Repost: Augustine: What is Government without Justice?


[Repost from this link]

St. Augustine states that kingdoms without justice are mere robberies, and robberies are like small kingdoms; but large Empires are piracy writ large (5th C)


St. Augustine (354-430), in Book IV of The City of God, relates the story about the pirate who had been seized and brought before Alexander the Great. The cheeky pirate asks Alexander what is the real difference between a pirate and an emperor apart from the scale of action

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):


    Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”


    I shall not therefore stay to inquire what sort of men Romulus gathered together, seeing he deliberated much about them,—how, being assumed out of that life they led into the fellowship of his city, they might cease to think of the punishment they deserved, the fear of which had driven them to greater villainies; so that henceforth they might be made more peaceable members of society. But this I say, that the Roman empire, which by subduing many nations had already grown great and an object of universal dread, was itself greatly alarmed, and only with much difficulty avoided a disastrous overthrow, because a mere handful of gladiators in Campania, escaping from the games, had recruited a great army, appointed three generals, and most widely and cruelly devastated Italy. Let them say what god aided these men, so that from a small and contemptible band of robbers they attained to a kingdom, feared even by the Romans, who had such great forces and fortresses. Or will they deny that they were divinely aided because they did not last long? As if, indeed, the life of any man whatever lasted long. In that case, too, the gods aid no one to reign, since all individuals quickly die; nor is sovereign power to be reckoned a benefit, because in a little time in every man, and thus in all of them one by one, it vanishes like a vapor. For what does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and are long since dead, that after their death the Roman empire has grown so great, while they plead their causes before the powers beneath? Whether those causes are good or bad, it matters not to the question before us. And this is to be understood of all those who carry with them the heavy burden of their actions, having in the few days of their life swiftly and hurriedly passed over the stage of the imperial office, although the office itself has lasted through long spaces of time, being filled by a constant succession of dying men. If, however, even those benefits which last only for the shortest time are to be ascribed to the aid of the gods, these gladiators were not a little aided, who broke the bonds of their servile condition, fled, escaped, raised a great and most powerful army, obedient to the will and orders of their chiefs and much feared by the Roman majesty, and remaining unsubdued by several Roman generals, seized many places, and, having won very many victories, enjoyed whatever pleasures they wished, and did what their lust suggested, and, until at last they were conquered, which was done with the utmost difficulty, lived sublime and dominant. But let us come to greater matters.


    Justinus, who wrote Greek or rather foreign history in Latin, and briefly, like Trogus Pompeius whom he followed, begins his work thus: “In the beginning of the affairs of peoples and nations the government was in the hands of kings, who were raised to the height of this majesty not by courting the people, but by the knowledge good men had of their moderation. The people were held bound by no laws; the decisions of the princes were instead of laws. It was the custom to guard rather than to extend the boundaries of the empire; and kingdoms were kept within the bounds of each ruler’s native land. Ninus king of the Assyrians first of all, through new lust of empire, changed the old and, as it were, ancestral custom of nations. He first made war on his neighbors, and wholly subdued as far as to the frontiers of Libya the nations as yet untrained to resist.” And a little after he says: “Ninus established by constant possession the greatness of the authority he had gained. Having mastered his nearest neighbors, he went on to others, strengthened by the accession of forces, and by making each fresh victory the instrument of that which followed, subdued the nations of the whole East.” Now, with whatever fidelity to fact either he or Trogus may in general have written—for that they sometimes told lies is shown by other more trustworthy writers—yet it is agreed among other authors, that the kingdom of the Assyrians was extended far and wide by King Ninus. And it lasted so long, that the Roman empire has not yet attained the same age; for, as those write who have treated of chronological history, this kingdom endured for twelve hundred and forty years from the first year in which Ninus began to reign, until it was transferred to the Medes. But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery

Counseling Children of Divorce as a Pastoral Counselor

[A project for my Relational Skills for Ministry class at Trinity International University].


Dr. Lee Salk once said that the “trauma of divorce is second only to death. Children sense a deep loss and feel they are suddenly vulnerable to forces beyond their control” (Hart, 1996, p. 19). Divorce is the physical and legal separation of a previously married couple. This separation creates problems of its own between husband and wife, but complications increase if they have already had children. A whole number and variety of negative sociological and psychological effects accompany children of divorce; this paper will survey their impact, relevant Biblical teaching, and recommended counseling techniques.

