Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Making Relationships Work

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia gave an excellent Veritas Forum lecture on how to have a happy marriage. Wilcox is a Christian but all of the advice he offers comes from current sociological research and not from the Bible or Christian teaching. Not surprisingly, the research turns out to be very supportive of a general Christian worldview. Wilcox is not the most gifted speaker and he annoyingly begins every answer in the Q & A session with, "That's a good question" (20 times in 20 minutes is way too much). The quality of the audio is also horrible but, in spite of all of these drawbacks, the following points give some needed direction for those who are dating as well as to those already married.

The "Dos" and "Don'ts" of Dating

1. Don't cohabit, or have casual sex.
2. Don't put off marriage.
3. Don't rely on "chemistry."
4. Don't marry a stonewaller or a nagger.

1. Do look for commitment.
2. Do look for a virtuous man or woman.
3. Do rely on the advice of friends and family.
4. Do seek out someone of a common faith.

The "Dos and Don'ts of Marriage

1. Don't seek a 50/50 marriage.
2. Don't be unfair or selfish.
3. Don't be intimate with members of the opposite sex who aren't your spouse.

1. Do strive for emotional engagement.
2. Do appreciate complementarity.
3. Do have friends who share your faith commitments.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Hitchens

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I picked up, Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate, at the Hitchens-Craig debate last weekend. Hitchens' sparring partner in this little book is Douglas Wilson, a Christian pastor and prolific author. I can say that Wilson played the Hitchens game magnificently. He didn't let Hitchens get away with much and he didn't stick to a predetermined set of arguments the way Craig did in the debate (this is not a strong criticism of Craig, I just thought Craig could have come down a few notches to engage Hitchens on his terms). Wilson was forceful when he needed to be, humorous at all the appropriate times and he pushed Hitchens to answer questions that he couldn't. Since the two of them continue to appear together in various venues, it seems that Hitchens doesn't mind it when Christians take the gloves off. And not to make it sound like Wilson set his Christian love aside, he did clearly and winsomely invite Hitchens to consider Christianity as the best way to ground the truth and morality that he so clearly values. Here's one of my favorite (more pointed) moments in the book ...

"Christopher Hitchens argues carefully, but given atheism, I want him to justify his use of reason. If there is no God, what is truth? Christopher Hitchens displays great moral indignation, but, given atheism, I want him to justify that indignation. If there is no God, then who cares? And Christopher Hitchens writes as a very careful wordsmith, but given atheism, I want him to justify his vibrant and engaging prose. If there is no God, then yammer, yamber, yaw&^% ..." (p. 19)

But now I've interacted with Hitchens in three different ways (book, public debate and print debate) and I can safely say that I'm familiar with his thoughts and his style. He hates religion vehemently, he is extremely and offensively pejorative in print, kind but condescending in public and he has a wide—but limited—array talking points that he thinks no one can counter. He presents his talking points with an indiscernible order and doesn't seem to listen when those talking points are rebutted. He also rarely answers direct philosophical questions that are asked of him by the other side. He does offer evidence that the thoughtful Christian should consider but I don't think any of it is strong enough to raise any serious doubts about the Christian faith. So, I'm saying goodbye to Hitchens and will turn my attention to other philosophical and theological concerns. I'll close with the review entry for my annotated bibliography of Christian apologetics.

"Christopher Hitchens & Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate, Foreword by Jonah Goldberg (Moscow, ID: Canonpress, 2008).

