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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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Friday, July 31, 2015

How Should Christians Engage Others Online?


I went to a wedding recently, where the DJ had all the married couples come to the dance floor. He then would ask couples to leave based on how long they had been married. Ultimately, he got down to the very last couple, a man and a woman who had been married 60 years!

After a round of applause, the DJ walked up to the man with his microphone and asked him "what is your secret to staying married for 60 years."

The man then clearly revealed his secret: He didn't say a word and signaled that his wife should answer.

A smart man knows how to avoid an argument. But you will never be able to avoid arguments in this life. I'm not talking about the shouting matches that end up in people hurting each other's feelings. Those can and should be avoided. I mean arguments like those where both sides provide reasons in a discussion to support their specific positions.

You will be faced with those who will challenge you.

Arguments are a part of life. I had posted a short video explaining the imago Dei – that all human beings are made in the image of God and share certain attributes that God holds. This distinguishes them from animals. An atheist then made this comment: "I think it is more reasonable to conclude that the gods were made in the image of man. (Gods are man-made.) Thousands, or millions, of gods have come and gone before Christianity came on the scene. Hinduism claims there are 330 million gods."

The atheist has made an argument, stating that because the history of humanity is replete with different theories on who or what God is, it is more reasonable to hold that all gods are man-made and therefore to be an atheist. Notice that the original video wasn't trying to prove that God exists, but to explain a particular point of Christian theology. Yet, here was a commenter who challenged the very notion of God's existence.

These kinds of situations come up often for Christians, especially online. You may be perfectly happy with your day so you post a Bible verse or a meme that thanks God for your blessings. All of a sudden, someone is commenting that no one should believe such fairy tales as God or that the Bible is an ancient book full of superstition. What should be our response?

Approaching Conversations Biblically

Luckily, Paul provides us with some guidance. First, he says that we shouldn't avoid all interactions with those who would oppose us. In 2 Timothy, he states that we should be ready for those opportunities, studying diligently to capitalize on them when they come because they can lead to changed hearts. Yet, he also says that one must weigh the attitude and openness of the challenger. Paul writes:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene…

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:15-17, 24-26, ESV).
Gentle correction of those who are in opposition is the appropriate plan. It doesn't mean we must answer every charge; we are not to cast our pearls before swine. But we shouldn't ignore people simply because they have beliefs different from our own. How else will unbelievers be forced to examine their own beliefs and see them as baseless or contradictory? That's why we need to be prepared to argue convincingly and intelligently. Apologetics is part of evangelism and its goal is for everyone to come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. How are you preparing?

Image licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should an Atheist Sit on a Jury?



Should an atheist suit on a jury? The question seems bigoted; why should anyone want to exclude atheists simply because of their denial of the belief in God? I wouldn't disqualify someone simply because he or she identified as an atheist. Atheists as much as anyone else should be able to do the things jurors are called upon to do: weigh testimony, weigh evidence, and deliberate with other jurors to seek a just and impartial decision for the case at hand.

In order to do those things a juror must be have some kind of criteria for what counts as evidence and what doesn't. But upon what standards do they rely in order to accomplish this? What is the juror's understanding of evidence and is it important? Of course it is, which is why our legal system has a practice of voir dire in selecting the jury. Voir dire is a French term for the preliminary portion of the trial when potential jurors are called to the courtroom and the attorneys for both sides ask them questions to see whether they may be biased or somehow otherwise disqualified from serving on that particular case. If a potential juror would say something like "I won't accept a verdict of guilty through eyewitness testimony; I must have physical evidence or see the crime committed myself!" you can expect that person to be eliminated from the jury.

A Strained Epistemology

I bring this up because I recently had a conversation with an atheist that led me to question his understanding of what is reasonable evidence for belief in anything. He claimed that while he was an atheist, "I can think of lots of things that would make me believe - nothing too difficult would be needed." When asked for an example, he replied that saying "hello" would do and a chat with him and his wife would be better. I then asked if God appearing only to his wife and having her relay the appearance to him would be sufficient. "No I don't think that would do. I'd want more than second-hand evidence." I pressed and asked what if his wife's claim was corroborated by multiple others. He replied, "I can't really tell, but I doubt if the claims of the other people would really make any difference. Lots of people think they know when someone is lying. But they can't. It's why evidence is essential." He defined his term , too. "I meant corroborating evidence. E.g. photos, DNA, records."

