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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Is God Limited by the Laws of Physics?

It seems that yesterday's post on the Fine-tuning argument ("A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design") struck a nerve on the Twittersphere. I was involved in a long Twitter conversation with a number of atheists concerning the implications of a universe that contains vast spaces where life cannot survive. While I won't recount the entire exchange here, here are a couple of tweets that seems to be indicative of the thinking:

This was interesting as it highlighted a couple of atheistic misunderstandings about the fine tuning argument and about the nature of God.

First, the premise of their objection rests on the idea that God can make anything He wants happen. While Christianity holds to an omnipotent God, it has never taught that God can do absolutely anything. God cannot do what is logically impossible (make a rope with only one end or create a triangle with four sides). God also cannot learn, cannot lie, and cannot cease to be. Omnipotence has always been defined as God is capable of doing anything that is within His nature. Since God is logical, his universe would follow logic as well.

Looking at the fine tuning argument then, one must understand that part of God's prerogative is how to set up the universe to begin with. If God chooses to create intelligent beings that are three dimensional, then it follows that there are certain limitations that follow from that choice, such as the beings will need to have the world in which they live also be three dimensional. Other restrictions may also follow from this, but what doesn't follow is that God is constrained by the laws of physics. To show why, we merely need to look in the kitchen.

If a chef desires to create a dessert, he or she has many possibilities. First, he would need to choose whether he wants to make a hot or cold dessert. This is entirely his preference; he has access to both the oven and the freezer and may use either However once he has made his choice, that choice will present itself in a certain way. So, if our chef seeks to make a soufflé, he won't be using the freezer, because soufflés simply are not frozen. And if our chef wants to use cherry filling instead of egg whites, he would no longer be making a soufflé but a cherry pie. The choices are free, but they begin to define the outcome.

Choosing to create a three dimensional universe that can support life requires creating certain parameters by definition. Saying God is limited by physics when creating our universe is like saying God is limited by a geometry textbook because he cannot draw a four-sided triangle. That's silly, because anything with four sides is simply not a triangle. Ultimately, the objection is simply a version of "If God is all powerful, why can't he make salsa so hot that even he can't eat it?" These are nonsense statement.

The fine tuning of the universe that we see shows, as I have said, that the Laws of the universe are set just right, the constants of the universe are set just right, and the initial conditions of the universe are set just right for life. In other words, God's recipe for our universe uses just the perfect ingredients in just the right amounts to achieve his end goal. Arguing that God should have used cherry filling instead of egg whites is not the same thing as proving there was no chef at all.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design

One of the proofs of God has been how the universe has been incredibly finely-tuned for the existence of life. I've written on this in several different posts, and highlighted Robin Collins' argument that given the extremely improbability of a single universe coming into existence without a God, it is irrational to believe in a such an atheistic universe.

Most atheists have responded to this problem in one of two ways. The first is to claim that while the values of several dozen parameters are indeed uniquely positioned for life, this isn't a problem because there are an infinite number of universes that exist—all with different parameters—and we just happened to live in the one that will sustain life. I've already shown why this claim fails. But it's the second response that I've been hearing more often lately. Many atheists to day simply claim that our universe just isn't designed for life. Many Internet atheists have made such arguments, but I will use the one Richard Carrier presented in our debate as typical of them:
With regard to the nature of the universe and it supposedly being finely tuned for life, it really isn't. I want you think about the cosmology in astrophysics for a moment.  99.9999 percent (a large percentage) is filled with a lethal radiation-filled vacuum. Life can't exist in it. That means that a vast quantity of the universe is inhospitable or lethal for life. That aside, if you look at the other material in the universe, 99.9999 percent consists of stars and black holes in which life cannot live. So, a vast amount of the material in the universe is inhospitable for life. And even if you look at the remaining stuff, most of that also is inhospitable for life. In fact, if you were to put the entire observable universe into a house and do the math, the amount of volume in that house that would be hospitable for life would be smaller than a proton. Now, if you walked into a house and there was only one proton in there that was hospitable for life, you would not conclude that the house was designed for life. The universe is clearly not designed for life.1

Missing the Point

First off, objections like this miss the point of a universe designed for life. The claim of not only theologians but scientists such as John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, Paul Davies, and Martin Rees2 is not that the majority of the universe is set up so that life could thrive, but that the parameters that govern all aspects of the universe are set precisely with life permitting values. Robin Collins breaks this down into three areas: The fine-tuning of the laws of nature, of the constants of nature, and of the initial conditions of the universe.3 Collins goes on to use the gravitational force as one example, explaining that if there were no force attracting bodies at long ranges, no stars would ever be able to form, there would be no heat for life, there would be no way for a planet to hold water or an atmosphere, and thus life would be absolutely impossible no matter where you are in the universe. It isn't the ratio of inhabitable verses uninhabitable space is great or small, the fine-tuning question centers on a binary answer: Can life exist anywhere at all ever? With just one or two minor changes to any of 20 or more constants or laws, the universe becomes unable to put forth any life at all.

Large, Uninhabitable Areas Don't Disprove Design

While Atheists like Carrier are misunderstanding the argument, their responses may still provoke another question. After all, if the universe is designed for life, then wouldn't one expect God to create more than a minuscule area able to support life? However, this objection also draws the wrong conclusion. One cannot argue that simply because there are vast areas that are lethal for life that therefore the universe was not designed with life in mind. That doesn't follow. In my debate, I answered Carrier with this example:
Now Richard asks, “Why make the universe so lethal in so many parts? This obviously argues against God.” Well that doesn't follow at all. Picture a rancher in Texas—a man who lives alone and has 5,000 acres of land and a 100,000 head of cattle. Why would one man need so much land that's arid, desolate, and one where he can't survive in? How can you imagine that there is a 5,000 acre ranch only dedicated for one man? Well maybe it's there because that's what he desired. That serves his purposes. So just because the universe is vast, it is not an argument against God. People will move great mounds of earth to get to one diamond. You see, it's the value of the thing that matters and not how much space is taken around it.4 
Thus, the conclusion is shown to be false from the premises. Simply because the majority of the universe is not life supporting doesn't mean that supporting any life wasn't the original purpose for the universe. It could be that God wanted to support life, but He also wanted to give us the beauty of the stars for our enjoyment. Of course scientists like Stephen Hawking have argued that the rate our universe expanded is actually just right for life, thus implicating that vast uninhabitable areas are part of what it takes to allow life to exist.5  Or God could have had another purpose for the expanse of space. But no matter. It's clear that the expanse of life-prohibiting space is not an argument against the universe's design. It only shows that we are rare and therefore highly valuable.


1. The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Dir. Come Reason Ministries. Perf. Lenny Esposito and Richard Carrier. Come Reason Ministries, 2012. DVD. Available at
2. For books on this subject by these authors see The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986) by Barrow and Tipler, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (London: Allen Lane, 2006) by Paul Davies, and Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic, 2000) by Rees.
3. Collins, Robin. "The Teleological Argument." The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. By William Lane. Craig and J.P. Moreland. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 211. Print.
4. The Great God Debate, ibid.
5. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Toronto: Bantam, 1988. 128. Print.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Islam's Claims of Biblical Corruption Actually Impeach the Qur'an

Islam began in the early seventh century, when Muhammad supposedly received many revelations providing him with the Qur'an. Given that Christianity and Judaism had been in existence for centuries, it's easy to see why Muhammad would have found it attractive to try and co-opt these monotheistic faiths as part of his own. To this end there are many places in the Qur'an that address Christians and Jews, and their holy books.

One key passage may be found in Sura 10:94, where Muhammad writes, "But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers."1 Here, Muhammad is addressing the children of Israel, and appealing to the Bible in the phrase "the Book" as a way to authenticate his message.

There are many such passages in the Qur'an, some of which point specifically to the New Testament writings. The Arabic word for gospel is Injeel and Muhammad lifts up its authority as well:
If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil. O Messenger! proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And Allah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief). For Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Say: "O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith. (Sura 5:66-68, emphasis added.)2
Another passage advocating study of the Bible is found in Sura 4:136:
O you who believe! believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger and the Book which He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His messengers and the last day, he indeed strays off into a remote error.3
Notice how this verse places the Bible (the "book which He revealed before") as equal with the Qur'an ("the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger.) Clearly we are to believe both books, otherwise this verse makes no sense.

Recommending a Corrupt Guide?

The problem that the Qur'an has is that other writings of Muhammad contradict the idea that the Bible is an accurate guide to God. Sura 2:75-79 is a good example:
Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this) And when they meet those who believe they say: We believe, and when they are alone one with another they say: Do you talk to them of what Allah has disclosed to you that they may contend with you by this before your Lord? Do you not then understand?… Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn (emphasis added).4
But why would the Qur'an itself recommend people to follow the Old and New Testaments if these are supposedly corrupt? If I receive a set of directions that promises to lead me to a destination, but I know that they've been corrupted, it would be silly for me to either follow them or provide them to another. Corrupt directions leads a person astray.

Because of the tension in the Qur'an, Muslim apologists have had to resort to a bit of double-talk in seeking to reconcile their stance. This is a good example:
The reason why the "gospels" of the bible are named as such today is because they were named after the original Revelations that Jesus had. So in other words, the real Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else is a fabrication on the mouths of Jesus and his disciples. There is no such thing, in Islam, called "gospel of Matthew", "gospel of John", etc... Now whether or not there is actually a gospel out there with the name "The Gospel of Jesus", in the scriptures outside the bible, that is something I don't know, and certainly, even if it does, we still couldn't be sure that it too didn't get corrupt. The original teachings are simply lost from this earth. Only the Glorious Qur'an is the original Word of Allah Almighty. Nothing else stands. All of the other books contain corruptions and lies in them (emphasis in the original.)5
However, such an explanation is hopelessly confused. This is primarily because we know that the New Testament preceded Muhammad by some three hundred years.6 By the time of Muhammad's writing, the scriptures were firmly established and the text is the same then as what we have now. This leaves the Muslim with quite a dilemma: either the Qur'an in those verses that recommend believers to seek out the Gospel and the Bible were telling them that the Bible as it now stands is reliable or it is instructing believers to read a collection of books that simply don't exist and didn't exist even in Muhammad's day. Wither you are to gain guidance from corruption or you are to seek out guidance from a non-existent entity.

Following the Map to Atlantis

Most Muslims that I speak with take the latter choice. They claim that the true Gospel has been hidden, but one can find it in the pages of the Qur'an. However, that doesn't solve their problem. Why does the Qur'an then command people to look to the Gospels and the Bible for truth? It's like telling someone that they must find and follow the map to Atlantis. Because Atlantis is a mythical place, there's no way that any map can lead them to truth.

