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The Rest


Adult biographies

The question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life

by Armand M. Nicholi Jr. 2002 / 244 pages While C.S. Lewis was 40 years younger than Sigmund Freud, he was well acquainted with his ideas. Freud hated and feared God, and as a young man Lewis found Freud’s atheism attractive. But after his conversion, Lewis used his considerable skills to answer and rebut Freud’s arguments against God. What author Dr. Armand Nicholi has done is present a type of conversation between the two, with Freud usually presenting first, and Lewis them coming after to respond and correct. So what do these two “talk” about? As the subtitle shares, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. The two also discuss whether morality exists and why there is suffering. And they take a close look at death. It is a fascinating book, part conversation, but also part biography, giving us a good understanding of both men by sharing the similarities and differences in their histories. The only caution I would note is that when it comes to the problem of pain both Lewis’s and the author’s Arminian leanings come out. For an interesting Reformed perspective, see Joe Rigney’s “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil.” But overall this is a very readable, very interesting account of two of the twentieth century’s pivotal figures and their ideas, which continue to impact us today. A 40-page preview can be viewed here. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

by Larry Taunton Biography 181 pages / 2016 The late Christopher Hitchens is best known for his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He was an aggressive atheist who made his living blaspheming God. So why would we want to know more about him? And why would Christian author Larry Taunton want to write a book about him? Because this book is much more about God’s graciousness than it is Hitchens’ rebellion. And because Hitchens wasn’t quite what he seemed. Taunton writes of Hitchens having “two sets of books” just as fraudulent accountants do, with the one set for the viewing public, and the second private set that gives the true tally. Hitchens’ public face was that of the confident anti-theist who thought it made good theater to claim God was both unforgivably evil and non-existent. Meanwhile, the private Hitchens was spending more and more time with God’s followers, calling some of them friends, and even studying the Bible with one or two. If he wasn’t deliberately seeking God, this other Hitchens’ interest in the truth was bringing him closer and closer to his Creator. The author, Taunton, got to know Hitchens after arranging public debates between Hitchens and prominent Christians. Often times after these debates the two public combatants, Taunton, and others, would head out to a late dinner where the debate would continue. This is how Taunton and Hitchens became friends. When Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer the late-night debating seemed more important to them both. God not only brought Christians into Hitchens' life, He also gave this materialist a sure knowledge about the reality of evil. The atheistic/materialistic worldview has no room for right and wrong – things just are. We don’t speak of chemical reactions as having any sort of “moral quality,” and in the atheist worldview all we are is chemical reactions. So when atheists speak of evil they are speaking of something they have no explanation for. Hitchens seemed to understand this, but, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attack, was also certain there was evil. Hitchens bravely denounced radical Islam, which lost him friends among the Left but more importantly exposed – seemingly to Hitchens himself – the big hole in his godless worldview. It was another nudge in a Godward direction. While Taunton doesn’t make any claims about a deathbed conversion for one of the world’s most notorious atheists, he shows us that God was ever so gracious to Hitchens, teaching and confronting him repeatedly. We don’t know if Christopher Hitchens ever repented, but we do know God gave him every opportunity. Caution The only caution I’d note is that some of the Christians noted in the book – some who debated Hitchens and gave him something to think about – have some notable flaws in their theology, the most common being some sort of bow to theistic evolution. This isn’t much of a concern in this book but I share this only as an alert to any readers who might be spurred to look up the works of some of these mentioned men. Conclusion This is a close-up look at a wavering atheist that concludes without a clear happy ending – that makes it strange, particularly for a Christian-authored book. But the glimpse at what God was doing in Hitchens’ life makes this a compelling book. God gave Hitchens time, allotting him 16 months after his initial terminal cancer diagnosis; He brought him into close company with men who were able to answer his objections, and He also made Hitchens aware of evil. Why read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens? Because one can’t help but be struck by God’s graciousness in the life of Hitchens....

