March 19, 2015

Jesus or Muhammad?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 19, 2015

Jesus or Muhammad?

In today's postmodern religious world, much emphasis is on story. But I find myself asking: how do I arbitrate between competing religious stories? How do I arbitrate between, say, Christianity and Islam? Who should I follow—Jesus or Muhammad?

My answer: Jesus. Why? Because publicly accessible historical evidence favours Jesus, not Muhammad. Here is a summary of relevant historical evidence.

Jesus claims to be the God of the universe (the great I AM) come to earth as a human being. He lives a life characterized by healings, compassion for the vulnerable, and speaking truth to power. He claims he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that nobody comes to God but through him.

Jesus is accused of blasphemy, is unjustly sentenced to death, and dies a horrible, painful death on a cross. A couple days later, however, Jesus is seen physically alive and well by various individuals and variously sized groups, at different times, at different places, over a period of several weeks. (Not so incidentally, the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection are women, which implies a high view of women, if Jesus is God.)

The risen Jesus teaches that via his death and resurrection Jesus takes our punishment for sin onto himself and he defeats the powers of death, and that his resurrection is a sign for us to trust him—so we should repent and follow him.

Significantly, the evidence for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection comes to us from eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses. Significantly, too, historians and scholars who don't succumb to anti-miraculous bias argue convincingly that the records concerning Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are believable.

The focus of Islam is the man Muhammad and the Qur'an, the allegedly true and complete revelation from God. Muhammad doesn't claim to be God; he claims to be God's latest and greatest prophet.

According to Muhammad, Jesus is an important prophet, but not God in human flesh. Nor did Jesus die on the cross (somebody else did) and so Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death. Muhammad dies and stays dead.

Significantly, all the Qur'an's revelations about Jesus come to Muhammad 600 years after Jesus and 1,000 kilometers away via an (alleged) angel.

Significantly, too, Muhammad's life reveals an extremely violent man bent on world domination by force—and he teaches others to be and do likewise. (It's interesting that the present leader of ISIS has a PhD in Islamic Studies.)

Muhammad ordered his followers to kill "infidels," i.e., those who don't agree with his views about himself and the Qur'an.

Moreover, Muhammad ordered various assassinations. On one occasion, he ordered the assassination of a mother of five (killed while she was breastfeeding one of her children). Also, Muhammad beheaded over 500 Jewish men and teenage boys, while his followers sold women and children into slavery.

Unlike Jesus, who shed his own blood for others to spread his message of reconciliation to God, Muhammad shed the blood of others to impose his message.

Also, Muhammad had a low view of women (their testimony is worth half that of a man, more women than men will be in hell), and he married a girl when she was six, consummating the marriage three years later.

So, Jesus or Muhammad?

I respect my Muslim friends and neighbours, and I will defend their right to exercise religious freedom (within what Princeton philosopher Robert P. George calls "the broad limits of justice and the requirements of the common good"). Nevertheless, I choose Jesus.

Significantly, the historical evidences for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are close to the events temporally and geographically, in fact, closer than Muhammad's—the Qur'an's—claims to the contrary (because, as I mentioned, the historical evidences for Jesus contain accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses, whereas the Qur'an's testimony comes 600 years later and 1,000 kilometres away).

Thus, the evidence for Jesus allows me to take Jesus seriously as God in human flesh.

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

Recommended resources: 

 See, too, my Apologia columns on Islam:

March 05, 2015

False dichotomies galore!

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 5, 2015

False dichotomies galore!

The false dichotomy fallacy (a.k.a. false alternatives fallacy) is a mistake in reasoning which occurs when we assume that there are only two options, when there are actually three (or more), yet we go on to assume that one of the two options must be the way to go.

Here’s an example from logician Trudy Govier. Let’s say that I tell you everything is either black or white. This is a false dichotomy. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that there are shades of grey (apparently at least 50!) as well as shades of red, orange, green, etc.

The false dichotomy fallacy is a silly mistake to make, but, alarmingly, in public discourse today there seems to be a lot of folks making it!

Here are some examples I've noticed in newspapers, Facebook, etc.

Either you agree with Muslims or you hate/ fear them, so don't disagree. Missing third option: disagree in love. Surely, love precludes neither respectful disagreement about truth nor careful inquiry into the historical grounds of a religion.

Either you suffer a painful, horrible death without dignity or you support the choice for physician-assisted suicide, so we should embrace pro-physician-assisted-suicide policies. Missing third option: instead of physician-assisted suicide we should offer better palliative and hospice care so nobody suffers a painful, terrible death without dignity. Added bonus: security of vulnerable persons is protected and promoted.

Either you bring an unwanted child into the world or you abort the child, so permit abortion. Missing third option: instead of killing the baby, help the pregnant mother and find a home with parents who will adopt and love the child. Added bonus: killing human beings doesn't become a solution to social, psychological, or economic problems.

Either use leftover frozen human embryos (human beings) for research (which kills them) or throw them out (which also kills them), so use them for research. Missing third option: let the embryos be adopted and implanted by parents who want them (yes, there is an adoption agency for this). For further thought: maybe we shouldn't even make human beings in a Petri dish in the first place, since successful in vitro fertilization requires the making and probable destruction of "leftovers."

