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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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Monday, October 30, 2017

The Reformation: A Great Schism or Necessary Change?



In this special edition of the Come Let Us Reason Together podcast, Lenny sits down with Reasons to Believe Senior Research Scholar Ken Samples to discuss the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. That act launched one of the most significant changes to western civilization humanity has ever seen.   

In this extended podcast, Ken and Lenny discuss the reasons for Luther’s grievances, why the Reformation made the impact it did, how the sharing of the Gospel was affected through the  Reformers, as well as some of the criticisms and problems that emerged from dividing the church.

Listen to the discussion below or download by clicking here. To subscribe to Come Reason's podcast, click on the buttons below:



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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pro-Abortion Argument of Saving Children vs. Saving Embryos



Is a fertilized egg a new human being at its very first stages of life? The answer, of course, is yes. Left to its natural course, a fertilized egg will grow and mature into a fetus, an infant, a child, and ultimately an adult. Each stage adds complexity and capabilities, but they are all stages in the development of the same referent—a human being.

However, pro-abortion folks don't like the idea that a fetus is a human being. They want to deny that the developing baby in utero is really a baby. This morning I saw a series of tweets from New York Times Op-Ed writer Patrick S. Tomlinson posting what he thinks is the ultimate defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception. There, he offers what he thinks is a knock-down argument against the position that a fertilized egg is a human being. The original thread begins here, but I've reproduced it below to make it easier for you:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. 1/

It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. 2/

Here it is. You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. 3/

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 4/

Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die.

In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. 5/

They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. 6/

This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true.

No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. 7/

They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency.

No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. 8/

Don't let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don't, slap that big ol' Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them.

The end. 9/9

Choices Don't Determine Essence

Is Tomlinson right? Is his thought experiment the death-knell for the concept that life begins at conception?

Spoiler alert: no.

Tomlinson has made a big mistake in his thinking as he believes choosing to save the five year old somehow denies the humanity of the embryos. How does that follow? How does one's choice determine the essence of the thing that is not chosen? It is a classic non-sequitor.

Now, I agree that almost all people would grab the child first, but that doesn't prove the point that the embryos are not humans who hold intrinsic worth, too. To demonstrate this, let me offer a counter-scenario:

The set-up is basically the same as Tomlinson's, except you're in a hospital not a fertility clinic. On one side you have the five year old child. On the other, a series of ten beds, each with a geriatric patient in a vegetative state. Because the hospital had built safety precautions into their building for evacuations,hazards, the comatose group are positioned on top of an elevator platform. You can either A) save the screaming child or B) you can run to the other side of the room and pull the lever, lowering yourself and the ten comatose patients to safety. There is no C. Which do you choose?

Again, I think most people would choose A. Some may choose B and let the child experience the agony of burning alive. But for most of us, it is as Tomlinson said: instinctively we go for the child. This in no way means the others have somehow lost their humanity. It only means that rational people weigh various criteria, including consciousness and the ability to feel pain when making such decisions.

Like the comatose patients, embryos in test tubes are handicapped. Their ability to naturally grow and develop has been artificially halted, and they have been denied the womb. Just because they have yet developed cognition or the capability to feel pain doesn't make them any less human than my patients in comas. If it were true that those patients were no longer human, then we wouldn't mind at all harvesting their organs as we desire for transplants. (If you shudder at that, then maybe destroying embryos for scientific research should give you pause.)

Ultimately, Tomlinson's thought experiment fails to prove his point. I've answered his scenario honestly. Should I "call him out" and "demand he answer" and admit this doesn't prove what he's hoping it will?

Monday, September 25, 2017

What the #TakeAKnee Controversy can Teach Christians About Sharing Their Faith



It's no secret people are feeling more and more divided these days. Even the actions of professional sports stars are creating strong feelings on both sides as NFL players decided to not stand while the National Anthem was being played in fields across the country yesterday. The players stated they were protesting in response to President Trump's inflammatory tweets that declared those who didn't stand for the anthem should be fired.

I'm not a football fan, but as I sit back and watch this spectacle, it looks very familiar. As someone who has engaged in debates and discussions online, this is very much the model of Internet exchanges that continually degrade in demeanor until there's no light at all but only heat. It is also how I've seen discussions about faith pan out many times. None of this is really productive, except as a model of what not to do. Therefore, I'd like to use it as a way to possibly model a different approach for Christians who are commanded to use love instead of vitriol in sharing their faith.