Altering the Words of Allah

The last problem that Muslims run into when making the claim is that they undercut their Qur'an in another way, for as Sura 2 claimed above, Go d gave His word to the prophets, but it was nearly immediately corrupted. But why would Allah allow his holy word to be corrupted at all? The Qur'an itself teaches against this idea. In Sura 6:34 we find the statement "There is none that can alter the words of Allah" and in Sura 10:64 Muhammad writes "No change can there be in the words of Allah." So, how could these people have changed what it unchangeable? How can this be?

If the word of Allah is unchangeable, then the Bible cannot be corrupted. However, if men have the ability to change Allah's word, then the Qur'an itself must be understood as under the same suspicion of change as the other books that Allah gave to his prophets. That means that the Qur'an must withstand certain scrutiny, such as whether it is internally contradictory. Given its claims on the Bible, I don't see how it could pass that test.


1. Shakir, M. H. The Qur'an Translation. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, 2002. N. pag. Print. 136-137.
2. Shakir, 72-73.
3. Shakir, 61.
4. Shakir, 7.
5. "Were the "gospels" of the Bible the Original Injil?" Answering Christianity. Answering Christianity, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
6. See the section entitled "Internal Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible" at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Archaeology Cannot Tell Us About the Bible

Yesterday, I began to look at some ways the study of archaeology helps support and understand the Bible. Given that the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over 1500 years, the study of the past can provide unique insight into the narratives. In fact, so much of what the Bible talks about has been verified by archaeology, it has inspired William F. Albright to say:
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.1

Because there have been so many finds that directly relate to the Bible, some Christians are keen to overreach on discoveries made just as some skeptics are equally keen to hurriedly disassociate archaeological finds of any biblical importance. Therefore, I'd like to look today at some of the limitations of archaeology.

Archaeology cannot "prove the Bible true"

The first thing that we must understand is archaeology cannot provide proof that the Bible is the Word of God. There simply isn't any way to dig something up and say "Aha! Here's the find that shows God gave inspiration to Moses." Just as science has no way of testing for God residue, so archeology has no way of uncovering the source of supernatural inspiration buried in the earth. These are category errors. Science deals with the natural world and archaeology deals with whatever cultures left behind. Neither is a complete picture of all reality.

That doesn't mean we cannot use what the archaeologists' spade uncovers to lend credence to the biblical accounts. As mentioned yesterday, we can demonstrate the historical reliability of the Bible and the fact that the accounts were written with intimate knowledge of the cultures they describe. It means that there is credibility to the claim that they were written at the times of the events they record.

Archaeology cannot be understood without context and presuppositions

The second important point one must realize is that archeology is simply a snapshot of space. Stone walls, broken pottery, or even engravings are fragments of long-deceased civilizations, many times buried after they had been conquered by some foe. Thus, it requires a lot of presupposition on the part of the archaeologist to put things together. For example, those digging in Jericho may find a wall that has been flattened in the 14th century, but such a find may not immediately confirm the account in Joshua chapter 6. The next question would be "was this building destroyed because of a raid, an earthquake or Joshua's march?" That's a much more difficult question to answer.2

Another example is one that is just now making its way through the academy. According to Merryn and Graham Dineley, archeologists have been misidentifying Viking structures in Britain for some time now.3 Archaeologists have quite a bit of experience finding Roman ruins and they know that Romans were fond of their bath houses. So when they found large rooms with a central hearth and large drains, the archaeologist would assume it was a sauna or bath house. The Dineleys state that this is wrong, as such structures in Orkey and Shetland were located adjacent to drinking halls. It is well known that Vikings drank malt ale, but such brews would require a sizable brewery. The Dineleys believe that the presupposition of Roman baths from previous archaeologists is incorrect and these buildings actually were breweries!4

While the concept of bath houses versus breweries doesn't really affect the biblical accounts at all, it does illustrate just how much the interpretation of the archaeologist plays into the finds. Therefore, the Bible student needs to read through any new discoveries and hold lightly claims about finds that prove or disprove Biblical accounts unless they are definitive, such as Caiaphas' ossuary, inscribed with his name. The views of the archaeologists matter!


1 McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Vol. II. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. Print. 61.
2 Wood, Bryant G., PhD. "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence." Associates for Biblical Research. Associates for Biblical Research, 01 May 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
3 Dineley, Merryn and Graham. "Where Did the Vikings Make Their Ale?" Orkney Archaeological Society Newsletter 10 (Nov. 2013): 1-2. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
4 Dineley, Ibid. For more information, see
Image courtesy Whithorn Priory and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Bible

Discovering long buried evidences of the past is exciting. I've had a couple of opportunities to visit places that were very old and see ruins that were put together thousands of years ago. It was amazing to think of the people who were building those structures and how they lived.

Because the Bible records events that also take place thousands of years ago, it seems that archaeology would be a natural way to investigate these stories. As archaeology has developed since the mid to late 1800's, the discipline has been used by some to corroborate the biblical accounts and by others to dismiss them. Therefore, I want to take a brief look at what archaeology can and cannot prove.

1. Archaeology Shows Ways People Lived, How They Thought, and Problems They Faced

Archaeology gives us a snapshot into the lives of people at a specific time. Sometimes a natural disaster, such as the eruption of Pompeii or the mudslide at Beit She'an freezes the area at a specific date. Other times, digs will uncover a culture that spans many years. However, by examining the houses, coins, pots and other materials, one can get a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in this period.

For example, many scholars of earlier times doubts that Moses would have been able to write the detailed laws that make up the Levitical system by 1400 BC until archaeologists found the Code of Hammuabi, which also contains many complex laws and predates Moses' writings by about 300 years.