Roots, Experiences and Needs

The divorce rate currently hovers around one-third of all couples married since 2000 (Miller, 2014). This has not always been so: as Miller notes, “The divorce rate peaked in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and has been declining for the three decades since.” During that earlier period, it seems that about half of marriages ended in divorce, and 60% of remarriages ended in divorce (Magill, 1994, p. 560). One book cites four studies from the 1970’s that indicate a 40% divorce rate (Goldstein and Solnit, 1984, p. 117 n. 1).

In any time period and with any divorce rate, the same factors likely cause divorce: infidelity, emotional incompatibility, an increased burden from financial stress, and marrying younger than average all directly contribute to the likelihood of divorce (Magill, 1994, p. 561).

Divorce harms children in a number of ways. Most immediately, it signals the restructuring of their family into a new configuration. From the beginning of divorce proceedings until finalization, the process itself takes up substantial parental emotional capital that could have been poured into the children; it then may be possible that, even if neglect does not actually happen, children can feel the same psychological dynamics as if it had [1]. During this period the situation divides children into a loyalty-struggle between father and mother: questions like whose side are you on? can generates deep insecurity that eventually lead to anxiety, fear and worry. Least directly, divorce often leads to moving, and thus changes in friends, school, church, and neighborhood environment, and to worse economic conditions for both parties, although more so for the woman (Hart, 1996, p. 19).

In addition to these, regular symptoms for children also include “anger and aggressive behavior, sadness, low self-esteem, depression, and impaired academic performance” (Magill, 1994, 560). One study on High School dropout rates found 2:1 odds of dropping out if parents had initiated divorce proceedings that year (Song, 2012, p. 28). It appears, in a more general terms, that between 20 and 25 percent of young adults whose parents divorced while they were children experience “long term damage — serious social and emotional problems — compared to 10 percent of young people from intact families” (Marquardt, 2005, p. 9). [2]

These outcomes may also compound in a negative feedback loop. One author writes that, for example:

a child may may be depressed over a divorce, fail to study adequately, and then receive low grades in school. The loss of face over these grades creates more depression and further feelings of low worth…. A self-defeating pattern of poor study and poor performance has begun that can become permanent if nothing is done to interrupt the cycle (Hart, 1996, p. 123-124).

So then, moderate-to-strong correlations are expected between each of the aforementioned products of divorce.

One cohort study of all recent peer-reviewed literature (n = 53 studies) on divorce and separation found that children experience a decline in academic performance, an increase in deviant behavior (defined as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and other illicit activity), a worse attitude about marriage in general (eventually “flowing into the adolescent’s own romantic relationships”), increased anxiety, increased depression, internalizing disorders, anger, low self-esteem, adolescent suicides, deleterious relationship with each parent, and substantially decreased capacity to cope (Hartman, 2011, p. 506-510). Clearly the psychosocial ramifications of divorce and separation are real, significant enough to be seen in quantitative studies, and deserving of particular counseling intervention.  

Christian Perspective

The Christian perspective on marriage and divorce begins with an understanding of covenantal relationships. These are binding agreements between two parties, which include more than just stipulations and rules. To include just stipulations and rules is to create a mere contract, whereas a covenant is a contract that also includes relationship (Evans, 2012, p. 12). The covenant is the central mechanism for understanding God’s relationship with Israel (and later the Church), and the theological dimensions of each of these scriptural covenants are, by analogy, the dimensions of the marriage covenant. For example, the covenant between God and Israel is irrevocable. For this reason the marriage covenant, though not itself irrevocable, contains strict parameters for dissolution.

The other significant hermeneutical principle is the interpretation of all subsequent events through the lens of Genesis 1-3, and in this particular case, the portrait of the original marriage, designed directly by God. Genesis 2:24, which Jesus later picks up in Matthew 19:4-5, states that a married couple has left their respective families and become “one flesh.” It seems that the only explicitly scriptural grounds for divorce, then, are marital infidelity (Matthew 19:9) and perhaps domestic violence (Malachi 2:16).

The family is an “essential building block of society,” and should be the main place for spiritual and social development (Got Questions?, n.d.). This finds support in “two of the Ten Commandments dealing with maintaining the cohesiveness of the family” and the wholesale baptism of entire families in the New Testament when only one member is described as converting, among other points. As such, one should expect children of divorce to feel the effects of their parents’ sin (Exodus 34:6-7, Leviticus 26:39) more than should be expected in a strictly individualistic society.

