Sunday, February 18, 2007

Social Commentary from "While You Were Sleeping"

OK. So I'm sitting here watching "While You Were Sleeping" with my wife. Basically, we need to get upstairs and clean our bedroom to make room for the bassinet for our new arrival coming in May, and we're just procrastinating. Anyway, there's a scene with Lucy (Sandra Bullock's character) working in the toll booth for the elevated train in Chicago. Her co-worker first hears that she is engaged and asks her whether she is pregnant. Lucy replies that "you have to have sex to be pregnant." Her friend replies, "I thought you were engaged." At this point Lucy becomes quite uncomfortable. The joke is that it should be obvious to everyone watching the movie that if she was engaged, she should be having sex. Lucy hesitantly says, "Well...we're waiting," to which her friend responds, in a somewhat belittling and surprised tone, "Waiting?"

The whole point of this joke is that nobody should reasonably expect that two consenting and engaged adults would wait for marriage to have sex. This is such a preposterous proposition that it is supposed to be funny. Now don't get me wrong, on the whole I really do think this is a cute movie. But I think it is a commentary on the degeneration of the value of marriage that society as a whole now thinks of waiting for marriage as a joke.

Obviously it is factually descriptive. Most people nowadays don't wait. But what exactly does marriage mean to people today? What is special about marriage anymore? Sex is not reserved for a spouse anymore. By the time most people get married, they have already had at least one if not more sexual partners. So is it the commitment? More than 50% of marriages end in divorce. In fact, many people will advise their friends to just get out of a marriage when the going gets tough. People aren't willing to work at it anymore because they see divorce as an easier option instead of a last resort. If it gets tough, its easier just to give up.

All in all, marriage is just another stage in a relationship nowadays. Its just a thing to "do", like giving you girlfriend your class ring in High School. And it is viewed as just as easy to undo as well. The value that used to be inherent in marriage has deteriorated to virtually nothing.

Remember that marriage is supposed to by the most special relationship in your life next to your relationship with God. There should be things that you share with your marriage partner that you have never shared with anyone else, and you never will. And when you take those vows, its not just a promise to your partner, it is also a promise to God. That is not a promise you are supposed to break. With very few exceptions (I do grant that there are exceptions) you are not supposed to be able to walk away from a marriage. Is it morally right to lie? When faced with that general statement, most people would say "no." But when you divorce someone, you have essentially turned your marriage vows into a lie. But for some reason we think that lie is OK.

Just some food for thought for any of you that are thinking about these issues. If you are considering marriage, make sure you understand what you are promising when you say "I do." And if you are thinking about getting out of a marriage, see your pastor, priest, or counselor first. God bless.

Another example of an atheistic contradiction...

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was currently engaging in a discussion with Jason Hatherly on his blog "Nihloisms" ( Jason is an atheist and an ethical nihilist (i.e., he believes there is no such thing as objective moral truth). I encourage you to visit his site to read the full discussion, but I wanted to quote a brief excerpt from it here. As should come as no surprise to anyone who has read much of what I have written in the past, it is my position that any atheistic position inevitably leads to contradiction. I pointed out one contradiction in an earlier post on this blog. In my conversation with Jason, I came across another one. Below is an excerpt from one of my responses to him pointing out this contradiction.

Now I am sure Jason will be responding to the points I raised here, but he is out of town for the moment. Again, for the sake of fairness, I encourge you to visit his blog to see what he has to say when he does get the chance to respond. But because atheistic contradictions are somewhat of a recurring theme for me, I try to point them out for you when I see them. As a brief lead in, Jason had discussed something called the "Wason Card Test", which he claimed provided support for believing that all morality is derived through the process of natural selection. At the start of the following exerpt, I will briefly explain the Test, then explain the contradiction I believe Jason made:

