Hi and welcome back! Today, we’ll be reviewing an apologetics lecture by J.P. Moreland. The reason this topic piqued my interest involves our past discussion of fundagelical mommy blogger Natasha Crain. She parlayed sudden popularity with her blog into an apologetics career. And she seems to have acquired some credentials with the help of an online course from Biola University.
Back then, I noticed that this particular course features a demonstration module for prospective students. I’m nowhere near a prospective student, but I was still very curious about what Biola’s leaders put into that module. So today, let’s listen to it! Along the way, we’ll also discuss the ideas’ clarity, coherence, logical consistency, and persuasiveness to non-Christians. Join me today as we examine what today’s apologists are learning these days from one of the biggest-name evangelical colleges in America.
(All quotes come from original sources. I don’t use scare quotes around Christians without specifically telling you so. Long ago, I learned that lesson!)
Apologetics: A brief survey
In Christianese, apologetics is the art of tricking Christians with fancy wordplay into thinking Christianity’s claims are actually true.
Apologists seek to give their religion’s claims a veneer of plausible deniability to make them look less categorically absurd. Secondarily, they seek to knock down their competition in the religious marketplace so that their own product looks like a consumer’s only viable option.
Really, that’s it.
Apologists try to make arguments into evidence because they lack actual credible evidence. If they had any, they’d use that instead and it’d work way better. Luckily, Christian leaders indoctrinate their flocks to believe that arguments are actually evidence. Consequently, apologetics works grandly–just not on the people apologists claim are their targets.
A lot of Christians think apologetics’ main purpose consists of convincing non-Christians that the religion’s claims are true. That’s certainly the claim of many hucksters selling apologetics courses! In reality, Christians themselves are the main target of this multi-million-dollar industry.
Speaking of which:
Everyone, meet Biola University
Biola University is a private fundagelical college in California. Biola stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles, but it moved from there in 1959. Its leaders finally renamed it “Biola” in 1981. It’s associated with Charles Fuller, a famous evangelist from decades ago, and Moody Bible Institute. You might have heard of some of its faculty, too: William Lane Craig (WLC), J.P. Moreland, and J. Warner Wallace, all apologetics giants in fundagelicalism.
Its undergraduate programs cost about USD$55k annually to attend (and $60 to audit a class–what a bargain!). They even offer online bachelor’s degrees for about half that. The university offers a goodly number of graduate programs too in fields like theology, psychology, history, and business.
What got my attention a while ago, though, is its Certificate in Christian Apologetics. Their Talbot School of Theology offers this certificate. It’s the same one that Natasha Crain, a fundagelical mommy blogger, says she got to qualify her as a real live apologist. Here’s what Biola says about this certificate:
The online certificate program in Christian Apologetics is open to everyone regardless of educational background. There are no prerequisites for this program. We believe that every Christian should have access to training in apologetics regardless of age, careers, time restraints, denomination, or finances.
All three courses together cost $350, or you can order them individually for $125 each. Each one sounds more dishonest than the last–as just one example, in Course 3 we discover a subsection called “Darwinism in crisis.” Ugh.
Waste time, not money for Biola
No way, no how am I wasting $350 or even $125 on anything sold by fundagelical nutjobs.
Luckily for our purposes today, they offer a sample lecture for free!
This lecture functions as a demonstration of the awesomeness of the courses themselves. Salespeople put out demos of their products to amaze listeners into wanting to hand over their money. In this case, Biola wants listeners to hear this and then hand over a lot of money for a completely, absolutely meaningless certificate.
It makes sense that someone would put their best material in the demo, right? So I’m sure this lecture is the very best demonstration of the excellence of their product that they could possibly manage.
Let’s see how good it is!
An inauspicious beginning from J.P. Moreland
From the get-go, whoever’s giving this lecture says he hopes “this evening will be a good time for you” to his audience. (It reminds me of “Hello, my name is Kent Hovind!”) He informs us that he’ll be speaking this evening about the existence of his god. We’ll see about that.
By the way, the speaker is J.P. Moreland, a Distinguished Professor of Theology at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola. So he’s a big name in Christianity. Also, he’s a basic toxic Christian fundagelical culture warrior. He’s written oodles of books, as well as the foreword to another guy’s book telling atheists how to atheist. (Spoiler: both guys think atheists need to atheist the way that toxic Christian fundagelical culture warriors think they should be atheisting.)
Moreland’s sheerly-atmospheric levels of smarminess, gullibility, authoritarianism, condescension, belligerent stupidity, and willful ignorance cannot possibly be overstated.
