Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Episode 57 Mere Apologetics with guest DJ Grothe

C.S. Lewis may be the most celebrated Christian apologist of our time. His reputation for thoughtfulness and eloquence of speech has earned him many admirers even amongst non-believers. For this episode the doubtcasters consider the main argument of his most popular apologetic work, Mere Christianity. Lewis claims there is a Moral Law, known to all human beings, which must be the creation of a divine mind. DJ Grothe (The host of CFI’s radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry) disagrees. Though an admirer of Lewis, Grothe sees no evidence of a Moral Law. Nevertheless, he believes we can still have an objective basis for our ethics without it.

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18 comments:

=^skepticat^= said...

I'm only 15 minutes in but Timothy McVeigh cannot really be described as a "Christian-terrorist" ... Eric Rudolph could described as such but McVeigh was a UFO style conspiracy whack job and not fundamentalist Christian style of nut. In fact every day he was on Death Row he requested to watch that Contact film based on Carl Sagan's book. What is it about Jodi Foster? Anywho, an EXCELLENT book if any of you want to know about the various subcultures within conspiratoria and UFOlogy is A Culture of Conspiracy by Michael Barkun. It is not as entertaining a read as Jon Ronson's Them but it does go into a great deal more detail.

B H said...

Just a side note from a linguist: saying Chomsky or Pinker have proved anything regarding universal grammar is definitely jumping the gun. I won't get into academic fisticuffs here, but suffice to say there's a great deal of skepticism about either's claims in the scientific community and an underwhelming amount of evidence or theoretical rigor on their ends.

Patrick said...

Agree with B.H. on Chomsky, so I can simply comment to make a wish: please discuss (with our without DJ Grothe) the New Testament Jesus ethics, and I don't mean funny NT stories, but rather in the way DJ alluded to. I'd love to hear a different take on Jesus's morals than simply the "great teacher" / picking apart single sentences divide.

James said...

Some random comments that came to mind listening to this episode:

* There's been at least one violent incident of backlash against Muslims after Fort Hood. USMC reservist Jasen Bruce clubbed a man he thought was a Muslim with a tire-iron. Bruce isn't that perceptive, though: the man was actually a Greek Orthodox priest, Alexios Marakis, asking for directions. Bruce insists the man groped him while yelling "Alluha Akbar". Writeup at Joe. My. God.

* The very fact that all humans are human means that we will have some commonality in our perceptions of good and evil: we all (or almost all) experience pain, hunger, and other deprivations the same way, don't like them, and want to avoid them. We also all (or almost all) have enough cognitive facilities to empathize with others, and realize that they aren't going to appreciate pain, hunger, etc either. That alone calls into question the idea that only a god can account for common morality.

* If human morality comes from some Moral Law provided by the creator of the universe, how can there have been moral progress? If we were given the law up front, we should have been fully moral from the start, unless maybe God withheld some of that Moral Law and only revealed it to us little by little. But how moral is letting humans to horribly immoral things to each other because you haven't told them that those things are wrong yet?

Pseudo Wrestler said...

I can't say enough about DJ's propensity for professionalism and critical examination, however I would like to comment about the attacks made on evolutionary psychologists. When one points out that 'rape' and/or 'murder' are in fact natural, but want to avoid the straw-man argument, as DJ exampled with "they're trying to use evolution to justify rape" I think pointing out that altruism is also evolutionary beneficial opens the doors to the "Well duh, cause god did it" argument (taking credit while simultaneously relieving themselves of responsibility as usual). I find it useful to also point out that it is just as 'natural' to roll up a giant ball of feces and present it to your mate as a gift. This is obviously reaching for absurdity, but I think helps to further illustrate the point you all made very well, which I took to be "natural behavior and 'what is right' are not mutually inclusive, nor mutually exclusive."

Evolution is a slow process, and natural selection shows that instincts/emotions have been one of natures most effective decision making tools, however, this only holds true when there is insufficient data and/or reasoning capability available. Society, as well as the globe, are dynamic systems, thus science and reason, while feeling slow to the individual, are our most effective methods for making decisions in today's society. Emotions and instincts don't always steer us wrong, but they are simply not malleable enough to be applied successfully to the full spectrum of complicated decisions we are confronted with as modern humans.

TV's Mr. Neil said...

Here is why I am not impressed with CS Lewis.

For the very beginning of the book, he appeals to human nature as though we are obeying some kind of law, and yet he never really makes a case for this. He just says that we all seem to follow some sort of "moral standard", and since that, already being a theistic idea, is the only framework he can come up with to explain this behavior, he just settles into this without any other consideration.