Apologetics 101

Atheists can’t explain evil

Given an atheistic or even an agnostic starting point, how can someone be outraged by evil? Without God, being outraged over the presence of evil is a subjective notion borrowed from the Christian worldview. “If God is nothing,” according to Russian novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881), “everything is permitted; if God is nothing, everything is a matter of indifference.”1 Greg Bahnsen stated it this way: “The question, logically speaking, is how the unbeliever can make sense of taking evil seriously – not simply as something inconvenient, or unpleasant, or contrary to his desires…. On the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no good reason for saying that anything is evil in nature, but only by personal choice or feeling.”2 This type of thinking has trickled down to the law where legal positivism rules the courts. “Legal positivism holds that there is no necessary connection between law and morality and that the question of what is and is not law can be identified by reference to social facts and need not involve moral assumptions.”3 How could there be, given the operating premise that those standing before the court are animals whose origin is a chance one, and whose evolution is a violent struggle for survival? How can the world condemn even terrorists? The person who murdered 50 Muslims in New Zealand this past month was committed for the survival of his species. He’s made this point clear in his manifesto. In a sick but logical way he was attempting to justify his actions. What outside transcendental source of ethics can be used against his thinking and actions that hasn’t first been borrowed from a biblical view of morality but officially barred from consideration? Thomas H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” said as much in 1893, writing that “Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of many have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before” Darwinism came on the scene. He goes to write that one day we may  “arrive at an understanding of the aesthetic faculty; but all that understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the forces of the intuition that this is beautiful and that is ugly.”4 If our ethics evolved, why would we have to listen to them? And little has changed since 1859 when Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. "If ethics is simply an adaptation that evolved over by natural selection, then we acquire another reason to think it has no compelling justification. Ethics had no being, no ontology beyond what whatever our genes and brains and environment generated to keep the social world functioning. Darwinian metaethics thus further weakened the case for an objective foundation for ethics."5 What philosophy of value or morality can the atheist offer which will render it meaningful to condemn some atrocity as objectively evil? If according to Feuerbach, “Man is man’s only God” – Homo homini Deus – then Hobbes’s dictum, “Man is a wolf to his fellow man” – Homo homini lupus – eventually becomes the law of a society. Who are we to object or be outraged when accidents of nature (what we call human beings) maim and kill other accidents of nature in a world governed (if such a word can be used) by chance?6 For example, although atheists are “morally outraged” by slavery, “If we are all biological accidents, why shouldn’t the white accidents own and sell the black accidents?”7 Sadly, the worst crimes are natural Sam Harris, writes in his Letter to a Christian Nation, the sequel to his bestseller The End of Faith: “While we do not have anything like a final, scientific understanding of human morality, it seems safe to say that raping and killing our neighbors is not one of its primary constituents.”8 Mr. Harris ought to take up his unsupported conclusion with Randy Thornhill’s and Craig T. Palmer’s thesis and their book A Natural History of Rape published by MIT Press (2000). He might also want to establish a dialog with David Buss, author of The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill (2005). Why object to the worldview of the man who murdered 50 Muslims in New Zealand, or to the worldview below of one of Charles Manson’s followers, if God does not exist? "Whatever is necessary, you do it. When somebody needs to be killed, there’s no wrong. You do it, and then you move on. And you pick up a child and you move him to the desert. You pick up as many children as you can and you kill whoever gets in your way. That is us."9 On what grounds can the unbeliever object? Only theists - and inconsistent atheists - can condemn evil Atheists must assume something of God’s moral character to make a case against God in light of the existence of evil. “The unbeliever,” Bahnsen writes, “must secretly rely upon the Christian worldview in order to make sense of his argument from the existence of evil which is urged against the Christian worldview!”10 In the end, the unbeliever uses stolen credentials (Christian presuppositions), establishes himself as the defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge, and then takes his seat in the jury box to render a verdict against God. None of this is designed to demean atheists who claim they are just as good as anyone else. That’s not the issue. It’s being able to account for goodness and evilness given certain underlying presuppositions. But we are justified in putting their arguments on trial since they’ve seen fit to put God’s existence on trial. In an interview, Vincent Bugliosi, author of the books Helter Skelter and Outrage, when he was asked whether he believed in God, stated, “If we were in court, I’d object on the ground that the question assumes a fact not in evidence.”11 The evidence is there, but Mr. Bugliosi has set the ground rules for what he will accept as evidence. If the evidence does not fit his operating presuppositions, then for him it is not evidence. John Frame answers such flirtations with wholesale autonomy in an unbending manner: "Unbelievers must surely not be allowed to take their own autonomy for granted in defining moral concepts. They must not be allowed to assume that they are the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong. Indeed, they should be warned that that sort of assumption rules out the biblical God from the outset and thus allows its character as a faith-presupposition. The unbeliever must know that we reject his presupposition altogether and insist upon subjecting our moral standards to God’s. And if the unbeliever insists on his autonomy, we may get nasty and require him to show how an autonomous self can come to moral conclusions in a godless universe."12 Mr. Bugliosi consistently criticized the prosecutors in the O. J. Simpson trial for not raising crucial points of evidence. One wonders why he nowhere deals with the argument that if there is no God then there is no morality or a call for outrage when personal sentiments (like his own) are offended. The world is in crisis. Presidents and Prime Ministers have long ago abandoned a biblical view of the world claiming that it’s archaic. As a result, its rejection has released the worldview of Cain (Gen. 4:8) on this world with no moral brake to rebuke it. This article first appeared on AmericanVision.org and is reprinted here with permission. Below you can see Dennis Prager, as a Jew, making a similar point.  Endnotes Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils (The Possessed), trans. David Magarshark (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1953), 126. Quoted in Vincent P. Miceli, The Gods of Atheism (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1971), 141. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1996), 169–170. Jonathan Burnside, God, Justice, and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68. Thomas H. Huxley, “Evolution and Ethics,” Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays(New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899), 80. James Davidson Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 78. See Barbara Reynolds, “If your kids go ape in school, you’ll know why,” USA Today(August 27, 1993), 11A. James Scott Bell, The Darwin Conspiracy (Gresham, OR: Vision House, 1995), 64. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 24. Sandra Good quoted in Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1974), 462. Bahnsen, Always Ready, 170. Quoted in Bugliosi, Outrage, 247. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 169. ...