As a key, if not the major player in the New Atheism movement, Christopher Hitchens and his influential ideas deserve to be engaged at many levels and in many formats. Fortunately, Hitchens is quite eager to participate in any and every format in order to promote the negative answer to the question posed in this book. Douglas Wilson argues the positive answer to the question, although neither of them stick to the point very consistently throughout the debate. Part of the problem is that Hitchens’ broader agenda is to vilify religion in general, the major point of his bestseller, god is not Great. Most of the claims he makes to Wilson are restatements of what he’s already said there. The other problem is that Wilson—a presuppositionalist—spends most of his time trying to show the absurdity of Hitchens’ positive statements about truth and morality, given atheism. But these problems show only that the book is poorly titled, not that the dialogue isn’t engaging and provocative (as anything involving Hitchens will be). Wilson carries the day, it seems, because Hitchens isn’t able to adequately answer Wilson’s questions, he merely dismisses them as unnecessary for establishing the basis of truth and morality. Wilson matches Hitchens’ sharp and sometimes biting literary style, not considering it inappropriate to be offensive to someone as offensive as Hitchens. This particular volley will not be the turning point in the broader match between theism and atheism, but it is worthy of consideration as a unique, accessible and witty exchange in the course of the game." (p. 12)

By the way, the conversation continues to rage in the comments of Doug Geivett's blog post about the Hitchens-Craig debate. There are over 100 comments now. Lots of atheists are showing up and Geivett is interacting them brilliantly and kindly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Early Season Reflections

Josie, myself and a friend had the privilege of being present for Opening Day at Angel Stadium last night. It's been a while since we've been to a game—baseball is certainly not Ukraine's national past time—and wow, was it great. Not only was it fun to be back at the ballpark, the Angels also played some decent ball and came away with a win. Howie Kendrick had a hot bat, Joe Saunders pitched well for 6 plus innings and, for now, one day into the season, all is as it should be with my Halos. Hmmm, can we stop the season now, before we run out of healthy pitchers?

Monday, April 6, 2009

From Another (Read: Better) Angle

A while ago, after his visit to Kyiv, I recommended Doug Geivett's blog. Here's another recommendation for the same thing. Only this time, I'm recommending particularly his response to the Craig-Hitchens debate from Saturday night. I've given my thoughts in the comments to this post, but Dr. Geivett's thoughts are those of a trained philosopher. Obviously they carry a weight of authority that my thoughts don't. Not only that, he made some observations that I missed. If I were a trained philosopher, maybe I wouldn't have. It's just so tough down here in the minors! In any case, read and enjoy a real philosopher's take on the philosophy of this great debate.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another Reason Not To Be an A's Fan

Although this news report makes it all sound outrageously funny, it sure would stink to have people driving around your neighborhood with whistle tips on their mufflers. I'm glad that this seems to be contained to Oakland and hasn't made its way to L.A.

The Bubb Rubb News Report

Because it's so comical, people have turned Bubb Rubb into an icon of sorts and have created some remixes that take out the news and leave us with Bubb Rubb in nothing but his woo-wooing glory.

A Bubb Rubb Remix

And if that wasn't enough, somebody made us a Bubb Rubb-Dukes of Hazzard clip that will leave your sides aching. I know that technology has too large of a role in our society but, with stuff like this coming out, it's hard not to overindulge.

The Bubb Rubb-Dukes of Hazzard Episode

Friday, April 3, 2009

Date and Debate Night or What Kind of a Guy is Christopher Hitchens?

Tomorrow night Josie, myself and another couple are going to dinner and then to a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. Josie has been referring to it as "Date and Debate" for weeks, which brings a little levity to what could be a rough night. I say that because I just finished Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and I'm having a hard time believing that Hitchens is going to be able to behave civilly in a room with 2000 Evangelical Christians. I'll list just three general thoughts that lead me to belive that, if I were to meet Hitchens at a party, I'd reconsider whether or not I wanted to be there.

1. How not to win friends and influence people (The personal problems)
I can't say that I was ever bored while reading the book and I have no criticisms of Hitchens as a wordsmith. But, if I was trying to convert people away from religion and to an atheistic-humanistic secularism, I sure wouldn't call those I was trying to win over "stupid/moronic/backwards/repressive/oppressive/evil" on every page of my book. There are plenty of Christians who have to learn this lesson also but, as Hitchens is one of today's leading atheists, he should be able to reach out a little more and keep the ad hominems to a minimum. I've heard and read many William Lane Craig debates and can say that this will not be a problem for him. Evangelicalism doesn't have too many more winsome than Craig.

