Monday, September 3, 2018

Good Is Real

In the last post, “Evil Is Real,” I linked to a video about Operation Underground Railroad, the organization founded by Tim Ballard that rescues children from human trafficking. If you followed that link, you found that there are several additional connected documentaries. In the second one, "Finding Light in the Darkness," Ballard recounts the story of finding two young children in Haiti, a brother and sister, and his story of adopting them.
Tim Ballard, of Operation Underground Railroad
screen shot from "Finding Light in the Darkness"

I heard him tell this story in person a couple of years ago, in a setting where he was fully able to express his religious beliefs, and how that is key to the story. Much of that also comes through in this documentary.

He met the two children, and they were on his mind the following night, when he was coming down from the adrenaline rush, after the arrests of the perpetrators were made and the children were safe. Usually when he would feel these strong emotions, he would pray to have relief from them, so that he would be able to carry on with the work. If you get too emotionally attached to every child in every raid, you can’t move on and focus on the job that needs to be done. This time, however, the prayers didn’t bring relief. The feelings intensified. He ended up calling his wife in the middle of the night, and telling her what he was going through.

She said, “You want to adopt those children!” which was beyond any thought he had formed. They had six kids of their own already. Adopting children was a crazy idea. No, he just wanted relief, but he couldn’t get it. Would she come and help him? She said, no, she didn’t need to come. She also felt like they should adopt the children, and he just needed to start the paperwork.

It took four years to accomplish that task. Most of the first year was spent trying to locate them. Because he was a foreigner, not from Haiti, he was not allowed to know where they had been sent; he was just assured that they were safe.

There were many trips back to Haiti, preparing for and performing other missions. Each time he continued his search for these children, but he couldn’t find them. There was one person in the government who could override the rule preventing him from getting the information he needed, and he had tried unsuccessfully several times to meet with her. There was one last day. He asked his wife to gather the children to be on their knees praying for him at an exact hour, when he would enter the government building hoping to get the information he needed.

The part of the Ballard family that went to Haiti to pick up
the adopted brother and sister are about to introduce them
to the rest of the family.
screen shot from "Finding Light in Darkness"
He and a friend arrived slightly early. Tim waited before entering, because he wanted to be sure his timing coincided with the family’s prayer. Then he went through the gate and bumped into a woman on her way out. Because of the timing, he said, “Who are you?” It turned out she was one of the rare English speakers he could have bumped into. When he told her what he was trying to do, she asked the name of the children. He told her, and she started jumping up and down and saying, “Praise Jesus!” over and over. So he joined her in that. And then he asked what she was praising Jesus for.
She ran an orphanage; it was one of several that the children from the raid so many months before had been sent to. The brother and sister had been sent to her orphanage; she had them. It was well across town. She was only in this government building to handle some paperwork that day. And if he had come in a minute earlier or later, they would not have run into each other.

To Tim Ballard, this was a direct and obvious answer to prayer. That’s a much more reasonable explanation than that it was just an odd coincidence.

I’m telling this story, because I’ve been listening to the debate between Jordan Peterson and atheist Sam Harris, from this past June. Jordan Peterson’s view of religion comes at it from an evolutionary psychologist’s point of view. It’s interesting, but it’s cerebral in its approach to what is transcendent of the intellect and reason. Sam Harris’s view is that religion is actually harmful, and the better approach to finding the best way to live a life would be to use pure reason.

Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris debate, Bret Weinstein moderates
screen shot from here

Peterson is often reticent to give a direct answer to whether he believes in God, because he doesn’t like all the attachments to the answer that other people make. But he does say he lives his life as though there is a God, and that he has evidences that lead him to believe that is the right way. But as a scientist, more so in this discussion than in some others I’ve heard, he talks about religion as the metaphorical stories making up religion that lead us to lead better lives.

What Harris takes from that is that metaphors, or stories, are just fiction, even if sometimes they are useful; you can’t trust a fiction for guidance to truth, because you know it's fiction. Also, he believes the dogma that surround religions are harmful and evil.

Harris’s view negates the religious point of view because of an a priori premise that religion is about belief in something pretend, an invisible being who doesn’t exist.

But he fails utterly to grasp the experiential evidence such as Tim Ballard’s story. Ballard’s story is dramatic, and clearly shows God’s hand. And he has a number of other stories—many involving his wife and her uncanny ability to follow promptings that she knows are from God, and that lead to important good outcomes for the children and the family and others. My personal stories may be less dramatic or convincing for others, but they are no less real for me.