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

"The Devil’s Delusion" and the baseless confidence of the certain atheist

Some atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, were very certain about their doubt. This sort of sure skeptic will argue that society should make a clean break from religion of every sort and instead embrace science and all its implications. But their assertions about science – that it proves God is not – don’t approach anything close to the truth. It was to counter such ridiculous claims that mathematician David Berlinski wrote The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. Berlinski is as interesting as his book. He is not a creationist or even a Christian. This self-described “secular Jew” doesn’t oppose atheism and mindless evolution on any religious grounds. He just wants to pop the bubble of pretentious atheists, and as such the purpose of his book is not to determine whether God exists “but whether science has shown that He does not.” It has not, as Berlinski humorously, shows. BIG BANG THEORY Secular science has a very different origin story than the one we find in Genesis. According to the Big Bang theory view, billions of years ago something of incredible density suddenly started to expand, leading to the universe as we know it today. The Big Bang theory is relatively new – from the 1920s – and, from its start, it made atheists very uncomfortable. As Berlinski writes, If the Big Bang expresses a new idea in physics, it suggests an old idea in thought: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Christians don’t have to agree with the Big Bang theory to be amused by the implications – even this secular theory suggests the universe had a starting point. And that prompts the unavoidable question: Who or what caused it to start? While atheists insist “Not God!” they have no scientific reasons to be so insistent. The Big Bang theory hardly requires an atheistic conclusion. APPEARANCE OF DESIGN Many aspects of the universe are precisely ordered to sustain life on earth, and Berlinski shares several, beginning with the “cosmological constant.” The cosmological constant is a number controlling the expansion of the universe….And here is the odd point: If the cosmological constant were larger than it is, the universe would have expanded too quickly, and if smaller, it would have collapsed too early, to permit the appearance of living systems. Very similar observations have been made with respect to the fine structure constant, the ratio of neutrons to protons, the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force, even the speed of light. Why stop? The second law of thermodynamics affirms that, in a general way things are running down. The entropy of the universe is everywhere increasing. But if things are running down, what are they running down from? This is the question that physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose asked. And considering the rundown, he could only conclude that the runup was an initial state of the universe whose entropy was very, very low and so very finely tuned. Who ordered that? “Scientists,” the physicist Paul Davies has observed, “Are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issues are the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.” Those arguments are very much of a piece with those that Fred Hoyle advanced after studying the resonances of carbon during nucleosynthesis. “The universe,” he grumbled afterwards, “looks like a put-up job.” Creationists often point to additional features, not specifically mentioned by Berlinski. Some examples include: The earth’s orbit is precisely in a zone where it is not too close to the sun (which would cause water to boil) and not too far from the sun (which would cause water to freeze). The earth’s rotation helps to regulate the planet’s temperature, preventing one side from becoming too hot, and the other side from becoming too cold. The tilt of the earth’s axis is perfectly aligned to result in regular seasons that are necessary for many forms of life to thrive (think of trees in the fall and spring, for example). The earth’s atmosphere is a thin layer of nitrogen and oxygen held in place by gravity and indispensable to maintaining life. The list goes on and on. Atheistic scientists have proposed speculative theories to explain this unlikely string of coincidences. Berlinski demonstrates that these theories are not at all convincing, which poses a big problem for the atheists, because if their theories …do not suffice to answer the question why we live in a universe that seems perfectly