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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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Friday, December 19, 2014

A (Not Too) Serious Christmas Quiz

With Christmas rapidly approaching, mainstream media fills its coffers with tales of how Jesus never existed or why the traditional Christmas tale cannot be believed.  Therefore, I think it’s time for another of my a bit tongue-in-cheek quizzes, this time focusing on Christmas and its history. For previous quizzes, check here and here.


  1. It’s believed that early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 because:
    1. If it was any earlier, stores would be hanging Christmas decorations right after the Fourth of July.
    2. Given the complexity of assembling bikes and wagons, it needed to be one of the longest nights of the year.
    3. They followed a tradition that Jesus’ death (thought to be on March 25 AD 30) would also be the anniversary of His conception.
    4. Only those crazy Orthodox Christians want to hear Perry Como and Bing Crosby after the New Year begins.
  2. How do we know that the Magi did not show up until up to two years after Jesus’ birth?
    1. Because they’re men and they would have never asked for directions.
    2. Because Matthew 2:11 describes Jesus and Mary now living in a house, and after Herod “determined from them the exact time the star appeared” gave an edict to kill all male children two years and younger.
    3. It took them that long to wrap the gifts.
    4. The roads from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem are always jammed with holiday traffic.
  3. The accomplishments of the real St. Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century, include:
    1. His later life in politics running against Burgermeister Meisterburger.
    2. Being a true proto-hipster and ushering in the beard-cult.
    3. Inspiring Nicholas Cage’s parents with an Internet-meme worthy name.
    4. Attending the Council of Nicea and supporting the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, even to the extent of purportedly punching the heretic Arius in the face.
  4. The Immaculate Conception refers to:
    1. The Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin in order to bear the savior.
    2. A new brand of cleaning product.
    3. A brilliant idea for a concept car… and definitely NOT the clay model of the AMC Pacer or Gremlin.
    4. No-mess adoption.
  5. Bible scholars believe that since Bethlehem was such as small town, Jesus was most likely not born in a cave but in a back room of a relative’s home. The misconception stems from:
    1. The Greek word katalyma which is translated “guest chamber” and could be used for a guest room or an Inn. It was also used in Mark 14:14 when Jesus sent his disciples to find a place to eat the Passover meal.
    2. The need to give the kids who cannot act but only shake their heads “no” some kind of part in the Christmas play.
    3. How dumb our Nativity scenes would look if an angel was perched on the roof next to a television antenna.
    4. No one wanted their relatives to think that extended stays are somehow Biblical.
  6. The Christmas phrase “Peace on Earth, Good will towards Men” refers to:
    1. A misogynistic greeting that has no place in our cis-gendered society.
    2. What you tell the store clerk when you’re trying to return that ugly sweater without a receipt.
    3. God’s goodwill act of providing His Son as the way men could have peace with Him.
    4. An archaic greeting which has been replaced by the now more popular “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”
  7. The practice of abbreviating Christmas as “Xmas” began because:
    1. Large X’s would be placed on children’s back fences, serving as targets for their Red Ryder BB Guns.
    2. It’s how people were crossed off the pot luck list if they ever showed up with a fruitcake.
    3. Because people come into Christmas day eXhausted with their cash eXtinguished.
    4. The X is not crossing out Jesus, but it represents the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter for the Greek word Christ (Χριστοζ).
  8. Early Church Father Tertullian taught that the Magi were instructed to leave “by another way” because:
    1. Holiday traffic would be a killer.
    2. They wanted to see the Dead Sea and maybe pick up some souvenirs at the gift shop.
    3. Given their reliance on astrology and magic, the command symbolized God telling them to change their superstitious belief system.
    4. They had a booking to perform a magic show for a Bar-Mitzvah in Joppa.
  9. The 12 Days of Christmas refers to:
    1. Proof that any gift larger than “five golden rings” is completely unmemorable.
    2. The twelve days beginning Christmas Day and ending January 6 at the Feast of the Epiphany, where some Christians have historically given gifts.
    3. How long it feels waiting in line to purchase those gifts the last days before Christmas.
    4. Each of the days network television will air It’s A Wonderful Life.
  10. The Virgin birth is central to the Christmas story because:
    1. It fulfilled the prophecies given of the Messiah in Gen 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14.
    2. It’s the only time the sermon of the real Parson Brown is more interesting than that of the snowman Parson Brown.
    3. It gives those folks at the Discovery Channel a chance at another “documentary” seeking to debunk something.
    4. Mary saturated everyone’s Instagram and Facebook timelines with baby pictures.
Answers:  1:C,   2:B,  3:D,  4:A,  5:A,  6:C,  7:D,  8:C,  9:B,  10:A

