June 14, 2018

Culture of Confusion

Tower of Babel, by Athanasius Kircher 1679
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 14, 2018

Culture of Confusion

Recently I read Abdu Murray's fine book Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity ina Post-Truth World (Zondervan 2018). According to Murray, who is North American director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, our society has elevated subjective preference over truth, including moral truth. As a result, we live in a Culture of Confusion.

According to Murray, in the name of freedom we seek autonomy. But Murray adds, “Freedom operates at its best within the confines of the truth.” Unfortunately, “Boundaries are foreign to pure autonomy, which means that truth is being sacrificed on autonomy's alter.”

To be autonomous is to be a law unto oneself. This is nothing new: it began with Adam and Eve.

What's new are its present manifestations: increase of fake news, proliferation of sexual and gender-identity confusion, decay of reasoning skills, increased intolerance (disguised as “tolerance”).

As I read Murray's book, I couldn't help but think of recent school shootings. No doubt the causes are multi-faceted and vary from case to case. But I suspect an important underlying factor is the post-truth view that one's subjective preference is more important than objective truth: we are who/ what we prefer to be and ethics are wholly subjective.

Also, as I thought about the school shootings, there was something eerily familiar with the claim that my preferences are what matter most.

Then I remembered another fine book by the late philosopher Louis Pojman: Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 3rd edition (Wadsworth/Thomson 1999).

In this book Pojman wisely and correctly argues that ethics are NOT wholly subjective. To illustrate the terrible consequences of a wholly subjective, preference-view of ethics, Pojman presents an interview with Ted Bundy (1946-1989), the man who raped and murdered 20+ women.

Here is a lengthy paraphrase of a tape-recorded conversation between Bundy and one of his victims, from Pojman's book:

“Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments.”

“Believe it or not, I figured out for myself—what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself—that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring—the strength of character—to throw off its shackles…. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited.”

“And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings, with human rights?”

“Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’?”

“In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure that I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.” (Pojman, Ethics, 31-32.)

Bundy, a law student, was clearly a product of a Culture of Confusion, i.e., a culture that elevates subjective preference over objective moral truth.

Today the Culture of Confusion characterizes many of our public institutions.

Parents, do you know what your children are learning at school?

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

May 31, 2018

Planned Parenthood is a Scam

Washington DC, February 11, 2017 - Getty Images
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 31, 2018

Planned Parenthood is a Scam

Planned Parenthood (PP) is North America's largest abortion provider, known for promoting abortion as a major means to help and show compassion to women and children. PP is also known for selling body parts of aborted fetuses.

Let's bracket discussion of PP's sale of baby parts for another column. Here are three (other) reasons for thinking PP is a scam.

1. Mother's Day

Last Mother's Day (May 13th), PP tweeted the following messages:

“Happy #MothersDay! Planned Parenthood is proud to celebrate mothers in the U.S. and around the world. We're committed to fighting for a world where all mothers can live healthy lives, and raise their children in peace.”

“Every woman should be able to decide if and when to be a mother.”

“All women should have the choice to do what they want with their own body.”

In response, Micaiah Bilger of LifeNews.com astutely offered the following critique:

“Though Planned Parenthood pretends otherwise, women who have abortions already are mothers. At the moment of their unborn child’s conception, they became mothers.”

Bilger adds: “And the abortions that Planned Parenthood sells by the hundreds of thousands a year do not give women a choice about 'if and when to be a mother.' They merely make women the mothers of dead babies.”

I would add: Yes, women should have the choice to do what they want with their own body, but abortion kills someone else's body.

PP promoting motherhood by killing children is like Habitat for Humanity reducing homelessness by killing the homeless.

2. Euphemism

The words “planned parenthood” are a euphemism.

A euphemism is a nice way of describing what is in fact not nice. My wife and I taught our young sons to say “I'm going to the washroom (which is a euphemism) instead of “I'm going to take a …. (you get the picture).

Because of PP's embrace and promotion of abortion (according to former PP employees, PP even has abortion quotas to help the PP organization stay financially flush), the name Planned Parenthood disguises the reality that “planning” one's family includes DESTROYING unwanted children.


Abortion tears babies' limbs from torsos, crushes babies' heads, and sucks babies' body parts through a tube that could probably serve as a shop-vac.

