Thursday, January 31, 2013

Capitalism and Christianity – III

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. . ."
                    I Tim. 6:10; NKJV
Quentin Metsy, Money Changer and His Wife


    Adam Smith famously argued that an entrepreneur, pursuing his own interest, is "let by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part his is intention," viz., the interests of society as a whole (The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II). But is this really true?
    Most of the writers whose essays appear in The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won't Tell You paint an attractive picture of capitalism. The imagine a marketplace in which entrepreneurs make rational decisions to create wealth and freely exchange value for value. They acknowledge that the process results in unequal outcomes, but argue that the process itself is fair and ultimately improves the standard of living of everyone. It sounds fine in theory, but in actual practice things don't always work out that way.
    First of all, the players in this game are hardly equal. On the one hand there are individual workers who have nothing to trade but their own labor. On the other hand there are large international corporations with huge amounts of capital at their disposal. The corporation obviously has far more leverage than either the lowly worker or the local mom-and-pop business. If the corporation pursues its own interest (actually, the interests of its shareholders) it is likely to take advantage of the little fry.
    Then there is the fact that the players do not always produce real value. This is especially true on Wall Street where investors attempt to make private fortunes purely through speculation, and where banks make money simply by letting others use their money. The bankers might make it possible for others to create wealth, but they themselves and the investors often are not producing anything of value. They are living off the wealth created by others.
    Then there is the ironic fact that the players do not always make rational decisions. To their own way of thinking, of course, they are being rational, even when economists think that they are not. An economist will tell you that in order to compete successfully in the marketplace a company must produce something of value and satisfy its customers. But the seemingly impeccable logic of this simple proposition seems to be lost on the MBA's graduating from our business schools. Fixated on the bottom line, but knowing little about the day-to-day operations of the company, they focus on driving down costs and boosting productivity. But the result is that the operation becomes a numbers game with everyone focused on producing a statistical result on paper instead of satisfying the customer. Who is going to pay attention to the customer if it's going to cost you your job for failure to meet a quota?
    And, of course, there is always the age-old temptation to dishonesty. For some managers and business owners, lying, cheating and stealing is the rational course of action, if one thinks that he can get away with it.
    Large corporations in particular are susceptible to this sort of predatory and even irrational behavior. They exist for the sole purpose of generating profits for the shareholders. They rarely take responsibility for the social consequences of their actions. They will make money any way they can, even if it brings others to ruin. The CEO is accountable to the shareholders, not the employees or general public, and the shareholders are generally interested in quarterly profits.
    And make no mistake about it, the losers in this game suffer real hardship. Low wages, long hours, and even worse, outright unemployment, can leave a working class family without adequate food, clothing, shelter, or health care. If the rich man loses half of his fortune, he is still rich. If the poor man loses his job, he cannot pay his bills. Such are the tender mercies of unrestrained capitalism.
    Strictly speaking, the problem is not with any particular social or economic system, but with human nature. A free market, per se, does not force anyone to become calloused, greedy or dishonest. Wealth can be gained honestly and used benevolently. But in a fallen world there are plenty of wolves ready to eat the sheep. Inhumanity is still inhumanity, no matter how we dress it up in the language of accountants and economists.
    In a civilized society, then, the market must be regulated and the thieves brought to justice. The government can take judicious steps to alleviate hardship. And it certainly makes perfectly good sense for society collectively to provide for the elderly and infirm. We are merely providing for our own future needs.
    "But whoever has this world's good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (I John 3:17).

