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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, December 30, 2011

A Psalm for the New Year


My devotions today happened to include Psalm 20, in which Israel prayed to God and thanked Him for their fortunes, asked Him to respond to their troubles and reminded themselves of His power. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." I think this is a great psalm to reflect on as we close out one year and begin another. It also makes a great prayer for the New Year.

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!
   May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
   and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
     and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!   Selah
May he grant you your heart's desire
   and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
   and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!


Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
   he will answer him from his holy heaven
   with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
   but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 

They collapse and fall,
   but we rise and stand upright.

O LORD, save the king!
   May he answer us when we call.


The great encouragement of this is that we're given the answer to the people's petition in the very next Psalm--God heard David's cry and provided him with his heart's desire.  May your  year ahead hold the same promise and blessing!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ten Faith-Defending Ministries Worthy of Your Support


Recently, I saw an article by Jason Hiner entitled "Take my holiday challenge: Contribute $25 to 3 of these 10 worthy charities".  I thought this was a great idea, and while Hiner lists ten charities that are doing great work and are worthy of support, he's writing for a secular audience and doesn't include any overtly faith-based organizations.  Therefore, I decided to compile a list of ten ministries that are not well-known but are making a real difference in defending the Christian faith. Some of their leaders you may have heard of, but most of these are operating on shoestring budgets.  A gift at this time of year would be a huge help as they obey the command to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints."
So look at the list below, choose three (or more if you desire) and meet the challenge of donating $25 to each. You will truly be a blessing to them and make a difference in the Kingdom.
  1. Reasonable Faith Reasonable Faith is the nonprofit ministry of philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig, who is simply one of the most active defenders of the faith today. Craig's many debates against the most stalwart of atheists have become legendary, so much so that after debating the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, an atheist web site remarked "Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child."  Not content to rest only in the US, Bill's traveled the world over, recently getting back from a very successful tour of the UK where in the space of ten days he presented five debates and at least eight more lectures and interviews to a largely secular public.  His clear thinking and scholastic ability are unmatched.
    Support Reasonable Faith here
  2. JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center Another well-known figure in philosophy and Christian apologetics is Dr. J.P. Moreland, who authored the phenomenal Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (with Craig), Scaling the Secular City,  and many other popular books. However, most people don't know that Moreland, as an in-demand speaker, also has his own nonprofit ministry, Eidos Christian Center.  The main goal of the organization is to help support selected speakers and authors who are doing great work in promoting the Christian worldview. There are many churches and groups who may not be able to afford a speaker the caliber of Moreland, but Eidos seeks to stand in that gap, providing the funds necessary to get solid Christian thought into the minds of the larger culture. JP's been a huge influence on me in my growth as an apologist and his organization needs to be more recognized.
    Support JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center here.
  3. Stand to Reason's Brett Kunkle & Alan Shlemon Stand to Reason is one of the flagship apologetics ministries in the country.  Led by Greg Koukl, the team there is always providing top-notch teaching and material, whether on the radio,  on the web, or in person.  While STR is pretty well known, less so is its powerful student impact leader, Brett Kunkle and speaker Alan Shlemon.  Kunkle has been doing a remarkable job with junior high and high school students, preparing them for the absolute war of worldviews they will face when heading off to college.  He is the originator of the Apologetics Missions Trip concept; taking kids "in the field" to talk with atheists, Mormons, and others hostile to Christianity. Shlemon has been cutting his own path in focusing on cultural issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage, and Islam. Both gentlemen do not get paid by STR, but must raise their own support - so your gifts can mean quite a lot!
    Support Brett Kunkle   Support Alan Shlemon
  4. Mike Licona/Risen JesusMike Licona has gained a rather elevated profile lately.  In his monumental work, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Licona delivers over 700 pages of support for the contention that the resurrection of Christ is as strong a fact of ancient history as there ever can be. However, because he also honestly included a few paragraphs that explain his struggle with the best way to approach Matthew 27:52, he's been let go from his previous ministry position and is now creating his own apologetics nonprofit. Licona's scholarship is outstanding, with many talking about his book replacing N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God as the new standard work on the topic. As a new organization, Licona really needs your support.
    Support Mike Licona/Risen Jesus
  5. Evangelical Philosophical Society If all your favorite apologists could be considered superheroes in battling worldviews, the Evangelical Philosophical Society would be the Hall of Justice where they all congregate.  The EPS has done a stellar job putting out one of the top-ranked scholarly journals on the philosophy of religion (Philosophia Christi) as well as the annual EPS Meeting where scholars can meet and discuss the latest issues in the field of apologetics. Beyond the academic arena, they host the annual EPS Apologetics Conference, where each of the over 30 speakers present for free in order to keep the costs down for the general public.  The EPS basically covers their costs with memberships and subscriptions, so any donations provide a bit of a cushion to the great work they do.
    Support the EPS
  6. Illustra Media We live in a visual age and if you want to get your message across, you will need to do so visually. Concepts such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum or the origin of life are especially difficult to discuss without a model.  Luckily, apologists have Illustra Media to handle the tough task of making compelling DVDs on such intricate topics - and they do so with beauty and finesse. Using computer animation along with interviews from high-visibility personalities such as Lee Strobel and Dr. Stephen Meyer, Illustra makes a compelling case for the Creator that is as faith affirming as it is awe inspiring. All this even though the two founders operate basically out of their house!
    Support Illustra Media here
  7. International Society for Women  in Apologetics I know a lot of people think that the geeky ideas of textual criticism or the biological challenges to life's origin are not going to resonate with women, but there is a definite need for female apologists, and the ISWA is seeking to make that happen.  When you think about it, who is the first person to hear questions from kids about what their teachers just taught them in school?  It's going to be Mom, so Christian women better be trained in how to understand and effectively answer these issues. Sarah Ankenman has put together an organization seeking to speak the language of 52% of the population (that's ladies, friends) and provide insights that men simply don't have.  We need more of these!
    Support ISWA here
  8. Mary Jo Sharp/Confident Christianity Speaking of women in apologetics, Mary Jo Sharp has not only embraced her calling, but she's running with full gusto. From conference speaker to author to a couple of very stimulating debates against Islamic scholars, Mary Jo and Confident Christianity are showing what an apologetics ministry with focus and purpose can accomplish - even with a miniscule budget. Her clear style resonates well with both students and women's groups. A donation here could help Confident Christianity cover travel expenses so she can reach even more people with a smart and winsome Christian faith.
    Support Confident Christianity here
  9. Ratio Christi Ratio Christi is a unique organization reaching out to college students. Rather than creating a whole new ministry, they leverage existing Christian clubs and study groups on college campuses and universities across the country, and pair them up with a trained apologist who can help answer the tough questions that students or their professors will invariably raise. The idea of meeting people where they are is practical and I love the idea of empowering apologists to come out of the study (or away from the computer screen) and meet real students with real needs.
    Support Ratio Christi here.
  10. Apologetics 315 Ever since Brian Auten got the itch to blog his apologetics homework back around 2007, Apologetics 315 has been one of the top resource sites for gathering and disseminating apologetics information.  The weekly apologist interviews along with the Top 16 Apologetics podcasts and the growing list of apologetics ministries and materials put Brian at the forefront of internet resources for both apologists and lay people. The site doesn't yet have a donation function as it isn't a fully qualified nonprofit, but you may want to contribute anyway.
    Contact Apologetics 315 here
There we are. These are ten different apologetics organizations that could really use your support. For $75 you can be a huge blessing to these organizations and also truly help advance the Christian worldview. Of course, if you'd like to make your donation amount come to an even $100, you may also consider supporting the work we do here at Come Reason Ministries. On only a couple thousand dollars we were able to touch over 200 countries online, share the gospel at four different colleges, and provide instruction to some 300 people through our classes and speaking engagements. This year we hope to do more.

