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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jesus Didn't Become God; the Earliest Christians Believed Him to Be Divine



In his excellent new book, God Among Sages, Kenneth Samples has done a wonderful job in combining an apologetic showing the Gospel accounts reflect the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth and how the Jesus of the Gospels is markedly different from the founders of Eastern religions, such as Krishna, who was also thought to be a god taking on human form.

The comparison is interesting, especially considering the charge made by many modern skeptics that the Christian belief of Jesus as God incarnate was foreign to Jesus's first followers and only grew as a later addition to the new religion. Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God is one such challenge. Samples answers it well when he writes:
But just what did the earliest Christians believe about the nature and person of Jesus Christ? A major textual breakthrough over the last couple of decades has al1owed scholars to see more dearly what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus Christ, particularly as expressed in their church services.

Biblical scholarship (in this case, a type of form criticism) has discovered primitive Jewish-Christian creeds, confessions, and hymns woven into Scripture. The early Christians in their worship services used these compact confessions of faith long before the New Testament was written. As New Testament scholar Ralph Martin explains, "The church of the New Testament is already a believing, preaching, and confessing community of men and women. This implies the existence and influence of a body of authoritative doctrine ... which was the given and shared possession of those who formed the nascent Christian communities in the world of the Roman Empire."1
I've written before on the creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and how it shows the resurrection account existed as a foundational belief from the earliest moments of Christianity. Here, Samples is arguing that there are other early creeds recorded within the pages of the New Testament showing a very early belief in the divinity of Jesus. Some of these passages are actually central to the case of understanding Jesus as the God-man.

Philippians 2:6-11, a key passage discussing how Jesus existed in the form of God, but humbled himself and became man, is the first example. Because of differences in its language and its poetic approach separate it from the rest of the epistle lead scholars to believe this was an early Christian hymn.2 Paul wrote the epistle to the Philippians around AD 62, which means a hymn exalting the incarnation of God in the man of Jesus was well established within thirty years of Jesus's crucifixion.

Jesus Seen As God Very Early

Pointing to Craig Blomberg's work, Samples highlights two other passages (Colossians 1:15-20 and 1 Peter 3:18-22), also written around AD 62. He then notes "the hymnal and creedal portions of those letters date much earlier, possibly back to the Jewish expressions of Christianity in the 40s or even earlier in the 30s."3 These early dates make it impossible for the deity of Christ to be ascribed to either later legend or Gentile influence. It places the central theology of the Trinity at the very beginning of Christianity itself! This is all the more remarkable given that as Jesus first followers were Jews, they would've strongly resisted any claims to divinity that would impeach Yahweh as the one and only God. Remember, this is exactly why Paul sought to kill Christians to begin with.

The early creedal statements within the epistles written by both Peter and Paul—two key founders of the Christian church—show that the incarnation, like the resurrection, was a formative doctrine of Christianity. Jesus didn't "become God" as Ehrman puts it, but was always seen as God. What could have made such a scandalous claim seem palatable to the first Jewish Christians? Nothing other than a resurrection, I believe.

I highly recommend you grab a copy of God Among Sages for yourself. There are so many good things here Samples has given us, this being just one nugget. It's a fresh approach to the question of the historical Jesus and how he compares to other religions' founders.

References

1. Samples, Kenneth Richard. God Among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017. 71. Print.
2. Samples, 2017. 72.
3. Samples, 2017. 73.
Image courtesy Lawrence OP and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why the Supreme Court's Decision Doesn't Change the Concept of Marriage



Is the question of same-sex marriage over? The Supreme Court has ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is legal and must be recognized across the United States. Does that settle the matter? Actually, no. The Supreme Court has made other definitive decisions which have been later overturned because the assumptions from which those decisions were made were false. Last Monday marked the 160th anniversary of Dred Scott v. Stanford, a seven to two decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that African-Americans whose ancestors were slavers were ineligible to be considered people of the United States. This May will mark the 90th anniversary of the famed Buck v. Bell decision by the Court, where they authorized the forced sterilization of people.

So, what are the assumptions underlying the Obergefell decision? One is that the state has a role in defining marriage.1 Certainly, governments have traditionally recognized marriage and crafted legislation that affects its citizens on the basis of their marriage status, but do governments have the authority to define the very essence of what constitutes marriage? Just what is marriage and who gets to define its terms?

