Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ten Non-commandments for Atheists

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes one of the things I teach my students is what I call "the logic of atheism." That is, if atheism were true, what follows logically? Or: if atheism, then what kind of life do we have? To illustrate some coherent atheist reasoning I use Nietzsche's "parable of the madman" and Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship."

Three recent books that inform me are by John Gray (The Silence of Animals: One Progress and Other Myths), Julian Barnes (Nothing to Be Frightened Of), and  Peter Watson (The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God). 

Today the Huffington Post pointed me to another recent "how to live as an atheist" book - Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century, by Lex Bayer and John Figdor. Bayer and Figdor give what they call 10 "non-commandments" for an atheist's life. They are:

I. The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.
II. We can perceive the world only through our human senses.
III. We use rational thought and language as tools for understanding the world.
IV. All truth is proportional to the evidence.
V. There is no God.
VI. We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not.
VII. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
VIII. We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.
IX. We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society.
X. All our beliefs are subject to change in the face of new evidence, including these.

I just heard of this book, and have not read it. It probably gives support for each of these. My hope is that Bayer and Figdor address the following:

Non-commandment II - "We can perceive the world only through our human senses."

Define "perception." I'll guess that, by perception, B&F mean "sense perception." If so, then this non-commandment is circular (We perceive the world by perceiving.)

Non-commandment IV - "All truth is proportional to the evidence."

This is an old and famous rephrasing of W.K. Cliifford's "It is wrong, always, everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence." But surely this is false. If, e.g., the truth of "2 + 3 = 5" must be proportional to the evidence then we should not believe it to be true. The statement Our sense give us accurate information about the external world is in the same predicament. As are also the laws of logic (modus ponens, et. al.)

Non-commandments VI and VII - "We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not"; "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy."

This is utilitarianism. Hopefully B&F will address its many internal problems.

Non-commandment VII - "There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave."

I'd be interested in how B&F support this, other than the trivial but true claim that if God does not exist then of course there is no universal moral truth. Note that behind VI and VIII there is no "ought" which, if God does not exist, is as it should be.

Note also that several atheists affirm the existence of objective moral values.

Non-commandment IX - "We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society."

Again, this is utilitarianism. It also strikes me as trivial and I wonder if it is not also circular. Because "ethical society" most likely means "utilitarian ethics" which, by definition, "benefits" us.

I suggest non-commandment XI - Free will does not exist. If that is true than I still need explanations of volitional verbs in the non-commandments such as "desire to understand," "rational thought," "strive," "pursue," "act morally," and evaluate new "evidence."

One more thing - VIII says "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy." But V says - "There is no God."

V leaves many people, such as myself, unhappy. V marginalizes me in the happiness universe. In fact V leaves the vast majority of the world unhappy. So I assume VIII should read something like: "We act morally when the happiness of other atheists makes us happy." Which is anti-utilitarian, since it leaves most people unhappy most of the time. What would make most people happy most of the time would be the atheist removing non-commandment (belief; statement) V. Here is where I suspect the atheist will want to convince me of the truth of V, not because it would make me happy, but because V is a universal truth. Or something like that.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ministry in Brazil Presentation - Sunday Nov. 23, 6 PM, at Redeemer

Baptist National Pastors Conference November 2014

Linda and I are back from Brazil. Thank you for praying for us!
I want to invite any of you and your friends to come to a special service Sunday night. The focus will be on praying and healing. Linda and I will share some of the many experiences we had, plus show slides and tell some of the amazing stories we saw and heard. This includes seeing physical healings and inner healings. We'll meet at 6 PM.
Those in my Prayer Class - this is an extension of this class. The focus will still be on praying. I feel led to invite everyone to this special class tomorrow night. Please pray for this evening - thank you!
I also want to add a prayer request for you all to pray about. When we left on Thursday night we prayed for a woman named Leah. Leah is probably in her early 30s. She has a large cancerous tumor in her left cheek which has severely distorted her face. I told Leah I would share this with my church family. Please pray for her. I'll tell you more of the story tomorrow night.

Solitude and the Breaking of Adulation Addiction (PrayerLife)

Mike Bickle, in Growing In the Prophetic, writes of a time when he was traveling with John Wimber, speaking regularly before crowds of thousands of people. Mike found that "I enjoyed the attention and honor more than I realized." (143)  He says, "We didn't have enough spiritual maturity to discern some basic warning signals about pride." (144) This is a dangerous spiritual condition to be in!
We all need affirmation. We don't need to be worshiped. We do need to be and feel appreciated. We don't need adoration/adulation. 

