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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

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, May 16, 2017

Book Review: Dictionary of Christianity and Science


It should be no secret science plays an inordinately large role on modern culture. As I've noted before, scientific advancements have allowed human beings banish diseases that were once fatal, create new materials in the lab that outrival nature, and generally control and command their world in ways that had heretofore been thought impossible. In short, the last 150 years of scientific discovery have changed everything about how humans live and interact with their world.

Because of these great successes, societal attitudes toward science have become distorted. People place science on a pedestal, believing that if a claim is scientific, it will be unbiased and more reliable than other forms of knowledge. Science and faith are seen as foes and atheists will challenge Christians, claiming scientific facts are incrementally undermining Christian beliefs.

In reality the war between Christianity and science is a myth and the recently released Dictionary of Christianity and Science goes a long way toward helping to dispel that myth as the fraud it is. General Editors Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael G. Strauss have assembled a strong collection of writings covering a wide range of topics in what would more properly be understood as a cyclopedic volume instead of a dictionary. With over 140 top scholars writing on over 450 topics, the Dictionary serves as an excellent starting point to research various topics that most Christians will face when researching or discussing these issues.

Given the breadth of the subject matter, the articles could have all been relegated to short introductory overviews and a list of additional resources at the end of each entry. But the editors wisely chose to have three different types of articles appear in the Dictionary. For the less controversial and more agreed upon topics (such as key historical figures in science or specific terms like emrpicism), an introductory article is all that's warranted. But for other entries they chose to include longer articles  labeled essays that give more background, competing views, and the evidence they rely upon. The entry on "The Genesis Flood and Geology" is an example of one such essay.

Finally, there are the multiple-view discussions where different scholars who take up contrary positions are each allowed an extended article within the same entry. For example, of one were to look up the state of creationism, the user would be greeted with an introductory article on the concept of creation, an article entitled "Creation, Intelligent Design and the Courts," and four essays on creationism: one critical and one supportive of old-earth creationism and one critical and one supportive of young-earth creationism.

I'm really impressed with the level of scholarship and the wide range of topics that have been compiled in the volume. The editors included key figures like Thomas Kuhn and philosophical concepts like Inference to the Best Explanation that are not well-known outside the study of the philosophy of science. Further, articles on people like Galileo Galilei seek to strip the legendary tales of his scientific advancement and show why it would be incorrect to see his conflict with the College of Cardinals as a case of science versus religion.

There are a few drawbacks to the book. First, there is no table of contents or topical index. I suspect that is because it is marketed as a dictionary and as such will have its entries placed in alphabetical order. However, if someone looks up the aforementioned creation entry, he would be missing several other articles that focus on the topic, with multiple-view entries on the flood and on the Genesis account in the F and G areas respectively. One would then have to turn to the I section in order to read the Intelligent Design entry. And if someone doesn't know who Thomas Kuhn is and why his work is so important, it may be easy to miss this entry.

Secondly, while it cannot be avoided, the book is a product of this particular time. The articles that have the most information are those that are the most debated right now. In ten years, this volume will suffer from its age as some debates will change, others may be settled, and new discoveries will make several of the entries obsolete. I would hope an accompanying online site would be able to provide some kind of resource direction until the inevitable updated volume will be released. But these are just quibbles in an otherwise excellent product.

I think every Christian family should have a copy of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science. Anyone who has sought to understand controversial issues on science and faith by searching on Google or looking up the topic on Wikipedia knows that getting solid information from top scholars is challenging to say the least. I've noted myself that any old fool with a modem and an opinion can post online or edit a Wikipedia entry. The Dictionary of Christianity and Science gives the Christian a strong place to start in his or her understanding of how their faith does not contradict modern scientific advancement as well as to get a deeper understanding of what science actually is and where the state of the debates lie.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't Be Afraid of Questions about Evil



One of the most difficult objections a Christian faces is what to do with the problem of evil. They claim the Christian God doesn't make sense given all the evil we see in the world today. Some non-believers play the objection like a trump card, thinking this proves the irrationality of believing in a divine being.