You may also enjoy:
Boom and Bust 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Capitalism and Christianity – II

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners
  In our last blog post we began our consideration of an essay entitled "Ayn Rand and Capitalism: The Moral Revolution," written by one of Ms. Rand's disciples, David Kelley. We noted that Mr. Kelley proposed a moral revolution that would rid Western culture of the principle of altruism, which he sees as a threat to individual liberty. The principle of which he speaks, of course, is rooted in Christianity. Today we venture a biblical response.
    There seems to be several underlying assumptions to Mr. Kelley's (and Ms. Rand's) philosophy. They tacitly assume that we exist as autonomous individuals, and that we create wealth by the dint of our own efforts. Therefore, presumably, we are entitled to keep what we have thus earned. We enter into economic relationships with other individuals in which we freely trade value for value.
    Significantly Mr. Kelley suggests that the right of property includes the right "to appropriate unowned goods from nature" (The Morality of Capitalism, p. 73). But where did "the goods from nature" come from? And how do we acquire the ability to produce value? "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, / The world and those that dwell therein./ For He has founded it upon the seas,/ And established it upon the waters" (Ps. 24:1,2; NKJV). "And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth . . ." (Dt. 8:18). It is God "Who covers the heavens with clouds,/ Who prepares rain for the earth,/ Who makes grass to grow on the mountains. /He gives to the beast its food,/ And to the young ravens that cry" (Ps. 147:8,9). In short, everything that we possess, every natural resource, every talent and ability, we owe to God.
    And how did God intend for all of these things to be used? For the benefit of a few talented overachievers? "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality not takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing" (Dt. 10:17,18). Not surprisingly then, He expects the same kind of behavior from us: "Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (v. 19).
    The basic moral principle here is love for one's fellow human beings: ". . .you shall love your neighbor as yourself. . ." (Lev. 19:18). What this means in terms of our obligation to the poor is stated in Dt. 15:7,8: "If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates of the land which the Lord you God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut you hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs."
    Interestingly, ancient Israel did not have an elaborate state bureaucracy that administered extensive social welfare programs. Rather the burden for caring for the poor was placed directly on the shoulders of private citizens, viz., relatives and wealthy landowners. Farmers were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could come and take what they needed. Debts were forgiven every seven years, and every fifty years land was supposed to revert back to its original owners.
    In other words, the Bible does not recognize an absolute right to private property. Assets are basically held in trust. There were disparities of income and wealth, but the basic needs of everyone are to be met. Thus, while Israel did not have what we would think of today as a "welfare state," the Bible does enjoin a form of social justice that Mr. Kelley criticizes as "welfarism."
    The system did not always work as it should have, and the later prophets in Israel were stern in their denunciations of abuses. "Hear this, you who swallow up the needy,/ And make the poor of the land fail,/ Saying:/ 'When will the New Moon be past,/ That we may sell grain?/ And the Sabbath,/ That we may trade wheat?/ Making the ephah small and the shekel large,/ Falsifying the scales by deceit,/ That we may buy the poor for silver,/ And the needy for a pair of sandals -- /Even sell the bad wheat?' The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:/ 'Surely I will never forget any of their works . . .'" (Amos 8:4-7). (An ephah and a shekel where weights and measures, the shekel often used to measure out gold or silver by weight. What is in view here is commercial fraud.) God, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, condemned the religious hypocrisy of Israel, saying, "Is this not the fast that I have chosen:/ To loose the bonds of wickedness,/ To undo the heavy burdens,/ To let the oppressed go free,/ And that you break every yoke?/ Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,/ And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;/ When you see the naked, that you cover him,/ And not hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Isa. 58:6,7).
    As we have seen from our study on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was especially concerned to emphasize the underlying moral principles of the Old Testament law, including our obligations to the poor. Perhaps the most memorable example of this was His famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37. A Jewish legal scholar had asked Jesus what was meant by the word "neighbor" in Lev. 19:18, quoted above. Jesus replied by telling a story about a man who had been robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. A couple of religious officials passed by and did nothing. Finally a Samaritan, a member of a despised neighboring ethnic group, came by, and seeing the man lying there by the road took care of him at his own expense. Jesus then asked the lawyer, "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?," and the lawyer replied "He who showed mercy on him." Jesus said, "Go and do likewise" (vv. 36,37).
    Yes, Mr. Kelley is right. The principle of altruism and social justice are deeply rooted in Western culture. They come from the Bible. But who is right? Moses and Jesus? Or Ayn Rand? Let the Libertarians argue that no one is morally obligated to share his wealth with anyone. God's Word says otherwise. And what will we say when we meet our Maker?