Image from A Christmas Story © 1983 Warner Bros. Movies. Used in accordance with fair use.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Can I Celebrate Peace on Earth With Tragedy In My Life?

This past week, the headlines have been especially horrifying. A crazed terrorist takes hostages in a Sydney chocolate shop, killing two people including a woman shielding a pregnant woman from the gunman. The Taliban kills nearly 130 school children in Pakistan. How can the promise of Christmas, the season of peace on earth and goodwill towards men be realized with such evil going on?


Actually, the question isn't new. In a Huffington Post article entitled "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" Robert Fuller said that he wondered the same thing even as a child:
My take-away questions from Sunday School were:
  • Why are moral precepts—even those that everyone accepts—widely ignored?
  • Why has "peace on Earth, goodwill toward Men" not been realized?
I wondered about this gap between the ideal and the reality as World War II raged, as the Holocaust was revealed, and as Japan surrendered to American atom bombs. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that religion's most serious short-coming was not that it harbored "deniers" of well-established science models, but that it had not found a way to realize its own aspirational goals.1

Looking For Candy Canes in Coal Mines

I think that a lot of people feel the same way as Robert. They watch the various Christmas specials, they see the slogans painted on storefront windows, yet they think that the Christmas promise of peace and goodwill is just as illusory as the story of a jolly old elf sliding down your chimney. But these folks are starting in the wrong spot. They're like people who shop for stocking stuffers in a coal mine. You'll never find toys and candy there. The reality is that this world is fallen. It's filled with men who are corrupted by sin and if left to themselves would never seek peace with one another.

But that's exactly why the Christmas message is so joyful. God hasn't left us to ourselves; He sent His only Son to earth to save us from our fate. In announcing the birth of Jesus, the angels weren't asking human beings to be nice to one another. They were announcing that God has provided a way for peace between Himself and mankind. God was exhibiting goodwill toward men in giving them a Savior. See how Luke 2:14 is rendered in different translations:

Translations of Luke 2:14

New International Version Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
New Living Translation Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.
English Standard Version Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
New American Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
King James Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Holman Christian Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
NET Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!

As you can see, the responsibility is God's and the action is towards mankind. That's why Christians should celebrate Christmas even during the most difficult of circumstances. I know it can be hard to feel the Christmas spirit when the bills are piling, health is threatened, or tragedy is pushing in all around you. Yet, Christmas proves that God has better plans for us. Perhaps we won't see that this year, or even the next. Our hope lies ultimately in our destiny where God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Rev 21:4, ESV). That hope began by lying in a manger in Bethlehem and was proven on Calvary's cross.

I feel sorry for folks like Robert Fuller. He thinks that Christianity fails because we aren't getting any better. (Actually, Christianity has dramatically improved the lot of humanity in demonstrable ways.)But the promise of a world of peace and goodwill isn't found by those who work for it. It has been offered as a free gift to those who believe on Him who God has sent (John 3:16, Romans 10:9). Unless you claim that gift, Christmas will always be a disappointment.

References

1. Fuller, Robert. "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 July 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-fuller/whatever-happened-to-peace-on-earth-goodwill-toward-men_b_1644922.html.
Image courtesy John and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable

Naturalism is simply unbelievable. I don't mean unbelievable in the fantastical sense, although I do think there's a lot of hand-waving that goes on to try and excise any supernatural explanation as to why we exist. I mean, the viewpoint is unbelievable in that its own assumptions destroy itself. It is illogical to hold to naturalism.



The naturalist wants us to believe that the natural world is all that exists; we came about through evolutionary processes and our minds are one of the products of that process. Given the survival of the fittest paradigm that rives evolution, the naturalist must also assert "What your beliefs are don't matter nearly as much as what the survival value of your actions are." In fact, they do this when discussing religion all the time. Religion isn't true, they would assert, but it served an evolutionary purpose.

