Episode 28: Jerusalem Wasn't Built in a Day

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"There can be no depth without the way to that depth. Truth without the way to truth is dead."

-Paul Tillich, "The Depth of Existence"

This week we have Ravi Zacharias on board to apologize for Christianity...ok, not really, but he is a Christian Apologist, President of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and author of many noted books. We had a great discussion with him, and he was especially gracious considering that he's been recovering from some extensive surgery. Listen in and turn on your brain, Ravi gave us plenty to think about!


Jean-Michel Abrassart said...


Very interesting episode.

My feeling is that you should interview a philosopher on the show about how to have an ethical system not based on God.

Seems to me that you have been overlooking that, but ethics is a huge and lively branch of philosophy. And one of the main question philosophers have to try to answer is just that: on what can I found my ethical principles?

And of course, with philosophers, the answer is generally not the Bible (except if they are also theologians).

They are many answers to that question, and many complex philosophical systems trying to answer it.

Don't forget that Steven Jay Gould nonoverlapping magisteria is wrong. The question that are beyond science, like ethics, don't belong to religion (or theologian) but to philosophy (and philosophers).

Keep up the good work,

MaritimePole said...

I wasn't very impressed with the interview. I know that you guys wanted to be respectful but I think you let way too many assertions go unchallenged.

The part of the interview about the USA being the only country based upon equal rights was absolutely horrible. If Americans really believe that you are so exceptional then I'm not surprised why you think you have the right to intervene in any country's internal affairs. Just consider a few atheistic countries that enjoy a higher standard of living than the US and have fewer social problems: Japan, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Netherlands and many others.

The whole argument of that guy can be summarized as "argumentum ad consequentiam" i.e. appeal to consequences. Basically all he said in that 40 minutes diatribe is that God and Jeebus must exist because otherwise we could not condemn Hitler, Stalin etc. This is one of the most basic logical fallacies and I really feel you guys should have been able to spot it right away.

Danny Schade said...

Sorry about that. It was a real tough thing to work through exactly how we are to approach this kind of interview. In the heat of the moment it's very easy to forget a lot of things and get stuck discussing things you didn't originally plan to. That's why I think it's a good idea to have Ravi on for a second interview, so we can reflect a bit on the first and delve into these issues more. You made a great point about the logically fallacy that Ravi is using and I agree with you. I'll mention this to him next time I can and hopefully the second round can make much more progress.

There's kind of a balance between laying down and just taking everything they say, and being overly critical and aggressive which might also stop the conversation from moving in a positive direction.

Not that I'm saying I tried to take it easy on Ravi, I'm just not as skilled mentally to keep up with everything said and rebut everything on a whim like that. It would probably be very cool to have some sort of written discussion on the blog. That would give us time to ponder and respond adequately to each and every point. But you know, Ravi was in pain and he could only talk for 45 minutes. We wanted to give him plenty of time to explain his case and we took most of our rebuttal time after the interview.

Doug Kerr said...

I hope you can convince Bob Price to be with you the next time you interview Ravi. Although Ravi didn't seem to hip to the idea. Hummm I wonder why?Bob would rip gigantic holes in Ravi's weak arguments.
Ravi kept talking about Bob's " Static point of Reference". But you guys never asked Ravi what his "Static point of reference" was. I take it to be the bible, and that is where alot of questions arise.
The moment someone quotes biblical scripture to help strengthen their case, is where they lose all credibility.
Ravi believes that christ and the bible are where morals come from.If that's the case, how were our ancestors informed of morality before the bible and christ existed? They survived just fine.
Why do other animals nurture and care for their young and the "communities" Do wolves have a fear of god and morality?
Does Ravi endorse slavery?
Does Ravi endorse the treatment of women in the bible or "word of god"
I could go on and on and on...
One cannot pick random verses from an unproven book to prove a point.
What is boils down to is, you can beleive anything you want, but you must convince me why I should believe it too.So far, nobody has come with any evidence of the existance of any gods or any other supernatural occurances.
Sorry to the long post, but come on, let reason and common sense prevail.We as humans are too intelligent to keep believing in some childish story!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the mob here; you guys sounded unprepared in the Ravi Zecharias interview! I was hoping for better, since I often wake up to his show playing on the local radio station on my clock radio! The title of the show: "Let My People Think," makes me gag because the Judeochristian tradition castigated using thinking and reason, instead of relying on blind acceptance of the faith. It's not until the humanist tradition he despises, begins to permeate Christian thought during the Renaissance, that the Church starts to develop a complete system of apologetics and ethics (by lifting most of it directly from Aristotle). Modern Christian intellectuals like Ravi Zecharias and William Lane Craig, would have been stoned by a mob of first century christians, for adapting Aristotle to Christian doctrine. An intellectual, even arguing on behalf of Christianity, would have been suspect!

