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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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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Christians must stop staying invisible

Imagine Thomas Jefferson wanting to stay anonymous when the U.S. was founded. What if he chose to only talk with those who agreed with him instead of drawing attention to himself and risked his livelihood by becoming a figurehead of the revolutionary effort? What would the United States look like today without the ability to point to Jefferson and his ideas?



That is the very problem plaguing Christians in who fight in the war of worldviews. The Barna organization reports that the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives has become largely invisible. It's not that there is no influence, it's simply that no one realizes how much Christianity matters to society. Christians are buying the lie that they should keep their faith as a private matter, and it weakens the moral and spiritual principles upon which our society runs.

In this short clip, listen in as I note the threat to our modern way of life when Christians become invisible in culture.




References

Image courtesy Leo Reynolds and licenced via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Friday, August 29, 2014

You're Smarter than You Think You Are

I'm a big comedy fan. Nobody does silly-smart like Monty Python. Their "Philosophers' Football Match" was hilarious. It makes you appreciate good satire.

The Far Side, the single panel comic strip by Gary Larson, was another piece that had some pretty funny moments. One comic in 1986 that I distinctly remember was a panel showing two deer standing only on their hind legs facing each other. One deer has two concentric circles forming a target on his chest. The caption has the other deer saying, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal."



As we press on into the twenty-first century, I find that more and more Christians are feeling the same way that deer felt. We can feel the frequency of attacks against Christian believers increasing faster than ever before. We see this most evidently in the recent best-selling works of the so-called "New Atheists," such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. These titles are now well-known and they've been extensively covered by popular media. However, I think that the prominence of these books is a comment on how our society has become more uncomfortable with a strong Christian faith.

It really seems as if we're entering a time where lines are being drawn more clearly. We live in a society that views belief as a deeply personal approach to life, and the most important thing to guide one's moral life. Yet most people also adopt a "salad-bar theology" in their beliefs; they think that they can pick and choose beliefs by what they like and don't like. If your plate looks different than mine, that's OK. Just so long as I can have only what I like1.

But we cannot be passive in the face of attack. In fact, the Bible commands us to engage with others in the war of ideas. We are the "always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks, yet with gentleness and reverence" as 1 Peter 3:15 tells us. That means we will need to be ready to have answers and face people who may seem pretty smart.

Think About It
How do you feel about what you believe? Is it only a personal choice or are there reasons why you believe what you do?

Pretty scary, huh? Well, don't be too worried. You're smarter than you think you are! You have the ability to give good, solid answers for the things you believe. You have just as much ability to stand up for your faith as anyone else—even the so-called experts. Then, why do most people get so flustered when objections or questions come their way? Well, primarily it's because they haven't ever taken the time to sit down and think through what it is they actually believe. But, as Christians, we're commanded to do just that!

Although many people want to shrink from such a command, I want to encourage you to move forward. Pick a topic, such as the existence of God. Study it. Read some of the good books, web sites and other materials that are already online. Checkout podcasts, like our weekly Come Let us Reason podcast.  It isn't as hard as you think. And it's crucial to remember just what's at stake.

You see, ideas have consequences. Believing what God says about people being made in His image caused advocates like William Wilberforce to rise up and demand the abolition of slavery. Believing that all human beings are precious powers the pro-life movement and has a direct impact on saving babies. It's not about trying to be some type of intellectual; it's about how knowledge affects the way we react to events as we see them. It means we're able to impact the world because we know things. We are fighting a spiritual war and souls hang in the balance. Let's fight smarter.

References

1 A Barna survey reports "74% to 23%—adults agreed that their religious faith was becoming even more important to them than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance." The report also states "By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church." See "Christianity Is No Longer Americans' Default Faith", Barna Group Ltd. Jan 12, 2009. Online at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/15-christianity-is-no-longer-americans-default-faith accessed 7-23-2009



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blinding with Science

Frequently when I discuss issues of science as they relate to faith, I'm often told that science shouldn't be doubted. After all, science, unlike faith, isn't about what people want to believe. It only deals in cold, hard facts, and when science reaches a consensus, like it has with the modern neo-Darwinian paradigm, it is unreasonable to reject it. Rejecting the scientific beliefs of the vast majority of scientists is equal to denying that the earth is round.



That's the story, but that isn't science. It's scientism. Fundamental to science is the concept of questioning the facts we think we know, even what can be considered well-established facts. Newton's laws were thought to hold in all applications for centuries until quantum mechanics came along and threw a fly in the ointment. Other assumptions, such as the steady state model for the universe, have also been upended.

