Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rightly-Ordered vs. Wrongly-Ordered Desires

This post came from a few different conversations I have had over the past few days. Something that American evangelical Christianity is largely not talking about is whether and to what degree we will accept the idea of those who identify as both Christian and LGBT+. Now, strictly speaking, we arehaving this conversation. But we’re missing one or more key points of discussion, and it is to these that we now turn (over two separate posts).

First, consider rightly-ordered and wrongly-ordered desires. To illustrate this, we’ll initially look at another kind of right order. Suppose a war veteran has lost a limb (say an arm). This war veteran lost his arm through no fault of his own; he is not culpable for his state of having lost that limb (he lost it in battle and not through negligence or self-harm). Yet there is something wrongly ordered with his body (not “wrong” in a moral sense, but in an intended sense); something is not the way it was supposedto be. It doesn’t make them any less of a person, nor is the veteran blameworthy in any way.

Something similar can go on with desires. Let’s pick a desire that most everyone would say is unhealthy or wrongly-ordered: pedophilia. Let’s suppose someone came to you and said he identified as a “Christian pedophile,” albeit a non-practicing one. We would recognize, even if he had done nothing to cultivate this desire, that this was wrongly-ordered; it isn’t the way things were meant to be.

In the same way, when someone says they are a non-practicing Christian homosexual, we should recognize that even if this person’s desires are not directly chosen, or even indirectly chosen (say, cultivated by watching pornography or something), these desires are wrongly ordered; they are not the way God created us to be. This doesn’t mean the person is culpable for their desires, nor does it make them any less of a person made in the image of God. But it does mean we ought to be careful in celebrating or even “normalizing” a kind of “Christian homosexuality.” 

In C.S. Lewis’ argument from desire (check it out via Google), the idea is that basic desires have a fulfilment in the natural world. I would expand this (and I think this was Lewis’ intention anyway) to rightly-ordered desires. If there is a rightly-ordered desire, there is a right way to fulfil it in the natural world. The rightly-ordered desire for sexual union can be fulfilled in the right context of marriage between a woman and a man. If we do not distinguish between rightly and wrongly-ordered desires in the cases of Christian homosexuals, we will be only a half-step away from arguing for same-sex marriages (albeit monogamous ones).

We must love our brothers and sisters who have these desires. And we (who do not have this struggle) must be willing to admit we cannot understand their experiences and temptations specifically. And we must find a way to have these people be full members of the body of Christ, just as every believer, wherever they find themselves, should be—with fully biblical and orthodox views, as this is the way life was intended to be. We must also have an eschatological view, as Jesus Christ’s return and kingdom is what will set everything right. In the end—after the kingdom, resurrection, judgment, and all—all of our tears will be wiped away. All of our longings and experiences will be fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. May he truly come quickly. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Technology and the Objectifying of People

I’ve been wondering about the role of technology in our everyday lives. I’ve heard a claim that a study suggested we naturally view others online (such as in social media platforms) as objects. Objects are there for us to be used, and when they don’t conform to the usage we require (or when they fail to meet our needs or wants in some other way), we become frustrated with them. That frustration is likely due to a lack of control over the object that we should have (or think we should have). So when the TV remote fails to work, or when our phone’s battery inexplicably starts draining toward zero in the middle of an activity, we get upset.

Sometimes that frustration translates to outward words and actions, such as throwing the remote down in disgust, yelling at the “stupid” phone, etc. But what does this have to do with social media and technology? With Facebook (or Twitter, especially), we are or can be isolated from any other humans while communicating online. This communication often occurs with little context beforehand, often allowing us to communicate both with loved ones as well as complete strangers. When we view people online as objects, we fail to view them as human beings. That may sound simplistic, but it’s worth ruminating on.

Perhaps the best analogue may be video games. I grew up with the Super Nintendo, and played a little of xbox (the original, kids!) in college. Whenever you played by yourself (or maybe with someone else who was in the same room), you would play against the “computer,” or, as we say now, the “AI.” The AI could be easy to defeat. In these cases, you don’t mind much the AI, because it poses virtually no real challenge; it presents an obstacle to your success almost in name only. Consider the very first walking mushroom bad-guy thingy on Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo. You only die off there if you’ve never played before, there’s a malfunction, or you got way too cocky to pay attention at all. Even though the AI is an object (or objects), you don’t mind—you may even be pleased—because it’s pretty much doing what you want it to do.

