Daily Archives: March 28, 2009

The Devil is in the Details: Nightline Faceoff on Satan

Thursday, A quartet of individuals engaged in a debate on Satan’s existence.  Mark Driscoll and Anne Lobert argued that Satan does exist, while Deepak Chopra and Charles Pearson argued the opposite.

As I said yesterday, the Primetime TV version was, of course, heavily edited, and therefore didn’t do justice to either side.  On the TV version, it appeared as a heated, angry slugout.  While there were some tense moments where both sides fired sarcastic shots across the bow, it was mostly cordial on the whole.

The players were somewhat mismatched.  Ravi Zacharias (if only for the accent..:)) and Driscoll vs. Chopra and Sam Harris would have been much, much more fun, if only because the personalities would have matched better.

Moderatus victor

If there was a winner for the night, it would be the moderator.  He asked  good questions of both sides, and he called out Chopra and Pearson on their passive-aggressive tolerance (more on that in a jiffy).

He introduced the debate by noting that each side thought the other side *really* wrong: “it is entirely possible that there are people on this stage tonight who believe that others on the stage are doing, if only unwittingly, the work of Satan.  There is also the possibility that others on this stage think that believing in Satan is dangerous, wrong, and destructive.”

This was a good way to start because it acknowledged that both sides thought the other side wrong.  This would make it harder for either side to retreat into a “my truth/your truth” way of talking and would make it harder for each side to take offense when their beliefs were critiqued.  Not that Chopra/Pearson didn’t try this tactic, but the moderator sort of cut them off at the pass.  I only hope the audience took note.

He also ended the debate by noting that when one’s beliefs are challenged, it can be hard to swallow, but nevertheless, it’s healthy.

When Chopra displayed frustration that both sides in the debate already had their minds made up and it was therefore a moot point to be talking to each other, the moderator correctly pointed out that the debate wasn’t for the folks on the stage (whose minds were already made up), but for the audience, some of which are undecided.  This is a point I’ve made when discussing deep things with people on the internet and Facebook.  If I’m discussing something with a fervent believer (my posts on The Shack quickly come to mind), I’m fairly sure that I’m not going to sway the person I’m talking to, but my hope is that I’m giving pause to the hundreds or thousands listening in.

These are things Driscoll should have been hitting home, but for some reason he chose not to for the most part.

Ships passing

Although there were good exchanges here and there, the debate was frustrating for me because it seemed like the two sides were like the proverbial ships passing in the night.  Both sides told their respective stories; Driscoll told the Gospel story of creation, fall, and redemption, and Chopra told his evolutionary psychology/new age cosmology story.

It’s not that I think both stories just merely stories.  Let me lay my cards out on the table at the outset:  The Christian story is true.  We have excellent reason to think that the Gospel story fits reality.  My disappointment was that Driscoll didn’t give the folks on the fence any reason to think the Gospel actually is true.  Chopra, rather than countering Driscoll by giving reasons why he thought the Gospel message false and his worldview true, merely told another story: the story of evolutionary psychology/new age cosmology.  Well, that’s nice, but why think it’s true?  That’s the real question.  Making a claim and defending a claim are two different animals.

The Gospel message is entirely based upon Jesus.  If the Jesus of the Bible is a fiction, if He never was raised from the dead, then Driscoll’s whole case collapses (and so does mine…bummer), including his claims for Satan’s existence.  Jesus, after all, talked an awful lot about Satan.  Given that, Driscoll should have made a case for why Jesus is and was an authority on spiritual matters.  Why think He was speaking the truth?  Christians hold that Jesus has a grasp on reality that no one before or since has had.  That’s why we follow Him.   He’s the one in the position to know whether Satan exists, and He gives a resounding ‘yes.’  He’s trustworthy.

Why think that?  Driscoll never really hit on these crucial, basic questions.

In addition, almost everything we know about Jesus comes from the New Testament documents.  Driscoll only briefly defended the New Testament documents as reliable sources.  Only when Pearson made heavily fraudulent claims about the Bible did Driscoll defend it, and only for a moment.

Missed opportunities

Chopra and Pearson made some pretty big whoppers, and Driscoll didn’t really call them out.  For starters, several times Chopra and Pearson both insinuated that God is infinite, and us, being finite, therefore can’t understand and know the infinite.  We cannot define God.  But then, in the very next breath, both men went on to do just that: define God.  Chopra contradicted himself as soon as he said “God is infinite…You can’t define God.”