He tells his audience that he hopes that they’ll use the information he’ll present in evangelism. More than that, though, he hopes to show them that there exist perfectly sound and solid reasons for them to believe in their religion’s claims. He thinks that if they really believe due to objective and sound reasons, that they won’t “step into sin of various sorts” or feel doubt because they didn’t get a pony after praying for one, which actually is a perfectly valid cause for doubt.
Then he opens the lecture with a long-winded prayer.
Based on this intro, obviously I’m expecting big things out of his lecture.
Some reasons Biola offers for believing in the existence of the Christian god
Moreland starts the official lecture by explaining how he’d figure out if his beliefs were based in reality. If he were laying out a case for why he was a Christian, he says, he’d start “with three steps.” These are:
STEP ONE. Arguing for his god’s existence.
(This isn’t starting well.)
Moreland launches into a description of “ethical monotheism.” This worldview involves thinking that the personal god of Christianity is also “a good person. . . He’s morally good.”
Then, he moved from demonstrating the existence of this god to this god simply must be a good god.
At no point so far has he offered a single actual reason to believe his god even exists.
But the situation worsens still from there.
Step 2: Choosing a religion, the Biola way
STEP TWO. Formulating criteria for choosing among the world’s religions.
Because obviously everyone must choose one.
Moreland frowns upon eclecticism, which he condescendingly dubs “the smorgasbord approach.” He objects to it because at the end, he says, the people doing this just end up with a god who looks like themselves.
He also mentions that Christians do “the smorgasbord approach” as well, which is 100% true, yes. Unfortunately, he perceives this as a problem for other people–not himself.
Instead, he lambasts the Christians that he accuses of doing it: “I think that stinks!”
Mainly, King Him disapproves because these other Christians create a god for themselves who requires no changes or improvements from them. However, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ understand apologetics! Thus, they won’t use “the smorgasbord approach” he despises so much.
I guess he’s a theologian, not a historian. Instead, he urges these “smorgasbord” Christians to adopt King Him’s quirky take on Christianity, which is of course the only valid one. Anyway, “the smorgasbord approach” represents, he says, a poor way to choose a religion from the world’s many possibilities. No, he doesn’t say why.
He also points out that the world’s religions contradict each other in important ways. They can’t all be true.
But is there any religion that is?
(Gasp! Whatever will he reveal?)
Still Step 2:
Still on Step Two, he outlines a few guidelines he thinks people should use in judging which religion to adopt.
He whisks through another listicle:
- “The picture of God in the religion in question should harmonize with what we already know about God from Step 1.” His example of one harmonization is that this god should be personal.
- “The religion should profoundly address the human condition.” He says that it should, but doesn’t say why that is. It’s just super-important. Not only that, but the religion should “offer a diagnosis and solution” for humanity’s problems. He advises his listeners to adopt the religion that offers “the most profound adequate solution and diagnosis for the human condition.” (I’m flabbergasted at this point.)
- There should be evidence of supernatural activity in this religion. By that he means: it should be hard to explain the origin and success of that religion without having to appeal to divine intervention. He goes to explain that his own religion’s success is impossible to explain without Jesus being a real live god. (Well beyond flabbergasted here.) This includes “fulfilled prophecy” like Jesus totally fulfilled any, and miracles. This is where his lecture lives for the remainder of the recording.
Gosh, which religion could possibly fit all these criteria…? WHICH?
(Mr. Captain asked me to put on headphones here. Bye bye, Mr. Captain, bye bye…)
Everyone must try out these contending religions the way Biola prescribes
And finally, Moreland says everyone should try out a potential religion as if they already believed in it.
He thinks that if the religion’s claims are true, then obviously people trying it out will have a profound experience while practicing that religion’s devotions. He claims he’s a “mystic” so he deeply values supernatural experiences.
There are, according to Quora, 4200 religions in the world. There are tens of thousands of Christian denominations, too.
J.P. Moreland must have a lot of time on his hands.
This suggestion is absolutely bass-ackwards. This ain’t how someone ascertains the truth of a claim. It is not how evidence works. Holy cow, are Christians seriously learning this as a way to PROVE YES PROVE that Christianity’s claims are true?!? WTF? Just WTF? I DEMAND ANSWERS.
And homemade limoncello.
Divine intervention in the real world
He moves smoothly from there to asserting that a religion making supernatural claims should have evidence of supernatural activity in it.
I agree, but not for the same reasons. He thinks it’s because a god who created stuff should care enough about it to interact with it. Only a loving personal god like Jesus would care enough to interact with his creation, Moreland asserts–again, without any evidence presented.
Instead, let’s try this out:
If Christians want to claim their god interacts with this reality in any way, then there absolutely needs to be tangible, objective evidence of this interaction.
