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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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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

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