They went much, much further than this, however.  They would say things like,  “God is love,” “my God isn’t a sexist God,” “God would never send people to a firey eternal torment,” etc.  God is, God is, God is.  God isn’t, God isn’t, God isn’t.  What else are these other than definitions of what God is like?

They would browbeat Driscoll and Lobert on trying to define God, but then they’d do the very same thing!  Let me get this straight: Driscoll and Lobert can’t define God, but their definition of God is false?

Furthermore, if God himself tells us what He’s like, then there are certain things we can know about Him.  He’s infinite, yes, but there’s nothing keeping Him from revealing Himself to His finite creation.  Christians think He has done just this, both in creation generally and in the Bible specifically.

Chopra and Pearson also were being very passive-aggressive in the debate.  Chopra came right out of the gate and said Driscoll’s Gospel story “contradicts” what we know about biology and the history of the universe (we evolved, the world is billions of years old, human beings have been on the scene for longer than the Bible says, etc.), and that Lobert was projecting her problems on a “mythical” being.

credit: teampyro.blogspot.com

credit: teampyro.blogspot.com

Side note: actually, the chapters in Genesis that Chopra must have been thinking about can suitably lend themselves to an old earth interpretation.  If you pay attention to the words themselves (and avoid prooftexting), an old earth interpretation is plausible. For example, a close examination of the text leaves the possibility open that God did not use six 24 hour periods, but longer periods of time, to create the world.  In fact, many church fathers took the text just this way.  All that to say: Chopra was flat out wrong when he said the Gospel message “contradicts” what we know from science, etc.   The only way he could say that is if he assumed the physical world is all that exists a priori.

But that’s not the most damning part of his comment.  Not only was his reply a red herring, but when he said things like that, it implied that Driscoll was wrong.  Now, this is ok; it’s the nature of the beast when we’re talking about truth, and no one, including Driscoll, should take offense at this.  However, when challenged on it, Chopra would retreat into a faux tolerance stance.

Example: at one point, the moderator noted that Chopra/Pearson were claiming Lobert’s beliefs about her being attacked by demons is false.  That is, Lobert believed that she was actually attacked by actual demonic beings that actually exist just as much as I actually exist, but Chopra/Pearson were psychologizing those beliefs, saying that she created those demons out of a need arising from insecurity.  In other words, the demons really don’t exist in the way Lobert claimed!

When the moderator brought this up, Chopra/Pearson backtracked, saying things like “I don’t want to deny her experience.  She has something that works for her.  Good for her!”  When others in the audience chimed in, the duo said things like “that is true for you.  I’ve got my truth too!”

True “for me.”  What does that even mean? Think about it.  Lobert wasn’t making claims of personal taste (“I like ice cream.”).  She was making claims about reality.  Are we to think that a person (Satan is a person, after all) somehow pops into being for Lobert, but suddenly pops out of being for Pearson?

If I give the most charitable interpretation of their words I can, Chopra/Pearson were simply saying that Lobert made these demonic beings seem real in her mind because she needed something to project her pain onto.  Her beliefs functioned as a placebo for her.  Even when you put Chopra/Pearson’s psychologizing in that charitable light, it still means Lobert’s beliefs were, at bottom, false!

Chopra, in particular, continued the shell game.  He frequently talked across himself.  Out of one side of his mouth, he called the people that wrote the Bible “primitive,” said Driscoll and those like him had their beliefs because they were obssessed with guilt and shame while Chopra didn’t have that need, claimed that “healthy people don’t need Satan,”condescendingly noted that “my God isn’t a sexist God,” and “I don’t need the devil because I don’t have the guilt and shame you people do.”  The implications of these claims were quite clear: Driscoll and Lobert are wrong, not just “for me,” but wrong period. Out of the other side of his mouth, though, he’d gently pat them on the head, smiling beningly at their “experience,” saying “I’m not claiming they are wrong.  I don’t deny their experience.”