Besides questions that have already been mentioned, I couldn't help noticing that even if his arguments claiming that naturalism doesn't provide meaning are true, it still would not prove his belief in transcendent ethics and a supernatural realm to give our lives meaning. Many years ago, I took a class in existential philosophy, and the nihilists' bleak outlook on the absurdity of human existence would dovetail nicely with Ravi's complaints, but the existentialists would still find no reason to jump into Ravi's world just because his descriptions of heaven sound like a nice fairytale.

I've noticed that on Ravi's radio show, he comes across as very ecumenical, and sure enough, most of the criticism I've dug up about him on the web is from the fundamentalists who are angered by his cameraderie with Catholics and Mormons. But Ravi isn't ecumenical enough to accept other religions, and preaches Christian exceptionalism -- which dovetails with American Exceptionalism, and that's likely why he is so popular on Townhall Blogs. I'd like to ask Ravi how he is able to bend his logic far enough to embrace Christian sects with incompatible doctrines, but yet cannot find any value in the long philosophical and religious traditions that grew out of non-European sources?

And that's something I find really troubling about him and fellow Indian Christian, Dinesh D'Souza -- both of these men repudiate totally, the religious and philosophical culture of the land of their ancestors, and accept a foreign culture, complete with Western religious and philosophical values! To the average Indian, these guys are probably seen as traitors andapologists for colonialism.

Some of the basic Christian doctrines like salvation based on belief, imply that the majority of people are lost to a fiery hell regardless of who's right. I wished you guys had pressed him more on the problems of exclusive salvation, instead of letting him off the hook.

Doug Kerr said...

Well said anonymous.Speaking of hell, I have been to may funerals, and it never matters how good or bad the deceased person was in life, the pastor, minister, clown, whatever always says they are in heaven now.Whats up with that? Has anyone ever heard them say that "Johnny was a bad person and is now in hell where he belongs. So by that, there is noone in hell. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Ravi made a couple assertions that I'd like to attempt to address.

1) From the naturalist perspective there is no way to judge whether living is better than not living.

Everything that is alive is the product of evolution. Through the process of evolution and natural selection certain organisms gained the genetic propensity to live in order to reproduce and spread their genes. Those organisms which did not gain this propensity were selected against and became extinct. From the perspective of an organism which has gained the propensity to reproduce it is better to live until reproduction and even after reproduction in order to better gaurantee the survival of offspring and further spreading of the genes.

2) From the naturalist perspective there is no way to determine an objective morality.

First, it is impossible to determine and objective morality if it is proposed morality is deemed by God, simply because by definition, anything that is the product of a single mind (ie the mind of God) is subjective. Further, anything objective has to be unchanging and if God changes (as it seems the Judeo-Christian God did between Testaments) morality defined would also change and therefore would be subjective.

Second, I've already established that all living organisms have a propensity to live in order to reproduce, create genetic offspring, and ensure the survival and further genetic reproduction by that offspring. Social animals, such as humans, can benefit from positive interaction with other individuals within the society which helps to ensure the survival and further genetic reproduction of offspring (think "it takes a village to raise a child"). Anything that works to create positive relationships between members of a society can then be defined as moral. When all individuals of a society decide together, in an Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" way, the rules which would most probably ensure a healthy society in which positive relationships between members can be made, ethics are defined.