But the AI, especially in today’s gaming world, can often be maddeningly difficult to overcome. In these cases, it’s a very different story—one that often involves some colorful language, and perhaps the violent throwing of an unsuspecting fellow object. The more the object fails to perform in the way we would like or expect—the more we are prevented from achieving our goal or goals—the more frustrated, and abusive, we become.

So it is with our fellow humans on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Perhaps our goal is to convince someone of our political position, or just to express approval for the “best” kind of dog. But then these goals are not always realized, because someone disagreed, or someone wasn’t even talking to you but posted something we thought was clearly wrong. We may be viewing people on the Internet as AI. Inasmuch as the AI online are doing what we want, we approve. When the AI does not or impedes us in some way, we become frustrated, and unleash all the abuse and vitriol that goes along with it.

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “I don’t do that!” And perhaps you do not. Not everyone does. But nearly always this person is intentional about it, or has cultivated the kind of character that shows kindness to people, as creations made in the image of God. Our default, without this cultivation and intentionality, is to treat people online as AI. And this is not necessarily limited to strangers. To the degree we are prevented from realizing our goals we are also frustrated by the AI. So in a situation where we care greatly about the outcome (say a political or theological debate), even our loved ones may suffer online in a way they may not were we to discuss it in person.

Why is this? We were created to be in community. This community is naturally intended to be face-to-face. This can be replicated to some degree online, with Skype and phone conversations (not so much for text). But it is very difficult to do much with e-mail, text, Facebook, etc. To be sure, there are exceptions, but even these seem to have such relationships increase greatly with more “traditional” forms of contact. When we lack this face-to-face community, we suffer social consequences of isolation. This affects us as people. Even if we have a robust social life outside of online interactions, the people we lack real community with are closer to the AI: they are meeting some need or goal (entertaining us, paying us compliments, etc.) or failing to do so (opposing us intellectually, communicating things or in ways we do not approve of, etc.).

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about AI is that if they oppose you, you cannot control them. You can only overcome or destroy them. So it is online. With people, you cannot make them change their views or their behavior. So you can only overcome them (e.g., overwhelm them with your arguments, unfriend them, etc.) or destroy them (e.g., berate them until they go away). And the best part? In this scenario, the AI also treats you like you’re AI. So good news.

What do we do? I propose we recognize the Christian doctrine that teaches all humans are made in the image of God. Second, we seek to serve people online, rather than have them serve us (Philippians 2:4). Third, we should be involved in our real-world communities and spheres of influence. I have been guilty of viewing people as objects in the past, and perhaps together, in communities both online and in the real world, we will grow.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Faithful and Just to Forgive

I recently heard a song on the radio that mentioned God “is faithful and just to forgive us.” And I know that’s right—it is, after all, from 1 John 1:9! However, I immediately realized something. My entire life I focused on the term “faithful.” For me, 1 John 1:9 was a testimony to God’s faithfulness in his saving those who would confess their sins and want to follow him. Surely, this is true. However, I always glossed over the words “and just.” It is just for God to forgive us! What a thought! God doesn’t simply shrug his shoulders at sin and overlook justice for a tiny microsecond. No, when we receive salvation, in a sense we’re getting what we deserve.


What? Has Randy gone crazy? No, not at all. Rather, in this short post I want to point out that we are given Christ’s righteousness. He is the one who never sinned, and who deserves nothing less than all of God’s riches and treasure. We are said to be joint-heirs with Jesus Christ in Romans 8:17. He will get what he deserves; we will be made part of that! Of course, the fact that we’re made part of it is itself grace; it is an instance of us getting what we don’t deserve. But it is fundamentally right and just for God to then forgive us. What a comforting thought!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Review of Craig-Wielenberg Debate on Morality

There was a debate held tonight at N.C. State University in Raleigh, NC, between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and Eric Wielenberg, an academic philosopher at DePaul (not 100% sure about which school). The debate format featured an opening, two responses, and a closing, followed by a Q-and-A. Two responses felt like a bit much, as the participants ended up repeating each other somewhat. The question was something like: What is the most plausible foundation for objective moral values and duties? Craig offered the theistic solution, while Wielenberg argued for what he called “godless normative realism.” What follows is my scattered and only slightly cleaned-up notes, plus some concluding evaluation.