I’m also not satisfied with Peterson’s explanation. It starts with an assumption about evolutionary science that I don’t totally buy into. In fact, I start with my belief in God, which is a truth that I believe I have received enough evidence for. And while I do not know how God went about creating us as the fully formed intelligent, self-aware beings that we are, I use the evolutionary science more as a metaphor to describe that some things, and some creatures, are simple and others complex—rather than as a map of how one thing progressed from another, which we don’t actually know.

I do think there’s something to the idea that archetypal stories are metaphors we use to understand things that are true. But my religious experience leads me to believe that God often uses metaphor and symbolism in stories that are also factually true. It would have been a stronger response to Harris’s arguments to say that God is not only metaphorically factual, but actually factual, and Harris' personal lack of evidence does not negate the personal evidence of billions of other humans.

Harris uses the most heinous elements of some religions to claim that religions in general are bad: human sacrifice, genocide of infidels, execution of apostates. My hypothesis is that these are corruptions of religion. They do not honor a God who created us and loves and cares for us. Nor do they honor life, family, truth, or property. Such religions lack the necessities of civilization.

So what Harris is referring to isn’t religious truth; it’s a distortion, a corruption—which implies that there was something whole that they are distortions and corruptions from.

Moreover, he looks at reason as the source for truth and goodness. This fails to notice a couple of things. For one thing, reasoning, or logic, only works if you start with the right assumption. One example provided in the PragerU video "Where Do Good and Evil Come From?" (included below) is that criminals plan a heist using reason. Reason helps them carry out a successful theft without it causing them to realize the wrongness of the theft. So, in order for reason to lead to moral truth, it needs to start with a moral assumption.
From the PragerU video
"Where Do Good and Evil Come From?"
presented by Peter Kreet,
Professor of Philosophy at Boston College

Where can reason get that? It gets it from a milieu of morality. It’s logical to see that dealing honestly and truthfully with others is morally good, if you live in a society where that is normal. If you live in a society where master have their slaves serve them, and that is all you’ve known, it is logically reasonable to see that as the right way, and perfectly moral—which most of the societies on earth have done. That reasoning doesn’t make it morally true. But true religion—which tells us humans are created by God and have a divine nature—tells us that enslaving a human being is morally wrong.

In other words, Harris believes he gets to moral truth through reason, when he’s really benefiting from living in a civilization with a religious moral legacy.

Peter Kreet lists and refutes the various sources for
moral truth proposed by atheists,

There’s a hypothetical question Peterson and Harris consider: If you were to do an experiment in which you take a religious people to settle one isolated frontier, and reasoning atheists to settle another completely separate isolated frontier, which society would more likely become a thriving civilization? Harris believes it’s obvious the reasoning one will do better.

But it isn’t obvious. And history tells us that atheistic societies (which all the socialist/communist ones are) are much more likely to savagely massacre huge portions of the population. What he’s assuming is that he’ll take the reasoning of people who already benefit from the experience of living in civilized societies—which are based on moral principles—and carry on with everyone being moral simply because the good outcomes are rational.

Good doesn’t come from nothing. In fact, good itself is a moral judgment. If that judgment is based on current reasoning, it can change, depending on how individuals or groups think at a given time. There’s no moral absolute there, because there’s no source of absolute moral good, or moral truth.

You only get that if there is a transcendent source. As Professor Kreet says in the video:

Just as a design suggests a designer, moral commands suggest a moral commander. Moral Laws must come from a moral lawgiver.
Well, that sounds pretty much like what we know as God.
The consequence of this argument is that whenever you appeal to morality you are appealing to God whether you know it or not; you’re talking about something religious, even if you think you’re an atheist.
That’s similar to what I’ve heard Jordan Peterson say elsewhere, in a Q&A after a lecture:
Everything you act out is predicated on your implicit axioms. The system of implicit axioms that you hold as primary is your religious belief system. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist or not. That’s just surface noise….
It doesn’t necessarily have to do with your voluntarily articulated statements about whether or not you believe in something like a transcendent deity. So, what you act out is much more what you are than what you say about yourself. And what the hell do you know about what you believe, anyways?
We know that evil is real, because we experience it. We also know that good exists, because we experience it. We know these things and act on them, even before we know how to identify and articulate our beliefs.

So good is real. And that means God is real—the source and definer of ultimate good. If that is so, then we are better off living our lives in search of God’s truth, gaining experience with Him, and from Him. You don’t get that by experimenting with living a life that excludes God; you get that by seeking Him, through study, faith, and practice at choosing good even when bad is easier and possibly appears more rational.

God has a better view. And civilizations thrive when enough people within them live God’s guiding principles, as articulated in the Ten Commandments: honor God, life, family, truth, and property.

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