In addition to these two points I'd like to make one of my own about justice. Ravi, stated something about justice necessitating a God (I can't remember the exact point). Again, from a genetic perspective, those individuals who do not act justly towards society are less likely to sucessfully reproduce and be able to ensure the survival of their offspring. Because all organisms have the propensity to do so, justice is served to society when the genes that cause unjust behavior are not reproduced (of course there are non-genetic causes of unjust behavior but these too may also be affected by the halting of the genetic reproduction). Further, Ravi believes the Judeo-Christian God delivers justice. In American society, which Ravi would consider one of the most just in the world, justice is served when equal crimes receive equal punishment which is why we have different classifications of murder and different punishments for each (which are further different from case to case based on the circumstances of each). In the old testament, God orders the death of every man, woman, and child in an entire city, as though they were all equally guilty of the same crime...children, infants, even fetuses.... just as guilty as murders and theives.

In conclusion, from my reasoning, morality and justice are best explained by the naturalistic perspective, morality is impossible to explain through any theistic perspective, and justice is impossible to explain through the Judeo-Christian.

Aaron Allison

Eric Ross said...

I am a big fan of the show so I hope you guys will not take this the wrong way, but I agree with many of the previous posters that you seemed unprepared. I realize that you respect Ravi and did not want to upset him, but he clearly felt no compunction about criticizing atheism, so there was no good reason to refrain from criticizing his statements (which tended to range from simple mistakes to complete and utter nonsense).

The charge that atheists have no basis for morality is one of the most common, and I tend to feel that most atheists, even the best known ones, do not rebut it as effectively as they could. First, I would ask what the theists basis for morality is. Of course they will say that morality comes from God the law-giver, but why should we care what God says? Why are they not just the arbitrary dictates of a divine despot? And one what basis do they reject as immoral things like stoning and slavery, which are clearly proscribed by God in the Bible?

For my money, the best answer for where morals come from is game theory. Basically, what we call morality is just the "Prisoner's Dilemma" played out on a large scale. While each of us can gain a short term advantage by cheating society (such as by stealing), in the long run it is in everyone's best interest to cooperate, and to punish cheaters (i.e. law and law enforcement). Even what might be called pure altruism, such as donating money to help typhoon or earthquake victims half a world away, is ultimately in the individual's best interest. By helping to create an altruistic world, each of us increases the odds that help will be forthcoming if and when we are in need. It is actually rather like buying insurance.

As to why it is better to live than not to live, I would again point out that theists have no good answer for this question. If death is just a gateway to a much better afterlife, why are we not better off dead? As atheists, we need only point out that we do, in fact, desire to live -- evolution, of course, selects strongly against suicidal species. We also seek to perpetuate our genes through reproduction, and we generally seek happiness. Actions which tend to increase the net total of human happiness (or, more generally, the happiness of all conscious life) we call good.

I really cringed when you conceded to Ravi that you borrow moral precepts from the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is completely wrong. Jews and Christians employ the principles of game theory (whether they recognize it or not), then retroactively cherry-pick the scriptures to justify attributing morality to God.

The Reason Driven Podcast is one of my favorites, and I eagerly look forward to every episode. I know it is much easier to criticize from the sidelines than it is to marshall one's best arguments in the heat of the moment, so I hope you will take this comment in the spirit in which it is offered.

chatiez said...


I listened this episode while I was very tired last night but one thing your guest said cought my ear, something near: "naturalists just suppose its better to live than not to live".

C.S Lewis for one says this really clear in first chapter of his book The problem with pain, quoting freely: "its impossible to say was it better for God to Create than not to Create, so I don't answer this underlying question and just suppose it was better to create." The question is basically same if being alive is only way to participate in any level inside a naturalistic worldview, the theists just pass the question to the God, whereas Creation is only way to participate. Your guests argument just leads to global scepticism, nothing more.

MikWonder said...

Well, we seemed to strike a chord with people, and all we had to do was be unprepared.