Either we have infallible complete knowledge, or we can’t know anything truly, so we should be skeptical of knowledge. Missing third alternative: we can know some things truly, albeit fallibly and non-exhaustively. Case-by-case investigation is needed.

Either we have personal, subjective knowledge of God or we have propositional, intellectual knowledge of God, so (because God is a person) we should seek only personal, subjective knowledge. Missing third option: to know the true God (instead of, say, deceiving spirits) requires subjective knowing coupled with objective knowing—just as when I truly know my wife personally I should know much about her in actual fact.

Either we justify Christianity in terms of faith (trust, subjective/ spiritual experience) or via reason (evidence, arguments), so go with faith only because, well, it takes less effort. Missing third alternative: embrace both—seek a reasonable faith.

Either (a) I am both Christian and LGBTQ-affirming (in terms of biblical doctrine on sexual practice) or (b) I am either Christian or LGBTQ-affirming (but not both); so, because LGBTQ folks can in fact be Christians, I and other conservative-leaning Christians should pick (a).

Missing third option (c): we should be genuinely hospitable to those who self-identify as LGBTQ and/or have such dispositions—i.e., we should genuinely love and respect such persons and communicate to them that they have worth, are made in God’s image, and are truly loved by God—AND we should think critically about gay-revisionist interpretations of Scripture, showing (gently and respectfully, yet academically rigorously) that good reasons and evidence favour the view that sex ought to be reserved between one man and one woman in monogamous marriage.

In other words, we can be Christian (and know God loves us) and we can struggle against sin (like we all do in various ways).

False dichotomies—don't be deceived by them!

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

Additional Apologia columns on the false dichotomy fallacy:

February 19, 2015

Physician-assisted suicide

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 19, 2015

Physician-assisted suicide

Canada's Supreme Court recently declared the Criminal Code prohibition against physician-assisted suicide (PAS) constitutionally invalid and has given Parliament one year to draft legislative safeguards.

Unfortunately, public discourse on PAS has been skewed: it tends to look at arguments in favour of PAS, not against. But we should look at pros and cons, not just pros.

A major pro for PAS has to do with personal autonomy, i.e., the individual's choice in response to suffering. Suffering can be terrible, to be sure. And freedom is important, truly.

However, the freedom to exercise one's choice is not absolute. I do not have the freedom to swing my fist without regard for the tips of other people's noses.

So, yes, individual freedom is important, but the individual does not live in a social vacuum. In public policy debates we should think about the individual's freedom AND the consequences for the larger society.

The acceptance of PAS has (at least) four cons or concerns—i.e., four possible negative consequences for the larger society—which should also be considered.

Concern 1. With the acceptance of PAS, our society will see suicide more and more as a legitimate way of solving an individual's problems. Got a problem that makes you suffer? Don't forget you can get help to kill yourself!

(This scenario is not far-fetched. At one of the universities I attended not too long ago, I worked as a teaching assistant in an ethics course for a fellow doctoral student who told the class [a] that he had advised his roommate that suicide was an option as a solution to the roommate's problems and [b] that subsequently the roommate committed suicide. My fellow doctoral student displayed no qualms about the advice.)

Concern 2. Life will no longer be seen as society's default position and so our most vulnerable—the elderly, terminally ill, disabled—must begin to justify their lives. Surely, this is a nasty burden to place on people when they're already down.

Concern 3. If the choice or autonomy of the sufferer constitutes sufficient legal grounds for the sufferer to end his/her life, then unwanted suicide intervention or counseling against suicide may become grounds for a lawsuit against the intervener or counselor. There may very well be a chilling effect against suicide intervention and counseling.

Concern 4. With the acceptance of PAS, a non-fallacious, logical-legal slippery slope looms large.

Reasons for one action sometimes also justify other actions that are unintended to be justified by those reasons. The alleged right to end one's life because one is suffering justifies not only the situation of the terminally ill, but also the elderly, the disabled, the parent suffering the loss of a child, the person suffering chronic back pain, the depressed, etc. (Think of the experience of Belgium and Netherlands here.)

Enter: so-called safeguards—and their failure. Significantly, if we have already accepted individual autonomy as a legal justification for PAS, how can we deny anyone PAS?

Courts will do what courts do: promote consistency. But consistency requires that PAS's fundamental justifying principle—i.e., that the sufferer has the right to choose PAS to end his/her suffering—will carry more legal weight than the situational differences. The situational differences will (with the help of a good lawyer) be seen to be incidental.

In other words, legal acceptance of PAS puts gobs of logical-legal grease onto the path that leads to killing as a solution to suffering. The result: eliminating sufferers becomes equated with eliminating suffering.

In view of the pros and cons, I think it would be wise for Canadians not to embrace physician-assisted suicide. Instead, we should do a better job of providing palliative and hospice care for those with terminal illnesses—and we should do a better job of providing life-enhancing dignity for all who suffer.

We should strive for a culture of life, not slip into a culture of death.

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

Additional Apologia columns on physician-assisted suicide: