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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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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Was it Necessary for Jesus to Rise Again?


In his monumental Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas presents a fully developed theology of the Christian church. Aquinas did this in a kind of Socratic method, posing each topic as a question, offering certain objections against the doctrine and then answering the objections raised. His Third Part focused specifically on Christ and in Question 53 he looks at the necessity of Jesus to rise from the dead.

Aquinas offers five specific reasons why the Resurrection is crucial to the faith. He writes:
 First of all; for the commendation of Divine Justice, to which it belongs to exalt them who humble themselves for God's sake, according to Lk. 1:52: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble." Consequently, because Christ humbled Himself even to the death of the Cross, from love and obedience to God, it behooved Him to be uplifted by God to a glorious resurrection; hence it is said in His Person (Ps. 138:2): "Thou hast known," i.e. approved, "my sitting down," i.e. My humiliation and Passion, "and my rising up," i.e. My glorification in the resurrection; as the gloss expounds.

Secondly, for our instruction in the faith, since our belief in Christ's Godhead is confirmed by His rising again, because, according to 2 Cor. 13:4, "although He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God." And therefore it is written (1 Cor. 15:14): "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and our [Vulg.: 'your'] faith is also vain": and (Ps. 29:10): "What profit is there in my blood?" that is, in the shedding of My blood, "while I go down," as by various degrees of evils, "into corruption?" As though He were to answer: "None. 'For if I do not at once rise again but My body be corrupted, I shall preach to no one, I shall gain no one,'" as the gloss expounds.

Thirdly, for the raising of our hope, since through seeing Christ, who is our head, rise again, we hope that we likewise shall rise again. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 15:12): "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" And (Job 19:2527): "I know," that is with certainty of faith, "that my Redeemer," i.e. Christ, "liveth," having risen from the dead; "and" therefore "in the last day I shall rise out of the earth . . . this my hope is laid up in my bosom."

Fourthly, to set in order the lives of the faithful: according to Rom. 6:4: "As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life": and further on; "Christ rising from the dead dieth now no more; so do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive to God."

Fifthly, in order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things; according to Rom. 4:25: "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification."
To restate these reasons:

  1. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates the Father's acceptance of Christ's humility in sacrificing Himself for our sins.
  2. Jesus' resurrection shows us that He is almighty God, vindicating His authority and our submission to Him.
  3. Jesus' resurrection provides proof that death has no power over the Christian.
  4. Jesus' resurrection gives us the impetus to live holy lives for Him.
  5. Jesus' resurrection is part of His salvific work.
How truly great is our salvation! How truly magnificent is our Lord! How truly important is the Resurrection and how worthy is it to reflect on it this Easter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Falsifiability and Intelligent Design

The idea of falsification is rooted in the scientific method. Experiments are attempts to see if the scientist's hypothesis will break under certain circumstances.  Basically, the scientist is trying to falsify his hypothesis—his description of how natural laws will behave given a set of conditions. This is exactly what Galileo did when he wanted to test the idea that gravity pulls on everything with the same acceleration. By dropping two cannonballs of different weight from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and demonstrating that they landed simultaneously, Galileo showed that his theory was correct. If the heavier ball were to have hit the ground first, Galileo's theory would have been falsified and therefore abandoned for some other explanation.

Because of this power to confirm or disprove theories about the way the natural world works, falsification is taken very seriously by the science community. In fact, some scientists hold that without the ability to falsify a theory, you are simply not doing science. 1 Indeed, this charge is very often leveled against those who resist the idea of Neo-Darwinian evolution2, but instead hold that life displays in its existence and construction an underlying intelligence. Wishing to dismiss any idea that a source other than a natural one could produce life, those who claim science as thier gude will simply dismiss any claims or evidence for intelligent design with a wave of a hand.  "It's not falsifiable" they charge and quickly dismisses any evidence the theory provides.3 But they aren't being consistent in the application of their citeria! In making such an objection, the objector has undercut his own view that evolution is science.

If the criteria of falsification is the determining factor of what separates science from non-science, then evolution should be falsifiable; it should be able to be proven incorrect.  But just what does that look like? With Galileo, we know that there's a positive result for his theory (both balls hitting the ground simultaneously) and a negative result (the heavier hitting the ground before the lighter). So, if we speak of evolution as a process NOT created or guided by an intelligence, and such a definition is considered science, the what should we look for to show that the theory is falsified?  Isn't it the fact that life shows intelligence in its creation instead of randomness?

Intelligent design and Neo-Darwinian evolution are two sides of the same coin, the coin of origins. To choose one side means the other doesn't show itself.  But both sides must exist for the coin to exist! Those who hold to scientism would tell you that you must choose your scientific theory on the development of life from a coin that has only one side—there is no other side that's a legitimate choice. If the concept of falsification excludes intelligent design from being considered science, then by extension, it must also exclude it opposite, the theory of evolution.  This criterion applies to both equally, which means they are either both considered such or neither are. Scientism would have you believe in one-sided coins, but thoughtful people should never fall for such ridiculousness.

References

1. Karl Popper was the leading proponent of using falsification to distinguishing which theories are scientific and which are not.  He believed the concept that Hume had stated where one cannot universally prove a claim, but he saw that one can easily disprove a claim if it fails only one time.  Therefore, to falsify a claim is the heart of science.  See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#SciKnoHisPre for more.
2. Neo-Darwinian evolution may be defined as a belief that all life has arisen from a single source through unguided mutations coupled with natural selection.
3. Tammy Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District. No. 04cv2688 United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. December 2005. p22.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ritual and Christian Tradition

Today is Maundy Thursday, or the celebration of the Last Supper before the Lord's crucifixion. The term Maundy seems strange to Protestant ears, but it basically means "a new commandment" and is derived from the first word of the Latin version of John 13:34 that reads "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." It was before the Last Supper that Jesus demonstrated His servant approach to love by washing the disciples' feet. He also establishes the sacrament of communion and stated "do this in remembrance of me."


In reflecting on all this, it strikes me that ritual played an important role in the early church. Today, many evangelicals tend to shy away from ritual as some kind of remnant of the old, staid way of the denominational churches. They feel that expressions of faith should be free and heart-felt instead of scripted and that ritual became an empty substitute for a true relational interaction with God.

To some extent I understand this. I've seen more than my share of people who would go through the motions each church service thinking that's all they had to do to remain a "good Catholic" or a "good Episcopalian" or something else. There is a temptation to reduce worship to a series of movements and responses that are just as empty as any script reading.  But I think we overact when we think that ritual has no import in the life of the believer.

Human beings have always marked the most significant changes in their lives with ceremony. Think about the marriage ceremony for a moment. A wedding is one of the most important events in one's life, as it signals the bonding of two persons into a single unit, and we show this through the ritual of exchanging vows and exchanging rings. It makes a difference when you can point to that ceremony, that day, and say "here is when I entered into my new life with my spouse." Marriage is a public profession of love and a public promise of fidelity.

Similarly, Christ gave us the rituals like baptism to also mark the transition into the community of the church. He established communion for reflection on His sacrifice, so we don't forget why we follow Jesus. And He gave us the example of the foot washing to teach us how to treat one another. While many churches will perform a foot washing ceremony today, I believe that Jesus didn't want this to be only a ritual performed once a year. I think that just as our celebration of communion sharpens our focus on His death and sacrifice for us that we can then we carry with us daily, the foot washing needs to help us focus on our service to others that we may perform such on a daily basis as well.

Of communion, Spurgeon said, "Never mind that bread and wine unless you can use them as poor old folks often use their spectacles. What do they use them for? To look at? No, to look through them. So, use the bread and wine as a pair of spectacles—look through them and do not be satisfied until you can say, 'Yes, yes, I can see the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' Then shall the Communion be really what it ought to be to you." While one would be amiss in only staring at his spectacles, one would be equally amiss in shunning them and having his viewpoint fall out of focus.

I know that I can forget about Jesus washing His disciples' feet all too easily. It's in my nature. To have a bit of ritual as a reminder can do me much good. Let's not be too hasty in throwing out such practices as so much dirty water. For in so doing, we may be tossing the thing that helps us see our relationship with God and our relationships with others more clearly.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Does Easter have Pagan Origins?

This week is known as Holy Week, since it marks the events in Jesus' life between Palm Sunday and Easter morning.  Millions of Christians will be observing the pivotal events of the death of the Savior and celebrating His resurrection on that glorious Sunday morning. I've had people challenge me on the origin of Easter, claiming that its roots are not found in Christianity. 


Here's a fairly typical example sent to me by a skeptic who Google-searched for an objection and copied the page whole. The essay, entitled "Christian Feast Days and Their Relationship to Pagan Holidays," was written by Donna-Lynn Riley for an Intro to World Religions class at North Virginia Community College. The professor liked it so much she reproduced it on the course's page as a resource.

Discussing the origin of Easter, Riley writes:
"For Christians it is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the very name of this holiday shows pagan origin. The term "Easter" has been said to be derived from Estre or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn. The festival for Eostre was celebrated on the day of the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring."1
So, Riley claims here that Easter has its origins not in the resurrection of Jesus, but the holiday's very name "shows pagan origin." Really?  Then how did Christianity get started at all? Riley doesn't seem to take into account that Christianity relies on the resurrection for its origin.

Let's first look at the historical context of the events that lead to the beginning of Christianity. As has been clearly shown by the research of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, the vast majority of New Testaments scholars hold at the very least:
  • Jesus died by crucifixion
  • Very shortly after Jesus' death, His disciples had experiences that led them to believe that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
  • The Christian persecutor Paul dramatically converted to Christianity. Paul stated the reason for his conversion is because he too experienced the risen Jesus.2
These three facts are held as historical bedrock by scholars who run from the very conservative to the very liberal.  Even atheists who are New Testament scholars will admit these facts. Going one step further, Jesus' death and resurrection are clearly tied to the timeline of the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus' last supper (on Holy Thursday) was the Passover meal. Therefore, the celebration of Easter would naturally also be found to be in close proximity to the Jewish Passover feast, which is in the spring.

In writing her paper, Riley took the name of Easter and said the holiday pulls its origins from the "Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn." But even this isn't quite right.  First, Easter existed long before Christianity was introduced to the people of ancient England.  In most of the world the word used for Easter is "Pascha", which is a derivation from the Hebrew word for Passover.3 So if the Anglo-Saxons tried to link Easter celebrations to their spring festival, the pagan origin is a late-comer and the word not found within the majority of Christendom.

But even the existence of the goddess Eostre has been questioned by British history scholars such as Ronald Hutton.  He writes that all the accounts of the label of Easter originating with a goddess are stemming from the monk Bede's writings, published in the eighth century. Hutton writes that the idea of Easter referencing a goddess celebration "falls into that category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven fact."4 He goes on to write:
"It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon 'Estor-monath' simply meant 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings', and that Bede mistakenly connected it with a goddess who either never existed at all, or was never associated with a particular season but merely, like Eos and Aurora, with the dawn itself.

"With the removal of this shadowy deity from the canon of historical certainty, there evaporates any reliable evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles during the time which became March and April. It may be that there was none, the ancient inhabitants being wholly taken up with ploughing, sowing, and caring for young livestock." 5
So, we have the possibility that Easter refers not to a pagan goddess at all, but to the season in which its marked.  And if there was a goddess Eostre, the holiday may not be referring directly to her, but to the name of the month instead. However, we do know that the Pascha celebration dated hundreds of years before the Christianization of the British Isles.

It is evident that Ridley is unfounded in trying to link Easter to any kind of pagan celebration. What's more troubling is that her professor was so enamored with her paper, that she keeps it as a published resource on her Intro to World Religions web page. She should know better.

References

1. Ridley, Donna-Lynn. "Christian Feast Days and Their Relationship to Pagan Holidays." Written Feb. 9, 2003.<http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lshulman/rel232/resource/RileyPaper.htm>.Accessed March 25, 2013.
2. Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, Il.: IVP Academic, 2010). 463.
3. "Pascha" Wiktionary Entry. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Pascha Accessed 3/26/2013.
4. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun:A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). 181.
5. Ibid. 182.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is Science Against Homosexuality?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
We all know that smoking is hazardous to one's health.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out data showing that when looking as smokers versus non-smokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of:
  • coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times,
  • stroke by 2 to 4 times,
  • men developing lung cancer by 23 times,
  •  women developing lung cancer by 13 times, and
  • dying from chronic obstructive lung diseases (such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema) by 12 to 13 times.[1]
These are pretty compelling numbers and they are enough to cause the U.S. government to require warning labels on every pack of cigarettes sold, the state of California to spend taxpayer dollars on a long-running anti-smoking ad campaign, and folks like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to actively try and dissuade people from taking up smoking.

What if smoking didn't increase the risk of lung cancer by 23 times, but 150 times? Do you think that public health organizations would put forth even more effort to try and curtail the act of smoking? What if it wasn't smoking, but some other act? Would we react just as strongly?

Many people would immediately say either "Yes" or "some may not, but they should!"  After all, the science is on their side, right?  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one of the pre-eminent health institutions of the world, and they are using the latest in scientific findings to try and promote healthier lifestyles for our citizens. Therefore, we should heed their findings. That's the theory in the abstract, but it doesn't work out that way when the activity under question is one that is politically popular to support.

MercatorNet  recently published an article (h/t WinteryKinght) where they culled several stats from the CDC on how susceptible people are to contracting HIV. The CDC reports that men who have sex with men (MSM as the CDC labels them) are 150 times more likely to contract HIV than the heterosexual male population at large. That means that MSM are engaging in a behavior that is astronomically more likely to cause HIV than smoking is to cause lung cancer, heart disease, or stroke. It's an incredibly serious find.

Do I think that because of the CDC finding that various federal and local governments will immediately generate campaigns and advertisements to dissuade people from even casual same sex intercourse?  Of course it won't, because such a statement is politically incorrect. Correcting the actions to lower the risk are a secondary concern to protecting their reputations as being tolerant of others' lifestyles. I guess tolerance takes on a different meaning when it's a smoker's activity that is being questioned.

I'm sure I will hear simple-minded rebuttals to this post such as "well, no one is born a smoker!" True, but so what? I'm talking about actions, not orientation. We can each control our actions. What about those who claim to be bisexual? Should we try to dissuade them? Should we try to dissuade heterosexual men who are just experimenting? If the answer is "no" then my question is "why not?"

It seems to me that quitting smoking is a very hard thing to do, especially if someone was raised in a household where smoking was ubiquitous, where all their peers expected them to smoke, and they have been smoking for some twenty years now.  We still ask them to quit, and we do so because of the science that shows the risks to themselves as well as the wider society. Why can't we say to the vast majority of men out there that the science shows having homosexual relations is in itself proven to be a high-risk behavior and it should be avoided if at all possible?

In my discussions with atheists, I have many encounters with those who wave the flag of "science ├╝ber alles!" They feel that science is the only way to the future and science is the only thing that is authoritative.  They claim it is only through science that we've left the superstitions of the past behind and we should follow its findings if we want to progress as a species. So here I want to challenge them.  If we should follow science wherever it leads, then let's discourage men having sex with men.  If there are factors other than just the science that mitigate this, then you must admit that and give up on the claim that science is the only guiding principle for the betterment of humanity. Which choice would you like to take?

References

[1] See "Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm Accessed 3/26/2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What the Kalam Tells Us About God's Existence

From the earliest days of philosophy, it has been noted that you can't get a something from a nothing. Now this is pretty intuitive, right? How can you get a thing out of nothing? Nothing by its very nature is a no-thing. The universe is a created thing. It would seem then that the universe couldn't come from nothing, but had to come from something else. This concept didn't escape a brilliant Catholic philosopher named Thomas Aquinas who lived in the 13th century. He used the idea to build his argument for the existence of God. Aquinas argued that God must be the ultimate cause five different ways, but the biggest one, the one that draws the most attention, is what we call the First Cause.

Aquinas noticed that no matter what you look at, no matter what you see or experience, it is tied to some kind of an event; something happened. A baby is born or a person dies; whatever the event, it will have a cause associated with it. So for example, the fact that I'm alive means there's a cause for the existence of my life. Like our questioner above, Aquinas started working his way backwards. Well, if that had a cause, then this had a cause, and this had a cause… And all of these things we see simultaneously have causes. It may be a single cause, it may be a complex set of causes, but they all have a cause someplace. So there's this huge chain of events that have to lead back somewhere. What was the first cause? So Thomas Aquinas argued that God would be the First Cause. He would be the un-caused cause. And that was his big push for the five ways; God is this un-caused cause.

As I've shown in a previous blog post, the idea that the universe is infinitely old doesn't make sense anymore. Because we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a way that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove.

Given that we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a slightly different way, one that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove. We have already agreed that a thing cannot come from nothing. In saying such, we are also claiming that the "thing" in question has a beginning. So a better way to state our argument is, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause." Put into a formal logical structure, the argument from existence can be framed this way:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is known in logic as a syllogism, which means that if the first two claims are true, then the third sentence must be true. Either the universe began to exist, or it didn't. And if the universe began to exist, it couldn't be caused by nothing (since there's nothing there to make it happen) and it couldn't have caused itself (since it doesn't yet exist). Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe began had a cause. This specific argument for creation has been known for some time by philosophers, and it even has a name: the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The name may sound daunting, but all we really need to know is the simplicity of the argument.

What we can deduce from the Kalam

Although the argument seems simple, if we unpack it a little bit, you can see how strong the argument really is. Something can either be eternal (no beginning) or it can have a beginning. I think it's pretty clear from the evidence above that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, it either began an infinite amount of time ago, or it began some specific amount of time ago. It can only be one or the other. We've already shown that the universe beginning an infinite amount of time ago doesn't make any sense. So the universe had to begin some specific time ago. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

But we can learn more as we reflect on our understanding of the universe. We can see the cause for the universe can't be material, because all matter is included within what we call the universe. Also, the cause must be outside of time, because according to Einstein, time, space, and matter are all joined together within our universe. That also means that the cause can't have any kind of a spatial dimension either. So we have a cause that's outside time, outside space, and without mass; a cause that is something that may be classified as an eternal spirit. 

We can continue to draw certain inferences about such a cause the more we think about it, and although these are not proofs I think they are interesting in that they do follow logically from what we've already discovered. First, the cause would have to be a mind, not a mere force. I say this because the cause for creation must have some type of will or desire to create; the mechanical laws of nature don't yet exist so a brute force doesn't make sense. In other words, there was a point at which this cause decided, "The universe should be." And the universe was. So although the Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn't necessarily prove the Christian God, it comes pretty close to showing a Creator that is basically an all-powerful mind choosing to act upon nothing who then creates everything.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Didn't God Create Evil, Too?

Many people assert that if God created everything, then He must have also created evil, too. Is this right? Is God ultimately to blame for all the suffering in the world? In this latest Come Reason podcast series, Lenny takes apart the claim that God must be the creator of evil and shows why such an objection cannot stand.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Let's Not be Diverse for Diversity's Sake

It seems that everywhere you turn that the term diversity is the byword of the day. We hear about corporations who seek to become more diverse to reach an ever-widening global market, diversity training classes for the "insensitive," and the need for more and more diversity across our cultures and institutions. Yes, the call for diversity is increasingly strong, but what is it we're calling for?

image by tadness
Whenever the concept of diversity is discussed, it's nearly always offered as a positive. But it seems that it's rarely well-defined. What exactly does diversity mean and why is it so important? If it is as important as the emphasis seems to show, then there ought to be a clear idea of what constitutes diversity and what path an organization can take to be more so. But, because the term has become such a buzzword, I'm concerned that people are agreeing to a concept that is too amorphous to be useful.

The University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Public Health pperformed an open survey in 2010, asking students how they would define diversity. Most answers centered around two ideas: the primary one was that diversity entails gathering together individuals from all kinds of different backgrounds, different socio-economic strata, different political opinions, different religious beliefs, and even different moral beliefs.  A second idea that surfaced was that these differences are all equally valid. As one answer put it "Diversity of experiences, viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences. Tolerance of thought, ideas, people with differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences." But is this really true? Should we seek all kinds of differing viewpoints for the sake of having difference? Should we tolerate just anything?

Now, I understand that there is great benefit to learning about and understanding other cultures. The Chinese gave us gunpowder, the Persians advanced algebra. Certain cultures excel at different aspects of life and culture A may be stuck trying to find the answer to some problem that culture B has solved long ago. Humans are like that; we think linearly for the most part. However, I have become a bit worried because with all the talk of diversity, we never speak of the other side of the coin. There is a very significant drawback to diversity for the sake of diversity—and that is the danger of becoming less human.

Let me explain. If diversity means sinply accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of their beliefs or cultural differences, then there would be no cultural practice one could call wrong or bad.  Cultural practices are simply different.  But in the real world there truly are some things that are bad and should be discouraged. For example, in many African nations the practice of female genital mutilation is a longstanding cultural tradition. This practice is barbaric, though.  We should not accept it for the sake of wanting a different point of view.  We know that such a viewpoint is simply unjustifiable.

The only way cultures advance is to improve themselves. This may mean looking to other cultures and learning from them, but it may also mean teaching other cultures a better way to do things. If we are simply accepting all cultures, all points of view, then how do we as a human race advance? Christianity has been the leader in helping other cultures across the globe with issues like farming, providing clean water and medicine, providing education, and other advances that western nations take for granted. In so doing, they are not spreading diversity, but unity; they recognize all human beings as worthy of dignity and the best that all our advances have brought to life. I fear that today as more and more people call for diversity across every aspect of life, that they don't realize it will only make a positive impact if it is first run through the filter of moral clarity. That's the only way we can serve humanity well.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

G.K. Chesterton on Materialist Beliefs

"For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves. A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist. But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies. But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel. 
"The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts."
Taken from Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy (New York: Image Books | Doubleday, 2001) .18-19.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Do Our Virtual Relationships Make Us More Callous?

Newly appointed Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused quite an uproar with her recent decision to eliminate the work from home arrangements that many of the company's employees enjoy. The policy was announced in an internal memo that read, "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together."

There is something unique and bonding about spending time with other people. Being a tech company, one would have expected Yahoo to extol the virtues and flexibility of the virtual office. However, Mayer is a smart CEO and she recognized that no matter what kind of technology she has at her disposal, it's never the same as being there.

It's not only job creativity or job efficiency that suffers from an overreliance of virtual exchanges. Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, in an opinion piece , describes a  recent event where two teenage boys took a drunk and nearly unconscious 16-year-old girl and decided to abuse her in nearly every way imaginable: stripped her naked in front of partygoers, urinating on her, and digitally penetrating her. When finding out that he could still stand trial for rape, one of the boys reacted by texting “I should have raped her now cos everyone thinks I did” to a friend. The friend's reply? “Yeh you should.”

While the brutality of these acts is shocking, what's even more disconcerting is the fact that the perpetrators lack of any type of remorse even now. What's worse is that the bystanders at the party chose to do nothing and the “friend” who received that text message recipient agreed with the perpetrator! How could so many young people become so callous? Ablow believes it is a result of teens consuming so much of the digital culture. He writes:

Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having Tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived "Reality TV" programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie.
Ablow may be onto something. We live in a society where fame is held up as the highest virtue. Kids post videos of themselves hoping to get more and more hits. People substitute status posts for having conversations. They gun down their friends on X-Box, complete with blood splatters and gory details. In such a world it is easy to see how people can cauterize their ability to empathize with another human being through an over emphasis on technology.

In the gospels, Jesus seems to value spending time together. He would frequently pull His disciples aside for a break from ministry. The early church placed a strong emphasis in koinonia, that is communion or fellowship. Hebrews warns us not to forsake our gathering together (Heb. 10:25), and we are told that our hope found in the promise of living with Jesus forever (Rom 6:8).

While I believe that modern tools can help us keep in touch with one another, I see many people—and particularly younger people who have never known a world without text messages and the Internet—substituting virtual togetherness for the real thing. I think that because we are created as both body and soul, there is a special something that connects us when we are with one another. Video chats or telephone calls are nice, but they are not the same thing as koinonia.  Because there is a barrier between the participants, they can only simulate human contact. What we need is less FaceTime and more face to face time with each other. Perhaps as we begin to really share ourselves with each other it will make us better at feeling what the other person feels. And I think we could use a little more empathy in the world today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thomas Nagel on Why Materialism Fails to Explain Reason

Is reasoning ability based in only biology? We have sense perceptions, such as sight or taste, and those could be explained by the need for survival. But reason isn't like the senses.  Reason is a very peculiar thing and something that doesn't come about by use of the senses. It is different than that. For example, I may have a sense perception that I see water in the distance. I can see rippling waves on the horizon and I may assume that rippling waves mean water is present. However, once I reach that place where I thought the water to be, I see that all that lies before me is dry, barren desert.


If all I have is my sense perception, I would be caught in quite a pickle. Should I believe my senses when they tell me water is in a place or should I believe them when they tell me there is no water here? It is here I use something different than my senses to break the tie: I use reason. I can reason that while I've associated wavy ripples with water, there may be other things that cause the effect of wavy ripples that I saw. I can also reason that my senses have misled me in the past; I've seen optical illusions that are not real, though they appeared to be. I can therefore draw a conclusion that there is no water and the wavy ripples may have in fact been an optical illusion just like others I've experienced.

In all of this, reasoning has an objective quality that stands above sense experience. To reason is to shoot at an objective criterion: the truth. The truth lies outside the individual and can stand in contrast to things like sense experience. Your sense experience may tell you that the sun circles the earth, but by reason and knowledge you are able to understand that it is the earth that is circling the sun.1 This fact is as true in ancient times, when it wasn't believed, as it is today when nearly everyone believes it. The truth is, then, something that stands apart from the organism while sense experience is something subject to the organism.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel draws this distinction as well. He states:
"Thought and reasoning are correct or incorrect in virtue of something independent of the thinker's beliefs, and even independent of the community of thinkers to which he belongs. We take ourselves to form true beliefs about the world around us, about timeless domains of logic and mathematics, and about the right thing to do. We don't take these capacities to be infallible, but we think they are often reliable in an objective sense, and that they can give us knowledge. The natural internal stance of human life assumes that there is a real world, that many questions, both factual and practical, have correct answers, and that there are norms of thought which, if we follow them, will tend to lead us toward the correct answers to those questions. It assumes that to follow those norms is to respond correctly to values or reasons that we apprehend. Mathematics, science, and ethics are built on such norms."2
In in his recent book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly Wrong, he looks at the problem of deriving reason from a materialist position. He first dismisses the attempts to reduce reason to some property held within the elementary particles that make up the organism. He writes that rationality "cannot be conceived of, even speculatively, as composed of countless atoms of miniature rationality."3 He then underscores the point that reasoning is something different than just cause and effect relations. Cause and effect relations are what computers do. If you feed the computer an input, it will, by the nature of its programming, produce an output. There is no understanding that happens.

