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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, August 22, 2014

Atheist insults believers and is stunned at the result

If you've ever been involved with countercult work, you will know how easily the charge of persecution is levied by those who hear arguments against their beliefs. I've had both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, when presented with evidence that the teachings of their organizations are demonstrably false, claim that they are being persecuted for their beliefs. But telling someone they're wrong or being lied to is neither wrong nor persecution. It's correction.

The reason the persecution charge is thrown so easily is because it holds some hidden premises. People who feel persecuted because of the rejection of an idea believe they're right. They think that their beliefs are obvious, and there are no rational positions contrary to their own. Therefore, any kind of dissent must be some kind of ignorance or bigotry. They believe "Those people who dismiss my view have been infected with wrong thinking."

But it isn't just those who knock on doors who feel this way, but certain atheists as well. Just this week, evolutionary psychologist Sue Blackmore posted an article on Richard Dawkins' site complaining that 100 students walked out of a talk she was giving at Oxford Royale Academy on memes. Blackmore explains:
Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls' by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn't gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?' There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,' and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

…By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard's fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind', the lecture hall was looking rather empty. 1

Blackmore said that she "was still shaken by yesterday's lecture and its aftermath." She even reports on calling out to some of the departing students as they were walking out, "Can't you even listen to ideas you disagree with? In Oxford, of all places, you should be open-minded enough to hear alternative views." 2 She ends the article by claiming the high ground:
Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I'd learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer — when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren't so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?3

Modeling What You Claim to Despise

Blackmore wants to claim bewilderment on why her talk went so badly. While I'm sure there are some who may left because they didn't want to hear any criticisms at all, given Blackmore's own descriptions of her talk I probably would have walked out, too. She was condescending while at the same time being ignorant of the facts. She caricatured religious belief and belittled it, having volunteers mock the Christian Bible, and lumping all beliefs together as if they were equal to one another. She created a flimsy straw man and began knocking it down, taking joy in the discomfort of her listeners as she did.

Such actions would have told me that this woman is not worth listening to and I would have gotten up and left. My actions would have been a result of my thinking for myself and not passively letting a person make bad arguments and get away with ridicule on my dime. The Oxford Royal Academy is an optional summer school program where parents pay for their high-school age students to attend and explore topics more deeply to "gain an academic edge" over their peers.4 Given that, leaving is appropriate.

But Blackmore simply can't understand why some 17 and 18 year olds would choose to walk out of her offensive lecture instead of engaging the instructor in an impromptu debate. Even if their facts were strong, the man with the microphone will usually win that debate. Afterwards, Blackmore talked with some of the Muslim students outside. "I was angrily told that I'd made them feel ignorant." Instead of trying to hear them and understand that they were talking about their feelings as human persons who have inherent worth, Blackmore sought to justify herself. "What should I have done? They are ignorant aren't they?" (emphasis hers.)

Blackmore here shows that she cannot think past her atheistic, memetic worldview. She's a bright, after all, smarter than some kids. In damning those who walked out of her talk, she has become what she claims to despise—one who will not consider a contrary opinion or the fact that she may be wrong on whether she's worth listening to.  The reaction by so many "bright, but ignorant, young people" should have told her she was wrong somewhere, even after she "prepared carefully" by delivering the talk to one relative and adding Internet trends to her slides. But I get the feeling that Blackmore believes she couldn't be wrong. She can't think of anything to do differently, categorizing any apology as cowardice.

Even the chairman of the unit, who invited Blackmore was not pleased, yet she chalks this up to nothing more than the fact that he was a Christian. ‘After all, he must have known when I was invited that I was a vociferous atheist, and since I was invited to talk about memes he must have expected me to mention religions." Yes, I'm sure he did. But perhaps he anticipated something more academic and less acerbic. But I guess Blackmore cannot offer any kind of religious believers (you know, those who make up the vast majority of people on the planet)5 an ounce of respect for their views. She mocks them and then uses their umbrage to make herself feel more enlightened. It is Blackmore who wants to put her hands over her ears and not listen to dissent, dissent in the form of people walking out on her.

References

1. Blackmore, Sue. "A hundred walked out of my lecture." The Richard Dawkins Foundation. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/a-hundred-walked-out-of-my-lecture/
2. Blackmore, Ibid.
3. Blackmore, Ibid.
4. "Why Choose ORA?" Oxford Royal Academy. Web. http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/ora/why-choose-ora Accessed 22 August 2014.
5. "Religions." The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. Web. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html Accessed 22 August 2014.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forrest Gump and Jesus' Resurrection

The Jesus-Mythers are growing. For the uninitiated, the Jesus-Mythers are a small but growing group of atheists who don't merely doubt the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but hold that he never really existed at all. They believe he was a complete fabrication by the various Gospel writers, who used a standard formula of a dying and rising messiah to attract others to their newly-forged faith. In his book Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus, Earl Doherty opens with this claim:
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.

