Pray for my younger brother Aaron

3 days ago, my younger brother Aaron was found drowned near his home.

CPR resuscitated him, but he is in a coma in the hospital. Please pray for him and read a psalm on his behalf.

Here’s a picture of Aaron (center) at his work, taken just last week:

Here’s Aaron with his 3 kids:

Over the weekend, Aaron was upgraded from critical to stable, but he remains in a coma. My dad and older brother are with him in the hospital in Jerusalem, where Aaron is breathing with aid of a ventilator.

Yesterday we got word that Aaron is responding to verbal commands – wonderful news! – but he still remains in a coma. Please pray for his healing, friends.

The Two Greatest Logical Arguments for God’s Existence

Summary: William Lane Craig, a leading defender of belief in God, says the most persuasive arguments for God’s existence are the Cosmological Argument and the Moral Argument. What are they? I explain below.

There is perhaps no greater living defender of faith than William Lane Craig. A trained expert in both philosophy and debate, he’s amplified the logical arguments for God’s existence in the public sphere: debating leading atheists, speaking at hundreds of universities, influencing millions of students, authoring dozens of books, most recently On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.

Craig sat down for an hour-long interview with Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew and prominent young political conservative:

At 7:59, Shapiro asks Craig what he thinks is the most convincing proof of God’s existence. In it, Craig explains the Cosmological Argument:

Shapiro: What in your opinion is the most reasonable proof of God? What have you found to be the most convincing proof of God’s existence?

Craig: I think those are 2 questions. For me, my favorite argument for the existence of God, the one I find most compelling, is a version of the Cosmological Argument which goes like this:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. (Something can’t just come into being from nothing.)
  2. The universe began to exist. (We have both good philosophical and scientific evidence for the finitude of the past.)
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

When you do a conceptual analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe, you arrive at a being which is an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe.

For anyone who’s followed Craig over the years, this answer was no surprise: he’s the leading proponent of the Kalam Cosmological argument, as defined above.

I want to examine that argument a bit and the usual objections to it before we move on to the 2nd argument.

Cosmological Argument part 1:
Whatever begins to exist has a cause

This first assertion, called the Causal Principle, is empirically true: everything we see in nature has a cause to its existence. That tree exists because of a seed. The seed exists because the parent tree has DNA that instructs it to build seeds and release them. And so on. Ditto for inorganic matter like roads, rocks, stars, planets, and so.

The common atheist objection to this first step is, “Then what caused God?” If everything has a cause, then God has a cause; we haven’t solved anything. (There would have to be a thing or being which created God, and a being which created that being, and …)

Shapiro plays devil’s advocate and uses this exact objection at 10:11:

Shapiro: The [atheist biologist and author] Richard Dawkins comeback – the one you hear most frequently with regard to the finitude of time and the idea that everything has a cause – is, “Ok, well then, what caused God?”

Craig: It’s important to state the first premise correctly, Ben. It’s not “Everything has a cause.” It is, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” Something cannot come into being without a cause. But if something is eternal, never began to exist, there’s no need for a cause. So that objection to the argument is simply based on a misunderstanding of the first premise.

The problem with this objection is it’s a misstatement of the premise. The premise isn’t “Everything has a cause.” The premise is “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

This is an important nuance: everything that begins to exist has a cause. The corollary to this is the truism, “Things that are eternal do not have a beginning.” Thus, eternal things don’t necessarily have a cause.

And for the first half of the 20th century, scientists believed the universe itself was that eternal thing. That is, until scientific evidence arose during the 1960s showing that the universe definitely began to exist; it had a beginning. More on that in the next step.

A more sophisticated objection: “Why must we believe everything which begins to exist has a cause?”

One answer is, because that is what we observe in every circumstance and every measure of the natural world. We observe that there exists a cause for everything that comes into existence in the natural world. Science is the study and observation of the natural world; if we can’t theorize an idea which is observably true 100% of the time, then all our theories must be thrown out for lack of certainty.

Proponents of this objection rely on an earlier argument from 18th century philosopher David Hume that says “Effects without causes can be conceived in the human mind, and that which is conceivable in the mind is possible in the real world.

But proponents of this objection often overlook that Hume himself agreed with the Causal Principle, stating in a letter in 1754, “But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.

From everything we observe in the natural world, everything that has a beginning has a cause for its beginning.

Cosmological Argument part 2:
The universe began to exist

The atheist physicist Stephen Hawking called this the most remarkable discovery of 20th century cosmology:

All the evidence seems to indicate that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted.

-Stephen Hawking, physicist

For the early part of the 1900s, scientists believed the universe must be eternal. If it’s eternal, it had no beginning. And if it had no beginning, it had no cause for its existence. Problem solved!

