How Can We Tell If The Universe Has Design?

This is another in a series of questions about Christianity from critics and skeptics.

Question: In most arguments from design, the universe is compared to a designed object. For example, Paley uses a watch to illustrate design, since we all know watches are designed. What other universe is the proponent of Intelligent Design comparing our current universe to so he can show design? We would need another universe that is designed or undersigned to compare this one so we can decide about design. With only one universe to evaluate, we can make no valid comparisons about design.

Answer: This question sets up a false dilemma. It is not true that we need another universe to compare ours. We can merely observe that everything that works toward an end has an intelligence behind it working toward that end. All things that are purposeless require no designer, a fact which many thoughtful atheists are quick to point out. Thomas Aquinas put it this way in On Truth (De Veritate), Q5.A2:

Those things that happen by chance, happen only rarely; we know from experience, however, that harmony and usefulness are found in nature either at all times or at least for the most part. This cannot be the result of mere chance; it must be because an end is intended.

Thomas is here saying that because we see harmony and usefulness in the universe on a regular basis, we can conclude that it is only reasonable that things are working toward an end. Atheist  Richard Dawkins has said “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Such is a hard position to take consistently, for even Dawkins will tell us in the next breath that religion is evil, a fact contrary to what he has just told us. If evil truly exists, then something in the universe is working toward an end; if evil does not exist, then a primary criticism of religion is taken away, namely that no good God would allow pain and suffering.

Thomas continues:

What lacks intellect or knowledge, however, cannot tend directly toward an end. It can do this only if someone else’s knowledge has established an end for it, and directs it to that end. Consequently, since natural things have no knowledge, there must be some previously existing intelligence directing them to an end, like an archer who gives a definite motion to an arrow so that it will wing its way to a determined end.

We do not observe total randomness and chaos in the universe; if we did, the language we use to communicate is meaningless. Dawkins’ very statement, saying that universe is meaningless clear to the bottom, is itself a meaningful statement. Thomas Aquinas recognized that we do indeed observe things working toward an end, therefore some intelligence somewhere is directing something.

To maintain that no design exists, the atheist would have to maintain that all of the universe is total randomness and chaos, a meaningless pile on top of a meaningless foundation. Similar to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, if the critic were to observe the world and conclude that the universe has no design, then the basis for us making the evaluation would have no meaning, and the critic’s argument self-destructs. Indeed, the very concept of the existence of a critic self destructs.

Yet we know the critic exists, we know good and evil exist, and we know things in the universe move toward ends.

Further, the implication in the question is that there is no independent way to verify design. Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski has responded with a simple answer, namely that if the structures and design in nature can be duplicated without intervention, the theory would be falsified.

We then hold that design in nature is reasonable, and denial of it is not reasonable. Any design needs a designer. This we call God.

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Why Do Atheists Search For Meaning?

On the Facebook page of a college atheist club, I read a post by one of the atheist leaders. He linked to a news article about a humanist couple who had formed a group to help people find meaning and purpose in life. The atheist leader added “Great to see mainstream media writing about science-based, rational approaches to finding meaning and purpose in life.”

Now all this is well and good, for who could be against people finding meaning and purpose? We are, however, immediately reminded of atheist guru Richard Dawkins who has told us “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Dawkins has repeated this concept, telling us that questions related to such things as the purpose for things in the universe are completely meaningless questions, on par with asking “what is the color of jealousy?”

Atheists have long held that the world from top to bottom is completely without meaning or purpose. In the 1890’s, atheist Friedrich Nietzche wrote “Whither are we moving? . . . Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?” In the 1930’s agnostic Bertrand Russell, after pointing out that the universe will result in a vast inevitable death, concluded that our lives can be built “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

Yet in the news article and the post I read, we have atheists and humanists spending great energy and spraying grand compliments about finding meaning in life. How can this be? If the universe were indeed “nothing but blind pitiless indifference” from top to bottom, why do we, as parts of the universe, search for it and hold it valuable?