Blessings to you this Christmas season and during the New Year.  May we continue to take every thought captive for Christ.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Nature of Giving Thanks

"He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God." -Romans 14:6a


Thanksgiving is here again and many in the United States will give thanks for their abundant blessings before sharing a family meal with loved ones. Television shows will air episodes where the main characters will inevitably state how they are thankful for good friends, family and their contentment. Others around the world may also be prompted to reflect on the provisions and protection that has been afforded them. If you are reading this post, you have been blessed with modern conveniences such as a computer and the ability to tap into the largest collection of knowledge in history.

I'm glad to see a momentary repose where individuals recognize that we live in a time unlike an other in human history. Most in the western world don't worry about whether they will eat today; they are more concerned with more the opaque concerns of perhaps how they can afford the extravagances of Christmas. But I recognize that in the very concept of thanksgiving, there's a tacit recognition of giver and receiver. In other words, if you are thankful for your present advantages, you must be thankful to someone. It makes no sense to say that you are thankful, but that thanks is attributed to the laws of nature. Imagine being thankful to gravity for holding you to the earth.  Similarly, it makes no sense to be thankful to luck, for luck is simply a word we use to talk about an arbitrary outcome.  There's no motivation behind luck; it is by definition purposeless and blind. To be thankful for purposelessness is silly.

Giving thanks is in fact expressing the opposite of purposelessness—you are humbled by your advantages and acknowledge that someone provided the circumstances that allowed you to have such advantages. You are thankful that you were not merely  left to the hard laws of nature and the fickle fate of purposelessness. That means that you must be thankful to a someone who has control over those aspects of your situation. You can be thankful to your employer for hiring you, since he or she controls who gets hired.  But to be thankful for family, friends, and the blessings of the 21st century, that requires thanking a Someone who controls the very aspects of existence itself. By being thankful for such things, one must be thankful to God, for thanking anyone or anything else makes as much sense as thanking gravity or luck.

So, be thankful today. And if you're thankful, remember that it is in itself evidence for the existence of God, for only He can provide the reason for which we do give thanks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A (Not Too) Serious Christian History Quiz

October 31 is both Reformation Day and All Soul's Eve, a very historic time for Christendom.  The modern church, though, seems to have historical amnesia as to its rich history.  Americans especially, who would never forget the Fourth of July or the Civil War, sit in blissful ignorance of the heritage of their faith.



Therefore I thought today fitting to have a little fun and teach a little history at the same time.  Check out the questions below and see how many people, places and events you recognize. Look up some that you don't. You'll be the better for it!

1. When Christians have a discussion about Origen, they are:
  1. At Comic-Con debating the spelling for the name of the next Christian superhero.
  2. Fighting over how long ago the earth was created.
  3. Trying to discover who invented the first anti-pain dental gel.
  4. Discussing one of the early church fathers and martyrs, who fought against Gnosticism and had controversial views on the nature of Jesus' subordination and the pre-existence of souls.
2. Milvian Bridge is:
  1. A card game Christians used to play to pass time in the catacombs.
  2. The scene of a battle where Constantine converted to Christianity and became sole emperor of Rome, thus allowing Christians to worship openly.
  3. A promising new dental apparatus.
  4. The route one would take to grandmother Milva's house.
3. Arianism is:
  1. The heretical belief that Jesus is the first created being of God the Father.
  2. A love of all things Little Mermaid.
  3. The name given to the Joseph Smith doctrine that only white people can attain the highest heaven.
  4. The heretical belief that the Windows-based font is somehow preferred over Helvetica.
4. The Council of Nicea is:
  1. The first Council which Christians were instructed to "be-a Nicea" to each other (said with an Italian accent.)
  2. A council held just so that The Da Vinci Code could later point to it and say "That's where people decided to choose which books would be included in the Bible" even though the canon was never discussed there.
  3. The meeting where the Fellowship of the Nine decided to travel to Mordor.
  4. The first ecumenical Council, held in 325 AD, to affirm the divinity of Christ and established the official creed of Christendom.
5. The early church father Augustine of Hippo was known for:
  1. His extreme weight, which earned him his surname.
  2. His strange penchant to only write in the eighth month of the year.
  3. Being one of the pivotal fathers of the early church who shaped not only the church, but all of Western thought after him. Among other things, he defined evil as a privation of good.
  4. His love of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, especially that scary part when ears are wiggling and bubbles are blowing.
6. The Hypostatic Union refers to:
  1. How the divine and human natures of Christ are combined into one person.
  2. Emergency Room nurses championing a cause of organized labor.
  3. A new coalition of nations led by Greece and Italy leveraging their financial troubles to make sure the European economy never grows again.
  4. A club of statisticians who record the number of ADHD children across the country.
7. St. Thomas' Five Ways are:
  1. Part of the map showing "all roads lead to Rome." An intersection was later reconstructed in Sydney, Australia based on this model.
  2. A very popular hamburger chain during the Middle Ages.
  3. The instructions on proceeding through a four-way stop in downtown Los Angeles.
  4. Five arguments that serve as proof to the existence of God given the contingency of the observable world. 
8. The Diet of Worms is:
  1. Another name for fish food.
  2. The newest trend from Beverly Hills the Kardashians are selling.
  3. The assembly of the Holy Roman Empire where Martin Luther made his famous stand.
  4. A problem to be wary of when eating in third world restaurants.
9. Pascal's famous wager is:
  1. "Paperboy in the Fifth" – a tip he later passed on to Bugs Bunny.
  2. Betting he can successfully complete his 12-step Gambler's Anonymous program before you.
  3. Believing pale colors would be more popular if they were applied in crayon form.
  4. All men must choose between belief in the Christian God or non-belief. If reason cannot with certainty prove the existence of God, one would be more reasonable to hold to Christianity since if true, one stands to gain infinite joy and there is no downside if false. However, non-belief holds no joy in its affirmation and the danger of infinite suffering if false.
10.   The "Burned-Over" district refers to:
  1. An area of upper and western New York in the early 1800's that had been the location of so many tent revivals it made Charles Finney remark there were was no "fuel" (unconverted people) left to "burn" (be saved).  This area later became the starting point for many American heretical movements.
  2. Another name for the Roman province of Pompeii.
  3. A town of zealots that considers anyone sporting a comb-over an act worthy of the stake.
  4. A very popular dining area that houses both authentic Mexican and Indian restaurants.
11.   The "Great Disappointment" in the U.S. is known as such because:
  1. The Cardinals beat the Rangers in game seven of the World Series, thus allowing Catholics to gloat over Texas Protestants.
  2. Fringe did not air on Fox because there was a game seven of the World Series.
  3. The 1970's camp Christian film "A Thief in the Night" has not been released on HD DVD.
  4. The shattered expectations and falling away from the faith that many believing the teachings of William Miller felt when Jesus did not come back in 1845 as he had predicted.  Miller's teachings later begat both the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
12.   In 1906 the Azusa Street Revival began. It is famous because:
  1. It birthed the modern Pentecostal movement and its denominations.
  2. It started the retro-renewal craze where old town main streets are renovated into shopping malls and condos are sold for overinflated prices.
  3. It kicked off the seeker sensitive concept of churches offering "everything you would want from A to Z in the U.S.A!"
  4. It was the first service to use foghorns to wake up sleeping parishioners during the sermon.
Answers:  1:D,   2:B,  3:A,  4:D,  5:C,  6:A,  7:D,  8:C,  9:D,  10:A,  11:D  12:A.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Teaching What is Unnatural - California and Homosexual Instruction

