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Madeleine to Speak at the ACTIV8 Pro-Life Training Day in Wellington

November 6th, 2013 by Matt

This blog’s Madeleine will be speaking at the ACTIV8 Pro-Life Training Day in Paraparaumu, just North of Wellington, on 23 November 2013.  ACTIV8 is a pro-life formation event that is hosted by Stayin’ Alive every year.  (I was originally scheduled to speak but as I will be in the USA Madeleine is taking my place.)

ACTIV8 Pro-Life Training Day 2013

From the organisers:

“[The event] features knowledgeable and informative speakers who present formation sessions on issues such as practical pro-life apologetics, understanding the media and political issues, as well as having a special focus on introducing you to some great pro-life resources and projects that you can adopt.

This year’s Pro-Life Summer Training Day features presentations from:

Madeleine Flannagan:
‘How to refute pro-choice arguments’

Bob McCoskrie:
‘How to talk to the NZ media about abortion’

Kate Cormack & Jordan Verrent:
‘Skills for effective pro-life outreach’

Brendan Malone:
‘Get activated for the culture of life!’

Rachel Wong:
‘Understanding NZ abortion laws’

Dr. Michael McCabe:
‘Informed consent and abortion’


-Abortion Apologetics Q&A panel with Madeleine Flannagan and Brendan Malone
-Sessions on: ‘What is informed consent?’, and: ‘Using social media to build a culture of life’
-Small group discussions and activities
-Heaps of opportunities for networking with other passionate pro-life people!
-Resources and t-shirts for sale”

To find out more and to register head to Stayin’ Alive.

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Is a Divine Command Theory Psychotic? Sam Harris on Divine Commands Part III

November 5th, 2013 by Matt

William Lane Craig v Sam HarrisIn Sam Harris on Divine Commands Part I I criticised Harris’ characterisation of divine command meta-ethics. I refuted Harris’ contention a divine command theory is pscyopathic in Is a Divine Command Theory Pscyopathic? Sam Harris on Divine Commands: Part II. In this last post in this series, I will address Harris’s contention that a divine command theory reflects a “psychotic moral attitude”. Harris says a divine command theory is “psychotic because this is completely delusional. There’s no reason to believe that we live in a universe ruled by an invisible monster called Yahweh.”

Harris’s argument in this regard seems to involve four premises. [1] A person can accept a divine command theory only if her or she believes in the existence of an invisible monster called Yahweh (which Harris earlier identifed as an “iron age God of war”); [2] there is no evidence for an invisible monster called Yahweh; [3] to believe something without evidence is delusional; [4] to be delusional is to be psyhcotic.

Turning to [1], a divine command theorist holds that the most plausible account of the nature of moral obligations is that moral obligations are constituted by, or are identical with, God’s commands. God is understood by the theorist to be a being worthy of worship, a necessarily existent, essentially loving and just, omniscient, omnipotent, personal being who created, sustains and providentially guides the universe. Holding this position does not commit one to believing in an invisible monster or a stone-age God of war for two reasons.

First, a divine command theory is compatible with being an athiest. Plantinga has noted that a person could argue that moral obligations are best accounted for in terms of God’s commands and then conclude from this that if God does not exist then moral obligations do not exist either. In this sense a divine command theory could be a premise in an atheistic argument for nihilism. Interestingly, when I was a grad student in the 90′s I attended a conference where one of the presenters offered an argument for nihilism very much along these lines.

Second, most divine command theorists accept the existence of moral obligations. Most would accept, for example, that moral claims such as that it is wrong to torture children purely for entertainment are true, and that, the action of torturing children in this way actually has the property of being wrong, further, that it does so independently of whether we or our society believe that it does.

A divine command theorist does not have to identify this God with Yahweh. Obviously, divine command theorists who are Jews or Christians will do this, but that’s in virtue of their Judaism or Christianity, it is not in virtue of their belief in divine command meta-ethics. Strictly speaking a divine command theorist could reject the identification and still maintain that moral obligations are best identified with the commands of God.

Third, even if one does identify God with Yawheh, it is evident that such an identification would rule out construing God as “an invisible monster” who is, according to Harris, ” a stone-age God of war”. If Yahweh is identified as a loving and just, invisible person, then he is neither an invisible monster or a stone-age God of war. Of course, a person who held this view might grant that at one piont in history, perhaps in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, various people groups believed that Yahweh was a God of war, but by identifying God as Yahweh, such a person is explictly rejecting this conception. The fact that people once concieved of something a certain way tells us nothing about whether that thing is, in fact, that way. Harris may as well castigate contemporary atomic theory by pointing out that ancient greek atomists held scientifically indefensible understandings of an atom.

