A Moment with Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard KiplingWe sometimes find gems in the most unusual places. I’ve always enjoyed Rudyard Kipling’s writings, but never expected to find a theodicy (a defense of God against the “problem of evil”) in his treasured works until a friend shared this. And so, this week, I pass this gem from 1919 on to you. May it give you something to think on this week.

“Natural Theology”


I ate my fill of a whale that died
And stranded after a month at sea. . . .
There is a pain in my inside.
Why have the Gods afflicted me?
Ow! I am purged till I am a wraith!
Wow! I am sick till I cannot see!
What is the sense of Religion and Faith:
Look how the Gods have afflicted me!


How can the skin of rat or mouse hold
Anything more than a harmless flea?. . .
The burning plague has taken my household.
Why have my Gods afflicted me?
All my kith and kin are deceased,
Though they were as good as good could be,
I will out and batter the family priest,
Because my Gods have afflicted me!


My privy and well drain into each other
After the custom of Christendie. . . .
Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
The Saints are helpless for all I offer–
So are the clergy I used to fee.
Henceforward I keep my cash in my coffer,
Because the Lord has afflicted me.


I run eight hundred hens to the acre
They die by dozens mysteriously. . . .
I am more than doubtful concerning my Maker,
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
What a return for all my endeavour–
Not to mention the L. S. D![1]
I am an atheist now and for ever,
Because this God has afflicted me!


Money spent on an Army or Fleet
Is homicidal lunacy. . . .
My son has been killed in the Mons retreat,
Why is the Lord afflicting me?
Why are murder, pillage and arson
And rape allowed by the Deity?
I will write to the Times, deriding our parson
Because my God has afflicted me.


We had a kettle: we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week. . .
The bottom is out of the Universe!


This was none of the good Lord’s pleasure,
For the Spirit He breathed in Man is free;
But what comes after is measure for measure,
And not a God that afflicteth thee.
As was the sowing so the reaping
Is now and evermore shall be.
Thou art delivered to thine own keeping.
Only Thyself hath afflicted thee!

– Rudyard Kipling

[1] L. S. D. the abbreviation for the Latin Libræ solidi denarii ‘Pounds, shillings and pence’ (not the drug).

Inconvenient Verses

Scripture Reading in Park_smallThis week, I want to address a potential temptation for Christians: using God’s Word simply as an emotional crutch, as a kind of spiritual “motivational poster”. Friends, don’t relegate the Bible to such a low position! The Bible is one consistent story, from beginning to end, of God’s restorative grace. What it is not is a vault of feel-good pick-me-ups to pull out whenever you’re feeling down. Certainly,there is a lot of encouragement in there, but more importantly, there is truth. And sometimes the truth is harsh and doesn’t fit very well in a picture frame with inspirational pictures of eagles and waterfalls and sunsets and such. So what do you do with those uncomfortable, challenging verses? If your Bible is an emotional crutch, you ignore them. You skip over to the passages you like. But be warned, you do so at your own risk. So what should you do?

Continue reading Inconvenient Verses

Chasing the Fountain of Youth

Surgeon Close-up SmallMy wife and I were talking about celebrities that have more or less ruined their appearance through plastic surgery. It seems crazy for people generally acknowledged as exceptionally beautiful to feel the need to undergo these cosmetic procedures that, honestly, can make them look a little freakish. You’ve seen the results: the “perpetually surprised” look, the “always squinting” look, the “I can’t stop smiling” look, and the “my face is a plastic shell incapable of emotion now” look. Granted, those are the cases we would say went badly, but why this obsession with erasing any signs of aging, real or imagined?