This is where I would ask the gentleman to be excused from the jury. There is nothing appropriate about holding to criteria where knowledge on big questions can only be gained from direct, first-hand experience. The criterion isn't even consistent within itself. First, how do you know the evidence wasn't faked? Must one follow the chain of custody personally to prove it was gathered, stored, and analyzed without tampering or is he going to accept the testimony of the witness presenting the evidence that this is so? Even if one grants the evidence is factual, how do we know that it actually points towards the defendant? Is my atheist friend an expert in DNA and genetics or is he taking the word of someone else? Why does he know that DNA analysis cannot provide a false positive? How does he even know which genetic markers were tested and how unique they are? All of this is trusting in the testimony of another person!

A Faulty Deliberation

Another issue arises once the trial is concluded and the jury is sent to deliberate the case. Now, you have to listen to the opinions and thoughts of eleven other jurors who are also weighing the evidence and the testimony. Will he discount their views on what makes up convincing evidence if they believe in God? Is that appropriate to do? The skeptical stance of rejecting testimony because "people can lie" is unreasonable. Worse is characterizing those who believe in God as "believ[ing]in magic," and dismissing their testimony or opinion in the jury room. This is in no way a reasonable foundation upon which to weigh truth claims.

 Now I want to be fair and note that he did later qualify his answer. He said, ""[It] depends on the claim being made. If someone says they had toast for breakfast I believe them." That's fine. By what criteria does one judge where testimony is no longer sufficient? Unfortunately, we had to end our conversations before I could ask that question. But the problem doesn't go away. My guess, given the "belief in magic" comment, is only discussions about the supernatural rise to that level of incredulity. But such a distinction is arbitrary; there's no reason to exclude the supernatural from being evidenced by testimony. It simply shows bias on the part of the atheist, and as a biased party he cannot be relied upon to provide an unbiased verdict on the question of God. The juror is excused.

Photo courtesy CALI - Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Six Errors Jesus Mythicists Repeatedly Make

The fact that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago in Palestine and a following grew out of his teachings is evident. Even Bart Ehrman, as skeptical as the come about the claims of Christianity, has stated that no one should doubt “what virtually every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.”1


Yet, the Jesus-Myth proponents continue to make the charge that Jesus didn't exist or that perhaps someone named Jesus existed, but the Gospel accounts were created out of the whole cloth of dying-and-rising god myths popular in the ancient world. Certainly the Internet has spread their charges beyond what one would reasonably expect. It's much like the villagers in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes; they want to believe these links so badly, that they fail to see the reality that nothing is there. In that vein, I'd like to offer six different ways the fashion statement of mythicism fails.

1. One Size Fits All — Combinationism

This is one of the biggest errors of the Zeitgeist movie and charges like it. It basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D. and blends them together them together, claiming they all had a consistent belief of gods dying and rising again. They argue that this is some kind of an established, coherent overarching set of beliefs from which Christianity borrowed.

However, if anyone bothers to actually read the details of the different faiths mentioned, one will find vast differences in their foundational understanding of life, death, and existence beyond death. Even with in faiths like Mithraism, it had evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span.2 To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one from a religion like Mithraism when those beliefs weren't necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.

2. Calling a Kleenex a Kerchief — Equivocation

Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian language to describe a belief - and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. The concept of baptism in Egyptian mythology centers around the Nile's supposed physical power to heal while baptism in Christianity focuses on the sin nature of the individual. This happens over and over, where the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism than what Christian understand it to mean, but it is made to sound similar for impact value.

3. If It's on Your Shoulders, It's a Jacket — Oversimplification

Many critics will find something kind of like a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. For example, Zeitgeist claims that Horus was “crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.” In the actual myth, Horus is a young child who is revived from a scorpion sting by another god that wielded the magic to do so. It's nothing like Jesus' claim to have the power to take his own life up again. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.

4. Invisible Accessories — Misrepresenting Biblical Facts

Horus was born on December 25th? Were they using the Julian calendar system in ancient Egypt? The Gospels themselves don't tell us when Jesus was born. December 25 cam later, and was probably based on a completely different paradigm. Horus' birth was visited by Three Wise men? Where does the Bible say three? There are three gifts mentioned, but no number of wise men is cited. Plus they came up to two years after Jesus' birth. The mythicists misrepresent the Biblical accounts and then try to make the other myths similar.