Other blog posts in which you might be interested -- just click on the links:
Jesus and the Torah 
Wealth Management 
Capitalism and the Sabbath

Friday, January 25, 2013

Capitalism and Christianity – I


    The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won't Tell You
    Tom G. Palmer, Editor
    Jameson Books, 2011
    129 pp.; pb


    Recently there fell into my hands a copy of a slender paperback volume entitled The Morality of Capitalism, a collection of essays edited by Dr. Tom G. Palmer. Dr. Palmer is a graduate of The Catholic University of America as well as of Oxford, and is currently a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an executive vice president of the Atlas Network.
    The volume in hand begins with a short introduction by Dr. Palmer, followed by an interview with Mr. John Mackey, cofounder of Whole Foods Market. The rest of the book consists of twelve essays by various authors, all extolling the virtues of free market economics. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds, as well as from several different countries, including both Russia and China.
    As might be expected from an anthology of this type, not all of the authors are in complete agreement with each other. Mr. Mackey, in particular, presents a fairly benign view of capitalism, noting that there is nothing about a free market, per se, that prevents an entrepreneur from being compassionate or humane.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
    This is one essay, however, which presents a more menacing aspect, and with that one we wish to focus our attention. The essay is entitled "Ayn Rand and Capitalism: The Moral Revolution," and was written by David Kelley, who is described as an Objectivist philosopher. "Objectivism" is the name given by the late Ms. Rand to her philosophy. Ms. Rand was an atheist who was vigorously opposed to any form of altruism.
    True to form, Mr. Kelley attacks the idea of "social justice" as a concept rooted in altruism, and proceeds to argue that there is nothing morally wrong with pursuing one's one self-interest. Man's highest good, he says, is his own life, and to with that end in mind he participates in the marketplace, which should be governed by the principles of freedom, equality, and justice. But that, he says, does not mean that a given individual is in any way obligated to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of others. ". . . the only social restraint that capitalism imposes is the requirement that those who wish the services of others must offer value in return." He then draws the practical conclusion: "No one may use the state to expropriate what others have produced" (p.80). By don't the poor deserve consideration? ". . .there is no ground in justice for holding the poor or the meek in any special esteem or regarding their needs as primary . . .No one can claim a right to make others serve him involuntarily, even if his own life depends on it" (p. 81). In other words, it is wrong for the government to use tax dollars to alleviate poverty. A state run social welfare program is inherently unjust.
    Mr. Kelley notes that altruism is deeply rooted in western culture, and then suggests, in the concluding paragraph of his essay, that mankind needs to break with its ethical past. "The ethical principle that individual ability is a social asset is incompatible with a free society. If freedom is to survive and flourish, we need a fourth revolution, a moral revolution, that establishes the moral right of the individual to live for himself" (pp. 82-83). In other words, what he is proposing is nothing less than the eradication of Christian morality. Significantly, he began his essay with a quote from Thomas Paine: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again" (Common Sense). Mr. Kelley's essay is a Libertarian manifesto indeed!


Next: What the Bible actually says about social justice.

You may also enjoy (click on link):
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Forty Years After Roe v. Wade

