The debate last night over whose moral philosophy was superior, Jesus’ or Ayn Rand’s, went very well! I have the audio recording below and we should have video at some point soon as well.
I emphasized the relational nature of humanity since we are made in the image of God as well as the fact that Christian morality is rewarding and doesn’t require sacrifice for no good reason. I also tried to bring out the arbitrariness of self-interest as the primary moral motivator and the lack of grounding for objective morality on Rand’s view.
Thank you to Ben Doublett (my opponent), Carl Franco (the moderator), Larry Christensen (the sound guy), and everyone who was involved. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy the discussion and most felt moved in one direction or another by Ben’s and my arguments.
Slides from my opening presentation:
I’ll have the wonderful opportunity of taking part in a debate with my great friend Ben Doublett on the topic of the relational ethics of Jesus in contrast to the atheistic ethics of rational self-interest that Ayn Rand promoted. If all goes well, the recording will be hosted for free on this blog for anyone who is interested to listen, download, or share.
It will be taking place in Mason, Ohio, and anyone who would like to attend can find more information on our Facebook event page-
In my preparation, I’m revisiting or, in some cases, reading for the first time a number of works that I think should help me to articulate the best case for the ethics of Jesus, as well as the best case against Ayn Rand’s view, that I can. Any other recommendations would certainly be appreciated!
My reading list:
Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness
Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism
Harry Binswanger’s “Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation”
Scot McKnight’s commentary on The Sermon on the Mount
Dennis Kinlaw’s Let’s Start With Jesus
John Piper’s Desiring God
Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation
C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory
and selections from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith where he deals with the moral argument for the existence of God
Ben’s reading list:
Selected essays from “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand
Selected essays from “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” by Ayn Rand
Selections from “The Fountainhead an
“Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics” by Tara Smith
“Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation” by Harry Binswanger
“Christian Ethics” by Georgia Harkness
“God in the Dock” by C.S. Lewis
“The New Testament”
I recently listened to a debate between rethinkinghell.com contributor Chris Date and apologist Phil Fernandes (philfernandes.org). Date was arguing that the ultimate fate of the wicked was annihilation (God would destroy them) and Fernandes took the traditional view of the eternal conscious torment of the wicked. The debate was incredibly interesting and I recommend that others listen to it.
As I listened to this debate, I noticed a number of inconsistencies from Fernandes in defending his view that I wanted to discuss. Now, I am not picking on Fernandes specifically– I have listened to and benefited from much of his recorded material. I am simply discussing his arguments because they are typical of the way most traditionalists argue against annihilationism. If he, or anyone else for that matter, finds my critiques to be uncharitable or inaccurate, please let me know and I will seek to fix that. In any case, here were some of the issues I noticed.
Degrees of punishment
Fernandes claimed that because Scripture tells us that there are degrees of punishment in hell, annihilationism must be false, because all who are judged in this scheme get the exact same punishment– death. This really is no problem for the annihilationist who believes that God will raise the unsaved up to judge them. This annihilationism only states that death is the final punishment of the wicked. The quality of that death, or the events preceding or causing it, can easily admit to degrees of punishment fitting for the sins committed. It is, however, an enormous problem for Fernandes and other traditionalists. Why? Because his main philosophical argument (which is representative of many if not most traditionalists) for eternal conscious torment is that a sin against an infinitely holy God requires an infinite punishment. But does infinity admit of degrees? If the sinner is already bearing the fullest punishment he is capable of bearing for his infinite sin, how can the punishment be increased? It is not the annihilationist that is inconsistent with Scripture on this point, but the traditional view.
Fernandes, a protestant, begins and ends his opening statement against annihilationism by pointing out that the general consensus of the church for centuries has been that God punishes the wicked with eternal conscious torment. He further demonstrates this preference for tradition (apparently over the straight forward interpretation of human language) by pointing out how many Christian theologians have understood eternal death not to be death at all but eternal existence of a poor quality. While he does allow for the possibility of tradition being corrected, he is subtly undercutting his own position as a protestant by emphasizing the role of tradition to the extent that he does. Yes, tradition is important. Yes, we should be sure that we have good reasons before challenging it. However, if protestantism is correct, it is not only possible but likely that tradition has led us astray on numerous issues.