So Harris’ [1], the contention that a person can accept a divine command theory only if they believe in the existence of an invisible monster is false.

Turning then to [2], the contention that there is no evidence for the existence of an invisible monster called Yahweh. Harris’s argument is circular. Suppose, for the sake of argument, [Read more →]

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Matt Nominated for Evangelical Philosophical Society Executive

November 1st, 2013 by Madeleine

Evangelical Philosophical SocietyI am pleased to announce that this blog’s Matthew Flannagan has been nominated as one of the candidates for the three vacant executive committee positions for the 2013 Executive Committee of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS). Matt is the only New Zealander to have been nominated.

If you are a member of the EPS please make sure you check out the full candidate list, there are some very good candidates on it, and vote! Voting began today, it closes 8 November 2013.

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Hang in the MandM corner at Takanini Community Church’s “Messy Church” this Sunday

October 26th, 2013 by Madeleine

MandM with M&MsAs you know Matt is the teaching pastor at Takanini Community Church in Auckland. Our church has decided to try holding a Messy Church service once a month. The format is not like traditional church. It involves breakfast, a relaxed lounge-style teaching, family friendly craft tables and an MandM corner – complete with M&M’s and MandM; the idea is that anyone who wants to raise questions about Christianity can hang with Matt and I and eat M&M’s (and drink coffee, I will be drinking coffee) while the others do craft.

So bring your kids and come along to 160 Great South Road Takanini, South Auckland this Sunday 27 October 2013:

8:50 Doors open
9:00 -9:45 Breakfast in hall ($1 per person - Breakfast Menu)
9:45-10:00 Teaching in lounge
10:00-10:50 Craft Time
10:50-11:00 Close in lounge

Messy Church

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In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture

October 25th, 2013 by Madeleine

In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture

Another of the books Matt has contributed to arrived from the publisher’s today. In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture addresses and responds to the major contemporary challenges to the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. It is edited by Steven B Cowan and Terry L Wilder and published by B&H Academic.

The blurb from the publishers:

In Defense of the Bible begins by looking at philosophical and methodological challenges to the Bible—questions about whether or not it is logically possible for God to communicate verbally with human beings; what it means to say the Bible is true in response to postmodern concerns about the nature of truth; defending the clarity of Scripture against historical skepticism and relativism.

Contributors also explore textual and historical challenges—charges made by Muslims, Mormons, and skeptics that the Bible has been corrupted beyond repair; questions about the authorship of certain biblical books; allegations that the Bible borrows from pagan myths; the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments.

Final chapters take on ethical, scientific, and theological challenges— demonstrating the Bible’s moral integrity regarding the topics of slavery and sexism; harmonizing exegetical and theological conclusions with the findings of science; addressing accusations that the Christian canon is the result of political and theological manipulation; ultimately defending the Bible as not simply historically reliable and consistent, but in fact the Word of God.

Contributors include R Douglas Geivett, William A Dembski, Mary Jo Sharp, Darrell L Bock and Paul Copan, with whom Matt co-authored a chapter entitled “Does the Bible Condone Genocide?”

A couple of endorsements:


In Defense of the Bible is available in both Kindle and Paperback formats. Get your copy from Amazon or Book Depository or wherever you like.

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Matt’s Latest Publication: Virtues in Action – New Essays in Applied Virtue Ethics

October 14th, 2013 by Madeleine

Matt’s lastest publication in a book arrived by courier today. The book is Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue Ethics; it is an an edited collection of new work in applied virtue ethics.

Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue EthicsVirtues in Action is edited by Michael W. Austin, who is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, a specialist in ethics and philosophy of religion, author of Conceptions of Parenthood (2007), and editor or co-editor of several works, including The Philosophy of the Olympics (2012) and Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life (2012) - Being Good was the book Matt and each gave a paper on at the 2012 Evangelical Philosophy Society’s Annual Meeting in Milwaukee. Mike blogs at Ethics for Everyone.

The chapter Matt wrote is called “Some Critical Reflections on Abortion and Virtue Theory.”

From the Publisher:

“In recent decades, many philosophers have considered the strengths and weaknesses of a virtue-centered approach to moral theory. Much less attention has been given to how such an approach bears on issues in applied ethics. The essays in this volume apply a virtue-centered perspective to a variety of contemporary moral issues, and in so doing offer a fresh and illuminating perspective. Some of the essays focus on a particular virtue and its application to one or more realms of applied ethics, such as temperance and sex or humility and environmental ethics. Other chapters focus on an issue in applied ethics and bring several virtues into a discussion of that issue or realm of life, such as sport, education, and business. Finally, several of the chapters engage relevant psychological research as well as current neuroscience, which enhances the strength of the philosophical arguments.”