But not all scientists were convinced. In the early 20th century, scientists theorized that if the universe did have a beginning, we’d see some evidence for that in the form cosmic microwave background radiation; an audible echo of the instant of creation.

And in 1964, American astronomers Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered a faint background noise in the space between stars and galaxies. This was later confirmed as electromagnetic relic radiation, a corroboration of the instant the universe began. This discovery, for which Wilson and Penzias received Nobel prizes, overturned science’s understanding of the universe’s finitude.

Today, modern science affirms the universe had a beginning; this is well-accepted and not at all controversial.

Philosophically, it’s also on solid ground. Craig elaborates the problems with an eternal universe at 10:56:

Shapiro: Must we posit an eternal being? Or could we just have an infinity of regressive causes?

Craig: That’s the 2nd premise: the universe began to exist. There are deep philosophical problems with the idea of an infinite past. For example, how did we get to today if you had to go through an infinite number of prior events one at a time? That would be like trying to count down all the negative numbers one at a time ending at zero; an absurd task.

Moreover, we have remarkable scientific evidence from the Big Bang expansion of the universe, and the thermodynamic properties of the universe, which suggest the universe cannot be infinite in the past, but must have had a beginning around 13.8 billion years ago.

So I think that 2nd premise is very powerfully supported both philosophically and scientifically.

Cosmological Argument part 3:
Therefore, the universe has a cause

Step 1 was an assertion based on observable reality: anything that has a beginning has a cause. Step 2 was a statement of scientific fact: the universe has a beginning. Step 3, the final step, arrives at a conclusion based on the previous 2 steps: since the universe had a beginning, and since everything that begins to exist has a cause, then the universe has a cause.

Since the universe can’t cause itself, the thing that caused it must be outside of the universe: immaterial.

Time, we believe, is a property of the universe. So the thing that caused the universe must be outside of time; timeless and eternal.

Timeless and eternal things don’t necessarily have a cause (see step 1). Thus, the thing that caused the universe must be uncaused.

Finally, whatever caused the universe to come into existence had to produce all the energy we now witness in the universe, for all of history. From the excitement of molecular particles to the eventual planets spinning in motion and stars bursting into flames: the thing that caused the universe must be extraordinarily powerful.

Cosmologists and philosophers are left with a remarkable question: what immaterial, timeless, eternal, uncaused, and extraordinarily powerful thing could create the universe?

The Moral Argument

Craig says the Cosmological Argument is his favorite and most compelling to him personally. But he says the argument that is most persuasive to students he speaks with is the Moral Argument for God’s existence. Craig explains at 9:00:

Craig: I find that with university students [the Cosmological Argument] is not the most convincing argument. You can ignore philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past, or even scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe. But the argument they find the most compelling is what I call the Moral Argument. It goes like this:

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. (That is to say, in the absence of God, everything becomes socio-culturally relative.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist. (There are some moral absolutes, some objective values and duties.)
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This is an argument which is impossible to ignore because everyday you get up, you answer by how you treat other people, whether you regard them as having intrinsic moral value, or whether they’re mere means to be used for your ends.

The Moral Argument says that if God doesn’t exist, we should not see any absolute or objective moral values; it’s purely relative. What’s bad for you may be good for another: relative morality.

But, because we do see objective, absolute moral values in the world, objective morality exists, and if objective morality exists, then God exists.

Craig says this argument tends to hold more weight with most people, especially university students, because doing good (moral absolute good) is something every person grapples with each day.

One common objection to this argument is the idea that primitive moral values (e.g. protection of kin) are seen in other mammals, and therefore must be programmed in biologically; no God needed.

At 11:53, Shapiro raises this objection:

Shapiro: The other argument, the Moral Argument, in contravention of that: [there is] an argument made by [leading atheists] Dawkins, Harris, and evolutionary biologist Brett Weinstein that there is a certain sense of morality that is innate to mammals that you see even in species that are not our own. A sense of primitive altruism, a sense of kinship protection, for example. So is it possible that morality is embedded on a very basic level in behavior of mammals beyond the idea of an objection morality that we think about and enact? That it’s just embedded in the natural code?

Craig: This response [to the Moral Argument] is almost a textbook example of the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is trying to invalidate a point of view by showing how that point of view came to be held. Even if evolution and social conditioning has programmed into us a certain set of moral beliefs, that does nothing to show that those beliefs are false. Indeed if moral values are gradually discovered rather than gradually invented, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objectivity of that realm than our gradual, fallible comprehension of the physical world undermines the objectivity of the physical realm.