One atheist I met admitted to local meaning but no long-term, ultimate meaning. All such explanations seem to have arbitrary, conjured, and tortured distinctions. We are again left with the question: If there truly is no ultimate meaning, why would we care to pursue one?

Further, atheists spend much energy attempting to stamp out the perceived wrongs of religion. If all of life is meaningless, why care? Yet they do care. Why? And do not give me all this claptrap about searching for truth or how we care about people. Again, if things are as meaningless as Dawkins, Russell, and Nietzche tell us, there is no purpose in finding truth or helping our neighbor, both thoroughly religious concepts.

The answer to this problem is best answered generally through theism, and specifically through Christianity. No matter how much we deny that there is meaning and purpose in the universe, the truth is that we all long for it. We are wired with the thought that there must be more. We search for meaning because we know there we will find significance. We know that blind pitiless indifference is not something we want or will accept, for we protest against wrongs, uphold what is good, and search for meaning that we do not have.

We protest against wrongs done to us and our neighbors because we know there is an ultimate standard of good that transcends the universe. Jesus told us “I am the way.” He is the source where we find meaning.

For the atheist and humanist who deny Jesus, they are locked in eternal dissonance, at once longing for meaning yet denying its existence.

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Some of the Most Educated People Are Christians

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The Unreasonableness of Atheism

There is great post over at the Shadow To Light blog. You can find it here.  That post reminds me of a statement made by Richard Howe, where he said this:

When I was debating this atheist, I asked him, ‘what would convince you there is a god?’ He said “If all the chairs in this room rose up, flew against the back wall, and spelled ‘I am here — God’ then I would believe there is a god.” I am not convinced he would believe if this happened. If he was consistent philosophically, his atheism would have some way of trying to account for it, that there is some type of natural law that we have not yet discovered. Why do I think this? Because they already do this in things they observe, like the DNA molecule.

Suppose that all the chairs did rise up and float against the back wall and spell out “I do exist — God” and this atheist does believe there is a god. Suppose then that he goes out and tells others that he believes there is a god. They ask him why, and he tells them about the chairs. Then the same thing happens to them….the chairs rise up and float against the back wall, and they believe there is a god. And so he goes out into the world and everywhere that he confronts an atheist, chairs rise up and float against the wall. Until finally, he tells a person that he believes in god, and the person asks why. He tells the person he believes because chairs rise up and spell things against the wall, saying that there is a god. The person then responds, ‘Oh, that happens all the time. That’s no evidence for god; that’s always happening.’

So the atheist complains that God is not giving enough miraculous evidence for His existence, but if you give enough evidence for His existence, they just take the abundance of that evidence and call it a natural event. Ask the atheist, ‘DNA has information. Do you think that at least shows there is an intelligence?’ They say, ‘No, DNA is a natural thing. It’s in everything.’ Thus if there is not enough evidence, the atheist complains, but if there is an abundance of evidence, they redefine the evidence and call it natural.

Both the post on Shadow To Light and Howe’s comment support the same idea. The modern atheist speaks a lot about reason and logic and the demand for evidence. But when they are forced to state what would be enough reasonable evidence to convince them of the existence of God, they either hide behind the false idea that atheists do not have to prove anything, or they demand a god-of-the-gaps type of evidence. In reality, no evidence would satisfy the modern atheist, for they have already approached every problem from a viewpoint that only allows non-god answers. The atheist assumes a metaphysical naturalism, saying that all events are caused by physical or chemical forces, only allows physics and chemistry in the discussion, then ridicules the theist for not having a physical explanation for a non-physical cause, God.

The questions in the Shadow To Light blog are insightful and point out the weaknesses of the typical atheist position:

  1. What would you count as actual, credible, real-world evidence for God?
  2. Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God?
  3. Is the God-of-the-gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God?