We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence.

Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed, almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years.1
Here, Doherty makes clear the basic outline of how he believes the Jesus story began. But there are problems with this view, not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us he was a Pharisee and full of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:5-6), so much so he actively persecuted Christians (Phil 3:6,1 Corinthians 15:9). But Paul writes that he was changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells the story of Jesus dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. Paul writes that Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles such as Peter and the church leader James, but Jesus also appeared directly to him.

Here's the problem for Doherty: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before the Gospel of Mark was written. 1 Corinthians is recognized to have been written between AD 53 and AD 55—only twenty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross—while Mark may be dated anywhere from the late 50s to the early 60s. Also, Paul says the story preceded him ("I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" v. 3), so the account of Jesus as a resurrected Messiah must be much older than Mark.

The Forrest Gump Connection

I've written before about how the time element makes it unlikely that the resurrection story could have grown as myth. But let's say the Mythers just got their timetable wrong and someone intentionally created the Jesus myth just around 30 AD, the time He was supposed to be crucified. Then let's say that they added historical details, such as Pilate's prefectorate or Caiaphas's priesthood to add legitimacy to the story. Couldn't that have happened?

Well, no. For a modern day equivalent, we can look at the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was made in 1994, some twenty years ago and the same time span that exists between the resurrection and 1 Corinthians. In Forrest Gump, the filmmaker tells the story of modern American culture by placing the fictitious character played by Tom Hanks in real world scenarios and events. He gets details right, like the jogging trend, the way the president would greet college champions, and so forth.

Now, imagine a high-ranking militant who fought to establish the Taliban's rule and is passionate about establishing Islamic Sharia law the world over. He sacrificed himself for the mujahedeen, and is convinced that every belief other than Islam is blasphemy. The Taliban member sees the movie Forrest Gump, sees that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants exist and knows enough of the history of the US to know that the film reflects history in some way. Maybe he even believes that Forrest Gump did exist somewhere. Would any of that make him renounce his affinity to Islam and the Taliban and become an active crusader for Forrest Gump and the American way? Does anyone think such a carefully crafted tale would reverse everything the Taliban official holds to be true?

Such a conclusion lacks credibility. Why would Paul convert unless he had a deep, life-changing experience that shook him to his core? That's what he claimed happened; Paul tells us that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him directly. The book of Acts fills in some details, but Paul was compelled to change his beliefs not because of a tale told to him, but because he had a real experience with the risen Jesus.

In order to believe that Jesus is a myth, one must indulge in a tale more fantastic than Hollywood. Because of Paul's conversion and his early recording of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jesus-Mythers are on extremely flimsy ground. Paul and his authorship of 1 Corinthians are undisputed by scholars. Even skeptic John Dominic Crossan says that "we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul" and lists 1 Corinthians and Philippians among them.2 This is why New Testament scholar and critic of Christianity Bart Ehrman said "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology."3For a skeptic of Christianity, that's pretty conclusive.

References

1. Doherty, Earl. Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus. (Age of Reason Publications, 2009). Kindle Edition.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. "The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?" The Huffington Post. 5 July 2011. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/apostle-paul-letters_b_890387.html
3. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. 20 March 2012. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html
 Photo Credit: Ricknightcrawler via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Atheists contradict themselves by seeking invocations

Many times when I have debated atheists, they assert that they don't need to prove their atheism. As Richard Carrier put it, "It is not necessarily incumbent upon me to provide evidence for atheism. I mean if we say that aliens don't exist, then I don't have to prove to you that they don't exist; rather, you need to prove to me they do, or that there are fairies in the woods or demons or so forth. The claimant has to actually establish the fact."1 The common refrain that atheism is not a belief but simply a lack of belief shows up over and over, even though atheists are making a truth-claim about the world.

Here's the interesting thing, though. When placed in other contexts, atheists themselves deny this position. Take government meetings as an example. After the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Greece v. Galloway that opening local legislative meetings in prayer was constitutional2, the Central Florida Freethought Community took a different tack; they decided to petition to offer invocations at various government meetings, even providing a model letter so that other atheist groups could do likewise.

Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority on Greece v. Galloway, captured the purpose of offering an invocation:

The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing…

The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation can be done with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. 3
But this is exactly where the atheist has a problem. If an invocation is to point to a higher purpose and to recognize specific religious beliefs, then it follows that invocations are ways of communicating a faith, which means that there are real claims being made about the nature of the world. The freethinkers, in asking to offer invocations, are asserting a belief system. Therefore, to claim that they bear no burden of proof is absurd.

Imagine a group petitioning a city council to provide an invocation on the grounds that there are no aliens or fairies in the world. They would immediately be rejected because the fact that they don't believe such things cannot support any kind of meaningful invocation. It would do exactly what Kennedy said invocations shouldn't: it would mock other belief systems.

Atheists here are caught in a contradiction. Either they are simply holding to the non-existence of an entity or they are advancing a particular belief system, complete with claims about man, the universe, origins, morality, and the nature of reality. They can't have it both ways. Seeking invocation opportunities betrays the atheist's claim that they simply lack belief. it's a contradiction, and contradictions about the fundamental nature of a worldview by its adherents underscore its implausibility.

References

1. Transcript from "Esposito vs. Carrier, The Great God Debate: Does God Exist?" Come Reason Ministries. 2012. Available at http://www.comereason.org/tools/default.asp?mode=category&dt=4&pcid=20

2. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_bpm1.pdf . Web. 5 Mar. 2014.

3 Town of Greece, 19, 23.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting until you feel your faith is dangerous

It's no secret that we live in an age of instant gratification. Crave Mexican food? Restaurants are minutes away. Wondering what other films you've seen that celebrity has starred in? Simply pull out your phone and Google his name. How is your investment portfolio doing? You can log in anytime to check your stocks. I can even use the Internet to see how much electricity my house uses hour by the hour.

While there are clear advantages in living in an age where our wants can be met with ease, there are also dangers. Of course, many have written on the problem of distraction in our wired world, and how much more kids expect to attain a level of notoriety than in the past. But what concerns me more is the expectation of immediate satisfaction as the measure of truth. As our technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to having our desires accommodated immediately. We now expect to satisfy even the feelings of longing or relationship. Facebook provides the illusion of connection. So, what happens when someone seeking a relationship with God but doesn't feel him?

That is exactly the question I was asked a couple of days ago. One of the ministry opportunities I have is serving with the Harvest Crusade, a large evangelistic outreach that just wrapped up a three day event in Southern California. People watching the event online have the ability to request a chat with an online counselor. Some of those requests come to me and I will answer whatever questions or concerns they voice.

This last weekend, I was talking with a young viewer from Japan. He wrote that he was very disturbed because he felt his "troubled heart keeps me in dark" and that he couldn't see God or receive any good news. He basically explained that he couldn't know God because he couldn't feel Him. The idea that one must feel in order to believe is becoming more common; I'm hearing more of it all the time. But to limit one's understanding of truth to only that which one can feel is not only foolhardy, but dangerous! I may feel like I haven't spent much money this month, but if I go by my feelings, I'll soon be overdrawn.

As an illustration, I asked this young man if he was familiar with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that happens when people allow their bodies to overheat due to weather and activity. Mostly occurring during summer, folks will be busy participating in outdoor activities and forget to drink enough water or to cool down. They may not feel thirsty, but their body temperature rises to a point where their organs can be permanently damaged.Doctors will instruct athletes and others outdoors to drink plenty of water even if they don't feel thirsty. It isn't the feeling that matters; the body needs to cool down and consuming liquids is how it accomplishes that. Similarly, no one should rely only of feeling God's presence as a way to determine if they may be accepted by him. You can know that God cares for you because of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. We have the evidence to know that the resurrection is a real event in history. By looking at the facts that the Bible offers instead of your feelings, you can get a better picture of the truth.
Photo courtesy Markus Schoepke. Licenced by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beyond Science: Understanding Real Knowledge

In previous articles, I looked at how many people make the mistake of assuming that science is the only way we can know something is true. We showed how this view, known as scientism, must be false since it is self-refuting. This time, I thought we'd look at the idea of how we know that we know anything at all and how to better understand the differences between knowledge and beliefs.