Since parents are the primary role model for the spiritual development of their children, children often participate in modeling of their behavior; something along the lines of “monkey see, monkey do” becomes internalized into a behavior pattern based on the actions of the parents. One author lists out some of the behaviors taught to children by divorce: hate, because it is on such open display; distrust, even of those whom one should trust the most; sneakiness, because parents often want their children to “spy” on the other parent; and lying, because both parties frequently lie for their own self-interest (Hart, 1996, p. 80-81). In addition to being explicitly sinful, these learned behaviors are not conducive to a healthy marriage later in the child’s own life.

Best Ways to Help

The first listed suggestion by Bloem is group therapy. Since there is no shortage of children of divorce, finding enough together to form a support group should not be difficult. The positive effects of this treatment method include “a sense of belonging, a sense that their problems are shared with their peers, and the development of positive coping skills” (2013).

Schools, already a pillar of consistency in the child’s life, should intervene through in-school counseling that gives them coping mechanisms to fill their emotional toolbox (Drake, 1981) (Diamond, 1985 p. 16). Accordingly, the pastoral counselor should seek a similar role for the local church in the student’s life. Sunday school, AWANA, TNT, and similar programs can help provide consistency for pre-adolescents, as youth groups do for adolescents. This can be done without singling the child out — but, since he or she does face more significant and chronic stress than children of united parent households, they should also be seen for pastoral counseling individually. The children’s minister, the child’s weekly sunday school teacher (assuming they have a positive relationship), or the designated pastor of congregational care could take the responsibility.

The situation can become complicated if the church, fulfilling its duty to discipline members in unrepentant sin, intervenes into the divorce process. Many horror stories can be imagined of elder boards heavy handedly issuing decisions or forgetting about grace in their desire to be above reproach — but even subtle actions like appearing to side with one parent more than the other can entirely upend the child’s perspective on the situation (or on the church).

The child’s self-esteem can be an indicator of their overall emotional health during the divorce process and afterword. If they develop an inaccurately low self-report, they will likely experience symptoms like those of depression and anxiety. Hart gives several suggestions for parents on building their child’s self-esteem:

  • in giving feedback, speak very graciously but always truthfully;
  • help them to understand imperfections, both of their own and in general;
  • do not to communicate, even accidentally, standards that the child cannot meet;
  • build their self worth with unconditional, rather than conditioned, love;
  • express that they value things the child is good at;
  • help them compensate for deficient areas;
  • correct distorted poor feedback they receive from peers;
  • teach spiritual values, rather than performance-based values (1996, p. 124-7).

Parents should, as with anything else target at the spiritual and emotional growth of their children, undertake the primary responsibility for the execution of these goals. But realistically, as before mentioned, parents themselves are too consumed with the divorce process (and are not thinking objectively enough) to carry out this responsibility. It can then be a supplementary role of the local church, including the pastoral counselor, to engage when parents are not or can not.


When parents divorce, children face changes in their personal and emotional safety net, while the main help through changing times — their family structure — has been stolen from them. Caught in this Catch-22, many children need help beyond what their family system can offer. Counselors therefore face a very important, but very uphill, battle to help the child find coping mechanisms, self-differentiation from the chaos around them, and healthy self-esteem.

End Notes

[1] To be clear, neglect and abuse do happen more often in separated households. See Pryor, 2001, p. 151

[2] Marquardt also cites Hetherington, E. M. and Kelley, J. (2002). For Better or for Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.  to support this claim.


Bloem, R. (2013). Counseling Children of Divorce. Retrieved from

Coleman, W. L. (1983). What Children Need to Know When Parents Get Divorced. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.

Diamond, S. A.. (1985). Helping Children of Divorce: A Handbook for Children and Teachers. New York: Schocken Books.

Drake, E. A. (1981). Helping Children Cope with Divorce: The Role of School. In Stuart, I. R. and Abt, L. E. (1981). Children of Separation and Divorce: Management and Treatment. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Evans, A. T. (2012). Divorce and Marriage. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Goldstein, S. and Solnit, A. J. (1984). Divorce and Your Child: Practical Suggestions for Parents. Binghamton, New York: Vail-Ballou Press.

Got Questions? blog post. (n.d.). What does the Bible say about family? Retrieved from

Hart, A. D. (1996). Helping Children Survive Divorce: What to Expect; How to Help. Self-Published: Archibald Hart.