Like so many other apologetic arguments, this will strengthen the conviction of the believer, but it will fail to move the atheist, especially today, where we actually have good positive explanations for human behavior that don't have anything to do with deities. It has far more to do with our genetic make-up.

Just like the gods of nature, like Thor and Zeus, were dethroned the moment we discovered perfectly natural causes for their phenomena, so too has Lewis' deity of human morality, and it's time for Christians to move on.

When I think of "baby Christians", I generally most associate this with those who actually follow Lewis' apologetics, more so than those who follow Plantinga or Craig, because at least those two have enough good sense to recognize Lewis' short-comings and rework them.

B'Daddy said...

Shadowlands is a pretty good movie as a love story - a real tear jerker. I betray anyone not to cry at the end where Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) weeps with Douglas over losing Joy. It's also does a good job of showing a struggle with faith in the face the reality of sickness and death. I think Lewis would have made a good atheist given time.

llewelly said...

D.J. Grothe more moral than God? Uh, if we are talking about the Christian God, New Testament or Old, that's a very low bar to clear.
Bernie Maddoff probably clears it handily.

Anonymous said...

A comment on the show about the 'Judeo-Christian perspective' prompted me to think about some of the vast differences this term covers up. For example, I'd love to hear you discuss the vast difference between interpretations of leaving the Garden from the two perspectives. In the Christian perspective, Adam and Eve are thrown out of the house and onto the streets. in the traditional Jewish perspective, they're told they have to stop loafing and get a job (slight modernization of the story). These differences are often papered over, and most christians are oblivious to them.
As always, love the show, but as an atheist/agnostic from a non-Evangelical background, like to have you cover that as well.

Stewart

ET said...

I'm used to hearing D.J. play the devil's advocate on point of inquiry, so to hear him talk about his own views was interesting.

The first book I read in my journy to truth was "Can We Be Good Without God" by Dr. Robert Buckman. What I got from him was that ethics can be catagorized by constructive vrs destructive. Constructive = good destructive = bad. This is of course oversimplified but it shows that with a little logic one can come to an ethical understanding without the help of religion.

Skepoet said...

I too was going to point out that the Chomsky/Pinker "proof" isn't there yet and this is an area where scientifically-minded NONspecialists seem to like it while linguists are FAR more skeptical because there are counter-examples that are ignored in both Pinker's and Chomsky's models.

And while I agree that there are some over-statements about evolutionary psychology: it is not a hard empirical science yet because it is still too based on speculation about the ancestral environments. Because of this there is A LOT of bad evolutionary psychology, but I don't want to tar the field because I think its beginning assumptions must be true.

soyelkabron said...

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Lausten North said...

Thanks for the show. I was once enamored with C. S. Lewis. You handled his works delicately and thoroughly. If you could also cover his famous analogy of the window from "a introduction to miracles" that would be much appreciated. You know, the window that we look through to observe the garden is our sentience, our ability to reason that (supposedly) sets us apart from other animals.

Clint said...

Have to jump in here with skepticat; from what I've read about McVeigh, he was a lapsed Catholic who dabbled with Deism and Agnosticism. The Guardian reports on the latter here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jun/11/mcveigh.usa4

That's not to say that we need claim him as one of our own, but we certainly cannot identify him as a Protestant.

ShaunasaurusRex said...

If Aslan is God who the hell is Mufasa?

Anonymous said...

No specific comment about episode 57, but thought I'd better post something because I'm having Reasonable Doubts withdrawal. I know you guys are very busy (especially at the end of the semester) but I'm panicked. You see, I'm a semi-in-the-closet atheist. I'm a de-converted catholic; a born again freethinker. I need your podcast to keep me sane. Also, my 15 year old son (who attends catholic schools) has stumbled onto your podcast and this has resulted in some great conversations between us. Please keep them coming as soon as you can and thanks for your work!!!!!!

Michael Taylor said...

Great episode. I recently read Francis Collins' The Language of God and I grew weary of him constantly relying on Lewis as if Lewis's logic was sound.

Prairie Freethinker said...

Interesting episode. 'But on the topic of ethical universals...I think supporters of this notion often argue it by abstracting the ethical principle in question so much that many seemingly divergent behaviors qualify. Let's say (and I believe this is true) that most cultures would agree that they "respect women." But Culture A "respects women" by "protecting" their modesty, chastity, etc. by forcing them to wear concealing clothing, not go into public without a male relative, etc. Culture B, however, rejects such practices, and insists that "respect of women" implies virtual equality of treatment vis-a-vis men.

The universalist claims that "respect of women" is an ethical universal. But the practices couldn't be more different. Do we have "universal" (oops..."worldwide") if all people agree that "fruits are good and to be eaten," but some cultures say onions or rocks are "fruits"... ?