I hate trying to do a job with the wrong tools. There have been times when, for lack of a screwdriver, I've resorted to a butter knife to try and tighten a screw. If the screw fits tightly, then I usually damage the tip of the butter knife. Using a butter knife as a screwdriver can be done in a pinch, but it certainly isn't recommended and no one would say that screwdrivers make good butter knives. Each was designed for completely different functions.


Distinguishing the functions of butter knives and screwdrivers is a pretty basic task; one we use in making decisions daily. Should someone to run a hair dryer in the shower? Of course not! You can simply look at how these items are built to see their functions.  Electric hair dryers will not function properly in water, it's simple and we consider it common sense.

Now, let's use this same grid when looking at homosexual unions. When it comes to intimacy, we can look and see that homosexual unions cannot function correctly. The parts simply are not there so that intimacy can be achieved and still have the couple's bodies fit as they were designed to fit. It's simply obvious that two male or two female bodies won't couple in the same way. Therefore, homosexuals are forced to find other ways to be intimate. Do heterosexuals practice some of these "techniques"? Yes, they do, but that's not my argument. Just like sometimes using a butter knife as a screwdriver, both heterosexual and homosexual couples can use alternative means to seek sexual fulfillment. However, homosexuals have one aspect of intimacy not available to them that is available to heterosexual couples. That's the natural coupling of bodies to fit in a way that they were designed to fit. This is a huge exception! To not have this aspect of intimacy available to any couple shows that no matter what way homosexuals seek physical intimacy, it won't be the way that nature intended their bodies to be used.

Because homosexuals cannot couple in a way nature intended, it follows that homosexual unions are not natural. Homosexual unions are like construction workers who only have butter knives in their tool belts. Without the tools to function properly, no one would hire such workers to work on his or her home. You would deem them incompetent. Worse, if your son or daughter's shop class instructed the students that butter knives were an acceptable substitute for screwdrivers, you would rightly complain to the principle that unsafe practices are passing as education, and probably pull your child out of shop until the situation changes.

Starting January 1st, though, California mandates that the state's elementary schools teach children, even first graders, that homosexuality is a legitimate way for couples to function.  As this recent L.A. Times article shows, even liberal school who have upheld homosexuality as acceptable are having a hard time figuring out how to work such indoctrination into the classroom. This is simply outrageous. The danger inherent in promoting this line of thinking is far more dangerous than teaching wrong concepts in shop class. This puts the very fabric of our culture in the cross-hairs, and would affect all.

The Times article ends with one of the school staff commenting on just how they will implement the new teaching mandates. "'We're looking for places of natural fit. We're not going to shoehorn in something gratuitous just to make a point.'" And that's my point exactly. The bodies of homosexuals don't fit, the instruction won't fit and entire law doesn't fit. it is a gratuitous law that is shoehorned into teaching standards just to appease  certain segment of the majority party's supporters. We are supposed to teach our kids that doing construction with butter knives is just another acceptable choice, no matter how many fingers you may lose. We should be outraged.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Origin of Life Matters in the Debate on Evolution

There's an old joke which is a favorite of mine. During World War II, the German U-boats were devastating the English efforts by targeting troop ships and disrupting the British supply chain. Supposedly, Churchill was apprised of the situation and asked what could be done to combat these unseen and therefore uncatchable threats. "Simple," Churchill replied. "Boil the seas and the boats will have to surface. Then our fighters can manage them easily." The officers replied incredulously, "How are we supposed to do that?!" Churchill replied, "Look, I supplied the idea; the rest is an engineering detail!"

In my last post, I discussed how many who hold to a neo-Darwinian view will quickly dismiss questions about the origin of life when discussing the viability of that evolutionary model. As I showed there, it seems that the origin of life does really come into play even in the literature of those wishing to promote an evolutionary paradigm, such as the National Academy of Sciences. However, this doesn't really answer the objection offered that the origin of life cannot be used as evidence against evolution since the former is focused on the beginning of life and the latter assumes life already exists and simply seeks to address the diversity of life in the world. Fair enough, let's then address this objection directly.


One of the primary goals for folks like Richard Dawkins and those who support his Blind Watchmaker hypothesis is to show that the incredible diversity of living beings throughout history has been the result of random mutations coupled with specific environmental factors that would cause some of these mutations to remain, since they provide an advantage to the organism. In other words, we are looking at random mutations and natural selection. But, natural selection assumes that there's something to act upon. If there are no mutations, or if the mutations are not wide enough to cause sufficient variation so that natural selection can make a selection, we don't get any change. So, the next question would be, in looking at the diversity of changes and the time allotted, could natural selection do all that work, considering it must first wait upon a random mutation that is also beneficial? This then prompts more questions.

As we start to think through all the questions that this model provokes, one can see that the model must get increasingly complicated. But, a fundamental issue hasn't been addressed—where did the stuff come from to modify in the first place? Not only can natural selection not act when there are no changes, it cannot act if there is no life. That's simple. If I were to go to an auto show and see a new experimental car made out of some unique alloy and ask where did that come from, telling me whether it was put together by robots or by hand doesn't answer my question. My question is who thought it up and how did they develop the new material. The origin of the vehicle is as much a focus of the question as the assembly.

Similarly, when we ask about the origin of life on the planet, taking us back to just a single cell and then looping through a vastly complex set of parameters obfuscates the question of what is necessary for such a theory to begin to function. If random mutations can't start, then they can't help us anymore than the motivations for surfacing in a sub when the seas are boiling. The complexities of forming life from non-life are so much bigger than the changes needed to get from one life to another that if you answer the first, the second would follow in line. It's not much of a stretch to say that if God could create life, then He could create it with diversity. But if we only limit ourselves to genetic mutations and natural selection, we've really not provided an answer. You can draw up battle plans for targeting U-boats once they surface all you want, but until you can boil the seas, they won't provide you with any advantage.

