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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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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #4 In Defense of Miracles

In Defense of Miracles
When undertaking a defense of the faith, it is inevitable that Christians will cross paths with all kinds of skeptics—those who doubt the veracity of the biblical accounts, those who question religious motivations, and those who even doubt that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. The most influential skeptic to ever live, though,  is in all likelihood David Hume. Hume wasn't a skeptic like some of the Internet atheists we see; he was a skeptic of a broader sort, a philosophical skeptic. However, Hume did vigorously voice his skepticism about religion in his writings and one of his most famous objections is that people have no rational justification to believe that miracles happen. His argument is interesting and thoughtful, which is why it continues to be proposed by today's atheists as one more point in why Christians are being illogical in holding their beliefs.

To answer Hume, Christian philosophers Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas compiled the excellent In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. Pulling together a collection of essays by top-notch apologists and philosophers, Geivett and Habermas have given Christians a real tool to use when engaging with skeptics on whether miracle accounts should be accepted as evidence. Not satisfied with only answering Hume's argument, the book uses Hume's essay as a springboard to discuss the various objections to miracles and the supernatural that are offered in their many modern permutations. Ronald Nash's article on the self-defeating claims of naturalism is great, as is J.P. Moreland's chapter on miracles and science. Of course, the book also contains entries by Habermas and William Lane Craig on the resurrection and why we can consider it an historical event.  I also liked Geivett's own contribution on why belief in miracles is considered reasonable for anyone with that theistic worldview.

The biggest contributors to the book, though, are the non-theists.  The authors included Hume's "On Miracles" in its entirety as the first chapter in order to lay the groundwork for what is to come.  But, not content to leave it there, they also asked Antony Flew, who was the leading expert on Hume to also contribute a chapter. Thus, we hear both Hume's argument and how it is understood in a modern context by non-theists today. This is important as no one can accuse the book of offering a straw man version of Hume.

While many discussions with online skeptics won't reach the level of sophistication of these articles, it is important that Christian apologists learn Hume's objection and the appropriate refutation of his arguments.  Hume continues to be a profound influence on atheists and skeptics. In Defense of Miracles is one book that covers the bases on the reasonableness of the resurrection and belief in a God who gets personally involved in His creation.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #5 The Edge of Evolution

The Edge of EvolutionEvolution is a subject that definitely causes a stir. It holds an overwhelming acceptance rate in the scientific community while its adherents make up only 39% of the American public.1 Ask about teaching evolution in schools and you will get a vast array of responses, some of which are very passionate for their positions. Even the way evolution is defined, as I've written before, is controversial. The term has been stretched and shaped to fit whatever its user hoped to prove.

 Much of the confusion and battle on this topic has to do with rebuilding models. All of the neo-Darwinian synthesis models rely on gradual changes over many millions of years, which means that one must infer what changes occurred and why. The evolutionary biologist inserts his own conjecture into his explanation because there is no way he could have observed the development of, say, a new species of homo from a more primitive ancestor. Observation and data could help remove some of the conjecture from what may have happened, but how could we get such data?

That's why my next book in our list of Top Ten Neglected Books by Apologists is an important one. Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution is one of the few books tackling this subject with hard, observable evidence. Behe, a professor of biological science at Lehigh University, made a huge splash in the intelligent design community with his ground-breaking Darwin' Black Box. Here, he follows up that work by looking specifically at the claim that "life on earth developed over billions of years by utter chance, filtered through natural selection." This book is different though, in that Behe notes that genetic mutational change preserved through natural selection is observable. If you have a large enough population that replicates quickly, you can look at if the population's genetics adapt to new environments and more importantly see if it created new features in the organism.

 In the book, Behe selects three very good candidates that provide data for us to follow: malaria, HIV, and e. Coli. Viruses and bacteria will reproduce on the order of millions in just a few days, and we know that each can evolve resistances to antibiotics. They have the added benefit of holding a much higher rate of genetic mutation that our cells do. Thus, they provide a perfect model to observe in a relatively short time how genetic mutation provides new benefits. But the key here, as Behe shows, is that while these and other more complex species (such as Behe's use of Antarctic fish whose blood doesn't freeze) can have genetic mutations produce some beneficial effects, it always comes at a loss of some other beneficial function. Behe offers the fact that malaria, which it can develop resistance to certain drugs, cannot evolve to overcome those with sickle cell anemia. Further, these changes are limited to relatively small differences. They cannot create entirely new functional systems.

The Edge of Evolution contains some real numbers science can use when looking at the possibility of genetic change. When calculating factors for change, one must take into account how long it takes an organism or species to create a new generation, how many offspring it has, and its rate of genetic mutation. Each of these is known and uncontroversial. Therefore, scientists can observe the beneficial effects of change in something like a malarial virus or an E. Coli bacterium and see if new functions are actually being created, or if functions are merely being broken. Behe also extrapolates how much time would be required to accumulate enough changes to make new features in more complex mammals. As you can expect, the conclusion is not good for the blind watchmaker hypothesis.

  The Edge of Evolution is not a tough read, but there is some science in it. The biggest point the book has going for it is the observable data. Good science should be about the numbers we see, not the numbers we hope to see, and I think Behe here does a great job bypassing some of the conjecture and providing solid evidence that the neo-Darwinian model simply doesn't calculate.


1. Newport, Frank, "On Darwin's Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution" The Gallup Poll 2/11/2009.Web. 3/6/2012.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #6 The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

Of all the books on this list, certainly the one that most qualifies as a "sleeper" in terms of notoriety is Robert L. Wilken's The Christians and the Romans Saw Them. Everyone I've mentioned the book to has never heard of it.  It could be because Wilken isn't an apologist; he's a secular historian and the book is published by Yale University Press (which definitely cannot be considered a Christian publisher!) I hadn't heard about the book when I first bought it either.  It was one of those extremely fortunate thrift store finds; I risked two dollars based on the title and was pleasantly surprised at the content.

 As Wilken explains in his introduction, the story of early Christianity has been told almost exclusively through Christian sources. Because of this, we can miss how the new belief system was being perceived by the more mainstream circles of Romans and pagans in that day.  Wilken then goes on to draw on Pliny, Galen, Celsus, Porphyry, and Justin the Apostate—along with smaller mentions in other works—to paint a picture of Roman life, Roman belief, and just how this strange new sect was received.

Many struggles of the early Christians shocking, such as the accusations that they were a cannibalistic cult.  Others are very familiar to modern day evangelicals.  In all, the book is an absolute eye-opener, not only from an historical standpoint, but in seeing how a small contingent in an empire that numbered sixty million souls grew to the dominant belief system in a few centuries. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them can even help your apologetic. Understanding the persuasive nature of early Christians in a culture where they were deeply misunderstood will give you better insight into your own interactions with others.  The book is definitely a worthwhile read. You ca see the other book entries from this list here.
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