#STRask: May 29, 2017

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Published on 05/29/2017

In four min. or less, Brett answers questions about morality, listening prayer, and man’s ambition.


  • How do non-Christian theists know what specific objective moral values there are (e.g., don’t covet)? Intuition doesn’t seem reliable.
  • If we shouldn’t practice listening prayers, what is meant by His “still small voice”?
  • What do you suppose God’s perspective is regarding man’s moonlanding and desire to walk on Mars?


Melinda: Hello there, I’m Melinda the Enforcer. This is the #STRask podcast, our quick podcast with quick answers that we get from you on Twitter when you use #STRask. This week, we have Brett Kunkle sitting in on the spot, and I know that you and Alan don’t really like doing this.

Brett Kunkle: I hate being put on the spot like this.

Melinda: But you’re in front of audiences all the time answering questions, and from challengers and stuff.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah. Sometimes I guess these questions are more challenging because they get more narrow and focused. Sometimes it’s asking about a specific verse, I don’t feel like I’ve studied it well, don’t feel like I have much to offer.

Melinda: You don’t have to answer it then.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah.

Melinda: So, let’s get going.

Brett Kunkle: So, let’s close in prayer. Oh, no.

Melinda: No, no, no. First question comes from Barry Wallace: How do non-Christian theists know what specific objective moral values there are, like don’t covet? Intuition doesn’t really seem to be reliable.

Brett Kunkle: I guess I would dispute that last comment, intuition doesn’t seem to be reliable, and I would ask why would you think that intuition isn’t reliable? I think we have good reason to think that intuition is somewhat reliable, certainly when it comes to what we call the clear case examples, or the obvious moral truths, and I think we can make the case that it is somewhat reliable given a couple of things. Number one, you have kind of a similar moral vein throughout human cultures. There’s this kind of core moral truth that seems to be affirmed in all cultures, even though it cashes out a little bit differently in cultures that the moral principles are the same. For instance, C.S. Lewis highlights this in The Abolition of Man in the appendix where he lists out all these cultures that affirm the similar moral principles. Louis Pojman, who’s a philosopher, has a book called Ethics, I think the subtitle’s “Discovering Right and Wrong,” and he talks about kind of this core of six or seven moral principles like honesty and murder and these kind of things that just seem to be-

Melinda: For or against it?

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, against murder, against dishonesty, that are affirmed by almost all civilizations, so you see the similar vein throughout human civilization. I think there’s some evidence that intuition must be working. I think, this is why the framers could make an appeal, the founders can make an appeal to self-evident truths, right, and then I think Scripture gives us reason to think that intuition is somewhat reliable because in Romans, Paul says - in Romans Chapter 2 - that God’s law is written on every human heart and our conscience is either accusing us or defending us, we’re defending ourselves. Paul makes the case that, hey, even the unbeliever, even the Gentile, knows moral law, or knows the moral law that’s written on the human heart.

I think there’s a good case to say that intuition is somewhat reliable on these basic obvious moral truths, and that’s how the unbeliever knows them. He simply reflects on these things and they are self-evident. That’s how, and that really is how we can reason with the unbeliever. That gives us that kind of common ground. It’s kind of the starting place as moral intuitions that we can appeal to with one another. I think that intuition’s reliable, and therefore we, God has given the people the moral equipment to reflect and know moral truth. The unbeliever, whether he understands where morality comes from, right, that’s a separate question, this question is asking specifically how do you know moral truth, and whether you believe that God is the grounding of moral truth or not you can recognize true moral laws and moral principles and moral obligations. I think there’s a good case for that.

Melinda: I completely agree with you. However-

Brett Kunkle: But-

Melinda: But.

Brett Kunkle: Here comes the but.

Melinda: Doesn’t it seem to you, I mean Romans also says that we suppress the truth.

Brett Kunkle: Sure.

Melinda: Doesn’t it seem accelerating much, much faster all the time, that people’s intuitions are not working as well, that they’re suppressing the truth even more? Because it seems like, you know, we often talk about intuition and being a way of knowing, completely agree, but we’ve also then, very often the way you sort of raise an intuition is to use a counterexample, that people will respond to. It seems harder and harder to even come up with a crazy enough counterexample, because people are accepting so many crazy things.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, I think this is really good insight, and a good kind of qualification on this. We certainly would say the other part of this is that our knowing has gone wrong because of the effects of the fall, right. There is this other side where Paul says, yeah, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness and so we do have to take that into account. That certainly maybe limits that affects our knowing. We wouldn’t want to say that our race is our ability to know these things, but it certainly has an impact, and I think there are probably a number of things that could contribute to the conditions, or the conditions around us can contribute to our ability to know and see things more clearly. For the person who is themselves immoral or living immoral lifestyle, I think that probably will create a fog for them in terms of what they can see. Things will not be as clear. A culture that has conditioned us to...