In rejecting these options, Nagel says any explanation of reason that reduces it to merely matter, chemistry, and physics is increasingly unlikely. He writes, "This would mean that reason is an irreducible faculty of the kind of fully formed conscious mind that exists in higher animals, and that it cannot be analyzed into the mind's protomental parts, in the way that sensation perhaps can be."4 Thus Nagel, an atheist himself, rejects the materialistic explanations for reason and says that some new explanation is needed.

References

1. Copernicus used reason and geometry to show the earth rotated around the sun. It wasn't until Galileo that there was new observational data to confirm Copernicus' model. See J. L. E. Dreyer History of the planetary systems from Thales to Kepler. 312-316. Available online at http://archive.org/details/historyofplaneta00dreyuoft
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly Wrong. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.71.
3. Nagel. 87.
4. Nagel. 87-88.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why God Exists: Minds Come From Minds

Many people who hold to a naturalistic explanation of the world believe that who we are—our thoughts, our feelings, even our falling in love—is merely the product of electrical and chemical reactions happening in a single organ of our bodies: our brains.[1] But as philosopher J.P. Moreland has noted, it is virtually self-evident to most people that they are different from their bodies.[2] We see that in the way we treat people with physical defects. A person who was born with no legs is not considered 80% of a person because he only has 80% of his body. Rather, we understand intuitively that feelings of pleasure and pain, the concept of knowing (such as knowing that 2+2=4), and relationships we experience with others are things that happen to us, not to our bodies.

There's something fundamentally different about conscious experiences and physical effects. Physical effects, such as the effect of gravity on any mass, are governed by natural laws and are simply brute facts of cause and effect — if you let go of a ball, it will fall to the ground. The ball doesn't have the "idea" to fall to the ground, nor does the earth have the idea of pulling the ball down. Laws of nature are by their very definition fixed and do not contemplate whether or not to act. However, conscious decisions are not mere cause and effect. They are more than that. Take the act of raising my hand. I can choose whether to raise my hand or not in normal circumstances. If I decide to raise my hand, I can do so, but it's not inevitable that my hand will raise until I've chosen to rise it, unlike the inevitability of a ball falling when it is not supported by anything.

We see that our minds can affect our bodies in other ways, too. Some people have a medical condition where they cannot feel pain, while other people feel pain in limbs that they no longer have. Certainly the experience of feeling pain is different from the physical process of pain receptors receiving stimuli and transmitting electrical signals to the brain. And the concept of what it means to be in pain is something that cannot be explained by physical interactions. The ability to cognitively understand you are experiencing pleasantness or unpleasantness is independent of simple cause and effect laws.

Most naturalists (that is, people who believe that everything can be explained by using only physical explanations) will say that there really is no such thing as a mind[3] or they will believe the mind somehow shows up, but is only a result of physical states[4]. Basically, naturalists believe that we somehow evolved our minds from more primitive chemical interactions that happen to occur within one organ of our bodies — the brain. But there are huge problems with this view and the general understanding of what it means to be a person.

Evolution cannot account for the existence of minds

Is it possible that evolution can account for the emergence of a conscious mind from all those chemical interactions? Since chemical interactions are responding to the laws of nature, like the ball above, I can see no way how this independent decision-making capability will "pop" into existence. In fact, if such a possibility were to exist, it would undermine all of our scientific principles. We count on the laws of nature to be consistent. Imagine if a plastics manufacturer mixed his chemical ingredients together and the carbon decided not to bond with the hydrogen! It would be tough to get that new iPhone this way![5] As J.P. Moreland noted, the emergence of consciousness from a physical organ "seems to be a case of getting something from nothing."[6]

Computer simulation programs and artificial intelligence are sometimes claimed as showing how intelligence may emerge from the mechanistic antecedents, but this is the stuff of science fiction, not science. Even a computer program that has the capacity to "learn" has been programmed to write the results of a precedent condition and pass that back through only a predefined series of options. Thus an AI program may generate new sentences if programmed to do so, but it can never decide to not run its own program.

So, how in a universe that starts with only natural laws, these brute facts of cause and effect, can consciousness come into existence? How do you evolve consciousness from non-conscious materials that only interact mechanistically? In all that we observe, we note that minds only have their origin in other minds. Plants don't produce thinking plants, but thinking people can produce new thinking people. If you think about it, you will soon see that matter and the laws of nature are simply powerless to create intelligence. And the fact that you can think about it argues that there must be a mind who produced man.

References

1. As an example,see Karen Fisher's article "The Drive to Love: The neural mechanism for mate choice." The New Psychology of Love, 2nd Edition. RJ Sternberg and K Weis (Eds.) New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 87ff.

2. Moreland, J.P. & William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 228.

3. The idea that there is no mind and all that we experience is simply a result of chemical processes is known as physicalism. See Geoffrey Paul Hellman and Frank Wilson Thompson's paper "Physicalism: Ontology, Determination, and Reduction" in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 72, No. 17, Seventy-Second Annual Meeting of theAmerican Philosophical Association Eastern Division (Oct. 2, 1975), 551-564.

4. This view is known as epiphenoninalism. For a more detailed explanation of all these views and the reasons they fail, see J.P Moreland. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM Press, 2009.

5. Granted, this is a simple illustration, but it really doesn't matter how big or complex the reactions are. The more complex the interaction, the more difficult it may be for us to predict all the results, but it doesn't mean the results won't follow directly from their precedent conditions.

6. Moreland, J.P. "Argument from Consciousness" JP Moreland's Amazon Blog. 12 June 2008.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Answering 'God of the Gaps' Objections

There are many atheists who like to escape from arguments highlighting the difficulties in their worldview by claiming an appeal to God is the same as making a "God of the gaps" argument. For those who don't know, a "God of the gaps"  argument is when someone supposedly sees a process they cannot explain (say the rain falling) and instead of finding out the natural causes for rain, they simply say "God did it." Atheists say that all appeals to God for otherwise unexplained phenomena are just God of the gaps" arguments and as science advances, these "God of the gaps" explanations will become fewer and fewer and cover less and less ground. They reason that we will one day be able to explain everything in terms of modern scientific notions and God will become superfluous.

Image courtesy Victorvictori
While such a tale sounds plausible, it really isn't the case. There are certain things that fall outside the realm of science (such as the answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?") There are other things, as Robert Larmer has written, that when scientific knowledge grows, so does the mystery behind the thing itself.