Maybe this surgical insanity has a spiritual root cause – a rejection of God. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: ideas have consequences. When we reject God, there are very real consequences in our lives. One is a prioritization of holding on to this life for as long as possible. In particular, we want to stay in the “sweet spot” of the prime of life forever. After all, if this is all we have, then we better enjoy it to the fullest while we can. Those signs of aging are all reminders of the unstoppable march of time. Wrinkles and gray hair are seen not as a sign of experience and wisdom, but rather as the growing undeniability of our own approaching death. Each wrinkle is an insult to the one without God, each gray hair a reminder that in a short time, they will be no more; they will cease to exist but as a memory, soon to be forgotten. I have to wonder if this isn’t the root cause of a lot of the sometimes disturbing obsession with vainly trying to hold on to our youth forever. But many of these attempts to retain youthful beauty seem to backfire and steal what these celebrities already had. In recent years, this has taken a more radical turn as people seek to change ever more fundamental aspects of themselves, and remake themselves as they feel they should’ve been made.

Does the Bible offer any perspective on any of this? Actually, quite a bit, but here’s a sampling:

  • “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”[1]
  • A gray head is a crown of glory“[2]
  • “The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.”[3]
  • “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”[4]
  • “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”[5]
  • “Now the word of the LORD came to me {Jeremiah} saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.'”[6]
  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[7]

We humans have intrinsic worth because we are created in the image of God. This doesn’t mean that we look like God, but rather that we are similar to Him and represent Him. We have intellect, creative free will, and moral capacity. We have an immaterial (spiritual) component of our being that is also immortal.[8] This reflection of God’s nature establishes a foundation for us and gives our lives perspective in 4 ways.

  1. It means that changes in our appearance, or social status, or skills, or anything else, don’t change our value. This allows for enormous emotional security and self-confidence as our worth as humans isn’t grounded in the ever-changing opinions of others.
  2. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we are not an accident. The God who sees the end from the beginning and knows each of us before we were even born, was not surprised by things like our race, our gender, our imperfections, or the time and place and culture we’re born into. They are all ways for us to live out His purpose for us if we only acknowledge Him.
  3. Understanding the inherent value of each person leads us to love every person, whether they are our family, friends, strangers, or even our enemies. This is a selfless love that seeks the good of others more than ourselves. When we take the focus off of ourselves, wrinkles and age spots don’t bother us anymore.
  4. Finally, we can face death with dignity, knowing that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”[9] Or as Shakespeare wrote, “Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”[10] Death comes to us all, but it is only a doorway to eternity.

For the Christian, we can delight in the security of God’s perfect plan. The passing years are only the passing mile markers in our travels in the service of the King, and thoughts of approaching death are not fearsome, but rather a homecoming after a short (but seemingly long) journey. With our self-worth grounded in God, we need not chase after the fountain of youth.

[1] Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)
[2] Proverbs 16:31a (NASB)
[3] Proverbs 20:29 (NASB)
[4] 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NASB)
[5] Psalm 139:14 (NASB)
[6] Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NASB)
[7] Genesis 1:26-27 (NASB), see also James 3:9.
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), pp 442-4. Grudem makes an interesting comparison between Gen 1:26 and Gen 5:3.
[9] Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)
[10] Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2.

Get the Ump! (The Axiological Argument)

AP Photo by Butch Dill
AP Photo by Butch Dill

We’ve looked at several lines of reasoning justifying a warranted belief in God this last month. Today, we turn to what can be called the Moral Argument, or the Axiological Argument (axia = “value” in Greek).

Here is a common formulation of the argument[1]:
Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

That first premise may seem like a big jump, so let’s dig into that  deeper by first defining our terms clearly.

  • “Values” are the moral worth of something; its goodness or badness. For example, helping the sick or the poor is generally recognized as “good”, while murdering them is generally recognized as “bad”.[2]
  • “Duties” are moral obligations or prohibitions; the rightness or wrongness of something. Something may be morally good without being an obligation. Moving to India to care for lepers may be a morally good action, but it’s not an obligation anyone has to do.
  • “Objective” means independent of opinion or perception of the subject, and is intrinsic to the object discussed. It’s the same for all subjects observing that object. Contrast this with subjective, which is based on a subject’s opinion or perception of an object and can vary between different subjects.
  • “Moral” refers to standards of right conduct.[3]