Melinda: Almost anything.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, I mean our culture right now is a great example, but a culture that has conditioned its people to see immorality as moral, I think that is going to have an impact. That’s I think, a second insight that kind of we take along with this, and there are conditions that have an impact on our ability to know moral truth, and it might just take more work. It might, because it’s kind of like you have these moral intuitions and you have to do things to kind of dredge them up sometimes, because sometimes they’ve been suppressed so much. Whereas some people who are unbelievers who for whatever reason there’s been some moral formation in their life, they’ve maybe been surrounded by a community that’s more moral, those intuitions are a little more accessible and you can kind of access those a little easier with a counterexample, whereas for some people you have to work really hard. With some people they’re so spiritually blind that you can’t really even dredge those up, at least certainly not in one or two conversations. It’s going to take more work than that.

Melinda: As we talk to people though, no matter how hard it is, we can do it with confidence because like Greg mentions in the Tactics book he took from Francis Schaeffer, we know the back of the book. We know that God has created, we know every single person is created by God, and that He has instilled in them a conscience even if it’s been corrupted to a great extent, we know that that’s in there somewhere.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, I love the title of J. Budziszewski’s book, 11. You can certainly deny it, you can certainly suppress it, but you can’t not know it.

Melinda: You know it in there somewhere. Next question comes from gocougsdoug, I guess: If we shouldn’t practice listening prayer, what is meant by his still, small voice?

Brett Kunkle: Okay, I guess my first question on this would be, where in Scripture do you see God’s still, small voice? As far as I’m aware, there’s a single passage for that, and that would be in 1 Kings, Chapter 19. That’s the only place where you’ll see that phrase, the still, small voice of God. That’s actually only in particular translations. I looked at this a while back, and I looked at, you know, you look at the NIV, you look at the NASB, look at the Revised Standard Version, and actually what you find is this is probably a passage that translators, well, clearly translators have difficulty with this, and they disagree, because some translators have said, “a still, small voice.” Other translators have said, “a gentle whisper.” Other translators have said, “the sound of rushing wind,” and then another translation says, “the sound of sheer silence.” That’s the range here on this particular passage.

1 Kings Chapter 19 verse 13, 11 through 13 is kind of this little scene, and so the only passage where I see that “still, small voice” phrase is this passage. Translators seem to kind of be all over the place on this one. I certainly think we want to hesitate before we build an entire doctrine on this. There has to be more Biblical support for the still, small voice of God that we’re supposed to be listening for. I say, okay, that’s the only passage that mentions it. I don’t see elsewhere in Scripture, I don’t see instructions, this to be a kind of primary instruction for believers, that we’re to be listening for the still, small voice of God. I just, I don’t see that. In fact, if you look, I mean you don’t see it in Paul’s epistles. I don’t see it in the early church. The early church is, certainly they’re praying and they’re acting and it doesn’t seem like they’re waiting to hear kind of this gentle whisper of God.

Melinda: Learning how to hear and listen for it.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, learning how to hear it. My first question is going to be, what’s the Biblical case, because this is, I think for many people, this is just kind of an assumption. It’s an assumption of modern day Evangelical Christianity that we’re...prayer is a two-way communication because communication in any relationship is two-way and so we oftentimes will draw a parallel I think between human relationships and our relationship with God. Certainly I would say there are certainly parallels but also it seems to me that there are huge differences as well, and that we can’t just, anything that happens in a human relationship there’s a parallel to our relationship with God. Clearly, that’s not the case.

There may be things that, in ways in which we relate to God differently than we relate to other human beings. God is going to instruct us on that and he has in his word, which we take that to be the primary communication. You want to listen for God? I would say first and foremost you’re in the Scriptures. That’s where you’re listening for God’s voice. That’s where God’s voice is ringing loud and clear. Then there I don’t see any Biblical case for kind of this subjective kind of listening to a voice. We say this all the time when we kind of talk about it, I think this particular issue. We are not saying that God can’t whisper to you or that He can’t use a still, small voice, or that he can’t use an audible voice. Certainly we’re not saying anything about what God can or can’t do. If God wants to speak to you He will. We’re just saying, what is normative? What is the regular course for believers?