To use an example, picture an overweight man who is running. Now, the man may believe he has a better chance at survival if he runs because he puts his body in better shape, reduces the chances of heart attacks, and is generally more fit for the tasks of survival. However, the man may equally believe that running is an act of worship to the life-god and it drives out the fat demons that plague much of his tribe. Either belief produces the same result: the man runs and the man has an increased chance of longevity. Either belief helps him survive equally well. It doesn't matter which is true on an evolutionary worldview because evolution is all about survivability.

Reason Offers No Evolutionary Advantage

Because all evolution cares about is the survival of the individual, reason alone offers no evolutionary advantage. In fact, evolutionary theory proves this. According to all New-Darwinian models, there was a time on the earth where there existed no rational thought whatsoever! Animals were primitive and they had no capacity to reason, yet they survived just fine. They mere responded to external stimuli and adjusted their behavior. They don't know why the water is here and not somewhere else; they simply desire water.

This is why you can get a pet dog or cat to chase a flashlight beam or laser pointer on the floor. The dog bites at it and it isn't there, yet he will continue to chase the beam! Your pet is simply responding to stimuli. They aren't thinking abstractly. A dog never wonders it's like to be a cat!

Knowing that the earth circles the sun as opposed to the sun circling the earth gives us no evolutionary advantage whatsoever. We gain nothing in terms of the advantage to put food in our stomachs or to shelter us from the cold nights. This is because reason and responses are categorically different kinds of things. There is a difference between neural stimulation and mental reflection. The naturalist will say "All reason is is a process of neural stimulation" but C.S. Lewis argued that natural selection only operates by eliminating biologically harmful responses and increasing responses linked to better survival. He writes:
It is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn [the animal's thoughts] into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relationship between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known.1

Beliefs Can be Counter-Intuitive

Sometimes we have to believe things that are completely counter-intuitive based on our stimulus. Exercise is a good example of this. For me, it is counter-intuitive when lying in my comfortable, warm bed to get up and put my body in a situation designed to cause strain and pain. So the desire to exercise doesn't come from external stimuli, but from our reasoning capabilities. We do the things that are counter intuitive to everything the body is telling us because we have a reasoned that that's a better way to go. It doesn't make sense evolutionary because the benefits are a long way off.

 Alvin Plantinga agrees when he writes:
Fleeing predators, finding food and mates — these things require cognitive devices that in some way track crucial features of the environment, and are appropriately connected with muscles; but they do not require true belief, or even belief at all.

The long-term survival of organisms of a certain species certainly makes it likely that its members enjoy cognitive devices that are successful in tracking those features of the environment — indicators, as I've been calling them. Indicators, however, need not involve beliefs (emphasis added).2
There are many of our beliefs that lie completely outside the realm of evolutionary advantage at all. The belief that evolution is true is one of these. The problem is the evolutionist doesn't have good grounds for holding to his own evolutionary tale, since the evolutionary framework gives no grounds for holding that any of his beliefs are true. If evolution is true, then reason isn't trustworthy. How does one escape that when every belief the naturalist has is a product of evolution? Assuming naturalism is to doubt the reliability of reason itself.

References

1. Lewis, C. S. "Miracles." 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 317. Print.

2. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 329. Print.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the 'Atheist Invocation' Really Demonstrates

Isn't it interesting that offense can be used as a weapon by atheists in so many different ways. The push by college campuses in banning Christian clubs is supposedly based on being non-discriminatory so as not to offend a non-Christian who may want to be president of said club. (Huh?) Atheists are offended as seeing crosses on city property so they threaten lawsuits to have them removed. Atheists see this danger of offense as so great that peoples' freedom of assembly, freedom of beliefs, and freedom to their livelihood are considered fair game. But what if it's the atheist who is doing the offending?