How Do We Begin to Understand Marriage in Relation to Law?

In the debate over same-sex unions, it has been popular to place the "what is marriage" question into a dichotomy. Most people ask whether marriage is something invented by the state or something that stands objectively outside the state. In reality, though, there are three categories societies rely upon to understand and help in the civil interaction between its individuals: societal creations, societal conventions, and natural laws.

Societal creations are those things that are invented by the state. Examples include which is the "right" side of the road to drive on, the legal recognition of corporations as individuals for legal contracts, and the postal system. Each of these are creations of the state and each can be redefined or even abolished through legislation.

Natural laws, on the other hand, are recognized by the state but sit above the state. The right to life, the right practice one's religious beliefs without undue government interference, the right to not be enslaved, and the right to the fruits of one's labor are things that government doesn't give us; we hold them inherently as a result of being human. While governments can pass legislation that denies us our rights, the rights themselves don't go away. They are simply being infringed upon. Just as the slavery issue proved, even if the law states slavery is legal, that doesn't eliminate the right to freedom for the slave. It just means the law is corrupt.

Societal Conventions Differ from Societal Creations

But there's a third aspect to societal interactions: societal conventions. These are things that naturally come out of civil human interaction. David Hume defined convention as "a sense of common interest; which sense each man feels in his own breast, which he remarks in his fellows, and which carries him, in concurrence with others into a general plan or system of actions, which tends to public utility."2I think that's right. Shows of respect, for example, are ubiquitous across all cultures. However, what counts as a sign of respect can differ widely, like bowing before a company president versus simply shaking his hand.

The wedding ring is another convention we use to communicate marriage. Not taking another person's spouse would fall into natural law, but the way to recognize a person as married can and has differed in different societies, with the wedding ring serving as a societal convention that is recognized across Western culture.

Is Marriage a Creation, a Convention, or a Reflection of Nature?

Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion seems to place marriage in the category of a societal convention. He said, "The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society." Here, Kennedy is I think purposely obtuse. What does he mean by "the ancient origins of marriage?" The coupling of men and women to produce children is older than human history itself. It's ingrained into our biology. Does that mean every sexual encounter is tantamount to marriage? Of course not. However, marriage has always been seen as the intentional joining of two people of the opposite sex presumably for life, whether or not any government exists to recognize it as such.

Kennedy is also right to say that marriage has not stood "in isolation from developments in law and society." But that doesn't mean marriage itself is a societal convention. While the ring that helps people recognize marriage is a convention, the marriage that it symbolizes existed before rings. It existed before marriage certificates. Marriage is actually a reflection of nature, and to degrade it to a social convention that can be changed or redefined undercuts the essence of what marriage actually is.

So, what about those "developments in law and society" to which Kennedy refers? He rightly raises the point that arranged marriages are no longer the norm for Western societies. More importantly, he points out law of coverture are no longer recognized, either. Is this an example showing how legal recognition changed marriage itself? Do these changes show that marriage itself can evolve? No, for these do nothing to change the essence of marriage, which is the only recognized institution humanity has ever had to properly rear the next generation. Let me state that again. There exists no other institution that human beings recognize for the proper creation and rearing of children than man-woman marriage.

Governments cannot define marriage because governments didn't create marriage. Governments can only recognize marriage as the institution rooted in nature that it is. Like other natural laws, governments can choose to ignore what marriage is or choose to abuse or withhold it from its citizens. Just because the Supreme Court said that Dred Scott had no inalienable rights because his ancestors were slaves or Carrie Buck had no right to protest her forced sterilization, doesn't mean those rights didn't exist. It just meant the Court was in grievous error.

In my next article, I'll go a little further into the distinction between creations, conventions, and natural laws, demonstrating that even though governments may pass laws with respect to aspects of marriage, it in no way proves that marriage itself can be defined by law.

References

1. In the decision, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations."
2. Hume, David. "Appendix III. Some farther considerations with regard to Justice." An Enquiry into the Principles of Morals. The University of Adelaide Library. 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2017. https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/david/h92pm/appendix3.html.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Progressives: Please Help Me Understand International Women's Day


Today is marked as International Women's Day, described as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."1 The Women's March, among other progressive women's rights groups, decided to mark the day by creating "A Day without a Woman" campaign, instructing women to:
  1. Take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
  3. And Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman
As a heterosexual white male living in the 21st century, I definitely want to highlight the crucial contributions women have made to our society. But I need some help in understanding just how to go about doing this. Lest I be accused of "mansplaining" or bias because of my sex, I want to ask my progressive friends to help me make better sense of this day and just what it is I'm recognizing.