The atheists’ only possible answers to 1. and 2. are a type of miracle that cannot be explained by natural causes, but 3. forces us to realize they only allow natural causes. In Howe’s story, he is correct that in the atheist world, no matter how fantastic or inexplicable the event, a miracle is not the cause. Skeptic David Hume told us that uniform experience is against miraculous events caused by God. C. S. Lewis responded with his typical wit:

Now of course we must agree with Hume that, if there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, if, in other words, they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports of them to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle. 

The modern atheist puts up a front of demanding logic and reason, then rigs the rules like a carnival game, going around looking for easy marks.

Our response is to show that the atheist, holding to a worldview that only allows natural causes, must admit that he is not approaching the questions from an intellectually honest, neutral position. They do not allow evidence for God because they do not want there to be a God, especially one that demands answers for how we live.

If we shine the clear light of logic upon the naturalists’ positions, we find they are mostly sweet-tasting rhetoric devoid of proofs. In but one example, Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape spends a great deal of ink telling us that morals come from natural causes, but fails to give us a single one or speculate as to how this could happen. Yet Harris worships at the altar of reason as much as the other leading atheists.

If we approach God with an open mind and open heart, then use the reason He gave us to evaluate the evidence, we find that the Bible is a true and accurate account of His message to us. It is only reasonable to trust an all-wise God that loved us so much to reach out to us, even though we are undeserving.

Note added later: One main point which the post did not make clear is that the atheist’s desire for proofs for God all must be god-of-the-gaps type proofs, yet they quickly remind Christians that god-of-the-gaps is a fallacy, precluding any possibility of using any of the evidences they demand Christians give. The only possible answer to question 1 above (evidence for God) would be one not explainable by natural causes, which would be some version of god-of-the-gaps, which they quickly hold to be fallacious. They only admit causes that are from physics and chemistry, then demand an explanation not explainable by physics and chemistry. But you knew all that already. 

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Let’s Hunker Down and Be Pious: Another Example of Misguided Bible Teaching

I have a presentation that I call What Is The Mess We Are In And How Did We Get Here? In the presentation, I review the history of western churches over the last 150 years, how they reacted to the non-Christians who were attacking the integrity of the Bible. An all-to-common reaction was for Christians to retreat into the sanctity of the church rather than deal with the difficult issues they encountered in the world.

The result was predictable. If the Christians remove themselves from public discourse, they take their moral compass with them, and the only people left to direct society were those who fundamentally disagreed with Christian positions. Over much of the last hundred years, the cycle increasingly got worse, with skeptics increasing their attack on the Bible, and Christians either capitulating and agreeing the Bible is filled with error, or staunchly holding to the integrity of the scriptures while avoiding the problems by hiding from the world. The thought was that if Christians stay to the spiritual issues presented in the Bible, we will be safe and holy. The end result was either the liberals who capitulated about the Bible and watered down the gospel, or conservatives who held to truth of the gospel while avoiding all issues in the world.

The result was that both sides of Christianity, both liberal and conservative, allowed the world to fall apart. Christians removed ourselves from all public discourse that would influence the world in a Godly direction. On the liberal side, we can hold up the example of John Spong, who, while holding himself to be Christian, systematically denied every major doctrine of the faith, and most of the minor ones, too (see here). On the conservative side, we can hold up the myriad of Christian leaders who think it good and proper to not try to influence society, but think all we should do is teach the parts of the Bible that focus on regenerating sinners. These people somehow ignore the Bible passages that teach us to publicly engage a lost sinful world.

This week I heard a very talented young man give an excellently-delivered sermon. He was well-prepared, had obviously studied his topic, and gave an excellent presentation of the good news we find in Jesus. It was also one of the most unpleasant, distasteful sermons I have heard in a very long time. In the course of the message, we were told that all discourse with a lost world was empty arguing, and that all attempts to improve the morals of society were legalism.

