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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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Monday, May 04, 2015

Atheists and Unreasonable Objections

Most apologists are well aware of the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask for the hope that is within you." In fact, they will point to it as an example of God commanding Christians to engage with an unbelieving world. Yet, I've seen Christians think that in order to be faithful to 1 Peter 3:15, we must field every objections thrown at us, regardless of what it is. But there are some objections that are themselves unreasonable, and part of offering a defense is calling out the objector who offers frivolous complaints.


As an example of what I mean, let's look at an article I published last week entitled "Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?" The article explained why plate tectonics, the movements which cause earthquakes, are crucial to support life on earth. One commenter on the post offered the following objection:
What a pile of drivel. So this god isnt to blame for all the deaths from quakes because they are necessary to stop the earth becoming desolate lol.

So this omnipotent god couldnt make a planet without plate tectonics?

The only reason we need a magnetic fields protection is because this god is slinging cosmic rays everywhere.

This god cant control biodiversity, chemical balance ,raise mountains from the sea(bible claims he can) without the use of earthquakes ? lol

If this omnipotent god cant create a world that works well without the need to kill thousands of people every year then its a very poor god indeed.
One will quickly notice that the objector doesn't doubt that plate tectonics do all the necessary things I said they did. His objection boils down to simply, "Surely, God cold have done it some other way!" Really? Exactly what way would this person suggest? Does he have another model that he would like to offer?

Perhaps he is arguing that if God exists, then no one should ever die from any natural accident. Natural laws should never endanger human lives. But, the implications of that are staggering. If no one should be harmed because of natural processes, then what do we do about the law of gravity? No one should fall off a cliff and nothing should ever fall on anyone. Is that a reasonable model? What "other way" is there for these kinds of calamities? His objection boils down to either repealing the law of gravity (which means that life on earth is again impossible) or human beings themselves become indestructible. That second choice was exactly what God did not want to happen, because people were in a state of sin. He never wanted a sinful human being to live in his sinful condition for all of eternity (see Genesis 3:22-24.)

Gainsaying Is Never a Path to the Truth

The primary issue I have with objections like this, and I see such objections all the time, both online and in personal conversations, is they aren't honest. The person asking isn't really looking for an answer; he is simply taking a contrary opinion to the evidence offered already. He was simply doing what is known as gainsaying, taking up a contrary position to discount my evidence instead of interacting with it. It means he ignored the evidence presented and complained that he didn't like the conclusions that followed.

Gainsaying is not thinking. It's simply negating whatever you don't like. I find it interesting that certain atheists will fall into what I call the outrageous objection such as the one above ("if God can do anything, then I want the world to look like this…"). But if one upholds reason as a central virtue, then such tactics should strike him or her as repugnant.  It proves that one isn't open to following the evidence wherever it leads. In fact, offering unreasonable objections isn't a sign of free-thinking, but of closed-mindedness. 1 Peter 3:15 doesn't say that the Christian has to answer every objection, no matter if it's a good or bad. We are commanded to defend the reality of the resurrected Jesus and the reasonableness of the Christian worldview. Because Christianity places a very high value on reason, it is appropriate to identify an unreasonable objection and demand that the objector offer something more concrete. By so doing, you demonstrate how much you value reason yourself.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for April 2015



April was a busy month at Come Reason. Still, we held steady at the blog with our 22,000+ readers. The most popular article this month continues a series I began this year entitled "Jesus and Logical Fallacies." Readers have really appreciated the attention drawn to the Gospel accounts of various fallacies the opponents  of Jesus wold raise against him and how he provides us an example in identifying and answering them.

The second most popular article was published just days ago and focuses answering those who object to God's existence because of the terrible earthquake in Nepal. While broader answers to the problem of evil are available, they tend to be abstract. This answer goes another direction and shows why earthquakes are not in and of themselves evil, but necessary for life.

Here are the top five apologetic blog posts for April:

Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Studying Science is Important for Evangelism

I recently posted a quote from Dr. J.P. Moreland on why an evolutionary account for moral values and duties fails. The quote was a bit technical, but it did a good job of showing flaws in such a theory just by reasoning through the position. In other words, it didn't appeal to the Bible. I received a comment on the post that this quote will be completely ineffective to any unbeliever who reads it because "it is an attempt to utilize the tools and methods of science and reason to persuade those who simply cannot discern the things of the Spirit. Not one person will come to the Lord as a result of this argumentation."