"Before I get into my next point, I want to make sure we are on the same page about the Wason Card test. Basically, this test presents people with two alternatives, one in which they are supposedly asked to recognize cheating and another in which they are supposedly asked to recognize altruism. Allegedly, people have a much greater ability to recognize cheating than they do altruism. According to evolutionary psychologists, the reason for this is because the ability to recognize cheating is necessary for the survival of society. Therefore, it would be favored by natural selection and most of us today would therefore have an inherent ability to recognize cheating. However, altruism is not necessarily beneficial to society. In fact, people who engage in altruistic behavior would routinely incur personal costs without reaping any benefits, and would actually be weeded out by natural selection. Because cheating recognition is favored by natural selection but altruism is not, we all should have a greater ability to recognize cheating than altruism (because, after all, we are supposedly the result of natural selection). This is claimed to explain the Wason Card test results.

Preliminarily, I think you overstate the strength of this conclusion about the Wason Card test. It is far from universal in the scholarly community. In fact, many scholars believe the results are better explained by deontic reasoning. For example, research by Martin Evans and Young Chui Chang studied whether the altruism example presented by Cosmides in the formulation of this test was actually too muddled, such that people could not actually recognize it as altruism. They presented three alternatives: (1) Cosmides' cheating example, (2) Cosmides' altruism example, and (3) a clearer altruism example. Lo and behold, people were able to recognize alternatives (1) and (3) with equal frequency! Their findings were actually far more consistent with a deontic reasoning explanation that the evolutionary psychology explanation.

Now I am not necessarily endorsing this view. I am simply pointing out that I think you overstate the evolutionary psychologist's position and create the impression that it is more widely agreed upon than it actually is (I do grant that you point out that it is not a universally accepted position, but actually I believe that it would be more accurate to say that it is still a very hotly debated position).

Now turning to the matter at hand, in your affirmative section you argue that the Wason Card results provide additional support to an evolutionary model for morality. Obviously this is only true if the evolutionary psychologist's explanation for the Wason Card results is correct, which is far from certain (plus you would still be faced with all the general problems I illustrated above). But more importantly, your reliance upon the Wason Card test in your affirmative section is actually at odds with one of the positions you take in your defensive section.

You stated that, 'My own position is that moral rules originated in the enhanced survival value afforded by reciprocal altruism. This effect is compounded by the fitness benefits enjoyed by a group that contains some altruists.' But wait a minute. The entire reason the Wason Card test supposedly supported the evolutionary psychologist's view was because altruism was NOT favored by natural selection and cheating recognition was. So in your effort to overcome the problem created by the inability of evolutionary models to explain the origin of moral rules you claim altruism IS favored by natural selection. But in order for the Wason Card test to provide any support for your position altruism must NOT be favored by natural selection. These cannot both be true."

No, you're not losing your mind...

In case something doesn't seem "right" when you are looking at the Ten Minas site and this blog, no you are not "losing it." We have had a makeover. We've changed the look of both the site and the blog. I hope they are both a bit more "eye-catching" now. I felt that the old looks were kind of bland and actually might put people to sleep. If you are so inclined, please feel free to let me know what you think of the changes. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Nature of Hell

Hell is one of the more controversial subjects in Christianity. A lot of non-Christians use this as an attacking point (I've heard quite a few say that they could never believe in a God who would send people to an eternal torment like Hell, so we never even get into the evidence for God because they can't get past this starting point). Complicating this is the different descriptions of Hell contained in the Bible. Sometimes it is referred to as a place of eternal fire and torment. Other times it appears to be a place of destruction or separation from God. So what exactly is Hell?

Anyone who claims to have an obvious answer to this question probably doesn't have a good enough understanding of the scriptures. After all, this is a tough question, and we cannot be afraid to admit that it's tough. But for what its worth I'd like to put my two cents in and offer up my personal interpretation. By no means do I claim that this is 100% the "right" answer. But hopefully it will give you some food for thought, and I believe it is completely consistent with the scriptures.