Craig opening: Godless normative realism is just Moral Platonism (akin to mathematical Platonism); conceptual reality for most, but Platonists must say there are real abstract objects. When the right physical situations occur, these abstract objects supervene on the situations. What this means is that moral duties are superveniences on physical objects and situations. What Wielenberg needs is a rationally compelling argument against the presumption against Platonism (or a knockdown argument for Platonism). No rationally compelling arguments against the presumption against Platonism exist. Theists do not face such a problem, since God is a concrete, not abstract, object. Supervenience account seems unintelligible. Wielenberg claims physical objects cause the abstract objects to supervene on physical situations; Craig says this is super-duper-venience (utterly mysterious). How can this happen? Wielenberg appeals to theistic causation as an example; this won’t work due to the difference of concrete objects, as listed above. Another problem is as-follows: What if these physical objects pick out some other abstract object instead of the right one? Some are only contingently caused. That is, what if the physical object, when one is a brain-state like love, picks out the abstract object of the square root of 4? What accounts for the correct physical-abstract pairing? Wielenberg appeals to divine concurrence as an example.. This fails due to God’s being a personal agent. Wielenberg does not have agency here. He postulates decisive moral reasons for acting constitutes obligations. However, this eliminates supererogation (moral heroes going above and beyond the call of duty). This also is only for instrumental actions (or conditional obligation, “If you want to act morally, then do this”). In other words, godless normative realism can only get you that such-and-such is moral and that if you want tobe moral, do such-and-such; it cannot get you the further fact that you ought to do such-and-such. This view also subverts moral duties by undermining freedom of the will, according to Craig. Mental supervenes on the physical; you are a machine; machines are not obligated to do anything. There is no enduring self. Thus no one can be held accountable for particular acts. Moral knowledge is also impossible, due to Plantinga’s EAAN. The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, in brief, states that if naturalism and evolution were true, then our cognitive faculties are aimed at survival, not necessarily truth. If this is the case, then, probably, we have a defeater for every belief we hold (this is because, for all we would know, our entire belief set is held for survival purposes only, and only incidentally gets at the truth rarely, if at all. But if you have a defeater for every belief, then you have a defeater for evolutionary naturalism. This also applies to knowledge from evolutionary naturalism about morality!

Wielenberg opening: He gives a story about a suffering child and one’s obligation to save them. He claims that moral features of things are fundamental features of reality. Craig’s view has all the same problems as his does, so why should these problems count against Wielenberg? First, the causal connection problem attends to theistic causal views. Second, what explains why there is a necessary connection between an act commanded by God and an obligation to do that thing? Third, how to the possible worlds know how to generate God? Fourth, dualism posits things not accounted for in physics. Fifth, no argument by Craig for no self. Sixth, it could be that mental states and physical states are identical and thus accounted for. Seventh, physical and immaterial interactions are also problematic. Eighth, as to moral supererogation, Christianity has the same problem (e.g., love one another). His view can be tweaked by having exclusionary permission. This is the view that there is value in performing our own goals for our lives (if they are moral); in these cases, acting on moral reasons anyway is supererogatory. It is implausible that God’s commands are what constitute moral obligations, since we can just see that someone in need ought to be helped, for example. Next, people must be aware of the commands and of the authority of the one giving the commandment. Craig’s view makes moral obligations inexplicable.