As an example, the theist will object to the atheists' claims of life coming from non-life or the appearance of consciousness from non-conscious material, stating that there is no such warrant for believing these things can happen. Such events have never been seen before in human history. But the atheist will say that positing God for them is making a "God of the gaps" argument. Larmer addresses this objection head on:
Claims regarding events traditionally described as miracles and claims regarding the origin and development of life are where "God of the gaps" arguments are most commonly met. In the case of events traditionally described as miracles, it seems very evident that our increased knowledge of how natural causes operate has not made it easier, but more difficult to explain such events naturalistically. The science underlying wine-making is considerably more advanced today than it was in first century Palestine, but our advances have made it even more difficult to explain in terms of natural causes how Jesus, without any technological aids, could, in a matter of minutes, turn water into high quality wine. Indeed, it is the difficulty of providing a naturalistic account of such events that leads many critics to deny that they ever occurred; though this looks suspiciously like begging the question in favour of naturalism. It is clear that if such events have occurred, the advance of science has made them more, rather than less, difficult to explain in terms of natural causes. Employing a 'God of the gaps' argument that the occurrence of such events would constitute good evidence for supernatural intervention within the natural order seems entirely legitimate."1

References

1. Larmer, Robert A. "Is there anything Wrong with 'God of the gaps' Reasoning?". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52. 129-42.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Moral Relativism Starves Our Need for Morality

Have you ever read one of those "stupid criminal" stories? You know, criminals like Ells Cleveland. Cleveland was arrested in Honolulu and questioned on suspicion of robbing four banks. "Four?" responded Cleveland, according to the detective's affidavit. "I didn't do four; I only robbed three banks!"1 There's something that feels so satisfying about a crook who gets caught by his own foolishness. That's because humans have an innate sense of morality within us. We not only have consciences, but we also feel the need to have right and wrong boundaries within which to live. The Bible tells us clearly that when people who never hear about the Bible instinctively do the things the Bible commands, "they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." We are hard-wired to be moral beings.


But we don't need to rely solely on the Bible to see this claim as true. Modern science is starting to discover this truth as well. Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom has been studying infant development and has come to the conclusion that human beings are hard-wired for morality. It exists and can be seen even before babies can speak. In very careful experiments, 6- to 10-month-old babies were shown a puppet being helped by a "good" puppet friend and hindered by a "bad" puppet friend. The helper and hindering puppets were then placed on a tray and brought to the child, where they overwhelmingly reached for the "good" puppet. The results surprised Bloom, who had previously believed that babies were blank slates upon which any type of morality could be impressed. Bloom concludes, "Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone."2

Relativist claim: All forms of expression are healthy

The claims of relativism, however, deny this basic premise. Relativism holds that there is no inherent good or bad, right or wrong. Much like Bloom's initial belief, relativists think that morality is something denies the moral sensitivities we're born with. But no one can live this way in real life, and relativists contradict themselves even in the way they rear their own children. They set down rules, the biggest of which is "you shouldn't make other people feel bad." They worry about negative judgments affecting children's development. But any statement that tells a person what they should or shouldn't do is by definition a prescriptive statement. It's a prescription for behavior, and like a medicine that is prescribed to cure an illness, the statement is given with the belief that behaving a certain way will be better for those involved. However this doesn't make sense. Medicine works because basic human biology is the same for everyone. A doctor doesn't dispense medicine made for animals, but discoveries made that treat human illnesses in Europe or Asia will work effectively in the US, too.

To believe that morality is not similarly universal means that the same prescriptions will not work in different cultures or contexts. But if we are to "stop being so judgmental" because such actions are "bad" for people, then the relativist has underscored the fact that they believe there is a right and wrong way for people to act. In fact, I would venture to guess that even a relativist would have a problem with parents who never corrected any of their children's' naughty behavior, but allowed them to do whatever they wished. Our society would classify such parents as criminally negligent and they would be charged with a crime. That's because our society naturally recognizes that moral boundaries are essential in raising quality human beings and that to remove them is actually harmful, not beneficial.

References

1 Dooley, Jim. "Suspect charged in 4 Hawaii bank robberies." Honolulu Advertiser. January 5, 2008. Accessed online at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2008/Jan/05/ln/hawaii801050333.html 5/20/2010

2 Bloom, Paul. "The Moral Life of Babies." New York Times Sunday Magazine 9 May 2010: MM44.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The "God Particle": Does the Higgs Boson replace God?

The physicists at CERN have announced today that they are nearly certain that they have identified the elementary particle that gives mass to all matter, the so-called "God particle" otherwise known as the Higgs boson. Almost immediately, I've seen atheists crowing about how science has once again displaced God and I've seen Christians troubled at the discovery that's supposed to somehow rock their faith. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


The real facts are that we've known about the twelve elementary particles (six quarks and six leptons, see image) as well as the four forces for about 40 years now. The Higgs boson was an anticipated missing piece to the puzzle. However, when writing a book on the search for the Higgs, physicist Leon D. Lederman decided to have a bit of fun and nickname the particle "the God particle."  After the book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" was published, its title has caused confusion for both reporters and the general public ever since.

In seeing so much confusion about the implications of the Higgs boson discovery, I interviewed Dr. Barry Ritchie, Professor of Nuclear Physics at Arizona State University, which is a cutting edge institution in this field.  Here's Dr. Ritchie commenting on the Higgs and its implications to theology:
"Lederman's choice of that name, that moniker, was first of all whimsical. It certainly wasn't something that indicated a theological perspective of any kind.  He's offered up a number, well at least a couple anyway, explanations as to why he chose it: one of them had to do with profanity, the other was talking about how difficult it would be… how difficult it was to find and so forth. 

"But again, the important thing to realize is it was meant to be whimsical, it wasn't meant to be something that has anything to do with theology. What the Higgs boson does is it tells us again the origins of mass; it tells us that we think we do understand how the particles of the universe interact with each other and things like that. All those things are independent of any understanding of God. This may be the way God works. If the standard model is correct, then this must be the way that the universe that God's made comes together in terms of these subatomic particles. But it's, it's…   The applicability of the Higgs boson to learning about the existence of God is about as relevant as being able to balance a checkbook is to the existence of God. There's not a theological angle on this."
The entire interview is great, as Dr. Ritchie also discusses the current understanding of our universe's makeup, recent attempts to explain the origin of the universe by appealing to quantum vacuums, and how the man of faith can also be a man of science. To hear the entire interview, click here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Are Mormons Christians?

Every so often I have the opportunity to go onto a college campus and answer questions from the students. Recently, a student who identified himself as a Mormon wished to ask about my position on whether Mormons are Christians. He said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has Jesus' name in the title, so they are certainly Christians, too. He then asked "why do evangelicals insist that we are not also Christians?"