Hartman, L. R.,  L. Magalbaes, and A. Mandich. What Does Parental Divorce or Marital Separation Mean for Adolescents? A Scoping Review of North American Literature. In Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, v. 52, no. 7, 2011.

Hetherington, E. M. and J. D. Arasteh, eds. (1988). Impact of Divorce, Single Parenting and Stepparenting on Children. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Magill, F. N. (1994). Survey of Social Science, Volume 2. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.  

Marquardt, E. (2005). Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. New York: Crown Publishing.

Miller, C. C. (2014, December 2). The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Pryor, J. and B. Rodgers. (2001). Children in Changing Families: Life After Parental Separation. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Song, C., M. Benin, and J. Glick. Dropping Out of High School: The Effects of Family Structure and Family Transitions. In Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, v. 53, no. 1, 2012.



[A project for my course on Christian Evidences this semester at Trinity International University, in which I argued against a nonbeliever and old friend about the existence of God.]

1:28:45 — neither a Bible verse nor a Shakespearean play line — yet in time a conversation, in dialogue even so. As I ran arguments by Ben, a fellow 19 year old male whose encounter and participation I did not expect, a new confidence in my faith shone through a fog long lingering. For my Junior and Senior years of high school, I unconsciously wrestled with the legitimacy of faith in a pluralistic environment — since I have to assent to my school’s curricula, and this never required nor refuted the existence of God, I gave myself permission to table the question indefinitely. To live as if God may or may not exist, to live functionally agnostic, to become intellectually agnostic, to become intellectually atheistic — it is a slow but logically consequent descent that I should have predicted but didn’t have the experience or perspective to see.

Then my reversion to fundamentalist confidence in Christian Theism came abruptly. I entered complete Christian community at summer camp and at Trinity last fall, each filled with people who actually believed what they said. The communal nature of these groups in time exposed me to, forced me to see my degenerate, vacuous hovel for what it really was: empty, but accidentally so. What a mark of progress, then, for the rebirth of my mind-in-Christ that I could engage someone confidently in this argument who holds the position towards which I had leaned before!

The Discussion

My discussion with Ben began with the Kalam Cosmological Argument. In short, it asserts one law, one fact, and from these binds listeners into one conclusion:

P: All things that begin to exist have a preceding cause
P: The universe [or x] began to exist
C: The universe [or x] has a preceding cause

In the place of x, I can input matter, time, or space, in addition to the entire universe, such that this cause must also have the properties of immateriality, intemporality, and inspaciality. Curiously, these are the same attributes given of the usual infinite God-the-omnipotent type theism. Ben sees the “gaping flaw” that this does not lead to the biblical definition of God. Specifically, this “god” is not personal, and is does not need to have conscious decision making ability. Neither of these can follow from the Kalam argument itself.

To this I replied that the Kalam argument is a necessary but insufficient argument for Christianity — as in, if it is false, Christianity is false, but if it is true, Christianity has not yet been justified. Clearly the various personality traits of God cannot be demonstrated from the mere fact that the universe exists, like the patience of God, which has no necessary physical analogue. It is an argument only for theism proper.

Ben put forward the argument that there is no reason that chains of causation should lead to a God. For example, if he slams his cup onto the table, and consequently sound waves exit the cup, we can conclude that the slamming caused the sound waves, but not that these should have anything to do with God. In reply I introduced the simple distinction that his example concerns physical-physical chains of causation, while this cosmological argument concerns causation between that which is nonphysical (God) and that which is physical, so the metaphor breaks down at precisely the point it objects to the Kalam argument.

We then embarked on an interesting discussion of the fundamental forces of physics, because his other objection is that the Kalam argument does not imply that God should be a conscious being, that it could be merely a force or property that is immaterial, inspatial, and intemporal. Such a force is not something he “would feel compelled to go to church and worship.” Little to his knowledge, this is actually the Official Position™ of most atheists I’ve seen on the Kalam argument. But the question quickly reduced down to nothing because neither of us really understood Stephen Hawking’s Theory Of Everything proposal and we both acknowledged that theoretical physicists have no reason to believe that such a TOE exists. It became a null point, “neither here nor there” as Ben said, and we moved on.

The Teleological Argument concerns itself with the directionality or purpose evident in the natural world. An important subcategory we discussed was the argument from Intelligent Design, which asserts the improbability that intelligent life could arise from non-intelligent life and then supplies that An Intelligence is the most like explanation. Since the likelihood of such events obtaining by chance is low, we assume that, since they happened, they were not by chance; they were purposed.