Fernandes beats this drum in other ways. For instance, a key argument that resurfaces again and again is how “weird” or “strange” it would be if annihilationism is correct, because that would mean “cultic” groups like Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses which also accept a form of annihilationism have been correct while the broader church throughout the centuries had been wrong. One could easily imagine a Roman Catholic debater saying the exact same thing to a protestant. “If this doctrine of imputation is true, why is it that only a small group of theological rebels endorsed it when the church over the centuries has taken a different view?” Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument, and any protestant who believes in traditional hell should consider this argument to be a failed one.
Jesus as an alternative to torture
Fernandes also partly bases his defense of eternal conscious torment on how effective it is as a tool for evangelism. He admits that had he not believed in eternal conscious torment, he would probably not be a Christian. Apart from this view being problematic for its potential to convert people who do not love God or desire to know Him, but merely fear torture, it presents myriad other issues. Chris Date, Fernandes’ annihilationist opponent, rightly points out that eternal conscious torment has also made people pull back from the faith in revulsion at what appears to them to be a barbaric doctrine unworthy of a loving God. But regardless of which view is most effective, this mode of thinking betrays a pragmatic view that if something is convenient, this somehow counts as a point for its truth value. This is ironic, because Fernandes in this same debate accuses annihilationists of trading in the truth of God for a gospel that is more suited to today’s cultural climate. Fernandes here argues out of both sides of his mouth, and he is once again following the line of most traditionalists in doing so.
What do you do when you’re an accomplished atheist author who has written books saying the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels were snatched from pagan deities, and then when you are doing research to demonstrate these claims in a debate you find out you’re wrong? Well, here’s what Dan Barker did…
I recently engaged in a blog debate with an atheist friend, Ben Doublett, on the question, “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” I posted my portions of the debate on my blog Argue With a Christian, and he posted his on his blog– Fool of Psalms. I thought it might be helpful for those who are interested in the debate to see all of the posts listed in one place.
Both debaters will post on their respective blogs an opening statement making a positive case for their viewpoint not exceeding 1,200 words.
Within 72 hours, both debaters will post rebuttals not exceeding 1,600 words.
Within another 72 hours, both debaters will post a three question cross-examination they have done of the other debater, questions not exceeding 50 words and answers not exceeding 200 words.
Within another 72 hours, 400 word conclusions will also be posted by each debater.
Links to the post responded to and the response posted (when they are submitted) will be placed in text of each post.
Ben Doublett is the owner of a small business and a British citizen living in the United States. He spends his free time volunteering with the business program at Mason High School, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and, most relevantly, as an amateur atheist and rationalist polemic.
In his new blog, Fool of Psalms, he criticizes all kinds of irrational belief, including alternative and faith-based healing practices and (coming soon) astrology, but mainly he focuses on dispelling the reasons given for religious belief and providing reasons for disbelief. This blog has attracted nearly a thousand unique visitors from all over the world in less than three weeks.
While he is definitely not reserved in his criticisms of beliefs he considers irrational, Doublett always tries to remain as respectful as possible in debates with the faithful. He is a strong advocate of the notion that one should attack the belief and not the believer.
To read more about Doublett’s positions on religious faith and other issues, check out his blog at http://foolofpsalms.blogspot.com/
Cody Cook is a theology student specializing in apologetics. He seeks to follow the biblical command to, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” and seeks to dialogue with non-Christians about the truths of the Christian faith. He believes that since reason and morality come from God, they cannot be consistently used against Him by the atheist/agnostic/skeptic. As a result, he seeks to demonstrate circular reasoning, unfounded assumptions, and faulty reasoning in atheistic thinking, while at the same time seeking to maintain a friendly and generous spirit. He has two blogs which he uses to encourage dialogue with fellow Christians as well as non-Christians: http://arguewithachristian.blogspot.com/ andhttp://codysblackbox.blogspot.com/