I've found that there is a fine line between the two. The healthy glow of affirming words can morph into self-worship addiction. When we become attached to the affirmation we then live for it, rather than live selflessly for God and others. Affirmation-as-adulation becomes like a drug and we go fishing for the next fix. One way we do this is to perform before others. When the presence of God ends the performance before others begins. At this point all of life's a stage, and we await the reviews.

Solitude with God can break us of this. And by "solitude" I include "Internet solitude," meaning not getting alone with your laptop, but retreating from it. Go apart from all persons and media and laptops and texting and tweeting through which praise or blame comes so that God can love you even when you are not performing. It is in that quiet place with God that I hear His "well done," and "John, I love you." 

When I am discovered by God and find my life's worth in being His beloved child, I am released to love and serve others apart from any performance review.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Muito Obrigado a Convenção Batista Nacional

I'll be reflecting for several days on what God was doing in me while Linda and I were in Brazil this week. I am filled with emotion thinking of the many beautiful new friends we have made, and how God moved among us with encouragement, power, love, rescue, and healing.

Special thanks to the excellent, Spirit-led leaders of Convenção Batista Nacional for so graciously hosting us.

Linda and I will print this group photo and always remember you in our prayers. Muito obrigado!

Objective Moral Values and Duties Exist (Premise 2 of the Moral Argument for God's Existence)

Our back yard, on the river

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class this coming Tuesday I will be especially explaining and arguing for the truth of premise 2 in William Lane Craig's version of the Moral Argument for God's Existence.

The moral argument for God's existence can be made using atheists to support both premises. The argument goes like this.

Premise 1 - If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Premise 2 - Objective moral values and duties do exist.

The conclusion then follows deductively:

Therefore, God exists.

Atheistic justification of the first premise is seen here.

Atheistic support of Premise 2 is seen in, for example, this quote from atheist philosopher Colin McGinn:

When I assert 'this is good' or 'that is evil', I do not mean that I experience desire or aversion, or that I have a feeling of liking or indignation. These subjective experiences may be present; but the judgment points not to a personal or subjective state of mind but to the presence of an objective value in the situation. What is implied in this objectivity? Clearly, in the first place, it implies independence of the judging subject. If my assertion 'this is good' is valid, then it is valid not for me only but for everyone. If I say 'this is good', and another person, referring to the same situation, says 'this is not good', one or other of us must be mistaken... The validity of a moral judgment does not depend upon the person by whom the judgment is made... In saying that moral values belong to the nature of reality... the statement implies an objectivity which is independent of the achievements of persons in informing their lives with these values, and is even independent of their recognising their validity. Whether we are guided by them or not, whether we acknowledge them or not, they have validity... objective moral value is valid independently of my will, and yet is something which satisfies my purpose and completes my nature.

Many atheists defend moral objectivism. Here's atheist Russell Shafer-Landau:

Some moral views are better than others, despite the sincerity of the individuals, cultures, and societies that endorse them. Some moral views are true, others false, and my thinking them so doesn’t make them so. My society’s endorsement of them doesn’t prove their truth. Individuals, and whole societies, can be seriously mistaken when it comes to morality. The best explanation of this is that there are moral standards not of our own making.

Further, any argument against moral objectivism would be self-refuting. One would then argue this way:

1. There are no objective moral values (which is the same thing as to say moral values are only subjective), and 
2. one objectively ought to accept subjectivism.

Which is incoherent.

(Thanks throughout to Peter Williams' essay "Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?")

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Brazil for 1 More Day

Linda and I are i Brazil for Day 3 of the National Baptist Convention annual conference. What a beautiful group of people we are with!

Several people were healed last night. One woman with chronic pain in her arm for two years said the pain was completely gone after we prayed for her - praise God!

Linda and fly out of Brazil tonight at 11:30 PM - be back in Monroe tomorrow around noon. It's 84 degrees and sunny here. Hopefully this is what awaits us in Michigan. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Brasil Pastors Conference - Day 2

It’s Wednesday morning at the retreat compound outside of Brasilia, Brasil. Like yesterday, the temperature is already in the 70s and will be in the mid-80s with lots of sun plus probably an occasional rain storm that will sweep through and leave.