I answered by asking a question of my own. "Why do property lines exist?" I asked him. "Why do we make sure that we mark the beginning and ending boundaries of our lands? The answer (as I'm sure most people know) is so there is no confusion or encroachment by others. Property lines define the beginning and the end of my land. As a landowner, it is important to know where that land starts and stops. I shouldn't assume land that isn't mine as much as another shouldn't assume to own land that I paid for.  I also have to care for my land; it should be both nurtured and protected.

This idea of defining boundaries is also important when discussing religious beliefs. For example, not every religion could be considered theistic. Zen Buddhism is a faith that really doesn't believe in a God as such-- it is an atheistic faith. Other religions hold to differing beliefs about the nature of God, and still more about who Jesus is.

One of the ways Christianity has set up its defining lines is by the historic creeds of the church. The early church fathers knew that this would happen as they were warned by Paul who said that others may come and spread a gospel contrary to the true one[1]. The apostle John also warned the Christians that there existed many pseudo-Christs (e.g. anti-Christs) even during his time.[2] So it shouldn't be a surprise that the church when confronted with a heretical belief would work to make sure Christianity was properly defined. The Nicene Creed was created to be such a boundary point. It is a measuring line to tell what beliefs are necessary for one to be considered a Christian.

The Nicene Creed affirms that God is a single being made up of three persons, it affirms that Jesus was fully God and fully man, it upholds the virgin birth of Christ, and the atoning work of the crucifixion. But the Latter-Day Saints officially reject the Nicene Creed. Each of these doctrines, which are considered essential to the makeup of Christianity, is specifically contradicted in Mormon theology. God is not a single being, but three beings. Joseph Smith considered Jesus a normal man who was just exalted in the same way that every Mormon can be exalted. In Doctrine and Covenants he writes, "The difference between Jesus and other offspring of Elohim is one of degree not of kind."[3] He also taught that Jesus was conceived naturally, from God the Father having physical relations with Mary.

So, in no essential category can a Mormon who holds to the doctrines of the Mormon church also claim to be a Christian without completely destroying the very definition of Christianity itself. This should not be surprise, given that Joseph Smith in his first vision has God labeled these very creeds as "abominations."[4] Therefore, Mormonism by its own admission stands counter to the very beliefs that define what a Christian is.

This is a question that I think has confused many Mormons. They certainly see themselves as a Christian denomination and are quite confused at the hard lines being drawn by those who follow the historic Christian faith.  Hopefully, my response to this student will bring a bit more clarity to others as well.

References

[1] Galatians 1:6-9
[2] 1 John 2:18
[3] Doctrine and Covenants 93:21
[4] The History of Joseph Smith 1:19. See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Does Religion Cause War?


The charge that most of the wars in history were religiously motivated is a popular one, especially with the New Atheists and their followers. Sam Harris has written in his book The End of Faith that religion is "the most prolific source of violence in our history."1 But a cursory review of the wars fought throughout history shows the opposite is true.

As Robin Schumacher reports "An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod's three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature, which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%."2

To see just how far the New Atheists will go to keep their fable about religion being the major source of war and violence in the world, one has to look no farther than Christopher Hitchens. As William T Cavanaugh writes in his book The Myth of Religious Violence, Hitchens is guilty of very selective classification of not only what causes violence, but what classifies as religion and what doesn't.3 Not only does Cavanaugh provide examples where Hitchens takes clearly secular states, such as Stalin's regime, and ascribes their atrocities to the "religious impulse", but he also points out that religious pacifism is discounted because it isn't violent. He writes:
"Hitchens thus seems to employ a functionalist conception of religion, but he does not do so consistently. For most of his book, what Hitchens means by religion seems to be limited to some substantivist list of world religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all come in for criticism and dismissal. When it helps to make his case against religion, however, things like Kim Jong-Il's militantly atheist regime in North Korea count as religion too. … Religion poisons everything because Hitchens identifies everything poisonous as religion. Likewise, everything good ends up on the other side of the religious-secular divide. For example, Hitchens writes of Martin Luther King, Jr. 'In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian.' Hitchens bases this remark­able conclusion on the fact that King was nonviolent and preached forgiveness and love of enemies, as opposed to the Bible, which in both the Old and New Testaments is marked by a vengeful God. Here, what is not violent cannot possibly be religious, because religion is defined as violent."4

Echoing Cavanaugh's concern on the misleading lumping of the pacifistic teachings of Jesus and his act of self-sacrifice that becomes the ultimate example of humility and peace for all his followers, Keith Ward tells us the real reason for the continual string of wars that color our history:
"Human history as a whole is a history of warfare and violence. The early recorded history of humanity is a story of imperial conquests and wars. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt and Greece, together with almost endless waves of so-called barbarian hordes, make our books of early human history into chronicles of almost continual conquest and warfare.

"Religion may have played some part in these affairs, but it is the desire for power and wealth that is the constant factor. It is natural that warrior-kings should try to enlist the loyalty of their followers by getting them to defend some preferred set of values, and to denigrate the values of other societies. Since religions usually embody values, kings can readily enlist the gods on their side, as protectors of the values of the empire."5
It is clear, then, that the charge of religion as the primary progenitor of war is on its face absurd and folks like Harris and Hitchens really have neither interest in history nor the roots of conflict between states.  Rather, they simply want to continue to paint a picture that may win them their own converts and offer slick talking points, Unfortunately , those interested in facts find a different answer.

References

1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). 27.

2. Schumacher, Robin. "The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War" CARM.org
http://carm.org/religion-cause-war. Accessed 3-5-2013

3. Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence:Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 218.

4. Ibid.

5. Ward, Keith. Is Religion Dangerous?(Oxford: Lion Hudson ple, 2011). 68.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why is the Resurrection so important?

As we prepare for Easter, I thought it would be a good time to think about the resurrection in different ways. Imagine you are part of Jesus' first disciples some 50 days after Jesus' execution. Jesus is no longer with you, and those in power are willing to execute you, or anyone else that bucks their religious establishment. Yet, you desire to go out and get other people to follow this Jesus, this supposed insurrectionist who taught what the Sanhedrin charged as blasphemy. You want to go and "make disciples of all nations." What could be so convincing that it would lead to thousands of conversions in just a few years after Jesus' death?  What testimony would be so powerful for others to believe in spite of all the negative consequences? 



When we look at the speeches of both Peter and Paul in the New Testament we find that the one thing they always focused on in their messages is that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death, but rose again.  It is the resurrection of Christ that formed the foundation and the fuel of the new Christian faith. Everywhere the disciples went, they preached Jesus being raised from the dead, and this is what transformed Christianity form a small group of scared disciples to a world-changing faith reaching across the globe.