Through the Eyes of the NFL Player

The idea of taking a knee during the National Anthem as a sign of protest began with Colin Kaepernick during a 2016 San Francisco 49ers preseason game. He chose not to stand during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and later said "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."[1] Other players, seeing Kaepernick's protest, didn't necessarily equate sitting out the Anthem or taking a knee with protesting the nation, but with trying to draw attention to the plight of inner city blacks and what they feel is the wrong perpetrated upon them.

Just last Thursday, in a recent interview with ex-NFL coach and Christian believer Tony Dungy (you may watch the piece here), Miami Dolphins' players Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas explained there were "a bunch of different instances where there were unjust murders of African-Americans, and I wanted to do something more, you know, than just talk on social media about it." They spoke with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who asked them their motivation for taking a knee, and he backed them, stating "when you hear the why and the caring that they have, and knowing that they think they could make a difference and be heard, I think, you know, how could one not really understand that and encourage it."

I don't doubt Stills and Thomas's sincerity. It was persuasive to even owner Stephen Ross. However, fans, friends, and family of the players reacted differently. They received death threats and wishes of harm. In the interview Kenny Stills said, "A lot of people just really didn't understand what we were doing or why we were doing it."

Point #1 – Miscommunication and Incoherence is More Common than You Think

This brings me to my first point in sharing your faith: people will hold passionate beliefs and they will act upon them, but don't expect those people to understand that their actions may be communicating something different from their intentions. Stills and Thomas wanted to see bloodshed end. I'm with them on that! They wanted to do something more than just talk on social media. So, they looked to the actions of their peer, Kaepernick, and mimicked it. What they didn't understand was their actions sent a message other than the one they wished to communicate.

What people see when a player sits or takes a knee during the playing of the anthem isn't a protest against police killing people, it's a rejection of the country and the values that country represents. Those values include the idea that all people are created equally. What veterans see is someone saying "I'm going to denigrate your sacrifice in risking your life for our country and our flag." The Take a Knee NFL players think they are protesting authoritarianism by not doing what they've always been told to do. But what others hear is "I'm protesting your country, one of the things that forms your identity and what you love."

Point #2 – React with Kindness to Establish Clarity

Miscommunication is always an issue when coming from different perspectives. Yet, if we respond to perceived insults with insults of our own, then no one moves forward. Even though Stills and Thomas didn't get their message clearly communicated, they did get some kind of result because some folks in the Miami area cared. They were able to have a town hall meeting with local law enforcement, community representative, high school coaches, and it fostered real dialogue and helped everyone understand each other. They participated in a ride along and had police officers interact with the community in fun ways. The black community was surprised but began to see law enforcement not as enemies but as human beings. Stills notes how a young girl, age 5 or 6, was confused as to why these two paradigms for young black people would hang out with the police since "The only time the police ever came was to arrest my dad." Stills replied "You have nothing to fear from the police officers. If you do right, they're not going to come after you." This is a huge step towards ending the us/them perception and can save lives, both blue and black.

Seeking to build bridges and communicate made a real difference; so much so that Stills and Thomas stood up and rallied the whole Dolphins team, where they would all stand at Sunday's playing of the Anthem. But what happened next blew that all to pieces.

Point #3 – Reacting with Spite May Undo Good that Has Already been Done

The players decided in 2017 they wouldn't kneel. Thomas said, "You're still giving back to the community, you're still keeping that conversation going, but without obviously protesting." They had planned on standing this week and tried to convince their teammates to do so, too. Yet, on Sunday they all knelt. Why? They were reacting to President Trump's invective on Twitter demanding NFL owners fire their players for taking a knee. Stills texted Dungy and wrote:
Deep down I did not want to allow the President to intimidate us or keep us from using our right to protest. We had a couple guys kneeling for the first time and we had our teammates all locked arms. We were still all together and that's powerful.
The insults and challenges thrown down by the President harmed the progress that was made by open communication. I get the feeling that the players still don't fully realize the difference between protesting the president's authority and protesting the country from where they have the ability to exercise that challenge to authority. I think they have every right to protest, but I think they are protesting the wrong way. Yet this is very much how interactions go when feelings rather than a desire for understanding drives the debate.

Sharing your faith is hard. People's beliefs, be they patriotism or matters of God, are deeply held and form part of our self-identities. They are at the core of who we are. Therefore, dear Christian, it is essential that you take extra care and extra time seeking to understand what the other person is feeling and what he or she is trying to say rather than what you think you hear. You can either make progress or tear down any understanding that may have already been achieved. But Jesus had it right when he said we must love one another. That is the message of reconciliation.