Craig response: Frames the issues of Wielenberg’s responses to Craig: 1. Craig’s view arbitrarily singles out divine commands: Craig denies this; there can be multiple sources, but commands are the highest in the order. God issues general commands to all of humanity; in any specific situation it is up to us to apply that general principle. 2. Craig’s view implies non-believers have no obligations since they are not aware. On Christianity, God has written the law on their hearts, so that they do have such obligations. 3. Craig’s view makes morally wrong acts inexplicable, since God commands them to do what he knows they won’t do. Didn’t catch fully his response here. No powerful objections by Wielenberg to first contention. Second: So’s-your-old-man response. The alleged problem with the view of Wielenberg is unresolved. Second, if opponent can show any relevant difference, then the strategy collapses. Next, even given moral Platonism, there are still formidable objections: first, the account of supervenience seems unintelligible; Wielenberg says it is also obscure how non-physical entities can be causally connected to physical entities. It’s not as obscure though! We have experience of our own causal connection, even if we don’t know how it works. Craig can’t know why God’s commanding gives us a powerful reason to do it, Wielenberg claims. Theists are not naturalists, so this is not relevant. After all, on Wielenberg’s view, obtaining reasons that direct one to a moral action is the naturalistic one. Craig responds that possible worlds do not instantiate God, so something of a category error has been committed. Supererogation: the tweak contradicts his own view; it is no longer godless natural realism accounting for morality, but this new principle. Freedom of the will: reductionism has been largely rejected by philosophers of mind. Moral knowledge is impossible: EAAN: needs to be addressed.

Wielenberg’s response: Craig’s view needs to make sense of morality as well or better than Wielenberg’s view, and it’s not clear he has. So the tu quoque is relevant, says Wielenberg. He doubles down on lack of theory being the equalizer. Great-making properties: how do these actually cause God to be great? Mental states are not brain states according to Craig. Wielenberg claims this is inaccurate; that philosophers of mind don’t reject the view as Craig says. We don’t know how souls can possess agency, so there’s no special problem for Wielenberg. EAAN: unguided evolution has made rational creatures, so EAAN is doubtful. Be perfect is a Christian obligation to show there is no supererogation. As for Craig’s intuitive remarks, psychopaths refute this. Wielenberg discusses, basically, Molinism. Craig’s idea: I deserve punishment, so God commands me to help; if I can be punished, then command is not needed; if command is violated, then that can’t be a reason for the command (deserving of punishment). The million Holocausts objection to God’s presence needed: if you could lift a finger and prevent a million Holocausts, it is evident, morally, you should do it, even if you receive no command.

Craig’s second: Craig’s view is arbitrary; we do experience duties, but this doesn’t reveal to us the ultimate source. Psychopaths: if they don’t know the difference for real, they are not culpable. Craig did not say by issuing commands God is able to hold those who do wrong responsible; rather, able to those who do evil acts, so no circularity. A problem with Wielenberg’s account is the kind of causal connection, not primarily how it works. Great-making properties: this is a misconceived objection, same as possible worlds, since great-making properties are just things it’s better for a perfect being to have than to lack, not things that “generate” God. “Christianity has no supererogation”: perfect obedience does not entail there are no supererogatory acts. Freedom of the will: mental states and brain states have different properties, meaning mental states are not reducible. Mental states cannot cause anything not already determined by brain states. Causal agency is necessary for free will. Physical states do not have brain states. Wielenberg denies initial premise of EAAN. This is question-begging.

Wielenberg second: Craig’s great-making God must just be so, which is a tu quoque. Supererogation: Craig didn’t address this. Craig’s phil of mind claims are controversial. Craig appealed to Plantinga’s EAAN, which solves nothing. Consider that the lighter is reliable. In the same way, unguided evolution produces mostly true beliefs. The million Holocausts objection again. Craig says an order is needed. Reiterating evil act circularity objection. Psychopaths objection pressed again. Combined with Craig’s evil/wrong distinction, so that psychopaths should be punished, but if they don’t perceive the wrong, they shouldn’t be.

Craig closing: First, theism provides sound foundation of objective moral values (God as concrete object). Second, it provides for objective moral duties. Objections have been morphing throughout, not consistent. Several powerful objections to godless normative realism. Correction on EAAN.

Wielenberg closing: Million Holocausts again. Craig’s view predicts no morally wrong actions. Now introduces pointless evil; evildoing merits punishment. Psychopaths are plausible exceptions to what Craig says, which means they don’t have obligations; however they are evildoers; Craig’s view requires that psychopaths then do have moral obligations.