Melinda: The habit.

Brett Kunkle: I don’t see anything.

Melinda: In the Old Testament, most if not all of the examples of God speaking to people, he actually, it seems from the context, He was speaking out loud. They didn’t practice it. They didn’t have to quiet themselves to hear it. They didn’t have to learn a discipline. He simply spoke out loud and there was no missing it. They may not have known it was him speaking, like in Samuel’s case with Eli, but it was an audible voice.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah. It’s funny that you bring that up, because that is actually a passage that people use to, and they call it the ministry of Eli, where you try to help other people hear the voice of God. But if you look at Eli, he was clueless. It was like he was tuned in, and he said, “Okay, I’m going to help you tune in to the voice of God.” He didn’t even know it was God at first. It’s ironic that people use that passage. Then you look at not only the Old Testament but the New Testament in the book of Acts, and if God wants to communicate, it’s loud and clear, it’s decisive, it kind of invades the space, and it’s very clear. You don’t have to worry, like, “Was that God’s voice?” The different kind of scenes that you see in the book of Acts. God communicated his message very clearly when he wanted to get something across.

Melinda: Let’s see. Short one, two minutes, from Justin Funk: What do you suppose God’s perspective is regarding man’s moon landing and desire to walk on Mars?

Brett Kunkle: I would say, I mean think about the fact that we’re made in the image of God. The positive side of that is that we are co-creators. I think there’s a sense where God may delight in what human beings create, because this is reflecting his image, and the amazing things that we can do. The ability to create the kind of technology that gets a man to the moon or another planet is just amazing and it speaks of the intelligence, the brilliance, the creativity, the hard work, I mean it speaks to all these wonderful things that God has created human beings with, kind of the ingenuity and all of that. I think there’s a sense where, in a proper perspective, this actually reflects back very clearly the image of God and God’s existence. I think it may be something that He kind of delights in seeing creatures, his creatures, doing amazing things. He’s given us this incredible capacity, and we’re noble, and beautiful and invaluable, and so that would be my take on what God’s perspective might be regarding something like that. What’s your, I’m curious, have you got any thought on that?

Melinda: I think that’s a better answer than I would have come up with. I mean, I think, thinking of it as this is God’s, part of what God’s put in us to be creative and ambitious and to aspire to these things. I was thinking, I don’t think these are examples of it, but some people might think some things that we aspire to and kind of do as human beings is hubris, like the tower of Babel, and some things we pursue to elevate ourselves above God, or to put ourselves in the place of God. I don’t know that this is an example of it. I’ve always been amazed at the, just the vision and the intelligence and creativity it took to do this kind of thing. People pretty much working with slide rules, you know, before they really had big computers and all that stuff.

I recently saw the movie, as many people did, what was that movie just recently, Hidden Figures.

Brett Kunkle: Oh, Hidden Figures.

Melinda: Then I read the book.

Brett Kunkle: Like Interstellar?

Melinda: No. Then I read the book afterwards, and the book was even better than the movie, but just, you think people just with math, you know, and then there’s different kinds of math, and this is the kind of math we should pull off the shelf and apply to shooting a man to orbit the earth and how to project where he was going to come back down so that his ship could be within reachable distance quickly. To think that you can even project that with any kind of accuracy, and they did. I just think that’s stunning, and it’s part of what God has put in us to be able to do those kinds of things.

Brett Kunkle: Yeah, and I think Christians need to do a better job of recognizing that and celebrating that. We sometimes are, I don’t know, maybe it’s just apologetics community, but I feel like sometimes I look at the world through these kind of critical eyes, you know, always evaluating, and here’s an opportunity to celebrate something that we can do as a result of who’s made us.

Melinda: Yeah. Good. That’s really good insight Brett, really appreciate that. See, you’re nervous about these things but then you bring something unique and insightful like that. Thank you very much.

That’s it for this episode, folks. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. We try to post two episodes a week. I think we only had one last week because we didn’t have enough questions, but we’ll have two episodes this week and hopefully next week.

Brett Kunkle: There’s enough questions for two episodes? Oh man.

Melinda: Yeah, you’re doing another episode. That’s the bad news, but that’s the good news for our listeners. I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Brett Kunkle for Stand to Reason.