    Today marks the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States. In many ways it was a watershed event, a turning point in our nation's culture and mores. It changed, perhaps forever, what we are as a nation.
    The crusade for access to legal abortion is a cornerstone of the modern feminist movement. Feminists see it as a women's rights issue, a matter of "reproductive freedom." The theory is that if women are to achieve economic equality with men, they must be able to pursue careers without interference from unwanted pregnancies. Thus access to abortion is a necessary part of individual freedom and self-determination.
Berthe Morisot, The Cradle
    There is, however, the nettlesome moral question about the life within the womb. In days gone by this would have been thought of as a "baby," the mother's child, and it was the woman's destiny and privilege to care for that child and raise it to maturity. Might not abortion involve the taking of an innocent human life?
    Feminist writers have a variety of semantic dodges to evade the obvious difficulty. The fetus is not a human being; it is only a "potential" human being. Or, even worse, it is only a clump of cells. And besides, it is inside the woman's body, an imposition on her, disrupting her life against her will. She has a right to control what goes on inside her own body, does she not?
    All of which misses the point. If the woman carries the pregnancy to term, a human being is born. At what point did it become human? What differentiates it five minutes after it was born from what it was five minutes before it was born? The mere change in physical location? Its dependency upon the mother? Isn't the newborn still dependent upon the mother for its care? Isn't this still an imposition? Why not infanticide? The feminist cannot answer these questions, but to her none of it matters. It is the woman's rights that are at issue, her need for "reproductive freedom."
    What this amounts to is nothing less than a massive cultural shift. For centuries the western world believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with taking innocent human life. This belief, in turn, was rooted in something deeper, a belief that we live in a rationally ordered universe that was created and governed by a Supreme Being. That Supreme Being has given us a moral law, and among the precepts of that law is the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." Human life was created in the image of God and is therefore sacred. No one is allowed to take it at will.
    The Supreme Court decision, then, was a repudiation of one of the basic pillars of western civilization. "Enlightened" progressive thinkers now call the older viewpoint an "outdated morality."
    The underlying assumption of modern feminist thought is that we exist in an impersonal universe as autonomous individuals, and that it is up to us to determine our own destinies. Abortion, indeed all of morality, becomes a matter of "personal choice." There are no moral absolutes. Feminism is nothing less than nihilism in a skirt and blouse.
    Martin Luther King, Jr. was the end of an era; Roe v. Wade was the beginning of another. We have entered a starkly different world – an amoral world of radical individualism. Or perhaps we should say, we have reentered the old world, the pre-Christian world, the world that existed for thousands of years before the Advent of Christ. It was a harsh and cruel world, a world of brute force and ruthless tyranny, a world of cruelty, barbarity and oppression.
    "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Gen. 6:5,6). 

For an analysis of the Supreme Court's decision, click on this link:
Should Abortion be Legal? 
For an example of a Feminist "Pro-Choice" argument, click on this link:
Jill Filipovic on Roe v. Wade 
For a doctor's perspective on abortion, click on this link:
Ron Paul on abortion 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King

    This coming Monday the U.S. will be commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. (His actual birthday was January 15). It is thus appropriate that we should take a few moments to reflect on his life and legacy.
    Dr. King was, of course, the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and '60's. What is sometimes forgotten or overlooked, however, is that he was also a Baptist preacher and that he called his organization "The Southern Christian Leadership Conference." For him there was no such thing as separating religion from politics. True religion, in fact, requires involvement in politics. A truly devout person cannot ignore injustice in society.
    The point was beautifully stated in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." On Good Friday in April, 1963, Dr. King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for marching without a permit. It was a deliberate act of civil disobedience on his part, and one that he know would be controversial. A group of clergymen published a statement in a newspaper critical of his actions, and he wrote a response from his jail cell.
    Among other things the clergymen wanted to know how he could break the law while urging others to obey the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation. His answer is that there is a difference between a just law and an unjust one. "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'"
    Dr. King then went on to explain what made the difference between the two: "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." Dr. King then explained that "segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful . . . Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness"? And so the need for direct, non-violent action to remedy the situation.
    Today there are many who argue that religion should be kept out of politics, and that legislative decisions should be made strictly on the basis of secular considerations. But that is to separate the law from morality and surrenders society to the law of the jungle. Why obey the law? Why seek to change the law? If laws are purely man-made and there is no higher standard of morality, there is no reason to do either. Even more to the point, what hope is for minorities? As Dr. King so plainly saw, if there is no transcendent standard of justice, there is no defense for the weak and helpless, the outcasts and the downtrodden. They are entirely at the mercy of the unsympathetic majority.
    Dr. King's personal faith gave him a passionate commitment to justice – an unwillingness to accept things simply as they are. He devoted his life to the struggle for justice because he was absolutely convinced, in his own mind, that there is a higher law, the law of God, and that eventually as human beings we must all give answer before the bar of divine justice.
    But he also saw that the ends do not justify the means. ". . . it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends." This is why he was also committed to non-violence. We are required to respect the rights even of our enemies. Why? Because God demands it.
    We can continue to be a nation "with liberty and justice for all" only if we remain "one nation under God."