But many of those ideas are too esoteric for the average man on the street to really grasp. However, there is currently a paradigm shift happening in the health sciences that perfectly illustrates how accepted science can be flimsy, biased, and based not on facts but strong wills and politics. The story is fascinating and illustrates how just one man can create a belief that is so strong, it affects the viewpoint other experts, changes government regulations, and becomes an embedded belief by the general population.

In her article "The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?" author Nina Teicholz summarizes her findings of a nine year investigation into the commonly-accepted belief that the more saturated fats you eat, the worse it is for your heart. I recommend you read the entire article, or if you would like even more detail, grab her well-documented book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. However, here are a few quotes of how the myth of the unhealthy high fat diets became the unquestioned standard:

1. One man's assumption led to bad conclusions

Teicholz writes that the idea to link saturated fats to heart disease was proposed by Ancel Keys, a pathologist who was "an aggressive, outsized personality with a talent for persuasion."1  Keys' studies on this link "violated several basic scientific norms,"2 according to Teicholz.  For example, Key's findings were based on a single study, claiming to look at the diets of some 13,000 men across seven countries. However, Teicholz reports that Keys did not select random nations, but only those that supported his hypothesis, and he ignored others. She writes there were other problems with the study as well:
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate nutrition data, Keys ended up sampling the diets of fewer than 500 men, far from a statistically significant sample. And the study's star subjects — men on the Greek island of Crete who tilled their fields well into old age and appeared to eat very little meat or cheese — turned out to have been partly sampled during Lent, when the study subjects were foregoing meat and cheese. This must have led Keys to undercount their saturated-fat consumption. These flaws weren't revealed until much later. By then, the misimpression left by the erroneous data had become international dogma.3

2. One man's push led to accepted dogma

The second factor that led to the widespread acceptance of Keys views was a combination of good timing and Keys' dominant personality. Teicholz reports:
He found a receptive audience for his "diet-heart hypothesis" among public-health experts who faced a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease. The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.4
Once the idea became ingrained, it became a foregone conclusion.
There were subsequent trials, of course. In the 1970s, half a dozen important experiments pitted a diet high in vegetable oil — usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil — against one with more animal fats. But these trials had serious methodological problems: some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best…

When Ronald M Krauss decided, in 2000, to review all the evidence purporting to show that saturated fats cause heart disease, he knew that he was putting his professional career at risk. Krauss is one of the top nutrition experts in the United States, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley. But challenging one of his field's most sacrosanct beliefs was a near-heretical act.

Challenging any of the conventional wisdom on dietary fat has long been a form of professional suicide for nutrition experts. And saturated fats, especially, are the third rail.

3. The power of intimidation affects consensus

Finally, Teicholz states that Keys himself was not as interested in advancing the science as he was in keeping his findings in the center of belief. He would belittle and mock those who would oppose his theory:
Keys aggressively criticised these observations, which were like missiles aimed at the very heart of his theory… In response to a prominent Texas A&M University professor who wrote a critique of Keys, he said that the paper "reminds one of the distorting mirrors in the hall of jokes at the county fair".

Rolling over the opposition by sheer force of will was typical of Keys and his acolytes in defending their saturated-fat hypothesis. Keys was "tough and ruthless and would argue any point", Oliver, a prominent opponent, said. Since Keys's allies controlled so many top government health posts, critics were denied research grants and key posts on expert panels. As retribution for defending the healthiness of eggs, despite their cholesterol content, Oliver was publicly branded by two of Keys's main allies as a "notorious type" and a "scoundrel" because "he opposed us on everything".

In the end, Keys and his colleagues prevailed. Despite contrary observations from India to the Arctic, too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Keys's hypothesis. The bias in its favour had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.5

The parallels between this and modern paradigms like global climate change or neo-Darwinian synthesis are striking. Each was formed at the right time, by those looking to dismiss a creator or in a time of significant environmental sensitivity. Each has had high-profile proponents. Each has claimed the scientific high ground to the degree that any deviation from the accepted consensus would be mocked and belittled, and considered professional suicide.
Many good scientists would speak authoritatively on the saturated fat-heart disease link, even today. However, the consumer needs to be more dubious of any connection between the two. While many Keys's critics gained some clout by having a well —respected journal (the Lancet and the British Medical Journal) willing to publish their work, and thus began to crack the saturated fat myth, one wonders how long it would have persisted if the British medical professionals had not investigated the claims.

The tale of saturated fat and Ancel Keys should serve as a warning to those who claim that "consensus" and "accepted science" are good enough to keep scientific claims from being questioned. They show exactly the opposite. After all, scientists are people, and people are prone to be biased. So, don't accept the tale that science is above reproach. It can be a flawed belief system, too.