Ben has a “clear and simple refutation”: the only things that will continue to exist throughout time are those that can. This is just Darwinism, just evolution, just natural selection, he remarked. I do not use quotation marks to imply his position is immature or ill-conceived. Instead, this argument just barely misses the mark. I was not talking about natural selection — for who can disagree with the tautological truism that dead things do not live, so living things are those that do not die? I told him in very clear terms that I believe in natural selection as a principle and in application, and on a slightly unrelated note that I also believe in an old age of the Earth and in (theistically guided) evolution. My disagreement is not on any of the object-level facts of natural history, but that any of it could have arisen unaided.

I gave this argument: the ratio of mutations negatively impacting survival to those positive nears roughly two orders of magnitude, something like 100:1. So, it seems incredibly rare that positive effects would come about before the deleterious effects of the rest lead the species to death. Since obviously we see the evidence of good DNA everywhere, how did these get there in the first place? Truly natural selection can weed out the poor contenders, but how did positive ones originate at all?

Ben replies that, given an infinite amount of time, the certainty of an event with nonzero probability rises to one. In other words, if you have a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 sided dice, the odds of rolling #834,593,827,930,172,372,382,274 is extremely low — but if we rolled the dice an infinite number of times, it would eventually be bound to happen. In fact, in such an infinite time-space, Ben comments, “What are the odds of it happening once? 100%. Twice? 100%. Three times? 100%.”

I explain that this is a great argument, but it doesn’t apply once r/K selection switches in natural history. His idea of sheer numbers driving up the probability applies very well with r/ selected animals, like a seahorse that spews out ten thousands children with enough force to push itself backwards in the water over a yard. The children are left on their own, and hopefully, the parents think, a few make it out alright. Yet most will die. In contrast, animals that are K selected have few offspring, maintain their offspring very meticulously, and release them once they are at the age of sexual reproduction themselves. In the first scenario a natural selection by-the-numbers seems to work, but how could it work in such a smaller scale? It appears that the gene pool negativity would rise fast enough to just wipe out every member of the already-small species, rather than work in quantitatively large portions.

Ben says that, while all that may be true, his argument still applies in a much broader sense. For whether the events on Earth themselves are a low enough probability to not work on Earth is immaterial to the application of his point across the whole universe. There are a near infinite number of planets that have similar conditions to Earth (of just the ones yet discovered) and an infinite amount of time, so it actually is more than likely that, not only have Earth produced intelligent life by natural processes, but several other planets have as well.

I point out that time is not infinite in the past, because of the argument for the Big Bang, which does temporarily stall him, but he puts on the table the Oscillating Universe Theory. The Big Bang is the earliest we can possibly see, but it has happened an infinite number of times before, in an oscillating series of expansions and crunches. (He admits that this is a weak argument). I have essentially no response to this other than to point out that people seem to not use this argument because, for reasons I cannot think of, it must be easy to knock-down. Or else we probably would have heard of it more. Instead, most people use in its place the Multiverse theory, which Ben is surprisingly quick to disregard because “we have literally no reason to think it is true.” I agree, because it commits the unholy trinity of being unfalsifiable, unverifiable, and purely theoretical at once.

Next we enter the mystical Alice and Wonderland world of the Ontological Argument. Developed by Anselm in the eleventh century, it goes something like this:

D: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived
P: God exists as an idea in the mind
P: It is greater to exist in and outside of the mind than just in
P: If God exists only in the mind, something greater can be conceived
P: We cannot do that, or we result in a contradiction with D
C: God exists.

To his ears this “sounds like a mixture of wordplay and… [unfinished sentence].”  It is a weird philosophical argument that sounds like it’s cheating. Anytime I say that anything is better, I’m going to say it’s the case. It sounds like all this argument asserts is that anything used to beat this argument is now the new argument. It is not falsifiable, and also comes across as a mere thinking exercise. If we selectively define something as the #1 greatest, and then someone thinks of something greater, it will always sounds like it really is something greater.

I say that, really, it is falsifiable, but since it’s in deductive form, the falsehood can be proven only by demonstrating holes in the chain of logic, or false premises, instead of usual arguments being proven false by conferring with physical evidence. I concede that, in my opinion, this argument is perhaps salvageable but not valid its current form. But in the time it takes me to say this, Ben has changed his mind. Contrary to my concession, this “might be the best argument that has been made” because it made him stop and think. Because if this logical progression is true, then he is backed into a corner! It comes off at face value as a logical progression. It is only a thought experiment, and has nothing to do with the physical word (purely rational, not empirical), it is very interesting to think about.