Evaluation: I will try to keep this brief. I thought Wielenberg did well; better, in fact, than the average Craig opponent. However, I thought his criticisms of Craig were more often than not based on misunderstandings, and what was perhaps his best critique of Craig wasn’t fully articulated until the closing statement, which was unfortunate. Craig seemed to get the best of Wielenberg several times—especially with respect to the EAAN. I will say, before going back to earlier points in the debate, Wielenberg’s handling of the EAAN was his poorest aspect. In response to the EAAN, Wielenberg claims we can just look around at the kind of things naturalism has produced, to see if they have regularly true beliefs. This is both question-begging and circular! Question-begging because he assumes naturalism is true—which is the very thing under question! The whole point of the EAAN is to figure out if it’s true—you can’t very well respond to an argument for its falsehood by saying, “Well, since naturalism is true, we know that evolution and naturalism do yield true beliefs on a good enough scale!” It’s circular because it turns out that one would have to be using his cognitive faculties to know that the cognitive faculties around him were functioning toward truth, in general.

It seems to me Craig was pretty right on in his critique of Wielenberg’s account. Additionally, he did fairly well against Wielenberg’s critiques. I wanted to address a couple. First, Wielenberg didn’t seem to appreciate fully the distinction between objective moral values and duties. If you do evil (value), you should be punished. But God’s commands constitute your duties, so God gives a command (duty). Thus, evildoers are punished. But what about non-believers? These people do not recognize God’s authority and do not know about God’s commands. Craig’s intended meaning becomes clear: he means normally functioning people do receive God’s commands in the form of general moral knowledge on the heart. So what about psychopaths?

The psychopath objection ultimately was Wielenberg’s best, in my opinion. Eventually, the idea is this: Craig says that evildoers have commands by God that give them an obligation that they flout—otherwise, they would get away with murder. Psychopaths do evil, so on Craig’s view, they get a command and now have an obligation not to do it. But, plausibly, psychopaths do not know the difference between right and wrong and so, on Craig’s view, do not have an obligation. So now psychopaths both do and do not have an obligation, and anything that generates a contradiction is absurd.

The answer to this for Craig came out in the Q-and-A: Craig means this as a normally functioning thing. He doesn’t mean this for the mentally disabled, or infants, or psychopaths (if indeed they truly do not perceive right and wrong at all). Thus they simply have no moral obligation, and no contradiction is generated.

As for the “Million Holocaust” objection, I think this is answered by asking a single question. Recall the objection is that if you could stop a million Holocausts by raising a single finger, you would have an obligation to do so, even in the absence of a command by God. Since God’s commands are what constitute moral obligation, there must be something wrong with Craig’s view.

It seems to me the answer is clear: ask the question, “Why?” Why is it we would be obligated to help? Suppose Wielenberg answers, “Because if you can help prevent people from dying then, all things being equal, you should,” then Craig can plausibly claim this just is what is meant by general commands from God. Preserve life. Love people. These two general commands clearly find application here.

What about, finally, Wielenberg’s claim that in order to be obligated by an authority one must recognize that authority? Craig quite accurately pointed out this isn’t true. He appealed to an example by Matt Flannagan that I will paraphrase loosely here: suppose you are walking along a large farm and come to a gate. This gate is closed, and has a sign that says “No admittance. Violators will be punished.” You don’t know who placed the sign, but you are aware that there is a rule and there is a rule-giver, and this is plausibly enough to place an obligation on you not to enter (it would be disingenuous to enter on the grounds that you weren’t familiar with the authority who wrote it, and so didn’t find the sign to be conveying obligatory acts). The same goes for morality.


In the final analysis, I found Wielenberg to be a nice guy who has some interesting thoughts, and he did better than your average Craig opponent. With the exception of the EAAN (where he appeared to be dealing with it for the first time, at places), he appeared to be familiar with Craig’s arguments and responses. However, Craig countered almost every single objection, and provided devastating (I think) objections of his own. He further shared the Gospel message in the Q-and-A portion! I enjoyed it, and I hope others did, too!

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Sin that So Easily Besets Men

This post is intended for men. It’s not that women can’t read it or won’t get anything out of it, but you’ll see. Virtually all men struggle at various times with the temptation of pornography.[1] This comes from men’s struggle with lust. Much of the time, we pretend like only the “bad” men struggle with this, so we leave it to ourselves to figure out, on our own, instead of utilizing the resources of our fellow brothers within the body of Christ. When I say it’s virtually all men, I am serious. I can only think of one guy I’ve ever met who didn’t struggle with it (and I believed him). I am nonetheless continually surprised that even pastors struggle with it (as though they were not human).