designed for human life, a great many men and women will conclude that it is perfectly designed for human life, and they will draw the appropriate consequences from this conjecture. In other words, the reason the universe appears designed to support life is because it has been designed. But by Who? One answer is obvious. It is the one theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job. That this answer is obvious is no reason to think it false. Nonetheless the answer that common sense might suggest is deficient in one respect: It is emotionally unacceptable because a universe that looks like a put-up job puts off a great many physicists. They have thus made every effort to find an alternative. Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth? Well, you were wrong. DARWINIAN EVOLUTION Everyone is familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over long periods of time, mutations occur in various organisms. Some mutations help the organisms to survive and even to thrive. As this process continues over millions of years, different species emerge. This is called “speciation.” One species evolves into another through a series of small and gradual developments. Unfortunately, for its proponents, the fossil record does not show this gradual advance. Body types appears in the fossil record fully developed. Evidence of transitions from one species to another has not been found. Yet such evidence is precisely what Darwin’s theory requires. Besides the absence of fossil evidence, Berlinski points out that there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies. This is the conclusion suggested as well by more than six thousand years of artificial selection, the practice of barnyard and backyard alike. In short, there is no genuine scientific evidence that any species has gradually developed into another species. ATHEIST WORLDVIEW So if science doesn’t back unguided evolution, why do atheists insist it does? This is where we really get to the crux of the matter. Berlinski writes, If Darwin’s theory of evolution has little to contribute to the content of the sciences, it has much to offer their ideology. It serves as the creation myth of our time, assigning properties to nature previously assigned to God. It thus demands an especially ardent form of advocacy. Like everyone else in the world, atheists have certain presuppositions about the nature of the world, life, and reality. They have a worldview. When they try to explain the existence of life and the universe, they interpret everything through the lens of their worldview. Because they begin with the presupposition that God does not exist, their worldview rules out certain conclusions right from the very start. Berlinski understands this and points out that behind the current wave of aggressive atheism “is a doctrinal system, a way of looking at the world, and so an ideology.” Atheists formulate arguments using science to make it appear that science supports their beliefs. But as Berlinski writes, Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs, and very rarely – perhaps never – do beliefs reflect an agenda determined entirely by the facts. ATHEISM AND MORALITY Interestingly, Berlinski discusses the implications of atheism for morality. Many atheists like to assert that their beliefs pose no problem for ethics. Atheists can still make moral judgments. The problem is that if they do make moral judgments, those judgments cannot be based on their atheistic beliefs. Atheism provides no basis for ethics aside from subjective personal preferences. Berlinski writes, If moral imperatives are not commanded by God’s will, and if they are not in some sense absolute, then what ought to be is a matter simply of what men and women decide should be. There is no other source of judgment. Morality is either determined by God or by man. If God does not exist, there are no external ethical restraints on man’s behavior. CONCLUSION So does science prove “God is not”? No, and atheists who claim otherwise are only showing their willingness to look past the evidence. They’ve started with atheistic assumptions and arrived at atheistic conclusions that are dictated by their worldview. Berlinksi is not a Christian and he accepts many aspects of the secular worldview, including a long age for the universe, and, seemingly, aspects of evolution. But even in accepting these secular tenets he can’t look past the overwhelming evidence for design, and thus some sort of Designer, apparent in the world around us. Michael Wagner’s book, "Leaving God Behind" about Canada’s Christian roots can be purchased here....