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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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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is God Existing Before Time Illogical?

Yesterday, I had a short online conversation with someone about the existence of God. Specifically, we discussed what could be reasonably inferred from the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The argument is simple:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.
The challenge came when my interlocutor questioned how the cause of the universe (whatever that may be) can be timeless itself. He asked, "Wouldn't a cause require time?" I think this is a fair question and one that needs unpacking a bit. The concept of time and God's relation to it is pretty misunderstood by most people, but with a little explaining, I think we can gain a little clarity.


How to Define Time

Has anyone ever asked you to define time? Think about how you would answer that question. Can you come up with a definition that doesn't include the word time in it? Defining time using its units of measure (hours, minutes, seconds, etc.) doesn't really help since their definitions include "a unit of time." So, how does one define time?

Basically, time may be defined as the succession of moments. That sounds a little obtuse, but it means whenever there is a change, time has passed. If a point A things are one way and then at point B things are different (no matter how slight) time has elapsed. Basically, if there is a before and an after, you will have time. For our universe, molecules are always in motion so time is always moving forward.

Modern science agrees that with the creation of matter, time was also created. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity demonstrated that time and space are linked.While time passes more quickly or slowly based on one's speed and mass, everything in our universe and the universe itself experiences some kind of passage of time.

The Before and After of Creating the Universe

Given all that, it raises the question of how God could have created the universe before there was any time. To ask, "What's before that, before time?" strikes one as nonsensical. There can't be a before time since time itself deals with before and after. Yet, the argument for God's existence above makes the deduction that God created the universe. That means God existed prior to the universe's creation; but wouldn't that also imply there was a time before time? The answer is not in the way you're thinking. This is where our use of language can get us into trouble, so I want to be careful in my explanation.

God's existence does precede the creation of the universe in some sense. God must exist to do the creating. Prior to time, it would be technically wrong to say that God existed before creation, but that God existed beyond creation. Philosophers will speak of God existing logically prior to the universe, not temporally prior. The best way for me to illustrate the distinction is by illustration, one I heard William Lane Craig use.2 Think of a bowling ball resting on a pillow on a bed. The ball makes an impression on that pillow; the pillow has a rounded dent in it. Yet, it doesn't have to be the case that the ball was at some point not making the impression on the pillow. Imagine now that the ball had been resting on the pillow from eternity past; the dent will still be there. The ball is the cause of the dent, but that doesn't necessitate the ball needing to exist prior to the dent. Similarly, a truss can be the cause of one's roof not falling down even if the truss and the roof were built simultaneously.

Because we can have a cause that doesn't have to exist chronologically prior to its effect (of holding up the roof or making the dent in the pillow), we speak of the cause being prior to the effect only in the logical sense. The ball must be there or the dent never forms. Thus the ball is logically prior to the dent, but not chronologically prior. When we apply this to God, we can say that God existed in a timeless state prior to creation. It was only Him and since God does not change, then there is no before or after and time doesn't exist. At the very moment God chooses to create, time becomes a reality. From that instant on, events have a before and after and they exist in time.

References

1. "The Relativity of Space and Time." Einstein Online. Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. http://www.einstein-online.info/elementary/specialRT/relativity_space_time.
2. Craig, William Lane. "God and Time." ReasonableFaith.org. Reasonable Faith, 2 Dec. 2007. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-time.
Image courtesy Andrew Shiva [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Atheist's Bait and Switch on Morality

In the 1988 comedy Coming to America, Eddie Murphy plays an African prince who seeks a wife by trying to blend in with the "regular people" of New York. One way he attempts this is by taking a job at a hamburger shop named McDowell's. Part of the joke is that McDowell's advertises with some familiar golden arches and red and white color schemes, hoping to capture an unsuspecting customer desiring a Big Mac. In the film, owner Cleo McDowell explains: "Look...me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's...I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds."