In the absence of some defeater, it seems to me that we’re perfectly within our rights in believing that there is an objective realm of moral values and duties, just as we’re within our rights in believing there is a world of physical objects around us.

It’s worth clarifying: by “objective” morality, we mean something that is true, regardless of circumstance or the person uttering it. For example, “rape is immoral” is a statement of absolute morality; there’s not a case where rape is could be moral for you, but immoral for another. It’s always absolutely wrong (a sin) to do so.

Craig’s response in a nutshell is that when atheists claim there is no objective morality because we see primitive morality programmed into intelligent mammals, it does nothing to invalidate the claim of objective morality. Craig is saying that even if objective morality is gradually discovered by humans, or even shared on some level with mammals, objective morality still exists.

Humanity’s gradual discovery – rather than invention – of objective morality doesn’t invalidate objective morality. (By the same measure, says Craig, our gradual discovery of objective morality is just as valid as our gradual discovery of the natural world.) Even if some morality is pre-programmed biologically, that doesn’t invalidate the reality of objective morality.

(An anecdotal aside: preaching from Romans at my local Messianic congregation this year, I argued precisely this: that there is programmed into every human being basic morality. I believe the Apostle Paul makes that case in Romans 1. That basic or primitive morality comes biologically packaged doesn’t invalidate the existence of objective morality.)


Craig argues these two are the most persuasive logical arguments for God’s existence:

The Cosmological Argument

The Moral Argument

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. The universe began to exist. 2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. 3. Therefore, God exists.

I personally find the Cosmological Argument most convincing, because step 1 is empirically true, step 2 is scientifically true, and step 3 is a logical conclusion from those assertions.

(Meanwhile, I find the moral argument more based in emotion and perception, even though it is likely true that without a moral root – God – then morality cannot be objective or absolute.)

Are these compelling arguments to you, fine reader?

On Human Progress, Real and Imagined

Is world is getting better or worse?

I recently polled my Facebook friends and the trend was clear:

My Facebook friends aren’t alone.

In Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling polled UN diplomats, university professors, diverse groups of people from all over the world.

The outcome was almost always the same: “The world is getting worse.”

And yet, measurably, the world is getting better. A few examples to convince you:

Lifespan: Life expectancy has increased from 40 to 75 in the last century. Fewer infants die in childbirth, and fewer mothers die giving birth. 1 in 100 expectant mothers died in 1800, now less than 1 in 10,000.

Disease: We’ve eradicated smallpox, we’ve wiped out polio. We recently developed a cure for Hepatitis C, and we’re close to a cure for malaria.

Poverty: 90% of the world used to live in extreme poverty: no running water, no toilet, no stove, no shoes, no transportation. Today, extreme poverty has all but been eradicated in the West, and worldwide only 10% remain in extreme poverty. Fewer people are starving.

Even in the most rural parts of deep African jungles, humans have access to electricity. Likewise, more people than ever have access to the giant repository of the sum total of all human knowledge: the internet. We can read books for $1, one-click purchase on Amazon.

(Fun story: I boarded a plane last week, and as it began to taxi before takeoff, I realized I didn’t have a book to read. In 15 seconds – before I lost cellular service – I quickly whipped out my phone, navigated to Amazon, searched for an ebook I had planned to read, bought it and downloaded to my offline reader app. All in mere seconds before I took flight in my air conditioned flying machine. Have you ever considered just how amazing that is?)

We own personal giant air-conditioned thrones we call cars,  we consume cheap airfare and can cross oceans in a few hours, we have plenty (too much?) food, and haven’t seen either plague or famine in our lifetimes.

HumanProgress and OurWorldInData document all this and more – showing through raw data that the world is measurably and tangibly getting better.

Religious people don’t like this. We want to believe the world is getting worse before the apocalypse.

Secular people don’t like this either. They believe the world is getting worse because of the climate. And Brexit. And Trump. And race/class/gender inequalities.

But the world is getting better.

Rosling’s book is wonderful and I recommend it. For me, though, it raised some difficult questions:

  1. Do the optimists have blind spots where values are concerned? (For example: is access to abortion really progress? Rosling thinks so.)
  2. How do we view human progress through history, e.g. the Roman empire? Was the world better off or worse off because of Rome? Did Rome mislabel some things as progress?

Blind spots and mislabeling human progress

As I read through Factfulness, I found myself cheering on the author, championing human progress at every turn. (I’ve long been an advocate of modern medicine, technology and science, arguing that people of faith should embrace these wonders and put away pseudoscience and medical quackery.)

Chapter after chapter I nodded in agreement, adding more ammunition to my arguments about why the world is getting better.