No, we actually really appreciate everyone's criticism on the interview. I was debating how to go about this interview and decided to just give Ravi the opportunity to say his piece so that we could get a more adequate portrayal of his ideas. There seemed little point in playing "gotcha" with his details; I'd rather look at his concepts broadly to better understand the limitations that afflict them. Obviously, listeners could pick out glaring problems, and we reflected upon some of these after the interview.

But since there is a lot more to go into, we will be delving further into Ravi's arguments next episode with guests who do know what they are talking about, unlike us. So listen in for some great follow-up.

Josh said...

You have to give any apologist worth his salt credit, because they are always able to sidestep, juggle, and speak with an impression of confidence. When you debate them, it's like trying to herd cats.

I know both of you probably listened back and were like "aw, I should have said...." in many places. I would be too. He did go unchallenged on many things and shifted the focus to suit his needs. Seriously though, with someone like this or a William Lane Craig, you have to be very organized and focused on a point and not let them proceed unless the point has been addressed. They can go through a whole hour debate without really saying much of anything or responding to critiques of their world view.

When he said the part about Stalin having had atheism as his philosophical foundation, I immediately thought of countless examples of horror with Christianity as their foundation...that is just a horrible argument and I can't believe he actually uses it.

Agagooga said...

Is there an episode 28 summary?

Danny Schade said...

No, sorry. That was was lost somehow too. Sorry these things aren't consistent. :(

Agagooga said...

No worries

smellincoffee said...


Thanks for this episode -- Ravi Zacharias introduced me to philosophy. I started listening to him after I left Christianity, and listening to his lectures/sermons on his website forced me to think deeply about my opinions. In the process I started "Freethinking" intuitively and became an atheist -- which would probably horrify him.

It was quite interesting to hear him interviewed outside of the context of his radio shows, although obviously he's comfortable discussing these matters anywhere. There were a lot of things he said I took issue with that weren't addressed, but it's hard to identify and chase every rabbit down its respective hole when you're conducting a phone interview. All in all I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

It was with great dismay that I heard Ravi equate Atheism with suicide. People take their own lives for various reasons, not just philosophical ones. Perhaps Ravi has never had to comfort a church after one of it's members killed themselves, but I'm a former minister & I have. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Even though I have left the faith, I had great respect for Ravi, until now.

Josh said...

Agreed, xbaptist.

I first heard Ravi speak a few years back, and truthfully I've never had much respect for him. It seemed to me that he was using a lot of techniques to actually confuse the Christian group he was speaking to. I'm sure 90% of the congregation had no idea what he was talking about, let alone the opportunity to question any of his assumptions.

Apologists and preachers make the best salesmen.

Taylor said...

I agree with the others that you let too many things Ravi said go unchallenged. Debating these guys is hard, because it's not always easy to see where their reasoning goes wrong, at least in the heat of battle. That's why it's important to prepare *before* the event. I recommend that you take the audio and practice the responses you know you should have given.

If you'd post a transcript here, you might get lots of suggestions.

Taylor said...

Maritimepole wrote:

If Americans really believe that you are so exceptional then I'm not surprised why you think you have the right to intervene in any country's internal affairs.

Yes, it's common for Americans to think we're God's new chosen people. More likely to be right wing fundamentalist Christians that hold these views. Republican political candidates tend to cater to these views by telling us how wonderful we are.

You're right, it is a problem.

Emilio said...

“It was with great dismay that I heard Ravi equate Atheism with suicide. People take their own lives for various reasons, not just philosophical ones. Perhaps Ravi has never had to comfort a church after one of it's members killed themselves, but I'm a former minister & I have. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Even though I have left the faith, I had great respect for Ravi, until now.” I wanted to quickly respond to this specific statement by xbaptist. This is a presumptuous statement about Ravi’s life and his own testimony. It seems your respect for Ravi has been easily swayed without knowing the context on why a person such as Ravi would make such a statement. Hearing or reading Ravi’s testimony you would come to find out that he devoted his life to Christ in a hospital bed after attempting his own suicide. I just thought how ironic it was that you were castigating Ravi’s character for his “so-called” irreverence to suicide by contrasting it to your former piety. Particularly, since it is an existential reality for him. You can write what you want about him, but his character has remained above reproach.