Image "Spirogyra cell". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is the Origin of Life Part of the Evolution Discussion?

Whenever the subject of evolution comes up, you can usually find a lot of fuzziness in the arguments. As I and many others have noted before, the word "evolution" is itself a very slippery term, that can be used much like Silly Putty—shaped and molded to fit the interlocutor's need. Because of this, I usually like to avoid the term for serious dialogue and instead label the discussion as the fairly precise neo-Darwinian synthesis (which is a mouthful!) or the even more precise blind-watchmaker hypothesis. This latter term points specifically to Richard Dawkins' model outlined in his book The Blind Watchmaker.

However, even here there can be stumbling blocks.  Take for example the problem of abiogenesis. I see many of those supporting the blind watchmaker model object when the discussion starts to focus on the origin of life. Here's a recent example:

Here's the thing, Lenny: if you don't even know what evolution is, what business do you have arguing against it? You're confusing your own concepts! Macroevolution would be change at or above the species level. You're talking about abiogenesis, which is a separate theory from the theory of evolution.

In one sense, the objector is right – Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species doesn't address the creation of life from non-living material.  He specifically focuses on the variations of species we see today from a common ancestor. However, in the public sphere and even within scientific circles, I think this objection is disingenuous. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) those supporting evolutionary theory lump abiogenesis into their discussions and 2) descent with modification can't get started until life exists.

For an example of the former, let's take Richard Dawkins, in "Why There Almost Certainly is No God" wrote:

Whether my conjecture is right that evolution is the only explanation for life in the universe, there is no doubt that it is the explanation for life on this planet. Evolution is a fact, and it is among the more secure facts known to science. But it had to get started somehow. Natural selection cannot work its wonders until certain minimal conditions are in place, of which the most important is an accurate system of replication — DNA, or something that works like DNA.

It seems that Dawkins is lumping the "explanation for life" with evolution.  Any explanation needs to include its origin as Dawkins subsequently makes clear. But Dawkins isn't the only one.  The National Association of Biology Teachers has an "NABT Position Statement on Teaching Evolution" at its website that begins:

The frequently-quoted declaration of Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973) that "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" accurately reflects the central, unifying role of evolution in the science of biology. As such, evolution provides the scientific framework that explains both the history of life and the continuing change in the populations of organisms in response to environmental challenges and other factors.

Again, lumping the history of life with its divergence doesn't clarify the issue. Lastly, we have the esteemed National Academy of Sciences, who in their book The Search for Life's Origins: Progress and Future Directions in Planetary Biology and Chemical Evolution (1990) include a chapter entitled "The Evidence for Biological Evolution." The chapter holds a description of abiogenesis and leads straight into simple to complex transitions of life.  They then devote another chapter to the dismissal of any creationist perspectives.  It seems the National Academy of Sciences sees no problem in blurring the line between abiogenesis and evolutionary progression. Therefore, I think it's fair to include both in the discussion.  Again, if I'm trying to discuss it the way the proponents of the model do, then they certainly bring the origin of life into the debate.  That makes it fair game.

Next time, I'll address more fully the second point that descent with modification can't get started until life exists.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Answer the Evolution Question

There's been an interesting turn in how the origins debate has affected the upcoming presidential race. For the first time, candidates' views on evolution are being made center stage in debate forums and interviews. Tim Pawlenty was asked by NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw about his position on teaching intelligent design and whether "creationism has the same weight as evolution." Likewise, during the South Carolina debate, Juan Williams asked Pawlenty if he equated "the teaching of creationism with the teaching of evolution, as the basis for what should be taught in our nation's schools?" Michelle Bachmann's comments at the Republican Leadership Conference stating that she supports intelligent design in the classroom were quickly highlighted in CNN as a stand-alone issue.


It seems that some in the media are really trying to make the evolution question a driving issue of the election. This is interesting, and quite a departure from previous presidential campaigns. As Jay Richards and David Klinghoffer noted "Evolution is the speed trap of presidential campaigns. Though a president doesn't have much influence over state and local science education policy, reporters lie in wait for the unwary candidate, ready to pounce with a question he's poorly prepared to answer yet that is important to millions of voters ." They're right, and I've been intrigued to see how this plays out on a national stage.

Of course, political reporters have been showing their ignorance on the issue. First, the word "evolution" has always proven to be wiggly. As this article shows, there are at least eight different meaning poured into the word, which makes it very hard to discuss with specificity. Also, reporters seem to think that intelligent design and creationism are synonymous. They aren't. There are many in the ID movement who even believe in some form of common descent. Lastly, as I've talked about here before, there's a huge amount of creation conflation going on - mixing the age of the universe with its cause.

Now, I don't usually give advice to political candidates of any stripe. However, it strikes me that there are many people that may be questioned or pressured by local educational organizations as to why they rebel against teaching evolution alone in the classroom. Here I believe is an intelligent, reasonable and completely supportable answer that I would offer if asked:
It is my understanding that the scientific method requires not only that one come up with a hypothesis to explain the cause and effect relationship of any set of events, but an effort should be made to falsify that hypothesis by testing or research of some kind. 
Falsification is key to the method. Hypotheses that cannot be falsified are not considered science.

Therefore, if the 'blind watchmaker' hypothesis of all life developing from a single source is a scientific one, then it too should be held up to falsification. In order to do science as science, we must teach what the falsification of the hypothesis would look like. The only way this particular hypothesis can be falsified is if we can find evidence that life exhibits intricacies that could not have developed via random mutations perpetuated through natural selection. In other words, we should see if the diversity of living systems show themselves to be too complex to stem from only unintelligent processes.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What's an Apologetics Missions Trip?

This month, I had the privilege of leading a group of 34 people, ranging from junior high to post-college, on an Apologetics Missions Trip. What kind of trip is an Apologetics Missions Trip, you ask? It's a trip where we not only train people how to defend their faith and share it with others, we go out and do it in real world settings. We meet with people on the street, we ask the staunchest defenders of those who hold different beliefs to tell us their views, and we discuss them in an intelligent and loving way.



For this trip, we caravanned to Salt Lake City, Utah so we could interact with members of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) church. We chose Salt Lake because it is explicitly immersed in Mormon culture and thought. In some suburbs, there are populations of over 60,000 people and only two Christian churches to serve the cities! This is a non-Christian environment.

After some extensive training, we took the students to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake where they were able to strike up discussions with Mormon missionaries and ask them about their beliefs. Students visited a splinter LDS group in southern Utah that still practices polygamy and attended one of their services. We also visited the campus of Brigham Young University and were able to interact with the students attending there. In between, we had opportunities to hear from some ex-Mormons and those with ministries that reach out to Mormon communities.