5. Who's the Designer? — Direction of Influence

Simply because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, it is wrong to assume the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition. This happens many times when the religion's founder lived before Jesus. However, as I said in point #1, these faiths were themselves not static. They picked up a lot of influences across the centuries, especially when they came in contact with competing belief systems. Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions tended to adopt Christian symbols and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. Anthropologists see this by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn't recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated. As Ronald Nash notes concerning Mithraism, “The timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first century Christianity.”3

6. Where's the Designer Label? — Missing Citations/Support

Lastly, one should always ask for support for the claims made by the mythicists of the features of their myths. Who says that these things are true? How do you know Horus was baptized or raised after three days? Have you read the actual myth? What verification do you have that you understood the cult's beliefs accurately? This is one of the most crucial questions to ask, since reading the myths themselves will usually be enough to show that any supposed parallels to the life of Jesus are either minor or non-existent.

The primary message of Christianity is vastly different from the pagan myths that preceded it. As Nash explains:
None of these so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity. Only Jesus died for sin. It is never claimed that any pagan deity died for sin. As Wagner observes, to none of the pagan gods “has the intention of helping men been attributed. That sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting death, self-emasculation, etc.)4

References

1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 July 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html.
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Did Christianity Steal From Mithraism?" ComeReason.org. Come Reason Ministries, 01 Nov. 2001. Web. 29 July 2015. http://www.comereason.org/mithraism.asp.
3. Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003. Print.
4. Nash, 2003. 160.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Selfishness Dismembers the Family and Sells off Its Parts



The third in a recent series of undercover videos has just been released and it is more gruesome than imagined. While the last two videos reveal how high ranking Planned Parenthood executives are not merely complicit in the selling of aborted baby organs, but they will actually haggle about price (see here and here). Now, we get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the "Procurement Technicians" sifting through the remains of an 11 week old fetus to pick out the best parts to sell. It's horrifying.

I find it interesting these videos have come to light just now, within one month of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision where five Supreme Court justices manufactured the right forcing homosexual unions to be recognized as marriage in all fifty states. We are seeing two symptoms of a single shift in the understanding of what is the function of family in society.

Rooting Family in Biology

What is a family? The use of the word has become flexible today, but it had a common meaning for most of its existence tied to procreation. Aristotle explained "the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.'"1 Lewis Henry Morgan, in his foundational study of human relationships, declared that family has its roots in kinship, what he called "a community of blood."2 Morgan held we order ourselves based on two principles: common lineage and the coupling of man and woman in matrimony.3 Marriage was the event that made families possible and children were understood to be the natural result. Both were considered necessary and valuable for the survival of the community and humanity.

However, that view has been largely lost in the modern world. We have moved from understanding the family as building block of society to believing the individual is. Two legal movements of the early 1970s highlight this change: the spread of no-fault divorce and the legalization of abortion services.

The Corrupting Influence of No-Fault Divorce

Prior to California's passage of the nation's first no-faulty divorce law in 1970, a married person was required to sue for divorce and show cause why the union should be dissolved. The law assumed that a married person has an obligation to the other spouse, to their children, and to the community at large. In a divorce, the spouse in a weaker financial position is harmed.4 Also, if one were to sue for divorce, the offending spouse would be identified as the cause of the separation, be it because of adultery -abuse, or something else. As attorney Rudy Jaworski explains, "There is no need under a no-fault divorce to establish that the other party has done anything wrong, and this allows the spouses to protect their reputations."5 W. Bradford Wilcox states:
Prior to the late 1960s, Americans were more likely to look at marriage and family through the prisms of duty, obligation, and sacrifice. A successful, happy home was one in which intimacy was an important good, but by no means the only one in view…

But the psychological revolution's focus on individual fulfillment and personal growth changed all that. Increasingly, marriage was seen as a vehicle for a self-oriented ethic of romance, intimacy, and fulfillment. In this new psychological approach to married life, one's primary obligation was not to one's family but to one's self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one's spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage.6

Babies as Accessories

The drive for individual fulfillment that Wilcox mentions also drove another paradigm shift, one that focused on children. Earlier in the decade, medical discoveries such as the birth control pill cleaved sex from procreation. One could thus seek physical fulfillment with one spouse, many spouses, or no spouse at all without having to worry about the normative result of intercourse: pregnancy. But the pill wasn't full proof; children were still being conceived especially out of wedlock. These children would certainly curb the "individual fulfillment and personal growth" of both unmarried participants. Therefore, in 1972 the Supreme Court ruled abortion a right, paving the way for the slaughter of millions of unborn children. Thus, we live in a society where killing babies for the sake of our own pleasure is legal.