I would encourage the Christian to not shy away from the question of evil in the world, but embrace it. That's because the problem of evil is a problem not simply for the Christian, but for everybody.

There are a lot of things on which people of different political and social viewpoints disagree, but I think everyone can be in agreement that the world isn't as it should be. When atheists complain that all the evil in the world shows there is no God, they are admitting there is a right and wrong, and there's too much wrong in the world. Social justice warriors on college campuses try to silence what they deem as evil speech while those on the other side see the act of censorship itself as evil. ISIS, people suffering in the inner cities, regimes ruled by tyrants, kids starving in underdeveloped countries are all serious issues in need of thoughtful solutions.

Because the problem of evil is a serious one, no one is off the hook. Every worldview needs to be able to at least begin to answer the question "what can be done about it?" How does the objector's worldview correct the problem? All seem to agree that the world is out of sorts and things aren't the way they should be. But what can be done to make evil less than it is now? How do different worldviews solve the problem of evil?

Three Choices for a Broken World

When a man on an expedition finds he has damaged his only transport vehicle to the point where it isn't running reliably, he is faced with choosing one of three options. He may try to fix it himself. This is certainly the quickest way to solve the problem, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. Repairing a vehicle is complicated. It requires the proper diagnostics, the proper tools, the right replacement parts, and the proper knowledge. For example, modern vehicles equipped with computers and sensors cannot be fixed without high-tech tools. And the risk of assuming one is more capable than the person's skill warrants could lead to making things worse.

A second option is the man may ignore the issues and continue to drive the vehicle. He may place a piece of tape over that warning light and hope all the stalls and grinding won't get too bad until he arrives at his destination. But when survival is at stake, this is certainly not a prudent idea. There's a high risk the vehicle will fail completely, leaving him stranded and in danger for his life. Or perhaps the brakes fail or the accelerator sticks and the vehicle could then cause his death.

The third option for the man would be to return to the company from which he obtained the vehicle and ask those responsible for it to correct the defects or replace it. Once his vehicle is running as it should, he may proceed to explore the wonders of the unknown without concern for his travel. These strike me as the only options available and the man must choose at least one of them.

What's the Solution?

The options we face with the problem of evil are much like those the explorer faces. Some believe we can fix it all on our own. However, not everyone is agreed even on what constitutes evil. Hot button issues such as abortion, immigration, dictatorial regimes, persecution of people of faith, or persecution of LGBT people are just a few of the many, many, difficult and contrasting viewpoints we face today. How do we fix that?

Further, what are the proper diagnostics to use? Everyone may say certain issues are obvious. Going back to our analogy, a fuel leak would certainly be a problem in need of repair. However if the vehicle you're diagnosing is an SR-71 plane, the plane is designed to leak fuel while on the ground. In the air the tanks expand and seal. If you "fix" the fuel leak on the ground, they will burst in operation.

The second choice is to try and ignore the issue. One may hold this world as ultimately meaningless. In the final reality, one must not love too much or hate too much. All desires equally lead one astray. One must simply retreat within oneself in order to find Nirvana and become like a candle that has been blown out.

Interestingly, there is a contingent within modern atheism that has chosen this second option in a different way. Given that we are all simply electro-chemical matter that happened to evolve over time by chance, good and evil don't really make sense. Nature is red in tooth and claw and that is simply the way it is. Black widows devour their mates, male chimps cannibalize male infants, and cone cannot assign a moral value to those acts. As animals, we are simply acting upon our urges, too.

The third choice is to try and seek out the one who made the world in the first place.

Certainly, there are people who don't fall neatly into one camp. They try to balance two or three of the options based on the situation at hand. But Christianity holds the high ground here. The Christian worldview holds that we cannot fix it ourselves, nor should we ignore evil. Christianity teaches that God must come down and fix the problem himself. And since it is God is the one who grounds all good, he can be relied upon to properly diagnose and fix the problem. This makes perfect sense.