For most of our students, the experience was life-changing. Here are a few of their comments:
  • "I went on this trip expecting God to use me to minister to Mormons in any way He willed, but God in all His wisdom and beauty ministered to my heart as well through the most unassuming circumstances! What a rich experience this trip was. I came back with more passion and fervor to communicate the truth of the Word to the unsaved who enter and surround my daily life."
    ——
  • "The Lord broke my heart for the lost and gave me a new passion for His Word. But it also made me appreciate my salvation, the truth, and freedom that are God’s grace to me, so much more."
    ——
  • "My heart absolutely broke for the Mormons who were so lost in a lie. It felt like there was no freedom of religion in Utah and that the Christians were forced to be underground or hidden from society."
    ——
  • "Truly God is faithful to not only do a mighty work in the heart of those whom we had the opportunity to talk to, but to do a mighty work in my own heart as well!"
    ——
  • "This trip has given me a greater confidence and ability to articulate and defend orthodox biblical Christianity in the marketplace of religious and philosophical ideas."
    ——
  • "Before I went on the Utah Apologetics trip, some of my friends had jokingly said to me ‘if you want to talk to Mormons, why do you need to go all the way to Utah? You can find plenty right across the street!' And I kind of understood what they meant. But going to Utah and being in the middle of the Mormon culture opened my eyes to what a need they have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. One Christian Pastor who is an ex-Mormon, Russ East, mentioned at the beginning of our trip that when we talk with the Mormons, we need to speak the truth to them and show them where the Book of Mormon falls short, but that it's also very, very important to show the love of God to them by being good listeners and not being in "attack mode". And he also mentioned inviting them to church with us so that they can hear good worship music. I think he said this because the death of Jesus for the sins of the world is so downplayed in the Mormon faith, that the freedom and joy of the Lord is lacking. So, although they are pre-occupied with other ‘good things' like works, family, etc., the importance of Jesus' death and salvation for our sins is easily neglected. It's so important to remember that the Lord looks on our heart."
Apologetics Missions trips are unique experiences where students get to study theology, apologetics, and evangelism and then use it right away with real people. Even as I continue to hear from those who attended the trip, they are continuing to talk with the Mormons they met in salt Lake. Some have even asked local Mormon missionaries to come over for dinner so they can discuss faith in greater detail. Above all, God is working in the hearts of all those who went, strengthening their walk and teaching them to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 NKJV).

Next spring, we are hoping to have another Apologetics Missions Trip, targeting a hub of atheistic culture, U.C. Berkeley. I hope you can join us. If you'd like to read more about some specific encounters we had with the Mormon missionaries, read this recent blog post. And if you'd like to attend one of the apologetics classes held monthly, look at our calendar for upcoming classes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Just Because You're Smart Doesn't Mean We Should Listen to You

William Lane Craig has repeatedly commented that when very smart people like Lawrence Krauss or Stephen Hawking begin to comment on areas outside their realm of study, such as the philosophy of religion or the existence of God, their opinions hold no more authority than any other layman.  In fact, they often get things drastically wrong.



Here's a great interview with Thomas Sowell making the same point, but from the perspective of societal decision-making. Sowell even brings up Noam Chomsky and Bertrand Russell in the beginning of his talk.  This video is a half hour well spent. H/T @simonfoust

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Most Penetrating Critique of New Atheism - Written by an Atheist

A lot of people have taken to critiquing the New Atheists. Some of the most eminent apologists (Craig, Copan, and Lennox among others) have written books cataloging the errors of their screeds. However, the most poignant review of the movement I've seen comes from an older article written by a fellow atheist. Physician Theodore Dalrymple provided this article for the City Journal wherein he examined the posturing and pronouncements of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. His observations are keenly insightful.



Dalrymple writes:
The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the argument from design).
He then goes on to show some of the foibles of each of the main contributors to the New Atheist movement.  He notes, "One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence." In other words, Dennett keeps using language of purpose and design in trying to sell the argument that there is no designer and no ultimate purpose for life. In a parenthetical statement he writes:
And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to "reality in all its naked cruelty." But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?
Dalrymple notes that Dawkins "quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him." Brilliant observation. He also looks at Harris and Hitchens with equal insight.

However, the most amazing part of the article is how Dalrymple compares the modern atheists to the writings of a forgotten seventeenth century Anglican bishop. He writes, "But looking, say, into the works of Joseph Hall, D.D., I found myself moved: much more moved, it goes without saying, than by any of the books of the new atheists." After quoting from some of Hall’s writings, Dalrymple goes on to observe:
This is the language not of rights and entitlements, but of something much deeper—a universal respect for the condition of being human… No doubt it helps that Hall lived at a time of sonorous prose, prose that merely because of its sonority resonates in our souls; prose of the kind that none of us, because of the time in which we live, could ever equal. But the style applies to the thought as well as the prose; and I prefer Hall’s charity to Harris’s intolerance.
The article may be a bit long for some, but it is an excellent read, if for no other reason than to expose you to the writings of Hall! I thank Dr. Dalrymple for his care for the human condition and his honesty and clarity in one more problem with the New Atheist movement—for all their sound and fury, they fail at elevating the human spirit.

Image courtesy Richard001 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Burning in the Bosom Might Require a Tape Measure

Last week, I had the privilege to lead a group of 34 students to Salt Lake City, Utah for an Apologetics Missions Trip. These trips are designed to help students interact with those who don’t hold to their religious views, to ground them in the theological truths of the Bible, and to teach them how to witness more effectively. It’s one thing to read a book or listen to a lecture on witnessing to the cults; it’s a far different thing to take it out of the classroom and actually do it.


One destination on our trip is the Temple Square in Salt Lake. This is the focal point of the LDS faith, with the Temple being the most iconic element of Mormonism. When we arrived at Temple Square, we had the students break into groups of two or three and then disperse to discuss beliefs with the Mormon Missionaries who are all too eager to engage visitors. In my time, a friend and I were able to engage with two different sets of Mormon Sisters – women in their early twenties who are on their mission, representing the LDS faith. The Sisters showed us the various buildings (the Tabernacle, Joseph Smith memorial, Church History Museum, and such) and along the way we began talking about Mormonism.

Now, the main “proof” of the validity of Mormonism for the overwhelming majority of Mormons is what has commonly become known as the “burning in the bosom.” Taken from a passage at the end of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4), Moroni instructs the reader

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Time and time again, as we talked with Mormons, they ultimately retreated to this passage as the unshakable measure of proof that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and that Joseph Smith was His prophet. “The Holy Ghost has confirmed these facts to me, and how can you get a higher authority than the Holy Ghost?” was the questions I received. They would then ask, “Have you read the Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely for God to reveal whether it’s true?”

I responded, “Yes, I have read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed. However God revealed to me quite clearly that this was not His word. So, what do we do now?” At this, the missionaries were a bit taken aback. They suggested that I must not have prayed sincerely enough. I countered with an analogy.

“Look, suppose I was a house builder with 10 years of experience. I may look down on that two by four and say, ‘That’s a 92-1/4” stud. My experience gives me the ability to eyeball those and tell.’ You may come up and say, ‘Well, I have 10 years of experience, too! I can eyeball that board and tell you it’s a full eight feet long!’ We each have had an experience, and we each believe sincerely that we’re right. But out experiences are in contradiction to one another. How do we solve the issue?” The answer is obvious, of course. You measure the board! We appeal to an objective standard. You can place the board against an eight foot wall being framed and if it fits within the opening, it is 92-1/4” and if it is the same as the height of the entire wall, it’s a full 96”.