While I applaud all attempts to give a clear presentation of the good news found in Jesus, I also find messages like the one I heard this week to be pietism, not piety. Are we not to engage the lost world to help make it a better place? According to this speaker, no we are not, for all such attempts are arguing and legalism, which he repeatedly denounced. He confused legalism with our obligations as Christians. Legalism is teaching others that rule-following will get them into a right relationship with God, while God’s command to Christians is to influence society because it is the right thing to do.

The speaker’s type of pietism thinks we are wasting our time getting involved in worldly issues. It sounds so spiritual, does it not? Let’s just focus on letting God regenerate lost sinners. But how would we apply such an idea? Are we to ignore sex trafficking? Are we to not speak against wives getting beat up by their husbands? Is it sinful for us to lobby government to reduce the raping of children? As Christians, do we not have a message that can help marriage, venereal disease, alcoholism, suicide, discrimination, and single parenting? What about pornography and voluntary child killing (abortion)? Are we to be silent on these issues, not offering the world a moral compass that they have long since lost?

No one is saying that we will fix society with human effort alone. Romans 3:23 is true, and no amount of human effort will get us closer to God. But we can make the world a better place to to do evangelism, and we can help people because it is the right thing to do. We can refute error in public as the Bible commands us to do. We can only help people eternally by introducing them to Christ, but we can help people temporally by introducing them to His ideas.

Why should we focus on issues? In my municipality, just within the last two years, there has been a struggle after the government issued a legal statement demanding all pastors to submit sermon messages to the government attorneys if their pulpit messages spoke about a recent law allowing men dressed as women to use women’s bathing rooms at swimming pools. Regardless of our personal feelings about gender confusion, think about it: the government wanted pre-approval rights of sermon messages, and the response from the speaker I heard was to not reason with the world, not engage in moral discourse with non-believers. Are we to remain pious until our rights to speak in public are gone?

Lest we think it is Biblical to lock our minds away into exclusively pietistic Bible study, I submit the following clear scriptural messages, all of which tell us to do the exact opposite of the message I heard this week:

–“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (1 Cor. 10:5)
–“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
–“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one.” (Col. 4:5-6)
–“I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
–“. . . he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:7
–“When [Apollos] arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:27-28)
–“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15

There are more, but you get the idea. Bluntly, the teaching that we should “not argue nor give legalism” toward those outside the church is a one-sided view of the scriptures born out of a misguided attempt to be pious. The speaker I heard gave a very Calvinist gospel presentation, but followed with an incorrect teaching toward those who are outside the church. Such is reformed theology gone to seed, for this is not the teaching of such men as D. James Kennedy nor B. B. Warfield, both of which held to reformed theology but thought it our job to engage false ideas head on.

Luckily there are some teachers today that understand the true biblical position. In today’s radio broadcast of Pathway To Victory, Robert Jeffress told us “Jesus said ‘as my representatives on earth today, you are to be salt. You are to be a preservative in this culture. You are to keep this world from prematurely imploding so that people have longer to accept the gospel.'”

Jeffress is correct, and the young man I heard this week is painfully misguided.

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Jeremiah 33 Predicts a Continual Heir of David over Israel. True or False?

Bible critics have claimed that the prophecies in Jeremiah 33:17-18 did not come to pass. Upon examination, the Bible is proven true and the critics shown to be in error.

The Claim

Jeremiah 33:17-18 says:

For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel;
and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually.’ ” (NASB)

The critic claims that Israel has clearly not had a descendant of David on the throne for 25 centuries, nor has it had a Levitical priest offering burnt offerings for almost 20 centuries. The reference to Levitical priests making burnt offerings, specifically grain offerings, holds us to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament law. Therefore, according to the critic, we must hold to a literal interpretation of the passage, not some future spiritual kingdom. The hearer of Jeremiah would have understood this to be a literal earthly kingdom in the normal sense. Since neither verse has come true, the Bible must be held to be false.

The Response

Here the critic makes a common mistake, for the passage in Jeremiah is rather clear and obvious as to its meaning. A reading of the entire passage shows Jeremiah to be very accurate and true.