2. Is everything on the table? (The factual problems)
Gary Habermas of Liberty University addresses these issues much more thoroughly and effectively in a recent article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, so I don't need to do it here. Nevertheless, Hitchens makes some claims that, on their face, are so outrageously false (or misrepresentative) that I couldn't help but wonder about the truthfulness of the claims of which I didn't have any firsthand knowledge.

a. Hitchens says, "The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of 'metaphor' and 'a Christ of faith.'" (p. 115) This claim can only come from someone who didn't actually ask any of Christianity's own "eminent scholars" for such explanations. My personal library alone—small as it is—has enough in it to provide reasonable answers to any of the claims that Hitchens raises in God is Not Great. I hope the general public is more investigative than he when asking serious questions about Christianity.

b. In a debate about the Resurrection of Jesus, the then-atheist Anthony Flew (who has recently renounced atheism for deism) made essentially the same following point as Hitchens. The latter phrased it this way, "exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence." (p. 143) I'm still thinking this through epistemologically, but I think I want to say that, depending on the claim, we don't necessarily need more evidence than is available, we just need the best possible explanation of the facts at hand. Hitchens says that the evidence for the Resurrection doesn't have nearly the evidence needed to justify belief in it. For a 2000-year-old event, the are quite a few known facts surrounding Jesus' supposed death, burial and the subsequent empty tomb. The issue is, given the facts at hand, whether or not the Resurrection is the best possible explanation. Hitchens is not off the hook by saying that there isn't enough evidence; he needs to offer an explanation of the facts that are there. Until he's done that, his dismissal of the case for the Resurrection is unwarranted. (My library also has plenty of material that offer reasonable explanations for the Resurrection of Jesus. Hitchens apparently didn't look at any of them either.)

c. After de-religionizing Martin Luther King, Jr., Hitchens makes the following claim about why it took so long to overcome slavery and racism in the United States, "The chance that someone's religious belief would cause him or her to take a stand against slavery and racism was statistically quite small. But the chance that someone's religious belief would cause him or her to uphold slavery and racism was statistically extremely high." (p. 180) It was, by Hitchens' telling, only once America became secular enough that it was able to eradicate slavery and marginalize racism. But given the Christian heritage of the U.S. and the robust possibility, logical consistency and modern reality of opposition to slavery and racism from a Christian worldview, Hitchens' claim falls flat. Supposed biblical justifications for slavery and racism have proved to be based on misunderstandings of the Bible rather than accurate reflections of Its teachings. Mistaking failures by those of a religious system for faults in the religion itself rarely leads to the proper conclusions.

3. Are we talking about apples or oranges? (The methodological problems)
Hitchens' main point is that all religion is bad. But, as he proceeds to make his case throughout 19 distinct chapters, he seems to jump to whatever point on the religious map he needs to in order to come up with a particular conclusion. One chapter will focus on Judaism and Hinduism while another will highlight Mormonism and Buddhism with the next honing in on Christianity and Islam. And he will talk of atrocities from a 3000-year-old incident in the same breath as a something from today's headlines. It's as though all religions are the same in the end and that any apparent differences in worldview are secondary to the fact that they all harm and hinder. It's a kind of reverse religious pluralism where, instead of all religions leading to God, all religions lead to evil. But if you are going to take religions seriously, you have to factor in the distinctives of each and how those distinctives disallow a melting pot approach to God (either positively or negatively). I'm not going to encourage Hitchens to write another book but, I think this one would have been more effective if he would have treated each religion individually and attempted to disprove each one. By loosely lumping them all together and not specifying his assaults he leaves gaping holes in his argument and his premise far from proven.

I'm on the side of religion so, of course, I'm not going to praise Hitchens for his work. He's made me think about some things but, more than that, he's upheld my confidence in the coherence, veracity and beauty of Christianity. I'm sure this wasn't his goal but I'll thank him anyway. I think the debate will be interesting tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it. But I hope to see a more personable side to Hitchens than I have in God is Not Great. Not because I want his atheism to be more palatable—we score more points when he acts so unbecomingly—but because I want to see some proof that there is some humanity behind his "humanism."