Ridicule in the Guise of Prayer

According to the Sun-Sentinel, atheist Preston Smith petitioned to give the opening invocation at the Lake Worth City Commission Meeting in Florida. You may ask yourself how in the world can an atheist offer an invocation when they don't have anyone to pray to? The idea of petitioning a higher authority is absurd on atheist, which makes the request contradictory on its face. Yet, Smith felt that he had something to say and the City Commission obliged him and provided him with the time to open the proceedings.


You can watch Smith's speech here, however, a transcript of it appears below:
Our collective atheism — which is to say, loving empathy, scientific evidence, and critical thinking — leads us to believe that we can create a better, more equal community without religious divisions.

May we pray together.

Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things.

May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us?

And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness' sake.

And so we pray.

So what?

Not an Invocation

Some people were upset that several commissioners and the mayor walked out of the room before Smith delivered his diatribe. But what I'm not hearing is the fact that what Smith delivered was in no way an invocation; it was a mean-spirited attack. In the recent decision by the Supreme Court that invocations are constitutional, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief." Clearly, Smith's mess of a speech violated Kennedy's caution that access to invocations should not be used as disparagement. Smith didn't want to offer a prayer, he wanted to mock and offend as many people who believe in prayer as possible and he chose this as his soapbox from which to try.

Atheist Hemant Mehta (who bills himself as "the Friendly Atheist") said "To be sure, Smith's invocation is not the one I would've given, but that's not the point. The point is that if the commissioners aren't happy with this, there's a simple solution: Do away with invocations altogether. Stop wasting time with prayer and get down to business. Otherwise, they should expect more of these in the future." No, that isn't the point. Atheists don't get to claim offense at having to sit through prayers and then say offense is OK because they wielded it. But it does show that this movement of removing crosses, seeking to ban prayers, and even barring school children from trying to help the poor is not at the fringes of the atheists' value system.

In commenting on the unbelievers of his day, Charles Simmons put it best:
Ridicule - a fool's first and last argument.

The ridiculous is what fools remember longest. Deists in general attack Christianity by ridicule. This is their most powerful, and perhaps their most successful, weapon. All persons can laugh but all cannot reason. This mode of attacking Christianity answers purposes which can be effected no other way; for ridicule is unanswerable. Who can refute a sneer? It is independent of proof, reason, or argument; and as well be used against facts as against falsehood.

Ridicule is no argument but rather a proof of the want of it and the weakness of a cause.2
Smith's mockery and contempt for the privilege of solemnizing a civic meeting should be derided. If you don't believe in prayer then please don't petition to pray before a town meeting. To do what Smith did is offensive to the values of the Constitution and even other atheists should rebuke him for it.

References

1.Mayo, Michael. "Mayo: Lake Worth Commissioners Walk out on Atheist Invocation." Sun-Sentinel.com. Tribune Interactive, Inc, 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/michael-mayo-blog/sfl-mayo-lake-worth-atheist-walkout-20141209-story.htm
2.
Simmons, Charles. A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker Containing over a Thousand Subjects, Alphabetically and Systematically Arranged. Toronto: R. Dick, 1853. Print. 463.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Resurrection is Central to the History of Jesus

While some people hold that Jesus the Messiah is simply a mythical character, a much greater majority of people believe that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived in first century Palestine. They hold that the resurrection of Jesus is simply a later addition to the life of a wise teacher who created a compelling moral code for others to follow. However, William Paley (of  the argument of design of the eye fame) shows one reason why such an idea is ridiculous in its face.
The history of the resurrection of Christ is a part of the evidence of Christianity: but I do not know whether the proper strength of this passage of the Christian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evidence, consists, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the resurrection ought to be accounted a more decisive proof of supernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that as it stands in the Gospels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain that the apostles of Christ, and the first teachers of Christianity, asserted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four Gospels had been lost, or never written. Every piece of Scripture recognizes the resurrection. Every epistle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, concur in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article of his history, received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians, as alleged from the beginning by the propagators of the institution, and alleged as the center of their testimony. Nothing I apprehend which a man does not himself see or hear can be more certain to him than this point. (Emphasis added.)

William Paley, quoted in A New Edition of Archdeacon Paley's View Of The Evidences Of Christianity Comprising The Text Of Paley, Verbatim. Cambridge: W. Metcalfe, 1831. 339-340.e-book available at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdid=book-Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdot=1
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