Next I set up the Argument from Common Morality for our discussion. It seems that a common morality has emerged in each part of human society independently. As far as anthropologists can tell, this morality began after the different tribes splintered into separate groups, yet even those without communicate to the others developed the same morality. This morality even contradicts what is found in nature among other animals, and thus falls somehow, even if only slightly, outside the usual scope of natural selection. This morality seems to have some type of non-ontological existence; like wood has a grain, and a saw can tolerate going with the grain but eventually will wear and break after repeated attempts to cut against the grain, there is a grain to the universe against which man can walk, but only for limited times and in limited ways.

Ben sees the power of this argument, and when summarizing it back to me adds that we can try to develop a society independent of morality, but “we would slip back into morality soon enough.” But he disagrees, entering onto a lengthy tangent to describe an intricate point. There are some things that humans have not evolved the capacity to understand, because understanding them would not be advantageous to our survival as a species. For example, we cannot understand life after death because to do so would be to potentially jeopardize the perceived fragility of life, which holds us in check from excessively dangerous actions. The purpose of human is, after all, to replicate accurate copies of ourselves. (We can imagine life after death as something like imagining time in reverse and watching the Big Bang collapse in on itself into perfect nothingness, nonexistence. The problem therefore is not that we can’t imagine it, but that this mental sensation is fleeting, that we cannot retain it more than a moment).

At any rate, this connects with morality because like morality this inability to experience anything of which an experience is detrimental to survival is the same for all people. It is detrimental to human survival to think about murdering our peers, or stealing from members of our tribe, or lying to leaders that keeps us safe. It wouldn’t help the evolutionarily predisposed experience. We also do not need to compete against other humans like insects or fish do, because we understand cooperation. As a social species, we evolved to live in communities of 150-200 people, and morality that bypasses Darwinism comes from the success of these communities (which used “morality”), not the success of any of their individual members in particular.

We did not have time for the Argument From the Mind, but as I described it he sounded interested, so I got his email address and promised to send him J.P. Moreland’s essay on this argument from the Anthology of Primary Sources book.

Finally, I entered my own, very modified version of the Argument from Religious Experience. This shares very few features with the actual argument of the same name. I began by presenting Francis Schaeffer’s approach to evangelism — do not try to change someone’s presuppositions or epistemic beliefs; instead, lead them into greater consistency with their own beliefs. If they are an atheist, and if meaning within life can only be derived from that which is explicitly outside of life, there can be do meaning in life. This is a natural consequence of the naturalist worldview.

Why is it not worth arguing over epistemic beliefs? As Musgrave pointed out, is that all epistemic beliefs either

  1. Depend upon themselves to be proven (thus circular)
  2. Depend upon another belief to be proven (thus wrong)
    C. Remain unproven by reason.

This implies, rather startlingly, that no real progress can be made in these discussion because, applying this framework, all the same counters apply back to Christianity as can be lobbed at atheism. I then asserted that, since this sweeps truth itself aside, the only evaluative criteria we are left with is the noticeable impact of the belief on a person’s life. Since we deem suicide to be a worse outcome than non-suicide, we deem that, inasmuch as we can really tell, Christianity is the superior option (assuming that we are living consistently with our foundational beliefs and not just arbitrarily borrowing good aspects that are logically consequent only to other foundations).

Ben replies that he is deeply thoughtful about this argument. He temporarily rebuts that this only describes which belief’s pragmatism is better, not which belief’s truth is truer. That makes perfect sense to him and he agrees with the fact that it is better to believe in God, but we are just talking about belief, not what is and what isn’t. If truth really can’t be determined, then “f— it let’s have some pragmatism.” But that’s not an argument for or against the existence of God, it’s an argument for how you should live your life. I agree, but nonetheless the points ABC remain about the inability to prove epistemic notions, and I cannot find a reason to value truth as if it has any objectivity in such a world. Ben agrees.


I did not expect from this experience to see my debate partner’s mind convert, obvert, or contrapose. Nor, in any genuine sense, did I expect to see myself present argument for the existence of God in good conscience that just one year ago I’d have belittled. Maybe the latter is all that came true — but nonetheless I pray the former will also.