We've not yet come to the end of all evil. That will happen. But of all the different worldviews available, Christianity offers a rational solution to a pressing need. But remember the next time you may be asked "What about all the evil in the world," the problem of evil is as much of a problem for the atheist as it is for anyone else.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Atheists Should Admit Christianity is Different than Made-Up Faiths



Last month, the Dublin newspaper The Evening Herald reported that fifty different official religions were given to the 2016 census takers, including one newly added category: Jedi Knight.1 This isn't really a surprise, given that since the turn of the millennium, hundreds of thousands of people across the English-speaking world have been so doing, as Wikipedia documents.2

While the number of people who list their belief system as "Jedi" or "Jedi Knight" is minute relative to the population as a whole, those that do has caused concern and not only with the census takers. The Atheist Foundation of Australia has begun a campaign telling Aussies not to mark their census with "joke answers" to the question of religion, but to mark "no religion". They even set up a web site and explain their reasoning:
What happens if I write Jedi Knight/Pastafarian?

It gets counted as 'Not defined' and is not placed in the 'No religion' category. This reduces the 'No religion' numbers and therefore advantages the religion count. While it may be funny, it is a serious mistake to answer in this way.3

Why Do You Assume Jediism is a Joke?

I think this response is fascinating because it really undermines some of the arguments atheists themselves make against the belief in God. My question is simple: why do they assume a response of Pastafarianism or Jedi Knight is not a serious answer to the faith question? What is obvious in that these answers are not to be taken seriously? What is the distinguishing feature that makes Christianity a faith that isn't a joke while Jediism is?

According the atheists, Christianity is a legend that grew from tall tales some thirty years after they were first formed. That fits with the Star Wars saga. These were incredibly popular tales that captivated the hearts and imagination of millions and now, forty years later, the Irish are marking that they are Jedi Knights. The Jedi even have a church in Wales, offering weddings and funeral services. So, what makes this different than the beliefs Christians hold today?

Christianity is Based in History

While there may be a Jedi "church" in Wales offering religious services, rational people will recognize the whole thing is kind of a put on. No one seriously believes they hold the attributes that were invented by George Lucas for the heroes of his science fiction film. Even the census respondents themselves don't believe it. Imagine those same people facing a Nero-style persecution for their identification with the Jedi faith. How many do you think would still maintain their devotion to that belief system?

The difference is that Christianity isn't based in a story without any grounding in reality. It is based on history. From its very beginning, it was the fact of the resurrection that attracted followers and changed the minds of even it most ardent enemies, like Saul of Tarsus, who couldn't deny that he saw the resurrected Christ. It changed him from a killer of Christians to an evangelist overnight.

While atheists like to claim that flying spaghetti monsters are synonymous with belief in God or mythic legends are the same as the origin of Christianity, the truth is they don't believe that to be true. Their plea that one not answer the census with something that "may be funny" but isn't what one truly believes means even the atheists can tell there's a difference. It means they need to take Christianity much more seriously than just responding with "Jesus is a myth" or Flying Spaghetti Monster memes. They certainly seem to when counting beliefs hurts their numbers.

References

1. "Jedi Knights Are New 'force' in Census as 50 Religions Are Listed." Herald.ie. The Evening Herald, 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017. http://www.herald.ie/news/jedi-knights-are-new-force-in-census-as-50-religions-are-listed-35634362.html.
2. "Jedi Census Phenomenon." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 May 2017. Web. 04 May 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon.
3. "Were You Born into a Religion but Are No Longer Religious?" Mark No Religion Census 2016. Atheist Foundation of Australia, 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. http://censusnoreligion.org.au/.
image courtesy Tom Blackwell and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Archaeology Topples Objection to Biblical Samson Account



Certainly one of the most fantastic characters in the Bible is Samson. Everything about his exploits reads like a comic book: killing a lion bare-handed, slaying 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, pulling up the gates of Gaza. He seems to be a man of steel living in the Bronze Age!