2. Archaeology Provide Clarity to Specific Situations and Texts

Another benefit that archaeology provides is to clear up texts or customs that don't seem to make sense to us today. For example, in the book of Daniel, King Belshazzar becomes unnerved when a hand appears writing on the wall opposite him. He promises "the third highest position in the kingdom" to anyone who can read the text. This account was questioned because most ancient records showed Nabonidus as the king at this time. The offer of third highest ruler wasn't really understood, either, until the Cylinders of Nabonidus were found. There they say that while King Nabonidus was off fighting wars, his eldest son was named Belshazzar who he had left governing the city of Babylon. 1 Belshazzar's position of prince made him the second most powerful man in Babylon, so he could only offer another the third spot in the kingdom. The discovery of the cylinders clarified both Belshazzar's existence and the reason why he offered a third rulership to Daniel.

3. Archaeology Can Validate the Existence of Specific People or Events

Another thing that archaeology provides is verification that certain people, places, or events mentioned in the biblical text are real. As was shown in the example above, Belshazzar had to have existed since his father specifically mentioned him in his writings. Another person that skeptics accused of being non-existent was King David himself.2 Scholars like N.P. Lemche held that David was mythical and the biblical accounts were put together much later than the events they describe.

However, in 1993 at the site of the ancient city of Dan, archaeologists uncovered a stone engraved by an Aramaean king to commemorate his victory over the ancient Hebrews. (2 Kings 8-9). There, he boasts that he had defeated the king of "the House of David." As archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel states, "'House of David,' it means 'dynasty of David.' So we know that there was a guy called David, and he had a dynasty. Okay, so now this is absolutely clear that David is not a mythological figure. So the mythological paradigm collapsed in one moment."3 Other archaeological finds have confirmed the existence of Caiaphas and Pilate, the Jewish High Priest and Roman procurator who were responsible for putting Jesus to death.

These are just a few ways that archaeology helps bring clarity and support to the Biblical accounts. There are many more finds that I can mention, but these are illustrative of how archaeology has shown the stories told in the bible are rooted in history. Tomorrow, I'll look at what archaeology cannot achieve.


1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Belshazzar (king of Babylonia)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
2. McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.10.
3. Zimmerman, Erin. "Did David, Solomon Exist? Dig Refutes Naysayers." CBN News. Christian Broadcasting Network, 7 June 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The "Big Bang" in Jews Worshiping Jesus as God

One popular answer today among those who do not believe in Jesus as God is that the belief evolved over a period of centuries. They suggest that the earliest Christians, who were Jews, thought of Jesus as simply a rabbi or a prophet, a holy and wise man. They theorize that as Christianity spread outward and became more and more dominated by Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) believers, those Gentiles, accustomed to assigning divine honors to their heroes, did the same for Jesus.' Eventually, a form of Christianity emerged that explained the divinity of Jesus as a unique incarnation of God and dismissed all alternative views of Jesus as heresy. Some critics of the doctrine that Jesus is God claim that this belief did not appear until well after all of the apostles had died-perhaps, some say, as late as the fourth century Council of Nicea.

The facts are very much otherwise. The practice of giving Jesus divine honors—of religious, spiritual devotion to Jesus—was an established, char­acteristic feature of the Christian movement within the first two decades of its existence. Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, described the emergence of devotion to Jesus as "a veritable 'big bang: an explosively rapid and impressively substantial development in the earliest stage of the Christian movement'? According to Martin Hengel, a New Testament scholar at Tubingen University in Germany, more happened in the development of Christian beliefs about Jesus in the twenty years between his death and Paul's earliest epistles "than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history:')

The apostles and other early Jewish Christians did not just lavish high praises on Jesus. They accorded him honors that in Jewish teaching, as au­thoritatively set forth in their Scriptures, were due to the Lord God of Israel and no one else…

It was in this context of exclusive religious devotion to one God, the Lord, that the early Jewish followers of Jesus were expressing the same sort of de­votion to Jesus. They worshiped him, sang hymns to him, prayed to him, and revered him in a way that believers in Judaism insisted was reserved for the Lord God alone. To make matters worse, the Christians agreed that such honors were rightly given only to God—and then proceeded to give them to Jesus anyway!

    — Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Books, 2007. 29-30.

Friday, October 24, 2014

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola

At the beginning of August, the news of American missionary doctor Kent Brantly's contraction of Ebola made the headlines across the country. Some people who were incredulous that a healthy American doctor would risk his life to serve others in a foreign country. Others, like commentator Ann Coulter seemed indignant. Coulter opened her August 6 column with the following:
I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.

What was the point?

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.1

As I had previously responded, Coulter's article devalued human life by weighing the price tag of Brantly's treatment against the human suffering he was alleviating treating Liberians with the disease.2 I had noted that putting oneself at risk for the sake of others has always been a part of the Christian tradition.

I also wrote that Coulter also errs by taking a utilitarian approach to Christian missionary efforts. I wrote, "If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good." Little did I realize how quickly this would be proven, for just today CNN reported that Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was free of the disease. CNN reported that Pham "thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick."3 As ABC News notes, "Antibodies in the blood of a survivor may help a patient fight off the germ."4

Interestingly, Brantly himself received plasma from one of the very patients he was treating in Liberia. A 14-year-old boy under Brantly's care had recovered from the disease and donated plasma to Brantly.5

However, that wasn't the only treatment Brantly received. He was also given an experimental drug named Zmapp, which also contains Ebola antibodies. However, that wasn't an option for Pham, as “Its maker says supplies are now exhausted,” according to the ABC report.6

So, just before a Liberian traveler to the US contracted Ebola and spread it to Pham in this country, a US doctor who treated and helped a young boy recover from Ebola contracted the disease himself, was given an experimental drug rich in antibodies before supplies ran out, was flown back to the very same state at considerable expense, and ultimately overcame the disease. He was then able to donate his plasma to those like Pham who contracted the disease through a completely different contact point. And because his recovery was such a short time ago, Brantly's plasma was still rich with the antibodies that could help fight the virus.