And therein lies the rub; standards are enforceable, while opinions aren’t. Morality is defined as a standard, but standards come from independent authorities. When two teams think the other one cheated, what do they do? They call for a decision from the umpire, the referee, the judge – whatever that sport calls their independent rule-enforcer. But the umpire has to be independent of either team, and he can’t make up the rules as he goes. He applies a defined standard impartially (we hope). What if each of the 2 teams comprised half the world? Who would be left to be an independent judge? The Axiological Argument highlights this need for a “third party”to define the standards we as humans abide by. Now, to clarify, this premise does not say that those who don’t believe in God can’t live ethical lives, understanding moral duties and making morally good decisions each day. Premise 1 is an ontological statement – a statement of existence; namely, that if God doesn’t exist, there would be no objective moral standards for us (atheist or theist) to recognize and live by. They would not exist without God, because He is the only one in the position to be truly independent and objective. Anything we come up with is just one person’s idea versus another’s.

Are there any reasons to accept premise 2’s claim that objective values and duties really do exist? J. Budziszewski has noted that “There is no land where murder is virtue and gratitude vice.”[4] Even in Nazi Germany, the Nazis dehumanized their victims (so it wasn’t murder) in an attempt to justify what they did. While extenuating circumstances can seem to relativize morality, the “fun test” confirms morality’s objectivity. “What’s that?”, you say? It’s a simple way to eliminate the effect of extenuating circumstances in justifying decisions. To see if circumstances would change the moral value of something, add “for fun” to the end of it. Lying to protect Jews from Nazis may be morally better than being an accomplice to their murder, but lying “for fun” is never considered morally good. Murdering Hitler to save millions may be justified, but murdering even Hitler “for fun” is not. Justifiable circumstances can be found for other deeds like stealing, arson, lying, etc, where the bad deed is the lesser of two evils. In dilemmas where the only options are all bad, a person may be justified in choosing the “least worst” choice. But murdering for fun, stealing for fun, etc, are never condoned or viewed as “good”. In an extreme example, the unacceptability of torturing innocent babies “for fun” would reveal that we really do consider there to be objective standards that shouldn’t be violated in any situation.

Therefore, God exists. Too simple? True premises and valid logic leave no other alternative but a true conclusion. We have defined our terms to avoid ambiguity and have provided support for the premises, and the syllogism that makes up this argument is logically valid (i.e. no logical fallacies present).  What characteristics about God can be inferred from this? First, His nature is intrinsic perfect goodness that is the standard for moral values. Second, His will establishes the standard for moral duties. What are some consequences of this conclusion? Simply this: we are accountable for our actions, but thankfully, it is a level playing field and we can know the game rules if we choose to learn them. We have an infallible Umpire who, unlike humans, will never make a bad call.

[1] See William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Colorado Springs, David C Cook, 2010), Ch. 6 for a much more detailed study of this argument.
[2] Evolutionary bioethicists like Peter Singer would disagree as this disrupts “survival of the fittest” by not killing off weak members of society. It’s more than a little disturbing that the New Yorker called Singer the planet’s “most influential living philosopher”. See why here.
[2] “Morality”, American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Ed., 2014.
[4]J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 208-20, as quoted in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Frank Turek, p. 171.

Divine Design (The Teleological Argument)

London Museum Roof SmallWe’ve been looking at different explanations for the existence of God, and this week we have one that resonates with me as an engineer: the teleological argument, or argument from design comes from the Greek word “telos” meaning end purpose or goal. The argument is as follows:
Premise 1: Every design has a designer.
Premise 2: The universe was designed.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a Designer.

Now let’s unpack those tidy little premises. Does every design have to have a designer? Design can be defined as: “a specification of an object (or process), manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints.” Though a bit dry, this actually describes my daily tasks as an engineer pretty well. But notice that design is defined as being “manifested by an agent”. It appears that designs have designers by definition. But even without the word “agent” in there, we can see that design requires intent – an end purpose, a goal. But goals require consciousness to make choices between alternatives. Processes like natural selection, unguided by conscious agents, can only “choose” alternatives that confer immediate advantage. For example, chess moves that sacrifice an immediate advantage for a long-term gain are not possible without the foresight of design. Chance and physical necessity also can’t explain evidence of design such as intent. Therefore, the indication of long-range intent is confirmation of a designer.