What do I mean by “struggle”? People often get the impression that “struggle” means a continual falling in this sin. It may surprise you to know that by “struggle” I mean being presented with a temptation (regardless of whether you fall). Thus, one can struggle with a sin even if he has not fallen into it for quite some time. This is an everyday struggle for men—even the spiritual men, even the godly men, even the men who would never say anything about it. This includes me. Christian women may find themselves incredulous that nearly every man they know struggles with this, but they do!

Some men think, “So what’s the problem with what I think, or see? It only affects me, not others.” While doubtless few Christian men would say this, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an occasional attitude. The problem is that it does affect you. It affects the way you see women; instead of as creations made in the image of God, you start to see them as objects to be desired, pursued, and obtained or conquered. Sin affects a person, and a person affects the people around them. Thus, what you think in your heart and what you see and allow your mind to be influenced by has an affect on those around you—and it’s often the ones you love the most who are hurt.

So if we’re going to talk about it, what should we do? What I propose is neither original to me nor exhaustive, but here are some suggestions nonetheless:

1.     Be honest about it. We must start with confession and repentance if we’re going to go anywhere. Confess and repent before God. He shows grace, mercy, and forgiveness!
2.     Find accountability partners, both “on your level” and “above your level.” By that I mean find someone who is going through the same thing you are (wherever on the struggle you might be), and find someone else who has gained more of a victory in his life who will help you. The fellowship in these two relationships will help you. Too often, we only find someone who is on the same level, and one of two things happen: A. We end up dropping the accountability, since no one wants to admit they are struggling, or B. We both end up falling and are honest, but the consistent refrain is basically “that’s OK.”
3.     Get accountability software. This doesn’t ensure you have a pure mind—far from it—but it does help give you some peace of mind. Your accountability partners are notified each week of your activities online. It isn’t for the purpose of “gotcha!”—rather, it’s for the purpose of encouragement and interceding for each other in times of weakness.
4.     Get a Scripture reading and prayer plan. This can be a formal program/devotional that you know of, or one of your own making, but being in the Word is essential. As Chuck Lawless recently wrote on his blog (paraphrased), I don’t know of anyone who was daily and deeply in the Word and in prayer who fell while doing this. It’s not a legalistic remedy; you have to want to be in prayer and in the Word. But it’s strange: as you do it, you want to do it more. Good habits perpetuate good habits; bad habits perpetuate bad habits. And if you allow the Word to take root in your heart, you may find yourself starting to grow!
5.     Know that “victory” is relative and on-going. I am the kind of person who expects and wants to get to a particular point, have a one-time victory, and never struggle again. But this is not always (or even usually) the way it works with sins that truly tempt us. Some sins’ temptations never go away, and thus victory isn’t a one-time event; it is instead an everyday battle. This is simultaneously discouraging and encouraging. It is encouraging because you can gain a victory every day!
6.     After you have had a bit of success, consider mentoring others. Why keep victory to yourself? Others need prayer and intercession, wisdom and discussion. Don’t perpetuate the false idea that this is something dealt with alone, in shame and guilt. That leads to . . .
7.     Recognize the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to provide forgiveness and grace, and praise Him for it. Too often, we act as though anyone guilty of this kind of sin is branded with this kind of sin for life. Nothing could be more anti-Gospel. God has forgiven us, and we must forgive and restore also. When you are discouraged, or if someone else is, speak and meditate on the Gospel. Jesus Christ died for you and for your sins, for your forgiveness, and to show you grace in becoming the type of person you were always meant to be, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Son, and according to the will of the Father. God’s grace is so much more glorious than my failures, and yours too!

Lastly, know that I will stand with you and pray with you (most of you know how to contact me; if you don’t, you can always ask in the comments section of any post). We’re all in this together; this is why God created biblical community (of course, be connected to your local church, too)! Any other advice you would give to someone facing down sins of sexual purity in thoughts or actions? Talk about it below.




[1] While increasing numbers of women struggle with this, I am quite unqualified to speak to women in this manner. Nonetheless, some of the principles I suggest could be used by them.