My answer to those like Coulter who asked "What was the point?" would be "Perhaps God had a bit more knowledge and foresight in this whole situation." Brantly's plasma has helped save American lives. And that only happened because Brantly was faithful to his calling to serve the suffering people of Liberia. I had written before that "for Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives."7 God's ways are indeed higher than our own, but it sure is cool seeing how He works it all out to His glory.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online.
2. Esposito, Lenny. " Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
3. Martinez, Michael, Michael Martinez, and Jason Hanna. "What Will Nurse Do after Beating Ebola? Hug Her Dog, of Course." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
4. Marilynn Marchione Ap Chief Medical Writer. "How Plasma Transfusions, Antibodies Fight Ebola." ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Esposito, Ibid.
Image courtesy Samaritan's Purse.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mormonism, Hell, and God's Holiness

This year, I took a group of students to Manti, Utah where they had the chance to talk with many people who were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. Most of these folks didn't even understand orthodox Christian doctrine. Part of the problem is that Mormons will use Christian terms but pour different meaning into them, such as the concept of salvation.

For a Christian, salvation means a person has recognized his sinfulness, knows that there is no way he can justify his sinful actions to a holy God, and places his trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross as atonement for those actions. In this way, Christians are seen as righteous in the sight of God and they may dwell with Him eternally. However, Mormon doctrine is very different. The LDS church teaches that "salvation is synonymous with immortality" 1 and all are saved except for those that apostatize against Mormonism. Thus, almost everyone will live in a heavenly terrestrial kingdom but only Mormons in good standing will live in the higher celestial kingdom.2

The Mormon view of salvation is attractive to many people because hell isn't necessarily an eternal punishment. Like a lot of others who are uncomfortable with the idea of "nice" people going to hell, this seems to be a more comfortable solution. However, while the idea may seem uncomfortable, part of our discomfort is in our fallen state we tend to diminish the heinousness of sin and misunderstand what holiness really is.

God is a Holy God

One of the differences between the Christian God and the Mormon one is that the Christian God is completely holy. He has never not been completely holy. He is eternally God, and therefore His holiness is essential to His nature as God. The God of Mormonism, however, was once a man like you and me. He didn't create us out of nothing, but we were his spirit children birthed from a heavenly mother, and if one practices proper Mormon rituals he may become a God himself.3

These competing views really affect how one understands holiness. I like to use the comparison of an old laundry detergent commercial to make this point. The camera would show one sock on a table. A second sock would fall on top of it with the voice-over narrating "Your old detergent may get your whites this clean." The sock was indeed markedly cleaner and whiter. People would perhaps buy the detergent if the commercial stopped there. But the commercial then shows a third sock falling atop both. This third sock is much whiter than even the second sock, and the narrator promised that his product can produce whites this much whiter than the competing brand.

The reason why the second sock appeared white is because the comparison was relative to only the first. In our sinful world, we have only other sinners by which to compare ourselves. Once we begin to understand true holiness, we begin to see all of humanity stained with the blackness of sin. A holy God cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. Every sin must be dealt with. Just as any amount of sewage left untreated will corrupt the purity of water, so any amount of sin left unpunished would corrupt the nature of a holy and just God, making Him something less.4

So, each person is offered a choice – you may accept the atonement Jesus provided for your sin and apply his righteousness (his "whiteness' as it were) to yourself, or you may choose to rely on your own level of righteousness. Sewage doesn't clean itself up, even after an eternity. Thus, you will forever be stained and forever be separated from God by your stain. It's what we would expect from a holy God.


1. McConkie, Bruce R. "Salvation". Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966. Print. 471.
2. McConkie, "Terrestrial Kingdom", 548.
3. As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of man's exaltation as it is called in Mormonism:
The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).
4. For more on this, see my article "How can a loving God NOT send people to hell?" at

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Does Being Old Disqualify the Bible's Teachings?

Recently, I ran across another of those atheist memes that have become popular online. As I've demonstrated before, these little quips, while attractive on the surface, usually make huge errors in thinking. However, since Christians are likely to run across similar objections to their faith from skeptics or others, I do think it can be educational to take some of these apart.

The latest meme has a simple image of a man's torso holding a Bible, accompanied by the statement/question "Would you let a doctor with a 2000 year old medical book operate on you? No. So why let a priest with a 2000 year old storybook tell you how to live?"

Leaving aside the loaded language of "2000 year old storybook," the meme tried to do two things at once. First, it tries to make a comparison between a medical procedure and matters of faith. Secondly, by so doing, it argues that because a text is old it is somehow deficient. Let's take these claims in order.

I would like to take these claims in reverse order, but the careful reader should note that the meme is wrong in its claim that people don't allow doctors with ancient medical books operate on them. Acupuncture predates Christianity by thousands of years and I have known many people who reject the wisdom of the Bible but embrace it as a treatment for their ailments. The practice has received enough attention that the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British medical journal Lancet have written articles on the practice.1 Whether the relief people feel from acupuncture is due to the procedure or simply a placebo effect, acupuncture patients will tell you that they continue to have treatments because it helps them.2 So, many people do let a medical practitioner with an ancient "medical book" operate on them.