They can’t have a tangible, interactive god who meddles with them constantly, yet also have this god leaving no footprints behind at all.
But what about the Bible?
At 26:00, Moreland answers a question from a student who asks about using the Bible as proof that the Bible is true.
Moreland, in answer, claims not to indulge in circular reasoning (ie, using the Bible to prove the Bible) and urges Christians not to do it. Notice, please, that his entire approach to apologetics looks like one big circular-reasoning failtrain: he’s already assumed Christianity is the only one true religion and that it’s all literally true. So every line of reasoning he creates to argue for it takes that assumption as its basis.
But okay, whatever. He doesn’t use the Bible as an inspired divine book when he tangles with non-Christians. Instead, he uses it as “a collection of first-century documents.”
A moment later, he claims that his god’s divine wisdom explains why we don’t possess a single full original of any book of the New Testament. That’s the smart approach, see, downright divine really! Cuz see, see, then all those mean ole atheists would need to do to topple Christians’ faith is poke holes in the historical validity of that one copy!
But there’s dozens and hundreds and thousands of fragments of all the books, so there’s no one copy to criticize!
HOORAY TEAM JESUS!
Then he compliments himself for thinking of this argument, asserts that it’s totally true and they can take his word for that, and “jokes” that his wife accuses him of lying all the time.
HAW HAW! It’s so funny! Isn’t she funny? This is funny!
This is turning quickly into a Semi-Drunk Review. Just so you know.
Here’s why J.P. Moreland’s wife accuses him of lying all the time
Moreland titled this Biola demonstration lecture “Arguments for the Existence of God.”
I didn’t call it that. He did.
Now, at 31 minutes in, he tells his audience that he doesn’t actually have definitive PROOF YES PROOF that his god exists. All he has are arguments. He just thinks he has enough arguments to add up to his god’s existence as a reasonable proposition.
In fact, he says that when people ask him to prove his god exists, he shoots back at ’em: “Define ‘prove.'”
My jaw dropped open, hearing that.
You don’t often get to hear a master of apologetics slink like a guilty dachshund away from his own topic. If that’s his response to every person who tries to pin his shoes to the floor on anything he claims is true, I can’t blame his wife for accusing him of lying.
FINALLY: Does this god really even exist?
We’ll just whisk through Moreland’s lines of reasoning. They’re all tediously derivative.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Everything that exists has to have had a cause. Through some very fractured, tortured illogic, this “cause” turns out to be Jesus. Surprise!
Sometimes fundagelicals modify it to everything that came into existence has an external cause so they can give their god a pass on having a cause himself. Moreland does that here. He thinks atheists agree with this idea, too. It’s another of his charming [CITATION NEEDED] moments.
It’s never fun when fundagelicals with no background whatsoever in science try to argue a case for their religion based on misunderstood science. And that’s what Moreland does for a while.
He proclaims gibberish about the universe in a way that suggests that he memorized it from some other language he doesn’t speak. He doesn’t really understand how his own statements parse as sentences. But we can be sure nobody in his audience knows any more about metaphysics than he does. Here’s a sample:
If the universe didn’t have a beginning, then the present moment couldn’t have arrived [obvi, because we’d have had to have crossed “an infinite number of earlier moments, which is impossible,” which makes even less sense]. But the present moment has arrived. Therefore, it’s not the case that the universe didn’t have a beginning.
Yes. That happened.
Then he brings up the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which does not help him (also see this), then moves smoothly to deny that anything can come from “nothing,” ya know, like particles doing exactly that. Nope, says the great quantum scientist J.P. Moreland: those particles are just in transition! They’re not really popping in and out of existence! Nope!
(Also, what exactly does he think Creationism is if not something coming from nothing?)
Notice, please, that this isn’t any kind of demonstration that his god actually exists. Moreland’s just trying to back-fit reality into his notion of godhood. However, he’s still doing a very poor job of it.
Golly, Moreland (and Biola) loves this argument
Brief segue: Moreland also spends a lot of time trying to make the case that the creator of the universe, WHOEVER THAT MIGHT BE, AMIRITE, must be a free moral agent too. [Mr. Captain read this and broke into laughter and a lot of profanities.] This agent couldn’t be compelled to create the universe. It had to have a choice about doing it. This is another of his gloriously baseless, unsupported assertions.
There are no words I can possibly string together to explain what a terrible job he does of making that case. Then after he’s tangled his tongue in knots for about 20 minutes, he says this (around 1:05:00):
Golly, I love this argument.
I can tell.
This is the most intellectually-dishonest argument I know of in the entire body of Christian apologetics.
I understand completely why Moreland’s wife “jokes” about his dishonesty.