When analyzing Hell you have to remember two things. First, the name "Hell" is actually our English translation of the word "Gehenna." Gehenna was a real place, not just some spiritual realm. Gehenna was the name of a burning trash dump. People who practiced paganism used to throw their children into the fire as a sacrifice to Molech, a pagan "god". So when Jesus said that people would be cast into "Gehenna", this would have conjured up a very specific image in the minds of His contemporary listeners. They would immediately have thought of themselves being thrown into this burning trash pit for all eternity. Now did Jesus literally mean that people who rejected God would be thrown into this earthly fire pit? No, of course not. It's a metaphor, designed to generate a particular image in people's minds. What image is that? Is it necessary to conclude that Jesus was telling people that Hell was a place of literal fire? I don't think so. My personal feeling (especially when we read these Biblical passages in conjunction with those discussing separation from God) is that Jesus was merely trying to convey that compared to the option of Heaven, Hell is a VERY undesirable experience.

The second important thing you need to remember is that many times the Bible ascribes things to God for which He is only INDIRECTLY responsible. In other words, it will say God did something, but what it really means is that God allowed that thing to happen. After all, God is in control of everything, so He could stop anything from happening. So when something happens, by necessity this means that God allowed it to happen.

In my opinion, this is precisely what is happening when the Bible says God casts people into Hell. He has the power to stop it, but He allows it to happen. Therefore the Bible attributes it to Him. Let me explain in more detail.

God is perfect. Heaven is essentially spending eternity with God. But because God is perfect, we can only spend eternity with Him if we too are perfect. Of course, we are far from perfect, which means that left to our own devices we cannot spend eternity with God. Hell is separation from God. Without divine intervention, Hell is the default destination for all souls after death. So it isn't that God makes an affirmative decision to send people to Hell. That is where we are headed anyway. However, God intervenes to allow us to thwart this default destiny and get into Heaven with Him. He gives us a way to be declared perfect in spite of our flaws. We can do this through faith in Christ, allowing our sins to be transferred to Christ so that He paid the price for them on the cross.

You also need to remember that Heaven is not only being in God's presence for eternity, but it also means submitting to God eternally. For believers, this prospect gives us joy. But someone who spends his or her life rejecting God, and certainly not submitting to Him, would have no interest at all in submitting to Him for eternity. Given the choice between Heaven and Hell, non-believers would probably choose Hell. At least there they could continue to be their own masters instead of having to submit. So it's not necessarily true that Hell is a place of literal flaming torment. But the only way to compare the enormous gap between the experiences of Heaven and Hell is to compare Hell to Gehenna. The difference between our normal life and burning in Gehenna captures the image of the difference between the ecstasy of Heaven and existence in Hell. But in order to appreciate that ecstasy you have to love God. If you don't love God, Heaven actually may be even a worse fate for you than Hell.

So when people say that God punishes people eternally simply because they don't believe in Jesus, they really are missing the point. It's not that God punishes them for unbelief. They are headed for Hell anyway. God actually saves people by offering them a way out of their predicament. Hell is the default. Heaven is the result of God's action.

For what it's worth, that's my opinion. Take it or leave it. It may be completely wrong, and there are certainly better theologians than me who may tell me I've got it all wrong. But if this brief explanation gives you some food for thought, then it has accomplished its goal. God bless.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sorry I've been absent...

I apologize for not posting here for a little while. I do have a bunch of thoughts running around in my head that I want to "put out there" (such as the true nature of Hell and a few insightful observations about suffering by C.S. Lewis), but unfortunately I was just diagnosed with spondylolisthesis (basically, a problem in the spine, not too serious at the moment but without proper treatment it could become more serious) and I've been jumping around to doctor's appointments, MRI & x-ray appointments, and just generally trying to keep up with my other obligations (family, work, ministry, home owners' association, church, etc.).

You should see my household right now. My wife is pregnant and having some problems (see her article under the "Ministry Articles" section for the details), but the long and short of it is that she physically isn't capable of a whole lot. Then you throw my back into the equation (and the fact that we are trying to keep up with a very hyper 4 year old daughter), and we look a lot like the keystone cops.

I'll be getting back to this blog shortly (as well as some other blogs where people have been asking me questions), hopefully later this week sometime. Thank you for your patience and God bless.