One Cannot Dismiss an Idea Solely Because of its Source

The main error the meme commits is shown by those people who continue to pay of acupuncture. It doesn't matter how old a procedure is; the real question is "does it work" or "is it true." In logic, dismissing an idea because it comes from an old source is a form of the genetic fallacy. If you aren't familiar with the term, a genetic fallacy is a mistake in logic where a person claims the falsehood of an idea simply because of its origin. For example, I learned from my school teacher that 2 + 2 = 4. But if my teacher is later found to be a habitual liar, it doesn't mean that I must now reject the notion that 2 + 2 = 4! She could have lied about everything else, but that idea is actually true.

Similarly, one cannot dismiss the Bible as a source of wisdom on life simply because it is old. In fact, unlike medical procedures, which are more mechanical, issues of life are universal. This is why we require students to read Shakespeare, Boethius, and Homer—because we can learn from them, even though they are ancient. Human beings have faced the same big questions of life since our origin, and these are not things where the answers come more easily with better technical expertise.

For example, I would not let any doctor operate on me who doesn't adhere to the dictums of the 2,400 year old Greek physician Hippocrates who taught that medicine must be practiced morally and with the patient's best interest as the primary motivation. Such wisdom is so valued that 98% of American physicians today swear by the Hippocratic Oath when gaining their medical degree.3

So, the meme is asking the wrong questions. It doesn't matter how old a text is. What should be asked is "Is the text true?" For that we have strong evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God given to men so they may find the answers to those big questions of life.

Perhaps if the meme's creator had spent more time reading Aristotle's 2,300 year old writings on logic, he may not have made such an egregious error.


1. JAMA articles on acupuncture may be found at . For a list of various Lancet articles on the subject see

2. To be sure, the efficacy of acupuncture is highly debated in the medical community. One of the most difficult problems, as the Lancet mentioned is that it becomes difficult to create a control group for a blind study when the procedure itself requires one to have needles inserted into the body. Regardless, the falsity of the "no" answer in the meme is proven.

3. Crawshaw, R. "The Hippocratic Oath. Is Alive and Well in North America." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 08 Oct. 1994. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. .

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Missing Piece in the Hillsong Controversy

There's been a huge uproar in the last week over comments made by Brian Houston, who is the senior pastor of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. Hillsong is best known for its worship albums that have sold millions of copies and contain songs sung weekly in evangelical churches across the world. The Sydney church boasts over 20,000 members1, but there are eleven offshoot churches that have opened in major cities around the world, including New York and Los Angeles in the U.S.2

During a press conference3 prior to a Hillsong Conference in New York City, Houston refused to provide a yes or no answer as to whether he would allow the ministers in Hillsong churches to officiate same-sex weddings. He said:

I mean we go to you — you know — the one big hot topic maybe for churches is now with homosexual marriage uh legalized and uh — you know — and churches for generations, they- they hold a set of beliefs around what they believe the Word of God- the bible says. And all of a sudden in many circles the church can look like a pariah because, to many people it's so irrelevant now on that subject. So staying relevant, it's actually a big challenge…

Um- homosexual marriages legal in your city and uh- and will be in probably in most Western world countries within a short time. So the world's changing and we want to stay relevant as a church. So that's a mixing thing. You think, "How can we stay- ho-how can we not become a pariah".

So that's the world we live in. In the weight we live with is the reality that in churches like ours and virtually in any other church, there are young people who have serious questions about their sexuality. And uh- who may be spea- you know — hypothetically — speak to a youth leader. A youth pastor. And says -uh, "I think — you know- I'm gay".

And maybe they feel a sense of rejection there. Or maybe even their own Christian parents can't handle it and uh- exclude them at the time when they are the most vulnerable in their life. So you can have in churches not- not just our church — churches, young people who are literally uh depressed. Maybe even suicidal. And sadly often times grow up to hate the church because they feel like the church rejected them.4

The New York Times reported that "Mr. Houston said he did not think it would be constructive to delineate a public position on same-sex marriage" and quoted him as saying , "we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that the real issues in people's lives are too important for us just to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in a media outlet. So we're on the journey with it."5

Evangelicals Reacting to the Wrong Mistake

Because Houston and his New York City pastor Carl Lenz both refused to say whether homosexuality is right or wrong, the evangelical world was in an uproar. I agree with the position many different evangelicals took that homosexual practices are is clearly forbidden in the Bible and that those who are in leadership positions must be as much about warning the saints against sinning as it is in reaching out to those who are lost. Relevance should never trump revelation.

The thing that bothers me in all of this, though, is that Houston's stance on homosexuality is not his most troubling belief. Reading Houston's own books, it is very clear that he teaches the very unbiblical doctrine of the prosperity movement. In other words, Houston teaches that all Christians should never have financial or health troubles. He published a book in 2000 entitled You Need More Money. Granted, Houston said that the title was a mistake6, yet his prosperity gospel is reinforced in his 2013 book Maximize Your Life where under the chapter title of Blessing he writes:
God's will is always to bless you, but if you think His blessing is entirely for you, you are missing the point. The blessing of God in your life should go well beyond your own existence, God told Abraham that He would bless him, but the purpose of blessing him went far beyond his own life. This is what God said:

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing: (Genesis 12:2)
The purpose of God's blessing is to enable you to be a great channel of blessing to others. If you have nothing, there is nothing you can do for anyone else; if you have a little, you can only help a little; but if you have plenty, there is a whole lot you can do. When you are blessed, you have a mighty foundation from which to impact others. You are blessed to be a blessing.
But material blessing is not always God's will. Houston twists the scriptures here. Paul died broke and in prison. Stephen, in Acts 8, was stoned to death for his testimony—he was faithful, yet he received no material blessing. And Jesus Himself told the rich young ruler not to give his money to the church for use, but to "sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Luke 18:22). Jesus Himself was poor; he stated "the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt 8:20) and needed to have Peter catch a fish because he didn't have a coin to pay a tax (Matt 17:27)

Prosperity Teaching More Dangerous than Sexual Impropriety

The big problem I see here is that Houston's prosperity doctrine has been well known. He's written books on the subject and even this year posted to his blog that "God is our Father and like any loving parent He enjoys His children being blessed in every way, including financially. Simply put, it is God's desire to bless us because He loves us!"7 Yet, the prosperity teaching of Hillsong hasn't causes a ripple while his distancing himself from taking a stand on homosexuality has created a tidal wave of concern. Why?

Prosperity teaching is vastly more dangerous, because it claims to present the will of God, but misrepresents God in so doing. Those that believe in this kind of teaching and then find themselves in hard times can quickly give up Christianity all together. In other words, it has implications for the salvation of the believer. As one can see from the passages above and others, there's always a subtle subtext about doing what's right, about obeying the law. In his Blessings chapter, Houston writes:

Throughout the Bible, God consistently promises to bless His people, but His blessing also depends on our choices. He puts two dear choices before people: 'I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;' (Deuteronomy 30: 19)

The book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament contains a list of blessings and a list of curses which were directly linked to whether one chose to obey or disobey the commandments of the Lord. You can read these in Deuteronomy 28: 1-14. To choose life with God is to choose a blessed life.
But the New Testament is clear that believers are no longer under the law. Deuteronomy 28's blessings and cursing are not applicable to Christians, they were directly meant for the nation of Israel. Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that they are no longer under the curse of the law, but they have freedom in Christ and then warns then that "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal .3:10,4:31, 5:1). He says that for anyone under the law, "Christ will be of no benefit to you" (Gal 5:2). So which is the more important issue?

Matthew Vines, who wants to see evangelicalism accept his homosexuality, provided this insight to the New York Times, "Is Hillsong influential primarily for doctrine and theology? No, it's not, but its music is as evangelical as you're going to get, in terms of reach and impact, and that's very significant."8 If Hillsong's position on homosexuality is that important, shouldn't Christians be more upset over Hillsong's undermining of the gospel through its prosperity teachings? "Jesus, You're All I Need" is a popular Hillsong worship chorus. Too bad it isn't the message Houston teaches.


1. Thompson, Tuck. "Hillsong Pastor Defends Ministry against Cult Claims." The Courier Mail. News Ltd., 25 May 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
2. "Hillsong Church." Hillsong Church. Hillsong Church, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
3. Paulson, Michael. "Megachurch Pastor Signals Shift in Tone on Gay Marriage." The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
4. Churchwatcher. "A Transcript and Statement on Brian Houston's Recent Press Conference." Hillsong Church Watch. Hillsong Church Watch. 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. You may listen to a recording of these comments here.
5. Paulson, ibid.
6. Marriner, Cosmina. "Next Stop Secular Europe, Says Hillsong Founder." The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media, 25 May 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
7. Houston, Brian. "Day 3: Make Room for Blessing." Hillsong Connect. Hillsong Church, 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
8. Paulson, Ibid.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why Christians Need to Grow Intellectually (video)

I was recently asked which apologists influenced me the most in my study.  Here in this short clip I provide some of my primary influences and also talk about the importance of Christians stretching themselves just a bit intellectually in order to become more mature in the faith and to love God more fully.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Christian Faith Is an Objective Faith

The Christian faith is an objective faith; therefore, it must have an object. The Christian concept of "saving" faith is a faith that establishes one's relationship with Jesus Christ (the object), and is diametrically opposed to the average "philosophical" use of the term faith in the classroom today. One cliché that is to be rejected is, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it enough." 

Let me illustrate.
I had a debate with the head of the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. In answering a question, I happened to mention the importance of the resurrection. At this point, my Opponent interrupted and rather sarcastically said, "Come on, McDowell, the key issue is not whether the resurrection took place or not; it is 'do you believe it took place?'" What he was hinting at (actually boldly asserting) is that my believing was the most important thing. I retorted immediately, "Sir, it does matter what I as a Christian believe, because the value of Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the one who is believed in, its object." I continued that "if anyone can demonstrate to me that Christ was not raised from the dead, I would not have the right to my Christian faith" (I Corinthians 15: 14). 
The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed — not in the one trusting, but in the one trusted. 
—Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.San Bernardino, CA. Here;s Life Pub. 1979. Print. 4.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Problems with Open Theism

For centuries, scholars have argued about the tension that exists between God's predestination and our free will. Some have backed a model of determinism, but such a position holds certain problems, such as the inability of human beings to make choices that are truly free. This may lead to even greater difficulties such as making God ultimately responsible for evil actions.

Because of those problems, some Christians have opted to abandon determinism all together and swung radically to another extreme: Open Theism. Open Theism is a view that basically says God has the ability to do anything logically possible and know everything there is to know but undecided future events cannot be known. The main proponents of this view are Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd and William Hasker.