Question 1: How Do We Mark Achievements Today?

As noted above, this date is set aside to celebrate "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women," yet women are being instructed to take the day off from labor—to go on strike. Fox News reports that "Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in ‘A Day Without a Woman' strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home."2How does this celebrate achievement? What happens to the female students who are supposed to be taught today? Does losing one day's instruction give them an advantage?

Question 2: How Do We Accelerate Economic Gender Parity?

Perhaps the strike is meant to accelerate gender parity. After all, the day is to be marked with calls to action. Does the fact that these schools closed mean the school districts need to hire more men so the ratio of genders is equal? Should we put quotas in place to ensure parity? What about other jobs where men are in the vast majority, like sanitation engineers or coal miners? Business insider lists these as two of the fifteen most deadly occupations with fatalities per 100,000 workers at 22.8 and 38.9 respectively.3 Christina Hoff Sommers documents how in the top ten highest paying college majors, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in all but one while in the ten least remunerative majors women outnumber the men in all but one. So, how do we accelerate gender parity economically here?

Question 3: How Do We Accelerate Cultural Gender Parity?

Perhaps economic parity isn't the only kind of parity we should strive for. Perhaps we can recognize that women as women offer unique and worthwhile contributions to our society that cannot be measured (or are undervalued) economically. But this seems to get sticky pretty fast. Can I say that women as a gender have a unique view on society and its problems? When the city of Los Angeles was in danger of having an all-male city council, former councilwoman Laura Chick decried the possibility, saying "Shame, shame. Absolutely it makes a difference. Our brains are different. We have different perspectives.... There's something terribly wrong with this."4

But how can this be true if a family requires two loving adults, no matter what their gender? Progressives have been telling me for a long time that children don't need women as mothers, they simply need loving individuals. Gender doesn't matter at all. To create a situation where children are intentionally denied the opportunity for a mother is so inconsequential that it shouldn't even be up for discussion. It certainly shouldn't be considered as a factor when adopting, as Catholic Charites were told, forcing them to shut down their adoption services in Massachusetts.

Question 4: What do You Mean by Woman?

Perhaps the fact that women bear children and are responsible for the lion's share of rearing them is a point to be underscored. But that would mean that the very concept of being a woman is rooted in biology. But according to my progressive friends, that isn't true at all. They say the very idea of gender is simply a social construct. All that is required to be a woman is to identify as a woman. Is that right? But that means I can be celebrated if I choose to identify as a woman today.

The big question in all this is how do we celebrate the achievements of women and rally to gain parity for women when the concept of what a woman is isn't defined? This is probably where I need the most help, as I can't make sense of it at all. If the very definition of what constitutes a woman is up for grabs, then what happens to those gender parity issues? I mean, there are those who deeply identify as football fans or basketball fans. I'm in the minority as a hockey fan. Should I seek a day for celebration of achievement and a call to parity since hockey fans are so underrepresented in society?

I would really love to celebrate women. However, in today's world with all the different messaging going on, I can't figure out just who it is we're celebrating or what kind of achievements qualify to be celebrated. If anyone can help me out, I'd be really appreciative.

References

1. "About International Women's Day." International Women's Day. Aurora Ventures (Europe) Limited., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About.
2. "'Day Without a Woman' Strike Shuts down Schools as Teachers Bolt." Fox News. FOX News Network, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/03/08/day-without-woman-strike-shuts-schools-down-as-teachers-bolt.html.
3. Lubin Gus and Kevin Lincoln. "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America." Business Insider. Business Insider, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/most-dangerous-jobs-2011-9.
4. Newton, Jim. "An All-male City Council?" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.latimes.com/la-oe-newton-column-women-in-los-angeles-politics-20130401-column.html.

Friday, March 03, 2017

A Big, Dangerous Universe is NOT Evidence Against God



The recent discovery of the seven planets orbiting the TRAPPIST star has a lot of folks talking. As I wrote last week, even though they're labeled as "earth-like" and reside in what astronomers call the habitable zone, the idea that life could exist on them is remote in the extreme. The fact that our planet is so uniquely situated in just the right spot with just the right conditions around just the right kind of star provides strong evidence for design, like finding a cabin in the middle of an unpopulated forest.