In the real world, McDowell's wouldn't stand a chance in a court of law. They've intentionally mislead customers to think their experience is going to be one thing, when it is in fact a cheap imitation. That's the feeling I had this morning reading the latest article by Michael Shermer in today's paper. Entitled "The influence of science and reason on moral progress," Shermer claims that we are "living in the most moral period in our history" and then makes a bold assertion:
To what should we attribute this moral progress? Understandably, most people point to religion as the primary driver, given its long association with all matters moral. But the evidence shows that most of the moral development of the last several centuries has been the result of secular forces, and that the most important of these are reason and science, which emerged from the Enlightenment.1

Substituting a Cheap Imitation of Natural Law

The article has a huge number of problems, like trying to classify the writings of Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson as exercises in empirical science. He writes, "Enlightenment natural philosophers (we would call them scientists today) such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Immanuel Kant placed supreme value on reason, scientific inquiry, human natural rights, equality and freedom of thought and expression."2 Actually, no one calls them scientists. One doesn't study Kant or Locke in Life Science class. Go to any college or university and you will find analysis of their works in the philosophy department. Shermer is astoundingly wrong here.

In reading the article, Shermer is dead set on substituting the real arguments made by men like Locke and Jefferson with his own cheap imitation.  He takes the phrase "natural philosophers" and "natural law" and equivocates on what the word "natural" means. He portrays it to mean "only dealing with nature," that is the material world. But such an assumption is like substituting a tofu patty for 100% pure beef. The Natural Law that Locke appeals to is based on the created order. Locke states:
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.3

Appealing to God for Equality

One can easily see that Locke is using the term "naturally" to talk not of biology or material aspects of human beings, but of the right of each person to be free. Locke says that this state of nature derives from the Natural Law or law of nature. He goes on to specify the source for that law:
In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him (Section 8)…

that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, … and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind (Section 11)…

I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that selflove will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men (Section 13). 4
So, in arguing that government has authority to punish evil men, Locke appeals to God and his created order. That is, the natural state of man means God created him with freedom, but also the warrant to protect himself from others. Since men tend to play favorites, the Government must judge all men impartially, and again the government is given this authority by God (ref Romans 13:1-7).

Of course, Shermer doesn't have to be a Lockean scholar to understand this. All he needed to do was read the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson clearly spells it out in the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." That's a pretty fair summation of Locke and the word Creator is right in the middle of it.

Part of Shermer's problem is he sees everything through his scientism/materialist worldview. He forces the word nature to mean something that Kant, Locke, and Jefferson didn't intend it to mean. He hasn't simply "left off the seeds," he's changed the entire main course. Shermer's morality is a bait and switch that no nutritional value whatsoever.

References

1. Shermer, Michael. "The Influence of Science and Reason on Moral Progress." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-shermer-bending-moral-arc-20150127-story.html.
2. Shermer, 2015.
3. Locke, John. "Chapter II. Of the State of Nature." The Second Treatise of Civil Government. N.p.: Public Domain, 1690. Constitution Society. Constitution.org. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr02.txt.
4. Locke, 1690.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the Bible Reliable Since Its Been Translated So Many Times?

When Google's translation page first came out, some friends and I would have a little fun translating the web page of our employer from English into another language like French or Japanese. We would then copy that text and paste it back into the Google translator and let the computer try to recreate the English. The final result was awkward and would produce pretty comical phrasing, with words implying something completely different from the original message.

The reason we attempted such silliness is to try and intentionally confuse the translating robot. We knew that churning out a translation of a translation would force mistakes to be multiplied, a realization that takes no scholarship at all. Yet, this is the way many people assume the scholars responsible for our modern bibles have worked. Yesterday, a gentleman at my church said he had been in a conversation with a Muslim who said, "Your Bible has been translated so many times challenged by a Muslim on the validity of the Bible as it compared to the Qur'an." This isn't an uncommon claim and many atheists and non-believers have tried to make the same point.



Take the Newsweek cover story published just two days before Christmas entitled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." The article, which seems to take as its goal the undermining of biblical authority, is rife with inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings about how biblical scholarship works. Interestingly, its very first criticism is at the problem of multiple translations. Author Kurt Eichenwald, under the heading "Playing Telephone with the Word of God," writes:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we've all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.1
That's the thinking that many people have. yet this perception is so incredibly wrong it takes my breath away. But Christians seem to not know how to respond to such accusations, as the question posed to the man at church shows.