Table of contents:

1. Virtue-Centered Approaches to Education: Prospects and Pitfalls; Gregory Bassham
2. The Virtues of Honorable Business Executives; Dan Demetriou
3. Sport as a Moral Practice: An Aristotelian Approach; Michael W. Austin
4. Sex, Temperance, and Virtue; Stan van Hooft
5. Extend Your Benevolence: Kindness and Generosity in the Family and Beyond; Heidi Giebel
6. A Virtue Ethical Case for Pacifism; Franco V. Trivigno
7. Some Critical Reflections on Abortion and Virtue Theory; Matthew Flannagan
8. Environmental Degradation, Environmental Justice, and the Compassionate Agent; Chris Frakes
9. Humility and Environmental Virtue Ethics; Matthew Pianalto
10. Hope as an Intellectual Virtue; Nancy E. Snow
11. Virtue Ethics and Moral Failure: Lessons from Neuroscientific Moral Psychology; Lisa Tessman
12. Getting Our Minds Out of the Gutter: Fallacies that Foul Our Discourse (and Virtues that Clean it Up); Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King

Get your copy from Amazon.

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Is it Arrogant to Claim Jesus is the Only Way?

October 12th, 2013 by Matt

Last week I spoke at Massey Presbyterian Church on the topic “Is it arrogant to claim Jesus is the only way?” The following is an abridged version of the talk I gave.

ArrogantI was recently on a panel at Auckland University where an audience member raised the issue during the Q&A of religious pluralism. The issue is commonly raised as a rhetorical challenge, “isn’t it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way?” In a world where there exists widespread religious pluralism, where there are people who are just as intelligent, educated, and ostensibly as sincere as we are who hold to and pratice a different religion to Christianity or no religion at all, how can a Christain maintain that she is right and everyone else is wrong. Isn’t believing that Jesus is the only way simply arrogant?

In addressing this question I will first make three preliminary comments to identify what the issues are. Then, I will sketch three lines of response.

First some prelimaries. As a matter of logic, if you affirm some proposition then you must reject the negation or denial of that proposition. Contradictory claims cannot both be true. It follows from this that in so far as one accepts the teachings of a religion like Christianity are true, as opposed to accepting the teachings for purely pragmatic reasons, one is rationally commited to rejecting claims that contradict this teaching. If one accepts God exists then it follows that one will believe that atheism, the denial of God’s existence, is false. If God created the world then the claim the world is not created is false. If Jesus died by crucifixition then the claim he did not exist or he died some other way is false.If there will be a final ressurection from the dead where people are judged for their actions then the claim there is no afterlife is false. So, if one accepts Christianity is true then one has to believe that other religions and perspectives that contradict Christianity are false; failure to believe this would be irrational.

Second, accepting Christianity is true does not commit one to holding that there is no truth or value or good in other religions but it does commit one to the claim that these religions are mistaken where their teachings contradict the teachings of Christianity. This is signifcant as there are many issues on which different religions agree with Christianity, which makes them compatible with Christian teaching.

Consider, for example Islam. Muslims believe there is only one God whom they call Allah. Allah is the Arabic word for God and was used by Christians to refer to God before the time of Mohamed. Muslims also believe that God is the creator and sustainer of the world. They believe God is all powerful, all knowing and has certain traits such as being just and merciful. Muslims believe God will judge all people and there will be a general ressurection of the dead. In all these things, Christians agree with them.

Similarly, there are issues where Islam teaches about the way we should live that are perfectly compatible with Christian teachings, and which are arguably admirable given the standard Christian teachings on the same things. Muslims believe that one should give a third of one’s income to the poor, that one should pray five times a day.

On the other hand, Islamic theology teaches things that are incompatible with central Christian doctrines. Muslim’s deny the Trinity, deny that Jesus was the son of God, deny that Jesus was crucified and that he rose from the dead. They affirm that Mohamaded is the final and ultimate prophet of Allah. Accepting Christianity commits one to denying these claims but not the former ones.

What this shows is that Christians can accept that other religions and beliefs, and philosophers and theologians from within those traditions, can gain and appropriate genuine insight into the nature of God and his will for human kind. In fact, the Christian scriptures affirm this. In the first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul states that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul goes on to observe that this knowledge has been corrupted by Greco-Roman society but the point is that even behind such distortions is geniune insight of which the Pagans are [Read more →]

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