Of course, others won't admit that our world shows marks of design. Some even offer the uniqueness of the earth as evidence against its design. I had one such interaction on Facebook where a gentleman names Simeon responded to my article by saying, "The rarity of habitable planets in the universe is actually evidence for a universe not designed for human habitation." After some interaction, he went on to claim "An all-powerful deity would not need to create an entire universe to support a single planet. He could have just made a single flat Earth with a dome over it, like some of the ancients believed." He finally summarized his position by writing "I think you are demonstrably wrong that the entire universe, as is, is required to support a single life-bearing planet. There is no way for planets around a distant star to have any bearing on Earth's habitability."

What Does it Take to Make a Biosphere?

I don't know if Simeon holds is a theist or not; we never discussed that issue. However, I've met many atheists who argue along similar lines, holding the vastness of space as evidence against a universe created to sustain human life. Couldn't God create any old kind of universe he wanted? Why would he need to make the universe so big just for one "pale blue dot" as Carl Sagan put it?

I think there's hubris in assuming that God can just create some kind of terrarium that holds the Earth but doesn't impact our biology and our experience. I remember being particularly intrigued at an extensive experiment to try and create a self-supporting environment that mimics the earth's in the 1980s. A group of scientists and investors built a large, airtight facility in the Arizona desert called Biosphere 2. Within it, they created a wetlands area, a desert, a rainforest, a savannah, and an "ocean" and then populated it with plants, insects, and animals. The goal was to create a mini-self-sustaining environment where people could live. If it worked here, it may have been possible to build a similar structure on another planet, making human habitation possible.

I loved the idea of biosphere 2. Unfortunately, creating a self-sustaining habitat on a smaller scale than the earth itself proved to be incredibly difficult. The New York Times reported that the results of a two year experiment in sustained living were a disaster: "The would-be Eden became a nightmare, its atmosphere gone sour, its sea acidic, its crops failing, and many of its species dying off. Among the survivors are crazy ants, millions of them."1 The paper reported how the facility was then sold to Columbia University who used it to model environmental catastrophes, instead of running tests on how to create sustainable environments.

Making Claims is Easy; Building Life-Supporting Universes is Hard

My point here is simple. It's easy to claim "God could have just made a smaller system" but that claim has no evidence behind it. Dr. Hugh Ross in his new book Improbable Planet discusses many of the factors of our universe that had to be just right in order for a livable earth to exist, using as one example its massiveness. He writes:
If the universe contained slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then star burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.2
The fact that the universe, as massive as it is, still proves to be delicately set up for life on earth is a fact that hasn't escaped even secular scientists. Physicist Paul Davies, when he won his Templeton Prize, confidently proclaimed:
You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives.3
So, no, God couldn't have just made it smaller. Even if we discover there are no other truly habitable planets in any of the billions star systems across the billions of galaxies we know exist, it still wouldn't prove the universe wasn't designed for life. The interplay and complexity of the created world is a marvel to behold, and it clearly points to a Designer.

References

1. Broad, William J. "Paradise Lost: Biosphere Retooled as Atmospheric Nightmare." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 1996. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/19/science/paradise-lost-biosphere-retooled-as-atmospheric-nightmare.html.
2. Ross, Hugh. Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity's Home. S.L.: Baker Book House, 2017. 24. Print.
3. Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Paul Davies Web Site. Arizona State University. 23 January 2010 http://cosmos.asu.edu/prize_address.htm.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What to Make of the New Seven Earth-Like Planets Discovered



The headlines were spectacular. Time Magazine pronounced "NASA Announces a Single Star Is Home to At Least 7 Earthlike Planets."1 Vox exclaimed "NASA has discovered 7 Earth-like planets orbiting a star just 40 light-years away."2 Even the official press release from NASA offered some tantalizing tidbits, noting that all seven planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system reside in the habitable zone necessary for life and it included artists' rendering of what the view may look like from one of these newly discovered sisters of earth.3

Certainly, the discovery of planets orbiting another star is an exciting one. The fact that the TRAPPIST-1 star is relatively close in astronomical terms (40 light years away) means the system is more easily observed by our telescopes; we can gather more data on the planets themselves. To find seven of them ups the chances that we may find water on them, too. But does this mean we've uncovered a bunch of earth-twins that are just ready to be populated by living organisms? Not by a long shot.