References

1. Teicholz, Nina. "The Science of Saturated Fat: A Big Fat Surprise about Nutrition?" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2014.
2. Teicholz, ibid.
3. Teicholz, ibid.
4. Teicholz, ibid.
5. Teicholz, ibid.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why didn't God create a world where everyone would go to heaven?

Christianity teaches that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. However, it also teaches that salvation is exclusively through Jesus and God "is not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance"(2 Pet. 3:9). If God has all knowledge, He would know that certain people will choose not to follow Him. Yet he creates trhese people anyway, resulting in  many souls being lost. Why would He create such a world? Wouldn't He look through all possible worlds He could have created and chosen to create one where everyone is saved?



I have argued elsewhere that hell is a logical result of a person choosing not to follow Christ. So, the assertion shouldn't be stated "why does God send anyone to hell", but rather "why wouldn't God create a world where all people choose Him and are saved".

Now, we know that God created us with the freedom to choose His ways or our own ways1. People are condemned to hell because they reject the righteous ways of God and seek their own pleasures (ref: Rom. 3:12, Matt:7:14). William Lane Craig asserts this when he writes, "People who are damned are so because they willingly reject God's grace and ignore the solicitation of His Spirit."2

Logical Limitations of God

The assertion above, though, assumes that there could exist such a world where everyone is saved and that world would suit God's purposes. This isn't necessarily so.

God is omnipotent (all powerful), but it is well recognized that omnipotence does not include performing that which is logically contradictory. In other words, to ask if God can make a rock so big that He can't lift it is nonsense. It's not a lack of omnipotence.

Similarly, it may not be logically possible for God to create a world where a significant number of people exist, all people are given freedom of choice, and all people choose to be saved. Dr. Craig writes "For God's ability to actualize worlds containing free creatures will be limited by which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true in the moment logically prior to the divine decree."3 Since truly free people have the ability to reject God, there may be no possible world where everyone freely accepts Christ's atonement. If that is true, then it is illogical to demand that God make such a world that can't exist.

Choosing Between Possible Worlds

But, even if some world is possible where everyone chooses salvation, it is also possible that the total number of individuals is so small that an all-loving God would choose to create another. Craig continues:
Suppose that the only worlds feasible for God in which all persons receive Christ and are saved are worlds containing only a handful of persons. Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ? Not only does this seem to me possibly true, but I think that it probably is true. Why should the joy and blessedness of those who would receive God's grace and love be prevented on account of those who would freely spurn it? An omnibenevolent God might want as many creatures as possible to share salvation; but given certain true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, God, in order to have a multitude in heaven, might have to accept a number in hell.4
Here Craig shows how it is not contradictory to believe that an all-loving and all powerful God could create a world where many people are not saved. As Craig points out, it is entirely possible that God would want to bestow His grace to as many as possible - not merely a handful. It is not out of the realm of possibility that certain free persons exist who—no matter what the circumstance—would simply never choose to follow Christ.

God, Salvation, And This World

Craig argues what God has done is bring into reality a world that maximizes the number of people who are saved while minimizing the number of people who are lost. He states "it is possible that God wants to maximize the number of the saved: He wants heaven to be as full as possible. Moreover, as a loving God, He wants to minimize the number of the lost: He wants hell to be as empty as possible. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more lost than is necessary to achieve a certain number of the saved. But it is possible that the balance between the saved and lost in the actual world is such an optimal balance.

"...It is possible that the terrible price of filling heaven is also filling hell and that any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost would be worse."5

Ultimate Ends

So, it is possible that if God were to create any world at all, the one in which we live contains an optimum balance between the saved and lost. An objector may counter "then God shouldn't have created anyone at all". However, this ignores the fact that people do choose their actions. It isn't reasonable to say that some shouldn't enjoy eternal life with God because others will willingly choose to rebel against Him. God is not responsible for those individuals rebelling, even if He knew they would before they were ever created.

References

1. See the article "Does Man Have Free Will?" at http://www.comereason.org/free-will.asp
2. Craig, William L. "Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism." Sophia 34 (1995): 120-139.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/middle-knowledge-and-christian-exclusivism
3. Craig, William L. "'No Other Name': A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ". Faith and Philosophy 6. (1989): 172-88.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/no-other-name-a-middle-knowledge-perspective
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What will we remember in heaven?

