Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

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Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.


Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

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Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)

The issue at stake in the problem of evil isn’t God’s power, but His goodness, His character.


I have taken a prompt from the explore God discussion series going on simultaneously in over 800 churches in the Chicago area to write up a summary of the problem of evil. More specifically, I was spurred on by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University.

I think this is the most difficult problem to deal with in the modern western world for the theist, and specifically the Christian who maintains, as Scripture reveals, that God is both all-powerful and all-good.

  • If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world in which evil, pain and suffering exist?
  • Does that mean He really isn’t all-powerful?
  • Or maybe God isn’t good?
  • Or maybe the God of the Bible doesn’t really exist?

Many people who can’t resolve this problem in their minds (or maybe their hearts) end up rejecting the idea of God altogether.

I began the discussion in an introductory blog, and I laid some groundwork to address the problem in Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1). I can’t rehash it all here, other than to emphasize that we should not be lazy in our approach to the challenge. As with science, we need to work through, if indeed there is a resolution to be had.

If there is a resolution the problem, we can’t do it justice by abandoning the premises we are given. We need to work through it.

For the Christian, those premises don’t just include the omnipotence and omni-benevolence of God. We need to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. I have come to believe that, if we hold on to and expand the premises we are given, and fill out the picture, some clarity begins to emerge.

One of the additional puzzle pieces is that God isn’t just good; God is love. In fact, God is love in His very nature.

Some people have trouble with the idea of the Trinity, three in one. We can understand God’s triunal (communal) nature in the context of love. As three in Person and one in Being, God’s very character is love from before time even began. (See The Plurality of God) God has community and relationship (love) within Himself.

And, Scripture says that He made us in His image. If we are made in His image, we are made to reflect His love. This is another of the puzzle pieces.

Love requires freedom. Coercion has no place in a loving relationship. Thus, for us to know love and to love God, we need to be free, and that includes freedom to reject God and what is good.

The Christian, who accepts the premise that God is good, rejects the idea that God is evil or caused evil to exist. Evil is not in the nature of God because God is who He is. Evil, then, must be a byproduct of the freedom God gave His creation. Evil is the rejection of God and what is good.

Pain and suffering aren’t, per se, evil, though evil produces pain and suffering. God created a world in which pain and suffering exist from the beginning. (see Part 1).

Finally, we find that God’s grand plan and purpose is that His creation would enter into a loving relationship with Him, not because it must, but because His created beings want to.

These are the basic puzzle pieces. (If you want to examine these premises more closely, you will have to read the previous posts and do some research of your own.) From here, we will go back to the premise of God’s power (sovereignty) and examine more fully how it can be that an all-powerful God (who is also good) can allow evil to exist.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)”

Selfishness to Salvation

Depositphotos Image ID: 69572625 Copyright: Christin_Lola

Today someone spoke about going “from selfishness to salvation”. I have never heard anyone put it that way before, but it’s as accurate a statement as any I have heard.

Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Loving and holding tightly to my own life, shutting God out, refusing to concede control to my Creator, desiring to go my own way is the life of a person without God. Marked by a desire to control my own destiny, to be captain of my own soul, so that I can say, at the end of the day, “I did it my way”, is a life lived without God.

The terrifying thing is that God will let us our own way. He didn’t prevent Adam and Eve from eating the forbidden fruit. They were tempted by the desire to “be like God”[a], championing their own lives, making their own choices and, ultimately, usurping God’s place of prominence in their lives.

The fruit they ate was “good”; it was delightful and even desirable.[b] The fruit, itself, wasn’t bad, but the choice to go their own ways, to assert their own wills over the will of God, was their downfall.

Without the choice of going our own way, we would, perhaps, live a seemingly idyllic life. We would forever be “perfect” little angels, but God obviously had something else in mind.  God had to know the choice we would make.

That initial choice doomed us to the imperfection of our humanness, but it also opened the door to something else completely. It opened up the opportunity for us to enter into a relationship with God we could never have known in that “perfect”, idyllic, innocent state.

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God Lets Us Choose Him

If we encountered God “face to face” in our daily lives and if God was so evident in creation that we could not deny him, we would not have free will.

Depositphotos Image ID: 31693997 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

In back-to-back chapters in the Gospel of John (8, 9 and 10), Jesus has conversations with Jewish crowds who question who he is. Jesus never tells them in direct words, “I am God,” but the crowd clearly knows what he is talking about. This is similar to what we experience in life.

The world is made in such a way that it is governed by natural laws that have existed since the beginning of time. The cosmological constants were set from the beginning and are so finely tuned that they could not be changed this way or that way, even the slightest bit, without negating the possibility of life on Earth. Many scientists look at these laws and draw the conclusion that either they have always existed or they are simply all there is.

But where did the laws come from? Where did the universe come from? There is plenty of other evidence that God, the Creator, exists. The cosmological constants do not eliminate the possibility of a God. In fact, if those constants had a beginning, they must have had a beginner. But, there is room to question and to dismiss the idea.

Many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, especially the influential leaders, questioned who Jesus claimed to be.  Jesus did not get in their face about it. Just like God does not reveal himself in the created Universe in a way that we could not ignore him, Jesus was subtle, but clear.

I find this to be fascinating. It reveals a deep thread that has been coming into focus for me going way back in time.

God created us with free will. If he was in our face, we would have no free will. He would overwhelm and overcome us if we could not ignore Him.

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