October 12, 2016

We need an abortion law

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 13, 2016

We need an abortion law

Two Saturdays ago in Steinbach there were 100,000 tiny flags covering the hill at A.D. Penner Park. Why? To symbolize the 100,000 pre-natal children destroyed by abortion every year in Canada.

Presently, abortion in Canada is legal right up to birth. Most abortions occur much earlier, and most doctors don't do late-term abortions. Nevertheless, a law would be appropriate to protect children in their, say, fifth or sixth month and later.

Also, a law would be appropriate to protect children from sex-selective abortion, the killing of children merely because they are girls. (Gendercide is popular among immigrants who value boys more than girls.)

Moreover, a law would be appropriate to protect children who risk being killed merely because they have Down syndrome. (Of U.S. pre-natal children diagnosed with Down syndrome, 90% are aborted).

In Canada such a law could save hundreds of lives, if not thousands, yearly.

Of course, objections should be considered.

Some object that abortion legislation is misguided: we should instead deal with the underlying causes that drive women to abortion. For example, a pregnant woman may be facing psychological problems, so that should be our focus.

In reply, we should keep in mind that abortion kills an unborn child—a human being. That's hugely significant.

Also, we should consider Scott Klusendorf's critique of the focus-on-the-underlying-causes argument:

"[T]his is like saying that the 'underlying cause' of spousal abuse is psychological; so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men."

Klusendorf adds: "There are 'underlying causes' for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it 'misguided' to have laws banning such actions."

One might object that Canada's Criminal Code tells us the unborn are human beings only after they are born.

Reply: Yes, but our law is mistaken.

Contemporary science—embryology, fetology, and biology—tells us that the human fetus is in fact a human being. It's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity which belongs to the human species. It's not feline or canine; it's human. It's not a cat or a dog; it's a human being. It's not a kitten or a puppy; it's a child.

At this juncture, one might object that the unborn child isn't a "person." That is, the unborn human being lacks specific developmental features which confer the right to life.

Reply: This approach to personhood is problematic. The allegedly decisive features fail because they weaken the personhood of many human beings who have the right to life.

For example, if self-awareness and rationality are the crucial criteria of personhood, then the right to life of newborn infants as well as sleeping, stunned, or mentally disabled persons is jeopardized. The equality in equal rights gets ungrounded.

Or one might object that difficulty in policing and enforcing abortion law would render it useless.

Reply: We should note that it is difficult to police and enforce laws against, say, texting and driving, but the law works to discourage texting and driving. The point: if an action kills or threatens to injure innocent others, a law against the action is not unreasonable, even if not 100% effective.

Folks, we have room to be creative here. Perhaps a law against abortion should (a) criminalize late-term/ gendercide/ disability abortionists only, not women pressured into abortion, plus (b) help women so pressured (just as our anti-prostitution law criminalizes pimps and johns, not the women pressured into prostitution, plus helps the women get out of prostitution).

Most abortions are due to social problems, whereas abortions for the horrific circumstances of rape, incest, or when a mother's life is threatened account for a small percentage only.

Surely, social problems require social solutions—not the killing of children.

For the sake of children, we need a law. See WeNeedaLaw.ca.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading:
For help with crisis pregnancy:

September 29, 2016

Biblical objections to philosophy?

"Still Life with Bible" by Vincent van Gogh (1885)
By Hendrik van der Breggen

The Carillon, September 29, 2016

Biblical objections to philosophy? 

Let's examine four “biblical” objections to Christian philosophy. We'll see that they fail.

Objection 1: Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Reply: The focus here is philosophy that's hostile to truth. Christ is the Truth and Logos, and the Logos is the Word/ Rational Foundation of the universe. This verse doesn’t preclude philosophy founded on Christ.

Objection 2: Philosophy emphasizes reason, but the Fall makes human minds incapable of knowing truth via reason.

Reply: This exaggerates the Fall's effects.

Philosopher J. P. Moreland: “The fall damaged but did not destroy the image of God in us. Our reasoning abilities are affected but not eliminated. This can be seen in the fact that the writers of Scripture often appeal to the minds of unbelievers by citing evidence on behalf of their claims, using logical inferences in building their case, and speaking in the language and thought forms of those outside the faith.”

