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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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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christianity is the Most Persecuted Faith in the World

Image courtesy smallbones.
It may surprise you that chimpanzees are on the endangered species list. From a population of more than 2 million a century ago, current estimates are that there are no more than 250,000 chimpanzees in the wild.1  Such a reduction in numbers cause many people to rally on behalf of the animals, with various opportunities to pay thousands of dollars to help stop the shrinking populations.

Trying to protect chimps from extinction is not an unworthy cause. However, there is another group that has seen a similar loss in numbers in the last twenty years. In 1990, there were between 1.2 million to 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. Today there are less than 200,000, according to Dr. Rupert Shortt. In his recent article Christianophobia, Shortt make the startling claim that "Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers" in the world today, and thus Christianity has surpassed Judaism as the most persecuted faith. He says that in the Middle East Christianity is so persecuted that it could become extinct in the place of its birth. "There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands. Anthony O'Mahony of Heythrop College, London, echoes other scholars in estimating that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century."2

In her article on the report, Evelyn Gordon observes:
There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world's most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.3
It is evident that Islam is a primary reason for the growing persecution of Christians specifically. Shortt's report offers a detailed look at seven nations (Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma, and China) to bolster his argument of the persecution Christians face. He concludes by noting that religious freedoms are commonly found in countries that are traditionally Christian, while the countries with the most persecutions are those that are either traditionally Islam or those with Communist governments.

Quoting from the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Shortt estimates that "200 million Christians (10 per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs."4 He also highlights the fact that religious freedom is important, because it serves as a barometer for the general amount of freedom a country offers its citizens. "Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally."5

So, with Christians in Nigeria being bombed inside their churches, the killing of Christian converts in Pakistan, or Copts being burned alive in Egypt, there is a crisis in the world due to religious persecution. So, how valuable are these Christians who face life-threatening conditions? Are we willing to do as much for them as for the chimpanzees? Should there not be an outcry from citizens of free nations so that western governments demand such atrocities stop? If the canary in the mine dies, you know that it will be only a matter of time before you will, too.  Perhaps we had better take these warnings seriously.


References

1. "Chimpanzee". Primate Info Net. < http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/chimpanzee/cons>  Accessed 2/27/2013.
2. Shortt, Rupert. Christianophobia. (London: Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2012). Available online at http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Shortt_Christianophobia.pdf  viii.
3. Gordon, Evelyn. "Religious Persecution and Safe Havens." Commentary. , http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/02/26/religious-persecution-and-safe-havens/ 2/26/2013.
4. Shortt.Ibid.
5. Ibid.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Big Bang is Not the Enemy of Theology

The Big Bang is a term that's very familiar to most people, but many Christians seem to be afraid to hold to such a concept. However, the idea of a Big Bang is really not the enemy of theology. See, nobody can explain what the Big Bang actually is. The main idea of the Big Bang is simple: at some point in the past, the universe was created. It didn't exist and then it did. Exactly when it happened is a separate question and the answers have changed as scientists find out more. But the concept of the Big Bang—that the universe came into existence at a point in time that we can number—is really a ground shaking idea in science.

We're Running Down the Clock (The universe can't be infinitely old)

It makes sense that the universe cannot be infinitely old. You see, what Russell did without knowing it is he substituted his own line of turtles for the old lady's. If the universe is infinitely old, then we'd have a never-ending chain of events going back, back, back without a beginning. Now think about that for a minute. If the universe is infinitely old, that means that it had to start an infinite amount of time ago, right? But if the universe started an infinite amount of time ago, that means that it would take an infinite amount of time to get to where we are today. But we're here, so how did we cross infinity and get to its end if infinity has no end? Since we're here, we know that the universe had to have started less than an infinite amount of time ago. Otherwise, it's like turtles all the way back, as opposed to turtles all the way down because it uses an infinite regress of time. Since the universe is experienced inside of time, then it must have a starting point, a beginning some finite amount of time ago.

We're Running out of Steam (The universe is losing functional energy)

There's another interesting thing that we notice about the universe. It's like a wound-up clock that is continually running down. We see this all the time in our lives. If I pour myself a hot cup of coffee, I would want to drink it within a reasonable amount of time from when I poured it. Why do I say that? Because my coffee's going to get cold. How can I tell whether a coffee cup has been sitting for five minutes or over an hour? I simply touch it and see if it's still hot. Coffee can't stay hot on its own, since it loses its heat energy to its surroundings. This is called entropy, which states that all things in our universe are radiating away their energy. Every battery you have will eventually run out of juice whether you use it or not. Every coffee cup will eventually run out of steam. Even our sun and our earth, anything that holds heat, will eventually turn cold and dark to a point where everything in the universe is equal. There will be no functional motion at all. So if everything is running down, it follows that everything was wound up to some point in the beginning, and the clock's moving forward in a certain direction.

We're Running Away from Everything Else (The effects of the Big Bang are still seen)

There are more reasons, however, than just the winding-down of the universe for knowing that it had a beginning. Scientific discoveries made in the 20th century have been so astounding, they have pretty much put Russell's assertion of "no reason to assert the world has a beginning" to rest. The first was when famed astronomer Edwin Hubble calculated the speeds at which all of the galaxies in the universe are moving. He found that they are moving away from each other, and they separate faster the farther apart they are from each other. This was just the kind of motion one would see in the aftermath of an explosion; everything that exploded would be moving away from each other to greater distances. Since all the galaxies were acting this way (and it didn't matter where in the universe you looked), Hubble came to the conclusion that they were all together at one point and there was some kind of an explosion, and that's what's causing everything to separate as it does. It validates the Big Bang.

One of the most definitive discoveries happened in 1965, when two scientists who were listening to the sounds of space heard a distinct type of noise found throughout the universe. What they heard was background radiation which is a kind of the noise that would accompany the Big Bang. It was the confirmation everyone was looking for to prove that the universe did indeed originate with a bang. After their discovery was published, even scientists who still held out against the concept were forced to accept the Big Bang as the origin of the universe. This is a huge development because it means that scientists were in all in agreement in that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers (Toronto: George J. McLeod, 2000)107.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the Media Biased on Same-Sex Marriage

This weekend, Patrick Peyton, Ombudsman with the Washington Post published a piece on how he and a reporter from the Post exchanged an animated dialog with a reader over the paper's coverage of the same-sex marriage issue. As Mollie Hemingway pointed out in her column over at Get Religion "the reporter reveals some breathtaking bigotry about the people he or she is supposed to be covering." But Paxton, whose job as Ombudsman is supposed to be the people's advocate and voice to the paper, is just as complicit in his complete ignorance of the reasoning that social conservatives use when discussing the issue.

By Pablo Perez

The primary problem is identified by Rod Dreher. He states:
"Most reporters and editors, in my 20 years of experience, do not set out to slant stories, and in fact try to be fair. The bias that creeps into their coverage is typically the result of a newsroom monoculture, in which they don't see the bias because everybody, or nearly everybody, within that culture agrees on so much. In the case of gay rights and the marriage debate, though, they don't even make an effort to be fair."
Dreher says that the reporters, editors, and others in most mainstream journalism outlets fall back on the concept that "error has no rights." In other words, we reporters know that you traditional values folks (or worse "religionists" as Peyton called us) are really backwards buffoons, and therefore your opinion isn't even worth understanding. This belief is assumed to be true, even as it vilifies a significant portion of the population. So, there is no vast left-wing conspiracy, but a general unrecognized level of groupthink by the media.

Of course throughout the original post, Peyton continually misunderstands both the concern of the reader and the argument we have against same-sex marriage.  He falls back yet again to the old trope that its basis is the same as bigotry against mixed race marriages. But such a comparison is as insulting as it is pig-headed. As I've noted in a recent podcast, marriage is the only institution that allows our society to continue through the act of procreation and the rearing of children. There is no other institution that will bring us the next generation. No other. Not one.  Homosexual unions by their very definition cannot do this. Sure they can adopt children, or maybe "borrow" a gamete from the opposite sex to birth children. But such measures will never produce an entire generation of citizens. In fact, books like Huxley's Brave New World cry out against the divorce of human procreation from its natural biological origins.

Hemingway I think hits the nail on the head when she writes:
Here's what needs to happen. Right now. Every reporter — no matter the beat, no matter how much in the tank for redefining marriage, no matter how close-minded they've been to this point — every reporter needs to stop what they're doing and read "What is Marriage."

It's a very easy-to-read book that succinctly explains the traditionalist arguments surrounding marriage. Refusing to learn the arguments of those who oppose changing the law must end. It simply must end. The ignorance and bigotry with which reporters have covered this topic is a scandal. It's destroying civil political discourse, it's embarrassing and can't continue.

Reporters don't need to change their deeply-held biases in favor of changing marriage law. But they do need to learn even a little bit about the arguments of those who oppose such a change.

No reporter working today should ever make the error of comparing arguments against marriage redefinition with anti-miscegenation laws. It's clownish and easily disputed.
Such a step is one of the bare minimum requirements for the job of journalism. Get the facts straight first, and then you can report the news accurately.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Great Movies to Use in Apologetics

Yesterday was the annual Academy Awards ceremony, where those in the motion picture industry celebrate their craft. It is a major event that is televised all over the world, primarily because of the huge amount of clout and status movies play in modern culture. Motion pictures influence our morality and our worldview more than most realize. Plato's statement "Those who tell the stories rule society" is shown to really be true.

In the past, I've offered a list of ten movies that Christians should see but are generally neglected today. However, in lieu of the Oscar festivities, I'd like to take a different tact. Here is my list of ten movies that you should be using in your apologetic. Each one of these movies will help you in some way share an important truth about the Christian worldview. If you'd like to hear more about exactly how these movies can be used in witnessing efforts, check out this CD teaching entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel".

10. The Book of Eli
How does divine providence work? If you have God's protection does that mean it will be easy? Here's a great way to see how God can be working in the lives of His servants like Eli who know that they must follow His calling even if situations don't fall into place as they should. The film is marred by a lot of gore and too much foul language, and that's how it gets its R rating.* It makes me wish I could own the version they show on the airlines, so know that going in, but the primary message is still fascinating.

9. The Matrix
Want to get a conversation started about spiritual things?  There's no better fodder than the original Matrix. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a young computer hacker who finds out that it is actually his mind that has been hacked and everything he thinks is real is nothing more than a computer simulation. This film, directed by the Wachowski brothers, takes on more philosophical and spiritual themes than you can count, but the biggest is the idea that the beliefs we're most comfortable with may in fact be false ones and we may need to give up our comfort for the truth.

8. Spider-Man 3
What if the thing that makes you feel better, more powerful, and more popular is also a more subtle and seductive side of evil that is unknowingly changing you into something else? Peter Parker must grapple with a temptation that is making his soul as black as his suit. This movie illustrates how sin works. Sometimes the thing that makes you feel better is not necessarily better for you.

7. Twelve Angry Men
This is the only movie that I repeated from my last list, but that's because it so poignantly  portrays one man's desire to sway others to the truth of a matter even if their prejudices make then want to believe otherwise. Henry Fonda must be understanding but firm, never giving up on his convictions. This is the way to argue for your position.

6. The Truman Show
The Truman Show has a single message: Reality is important.  Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a person whose whole life has been fabricated for a reality television show. Sensing that there's more out there than he's been told, Truman becomes increasingly determined to find out the truth of the world, even risking death.  The movie is a bit heavy on the religious allusions (The show's and thus Truman's creator is named Christof after all!), this film demonstrates why seeking a reality beyond what one has experienced is part of what it means to be truly human.

5. Amazing Grace
This is the only movie with an overtly Christian message in the list, and that's on purpose. Most friends and family will roll their eyes at a Christian who wants to invite them over for a Christian movie night.  However, this story ties the John Newton hymn in with William Wilberforce's twenty year struggle to outlaw the slave trade in Britain, so it has broader historical implications. It is a fine example of both how Christians can lobby for unpopular views that are ultimately moral and how the Christian worldview, specifically that all men are equally valuable has played a major role in the betterment of civilization.

4. Inception
Can you change a belief?  While Inception spends a lot of time on the question of dreams versus reality, that's not its real target. No, Inception is about how we form beliefs. Cobb states that while he cannot make a man believe something by dreaming, he can plant a seed in a man that will then become a real belief inside the man. "The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define, or destroy you."

3. The Dark Knight
Another of Christopher Nolan's films, this second installment of the Batman trilogy hits exactly on concepts of sacrifice and redemption, when Commissioner Gordon states "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Certainly Jesus saw both of those concepts come to pass and in a similar manner, Batman must ultimately take the sin of others upon himself for the greater good of saving society.  However, this movie is not quite that neat as it also brings up the question of "Do the ends justify the means?" However, you fall on this, it makes for some great discussion.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird
Standing by one's convictions can be scary, even dangerous, but such acts can also have implications that ripple well beyond what one would expect. In this classic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a 1930's southern town defending a black man against the charge of raping a white woman. Atticus' determination to do the right thing leaves a marked impression on his children and ultimately on all those who finally see the truth.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
It would simply be unfair to leave off the superb film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful tale. This is how the most unassuming of individuals can step in and do what little they can, and how it can mean so much. Tolkien infused not only Frodo, but also his heroic and reliable friend Samwise Gamgee with a will that overcomes the most difficult of circumstances in order that good should triumph. As Tolkien put it in the books "It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till." This is a call to apologetics if ever I heard one.



*Thanks to Trevor Sloane for reminding me to add this caution.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Does History Show a War between Science and Religion?



We hear all the time that science and religion are at odds, and the beliefs of the "superstitious" or the "dogma" of the church have always hampered scientific progress that could greatly benefit mankind. But as Dr. John Lennox notes in this video, the facts of history belie such a tale.

In this video clip Lennox takes two of the more famous conflicts of history, Galileo's confirmation of Copernicanism and the debate between Thomas Henry Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, and shows that these events, rather than epitomizing the conflict, prove that the conflict storyline is simply inaccurate. He then closes with the assertion that most honest historians of science have recognized all along: Christianity provided the foundation and the flourishing of our modern scientific enterprise.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Christian Martyrdom and Tertullian

Several news sources are reporting on the increased persecution of Christian house churches in China. When China fell to the communists in 1949, the atheistic government discouraged any practice of religion and missionaries were basically removed from the country. For the next thirty years, Christians in the West were left to assume that the church had been stamped out by the state. However, once relations softened between the Chinese government and the West, we were surprised to see a populous and thriving house church movement that seemed to increase under persecution.


This reminded me of the quote by Tertullian in his Apology for the Christians and it makes me ponder two thoughts. While martyrdom has been "the seed of the church," Tertullian also said that Christians don't hope for it for its own sake, but that the truth of Christ may claim ultimate victory. So we should pray and do what we can for all those persecuted for the name of Jesus across the globe. Secondly, with the western church so soft, I wonder how we would embrace such a calling as martyrdom. Would we see it the way Tertullain and those in his day did? If not, then what do we love more, Christ or our comfort?

WHAT reason then, say you, have we Christians to complain of our sufferings, when we are so fond of persecution; we ought rather to love those who persecute us so sweetly to our heart's content. It is true, indeed, we are not against suffering, when the Captain of our salvation calls us forth to suffer: but let me tell you, it is with us in our Christian warfare as it is with you in yours, we choose to suffer as you choose to fight; but no man chooses fighting for fighting sake, because he cannot engage without fear and hazard of life. Yet, nevertheless, when the brave soldier finds he must engage, he battles it with all his power, and if he comes off victorious is full of joy, though just before not without his complaints of a military life, because he has obtained his end, laden with glory, laden with spoil.

...

And now, O worshipful judges, go on with your show of justice, and, believe me, you will be juster and juster still in the opinion of the people, the oftener you make them a sacrifice of Christians. Crucify, torture, condemn, grind us all to powder if you can; your injustice is an illustrious proof of our innocence, and for the proof of this it is that God permits us to suffer; and by your late condemnation of a Christian woman to the lust of a pander, rather than the rage of a lion, you notoriously confess that such a pollution is more abhorred by a Christian than all the torments and deaths you can heap upon her. But do your worst, and rack your inventions for tortures for Christians—it is all to no purpose; you do but attract the world, and make it fall the more in love with our religion; the more you mow us down, the thicker we rise; the Christian blood you spill is like the seed you sow, it springs from the earth again, and fructifies the more.

Reeve, A.M. The Apology of Tertullian. Chapter 50. http://www.tertullian.org/articles/reeve_apology.htm Accessed 2/22/2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Top Ten Christian Breakup Lines


Last week, in celebration of Valentine's Day, I published my list of Top Ten Christian Pickup Lines. It was my little gift to those who didn't have anyone to celebrate the holiday with. Now, I thought I also should do a good turn to those who were expecting to celebrate the day with that special someone, but the wretch was a no-show. So, here are my Top Ten Christian Break-up Lines. These are seasoned with just enough humility and holiness to sound genuine, while getting that good-for-nothing out of your life. All in the name of Christian service.
  • 10. "You're my sister (or brother) in the Lord, and I just don't feel right about dating my sister."
  • 9. "I'm Calvinist and we just weren't predestined to be."
  • 8. "I'm going to purify myself from all earthly pleasures."
  • 7. "My Old Testament studies will be taking up more of my time—in Qumran."
  • 6. "I'm modeling my life after Jesus, and he was celibate."
  • 5. "You're egalitarian and I'm complimentarian, so I just can't see how it will work out."
  • 4. "God loves me and must have a better plan for my life."
  • 3. "I've read C.S. Lewis' Four Loves and you're not one of them."
  • 2. "I feel like Peter: I used to walk on water when I thought of you but now I'm sinking and just need to get back into the boat."
  • 1."Your price isn't above rubies."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is a Necessary Being Really Necessary?



One of the things that thinkers have used to separate God from everything else is the fact that He is what you would call a necessary being. He is the necessary start to a chain of events that we see in existence today. Physicist Stephen Hawking describes an exchange that underlines why a beginning point is important in his book A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"1
As you can see, the little old lady never really gave an answer that would explain anything. The line of turtles must stop somewhere, since they need to sit atop something to be held up themselves. Another example is the idea of origins. If I were to ask how it was that you came to be, you might respond by explaining how your parents met, were married and conceived you. " But," I may continue, " That’s just one link tin the chain. They had to come from somewhere — where did THEY come from?" " From their parents," you counter. "But what about them?" You can see how this quickly devolves into meaninglessness. Such responses to questions about the universe (and our own existence) are known as an infinite regress. When you try to explain the origin of something by adding one more link to the end, it doesn't help much, since you've merely moved the question back to "but where did that come from?"

We somehow need a necessary condition to begin our understanding of everything. We need a floor for our turtles to start piling up on, if you will.2 This is what we mean when we talk of a necessary being. If there is a God, we would find that He is the beginning of the effects which we see around us. If there is not a God, then something else must be the initial condition — the start of this whole universe and its attributes. Whatever the initial condition is, it must have some very specific qualities. That means that whatever answer someone offers, they must show that such an answer is capable of meeting these conditions.

Below is a short video where I note that the beginning of the universe must be either caused by God or by nothing at all. Of the two, I think God makes infinitely more sense.


References

1. Hawking, Stephen W. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988) 1.
2. I use this phrase only for its illustrative purposes. If there is a floor, it is of course obvious that the turtles in the above example are unnecessary. To extend the analogy, the Earth could merely be resting on the floor with no turtles or possibly one turtle walking across that floor giving it movement. The main idea is that since a floor is required in all cases, the turtles can be removed and none of the explanatory power is lost, which demonstrates how the stack of turtles really are no help in explaining anything.
Image courtesy Design Alex Mittelmann, Coldcreation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Debate


CNN just posted a video of a debate concerning same-sex marriage pitting Sherif Girgis, one of the co-authors of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense against Andrew Koppelman, author of Defending American Religious Neutrality. As the web site says "Mr. Sherif argued against same-sex marriage, saying the issue was not about equality but rather what marriage is and the reasons states are involved in the question. He said 'marriage is fulfilled by the bearing and rearing of whole new children.' Mr. Koppelman made his case in favor of same-sex marriage by refuting Mr. Sherif’s thesis. Following their prepared remarks they answered questions from moderator Richard Fallon and audience members."

Sharif opens with the following argument:
  1. The main vision supporting same-sex marriage is mistaken. It's wrong on what marriage is, and in how it sets marriage apart from other bonds.
  2. Enshrining that new vision of marriage in law would be harmful for the common good, e.g. the reasons why the State gets involved at all in the marriage question.
  3. Mainstream arguments for same-sex marriage have a lot of internal contradictions that underscore their faulty reasoning.
This is a good exchange with respectful participants. The entire debate, which with Q &A runs just under an hour and can be found at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310722-1

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Women in Combat or Women as Victims

One of my most visceral reactions is against those who would perpetrate violence against women. Even when young, movies such as The Burning Bed would cause me to have a strong emotional response. So, when I saw Eve Ensler's "One Billion Rising" events held this Valentine's Day, coupled with the U.S. Senate's passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you would think I would be elated. But these events actually brought more questions to my mind than adulation, primarily due to the recent announcement by Leon Panetta to allow women to serve as combatants. It seems to me that these positions contradict each other, even as the same elected officials continue to push for both.

Photo by Israel Defense Forces
Let's look at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) as an example. Gillibrand serves on the Senate Committee on ordering the military to come up with a plan to send women into battle. In so doing, she said "Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender." But such reasoning does not fly. Women simply don't have the upper body strength men do, and they have 30% less muscle mass overall. Now, I know that there are some women who are stronger than weak men. However, this fact is unconvincing for two reasons. One, weak men get stronger through training. Testosterone builds muscle. And those that can't strengthen themselves due to some physical ailment will usually be assigned to non-combative roles. Secondly, women's strength can atrophy faster than men's.  Marine Captain Katie Petronio, who herself has been in combat-type situations, makes this argument.

Beyond the strength issue, there's another big concern in allowing women in the military, and that is that gender matters.  Ryan Smith in the Wall Street Journal did an excellent job in painting a picture of what combat conditions really look like, as he had served as a Marine infantry squad leader in Iraq in 2003. He tells of being enclosed in a vehicle for 48 hours, urinating and defecating just inches away from fellow soldiers, then having to strip with all his comrades while his clothing was burned for decontamination.  Will women feel empowered by such actions? Will men?

Men and women also interact differently.  When polled, 17 percent of male marines would leave the service if women were placed in combat roles, their biggest concerns being "fears about being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, fraternization or some Marines getting preferential treatment. They also worried women would be limited because of pregnancy or personal issues that could affect the unit before they are sent to the battlefield." The truth on this matter is we simply don't know what effect a large-scale deployment of women in combat units would have.  There's no data because it has never been done before.

Then there are the larger family issues. According to this report, over 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and about 10 percent of women in the military become pregnant each year. So, female soldiers train and work alongside their male counterparts, but one in ten must be replaced so they can take maternity leave. Does that affect a unit's effectiveness? Add to that the higher divorce rate among female service members and one can see that sex makes a difference on how one processes military situations. These differences will only become more acute when more women are placed in high-pressure combat roles.

Ten months after her Senate proposal demanding women be placed in combat roles, the same Senator Gillibrand is standing before the Senate lobbying for the VAWA. "There is simply no room for partisan gamesmanship when we're talking about the safety of our families," Gillibrand said. "For millions of women and families, VAWA serves as a lifeline to keep them safe." So, Gillibrand seems to think that it is appropriate to focus on the sex of the person when worrying about the safety of women and their children. If such is the case, that standard should be applied appropriately to the question of female combatants.

 It's important to realize that the Violence Against Women Act is calling for special protection for women, that a man attacking a woman needs to be categorized differently than a man attacking a man. If one were to ask why women need such special protections, the reasons listed would be pretty much the same as to those that are offered for keeping women out of combat roles. But folks like Gillibrand want it both ways. On one hand, women can do anything men can do.  Give them a gun and everyone is equal (even though combat is not simply firing a weapon.) On the other, a fight between a man and a woman isn't a fair one, so women need the protection of the law. A woman should never be punched, but its O.K. to put her in a situation where she can be killed.

Equality has never meant that we must erase our differences. God made men and women differently, and this is clear when we look at biology. Gillibrand rallies for keeping families safe, but women in combat works against that standard, not toward it.  It also does nothing to strengthen our military. Remember, the military should first and foremost be concerned with protecting our troops and winning battles. Of course we should do so in an ethical way, but I don't see barring women from combat situations any less ethical than barring asthmatics from the military altogether. If barring women from combat is somehow discriminatory, then we must judge the VAWA legislation to also be so. It is simply inconsistent to hold to both positions.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are the Smartest People Only Concerned with Science and Technology?

Every year, the online magazine Edge asks 150 people who they deem the "most complex and sophisticated minds" a provocative question and publish their results.  This year, that question was "What *Should* We be Worried About?" While each person submitted a short essay containing their answer, you can see a pretty fair synopsis of the results at the Motherboard site. The article is telling in many ways.

Photo by Vincerama

One of the most immediately noticeable things in the collection is simply how many of the respondents focus on science and technology as points of worry.  Of the 150 answers, half dealt with these topics.  They either saw science as the ultimate savior of mankind that is somehow being stifled, science leading us into monstrous or disastrous consequences, or our increasing dependence on technology and the Internet as our ultimate undoing.  Compare that with only three answers dealing with economic issues, two on governments or political issues, and twenty-three who worried in some way about our cultural shortcomings or homogenization.  (There were even eight who said we worry too much about being worried!)

Of course, when one looks at who Edge considers the smartest people in the world, they tend to bias their results. There are no people listed whose primary focus is in ethics and there are just a few professional philosophers—thus inadvertently underscoring Anton Zelinger's worry that "we are more and more losing the formal and informal bridges between different intellectual, mental and humanistic approaches to seeing the world." Of course no theologians were invited to the party.

In the responses, you do see several nods towards religion, but they are all cast in negative terms. Science writer Matt Ridley is worried about what he terms "superstition" and writes with alarm that "the fundamentalists are breeding at a faster rate than the moderates." Tim O'Reilly worries that "the rise of anti-intellectualism" (which he clarifies for us as "conservative elements in American religion and politics") will stifle technological process.

But, religion and ethics are key to answering many of the other worries voiced in the collection. Seirian Summer is worried about synthetic biology spiraling out of control. Both Stanislas Dehaene and Melanie Swan are concerned that our technology will become so advanced authorities and companies will soon be able to read people's brains. And Colin Tudge claims that "Science has become increasingly narrow-minded—materialistic, reductionist, and inveterately anthropocentric: still rooted, philosophically, in the 18th century." As I've said before, science does not have the tools to deal with these issues, since they are fundamentally questions of morality.

There are a few other answers that are notable. Benjamin Bergen wants our kids to hear obscene words, claiming such language "carry no intrinsic threat of harm." I wonder if African-Americans feel that way about the "N" word? Thomas Metzinger is concerned about the proliferation of illegal drugs. Daniel L. Everett is worried about the demise of the scholar. And Roger Schank is worried "that people can't think, can't reason from evidence, and don't even know what would constitute evidence." On that last point I agree. I hope Edge magazine will also lose their myopia and think more about asking experts in morality when morally charged questions arise.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is It Fair That Hell Is Eternal? (video)



I recently received a letter from a person asking how a loving God could sentence people to Hell for all eternity. The writer said that it didn't seem fair that a finite amount of sins should be punished for an infinite amount of time. However, this misunderstands both the difference between sin and holiness as well as the status of a person who has an active will even after death.

Watch this short clip on my response to this particular question and see why an eternal separation from God is both fair and makes perfect sense.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A. N. Sherwin-White on Jesus as Historical Figure

Oxford historian A.N. Sherwin-White was a well-recognized scholar in the history of ancient Rome. He was president of the Society for Promotion of Roman Studies and was a fellow of the British Academy. Dr. Sherwin-White knew ancient history as well as anyone. He also knew myth, how to separate myth from history, and what made good grounds for judging historical aspects of ancient sources. Here, he comments on the comparative historical support for the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the life of Tiberius Caesar:
It is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain—so far as an amateur can understand the matter—that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious when one compares the case for the best-known contemporary of Christ, who like Christ is a well-documented figure—Tiberius Caesar. The story of his reign is known from four sources, the Annals of Tacitus and the biography of Suetonius, written some eighty or ninety years later, the brief contemporary record of Velleius Paterculus, and the third-century history of Cassius Dio. These disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events. Everyone would admit that Tacitus is the best of all the sources, and yet no serious modern historian would accept at face value the majority of the statements of Tacitus about the motives of Tiberius.' But this does not prevent the belief that the material of Tacitus can be used to write a history of Tiberius. The divergences between the synoptic gospels, or between them and the Fourth Gospel, are no worse than the contradictions in the Tiberius material."
A.N. Sherwin-White. Aspects of Roman Citizenship and the Question of Historicity. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 204) 187-188.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Are Beliefs Separate From Knowledge?

Are beliefs separate from knowledge? In my time as an apologist, I've heard many people try to dismiss beliefs as silly or meaningless while claiming to only rest in knowleldge. Usually, it's voiced something like "Well, you may rely on your beliefs, but I rely on facts like those that science gives." But this kind of separation make a crucial mistake. You see, beliefs are necessary for knowledge to exist.


First, we must understand that beliefs in and of themselves don't normally exist without any precursor. We don't make things up out of thin air and then say we believe them. For example, imagine we're sitting in a house of a friend.  I cannot ask you to believe that there is a Rodent of Unusual Size in the next room just because it would be fun to believe in such a thing. You wouldn't really believe the claim. Even if I offered you a $1 million prize for believing in the ROUS and you tell me you believe, I don't think you really hold that the claim is true—you just assent to the claim to get the money.

However, if I provide some background for my claim (e.g. our friend's father is a bio-chemist working on the effects of growth hormone on rats and he uses the next room as a laboratory) your beliefs may change.  You have some additional information that supplements your belief and it gives further justification for you to actually believe the claim. Therefore, your beliefs become established on prior evidence or they have some other justification attached to them.

Most beliefs work this way.  It is very rare that someone believes in something with no prior background or reasoning at all. Humans are rational creatures and it's in our nature to seek some kind of support for our beliefs.  When that support is sufficiently justified and the belief is true, we can say that we have knowledge. That's how knowledge is defined; knowledge is only possessed if someone has a belief that is both justified and true.

Beliefs and Knowledge

Realize not all beliefs, even with justification, are true beliefs. For example, one can make the claim that if you run for several miles daily, you will lose weight. The person begins running and, sure enough, he loses weight. Do his beliefs count as knowledge? Not necessarily, since it depends on what the belief is. When you ask why he believes that running causes one to lose weight he may say, "I believe that running every day is performing an exorcism of the fat-demons. When you run, they are expelled and they can't catch up to you. So you lose weight." So, while his claim does in fact prove to be true, he does lose weight, his justification for the claim is lacking and he doesn't know that he will lose weight.

There are many beliefs that science holds where the claims produce a true response. Quantum theories produce some very good, highly accurate predictive results. But we don't yet know that these quantum theories are correct. We simply know they give us an accurate outcome.  Like the runner who loses weight, the reason why he loses weight may be wrong, even though the end result is just as he predicted. There are several different and competing quantum theories; which demonstrates that we simply don't know.  It's not knowledge yet. 

So, to separate the concept of knowledge and belief into different realms is, I think, itself unwarranted.  Yes, some beliefs are less justified than others. But beliefs are a necessary requirement for knowledge. Without a belief you cannot know anything. And this shows that just because a belief happens to be a scientific belief, it is not necessarily any more justified than any other.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Top Ten Christian Pickup Lines

Photo by Steve Evans
For a little fun on this Valentine's Day, I thought I'd compile a list of Christian pickup lines you'll probably never hear. Enjoy these with someone special!

  • 10. "I didn't believe in predestination until tonight."
  • 9. "If I was choosing, you'd be my ark-mate."
  • 8. "Hey girl. You really are a fisher of men. And baby, you just reeled me in!"
  • 7. "If I march around you seven times, will you fall for me?"
  • 6. "I gave my heart to Jesus, but I'd like to give you my number."
  • 5. "You can be the bread and I'll be the fish and we'll see if Jesus can make a miracle out of us."
  • 4. "Is it a sin that you stole my heart?"
  • 3. "I've waited the last seven years to find someone, but for you they feel like only a day."
  • 2. "Let's go to a coffee shop, and open our Bibles together. We just may find some divine revelation."
  • 1. "What's an xBox?"
Also, check out the Top Ten Christian Breakup Lines.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Evangelicals Celebrate Ash Wednesday?


I teach a small Bible devotion for a company with Christian owners. Once a month, they invite their employees  to join together and spend fifteen or twenty minutes with a bit of encouragement and reflection from the Scriptures.  I love this idea, but on more than one occasion folks there have commented to me that it's difficult to "switch gears" from sales calls, production worries, and accounting headaches to a quiet time where they can absorb all the devotion may have for them.

I can completely see how this would be so. It's hard to turn off all the cares and worries of our ever busier lives and just focus in on what God has to say. Many churches begin their services with an extended time of worship music for just that reason; it helps prepare our hearts and minds for the teaching. So, we learn to quiet ourselves in preparation for the tasks of the day with our daily devotional time and we learn to quiet ourselves in preparation for the week in our worship services.

I write all this today because it's Ash Wednesday, which marks a forty day period of reflection prior to Easter. Many people today, especially those in non-denominational churches, don't see a big significance in Lent. Some have left Roman Catholic or other traditional denominations who had a more formal observance of the day, and they feel that Lent is part of the "ritual" that was part of the "old school" way of doing things. But, is this the right way to think about Lent?

It seems to me that Lent is a very biblical idea.  God had the Israelites spend time reflecting and thinking about how He rescued them at least twice yearly (Passover and Sukkot).  The Psalms are replete with God pointing to the fact that He is the one who delivered Israel from Egypt. Paul in Ephesians 2:11-14 instructs us to remember how we, who were once cut off and separated from God were then reconciled to Him through Christ's sacrifice.

Lent is the perfect time, then to quiet ourselves and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, and another year of living new lives in Christ. So, it makes sense to fast, to sacrifice some of what adds to our busy days, or to the desires and distractions that crowd our lives. We need to remember how fragile we are and that our lives and our salvation are a result of God's good grace.

I urge you to see how you can make the time of Lent one where your hearts and lives are quieted before the Lord. A little ritual is not necessarily a bad thing—and it may help you to appreciate the enormity of Easter a little bit better

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Four Chaplains - How Religion Changes Everything

A Calvinist, a Methodist, a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi walk onto a ship… No, this is not the start of another lame joke, but a celebration of four men whose heroic actions are not remembered as much anymore.  Sixty years ago last week, at the height of conflict in World War II, these four U.S. Army chaplains engaged in an act of heroism that is scarcely seen.  As their ship sank, they took off their life vests and gave them away to soldiers on board, knowing that sinking in the frigid North Atlantic was a certain death sentence. Lt. George L. Fox, Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Lt. John P. Washington, and Lt. Clark V. Poling laid down their lives willingly as an act of service to their God and to their fellow men.

During WWII, many passenger cruise ships were converted into troop transports for the war effort.  The USAT Dorchester [1]wwas a smaller vessel, designed to carry about 314 passengers and crew up and down the East coast. After conversion, it would hold over three times more, with over 900 soldiers and ship's crew boarding on January 23, 1943 to cross the Atlantic to support the fighting in Europe.  German submarines, or U-boats, had attacked troop transports before, so the captain sailed outside the shipping lanes and had "ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and keep life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable."[2]

 Early on February 3, a German submarine torpedoed the ship which was 150 miles off of Greenland. Panic ensued on board, but the chaplains sought to sooth the fears of the men. "One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. 'I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,' Bednar recalls. 'I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.'" [3]

Once on deck, the chaplains began passing out life jackets to the men, but found out that there were too few for all the passengers aboard. Then, as survivors Grady Clark and John Ladd reported, all four of the chaplains took off their own jackets and gave them to others. "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said Ladd.  The Chaplains locked arms, sang and prayed for the men as the Dorchester sank with them on board.[4]

Steven Weinberg once said "Good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil--that takes religion."[5] New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens decry religion as something harmful, that it "poisons everything."  Well, here is just one example of the contrary.  There were many good people on the Dorchester, many who were ready to give their lives for the war effort. But there were only four men who were so selfless that they offered others a chance at life to their own demise.  It was because of their belief in God that they did so, not in spite of it. We would do well to continue to remember these brave chaplains.


References

[1] "USAT Dorchester". Wikipedia. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USAT_Dorchester> Accessed 2-9-2013
[2] "The Saga of the Four Chaplains". The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation.
 < http://www.fourchaplains.org/story.html> Accessed 2-9/2013
[3] Ibid.
[4]Brewer, Stanley. S.S. Dorchester. GreatShips.net
< http://www.greatships.net/dorchester.html> Accessed 2/9/2013
[5] Weinberg, Steven. "A Designer Universe?" PhysLink.com
< http://www.physlink.com/Education/essay_weinberg.cfm> Accessed 2/9/2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Apologetics in the Military (audio)

How is moral relativism affecting our young men and women in the armed services?  It affects them quite a bit, actually. In this interview, I talk with Ratio Christi's Keith Kendrex and Dr. Enuel Hernandez, a US Navy chaplain who works with active duty marines, about the problem of relativism as it's found in our churches and universities, and especially within the military. As reported by NBC among others, the military suicide rate hit a record high in 2012. Moral relativism is one of the crises that help propel this number ever higher.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Using a free Christian society to disparage Christianity

How Christianity Changed the World
Many today who disparage Christianity may not know or believe that were it not for Christianity, they would not have the freedom that they presently enjoy. The very freedom of speech and expression that ironically permits them to castigate Christian values is largely a by-product of Christianity's influences that have been incorporated into the social fabric of the Western World, as chapter 10 documents. This freedom, similar to the freedom that Adam and Eve once had, ironically permits the possessors of freedom to dishonor the very source of their freedom. As Fernand Braudel has so eloquently stated, "Throughout the history of the West, Christianity has been at the heart of the civilization it inspires, even when it has allowed itself to be captured or deformed by it."
               - Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. p.13.


For more on this topic:
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If Christianity truly originated with God, then we would expect that following its precepts would have dramatic implications for societies as well as individuals. See how humanity is better off because of the Christian faith.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Divine Providence and Evil

Photo by  kaitew
One of the biggest tension points in Christendom is the question of divine providence and how that relates to the evil we see practiced in the world today. If God is in control of all the events of the world, and He is all-powerful, the why do we see so much evil and suffering?

Most Christians in the past clearly understood the concept of divine providence.  Even Thomas Jefferson, a deist, invokes divine providence in the Declaration of Independence. Certainly, the idea that God can order events in certain ways follows naturally from His attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.

But what does it mean that God orders things? Is there a difference between the laws of nature and the providential care of God?  And if God orders all things, then what about all the evil that we see in the world today?  Couldn't God fix that? James Montgomery Boice encapsulates the discussion well:
"There is probably no point at which the Christian doctrine of God comes more into conflict with contemporary worldviews than in the matter of God's providence. Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, but rather works within that creation to manage all things according to the 'immutable counsel of His own will' (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world's Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs. Many think that miracles do not happen, that prayer isn't answered and that most things 'fall out' according to the functioning of impersonal and unchangeable laws.

"The world argues that evil abounds. How can evil be compatible with the concept of a good God who is actively ruling this world? There are natural disasters: fires, earthquakes, and floods. In the past, these have been called 'acts of God.' Should we blame God for them? Isn't it better to imagine that he simply has left the world to pursue its own course?"1
As I've written before2, God, in Hebrew thought, is considered the final authority over everything. If wars or famine happen, then God has allowed that to occur, and therefore controls evil. He does not initiate any type of evil. When a man seeks to sin and commit adultery that is his choice. He should not expect God to protect him, then, from any disease or negative ramification of his choice. God's judgments and the loss of His protection are how he creates afflictions in the lives of men. Judgment is not morally wrong, though. Quite the opposite, judgment is what we expect of a righteous God.

What Evil Isn't

Evil and sins are not "things" in and of themselves.3 They do not exist autonomously. Rather, they are the absence of the perfect which God did make. As an example, we have the ability to create a vacuum of space. Now I do this not by making something out of materials, but by removing all the air and particles out of that space. The void that remains is what we choose to label a vacuum. It isn't a thing in itself, but it is a term we use to state that everything else is gone. Likewise we use the term cold to describe a lower temperature. Any air conditioner man can tell you that to cool something down you don't put cold in, but you have to take heat out. Cold is the absence of energy that causes heat.

Sin and evil are regarded the same. These things cannot exist as "things" that are independent of circumstances, but are the labels given to actions or characteristics that do not meet the goal of perfection.

This distinction was first noted by Augustine of Hippo. In his City of God he writes:
For when God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light,' if we are justified in understanding in this light the creation of the angels, then certainly they were created partakers of the eternal light which is the unchangeable Wisdom of God, by which all things were made, and whom we call the only-begotten Son of God; so that they, being illumined by the Light that created them, might themselves become light and be called 'Day,' in participation of that unchangeable Light and Day which is the Word of God, by whom both themselves and all else were made. 'The true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,' — this Light lighteth also every pure angel, that he may be light not in himself, but in God; from whom if an angel turn away, he becomes impure, as are all those who are called unclean spirits, and are no longer light in the Lord, but darkness in themselves, being deprived of the participation of Light eternal. For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name 'evil.'4

References

1. Boice, James Montgomery. "God's Providence". The Highway. http://www.the-highway.com/providence_Boice.html. Accessed 7-22-2011
2. Taken from "Doesn't Isaiah Say that God Made Evil?" http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi025.asp
3. Taken from "Didn't God Create Evil, Too?" http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi020.asp 4.Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book IX, Chapter 9.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Is the University Becoming Something Driven by Fundraising and Fear?

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue
Todd Gitlin, chair of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in communications at Columbia University, wrote an interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times concerning the recent brouhaha at Brooklyn College. It seems the political science department co-sponsored a forum where an anti-Israel group was to provide speakers who would condemn the Jewish state and call for cutting off all economic ties. Given that 15% of Brooklyn's 2.5 million residents are Jewish, the backlash against the poly-sci department was severe and the college quickly found itself in a question of what its role is in providing a voice to people who hold unpopular opinions.

Gitlin used this example of just how far our institutes of higher education are moving from their original role as institutions that expose and build ideas and critical thinking to something... well... less.

He notes the Brooklyn College department chair told disgruntled students that "You and like-minded colleagues should attend the event, voice your views and use this event as an opportunity to generate more dialogue and discussion among students. Perhaps you and your colleagues could even organize a panel discussion of your own."

Gitlin goes on to explain:
With these words, Currah was channeling John Stuart Mill, to the effect that education and enlightenment benefit when minority views are heard, partly because these views may, in the end, turn out to be right to some degree, and partly because the majority, when forced to confront objections, may well find its understanding sharpened and its previously stale views refreshed.

Mill is evidently not so much in vogue now, as Israel-right-or-wrong advocates seem to believe that their case is a delicate hothouse flower that will wither under any adverse exposure.
He sums up the problem with keen insight later in the article when he writes:
There is a sinister pattern at work. Misunderstandings of the purposes of universities run rampant today in an America driven by fear that somebody, somewhere, may be thinking incorrect or unprofitable thoughts. Fundraising is paramount. Established universities expand by raising hundreds of millions of dollars, hoping that the research they cultivate will eventually profit the school financially. This can lead to remarkable new academic ventures, but also to timidity.

Christians have seen this same concept played out in their science classes, their ethics classes, and anywhere else groupthink is only to be allowed. I think Gitlin has nailed some of the problem.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Can We Be Equal on Evolution's View? (video)



"If evolution is true, then what makes all people equal to begin with?"

Here's a quick video clip to share with young people that will help provoke their thinking. I discuss the problem of anchoring equality of persons from an evolutionary viewpoint and how the early 20th century eugenics movement was the natural outgrowth of this view. Feel free to share with your friends!


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Whether You Want to Be or Not, You Are Drafted into the War of Ideas

“Boy, I sure wish you could come with me and talk to my college professor!” “If only I had you with me at our next family dinner.” “Wow, I would love to have those guys at work come and talk to you for a while.” Have you ever said or thought a statement like that before? Many pastors and apologists are hearing phrases like these more and more. There are good reasons for why this is so, as students are facing increasingly harsh criticism when standing up for their Christian beliefs.

As a Christian, you're a target for others who hold ideas and beliefs different from you. And because you can’t have an expert beside you all the time, it’s going to be up to you to try and defend what you believe in many situations. Whether you want to be or not, you've been drafted in to a war — a war of ideas! The Apostle Paul tells us the very same thing when he writes to the church at Corinth: “We use God's power that can destroy fortresses. We destroy arguments and every bit of pride that keeps anyone from knowing God.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5 CEV)

Those fortresses that Paul talks about, those are the ideas that this world has on how to do things: what’s right, how we should act, how we should treat others, and how our faith fits into the picture. Most of the world's understanding of right and wrong, morality, the nature of man, and how our beliefs are worked out in our daily lives are opposite of what the Bible says should be so. Satan is the father of lies. He manipulates this world to believe some of the most unbelievable things, and as you've probably experienced, people don’t like it when you try to promote the Biblical way of approaching actions. You will find that people will tell you that you are being intolerant, judgmental, belligerent, narrow-minded, naive, or something worse. They are comfortable in their worldview and they don’t want to hear that they may actually be sinning or wrong. Their ideas are entrenched, and those are the “fortresses of this world”.

You see, most people assume that their faith is just one aspect of who they are. They believe that faith is important, but it is a personal thing. Most people are mistaken. Faith is so much more than just a part of us. It is the lens through which we see and understand the world.

The Bible takes this same view. It doesn't tell us just what to believe but provides us with a framework by which we can judge our experiences. If the Bible is the word of God, then it holds the truth in every aspect of life that it comments about. It is our guide to reality, not merely for religious worship but how we should act living our everyday lives. Therefore, it becomes a really big thing to understand and provide answers for what we think we believe and have reasons for why we would believe it. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Looking for Real News? Let the Reader Beware.

 photo by Southwest

There's an old Latin phrase the Romans originated and most people have heard  even today: "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware. This holds true for even those consumers that want to be objectively informed by our news media. Before we go further, realize this isn't some type of "the newspaper's politics is slanted" diatribe. No, this is more about business than politics.

Today's Los Angeles Times ran a story in their science pages with the headline "Scientists infuse 'life' into inanimate compounds." Such a sensational achievement by science should be trumpeted across the headlines of all majors papers, no doubt.  However, this was carried in their regular science page, back on an interior page of a subsection of the paper.

Why would the Times choose to bury such a sensational story? The answer lies in the story itself.

The scientist had hundreds of bacteria-sized particles, each with an attached mineral hematite that stuck out on one end spread randomly in a drop of liquid solution. Because the solution included hydrogen peroxide and when exposed to a blue-violet light hematite reacts with the hydrogen peroxide, whenever the scientists turned on the light, a chemical reaction would start and the particles would gather together in crystal-like shapes. The article goes on to say "at first, the particles moved about at random. Then, about 25 seconds into the chaos, the limited space and directionless driving produced a traffic jam of particles." Because of the "jam" the particles forced themselves into these hexagonal structures.

This is an interesting and non-trivial find; I'm sure it can lead to efficient ways to do things on a microscopic level that we've not been able to accomplish before.  However, is this an example of infusing life into inanimate compounds?  It doesn't seem so to me.  Anyone who has studied systems restricted by some type of containment knows that such systems will sort themselves into a honeycomb shape. Cannonballs and oranges in crates are routinely cited as examples of this.  It is common enough that chemists even have a name for it: face-centered cubic packing.

Now, the fact that these particles are grouping in such a way because of the influence of the light is as I said interesting and could hold promise for many different uses.  However, this has nothing to do with making things alive. These particles are infused with life in much the same way a pinball machine comes to life when you drop a quarter in its slot. So why would the headline scream that scientist have succeeded in infusing life into inanimate objects? Of course the headline used scare quotes around the word "life" but they knew people glancing at the article would draw an implication. The newspapers bank on such sensationalism to get people to read the story.

As thoughtful consumers we need to be cautious and carefully read the claims made in the media today.  Supposed documentaries of the Discovery Channel and other cable shows will routinely use this tactic to try and grab viewers. Many times an unwitting public will buy a ridiculous idea that Jesus' family tomb was discovered or that the Gospel of Judas somehow overthrows two thousand years of Christianity. But the Romans knew better than to believe the first thing someone tries to sell you, even if what they're claiming to trade in is the truth.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women?

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting couple of articles earlier this year discussing the pros and cons of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It is clear to anyone who takes the time to look at history that humanity, and especially Western societies, underwent a fundamental change because of the separation of sexual activity from procreation.


In this article, Hoover Research Fellow Mary Eberstadt focuses on four myths that seem to still be prevalent today (especially by those with a certain political agenda) and she deftly knocks down each one.  The four she identifies are:
  1. The "war on women" consists of tyrannical men arrayed against oppressed but pluckily united women.
  2. If it weren't for the Catholic Church, no one would be talking about contraception anyway.
  3. The "social issues" are unwanted artifacts of a primitive religious past that will eventually just fade away.
  4. The sexual revolution has made women happier.
Eberstadt takes each of these in turn and shows how silly they are when looked at in real world contexts. She shows that even by looking at popular women's periodicals you can see these myths don't hold. You can read the short article here. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Modern Civilization Cultivating Its Own Destruction.

Although this quote from Malcolm Muggeridge is is some forty years old, it is more apt now than ever before:

"So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over—a weary, battered old brontosaurus—and became extinct."

Pater, Alan F. What They Said in 1975: The Yearbook of World Opinion (Beverley Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co, 1976). 480.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Offer Stories When Sharing Your Faith


Have you ever struggled in a conversation to make your Christian views known?  Have you ever been tongue-tied when someone objects to belief in God because of the problem of evil or the exclusive claims of Christianity? Don’t be too hard on yourself.  It can be difficult getting across all the aspects of a worldview as rich as Christianity, especially when you may not have had much training or practice.

However, there is a great book that can help you be an effective communicator when those providential opportunities to discuss your faith arise.  The God Conversation, written by J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff, is a compact, easy to read collection of illustrations and stories that you can use to communicate the reasons for your faith in an effective way.

The authors note that illustrations are one of the prime ways important concepts have been passed on throughout history. It is the main method Jesus used in His teaching. And these stories remain memorable to both the sharer and the hearer.

The book has eleven chapters covering five major themes: the problem of evil, competing religious claims, the fact of the resurrection, morality and ethics, and the creation/evolution question.  Each area looks at many of the common objections offered today and provides an illustration of why the Christian view makes sense.  By using clear examples where most people would agree, the effectiveness of the stories is easily seen.  But Moreland and Muhlhoff go beyond just the illustration as they provide the reader with extended discussion ideas and further develop the arguments.

I highly recommend The God Conversation, but not just for the evangelist or apologist. Facebook and social media today have made these kinds of interactions almost inevitable for every Christian who takes his or her faith seriously. By using stories such as these, you will find such engagements to be less contentious and more productive.  And you may even learn a little bit more about your own faith in the process.

Related posts:
In Online Dialogs, Asking Questions is Crucial!
Top Ten Neglected books for Apologist


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