It is a mistake to go to one or two verses and read only those verses. If we read the entire chapter of Jeremiah 33, even the entire book, we find a rather clear story. First, by the time Jeremiah 33 was written, the kingdom was already mostly destroyed, as Jeremiah makes very clear:

  • The end of the country was known from the first of the book, for Jer. 1:3 tells us of the death of the king and the nation.
  • 2 Kings 18:9-12 tells us that the northern kingdom of Israel had already been destroyed, and the people either killed or carried away to captivity many years earlier. The line of kings of Israel had been stopped over a hundred years prior to Jeremiah’s birth.
  • The southern kingdom of Judah was mostly already destroyed by the most powerful army in the world, Babylon, which was besieging Jerusalem (32:1-2)
  • God, through Jeremiah, had already said that wicked king Zedekiah would be defeated and carried away to Babylon, ending his reign as king (32:4-5). Jeremiah would know this would be the end of Judah as a nation.
  • The houses inside the city, including that of the king, had already been destroyed and the materials used as a last gasp effort to improve fortifications (33:4).
  • Jeremiah predicts more death and destruction for Jerusalem (33:5).
  • Most of the land was already laid waste without man nor beast. The streets were already desolate. (33:10, 12)

The critics claim about 33:17-18 seems to assume that Jeremiah did not know Jerusalem was about to fall. It is clearly false to suggest that Jeremiah was predicting a rosy, long-term future for the current line of the kings of Judah or Israel. By 33:17-18, Israel had not had a king for about a 150 years, and Judah, Jerusalem, and the sacrifices were about to stop, a fact Jeremiah had already prophesied and knew to be true.

Second, the end of the book of Jeremiah goes into detail about the fall of Judah and the death of the king and the nation (see ch. 52). If the prophesy of 33:17-18 had been an obvious mistake, as the critics claim, Jeremiah’s writings would have never been saved for posterity. At the very least, it would have been an extremely odd thing for a writer to include when by the time Jeremiah’s book was published, the king and the country were all dead and gone.

Third, in the midst of obvious destruction, Jeremiah is clearly speaking of a future time of blessing:

  • 33:14 God says “The days are coming” when He will again bless Israel and Judah.
  • 33:15 “In those days and at that time” God will raise up a “righteous branch to spring up for David.”
  • 33:16 says “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will will dwell securely.”

This is the immediate context of Jeremiah 33:17-18. When will this happen? Clearly, “in those days and at that time,” which was a future time, not at the time of writing, when the land was already almost completely destroyed. Further support is given with the verses immediately following speak of God’s covenants happening at “their appointed time.”

Further support is given throughout Jeremiah 33, which speaks of God’s blessings in several future tense verbs:

  • 33:6, “I will heal them”
  • 33:7, “I will restore . . . as they were at first.”
  • 33:8, “I will cleanse them . . . I will forgive . . .”
  • 33:9, “this city shall be . . . “
  • 33:11, “. . . I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first”

Most of this section of the chapter is in future tense, and the section clearly speaks of “in those days and at that time” while the current situation was horrendous.

So we can only take Jeremiah 33:17-18 as false prophesies if we merely turn to those two verses and ignore the rest of the chapter and the rest of the book, which is what critics do all too often. We cannot wrench a text from its context. When we look at what Jeremiah is actually saying, the word of God is found true. Jeremiah was speaking of a future time of blessing of the land and the people, a time that has not yet come to pass.

What about the Levitical sacrifices? This presents no problem, for it could be that in a future divine kingdom, when Jesus, the root and branch of David, reigns as king, the sacrifices may again be instituted as a sign that looks back to the true sacrifice, just as the original Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to the true sacrifice.

Nowhere does Jeremiah say there will be a continual, uninterrupted series of kings in the line of David. Rather, chapter 33 is saying in that day, the day of blessing, Israel and Judah will have an heir of David as king.