Argument Two: The Design Argument
J.P. Moreland’s second big argument demonstrating the existence of his particular god is simply Creationism. (Here’s a good index of utterly debunked Creationism talking points.)
He’s way into “fine tuning,” a concept beloved of Christians who buy into this pseudoscientific woo. He thinks “scientists have discovered that the constants of nature are very delicately balanced in a way they did not know.”
Really? Because fine tuning is easily destroyed as an argument in favor of Creationism. (Here’s Sean Carroll, an actual scientist, dealing in detail with fine tuning.)
Moreland then names Anthony Kenny as a big-name atheist who agrees with him that fine-tuning represents a big issue for atheists and that it constitutes a “powerful argument for a designer.” La Wiki tells me that Anthony Kenny is not actually an atheist. He’s not a theist either, by his own admission. Wikipedia also lists the quote in question:
Kenny candidly describes the predicament of the beginning of the universe, which both atheists and agnostics face, writing, “According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.”
It doesn’t give Moreland anywhere near the unequivocal support he thinks it does.
If apologists were somehow compelled to be honest, they’d never be able to open their mouths.
FUNNIEST MOMENT EVER
Oh, and Moreland tries to draw upon the multiverse concept to support his apologetics. Because of course he does.
In the end, he doesn’t think the multiverse is anything but an attempt to avoid admitting the apparent truth of his god’s existence. So why bring it up? Isn’t he supposed to be offering his own evidence for his god’s existence? Oh, I remember now: Christian apologists love to play Last Ideology Standing.
THEN THIS HAPPENED:
A listener asks something around 1:29:00. I couldn’t hear his question, but it made Moreland stutter and fall all over himself.
I strongly suspect the young man pointed out that non-Christians don’t usually use the multiverse to reject Christianity. In fact, it’s only Christians who lean on it in an attempt to support their own claims.
Moreland has no idea how to handle this question.
He eventually stammers that he’s sometimes seen it used as a device in science fiction stories. For real. He just has no idea in the world what he’s talking about, this audience member revealed that he doesn’t. In response, he can only stumble all over himself trying to get back on track.
Listening to this giant of apologetics get caught in a baldfaced lie made my entire night. Not even joking. It’s amazing. I lost it.
Another way of knowing. Again. Ugh.
Moreland delineates two different ways of finding out what’s true. This is called “another way of knowing,” which apologists must legitimize to make their blithering nonsense look like perfectly valid support. To do that, they must attack real methods of ascertaining the truth (the scientific method chief among these), while also building up their own poor substitutes for truth-finding as being just as good as those real methods.
That’s where Moreland goes now.
He tells his audience that they can use scientific-style methods to arrive at truth, or they can use “personal explanation.” He tells them that this second method is “every bit as legitimate” as those other real-world methods. To use it, the apologist appeals to the abilities, motivations, and skills of the person they’re blaming or ascribing stuff to. And that’s a perfectly valid demonstration of proof of his god’s existence. Somehow.
Then he spends a while trying to make his misunderstood version of the scientific method seem less valid and trustworthy. Among other things, he tries to claim that scientists presuppose their conclusions all the time. Seriously.
(He also claims that lawyers do this same thing in courtrooms. I’m not so sure of that. I’ve often complained that apologists try to talk like they’re lawyers in court arguing a trial on TV, but they come nowhere close.)
Ultimately, he thinks “the sheer existence of order” means that his god simply must be real because he simply must have created the universe. That’s his evidence!
The third big argument: Information in DNA
This argument centers around the supposed higher-level ordered, coded information contained in DNA. It’s just Creationist twaddle. If they can PROVE YES PROVE that DNA is actually a designed language rather than an evolved sequence of chemicals, then they can tackle the idea of their god having been the one to write that language.
It’s beyond ridiculous and barely merits mention, not to mention being pure pseudoscience trash. Christians should feel humiliated and ashamed of this bad argument even being part of their religion in any way, in any flavor.
But it’s part of this wilfully-ignorant apologist’s Big 3 in his very own lecture offering PROOF YES PROOF of his god’s existence, so I’m mentioning it here.
The fourth big argument: Objective morality/moral law
Moreland next piece of PROOF YES PROOF supporting his beliefs is the existence of objective morality.
I’m not even going to deal with this grotesque line of reasoning now, except to say this:
What Moreland thinks is “objective morality” has changed dramatically over the last few thousand years. It may even change in the future. Christians used to keep slaves and treat women as nothing more than property. Some fundagelicals still wish they could do this stuff, and argue strenuously for slavery being moral and acceptable.