This appeal to an objective standard is common-sensical and is how Mormons would settle any other question – except the question of the Book of Mormon. The personal experience in proving it to be true trumps everything, including archaeological evidence (there are no traces of any of the civilizations that the Book of Mormonism mentions1), the factual evidence (The Book of Abraham has been proven to be the Egyptian book of the dead2), DNA evidence (the American Natives are not Semitic in origin3), and the contradictory nature of Joseph Smith’s teachings when compared to the Bible.

In my discussion, the missionaries simply refused to acknowledge my point. “But you must pray!” they told me. “The Holy Ghost is the ultimate authority!” So, they basically said that their personal experience trumps all, even the facts when they are presented. I again asked how we can reconcile this stand-off. They had no further answer and bit me good-bye.

This to me is sad. These girls have so much of themselves invested into their belief system, that they cannot even make room for admitting there is more than one way to find the truth! I’ll keep praying for them. I also hope that we as Christians don’t fall into that same trap. 1 Peter 3:15 says we’d better be able to give reasons for why we believe as we do. To do anything else would result in building a house of faith where the walls are eventually going to collapse.

References:

1. See “The Lost Book of Mormon Geography” at http://blog.mrm.org/2008/06/lost-book-of-mormon-geography/
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true. http://www.mrm.org/book-of-abraham
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at http://utlm.org/newsletters/no103.htm#DNA
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are You Guilty of Creation Conflation?

"You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." -Rev. 4:11



One of the primary aspects of God revealing Himself to man is so that man can properly worship Him and begin to understand the glory that is due God. He accomplishes this through two primary means: general revelation in His creation and specific revelation in scripture. Scripture, though, continually points back to God's creation as evidence for why He is worthy of worship, so creation plays a unique role in our understanding of theology.

The fact that creation is key to our understanding of God has become increasingly evident in the escalating attacks against the doctrine by skeptics and secularists. Simply put, if God exists, then we are obligated to obey Him. Creation argues for the existence of God (see here); therefore those seeking to be under no obligation to God will seek to undermine the fact of His creation. This should be the point where Christians need to focus their dialogue, since it is the claim most easily demonstrated as false.

Because the stakes are high, the discussion of these topics can quickly switch from a reasoned attempt to understand the positions to one of pigeon-holing, name-calling and general ill-will. Unfortunately, this even happens between Christian brothers. As James said, we shouldn't seek to quarrel in such a way with our brothers (James 4:1 ff), but we should seek God's wisdom; a wisdom which is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18).

On the Doctrine of Creation, Distinctions Matter

There are many different ways Christians understand the creation story, but there seems to be a lot of confusion in this area on all sides. People begin to conflate (that is mix up or assume the same meaning) between very distinct aspects of creation. They will assume that if you hold to intelligent design you must believe in a young earth, or if you think that there was a Big Bang you reject the biblical creation account.  It is vital in the study of the doctrine of creation to keep this in mind – we need to distinguish between the cause of creation, the method of creation and the timeline of creation. In other words, creation ex nihilo, the Big Bang, the age of the universe and evolution are all different things and believing in one doesn't mean you believe in another.

The Cause of Creation

The cause of creation deals with the ultimate starting point of what we see in the universe. Causes answer the questions of "why does this exists rather than not?"  Some examples are:
  • "Why did the Big Bang bang?"
  • "Why are humans fundamentally different from animals?"
  • "Why is it that the laws of the universe just happen to be so delicately balanced for life?"
  • "Where would the information necessary for DNA to work come from?"

The Method of Creation

The method of creation deals with the development of the world and us as we see it today. It may be that God creates something (such as the nation of Israel), but He chooses a certain method in developing that creation, like the leading of Moses, Aaron, the wandering in the wilderness, etc. Methods answer the questions of "how did this get to be the way it is?" Some examples are:
  •  The diversity of languages may be traced back to just a few common tongues.
  • "When God spoke, did the world just pop into place fully formed or did it coalesce?"
  • "Did God create man uniquely or did He use some natural processes?"

The Timeline of Creation

The timeline of creation deals with the duration of the creation event or events. Was it instantaneous or was there a becoming over a period of time?  Obviously both Adam and Eve were not created instantaneously. Adam was created first and Eve at some later point in time. Duration answers the questions of "How long would method X take to be accomplished according to God's working?" Some examples are:
  • How long was Genesis 1:3?
  • "Did God take one hour, ten hours, or many millennia to create all the fish and the fowl?"
  • "What is meant by the word 'day' in Genesis 1?"
It is unfortunate that too many times I see Christians make fundamental mistakes in swapping these categories, as though they are the same things. Belief in a Big Bang is not the same thing as a belief in evolution. It is not even the same thing as a belief in an old universe. There may be implications that one belief has upon another, but we need to be more careful in our understanding of each of these categories when we begin to discuss these issues with both fellow believers and with skeptics.  It is only the first issue—the cause of creation—that becomes the essential component in the discussion. When discussing God with non-believers, we need to focus our attention on that first. The other two points are important, but they are more "within the family" discussions that can take place in a different setting.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Israel, O Israel

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16-17

I returned last week from a 10 day trip to Israel and it was amazing. I joined Dr. William Lane Craig for his Reasonable Faith tour of the Holy land, which was guided by Sar-El Tours, whom I recommend.  The days were jam-packed and we went everywhere – from Megiddo to Mount Carmel, from Galilee to the Dead Sea, from Joppa to Jerusalem. Each day was crammed full of sites, history and biblical insights.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1.    Cesarea Maritima

This was one of our first stops on the tour.  The seaside palace was built by Herod the Great as one of his living quarters.  He created an artificial port where ships could dock and take on cargo for Rome and western destinations, and built up an entertainment infrastructure to make it enticing (it isn’t only in modern times that government supports the local sports complex). The thing that moved me first, though, is seeing that it was here where the Pilate inscription was found.  Until 1961, there had been no archaeological evidence that a Roman procurator named Pilate ever existed.  We had the Biblical account and a few second-hand mentions. But, that all changed when this stone slab, which was inscribed with his name, was found here.

2.    Sea of Galilee

Staying at Tiberius, we awoke on day 2 and jumped on a boat to head out to the Sea of Galilee.  This was the first place where we could know that Jesus had been here. On the quiet lake, even with a bunch of other people, it was deeply moving.  We went on to Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations and even saw what is most likely Peter’s house, where he stayed. A great time of reflection.


3.    Spring of Gideon

In our trek from the northern region to Jerusalem, we made a pit stop at the spring of Gideon.  Talked about in Judges 7, this is the spring where Gideon pared down his fighting force to a mere 300 men.  The passage reads "'Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.' And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water." I had always pictured the spring as having space around all sides, but it actually comes from a northern-facing cliff in the hill.  Judges 7:1 says the Midianite’s army was to the north, so if you knelt all the way down and put your mouth to the water, you would basically have your back to the enemy, but if you scooped up the water with your hand, you could keep an eye on the northern hillside and the enemy camp.