I don't want to pick on this specific comment, but I have heard similar objections from within the church before. Within the comment are two common assumptions that evangelical Christians voice, both of which I believe are mistaken. I will tackle some others in later posts, but the first unwarranted assumption is that science is not effective or it isn't somehow appropriate when trying to lead others to Jesus.

Science Properly Done Leads to God

It has become a common trope that science and reason are tools of the world and Spiritual things cannot be discovered through them. But the church hasn't always held such a view. In fact, the myth that science and reason sit on one side of a divide while faith and belief sit on the other is perpetuated by those who are desperately trying to divorce God from His reality. Historically, modern science was founded and advanced by Christians who were, in the words of Johannes Kepler, "thinking God's thoughts after Him."1

These scientists took passages like Psalm 19:1-4 seriously, in which the Psalmist declares:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (ESV)
They believed that they were pursuing the knowledge that God had woven into the fabric of his creation. This is also why Paul points to the understanding of the created order in Romans 1 as God's testimony of himself that holds them accountable:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, ESV).

God Commanded Us to Explore His World

God wants us to explore the world he created. Even before Adam's fall, the Bible tells us that God placed him in the garden in order to "to work it and keep it" (Gen 2:15). Such a command would require investigation on Adam's part to understand how the world works, how the plants grow, and how to keep them appropriately.

Augustine even encouraged the Christian to not ignore science as it could damage the Christian's witness. In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine writes:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."2
If science is done properly, it doesn't lead people away from God. Rather, it should point people to the clear conclusion that the world has a designer. That's the argument that Paul makes in Romans 1 and it is the reason why atheists such as Antony Flew changed his mind and believed that God existed. Of course, people can hold biases and presuppositions that rule out God, and we should recognize that. Science alone isn't the answer. But it shouldn't be discounted as one tool in God's toolbox for declaring himself to a lost world.

References

1. Morris, Henry M. Men of Science, Men of God: Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible. San Diego, CA: Creation-Life, 1982. Print. 12.
2. Augustine, and John Hammond. Taylor. "Chapter 19." The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Newman, 1982. 19. Print.. Web. http://college.holycross.edu/faculty/alaffey/other_files/Augustine-Genesis1.pdf

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Problem of Accounting for Morality From Evolution



J.P. Moreland commenting on the problems with attempts to base morality on evolutionary principles:
One could argue that the evolutionary account of morality commits the genetic fallacy—it confuses how morality came about with what morality is and what justifies it. There is a point in this rejoinder. Taken by itself, the evolutionary account of morality is an example of the genetic fallacy. But there are some cases where the genetic fallacy is not really inappropriate. These are cases where the causal account of the origin of an idea serves to discredit that idea in some way. In a trial, if the testimony of a witness comes from someone with bad motives, then one can rule out his testimony because of where it came from. His testimony could still be true, but it is unlikely. In the case of the mirage, one can rule out the veridicality of this experience by citing what caused it (hot air waves), even though it could still be an accurate experience.

If evolutionary theory is all there is to the development of the cosmos from the big bang to man, then any view which postulates the brute existence of morals would seem to do so in an ad hoc way. The general background theory would count against the veridicality of the claim to know that morals exist, even though it would still be logically possible for them to exist. If theism is true, one's background theory explains the existence of human morality. But if one denies God and accepts evolution, then it would seem more reasonable to accept an evolutionary, subjectivist view of morality. The existence of objective values would still be possible, but it would be unlikely and ad hoc, given this background theory.

References

Moreland, James Porter. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print. 125.
Photo courtesy John LeMasney and licensed via the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?

Like most people, I grieve for the tremendous tragedy the Nepalese people are suffering after a violent 7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks devastated much of the nation on Saturday. According to the latest reports, over 4,800 people have dies and at least 9,200 have been injured in the disaster.1 Those numbers are staggering and help is desperately needed for the survivors.

Of course, when a tragedy like this happens, questions of why arise. I saw one meme that shows an image of a girl praying with the superimposed text:
 "Dear God, please help the victims of that terrible earthquake — wait, aren't you the one that created it? Why are we asking you for help? This makes no sense!" (Emphasis in the original.)

As with most memes, this is a dramatic oversimplification of an issue that seeks to sound good without thinking through its underlying assumptions.

I don't think there's any doubt that this meme is meant to argue against the existence of God. It seems to be implying at least two reasons to hold that belief in God is unreasonable. The broader question is "Why would a loving God create something as devastating as earthquakes?" But another question may be "Why would a loving God allow such a devastating earthquake strike such an impoverished nation like Nepal where the death toll would most certainly be high?" Let's look at each in turn.