Until I came across a statement that made my heart sink. In his section on human sexuality, praising the correlation between richer families and fewer children, Rosling states,

“A woman’s right to an abortion is supported by just about everyone in Sweden today.”

He goes on to describe how Sweden was formerly so conservative and repressed, but now – look at us! – we’re so progressive, no one thinks abortion is bad or immoral.

Rosling admits that he may have blind spots. Might abortion be such a blind spot?

Rosling’s Swedish culture and time in history certainly see the killing of unwanted children as progress. But how do we know that’s really progress? Might we be wrong about what’s progress and what’s not?

Certainly much of what counts as “human progress” indeed is progress. I have no doubt eradication polio and smallpox are real progress. It reduces human suffering. Likewise for reduction of poverty, fewer malnourished and starving, and so on.

But it’s not clear on issues like abortion or capital punishment. Capital punishment Rosling derides, calling it human progress to eradicate capital punishment and preserve the lives of civilization’s worst murders.

How do we know what’s progress and what is masquerading as such?

Our second question helps here:

Historically, what was progress and what was mistaken as progress?

Thinking about human progress through history made me consider the Roman Empire. It undoubtedly saw advances in human progress.

Roads, aqueducts and running water, military and technological advances, education, philosophy, histories and written records, and even medicine.

But, historically, it also produced things that we now call backwards, brutish, or downright evil.

  • Public torture and crucifixion of political rebels.
  • Death and murder as entertainment.
  • Exposing unwanted infants to the gods/wild animals.
  • Pedastery; sexual relations between a grown man and a boy.
  • Emperors worshiped as divine, with full cities (e.g. Caesarea) devoted to worship.
  • Slave labor

Undoubtedly, the culture of Rome once called these things “human progress.”

How is it that the same Roman Empire that brought advances like running water, paved roads, education and philosophy, also publicly tortured and murdered the world’s only sinless human? (Not to mention destroying God’s house in Jerusalem in 135 AD, still yet to be rebuilt even after 2000 years.)

Western civilization is like this too. Despite all the amazing advances in the last 200 years, the West also produced the two bloodiest wars in human history. Encompassing the whole globe! It had never happened before. Enlightened Europe, with its bejeweled crown of philosophy, education, and theological centers in Germany, produced Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

If ancient Rome had blind spots in their own progressive society, might we be making the same mistake? Do we have blind spots in our optimism about how great things are?

Almost certainly.

There is real progress, but there is also mislabeled progress. Abortion is one such issue. It will be seen in the way Roman infant exposure is now seen: brutish, inhumane, immoral. (Or in a less religious standpoint, some people have argued that eating animals will eventually be seen as barbaric.)

In the West, while we’ve eradicated slavery, we have things that may be blind spots in our praise of human progress:

  • Legal and even championed abortions (e.g. Michelle Wolf’s Netflix special and its “Salute to Abortion”)
  • Fighting-to-brain-damage as entertainment in the form of boxing and MMA.
  • Normalized sexual deviancy, such that we introduced HIV to the human race.
  • New addictive chemical substances like cocaine and heroine, destroying millions of lives in the process.
  • Continue to increase the power of our government, such that individual freedom is reduced as dependency on the government is increased.
  • Due to new world communication, we have global alliances that caused 2 wars of unprecedented scale: two World Wars that were more bloody that the world had ever seen.
  • Invented weapons that can wipe out entire nations in the blink of a nuclear explosion. Their full power isn’t even known; some modern weapons may set the atmosphere on fire and destroy nearly all life on earth.
  • Our economic system praises consumption, but through our consumption we pollute the earth; whole swaths of ocean are now covered in plastic or oil. Land masses are deforested, polluted, or otherwise contaminated, making them uninhabitable for most life. Thousands of species have gone extinct.
  • Because of scientific progress, atheism has flourished and faith has receded. With God and ultimate justice eliminated, for many, their lives can and have become meaningless; you’re just a meaningless spec of dust with no calling or task in the world except your own pleasure. Morality become relative; there is no real right and wrong.

These are just a few blind spots we may have in the West.

Just as the Roman empire produced great human progress, but also mislabeled some of its backward practices as such, so also our modern culture in the US and Europe. The West, for all its grand achievements, also has backward practices we call progress.

Final thoughts

The world is getting better, though it’s getting worse in certain areas. Not all that is called progress is progress.

So, what is progress?

Things that align with the values God laid out in the Bible.

Reducing human suffering. Caring for widows and orphans. Feeding the hungry. Healing diseases. Compassion for people on the low rungs of society. Wisely exercising dominion over nature. Justice for the wronged. Showing mercy instead of taking vengeance.

The nuts and bolts of faithful living.

These align with the divine values of the Bible. These are real human progress.