If the euphemism “planned parenthood justifies killing one's children, then does “planning dinner justify poisoning one's dinner guests?

3. Three percent

PP defends itself by arguing abortion is only a tiny bit—3%—of what PP does. But pro-life activist Lila Rose casts serious doubt on PP's claim:

“Planned Parenthood would like you to believe that abortion is only 3% of the total services they provide. 3%. Doesn't sound like very much, does it?

“But here's how they get to that 3%. They count every 'discrete clinical interaction' as its own service.

“What is a 'discrete clinical interaction'? Pretty much anything you do from the moment you walk into one of their clinics.

“I'll give you an example. Let's say a woman comes into Planned Parenthood for one service: an abortion. Before providing an abortion, Planned Parenthood has to confirm that the woman is pregnant, right? So they administer another service: a pregnancy test. That's two services. Then, after the abortion on your way out the door, they hand you a prescription. That's three services.

“And there are many other services provided during the abortion process that Planned Parenthood claims as 'discrete clinical interactions.'

“In this way Planned Parenthood is able to rack up 9.5 million of these so-called services each year. Divide the number of abortions—321,000—by 9.5 million, and you get 3%.

Rose continues: “Even the Washington Post, a Planned Parenthood ally, declared this 3% figure 'very misleading.'

“Rich Lowry of National Review nicely illustrated this phony statistic: 'It would be like major league baseball saying they sell 20 million hotdogs, but only play 2,430 games, so baseball is only 0.012% of what they do.'

PP is a scam.

For additional thought: 

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

May 17, 2018

The Case for Miracles

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May  17, 2018

The Case for Miracles

What is a miracle? Have miracles happened? Do they occur today? Should we believe miracle reports?

If you have seriously wondered about these sorts of questions, then I recommend Lee Strobel's new book: The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (Zondervan 2018).

Strobel, a former atheist but now Christian, begins the book by interviewing Michael Shermer, a former Christian but now skeptic. Shermer has degrees in psychology and biology, plus a doctorate in the history of science, and is publisher of Skeptic magazine. Shermer argues against miracles.

At first, Shermer's arguments seem strong. But then Strobel takes an investigative journey (like he does in his other “Case for…” books) to talk with experts who disagree.

Here are some highlights.

Concerning Shermer's appeal to a famous argument against belief in miracles by Scottish skeptical philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), Strobel interviews New Testament scholar Craig Keener, author of the massive two-volume Miracles (Baker Academic 2011).

It turns out Hume's argument is question-begging: it assumes as established what is at issue—it sneaks the conclusion into the premises. Hume assumes miracles are maximally improbable, so all miracle reports are always unbelievable. But, unnoticed by Hume, whether miracles are improbable and whether miracle reports are credible are issues only open-minded investigation can resolve.

In other words, Hume's argument fails—miserably. (I can attest to the correctness of this verdict, since I studied Hume's argument for my master's and doctoral degrees in philosophy.)

Significantly, Hume's (and Shermer's) claim that there aren't well-attested-to miracles is simply false. In Strobel's interview with Keener, Keener sets out a wonderful summary of his aforementioned two-volume study. There is in fact much good evidence—sometimes excellent evidence—that miracles have occurred in the past and even today.

Concerning Shermer's appeal to a so-called “gold standard” prayer study that allegedly debunks the effectiveness of prayer, Strobel interviews Candy Gunther Brown, who has three degrees from Harvard and is professor of religious studies at Indiana University.

It turns out that the study touted by Shermer is faulty. The people praying included a group that “doesn't believe in miracles, doesn't believe in a personal God outside of us who intervenes in people's lives, and doesn't believe it's even appropriate to ask for supernatural help.”

According to Gunther Brown, two other studies that include prayers from actual believers contradict Shermer's favoured but flawed study. In these studies healings seem very much to take place in answer to prayer, especially if the prayers follow the pattern set out by the New Testament. Gunther Brown's conclusion: “Something is going on, and it surely warrants further investigation.”

In a chapter on dreams and visions, Strobel interviews Tom Doyle, a missionary to Muslims. Many Muslims today are having “high-definition Jesus dreams” that draw them to accepting Jesus as Lord.

When asked whether it's more reasonable to believe that these dreams are mere coincidence and not supernatural, Doyle responds, “That would take a lot more faith to believe.”