It's hard to not understate the importance of the resurrection to Christianity.  There's a Greek legend of the servant Damocles, who told his wealthy and prosperous king he would like nothing more than to switch places with him to enjoy the luxuries such a position affords. The king offered his throne for a single day and the servant immediately accepted. However, after taking his seat on the king's throne, Damocles saw that the king had placed a sword hanging directly over his head, suspended only by a single hair. The point was to show that the position of kingship is tenuous at best. Break that hair and Damocles' life is ended. In a similar way, Christianity's claims of authority hang by the thread of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul states this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says:

"Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Paul here lays out a very clear test. If Jesus was never raised from the dead, we not only have no hope in rising ourselves, but we believe in vain, we're holding onto a worthless faith. Paul even says we are akin to that person we sometimes see in Warner Brothers cartoons who thinks he's Napoleon.  If we believe in a fable that is ridiculous; we are to be most pitied among all men.

 The stakes are indeed high; however I'm also comforted by them. It gives us a way to make sure that we aren't believing a lie. Unlike virtually every other world religion out there, we can investigate the claims of Christianity and dismiss it if it proves faulty. And our tests aren't based on feelings or some subjective criteria. We can look at the claims of the resurrection from the same perspective as those who study other historical events and draw well-considered conclusions. We can base our faith upon facts.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Is Belief in God the Same as Belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?



Have you heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  This thought experiment is supposed to show that belief in God is just as silly as believing  in a pasta-based supreme being.  However, when you look carefully, the comparison falls short pretty quickly.

Here's a short video clip from a recent apologetics class entitled "Science, God, and Knowing" where I look at the question of the Flying Spaghetti  monster.  Once you apply a little rational thought, you can see that the FSM cannot compare to the explanatory power of the Christian God when answering the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?"



Friday, March 08, 2013

The Inspiration of Scripture

What does it mean to say the Bible is "inspired by God?"  We hear of musicians being inspired to write a song or artist's inspiration behind a painting.  Is biblical inspiration the same thing? In a word, no.  The Bible means something very specific when it claims to be inspired — it means we hold the actual words of God in our hands. If we're going to be precise, we need to know just what is meant by the Biblical doctrine of inspiration. The doctrine of divine inspiration entails the concepts that:
  • Every word of the Bible in the original writings are breathed and motivated by God.
  • Specific divine knowledge must be given to man since man is flawed.


If God did not provide His instruction and guidance for us, then humanity would be left to guess what the true nature of the world is. But because we're flawed, our understanding of reality would be drastically different.  As C.S. Lewis famously argued in Mere Christianity, "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line." Builders can build a house, but if they have no objective frame of reference, the house will never be true and plumb. Thus the doctrine of inspiration is a key one, for it tells us not only about God and how we can please Him, but also about our world and even ourselves.

But what exactly does inspiration mean?

1. Scripture is God breathed (theopneustos)

This is the key understanding of scripture as presented in II Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

This means that God is the cause of scripture, a concept we know as Divine Causality.  J.I. Packer says "Scripture is not only man's word — the fruit of human thought, premeditation, and art — but also equally God's word, spoken through man's lips or written with man's pen.  In other words, Scripture has double authorship, and man is only the secondary author." Basically, God chooses and prepares men beforehand to write exactly what He wants to communicate.1

2. Scripture is given through prophetic agency.

 In other words, it is supplied to the writers by the Holy Spirit.  This is made clear in 2 Peter 2:21 where Peter writes, "No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

However, this concept is sometimes confused. People think the biblical authors were no better than a printing tool used by God, but that's not the case.  They did not fall into trances and emanate pithy sayings as is the claim in some other religions. Although the inspired word is truly God's word, God chose people to compose the Bible, using their own voices. You see, the Bible isn't some sort of divine dictation. God knew each person's personality and thought process, and prepared each to write the things He wanted using their own individual styles.2

The best example I can offer is this. Think of a master painter who knows exactly the picture he wants to paint.  He has many different brushes that he uses for different purposes: a coarse brush for rough textures, a thin brush for fine lines, and a wide brush for bold strokes.  In the master's hand, the brushes do just what he wants. The final work is the picture he wanted to paint, but with the characteristic of each brush showing through.  In a similar way, God uses different people with their own personalities, vocabularies, and experiences to produce the different books of the Bible — all with the end result being the exact message He meant to give us.3

References

1. Packer, J.I. "The Inspiration of the Bible." from The Origin of the Bible, Philip W. Comfort, ed.(Carol Stream, Il.: Tyndale House, 1992) p.31.
2. Esposito, Lenny. "What Does It Mean that God "Inspired" the Bible?" The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishing, 2010). 1312.
3. Ibid.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Holding to a Rational Belief

Photo By *christopher* 
Has someone ever told you that you should never try to tell someone else their faith is misplaced? They claim faith requires no proof; believing is the opposite of using facts and evidence, and since faith is a personal choice the underlying theology really doesn't matter much. Faith brings comfort to a person, but his comfort could be different than yours, so his faith is legitimate for him as much as yours is for you. This kind of thinking is why many people feel that everyone is entitled to believe as they choose.

Now, I agree that all have the right to their beliefs. But defining faith in this way misconstrues what the concept of faith is all about. The claim that "all faiths are simply a choice and are equally valid" really translates to "all faiths have an equal claim to truth and there's no way to discern whether any of them are true or not." That's just not the case. For example, I don't think anyone today would give Greek mythology serious consideration as a true belief. But how do we know that Greek mythology isn't a viable religion? Because we use reason and evidence to see that its claims about how the world works are unsupportable. They are internally inconsistent and externally incoherent with what we know about the world.

Similarly, we can look at today's different faith systems and see that they cannot all be true since they make competing claims about how the world works. As an example, the monotheistic faiths such as classical Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim that there is a God who is distinct and separate from His creation, while pantheistic faiths such as Vedanta Hinduism or the New Age hold to the idea that all is God. Now, one or the other may be true, but they certainly cannot both be true at the same time. Therefore, any faith that teaches all ways to God are equally valid, such as the Bah'ai faith, holds to a logical contradiction and can be dismissed simply as being illogical. It simply doesn't match the way the world works.

Now, I'm not saying that faith is unnecessary or that reason can do all the work. I am saying, though, that any faith that forces you to deny reason is a faith not worth holding. Christianity is a faith built on evidence: historical evidence of a real event. Of course it requires faith, but we can investigate its claims on the basis of history to see whether they stand up. Mormonism, for example, also makes claims about historical events, but they are unsupportable. If the things claimed in the Book of Mormons are demonstrably false, then it follows that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God and we have good reason for not believing Mormonism to be true.

I think it's a mistake to lump anything with a "religion" or "faith" tag into a category marked untestable. There certainly are ways we can make informed judgments about what we believe. That's why Paul tells us "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."

Being reasonable or rational means holding on to true beliefs. So, if someone questions of whether it's rational to be a Christian, that means we need to talk about whether Christian beliefs are true—which requires honest inquiry. To not check out the claims of Christianity when they very well may be true would be a very irrational thing to do.
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