References

[1] Steve Wyche. "Colin Kaepernick Explains Why He Sat during National Anthem." NFL.com, NFL Enterprises LLC., 28 Aug. 2016, www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-protest-of-national-anthem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Talking with Mormons (podcast)



Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this latest podcast, Lenny provides are some ways to help you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.
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Monday, September 11, 2017

Yes Jesus Existed: Even Romans Outside the Bible Wrote About Him


It seems that given enough of a shine, any bad idea can gain traction. For most of history, scholars have debated the events of the life of Jesus recorded in the biblical accounts. However, the vast majority of New Testament scholars, both those who are of the faith and those who are critical of it, have held that it as historical fact that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived in first century Palestine, had disciples follow him, and was eventually put to death. While a few fringe elements doubted the idea of a historical Jesus, not even most atheist New Testament scholars believe that Jesus never existed.

But with the advent of the internet and the ability to self-publish, that fringe has grown a much larger following. Now there are very popular atheists who hold that the entire account of Jesus's life, teaching, and death, are simply made up, setting a fictional stage for a fictional tale of a mythical messiah. They claim that if Jesus was such a big deal he would surely have been noticed and written about by more than just the biblical authors.

While that argument isn't valid—in comparison to the events of the Empire in circa 30 A.D., the goings on in Palestine wouldn't be considered newsworthy to those living in Rome—the fact is that Jesus does get mentioned in ancient Roman sources. In his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, Dr. Robert E. Van Voorst pulls together citations from Roman writers such as Thalles, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and Celsus, along with Jewish sources such as Josephus and other rabbinic writings. Of his Roman sources, Van Voorst underscores that this is a pretty diverse group:
The famous Roman writers on history and imperial affairs have taken pride of place: Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger. On the other end of the spectrum, the comparatively unknown writers Mara and Thallos have also contributed their voices. Philosophic opponents to Christianity such as Lucian and Celsus have also written about Christ. These writers have a range of opinion: from those perhaps sympathetic to Christ (Mara); through those moderately hostile (Pliny) and those fully hostile but descriptive (Tacitus, Suetonius); to those not interested in description, but who vigorously attack Christianity and in the process attack Christ (Lucian and Celsus). A variety of languages is also notable: Latin, the official language of Rome; Greek, both a common literary language and the language of trade; and Syriac, a main language of the eastern Mediterranean. Together, they speak of a variety of topics about Jesus' teachings, movement, and death. And they know that Jesus is worshiped by Christians, which they relate to his founding of a movement.1
Van Voorst is cautious not to make too much of these mentions, as he notes most of the outside accounts of Jesus's life are coming from Christians who do believe He existed. He even states "by the strictest standards of historical evidence we cannot use them to demonstrate the existence of Jesus. On the other hand, given the nature of the evidence on Jesus from classical authors, neither can one use them as conclusive evidence to disprove the existence of Jesus."2 But these sources cannot be counted out as of no value at all. After all, some of these sources were very hostile to Christianity and they would have motive to point out the fact that such a man as Jesus was mythical. Instead, Van Voorst sees them as secondary sources of historical accounts. After making the above points, he continues:
…Although independent confirmation by contemporary classical writers is excluded, we do gain a later corroboration of certain key elements in the life of Jesus. Corroboration of knowledge is important, in historiography as in the natural sciences. If classical writers had never mentioned Jesus, or especially if they had argued that he was a product of Christian myth­making, then it would be a different matter. They did treat Jesus as a historical person, the founder of his movement, and had no reason to doubt his historicity. It would have been easy (if Jesus never existed) to deliver a strong blow against Christianity by showing that it was based on a myth when it claimed to be based on history. But these writers accepted Jesus as historical, and all but one used the events of his life as arguments against Christianity: he began a movement that they called a pernicious superstition, and he was executed as a criminal.3
Van Voorst concludes that ultimately to do good history, we must do what scholars have done for centuries. We have to take the New Testament accounts themselves as what they are, documents of ancient history. The evidence there is very strong that the New Testament authors were writing in a specific genre of ancient biography, meaning they were writing about a real person. And given that both Jewish antagonists and Roman antagonists argued that the events of the life of Jesus proved he wasn't worthy of worship, it seems a much more reasonable to conclude that Jesus was a real person rather than that he never existed at all.

References

1. Robert E. Van Voorst. Jesus Outside the New Testament: an Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000. 68.
2. Van Voorst. 73.
3. Ibid.

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