What do you mean "Earth-like"?

Since capturing eyeballs and clicks are the driving force behind both news organizations and sites like Vox, one should be a bit cautious before jumping to conclusions by just a screaming headline. When I saw this story, I was intrigued, but upon reading the details, certain terms don't carry the weight one may assume at first.

For example, both the Vox and the Time article called these planets "Earth-like" in their headlines. That will certainly evoke a picture in the minds of most casual readers, but what does Earth-like really mean? Both articles did unpack the term to mean a planet whose size is within a certain percentage of Earth's and is not too hot or too cold for water to exist somewhere on its surface without it being boiled away or perpetually frozen. Mars is within our solar system's habitable zone, while experts disagree about whether Venus qualifies or not.

But just having the ability for water to exist really isn't enough for life. The TRAPPIST-1 star is a much weaker star than our sun. As Hugh Ross explains, TRAPPIST-1 is very small and very weak, not putting out much heat at all. Thus, the planets are a whole lot closer to their star than the Earth is to the Sun, which locks them into a non-rotational position – one side always light and extremely hot while the other is perpetually dark and continually freezing cold.

According to Ross, only the "twilight areas" of each planet would be able to support liquid water. Ross then states "Only in the twilight zone boundary between perpetual light and perpetual darkness will surface liquid water be possible. This possibility presumes that for each planet the twilight edge will not move. Given how close the planets are to one another, it is inevitable that the twilight edge on each planet will move. Thus, realistically none of TRAPPIST-1's planets are likely to ever possess any surface liquid water."4 Of course, it hasn't even been proven the planets have an atmosphere yet.

Also, since these planets must be very close to their weak sun, their years are very short: it takes only about twenty days for the furthest of the seven planets to complete an orbit and only one and a half days for the closest! Knowing how crucial seasonal changes are to life on Earth, there's absolutely no chance of seasons for any of these planets. What's worse, the planets orbits and close proximity mean their gravitational pull will affect each other. The moon's gravity causes the tides on Earth and it is only one sixth the pull of the earth's gravity.* Imagine how an equally sized planet's gravity orbiting close by would affect the Earth. Ross concludes, "These periodic gravitational influences rule out the possibility of life on these planets."

Selling the Sizzle, not the Steak

The "earth-like" description of these planets in the articles is I believe a little misleading. All the outlets I read hyped the possibility of finding life on these planets while never mentioning the incredible difficulties any life would face on them. The Vox story is a good example:
The more Earth-like exoplanets astronomers find in the galaxy, the more they update their estimates of how many Earth-like planets could be out there. "For every transiting planet found, there should be a multitude of similar planets (20–100 times more) that, seen from Earth, never pass in front of their host star," Nature reporter Ignas Snellen explains in a feature article. And the more exoplanets there are, the more likely it is that life exists on at least one of them.5 (Emphasis added).
I highlighted that last line to make a point. While it is true mathematically that finding more planets can make the odds of finding life lower, it's a bit like claiming your odds for dealing four perfect bridge hands are lower the more shuffled decks you use. It's true but still beyond any reasonable explanation that someone will do so, whether you use a hundred, a thousand or a million decks. By obscuring the difficulties these planet offer for life and only highlighting the two or three possible similarities, these reports are selling the sizzle instead of the steak. There's much we can learn from this new discovery. Learning about extra-terrestrial life forming isn't really one of them.

References

1. Kluger, Jeffrey. "NASA Announces Trappist-1 Star Is Home to Earthlike Planets." Time. Time, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://time.com/4677103/nasa-announcement-new-solar-system/.
2. Resnick, Brian. "NASA Has Discovered 7 Earth-like Planets Orbiting a Star Just 40 Light-years Away." Vox. Vox, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://www.vox.com/2017/2/22/14698030/nasa-seven-exoplanet-discovery-trappist-1.
3. "NASA Telescope Reveals Record-Breaking Exoplanet Discovery." NASA. NASA, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around.
4. Ross, Hugh. "Earth's Seven Sisters: Are They Really Similar?" Reasons to Believe. Reasons to Believe, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://www.reasons.org/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/earths-seven-sisters--are-they-really-similar.
5. Resnick, 2017.
* This sentence has been corrected. It originally read "The moon's gravity causes the tides on Earth and it is only one sixth the mass of the earth."
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