Other posts you may enjoy (click on links):
Christianity and Politics 
William Jennings Bryan: a Lesson in Faith and Politics 

Monday, January 14, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Francisco de Zurbaran, St. Francis Kneeling
   That notorious scoffer, the late Christopher Hitchens, complained that the Tenth Commandment ("Thou shalt not covet") was humanly impossible to keep. "One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much." He then added, "In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other's people's possessions or fortunes if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences" (god is not Great, p. 100). It appears that the spirit of American capitalism, for Mr. Hitchens at least, trumped the Ten Commandments.
    Mr. Hitchens, as was usual, managed to miss the whole point entirely. The ultimate purpose of the Ten Commandments was to demonstrate the universal guilt of humankind. The apostle Paul put it like this: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:19,20; NKJV). Paul goes on to elaborate in chapter 7: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet'" (Rom. 7:7). The law represents God's perfect standard of righteousness. As such it is 'holy and just and good" (v. 12). But on one level Hitchens was quite right: humanly speaking it is an unattainable goal. But the problem is not with the law; the problem is with us. We are hopelessly corrupt and depraved. "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (v. 14).
    "But wait a minute," you say. "I'm not 'hopelessly corrupt and depraved.' I have a job and a family. I even do volunteer work in the community." And sure enough, if you look at most people they outwardly seem respectable enough. They have jobs; they have families; they obey the law. They mind their manners (mostly). They may even be charming and well educated. How could someone like that be "bad"?
    But that is the whole point to the Tenth Commandment, as Mr. Hitchens properly sensed. If you were to ask the spouses of these charming and well-educated people (or even better yet, their ex-spouses), you might get a different picture. In the privacy of their own homes, where people feel free to relax and be themselves, we begin to see problems. There may be a certain amount of tension and conflict in the home – grumbling and complaining, even outbursts of anger. We may see carelessness and indifference to the feelings of others. Possibly a certain amount of petty lying. What we are likely to see, in fact, is a lot of self-centered behavior.
    And if we look further, into the dark corners of the mind, we are likely to see a boiling cauldron of human passions – anger, lust, pride, envy, jealousy and greed. There are likely to be attitudes that have the potential of leading to behavior that is compulsive, anti-social, and self-destructive – and addiction to cigarettes, overeating – possibly addictions to alcohol, gambling or pornography. There may be what are now delicately called "anger management issues." It is not a pretty picture.
    All of this puts us at variance with God's will. God did not create us this way. The utter lawlessness of the human heart drives a wedge between us and our Creator. Our reckless and immoral impulses and desires are a direct affront to His holiness. He created us and gave us everything that we have. He is holy and wise and just. His bounty overflows. And yet in spite of all that we have willfully turned away from Him and committed acts that we ourselves know are wrong and are ashamed to reveal to others. Is it any wonder that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:18)?
    The problem, then, is not that God's standard is too high; the problem is that our level of performance is abysmally low. God's standards are determined by what He is, not by what we are. And if we fail to meet His righteous standard, it is a reflection on us, not on Him. He is just and holy; we are fallen sinners. The voice of justice is clear and resounding: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Morris and Whitcomb Fifty Years Later

    The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications
    Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr.
    Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970
    489 pp., hardcover