He can’t logically have it both ways.  I’m fine with him saying Driscoll (and, by implication, me) was wrong.  I claim that about others’ beliefs whenever I share my faith.  No one, including the most thorough-going pluralist, can avoid it, in fact (see here as well).  But he needed to be more honest in what he was saying.  From what I saw, Driscoll only called Chopra on his shape-shifting once.

Can’t have it both ways

Chopra/Pearson did this the whole night in other areas.  When Driscoll made claims based on the Scriptures, Chopra critiqued by saying that they were based on a book 5,000 years old that was written by primitive people.  But Chopra turned right back around and used a few of Jesus’ words from the gospel of John to support his own case.

Pearson attacked the Bible by pointing to its alleged unreliability (example: we don’t have original manuscripts, translated and retranslated on top of translations, writers created Jesus from other ancient mythologies…details to come on this in just a moment), but would quote Scripture when it suited his purpose.

credit: teampyro.blogspot.com

credit: teampyro.blogspot.com

Changing the subject

Chopra/Pearson frequently changed the subject of the debate, dragging red herrings across the path to distract Driscoll and Lobert.  What’s worse, Driscoll/Lobert often took the bait, responding to the red herrings instead of pointing out the irrelevance of Chopra/Pearson’s critique.  For example, after Driscoll made his case for Satan’s existence by appealing to the Christian distinction between Creator and creation and by noting how in the Gospel, God comes in from the outside and rescues sinful humanity, Chopra threw out a snide question: “why think that God is a ‘he’?”

God’s gender was completely beside the point, but rather than keeping on topic, Driscoll/Lobert engaged with Chopra on the question.  Their reply to the question was good  (Jesus called God a “He.”  Since Jesus knows more than we do on reality and is completely trustworthy, we go with that), but the issue itself was a huge red herring.  This was a foolish debate blunder on their part.  After the exchange, it gave Chopra the opportunity to make more passive-aggressive condescending comments that garnered applause from the crowd: “well, my God isn’t a sexist God.”

Yet another sneaky tactic Chopra tried was the ‘ol “belief/fact” dichotomy.   A very common way of thinking in the west is that things like ethics/morality, and faith/religion are areas of “belief.”  They are not areas of knowledge.  You just “believe” them; you have to make a “leap of faith” about them, and they aren’t tethered to reality.  They help you “get along” in life, much like a placebo.  Science (read: science wed to the philosophy of naturalistic materialism), however, deals with the realm of “fact.”  You don’t have to “believe” in electricity; it’s just a fact.  This is a staple of Western thinking, and Chopra tried to make capital of this plank in our Western worldview.

I found this odd, because Chopra is an eastern guy.  I guess, to paraphrase Ravi Zacharias, we can call him a “foreign bird with a local walk.”  Anyway…

What he was suggesting is that Driscoll’s worldview lies in the realm of  “belief.”  The problem is that Chopra merely asserted this dichotomy, rather than argued for it (much like everything else he said).  Calling someone’s views mere “belief/faith,” while your views are in the realm of “fact/reality” is a common way to marginalize your opponent without actually engaging with him.  If you can simply push his views off the playing field by defining them as irrelevant, then there’s not much hard work for you to do.  People do this all the time when they are either too lazy to actually consider your views or they have no clue as to how to critique them.

It was a nice trick, but I saw right through it.  I can only hope that those in the audience saw through the smoke and mirrors as well.

Miscellaneous thoughts

A few more things I want to touch on:

Pearson’s caricatures of Christian belief were tiresome.  He made Satan out to be a “hoofed, horned, hairy” character and God out to be an old, bearded man on a throne.  He presented Christian belief as some sort of works based mental self-flagellation: “you come to Christ, you tithe, you give, you do all these things…you musn’t fuss, cuss, or lust…you can’t wear jewelry if you are a woman…you are then judged by God  and He turns you over to Satan.  Fundamentalists add all these things.”  Are you kidding me?  Aside from the obvious caricature of who God and Satan are, he presents the law as some sort of petty, arbitrary list of rules.  He makes it sound like those apart from Christ are tortured for eternity because they parked illegally or stole a few french fries from a friend’s dinner plate.  Rather, we are condemned because we are rebels against God.  We are idolators.  Our sin runs much deeper than Pearson cared to acknowledge.  Driscoll rightly nailed him on all this.