Objection 3: Isn't Paul against philosophy, in Corinthians?

1 Cor. 1:20-21: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

1 Cor. 2:1-5: “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.... My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”

Reply: Context is needed.

Moreland: “if [this passage] is an indictment against argumentation and philosophical reason, then it contradicts Paul's own practices in Acts and his explicit appeal to argument and evidence on behalf of the resurrection.... The passage is better seen as a condemnation of the false, prideful use of reason, not of reason itself....”

Moreland adds: “The passage may also be a condemnation of Greek rhetoric. Greek orators prided themselves in possessing ‘persuasive words of wisdom,’ and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side on an issue for the right price. They did not base their persuasion on rational considerations, but on speaking ability, thus bypassing issues of substance. Paul is most likely contrasting himself with Greek rhetoricians.”

Moreland adds: “Paul could also be making the claim that the content of the gospel cannot be deduced from some set of first principles by pure reason. Thus, the gospel of salvation could never have been discovered by philosophy, but had to be revealed by the biblical God who acts in history. So the passage may be showing the inadequacy of pure reason to deduce the gospel, not its inability to argue for the truth.”

Objection 4: Reason judges God.

Reply: Nope.

Philosopher Tim McGrew: “Though the Bible offers us salutary warnings about the dangers of an overweening confidence in our own intellectual abilities or the scope of our knowledge, neither Scripture nor a sound systematic theology affords the slightest ground for despising reason itself. And this is as it should be. For without reason, we would be at a loss to adjudicate the competing claims of proposed revelations.”

McGrew adds: “Even to talk of adjudicating such claims is to run afoul of some theological critics who object that it is blasphemous to speak of judging the Word of God when we should rather say that the Word judges us. But this is at best a mere play on words. When we are rightly persuaded that a revelation has come from God, we are indeed in no position to pass judgment on the Almighty.”

Biblical, Christ-centred philosophy? Yes! Amen!

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” – C.S. Lewis

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.

For further reading:

  • J. P. Moreland, "Philosophy," in Opening the American Mind: The Integration of Biblical Truth in the Curriculum of the University, edited by W. David Beck (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991).
  • Timothy McGrew, "Convergence: Philosophy Confirms Christianity," EPS Article Library, Evangelical Philosophical Society (2016).

September 17, 2016

Did the Easter miracle happen?

Note: The following article was published in 2004 in The Record (a Kitchener-Waterloo newspaper) and I post it here to make it available to interested readers. The article was the 2005 winner of the General Readership category (newspaper article) awarded by The Word Guild.

A scene from the 2004 film The Passion of The Christ, directed by Mel Gibson
Did the Easter miracle happen?
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Record, April 10, 2004

Think of Easter and immediately bunnies and coloured eggs come to mind. However, as Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ has reminded us, Easter has more to do with Jesus and the Christian gospel than it has to do with chocolate.

The traditional Christian gospel or good news is that God (God the Son) came to Earth in the man Jesus, He took our punishment for sin onto Himself by suffering and dying on a cross, and then God (the Father) raised Jesus from the grave (tomb). Jesus' resurrection, that is His return to life in the same body but somehow wonderfully renewed, is said to be a glorious sign to help us believe—accept by faith—the good news.

Of course, this begs the question: Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus actually resurrected?

In the little book The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan 2003), former journalist and former spiritual skeptic Lee Strobel argues that, yes, it is reasonable to believe that Jesus actually resurrected.

Strobel makes his case for Jesus' resurrection by appealing to, and defending, three historical facts:

○ Jesus was actually killed by crucifixion;

○ The tomb in which Jesus' dead body was placed was found empty a couple days later;

○ And Jesus was subsequently seen alive and well for several weeks in various locations, not only by a skeptic who touched Him to make sure He wasn't a ghost, but also by other individuals and variously sized groups of people, many of whom engaged Jesus in conversation and had meals with Him—and would later endure torture and death rather than recant their testimony.