Strobel also looks at the universe as a miracle writ large. In an interview with University of Oklahoma physicist Michael Straus, Straus makes the case that the big bang beginning of the universe coupled with its fine tuning points to God. Straus addresses the objection that multiverse theory explains the fine tuning (it doesn't because it lacks evidence) and the objection “Who made God?” (nobody did).

On the resurrection of Jesus, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and cold-case detective. Wallace argues that the evidence for Jesus' miraculous resurrection is strong. Even compelling (if one doesn't question-beg à la Hume).

Another chapter is titled “When Miracles Don't Happen.” Strobel interviews Denver Seminary philosopher Douglas Groothuis, whose wife has dementia. This is a tough chapter to read, because both Groothuis and his wife are suffering terribly, and God seems silent.

Nevertheless, Groothuis holds that the positive evidence for Jesus' miraculous resurrection is strong—and gives hope to him and Becky.

In sum, Strobel's book well handles positive evidence for miracles and tough objections. I commend it to believers and skeptics alike.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

May 03, 2018

PM hurts my head (x4)

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 3, 2018

PM hurts my head (x4)

Recently Justin Trudeau defended his values test for the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program with the following:

“The Liberal Party of Canada is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we will always stand up to defend Canadians' Charter rights. And organizations that cannot ensure that they will abide by the principles in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and indeed will work to take away Charter rights of Canadians, will not get funding from this government. I know that members opposite don't like that because it means standing up for women's rights and reproductive rights, but it also means we will be unequivocal in always standing up to defend the Charter rights of all Canadians.”

Head hurt #1

Though women have legal access safe abortions (when needed), it is not true that women have a carte blanche Charter right to abortion (whenever wanted).

In fact, in 1988 Canada’s then abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) not because abortion is a woman’s right, but because there wasn’t equal access across Canada to therapeutic abortion committees. The SCC struck down the extant law and asked parliament to make a better law for women and unborn children, suggesting a gestational-age approach.

Again: The SCC did NOT say that abortion is a woman’s right. (Note: that X is legal does not mean we have a positive right to X, like legal marijuana doesn't mean we have a right to marijuana.)

Head hurt #2

The PM says CSJ program ensures “organizations that cannot ensure that they will abide by the principles in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and indeed will work to take away Charter rights of Canadians, will not get funding from this government."

Let's set aside head hurt #1 for the moment. Even if we grant that women have a Charter right to abortion (contrary to fact), and even if we grant that there are some organizations working to take away Charter rights (which is dubious), then the PM is cutting off an arm to fix a broken finger.

Think about it. The CSJ program prevents many charitable organizations that feed the hungry, help the homeless, and serve the poor from receiving funding. Why? Because they merely disagree with abortion.

Hence, these many charitable organizations are clumped among the few anti-abortion activist groups even though the charitable organizations are not anti-abortion activist groups.

Head hurt #3

This is a doozey, so, dear reader, brace yourself.

A deep philosophical problem arises from the PM's reference to the “principles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” to which the CSJ program asks employers to attest.

The Charter explicitly states this: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

This means that for Canadians who believe God exists—and there are many—for them God’s revelations by Scripture or conscience trump government’s requirements for citizens to “attest” to whatever goes against these.

This also means that many Canadians believe God has given all humans—unborn children included—the right to life. In other words, these Charter-abiding Canadians cannot “attest” that they agree with “reproductive rights” when those include the right to kill a child.

One might ask, So what? It's this: at the get-go the CSJ program and its “attestation” requirement infringes on Charter section 15 rights—i.e., it infringes on the rights to equal benefit of the law—of those religious employers who take seriously Canadian law and its underlying God-related principles. Hence, blatant and unjust discrimination is built into Trudeau's CSJ program.

Significantly, it seems the only way for the PM to get around this is for him to think he is, or speaks for, God. But surely most Canadian Christians, Muslims, Jews, Baha'i's, Sikhs, and Hindus—and Atheists—would beg to differ.

Head hurt #4

Trudeau defends using the CSJ program to fund an anti-pipeline activist group: “we believe in free speech and we believe in advocacy.” Huh?

Bartender, may I have a quadruple shot of Tylenol please?

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor Philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.