The second premise is perhaps more controversial. But let’s follow the evidence along 3 lines: terrestrial, cosmic, and biological design. First, many parameters on earth appear to be fine-tuned for life to exist, and not just any life, but large, complex life. Things like atmospheric transparency, oxygen content, the polarity of the water molecule, and the temperature of max density of water, among a variety of other dispersed parameters, appear to all be set to values in very narrow ranges that allow for our level of life to exist (and flourish). Second, although these values all fall in narrow ranges, we find in the universe parameters that are even more precisely balanced in favor of life. But these parameters are fine-tuned not just for life anywhere in the universe, but specifically for life on earth. Properties such as the speed of light, the ratio of proton to electron mass, the mass density, expansion rate, homogeneity, and entropy level of the universe, the  uniformity of radiation, the values of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), and the location of earth both in our galaxy and the Milky Way’s location in the universe, are some of the roughly 100 interdependent parameters that have to be what they are for us to exist.[1] Interestingly, we also happen to be in a unique position in the universe to even be able to see the evidence of this design.

Third, the structure and information content of DNA points to extremely information-centric design. Four DNA bases are the optimum number for speed of replication.[2] From a data storage standpoint, the 4 letter “alphabet” and 3 letter “words” used by DNA for synthesizing proteins are the most efficient system possible in terms of minimizing space requirements in the cell, simplifying encoding/decoding of the data, and maximizing redundancy for error checking.[3] DNA exhibits nested encoding where the same stored data is used to convey meaningful information when read one way, and different meaningful information when read a different way.[4] To understand the significance of this coding accomplishment, try writing a book that tells one story when read in order, and a different, but still intelligible, story when reading only every third word. This increases the storage capacity of DNA immensely. Even so, DNA does not have all of the information needed to assemble an organism in it.[5] Some of the information is stored outside the DNA, which leads to a chicken-and-egg problem of how the cell is built by plans stored in the DNA, but with instructions stored in the cell that’s being built using the DNA plans. Our planet, our universe, and even our own bodies appear to all show signs of design, making the second premise true.

If these 2 premises are true, then the conclusion is true that the universe had to have a designer. What characteristics could we infer about this designer from the conclusion?

  • Intelligence – far beyond that of any human designer to understand complex and interdependent “systems of systems” comprising the universe.
  • Foreknowledge – far beyond any human ability to anticipate highly complex interactions and plan for those contingencies.
  • Power – far beyond any human capacity to alter our surroundings (we celebrate when we figure out how to copy something in nature successfully; making all of nature from scratch is in a whole other league of accomplishment).
  • Intemporality and immateriality – no design precedes it’s designer. If the universe (and therefore all of space and time) had a designer, then that designer had to precede the universe. Therefore the designer would have to exist outside of space and time.
  • Benevolence – It’s relatively easy to imagine many ways our universe could be organized that would result in life being a much harder, more miserable, existence for us. Also, the fact of our unique position in the universe to be able to see so much of it could be an example of a deliberately placed trail leading us back to this designer.

These correspond well with the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, loving God of the Christian Bible. So then, how do we respond to this? We could a) accept the evidence left for us by this God, and seek after Him, b) deny the evidence having honest doubts, but attempt to offer an alternative that explains the evidence as well, or c) simply refuse to consider the evidence. Please, don’t be content with this last option.

[1] Hugh Ross, “Fine Tuning for Life in the Universe”, http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe, accessed 2014/08/03.
[2] “Why is the Number of DNA Bases 4?”, by Bo Deng, Dept. of Mathematics, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Published in the 2006 Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.
[3] Werner Gitt, Without Excuse (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 162-166.
[4] Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), p. 466.
[5]  ibid., p. 473-474.