Strobel also considers alternative, non-resurrection explanations—such as Jesus didn't really die, the witnesses hallucinated, a conspiracy occurred or it's all legend—but argues that they are all weak. Strobel's arguments are, I believe, strong, but because of space limitations I won't discuss those arguments here. I recommend that anyone who is interested in the problems with the non-miracle theories check out Strobel's book.

What I find interesting is that the alternative non-resurrection explanations, even the most outlandish ones which haven't a shred of evidence in their favour, such as Jesus has an unknown twin who pretended to be the resurrected Jesus after Jesus died, tend to be set forth by many—and clung to—primarily because of a philosophical reason.

How so? The proponents of the far-fetched have been infected by a skeptical philosophical view that has been transmitted to us from the Scottish philosopher David Hume.

If your son or daughter goes to university today and takes an introductory philosophy class, he or she will probably run into David Hume. Well, not David Hume in person, but a philosophy professor who is a kindred spirit.

Hume lived from 1711 to 1776. He is famous, rather notorious, for, among, other things, his argument against miracles. According to Hume, no matter how good the historical evidence is for a miracle such as Jesus' resurrection—even if the miracle actually occurred—the evidence is never good enough.

Hume argues that a miracle is a violation of a law of nature and that the laws of nature are very well established. The result, according to Hume, is that a miracle's occurrence is maximally improbable, and this maximal improbability counts against any good testimony for a miracle, either balancing the testimony (thereby providing grounds to suspend belief) or outweighing it (thereby providing grounds for disbelief). In reality, Hume thinks the latter is the case. Either way, though, Hume would have us dismiss miracle testimonies as unreasonable to believe.


Having studied Hume's argument for my master's thesis in philosophy at the University of Windsor and for my PhD dissertation in philosophy at the University of Waterloo, I have come to conclude that Hume's argument fails.

His argument fails because it begs the question. It “begs the question” in the sense that it engages in circular reasoning, it assumes as proven that which is at issue, and it sneaks the conclusion into the premises.

As mentioned, Hume takes the violation-of-law-of-nature aspect of a miracle to be sufficient grounds for counting the violated laws of nature wholly and destructively against miracle testimony—to judge the miracle to be maximally improbable.

Interestingly, in the case of Jesus' resurrection, such an event is maximally improbable, given the laws of nature and given that there is no intervention from outside the physical system. Significantly, this brings to light the fact that Hume makes the assumption that to make a probability judgment all that is needed is our knowledge of the relevant laws of nature.

But, it should be emphasized, we are supposedly talking about a miraculous resurrection (as suggested by the evidence), and so, although we are given the laws of nature, we are not given that there is no intervention from outside the system.

So in assuming that all that is needed is our knowledge of the relevant laws of nature and nothing about any possible intervention from outside of nature, Hume is, in effect, assuming that either God does not exist (and so God never intervenes via miracles) or, if God does exist, God's intentions concerning nature are shown to us wholly by the laws of nature (and so God never intervenes via miracles).

But if, as Hume assumes for the sake of argument, there is good evidence for what seems very much to be a miracle—Hume even allows it to be a real miracle—then Hume's assumption about the background knowledge is at issue.

In other words, in order for Hume's argument to work, it requires the assumption that the laws of nature express either all the goings-on of a universe without God or, if God exists, all of God's intentions concerning the universe. But the truth of this assumption must be put on hold when a miracle (whether actual or alleged) is supposed to be under investigation.

Indeed, for one's mind to be actually open to the possibility of the occurrence of an occasional real miracle—a possibility Hume allows, at least for the sake of argument—requires that the assumption Hume makes be suspended—at least when one is purportedly investigating the evidence for a miracle.

In other words, Hume's argument works only if we assume that there is no God who on rare occasions intervenes in nature, but this assumption is at issue when we are considering any alleged evidence for miracles.


Thus, by assuming the above-described background knowledge, Hume mistakenly begs the question which only the (alleged) miracle evidence can answer.

Hume's mind is already made up then, and not open to what the evidence suggests.

The upshot is that if your mind is not already closed to the possibility of a God who occasionally does a miracle, that is, if your mind is open to the possibility of God's existence and the possibility of this God intervening in nature, then the facts surrounding Jesus' alleged resurrection may make a miraculous resurrection explanation plausible, and even reasonable to believe.