Counting Up the Number of Translations to You

The first thing I emphasize when tackling the objection that we are somehow insulated from the real meaning of the Bible because of so many translation is to simply ask, "how many times do you think the Bible version you have has been translated from its original languages?" People are feign to guess, imagining perhaps ten, dozens, or more. The reality is that every modern Bible translation has been translated exactly once from the original Greek and Hebrew. Once. That's all. There is no "translation of translations of translations." Biblical scholars work directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts to create the English versions we have today. Eichenwald could have seen that if he had bothered to look at the prefaces to any Bible. Here's what the Translation Committee for Crossway, which publishes the English Standard Version states:
"each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text."2
Here's what the Lockman Foundation, who created the New American Standard Bible says:
The New American Standard Bible has been produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture, as originally penned in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, were inspired by God… At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable. This method follows the word and sentence patterns of the original authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts.3
Here's what the NIV translation committee explained:
In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars met near Chicago and agreed to start work on the New International Version. Instead of just updating an existing translation like the KJV, they chose to start from scratch, using the very best manuscripts available in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.4
And just to show that this translation approach is not something that only began recently, here's what the translators wrote in the preface to the original 1611 King James Version:
That out of the Originall sacred tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our owne and other forreigne Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue; your MAJESTIE did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the worke might be hastened, and that the businesse might be expedited in so decent a maner, as a matter of such importance might justly require (emphasis added).5
Note that the translators state that they look at the originals and then look at other translations (the "many worthy men who went before us," such as Tyndale) to be better informed on their own word choice. Consulting existing translations is actually a benefit, as it adds more counselors to the translation efforts, not fewer. Yet, each and every translation begins and is compared against the original languages to ensure accuracy and compatibility. Your Bible, no matter which translation you choose, has been translated only one time, and straight from the original languages to English.

References

1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html
2. The Translation Oversight Committee. "Preface to the English Standard Version." About ESVBibleorg. Crossway, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://about.esvbible.org/about/preface/.
3. The Lockman Foundation. "Overview of the New American Standard Bible." The Lockman Foundation. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.lockman.org/nasb/index.php.
4. "The NIV Story." Biblica. Biblica, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.biblica.com/en-us/the-niv-bible/niv-story/.
5."King James Version Original Preface." DailyBible.com. BibleNetUSA, 2006. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Darwinism's Fatal Flaw (podcast)


The idea that complex life arose through nothing but natural means is a hallmark of modern evolutionary theory. But what if we discovered a problem with Darwinism that was so fundamental, all of science wouldn't work? In this podcast series, Lenny highlights a new argument that shows why evolutionary naturalism is a non-starter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

C.S. Lewis on "Being Born That Way"

Much is made to day of the way people define themselves, their gender, or their sexual orientation because of their feelings. They feel they are a person trapped in the wrong body or they feel an attraction to the same sex. I don't doubt that these feelings are real; it is only the person himself that can confirm or deny such predispositions. However, just because one has a predisposition doesn't mean that the predisposition is correct or that it should be pursued.


In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis makes the same point. In speaking of the desires and mental pulls we face (Lewis uses the word "Instinct" with a capital I), he makes a great point that no person follows every desire that strikes him. That would lead to barbarism. We weigh our desires, using reason, logic, and our moral compass to guide us.

This is why while the kleptomaniac may have an overwhelming urge to steal, we don't respond by saying, “Oh, you were born that way!” and throw open the department store doors to let them have their fill. We know that stealing is wrong and we as a society tell the kleptomaniac that while his feelings are real and he may even have been born that way, he needs to seek help for his improper desire. Lewis writes:
Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.1
Lewis is right. College men are coming under immense scrutiny right now if they act upon their sexual appetites. The whole “Yes means yes” law implies that a person can overcome strong natural urges to engage in sexual activity. Yet we are told by some of the same advocates that abstinence programs will never work and those with a predisposition to homosexuality should express themselves because of what they feel. How is that consistent?

References

1. Lewis, C. S. "The Abolition of Man." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 710. Print.
Image courtesy Noel Hildalgo and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
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