The Bible is once again proven true and accurate, and the critic is found to be picking passages to hide their true motivation: it is not the case that there is a lack of evidence for Christianity, but rather the critic does not want to trust Jesus. We can only conclude that the critic does not read the text honestly, but merely looks for proofs to support their own preconceived biases. They would do better to read the Bible for what it is: the word of God given by eyewitnesses.

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Sufficient Conditions for Free Moral Choice

I have written an eight part series on agency, which is the idea that people can indeed have free will and make free moral choices. The first of this series explains the importance of the issue and can be found here, but note that posts five to eight have the real heart of the justification for free will. I have also written a lighthearted response to those who continually insist that free moral choice somehow needs a cause outside the person (see here).

My previous explanations for free will rest upon the fact that everything that moves from potential to actual must do so by the power of something that is already actual. While this explanation is valid, today we explore another valid explanation for human free will.

When we seek an explanation for something, we look at the technical terms necessary and sufficient.  Fuel is necessary for a fire, but fuel by itself is not sufficient for a fire. Merely having fuel does not make a fire. Oxygen is necessary for a fire, as is heat. Any of these three things, taken one at a time, is necessary for fire but not sufficient. When we put together all three — fuel, oxygen, and heat — we have fire. Therefore the conditions of having fuel, oxygen, and heat together are sufficient conditions for fire. Therefore if we have sufficient conditions, we can logically say we need not seek any further conditions to prove a thing’s existence.

So let us keep in mind the concepts of act/potential and sufficient conditions when we explore human free will agency.

Is an act of the will something that begins to exist in the sense that it needs a prior cause, or are all the conditions there from the beginning, and free will is not a separate act that needs a prior cause? The movement of my hand is an act of will, but is the decision to move my hand a separate event that needs a prior cause?

I submit that human agency is a different type of thing than many other events. We can explain human agency as the ability to choose between alternatives and act on the choice. An act of the will is a judgement based on prior-existing desires and the ability to make reasoned judgments. I have a desire, such as hunger, and I reason that the object in front of me is food, therefore I move my hand to get the food. The free will act to grab the food requires no other cause nor condition than the desire, the ability to reason, and the power to move. These prerequisite conditions are sufficient for a free will act of human agency.

Author Timothy O’Connor seems to agree, for he has a similar explanation in his book Persons & Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will. Taylor describes a subject whose desire grows to the point that it overcomes the judgement, and the agent acts. Another subject trains his judgement to the point it shapes his desires, and a decision is made to act or not. (p. 93-94). O’Connor refers to “self-determining causal activity” (p.93) that is the agent making a choice. Note that the cause comes from the self, which tells us where the activity is sourced (the self) and that it is caused. Yet the activity is not uncaused from nothing, but is explained by the existence of desire, reason, and power to act. Thomas Aquinas speaks of similar mental activity when he speaks of human judgement acting upon sense perceptions as the basis for our knowledge.

Does a free will act require some prior cause not explained by desire, reason, and power to move? I have addressed this in the eight-part series, and O’Connor addresses this very question in explaining the work of Richard Taylor (p. 52-55, 61). Because an agent causes an event, there is no logical reason to insist that there must be a cause acting upon the agent from outside, causing the agent to act. The conditions from within the agent are sufficient to cause the free will act, therefore the act is caused by the agent. One of the conditions placed into the mind of the agent is the ability to deliberate about decisions.

We therefore agree with Taylor when he says “No reason has been given why we cannot adequately explain an action by characterizing it as the freely initiated behavior of an agent who is motivated by a particular reason.” (p.91) He also says “Agent-causal events are intrinsically actions — the exercise of control over one’s behavior. It is senseless to demand some further means of controlling this exercise of control.” (p. 58-59)

Therefore the world does not act mechanistically, and all events are not inevitable and predetermined. When we chose to lie and break God’s commandment, it was our choice. Therefore the common-sense description of free moral agency is supported. The Bible takes this view, for it tells us to “choose this day whom you will serve” and repeatedly speaks of people making a choice to receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

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