If you weren't a believer in the past, Easter might now take on a whole new meaning.

Hendrik van der Breggen is a PhD candidate in the philosophy department at the University of Waterloo. His dissertation is titled “Miracle Reports, Moral Philosophy, and Contemporary Science.” Hendrik teaches philosophy part time at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener and at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge. Besides Lee Strobel's The Case for Easter, Hendrik also recommends Strobel's latest book, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points toward God (Zondevan 2004).

Postscript (September 17, 2016): The notion of God “intervening” in nature can also be understood as God engaging in a special act vis-à-vis God's ongoing act of sustaining the creation. Space limitations in a newspaper article are not conducive to adding philosophical-theological nuance.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.

September 14, 2016

What is Philosophy?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 15, 2016

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is a discipline of inquiry that deals with, as a couple philosophers title their introductory textbook, Questions that Matter.  To better understand these questions, the authors look at (1) the etymology of “philosophy,” (2) the fields of philosophy, plus (3) the heart/ core of philosophy.

(1) Etymology is the study of the origin and development of individual words.

The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philo, which means loving or love, and from the Greek sophia, which means wise or wisdom. The original meaning of philosophy is the love or pursuit of wisdom. (Of course, the foolishness of some philosophers may make us question this!)

(2) The fields of philosophy include metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, logic, and various “second-order” inquiries.

Metaphysics is the study or theory of fundamental reality. Questions asked are: What is ultimately real? Does God or gods exist? Or is reality ultimately physical?

Epistemology asks: What is knowledge? Does knowledge come only through our five senses, or can we know without the senses? Does our mind or language or cultural perspective shape or block knowledge of the real? Can truth be known? What is truth?

Value theory studies ethics and aesthetics. What is right and good? Is morality merely subjective or a construct of culture (which varies), or are there real universal moral principles and values which stand in judgment of our feelings and culture? Is beauty just what I like or what my group likes, or is there an objective standard of beauty?

Logic is the study of the principles of reasoning. What are the standards of a good argument (of the premise-conclusion sort) and what constitutes a fallacious argument?

Second-order inquires involve thinking critically about the concepts, methods, and assumptions used in other (first-order) fields of study. These inquiries are typically labeled “philosophy of ______ [fill in blank with a first-order field of study].”

For example, philosophy of science (where science is a first-order discipline) examines the assumptions of science: e.g., existence of a world external to the mind, reliability of our senses, uniformity of nature for inductive inference, applicability of logic and mathematics to the world, adequacy of language to communicate truth about the world.  It also asks: What is science? Are all observations contentiously theory-laden? Can intelligent design be a legitimate hypothesis in science?

Another example of a second-order inquiry is philosophy of history. Is history cyclic, repeating itself over and over, forever? Or is it a "one-shot" deal? Is there a purpose to history (e.g., it's a theatre in which God redeems fallen creatures) or is history purposeless (i.e., a mere accident and ultimately absurd)? Can the study of history be objective, or does it always reflect the historian's biases so accurate knowledge of the past can't be gotten?

Another second-order inquiry: philosophy of religion. Is the concept of God logically coherent? What about the concept of Incarnation? Or reincarnation? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Are there good arguments for God's existence, or is subjective experience the only evidence for God?  Does evil show that a good God doesn't exist? How do we arbitrate between competing religious truth-claims? Is there good evidence for believing Jesus' resurrection actually occurred? Or should we believe Islam's claim to the contrary?

(3) The heart/ core of philosophy is that it's a rational and critical enterprise. It's rational in the sense that it appeals to reason and evidence: reasonable beliefs are not arbitrary because they're connected to evidence logically (i.e., via truth-functional/ truth-conducive reasoning). It's critical in the sense that analysis and evaluation of all matters of belief and conduct is emphasized: assumptions, truth claims, and the logic of arguments are always assessed. Mere assertion of opinion is not enough.

So, what is philosophy? Here's a helpful working definition from the previously-mentioned philosophy textbook: “Philosophy is the attempt to think rationally and critically about the most important questions.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)