One  more comment along these lines: Pearson made the Christian God out to be someone who merely holds a 6,000 year old grudge with humanity.  He missed the fact that it’s not a matter of personal grudge, but justice.  In the Scriptures, we have confidence that God is just and He ultimately deals with all the wickedness and evil man has perpetrated against those God loves.

Pearson also said that because of the Bible’s unreliability, one can pick and choose beliefs from the Bible and still be a Christian.  First, he asserted without argument that the Bible is unrelaible.  He might not have been able to do otherwise given time constraints, but this still needs to be acknowledged because merely asserting something, even confidently, doesn’t make it solid.  Time and time again, all he said was “I’ve read these things and studied lots.  I know  this to be the case.”  That might sway the uninitiated, but not those who have good B.S detectors.

In this case, Pearson is flat out mistaken in his claims, both about the Bible’s transmission (ID: pugnacious password: irishman)  (books here and here), when the books of the New Testament were written, and about the gospel writers borrowing from ancient mythologies (also see here. ID: pugnacious password: irishman). Though I only deal with Horus in the first link, most claims of myth borrowing follow the same pattern.

Secondly, even if we take the claim of the Bible’s unreliability at face value, why think that means that he can pick and choose and still call himself a Christian?  Does the “pick and choose Christian” mentality follow from the Bible’s unreliability?  No.  Pearson can pick and choose all he wants, but there comes a point when he needs to be honest and just call himself a follower of another religion.

Think of it this way:  I agree with the Koran on a certain number of things: God exists, Jesus exists and performed miracles, there will be a judgement one day, etc.  I disagree on a number of key things too: Jesus was more than a prophet, Jesus was crucified (the  Koran says he wasn’t), God is triune, etc.  In a sense, I pick and choose, but I’m not calling myself a Muslim.  I’m totally ok with it when Muslims call me an unbeliever.

I think the Koran has questionable origins.  But even if I didn’t, even if I thought it has been handed down through the centuries accurately without corruption from the original, I’d still reject its claims because I think they are false on other grounds.  The question of the Koran’s origins is besides the point on what makes someone a Muslim.

The question of what makes one a follower of a certain religion is primarily a doctrinal one.  The word “Christian” means something in particular.  If you roam outside the definition, the word no longer applies to you.  It’s that simple, no offense needed.  What are the core beliefs of a certain religion?  That’s the real question.

Third, he gave no basis whatsoever for what beliefs he picks  from the Bible.  As far as I could tell, the only basis he had for choosing and rejecting was his previous personal tastes.  That is, for all I know, he chose based on what he liked and what he thought God should be like.  This is putting the cart before the horse.  Driscoll could have asked, “upon what basis are you picking and choosing, and why think your standard for acceptance and rejection is a solid, non-arbitrary standard?”

Chopra also said that “religious ideologies are the cause of all the trouble in the world” and most wars.  This is an easy caricature, but it’s simply historically false (ID and password same as above).  He also said the same for fanaticism.  I have a hard time believing a man as smart as Chopra would try to say something like that.  Fanaticism and certainty aren’t always bad things.  Just ask those who have benefited from Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy.  That man was zealous in his religious and moral beliefs.  He knew he was on the right side.  We’d better be glad.

Likewise, many Jews are extremely fervent about preaching “never again” about the Holocaust.  Their fervency and certainty doesn’t delude them; it has made them record history more accurately and defend it better against Holocaust deniers.

What matters isn’t how much you believe something, or the so-called “dogmatism” you have.   The real question is, “are you zealous for the truth, or zealous for what’s false?”  The real reason folks like jihadis and crazy TV evangelists are causing so much hurt and pain isn’t because they are zealous for their beliefs; it’s because they are zealous for falsehood!

Chopra/Pearson, as well as an audience member or two, were mistaken on the nature of evil.  Evil is not a created thing, and it does not exist in tension with good, like yin/yang.  Rather, evil is a privation.  It is parasitic on good.  Much like cold is the absence of heat, evil is the absence of right order towards God.  That doesn’t make it any less objective and real; it’s the real absence of a real good, but it is not a created material entity.  Originally, love required the possibility of choosing to rebel against God, but this is quite a different matter than the metaphysics of evil.  Therefore, while evil can’t exist without good, good can indeed exist without evil.  In fact, when there was no universe, good did exist without evil, and one day, when God ushers in the Kingdom completely and vanquishes Satan, there will be no evil.