Earthquakes and Life

The causes of earthquakes are studied by geologists in a rather new field of science named plate tectonics. As this LiveScience article explains, scientists believe the Earth's outer layer is like a hard shell broken into several plates that move over the earth's mantle. When the mantle pushes and pulls these plates, they rub against one another in certain ways, causing earthquakes. Sometimes plates are pulled apart, such as the process that forms the deep trenches in the oceans, sometimes they rub sideways like those like in Los Angeles's San Andreas fault, and sometimes one plate is pushed underneath another, like the plates that for the fault in Nepal.2 The plate movement in Nepal is much faster than most other plates on earth, and it is the reason why eight of the ten highest mountains on earth fall within the borders of the small nation.3

As we learn more about the earth's plates and their movements, astrobiologists and geologists are beginning to discover just how crucial plate tectonics is for life to exist. In their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, Drs. Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee note that of all the planets we observe in our solar system, only the earth has signs of shifting plates in the form of mountain ranges and ocean basins.4 Some of the key benefits they list concerning plate tectonics are:5
  • It promotes high levels of global biodiversity as species as they must adapt to different environments which ensures they don't fall extinct easily.
  • It manages the amount chemicals that form carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping to keep the earth's temperature stable, keeping liquid water abundant on the planet.
  • It creates ocean basins and lifts dry land out of the sea, allowing advanced life like humans to be land-dwelling animals.
  •  It also recirculates the minerals that erosion has deposited in the sea,
  • Finally, it creates earth's magnetic field, sheltering life from "potentially lethal influx of cosmic radiation, and solar wind "sputtering" (in which particles from the sun hit the upper atmosphere with high energy) might slowly eat away at the atmosphere, as it has on Mars."
Ward and Brownlee conclude that if there were no more earthquakes, the earths temperatures would quickly become unlivable and "planetary calamity for complex life would occur shortly after the cessation of plate movement."6 Earthquakes are necessary for you and me to exist on earth at all.

Why would such a poor country be hit by such a big earthquake?

At this point the atheist may narrow his claim and simply ask "OK, but why would God allow such devastation in an area where there are so many people?" AS I explained above, there are many areas such as the sea floor where these kinds of earthquakes occur and they hurt no one. But land-based earthquakes are necessary to do some of the things I mentioned above. It is no surprise that Nepal is prone to devastating earthquakes. The Himalayas attest to the fault's activity. In fact, the last devastating quake happened in 1934, killing about 10,000 people. Geologist Hongfeng Yang said that geology of that part of the world is "generally consistent and homogenous" and the region should expect a severe earthquake every four to five decades.7

I live in Southern California, with my house very close to the San Andreas Fault. We know that the San Andreas is overdue for a very large earthquake. While we don't know when it will come, it is a recognized danger. Both private citizens and the government have made preparations for when "the big one" hits. In Nepal, the warnings of the 1990's were ignored, as Samrat Upadhyay explained in his recent article in the Los Angeles Times.8 My survival may depend on having emergency supplies in my home if an earthquake hits. But in other areas of the world, planning and infrastructure buttressing may be thwarted not by God but by the corruption or greed of those responsible for such safeguards. While no one can assume there would be no loss of life in any natural disaster, the loss of lives can be significantly mitigated by those who live in the area.

 The meme seeks to blame God for creating earthquakes.  Yet, without them, our world may be a sterile as Mars or as lifeless as Venus. People have the capability to prevent a significant amount of damage and loss of life from the quakes. Perhaps we should begin by investigating why no one acted on the warnings instead of trying to point an uninformed finger at God.

References

1. Watson, Ivan, Jethro Mullen, and Laura Smith-Spark. "Nepal Earthquake: Death Toll Climbs above 4,600." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/28/asia/nepal-earthquake/.
2. Oskin, Becky. "What Is Plate Tectonics?" LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.livescience.com/37706-what-is-plate-tectonics.html.
3. McClain, Sean, and Shirley S. Wang. "How the Nepal Earthquake Happened Like Clockwork." WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-nepal-earthquake-happened-like-clockwork-1430044358.
4. Ward, Peter D., and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. New York: Copernicus, 2000. Kindle Edition. 194.
5. Ward and Brownlee, 194.
6. Ward and Brownlee, 206.
7. McClain and Wang, 2015.
8. Upadhyay, Samrat. "Nepal Earthquake: We Had Been Warned." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0428-upadhyay-nepal-earthquake-20150427-story.html.
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