God was powerful at last night's service - lots of calling out to God for healing from pride and shame and reclaiming our true identities as children of God. I asked Linda to play piano in the background as we prayed and then she played "How Great Is Our God" - a number of the Brasilian (yes, with an 's' in Brasil) pastors knew this song in English and sang along with me, with the rest singing in Portuguese.

In a few minutes I'll be giving my core teaching on how God forms and transforms the human heart into greater Christlikeness.

I'm just finishing breakfast. I sat at a table with 3 Brasilian pastors. One of them spoke a little Spanish, so I was able to communicate with him.

Thank you for praying for all of us today - God has great things in store for us!

(Here's the conference information.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pastor's Conference in Brasil - Day 1

Brasilia is three hours ahead of EST. So I'm writing at 8:30 AM from a rustic and well-maintained retreat center 30 minutes outside of Brasilia in the countryside. 

There are 70-80 pastors here. Some of them drove 20 hours to come here to this conference and arrived in the middle of the night.

After introductions this morning Linda and I will be introduced. We will both share our testimonies as a way for the pastors to get to know us.

Only 4-5 of the pastors speak English, so all my teachings will be translated into Portuguese. 

This afternoon I will give the first of my 7 presentations. It will be on "Leading the Presence-Driven Church," something very close to my heart about what church should be. 

I'm now looking at a breakfast plate of fresh papaya and mango. Plus Brazilian coffee (excellent!).

A family of burrowing owls are outside the building - two adult owls and two babies. This is part of God's beautiful creation!

It's going to be 84 degrees today, with lots of sun. I'm wearing sunscreen so as not to get burnt.

Pray for all of us today - God is going to do great things!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Prayer and Contentment as Thing-Independence (PrayerLife)

Pastor Carlos, me, Linda, and Ann Borquist yesterday morning in Brasilia
Today Linda and I ate with Bruce and Ann Borquist at Fogo de Chão in Brasilia. Someone treated us to this incredible eating experience (all 4 of us say thank you - what a great gift! And yes, I did eat the dessert you recommended.). I felt very content after this meal and time together! 

Experiences like this are better is when one's contentment is not a function of circumstances. As the apostle Paul once wrote, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, whether I abound or whether I am abased." Today the four of us were able to see today as a gift, not as a right or entitlement. This makes the food taste better.

Philip Yancey shares this story In his excellent book on prayer. 

"I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. “If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”" (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 1012-1015) 

The biblical idea of contentment is circumstance-independent. As are peace, joy, love and so on. The "fruit of the Spirit" is circumstance-independent. Were this not so things like inner peace would be conditional, and that's bad news for all of us. (That is, "IF I have _________, THEN I will have inner peace." 

The freer a person is inwardly the better life tastes. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Praying at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth (PrayerLife)

The intersection of Monroe St. and Front St., in Monroe
Linda and I are in Brasilia, Brazil this morning where I'll be preaching at a church on the presence of God. Then I'll preach tonight at another church on blessings and cursings. Then this week I'll be teaching at a pastor's conference on praying and God's presence. Real praying happens in God's presence. "Praying" in the absence of God is note effective.

Philip Yancey writes:

If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge. (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 248-251)

Real prayer happens where heaven and earth converge.

For example, Colossians 1:9 reads: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives...

Paul is praying for the Colossian Jesus-followers. This kind of praying, for others, has been called "intercessory prayer." To "intercede" means: to come between. The word "intersection" is helpful here.

One mile north of our church building is the intersection of Telegraph Road and M-50. If a person's car stalled in the middle of this intersection, would their car be on Telegraph Road or on M-50? The answer would be: both. Because, in this intersection, the properties of Telegraph Road and the properties of M-50 are shared, or are the same.

Something that illustrates this is set theory, in mathematics. This diagram shows that there are properties or attributes or elements of Set A that intersect with Set B. 

Now imagine that Set A equals the being of God; viz., all God's attributes, God's desires (God's will), and God's character. Imagine, further, that Set B equals the Colossian Jesus-followers (and, by extension, Jesus-followers today). Intercessory prayer is about the intersection of God and God's people. 

In Colossians 1:9 Paul is kneeling at the intersection of A and B, in the place where heaven intersects with earth, and asking God to bring heaven into the earthly existence of the people he is interceding for.

Pray today as an "intercessor," as one who kneels before God in the place where heaven intersects with earth.