Types of Knowledge

Philosophers have spent a lot of time on understanding what it means when we say we know this or that. In their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig identify three basic types of knowing. The most basic type is knowledge by acquaintance which is simply that you have had some type of direct experience with an object or idea and therefore know it to be true. The authors offer an example of "I know the ball is in front of me." Because the ball is directly present in your conscious experience, you can confidently know that statement to be true. 1

A more debated aspect of this type of knowledge is basic mathematic statements and logical deductions. Some philosophers argue that we know 2+2=4 in the same sense that we know a ball is in front of us. It is directly perceived as true. You don't have to go out and observe 2+2 in different environments around the world or around the universe to confidently hold that he product will always turn out to be 4. We understand that it just is that way. Similarly, we experience the same type of understanding when we argue in this way: All men are born. Socrates was a man; therefore Socrates must have been born. That is a logical argument, but we know it to be true directly.

A second way we know something is through know-how. Know-how defines certain skills or abilities one may possess. When someone claims "I know how to play golf", they are expressing knowledge of ability. Moreland and Craig point out that knowledge of the laws or mechanics is not necessary to hold this type of knowledge. They write "For example, one can know how to adjust one's swing for a curve ball without consciously being aware that one's stride is changing or without knowing any background theory of hitting technique." 2

The third type of knowledge is what is usually debated the most. Known as propositional knowledge this type of knowledge deals with statements that make some kind of claim to fact. Statements such as "I know Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States", "I know our Sun is 93 million mionles away" or "I know humans evolved from apes" are all propositional statements.

Justified True Beliefs

One of the reasons propositional knowledge has been debated is because it has been more difficult than other types of knowledge to define completely and accurately. One of the most foundational definitions of propositional knowledge is the concept of "justified true beliefs" that Plato offered in his writing "Theaetetus". Plato said that if we claim to know something, then what we claim must indeed be true. If a claim is not true, then we didn't really know it; we were mistaken. Further, if we claim to know something we must actually believe the claim to be true. It makes no sense to know something but not to believe it. If I say, "I know the ball is on the floor, but I don't believe the ball is on the floor" I've spoken nonsense.

So truth and belief are what we would call necessary conditions for knowledge. For knowledge to exist, they must both be present. However, they are not sufficient conditions for knowing. Many people believe things, and those beliefs may in fact be true, but that doesn't mean they know those things. Take the statement "I know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night." Now, it may be the case that Jones did indeed have roast beef for dinner, and it may be the case that I truly believe Jones had roast beef for dinner, but by making that assertion without any basis, I've just guessed the right answerand thus cannot be taken as knowledge.

In order to truly know something, there must be some acceptable reason to hold that belief. Justified true belief is believing something that is true with good reason. If I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because it's a Monday and he always has roast beef on Mondays, and I smelled roast beef coming from his home, I have good reasons to believe Jones in fact had roast beef. That is a justified belief that can be counted as knowledge. If, however, I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because I consulted my Magic 8 Ball, that's not knowledge since the reasons I've given are spurious. It becomes the same as guessing.

Knowledge and the Limits of Science

So why does all of this knowledge stuff matter? Because it helps us understand what is real knowledge and what isn't. When looking at scientific propositions, we understand we can know certain things like the speed at which an object falls or what chemical reaction is necessary to produce nitro-glycerin. Science deals with observations of the material world, so these are justified beliefs; we can say we can know such things through science. However, for other claims, such as whether God exists or whether DNA is the proper basis for measuring the similarities between humans and other animals, science has no justification to make claims of knowledge.

You see, science can only tell us facts about the material world. By definition, science has no way of meaningfully commenting on the many other ways we know things. Science can tell us whether a person's heart is beating faster and he is sweating, but it must fall silent as to whether the cause of that reaction is lying or love. Similarly, science cannot tell us about the most unique aspect of humanity, that is the human soul. When looking at propositions such as the existence of God, science has no way of "testing for God-ness". However, I can know through reasoning that universe began to exist and whatever begins to exist must have a cause. 3 I can therefore conclude that if whatever exists must have a cause and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause: God. That is a belief that has strong justification for it. It is knowledge that is outside the scope of science, but it is probably a more authoritative basis for knowing.

So, even though popular culture looks to the scientist to tell them "the facts" about all things, science is really woefully inadequate to explain many aspects of reality. Scientists may presupposes certain things like miracles cannot happen or there is no God, and then formulate other theories. But that's not knowledge, that's presupposition. Personal experience, emotions, reason, logic, and revelation all address truth-claims and all can be justifiable in their proper instances. To limit one's self to science in order to gain knowledge is like trying to build a house with only a hammer. A hammer can pound nails, but you wouldn't want to use it to drive a screw and it would be completely useless to cut wood.

References

1.Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
(Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 2003). 72.
2. Ibid. 73.
3. See my article "What the Kalam tells us about God's existence"
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