But, just like the modern day Superman (who was modeled in part from Sampson), the hero had his own form of kryptonite in pretty faces. Samson had a weakness for woman and no one can think of his name without also recalling the name Delilah, who prodded the source of his strength from him so she could then sell him to the Philistines. Even in this story we see a tragic climax, where Samson, blinded by his enemy is placed in the center of the temple of Dagon between two pillars to entertain his foes. He prays to God for strength one last time and collapses the pillars so the Philistines both inside the structure and on the roof were killed by the collapse, along with Sampson himself.

Of course, such as story strikes the modern ear as too fantastic to believe. How could such a character as Sampson have lived? Obviously, we don't have any way of testing whether he did beyond the record presented to us in the book of Judges. It's therefore not unexpected that the tales of Sampson's exploits would be met with skepticism from scholars like John L. McKenzie who writes:
…the historical quality of heroic tales is always low. This is easy to see in Samson. A palace or temple which could support several thousand people on its roof supported by two central pillars separated by an arm's length never existed.[1]
McKenzie is right in noting the detail of two pillars holding up a roof would be odd. In fact, Philistine temples that had been known to archaeologists didn't have such a design at all—until the 1970s when Amihar Mazar unearthed a temple at Tell Qasile from the exact same time period of Sampson and discovered a unique feature of its design was it had two central pillars in the center that supported the roof.[2] Nearly two decades later, while digging in another site some 20 miles away, archaeologist Trude Dothan found another Philistine temple with a similar structure:
On the north-south central axis of the main room, we discovered two pillar bases (and possibly a third), one located exactly in the center of the hall. This configuration resembles that in the Philistine temple at Tell Qasile, where two support pillars stood about 6 feet apart. These two pillars, of course, also recall the pillars in the Philistine temple mentioned in the famous Bible story in Judges 16. Chained and blinded, Samson brings a Philistine temple down on himself by pushing two pillars apart. The two pillars in the Ekron building were 7.5 feet apart.[3]
To be clear, I don't believe either of these temples is the one mentioned in the Samson story. However, the archaeological discoveries do show that such a design wasn't at all uncommon in Philistine architecture. It doesn't prove the Sampson story as true, but it definitely removes the claim that the two pillars are a fictitious invention of the author of Judges.

Further, it lends credibility to the author's reliability in getting certain details right, since Jewish architecture, definitely did not feature two central pillars. The author seems to have some real familiarity with Philistine temple construction, bolstering his reliability in the process. This is just one more way modern archaeology has lent support to the biblical accounts and why we continue to trust the Scriptures.

References

[1]. McKenzie, John L. The Old Testament Without Illusions. Chicago: Thomas More, 1979. 229, as quoted in Roskoski, John, PhD. "Between the Pillars: Revisiting 'Samson and the House of Dagon'". Associates for Biblical Research. Associates for Biblical Research, 24 July 2008. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/07/Between-the-Pillars-Revisiting-Samson-and-the-House-of-Dagon.aspx#Article.
[2]. Mazar, Amihai. "Additional Philistine Temples at Tell Qasile." The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 40, no. 2, 1977, pp. 82–87., www.jstor.org/stable/3209491.
[3]. Dothan, Trude. "Ekron of the Philistines, Part I: Where They Came From, How They Settled Down and the Place They Worshiped In," Biblical Archaeology Review 16.1 (1990): 24–36.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Romancing the Mind - Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (podcast)



Women are crucial in service to the body of Christ. Women tend to pray more than men, tend to volunteer more, and attend service more, too. Most churches offer different ministries aimed at women, from Bible studies to cooking and craft workshops. Yet, there are very few women's classes aimed at teaching them how to develop their minds and thoughtfully engage the culture with the reasons for their faith. This is a glaring omission for both Christian women and the churches that serve them. Listen in as Lenny presents to a women's group and explains why women need to develop not only a strong spiritual relationship with God, but also a strong intellectual one as well.
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