    Henry M. Morris is widely regarded as the father of modern Young Earth Creationism (YEC), His landmark study The Genesis Flood, which he coauthored with biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb, and first published in 1961, remains controversial to this day. Francis S. Collins, himself an evangelical Christian, says "For anyone familiar with the scientific evidence, it is almost incomprehensible that the YEC view has achieved such wide support, especially in a country like the United States that claims to be so intellectually advanced and technologically sophisticated" (The Language of God, p. 174). As one might expect, the critique of atheistic evolutionists is even less kind.
    But is Young Earth Creationism really all that ridiculous? It might be worth our while to go back and take a second look at the book that started the controversy. How well do Morris and Whitcomb's arguments hold up fifty years later?
Henry M. Morris (1918-2006)
    Morris and Whitcomb started with the biblical account of the Flood, and then reasoned deductively to determine what the likely geological effects of such a deluge might have been. They then examined the geological evidence and claimed to have found confirmation of their hypothesis. The book is carefully organized and exceptionally well documented.
    The strongest part of their argument is their critique of geological uniformitarianism, the idea that the various strata of sedimentary rock were laid down gradually over long periods of time. They note that the theory is based on a gratuitous assumption, that it cannot adequately account for much of the geological data, and that the evidence in fact points to some form of geological catastrophe. The massive fossil graveyards, and the extensive oil and coal deposits, all point to widespread catastrophic flooding.
    So far, so good. There are, however, some problems, and the authors frankly acknowledge these in the last chapter of the book. Chief among the difficulties are the problems with dating. Among other things scientists use the half-lives of radioactive materials to calculate the age of the earth, and the results thus obtained indicate much longer periods of time than are allowed for in the authors' hypothesis. Morris does his best to counter the evidence, suggesting, among other things, that the rates of radioactive decay might be variable. In the case of Uranium-238, however, this is certainly not true. Interestingly, Morris and Whitcomb never demonstrated from the Bible that a young age for the earth is required.
    Morris could not say for sure what natural causes might have precipitated the Flood. He did argue that a thick water vapor canopy surrounded the earth during antediluvian times, and that something caused the vapor canopy to condensate, causing heavy rainfall. "When finally that 'something' happened, whatever it was – possibly the passage of the earth through a meteorite swarm or the sudden extrusion of large amounts of volcanic dust into the air – the vapor blanket was condensed and precipitated. As the Scripture describes is, 'the flood-gates of heaven were opened,' and torrents of rain fell all around the earth for forty days and forty nights!" (p. 258). What Morris did not know at the time, but we now know, is that just such an event has been identified. It is now believed that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by an asteroid striking the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The effects are believed to have been similar to those described by Morris. Here again, though, the main problem is dating. Most scientists think that the "K-T Extinction Event" took place some 65 million years ago, whereas the first identifiably human species is not thought to have appeared until only 2 million years ago. If, however, the fossils are young, having been buried quickly in a catastrophic deluge, there might not be an actual discrepancy in dates.
    Morris and Whitcomb researched the subject thoroughly, stated their conclusions carefully, and addressed the problems honestly. Their criticisms of mainstream geology are telling. Even if we cannot agree with all of their conclusions their work should not be dismissed lightly. Science is strengthened, not weakened, by criticism, no matter from what quarter.


Added note:
    In light of the recent discussion about global warming Henry Morris' comments on the subject are of interest. As noted above, Morris believed that before the Flood the earth was covered by a thick water vapor canopy, and had a uniformly warm, tropical climate as a result. During the Flood, the vapor canopy precipitated. This, he believed, caused temperatures to drop, bringing on the Ice Age. In the course of the discussion Morris noted that CO2 levels in the atmosphere effect global temperatures, and made this observation: "The problem of atmospheric contamination by fossil fuels has also come in for consideration, since the burning of coal and oil during the past century has added measurably to the amount of carbon dioxide in the carbon cycle" (p. 373). And he wrote this in 1961! He cited an article by Dr. Gilbert Plass that appeared in Scientific American in 1959. It is certainly something worth thinking about! 

