significant differences between an unborn baby and a newborn child?
  • Are there significant consequences for the mother who aborts her baby?
  • Is there hope and redemption for women who have had abortions?
  • How can adoption assist our pro-life efforts? 
But it raises these questions naturally, in the context of the movie's narrative, and suggests answers in the same way.  
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Christians Need Apologetics

“Just some ordinary conversation over dinner.”  At least, that’s how my host described this event.  In January, I was invited to have dinner with a couple of dads and their sons to facilitate a discussion on the problem of evil.  It was a spur-of-the-moment request and details were a bit fuzzy, so I met my host Jon 30 minutes prior to talk specifics.  He informed me that not only would Christian dads and sons participate, but his 60-year old parents, both skeptics of Christianity, would join us as well.  That night’s conversation turned out to be exceptional.  Why?  Because of apologetics.  

For too long, apologetics has been given a bad rap.  Too many Christian voices point to a few poor apologetic examples, extrapolate them to every apologist and apologetic encounter, and then dismiss the entire enterprise.  But in doing so, Christians abandon one of our greatest tools to engage the world for Christ.  My recent conversation demonstrates why.

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The Intolerance of Tolerance

Is the Bible intolerant?  That was the question Nathan Hansen asked me to answer for hundreds of students and adults recently.  Three years ago, Nathan, Snohomish Community Church’s innovative youth pastor, created Jesus University, a five-day youth conference in the Seattle area.  During the day, students serve their community.  At night, the community is invited to come hear top Christian bands.  

But before the bands play, Nathan has a Christian apologist address a tough question for an hour, followed by 30 minutes of Q & A.  The big-name bands draw thousands of people throughout the week, but Nathan ensures they’re given more than music.  They get an intelligent yet gracious defense of Christianity.  And our culture desperately needs some clear thinking when it comes to the topic of tolerance.

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The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?



Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."
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The Euthyphro Dilemma: God is Not Good or God is Not Sovereign

Over at the STR Place blog, we've been posting skeptical challenges to Christianity every Tuesday. This week, we posted the following challenge: 

Why does God say something is good? There are only two possibilities. First, it could be that a thing (or an action) is good just because God says it is. In other words, He declares something to be good, and therefore it’s good, and we should do it. He could have just as easily declared it to be bad, and then it wouldn’t be “right” for us to do it. But if it’s arbitrary, it’s not really good, is it?

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Is Jesus the Only Way?

 “Jesus is the only way to God” may be the most controversial claim of Christianity, so we had better have good reason for it.  And I think we do.

What does Jesus say?  Let’s start with Jesus.  We certainly don’t want to claim something for him that he wouldn’t claim for himself.  If the Gospels are historically reliable (and we have overwhelming evidence they are), then we have Jesus’ own words and we discover he claims to be the only way to God.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for debate.  Indeed, Jesus says whoever rejects him “rejects the One who sent [him]” (Luke 10:16).  So according to Jesus, there’s no other path to God.  If you think highly of Jesus, eventually you have to grapple with his claims about himself.  

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What is Apologetics?

I Peter 3:15 says to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Simply put, that’s apologetics.  But in this short description, we discover three important details.  

First, doing apologetics means playing defense.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.”  Think about a football game.  At any time during the game, one team is trying to score (the offense) while the other is trying to stop them (the defense).  If your team has a really bad defense, you’ll get blown away.  Similarly, maybe you’ve been roughed up by some really tough objections to Christianity.  You’ve heard the challenges before.  “How can a good God allow suffering?” “The Bible is full of errors.”  “Jesus can’t be the only way to God.”  Apologetics helps us defend Christianity against tough questions.   

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Trusting in That Which is True

“I like to go hear my dad speak.  It makes me feel safe.”  



“What do you mean?” my wife Erin replied to this surprising comment from our nine-year-old son, Micah.  Erin had been discussing with a friend the connection between our knowledge of God and our experience of Him, when Micah cut in.  



Micah continued, “At night when I’m afraid, I think about the things Dad says about God and who He is.  It makes me feel safe.”  With that, Micah simply affirmed what the adults were discussing.  Micah has heard a lot of apologetics in his short nine years of life.  My kids attend a number of my events each year, and apologetics, theology, and philosophy are woven into our everyday conversations.  Micah is growing in his knowledge of the truth.  



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