One of the more well-known Christian answers to the problem of evil is found in the free will argument, which hinges on the fact that love can only be given by creatures who can freely choose to love or rebel against God. However, such a response raises some other questions, such as how could we then have free will in heaven and yet not sin? While I've answered that already, another problem people ask is about the ramifications of judged evil. Heaven is supposed to be a place of complete joy, with no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore" (Rev. 21:4). But, if among those judged are those people we care about, how can this be? How can one have eternal joy knowing a friend or family member is in hell?


Some have tried to answer the problem by holding that we would forget those people who are lost. The website Got Questions.org quotes Isaiah 65:17 which reads, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered" then concludes that "There is no reason why we could not possess many memories from our earthly lives. The memories that will be cleansed are the ones that involve sin, pain, and sadness."1 This view seems to say that anything that may cause us any type of regret or despondence will be wiped from our minds. But, that strikes me as odd. If God is so careful to give us free will and not to impose His will upon us then why would He erase significant portions of our lives from our memories? Would God really erase the memory of a particularly traumatic event, even though it may have helped shape us to be God-fearing?

John Piper, in looking at the same verse, doesn't take quite that stark a view. He writes, "What we will forget and what we will remember is not a simple class of bad and good. Rather we will forget and remember things in accord with what will maximize our enjoyment of God. If remembering something enhances our worship, we will remember it. If it would hinder our worship we will forget it."2 Piper notes the difficulty one has with the cross itself. Certainly, the cross is the most glorious thing since it reconciles us with God, yet it is also the worst atrocity in history as the sinless Son of God was tortured and killed by sinful men.

God is the one Doing the Forgetting

I don't agree with either answer above. As I study the scriptures, I don't believe God will tamper with our memories at all. The concept of "forgetting" in the Bible doesn't mean unable to recall, but simply that the events are too insignificant to pay attention to. We see this in Hebrews 10:17 where the Holy Spirit states "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." God obviously cannot be omniscient and forget anything. So the phrase about remembering no more means that he will never bring it up again as the penalty has been paid in full. Likewise, the verse prior to Isaiah 65:17 uses the same idiom when Isaiah writes, "Because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes." Note who is doing the forgetting here – it isn't the people of the new heavens and the new earth, it's God Himself! God is doing the talking; therefore the personal pronoun "my" is referring to the speaker. Then, in the very next verse, God reinforces the idea by saying "the former things shall not be remembered." So, Isaiah 65:17 really doesn't speak about wiping out any part of the believer's memories at all.

In the New Heavens, We Will See Clearly

So, how can we have our memories of our painful struggles while on earth and yet be promised no more pain in heaven? I believe this is where the ability to see God's plan clearly becomes key. Paul tells us that "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor 13:12). In other words, we will have a much fuller understanding of God's plan once we're in heaven. If God causes all things to work together for the good, as Romans 8:28 says, then God has made sure that any pain or sorrow we experienced was ultimately in His plan for our benefit. Paul also tells us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Once we are in heaven, the trials and tribulations we place so much emphasis on will seem to us as a bad dream did one day later. Dreams feel so real when we're dreaming, but once we wake up, we realize how silly and ethereal they really are.

In another example, John writes of the martyrs who are in heaven in Revelation 6:9-10. He records, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" It sure seems like the martyrs remember what happened to them! But note what they are asking. They are not calling to wipe away the memories of their martyrdom; they seek God's justice. They see the inherent sin of humanity (for the actual people who had martyred them are likewise dead by now) and they cry out for God to restore righteousness and out His creation back in order.

That is the key, I believe, to how one can be filled with joy in heaven even if ones friends or family are condemned to the judgment of hell. I think once glorified, we will see sin for what it is. Just as I answered in my article "How Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin?", sin will appear so repugnant to us, that we will cry out for God to punish it. Our relationship will change because our understanding will change. We will see the righteousness of God in judging sin and we will recognize it as the holy act it is.

The idea of God wiping out any bad memories really doesn't make sense. After all, the Bible records all kinds of evil acts; does that mean God's Word won't be with us in the new heavens and the new earth? We know that Jesus will carry the marks of crucifixion with Him forever (Rev. 5:6) as well. Instead, it makes much more sense that our understanding of holiness will increase and our tolerance for sin will decrease to such a degree that we would simply see things a lot more like the way God sees them now. I know I cannot love anyone more than he does and knowing that any punishment is in the hand of a holy and righteous God, I can take joy in that.

References

1 "Will we remember our earthly lives when we are in Heaven?" GotQuestions.org Web. http://www.gotquestions.org/remember-Heaven.html Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

2 Piper, John. "What Will We Remember in Heaven?" DesiringGod.com. Web. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/what-will-we-remember-in-heaven 20 Feb 2007. Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

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