He names “torturing little babies” as something he’d consider objectively morally objectionable (around 1:44:00), but the vast majority of fundagelicals fully support beating children. Some fundagelical leaders even advise parents to begin beating their children in infancy. Others still are totally fine with mistreating the children of immigrants. And others still adopt internationally, then brutally mistreat the children placed in their care–or rehome them to strangers who abuse them–or simply take (knowingly or unknowingly) children from still-living parents.
So… torturing little babies? I’d say that’s more of a fundagelical problem than a secular one.
The problem with objective morality goes deeper than that, though
When someone bases his idea of morality on “the biggest, strongest man in our group said not to do this,” and that person doesn’t really exist, it opens the door to interpretation, weaseling, disobedience, and all manner of atrocities.
All of his other examples are as horrifying and poorly-considered as that one. One involves pouring acid into a lake full of fish to PROVE YES PROVE that atheists do think there’s objective morality (because they’d never support such an action), SO THERE. They DO SO believe in objective morality!
J.P. Moreland is clearly a very, very, very bad person.
We could also discuss fundagelicalism’s dogged opposition to human rights globally, particularly as touching the rights of consent and bodily autonomy, as evidence of a lack of morality on their own part. Whatever their imaginary friend imparts to them, it ain’t actually good for humanity.
And none of this actually supports his claims, something he sorta-kinda admits before asserting that human rights presuppose his god’s existence.
Here’s how objectively moral J.P. Moreland is
Unfortunately, Moreland completely undermines himself toward the end about just how wonderfully moral his imaginary friend and worldview are.
At two hours in, he gets very hot under the collar about species-ism. He himself is quite species-ist, and proudly so. But OMG those darn dirty atheists don’t value humans like he does! I guess he’s trying to say atheists are like racists or something? It’s confusing. (How does this even help him make his case? The world may never know.)
So he tells us a cute little story.
In it, he’s giving some kind of evangelistic sales pitch to a bunch of people in Hollywood, which the audience is meant to interpret as a bunch of godless liberal heathens.
He doesn’t relate whether or not they asked for a sales pitch, so I’m assuming they didn’t and he just decided that King Him needed to preach a little at them.
His cute little story, told for Biola, a major evangelical college
Disdainfully and with scorn dripping from every syllable, Moreland describes one Hollywood person who’s listening to his sales pitch responding that he valued dolphins more than humans. It’s a wonderful trolling attempt, all told. I can see a a quick-witted person interrupting a screeching street preacher like that.
J.P. Moreland says he looked that man in the eye and informed him thusly:
“I have to tell you that you are a moral monster. And if I were not a Christian gentleman, I would knock your teeth right down your throat.”
The audience at Biola laughed at this.
See, Moreland goes on to explain, this total stranger just totally informed him that if it came down to saving a dolphin’s life or saving his, J.P. Moreland’s, own daughter’s life, this stranger would save the dolphin!
And that wasn’t okay with J.P. Moreland, who felt it necessary to issue a veiled threat of intense violence because of this imaginary scenario he’d built up entirely in his own head.
To this TRUE CHRISTIAN™, this Hollywood guy was doing nothing less than helping destroy the fabric of society!!!!!!one!eleventy!!!!! OH ZOMG!
I’m just not capable of telling you how absolutely aghast I am at this “charming” little vignette he told as a way to slam his enemies and make himself look good.
I’m now wondering just what his family’s life is like around him, if a comment from a total stranger about their differences in the relative valuation of dolphins got him to issue a visceral, violent threat like that. That the story also doesn’t help prove his case for his god’s existence is now so far behind me that it doesn’t matter. This guy’s dangerous-sounding.
Who’s the monster here, really?
I’ll tell ya: I’m listening to him give a lecture about how moral his religion totally is.
J.P. Moreland never even came close to addressing his own thesis, wandered off-track constantly, perpetually utilized logical fallacies, and clearly had no grasp of the opposing concepts he was trying to communicate so he could knock them down.
He constantly asserted claims without providing evidence for them, constantly assumed his conclusions in his premises (begging the question), stuffed his squalling, squawking godling into the profound and gaping holes in his own knowledge of history and science, used strawmen throughout, and most of all pounded the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy like it prefers dolphins to his daughter.
He does all of it between slagging his tribal enemies, atheists, and complimenting himself for his fine wisdom and discernment.
If anybody ever does come up with valid evidence for any gods, it won’t be Christian apologists like J.P. Moreland or his peers at Biola University. They are the backyard archaeologists and the outright flim-flam conjobs of the religion world.
In the end, the only people apologists can still fool are the ones who really want to be fooled in the first place. Luckily, there are clearly still enough of them to keep Biola in business.