This incident – one that would have occurred in about the 12th century BC- makes much more sense once you see the actual spring. You get it.  You can see that the descriptions in the Bible do not read like the accounts of the gods on Olympus or some such mythology.  These are real places and we have real evidence.  The inconsequential details, like how people drank, are reinforced by the topography. Even history from over two and a half millennia ago rings true. It is truly an amazing land and was a remarkable trip.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jim Caviezel's Amazing Reading of the Resurrection



In 2001, I was working on a project with the American Bible Society. That's when I first saw this haunting video and was introduced to Jim Caviezel as a storefront preacher reading John's account of the resurrection. It has stuck with me all these years.

Many of you know that Caviezel went on to star in the hit film Frequency before his landmark portrayal of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. He is currently starring in the television show Person of Interest. He recently said that role caused Hollywood to shun him, but he doesn't worry about the cost to his career. "We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth."

Usually, I don't care for dramatic readings of the Bible. There must be a certain level of interpretation when these are done, and I find that most of the time the actor doesn't quite get all that's going on in the text. Not this time. Caviezel delivers the chapter with incredible sensitivity and insight, and the film is a feast for the eyes. You will be touched.



Strive for the best

One additional item. It used to be that Christianity was responsible for the best of art and media. Sadly today, most Christian entertainment is merely derivative of whatever the secular world finds popular. I pray that  the church can produce more top-notch, innovative videos like this.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Abraham Lincoln Comments on 21st Century America


Today is the National Day of Prayer and I was blessed to attend the local gathering of civic, political and church leaders for my city.  During the program, a presenter read Abraham Lincoln's official proclamation for a day of prayer and fasting for the country, which was then divided by civil war.  I was struck at how pertinent and contemporary Lincoln's words are, even to us today.  It seems that our sins follow us and that these words, nearly 150 years old, are still dead on. Here's the pivotal paragraph:
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

"It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." 1

Lincoln said that the nation, mired in war, was being punished by God for the sins they had committed. Though we may not be divided along state lines, our nation is truly growing more divided by moral issues and we are beguiled by thinking our self-sufficiency can help us instead of the One who provided for us to begin with. Let us pray today for our country, our leaders, our churches ans ourselves that we may confess our sins and find forgiveness and grace in God's eyes.

References

1. "Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day" March 30, 1863. Abraham Lincoln Online. http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/fast.htm

Monday, May 02, 2011

Should Christians Cheer the Death of bin Laden?

The web has once again been sent buzzing, this time by the announcement that U.S. Forces have killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks among others. Undoubtedly, bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people and the suffering of untold thousands more. But should Christians really revel in the death of anyone, even someone as wicked as bin Laden? Doesn't the Bible tell us to pray for those who persecute us? Did not Paul's command in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for those in power even include Nero, who persecuted the church mercilessly?



As you can see, there is much confusion on just how Christians should respond to such news. If we are to follow the command of Christ, we should love our enemies. However, we also need to reflect God's desire for justice in the world.

I think that in order to gain a better perspective on this issue we may need to look at the Bible a little more carefully than merely pulling our favorite proof text out for either side of the issue. Fortunately, there are many passages where these kinds of issues have already been explored by commentators. One such passage is Psalm 58:

   1Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
        Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
   2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
        On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
   3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
        These who speak lies go astray from birth.
   4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
        Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
   5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
        Or a skillful caster of spells.
   6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
        Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.
   7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
        When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
   8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
        Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
   9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
        He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
   10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
        He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
   11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
        Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"
Psalms such as Psalm 58 are known by theologians as imprecatory psalms, which basically means the Psalmist is calling a curse from God down onto his enemies. These psalms have been the subject of many debates as to their meaning since they seemingly contradict the commands to love our enemies noted above. But we know that all Scripture is inspired by God (II Tim 3:16) and that this Psalm's author, David, was said to be empowered by the Holy Spirit when writing his psalms (Acts 2:33-35). So much about bin Laden's reign of terror and his subsequent death is reflected in Psalm 58, I think we can gain a better understanding of how we should react by studying it more closely.

Imprecatory psalms have several elements that are unique to them:

1. None of these psalms should be read with the notion that the Psalmist is calling for revenge or individual retribution.

In all the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is motivated by seeing God's justice served. David models this himself in other psalms that call for the destruction of his enemies. In Psalm 31 David writes "In your righteousness deliver me!" and in Psalm 109 he writes , "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer." He also modeled this both when Saul pursued him unjustly and when Absalom usurped his throne. Asking God that justice be done is not the same thing as carrying out an individual vendetta. Such distinctions are important.

2. God Hates Sin

Another thing the imprecatory psalms do is underline the notion that God hates sin. Sin is real, and it's truly offensive to our Father in heaven. Osama bin Laden was a murderer who took glee in snuffing out those made in the image of God. Sometimes as Christians we are so concerned with not offending anyone that we overlook this fact. However, Jesus used strong and condemning language to underscore sin's heinous nature. He took the Pharisees to task several times, going so far as to call them children of the devil and only seeking to do the devil's will (John 8:44). He said to the citizens of Capernaum that they would go straight to hell, since Sodom would have believed had they seen the miracles he performed (Matt 11:23). He took a whip and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Sin provokes a pretty strong reaction from our Lord and it should also provoke one in us, too.

Note that sometimes the language in the psalms is hyperbole – meaning it uses overblown images to make a point. I don't think we should take the passage "shatter their teeth in their moths" literally any more than when David writes in Psalm 6 "Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears." Jewish poetic style uses hyperbole in this way, and we should understand it as such. It does, though, make a strong point about God's view of sin.

3. It is God's glory to provide justice.

Note the end of Psalm 58 where David writes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" God's divine justice is served when evil doers are given their just due. The righteous can point to such actions and know that God will ultimately be a righteous judge and provide justice for His righteous ones. Unbelievers are given a witness of God's righteousness. And because Romans 13 claims that governing authorities can serve as God's servants, meting out His justice, we can be thankful that the action was done in an orderly way--not by wiping out entire sections of a foreign country, but through a surgical strike that respected those other people made in the image of God in Abbottabad. Reuters even reports that once dead, the U.S. handled his body in accord with Islamic customs.

So, how should we respond to the death of bin Laden? We should first lament the sin we see in the world, including our own. We should rejoice that God's justice was in fact carried out in this instance. We should grieve that the gospel hasn't penetrated the hearts of people like bin Laden and those who sincerely followed him. And we should, like David, pray for them. Pray that they would know the love of Christ. Pray that God's justice will ultimately be seen. And pray that no more would die in response to a lie. That would be truly loving one's enemies.

Image courtesy Hamid Mir and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Are the Books of Moses Forgeries

From the 19th century onward, there has been a theory floating around known as the documentary hypothesis that claims the first five books of the Bible, known collectively as the Pentateuch or the Torah, weren't penned by Moses as is commonly believed. German scholars had pronounced that these were a compilation of at least four different authors (known in academic circles as J, E, P, and D) whose works were mixed and matched by later editors to form some cohesive whole.