Related posts:
Galileo's Ordeal 
Science and Scripture 
The Age of the Earth:
Here, Here, and  Here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What God Requires

    As we saw in our last blog post morality is a matter of what God requires: "He has shown you, o man, what is good; / And what does the Lord require of you . . ." (Mic. 6:8; NKJV). But what does God require of us? The text goes on to answer: "But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God."
    "To do justly" (literally, "to do justice") strictly speaking has to do with the actions of a judge. Specifically we are to provide each person with his due and condemn no one wrongly. Everyone is to be treated fairly in accordance with the law. In a very broad sense it involves the way all of us treat each other. We should do nothing that would in any way harm our neighbor, whether in his person, his property, or his reputation.
    But then we are also "to love mercy." The Hebrew word translated "mercy" involves goodness or kindness, especially to those in need. In other words, we ought to have such a care and concern for our fellow human beings that we would respond readily to their need to the extent of our ability.
    And then, finally, our text says that we should "walk humbly with [our] God." "Walk" is a common biblical metaphor for the way we live – we walk down a chosen path in life. Thus, to "walk with God" means to live one's life in communion with God and to conduct oneself in accordance with His will. More specifically, we are to walk "humbly" with God, in full recognition of the tremendous disparity that exists between Him and us. He is God – eternal, self-existent, the Creator of heaven and earth. We, on the other hand, are mere creatures of the dust, finite, mortal, here today and gone tomorrow. How could God, so high and lofty, have communion with lowly creatures such as ourselves? The very suggestion boggles the imagination. And yet God created us for this very purpose.
Anthony van Dyke, Family Portrait
    It is significant that this passage touches not merely on our outward actions, but upon our inward attitude as well. We are not simply to do each other kindness; we are to love mercy. We are not simply to obey God; we are to walk humbly before Him. Ours should be lives of heartfelt devotion to God, compassion for others, and commitment to justice.
    But morality is also partly a matter of what God has ordained for us as creatures. The reason that homosexuality is wrong is that it violates God's intention when He created us as sexual beings. We are told in Genesis that God said "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Gen. 2:18). Then God created Eve, and the text adds the explanatory comment: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Adultery, divorce, and a whole list of sexual perversions are condemned in the Bible because they undermine God's purpose for marriage, and are ultimately harmful to society.
    Jesus summed it up well when He said that the greatest commandment was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt. 6:5), and that the second greatest is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18).

Related blog posts:
Jesus and the Torah 
The Golden Rule 

Friday, January 4, 2013

What Is Morality?

   We have seen that the problem of evil is very real, and that we intuitively react against it. This in turn gives rise to a sense of morality – the sense that certain actions are somehow "wrong" and others "right"?                                                     
   But what is the basis for morality? How do we know what is "wrong" and "right"? The biblical answer is simple and straightforward: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; / And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8; NKJV). God is our Creator and Judge. He sets the rules. Nothing could be plainer than that.                                                  
   Nothing, that is, except to a philosopher, and indeed many of them have, in fact, raised objections to what is sometimes called "The Divine Command Theory." Secularists sometimes point to a dialogue of Plato's ("Euthyphro") in which Plato supposedly demonstrated that morality cannot derive its source from God. 
   In the dialogue Socrates, who was being prosecuted for corrupting the young, encounters Euthyphro, who was himself in the process of prosecuting his own father on a charge of murder. Socrates asks Euthyphro how he knows he is doing the right thing by prosecuting his own father. Euthyphro replies by appealing to the examples of some of the gods in Greek mythology. A discussion ensues in which Socrates points out that the Greek gods disagreed with each other and behaved abominably themselves. How then would the gods know what is right and wrong? The implication is that there must be some standard external to the gods by which to judge their opinions and actions.
   The obvious flaw in the argument, of course, is that the ancient Greeks were polytheists. Their "gods" were little more than glorified humans, and often behaved little better than humans as well. Not surprisingly, they often disagree with each other.                                                                                                                                The Bible, on the other hand, posits the existence of only one God, eternal, self-existent, , the sole Creator of heaven and earth. The creation derived its original shape and contours from Him. He is the source of all created reality. Hence nothing exists independently of this one God, and there is no authority outside of Him that can impose a standard of morality. His creative will determines the norms by which the universe functions. Thus there is no other source of morality. What is good, and true, and right is good and true and right for the simple reason that God said so.                                                                                               
   But, it will be argued, all human beings have a sense of right and wrong whether they have read the Bible or not. (Well, at least all human beings outside the Washington Beltway!) That demonstrates that morality is not derived from the Bible as its original source.                                                                                               
   The premise is true; the conclusion is not. Why does nearly everyone have an innate sense of right and wrong? It is because they are creatures of God, and have His law written on their hearts. ". . . for when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness . . ." (Rom. 2:14,15). Paul uses an interesting argument to demonstrate his point: "their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" (v. 15). Just look at the way people behave. One person accuses another of wrongdoing. The person accused quickly defends himself against the charge. Why? What is wrong with, let's say, lying? What is wrong with being called a liar? Both the accusation and the denial show that both sides know intuitively that lying is wrong. How do we account for this? Either we agree that lying is objectively wrong, or else we accept the fact that lying is perfectly normal and both sides are being irrational. The latter option is unthinkable.               
    Atheists are quick to proclaim that it is possible to be "good without God" and that belief in God is not necessary for morality. On one level this is certainly true. Atheists are human beings, and are capable of displaying human kindness. But on another level they are certainly wrong. What atheists have succeeded in demonstrating is that there is an objective, universally binding standard of conduct, and at least some atheists would freely deny that any such code of conduct exists. But even an atheist cannot escape his own humanity. He has a conscience, and his conscience tells him otherwise.