Pearson did mumble something about evil being a corruption of the good, but this was completely eclipsed by his and Chopra’s other comments to the contrary.

I wish there was time for Driscoll to tease out some more of Chopra’s views, but the format was given over to sound bites.  Chopra made many statements of belief that Driscoll could and should have hammered him on had Driscoll had the time.  Chopra often acknowledged the reality of evil, only to reject or fundamentally redefine it moments later (“Evil is ignorance…We think of ourselves as separate from each other…We are all inseperable from each other…The divine and diabolical are different faces of the infinite.”  These sound nice, but an eastern monistic worldview underlies these statements.  This worldview is highly, highly problematic.), and he harped on our own moral responsibility, only to later make materialistic statements that completely gutted moral responsibility and free will.  Actually, Driscoll critiqued these here and there.  I just wish he had more time to do it thoroughly.

Q&A time

The Q&A time provided some classic moments.  At one point, a bearded man in a red shirt came up and had the following exchange with Chopra:

Red shirt man: “You said earlier that all belief is a cover up of insecurity.”

Chopra: “Yes.”

Red shirt man: “Do  you believe that?”

Chopra (without a hint of irony): “Yes.”

Priceless.  What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  The audience erupted in laughter and applause.  Chopra did go on to explain himself out of the predicament, but the questioner did pick up on Chopra’s habit of trying to have it both ways.

One lady asked Driscoll if it was selfish to think he’s got a “corner on the truth.”  First, as I noted above, everyone, including the questioner, thinks s/he has a “corner on truth.”  The pluralist, who thinks all religions are true, thinks pluralism accurately describes reality.  Thinking you, in fact, are right, while others that disagree are, in fact, wrong should not be a big deal.  Even though the audience member was just asking a question, she seemed to carry an implicit assumption that Driscoll was intolerant.  This is another way to subtly dismiss someone’s argument without engaging with it.  As Koukl often says, “name calling is not an argument.”

The same audience member also suggested in her question that because Driscoll thought he “had a corner on truth,” that he wasn’t considering other viewpoints.  Pastor Mark accurately pointed out that just because he  thinks he’s right doesn’t mean he hasn’t considered other points  of view.  One can, like Driscoll, be well read, talk with folks of other religions, and consider opposing views and still hold to his beliefs strongly, because he has good reasons and evidence for thinking his beliefs are true. That (reasons for belief), after all, should be the real issue, right?

The exchange with the passionate, Christian female questioner was painful to watch.  She had good intentions, no doubt, but she became flustered.  She started ok, but soon the wheels came off the buggy and the engine caught on fire.  When she said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you don’t get to be with him,” I cringed, not because it was intolerant, but because it bordered on tautological, especially given to whom she was talking to (Chopra, someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus and therefore thinks there’s no one out there to “be with” in the end).   She became upset  when Chopra suggested her experience was in error, but like I noted above, why take offense at this?  Seriously, grow up.  However, I’ve become even more flustered in front of far less intimidating crowds, so I can’t look down on her, and I think I know what she was trying to say.

In conclusion, though it had its moments, I was hoping for more out of the debate.  Chopra/Pearson played word games the whole night, while Driscoll failed to keep them on topic and did not call them out enough on their rhetorical sleights of hand.

Check out the following related posts:

Hitchens-Turek Debate: Does God Exist?

God is not Great Review

The God Delusion Book Review

Through the Dark Mystery of Evil

Why so Narrow?


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Tonight I watched both the prime time TV version and the online version of the Nightline Faceoff debate on the question of Satan’s existence.  Mark Driscoll and Anne Lobert argued in the affirmative, while Deepak Chopra and Charles Pearson argued in the negative (well, “arguing” wouldn’t be quite accurate for either side…more like asserting.).

The prime time TV version, whether intentional or not, did not do the debate justice.  I will put up my thoughts in the next few days (brace yourselves; it’s gonna be a long post), but for now, I highly recommend you go on over to abcnews.com to watch the debate in its entirety.

In the TV version, all the panelists came off as totally different than they came off in the full version.  Perhaps we should point to TV editing as evidence of Satan’s existence.  A necessary evil, but still an evil, nonetheless.  I say that with my tongue  only partly poked in cheek.