Author David Hazony, who is Jewish, prides himself on his faith as well as his reason. He states (and I agree) that these can coexist without too much difficulty. However, he says that when the question of the Bible's authorship comes up, it is the thing that has the potential to trip him up. So he began to look at the claims of the documentary hypothesis, but not merely from an academic point of view. He used his real-world experience as an editor to show how a claim like the one made by the German critics tries to prove something they could never actually do. He writes:
It all started a few years back when, as the senior editor of a Jerusalem-based journal of public thought, I ran into trouble on a 10,000-word, brilliantly researched essay about Israeli social policy composed by the sweetest man on earth who, unfortunately wasn’t a stellar writer. 
I spent a few weeks rewriting, moving things around, adding and cutting and sweating. Finally I passed it up the chain to Dan, my editor-in-chief.

"Hey Dan," I said. "Could you take a look at this? I added a whole paragraph in the conclusion. Tell me what you think."

A few days later I got it back, marked up in red ballpoint. On the last page, in the conclusion, he had written the words “This is the paragraph you added,” and drawn a huge red arrow.
But the arrow, alas, was pointing at the wrong paragraph.

You see, it turns out that it’s not very easy to reverse-engineer an editing job. To take an edited text and figure out, in retrospect, what changes it went through — it’s about a million times harder than those tenured, tortured Bible scholars will tell you.

Language is fluid and flexible, the product of the vagaries of the human soul. When an editor has free rein, he can make anything sound like he’d written it himself, or like the author’s own voice, or something else entirely. It all depends on his aims, his training, his talent and the quality of his coffee that morning. A good editor is a ventriloquist of the written word.

That’s when I started to suspect that what Bible scholars claim they’re doing — telling you what the "original" Bible looked like—might be, in fact, impossible to do.

Think about it. My case was one in which the author, editor and reader are all known entities (in fact, they all know each other personally); the reading takes place in the exact same cultural and social context as the writing and editing; and the reader is himself a really smart guy, Ivy-league Ph.D. and all, who had spent a decade training the editor to be a certain kind of editor, with specific tools unique to the specific publication’s aims.

Not only that, but he was even told what kind of edit to look for, in which section. And still he couldn't identify the change.
I think this common-sense approach is wise.  While I believe that we have some strong evidence in favor of Moses being the author (for example, Jesus quotes from several different sections of the Pentateuch and attributes each to Moses), Hazony doesn't go that far.  But he can see that the claims of a multiplicity of authors is really unsupportable, which is honest and fair.

While Hazony only discusses the Pentateuch, we have even greater evidence for the New Testament being authentic. For a more complete look at the subject, you may want to check out How Do I Know the Bible is REALLY From God? and Who Chose What To Include in the Bible?

So, as you reflect on the events surrounding the Israel's exodus from Egypt and the passion week of Christ, be assured that we have good reasons to believe the Bible is written by authoritative sources.

You may read David Hazony's entire article at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/01/my-take-it-doesnt-matter-who-wrote-the-bible/

Sunday, April 10, 2011

10 Commandments of Social Networking

This evening, my friend @BrendanStark came up with his "10 Commandments of Social Networking" which I thought were very appropriate. Even in an apologetic context, these will help you to be a better witness and open more doors of conversation with those you hope to reach.  Comment below and let me know what other commandments we should be obeying while living the digital life.


10. Thou shalt not abuse "friends" with MLM/home business sales.

9. Don't use your social networks as a confessional.

8. Don't lie.

7. Don't be a troll.

6. Don't steal another person's name with any "fake" accounts.

5. Take a sabbath break from the Internet.

4. Don't make an idol out of a celebrity (or your fans/followers a la @ladygaga).

3. Show some love. RT once in a while.

2. Don't be online "friends" with people who can screw up your marriage.

1. Use an internal filter. Think before posting things that will embarrass God, you, your family, or your friends.
Image courtesy sman5612 and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scientists Clinging to Blind Faith for All to See



I've had several recent discussions with folks who hold that science is superior to religion because science is all based on experimental evidence and facts while religious people just cling to "blind faith." Richard Dawkins recently reiterated this view in a debate held in Mexico City when he made the statement:
[Those who believe in God] like to point to the origin of the universe and say ‘Well, science can’t explain the Big Bang or scientists can’t explain where the laws of physics come from.’ Physicists are working on that. That’s what scientists do. They don’t lie down and pathetically say ‘Oh, we don’t understand it so God did it."
Somehow, those who hold to this view seem to forget that scientists are people, and as such they are subject to the same faults and biases as the rest of humanity.  Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in a recent panel discussion of leading scientists on defining life (see video below).  Held at Arizona State University and hosted by The Science Network, this panel was comprised of luminaries such as Dawkins, world-renowned genome expert J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, NASA planetary scientist Chris McKay, and physicists Paul Davies and Lawrence Krauss.  A stellar group to be sure.

The discussion starts by moderator Roger Bingham asking if it is necessary for us to agree on a proper definition of life before we go looking for it in space, so that we can know what we're looking for. McKay almost flippantly dismisses the idea and says we should just start looking! Imagine using that same criteria in medicine — we don't need criteria as to whether a person is still alive, we'll just make it up as we go! This is why excluding philosophers from these discussions is so detrimental.

But the more interesting parts happen starting around the 9:00 mark of the video. As Evolution News pointed out, Dawkins and others have claimed that all life uses the same DNA vocabulary for living creatures. In the video, Venter disagrees with this statement and says that science is showing the concept of all life stemming from one standard DNA vocabulary is not accurate. "The tree of life is an artifact of some early scientific studies that aren't really holding up...So there is not a tree of life." (See the article linked above for the specifics on this claim.) Dawkins is aghast at the suggestion and Paul Davies tries to understand how this could be, but Venter sits calmly and confidently by his statement. This is a pretty earth-shattering admission by Venter, but it's not my main point.

Dismissing Scientific Evidence in the Name of Science

The very next question to the panel is if science were to discover the origins of life and the origin of consciousness, would that sway religious believers or would they continue to cling to their concepts? Dawkins and Krauss both respond that it wouldn't matter; religious people are going to believe what they've been "indoctrinated in childhood" to believe. Dawkins even says that "Well, it obviously ought to have the effect that the questioner says, but I don't think it will." Immediately after that exchange, Chris McKay at the 14:50 mark states that he doesn't believe Venter's view that the tree of life is obsolete, but he still holds to Dawkins' 1980's claim that all life uses the same genetic vocabulary.

I want you to catch that. McKay, whose specialty is geophysics and not genetics, is dismissing the findings of one of the pre-eminent geneticists in the world because he doesn't like where it would take him. The scientist is ignoring the findings of science because the findings threaten his views on the origins of life. McKay is guilty of exactly what Dawkins and Krauss were poo-pooing religious believers about!  As the Evolutionary News article points out, we know that Mycoplasma DNA uses the UGA codon not as a stop as in human genes, but to code for the amino acid tryptophan.  That's like the difference between the saying "Mama die!" in English and saying "Mama die!" in Dutch, which means "Mom, I want this one!" It's a different vocabulary, a different message.

So, the next time you hear that scientists are bias-free and  objective while religion leads to only blind faith, don't you believe it.  The evidence is available for all to see.


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