Related posts:
The Nature of Morality 
The Case for Moral Absolutes 
Jerry Coyne: Good Without God? 
Alasdair MacIntyre: A Study in Moral Theory 
A Scientific Basis for Morality? 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Problem of Evil

Goya: The Third of May, 1808
  In our last blogpost we asked the question "What is 'salvation'?," and noted that the word refers to deliverance from the wrath of God. But why is God angry? To answer that question we must consider the problem of evil.
    What we see in life are people pushing and shoving and hurting each other in various ways. Businessmen are greedy. Politicians are self-serving and deceitful. Marriages end in divorce. The world is in constant turmoil with tyranny, war and oppression everywhere.
    But there is something inside of us that tells us that this cannot be right. We cannot accept the idea that we should simply accept things the way they are. We long for some sense of justice.
    But what makes one action "right" and another "wrong"? On what basis can we judge another? Who can say, objectively, who is right and who is wrong? Secular thinkers, from Socrates on down to the present, have struggled to answer the question, and have not found a satisfactory answer. The best that most modern (or perhaps we should say "post-modern") philosophers can say is that morality is a human invention. Either we so evolved that we developed a moral sense, so that we think that there is a difference between right and wrong, or else that morality is the result of some sort of social contract. We must somehow get along with each other, and so we enter into a tacit agreement with each other as to what we will tolerate and what we will not.
    But our conscience tells us that there has to be something more to morality than ingrained behavior or social pressure. We somehow sense that certain actions are intrinsically wrong, and that in an ideal world wrong would be punished and good rewarded. But how? Too often evil seems to have the upper hand.
    Thus we are faced with a conflict between the "real" and the "ideal." It has been said that most people are followers either of Plato or of Aristotle. Plato was the quintessential "idealist." Truth is a matter of abstract ideals, and the physical world is merely an imperfect copy of the ideal world. Aristotle, on the other hand, was the archetypical "realist": he was concerned with the physical world as it actually exists. But there are not many true idealists around today. In our modern, science-based culture we are too preoccupied with the here-and-now to worry much about abstract principles or ideals. In its more extreme form this way of thinking is frankly atheistic But the implications of this outlook are stark. It means that there is no real meaning or purpose in life, no real difference between right and wrong, no final justice, no life beyond the grave. Unfortunately for us the party will eventually end and the lights will go out.
    The biblical answer to all of this is that our intuitions are largely correct. There is a real design in nature, there is meaning and purpose to life, and there is a real difference between right and wrong. The reason is that the universe was created by an Intelligent Being. Everything, when created, was originally "good." We revolted, however, against our Creator, and everything was corrupted as a result. This is why the present reality does not conform to God's ideal standard. This is the reason for God's wrath, and thus the need for salvation.

Related posts:
The Case for Moral Absolutes 
Alasdair MacIntyre: A Study in Moral Theory 
What Makes Christianity Different? 
What God Thinks of Us