The Culmination of Self-Fulfillment Above All

Today, we are seeing the fruition of the culture of self-absorption. The concept of marriage has been completely divorced from the reality of strengthening the community and providing us with well-adjusted future generations, for homosexual unions are by definition incapable of doing either. Instead, as Don Verrilli argued before the Supreme Court, "The opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity. Excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage demeans the dignity of these couples." 7

It should be no surprise that we see the dismemberment of marriage and the dismemberment of babies come into public view at the same time. Both are the fruit of a tree that has been germinating for over forty years. The only question is whether we will want to do anything to change it.

References

1. Aristotle. "Politics" Book 1, II. The Internet Classics Archive. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive, 2009. Web. 28 July 2015. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.1.one.html.
2. Morgan, Lewis Henry. "Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family." Contributions to Knowledge. Vol. XVII. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Inst., 1871. 10. Print.
3. Morgan, 1871. 10ff.
4. Jaworski, Rudy. "Forty Years On, No-Fault Divorce Faces Scrutiny." HG.org. HG.org, n.d. Web. 28 July 2015. http://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=18784.
5. Jaworski, 2015.
6. Wilcox, W. Bradford. "The Evolution of Divorce." National Affairs. National Affairs, Inc., Fall 2009. Web. 28 July 2015. http://nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce.
7. Rosen, Jeffrey. "The Dangers of a Constitutional 'Right to Dignity'" The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 July 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-dangerous-doctrine-of-dignity/391796/.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In Weighing Beliefs, Only Monotheism Makes Sense


Hugo Grotius was by all accounts a brilliant mind. The 17th century philosopher, legal scholar, and political theorist who helped shape international law and concepts of the natural law referenced in philosophy.1 His Truth of the Christian Religion in Six Books demonstrated his keen skill in Christian apologetics as well.

Grotius begins his apologetic by demonstrating that one must believe there is a God. He argues from the concept of God as an Uncaused Cause, most likely influenced from Aquinas. He also argues that all human civilizations have held to some kind of creator to explain the existence of all other things. Thus, Grotius minimally defines God as the source of creation. From there, he moves to the fact that God must be a single deity. He writes:
Having proved the existence of the Deity, we come next to his attributes: the first whereof is, that there can be no more Gods than one; which may be gathered from hence; because, as was before said, God exists necessarily, or is self-existent. Now that which is necessary, or self-existent, cannot be considered as of any kind or species of beings, but as actually existing, and is therefore a single being; for, if you imagine many Gods, you will see that necessary existence belongs to none of them; nor can there be any reason why two should rather be believed than three, or ten than five: beside, the abundance of particular things of the same kind proceeds from the fruitfulness of the cause, in proportion to which more or less is produced; but God has no cause, or original. Further, particular different things are endued with peculiar properties, by which they are distinguished from each other; which do not belong to God, who is a necessary being. Neither do we find any signs of many Gods; for this whole universe makes but one world, in which there is but one thing that far exceeds the rest in beauty, viz. the sun: and in every man there is but one thing that governs, that is, the mind: moreover, if there could be two or more Gods, free agents, acting according to their own wills, they might will contrary to each other; and so one be hindered by the other front effecting his design; now, a possibility of being hindered is inconsistent with the notion of God.2
Just as I explained in a previous post, the concept of multiple gods really makes no sense. In this short paragraph, Grotious demonstrates how only monotheistic faiths are logically coherent. Thus a person is seeking to weight all faiths in order to find the one true faith, eliminating all but monotheistic faiths quickly disposes of the vast majority of religions held throughout the ages.

References

1. Miller, Jon. "Hugo Grotius." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 28 Jul. 2011. Web. 26 July 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grotius/. 2. Grotius, Hugo. "Truth of the Christian Religion in Six Books." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 22 Aug. 2007. Web. 26 July 2015. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/grotius/truth.iii.i.iii.html.
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