Basic Views Of Open Theism

1. God does not have to control everything to be sovereign

All Christians agree that God is sovereign. But does this necessarily mean that God has to control every detail of His creation to be sovereign over it. Bruce Reichenbach writes "To be sovereign does not mean that everything that occurs accords with the will of the sovereign or that the sovereign can bring about anything that he or she wants. The ability of the sovereign to determine the outcome depends, in part, on the freedom granted to the governed."1

Reichenbach notes that sovereignty requires two classes: the governor and the governed. He then goes on to argue that while the sovereign has the power and authority to control all aspects of the governed, he also has the power and authority to grant them some autonomy. "And the more freedom the sovereign grants his subjects, the less he can control their behavior without withdrawing the very freedom granted."2

2. True free will is contrary to determinism.

An important point in the position of indeterminism is the idea that free will necessarily entails agents to be able to choose a path other than the one that was actually chosen. If God determines you to do X, and everything that God decrees must come to pass (He is God after all), then you must do X and you are really not free to choose another option. Therefore, in order for a person to be free, God cannot determine all of that person's future.

Reichenbach writes, "Freedom is not the absence of influences, either external or internal. ...Rather, to be free means that the causal influences do not determine my choice or my actions." He then says "where we are free, we could have done other than we did, even though it might have been very difficult to do so."3

3. God cannot know certain things.

Christianity has always held that God is omniscient and omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful). However, this has never meant that God could know or do what is illogical. For example, God cannot create a square circle because a square circle is a contradiction. Also, He cannot tell you what color unicorns are since they don't really exist.

Similarly, open theists maintain that if God would want to create a world where truly free beings exist, He has the power to do so. However, in order to do so it means that God must limit Himself, like the sovereign mentioned above. He must voluntarily give up the ability to know the future decisively.

According to open theism, because free will means that choices become real only at the time of the choosing, it would be impossible for God to know what that choice will actually be. Hasker states "So if God knows such a choice, it is the actual choosing itself that he knows, and nothing else. But if the choice is never in fact made, then there is no 'actual choosing,' and thus nothing for God to know."4

Gregory Boyd supports this point when he writes, "One is not ascribing ignorance to God by insisting that he doesn't foreknow future free actions if indeed free actions do not exist to be known until free agents create them."5

4. God experiences the future with us.

Because choices don't exist until the chooser makes them, open theism holds that God experiences and adjusts to events as they happen. Boyd tells us, "The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances or in the light of , he expresses regret and disappointment over how things have turned out, he tells us he's surprised at how things turned out, for he expected a different outcome, and in several passages the Lord explicitly tells us that he did not know that humans would behave the way they did."6

Clark Pinnock concurs: "God gives us room to make genuine decisions and works along side us in the temporal process. What we do matters to God. God responds to us like a dancer with her partner..."7

Objections to Open Theism

The Knowability Of The Future

One of the main tenets of Open Theism is that God cannot know future free actions, since those actions do not yet exist in reality. They are merely possibilities; and if an agent is truly free, that agent cannot be bound in any way to one possibility over another. However, this viewpoint has problems both philosophically and theologically.

In looking at claims about future free acts philosophically, William Lane Craig answers the common objection offered by open theists that there is no good reason to deny the truth or falsity of such statements. Such claims  are usually posited in this way: "Why should we accept the view that future-tense statements about free acts are neither true nor false?...About the only answer given to this question goes something like this: Future events, unlike present events, do not exist. That is to say, the future is not 'out there' somewhere."8

Craig answers this charge by showing that statements dealing in past-tense events can be and are considered true or false even though the events of the past, like those of the future do not exist in our present reality. "For example, [the statement] 'Reagan won the 1980 presidential election' is true if and only if Reagan won the 1980 presidential election... Long after the election is over... this statement will still be true. A future-tense statement is true if matters turn out as the statement predicts, and false if matters fail to turn out as the statement predicts."9

God's Claim To Know The Future

The other problem here is God does claim to know future events (ref. Isaiah 46:10.) There are many examples of God knowing the future choices of individuals within the pages of Scripture as well. One of the examples that Gregory Boyd tries to explain is Peter's denial of Jesus. Boyd writes "we only need to believe that God the Father knew and revealed to Jesus one very predictable aspect of Peter's character. Anyone who knew Peter's character perfectly could have predicted that under certain highly pressured circumstances (that God could easily orchestrate), he would act just the way he did."10

I find this explanation wanting. We must remember that Jesus' words weren't just "you are going to deny me" which would be predictable, but "you will deny me three times before the cock crows". In order to "orchestrate" such an event, God would have had to make sure Peter would wind up in a place where he would be forced to deny the Lord, and that his accusers would ask him three times within a defined time period. How Boyd can reconcile the free choices of all these individuals with all these events being destined to take place, he doesn't discuss. Needless to say, it would take more than just perfectly knowing a person's makeup to have the specifics of this prophecy fulfilled.

The Biblical Concept Of Predestination

Of course, the main focus of the Open position is to answer the problems a hard determinist view raises regarding fatalism and man's freedom . However, in denying that God in some way determines the actions of man, the open theist is also denying a Biblical concept - that God has indeed predestined some to salvation before the beginning of the world. Romans 8:29 is the pivotal verse. It states "Those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Boyd tries to explain this to mean  "Paul had [spiritual] Israel as a corporate whole in mind, not individual Jews "11 In other words, the church as a group. He uses this same reasoning regarding Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Timothy 1:9.

But we must remember that Romans 8:28 explicitly states that those who belong to the church are referred to as "the called". In the same chapter, Paul states that Christ is at the right hand of the Father "who makes intercession for us" (v.34). If we are to be consistent in this approach, we would have to say that Jesus' intersession only applies to the church as a corporate entity and not to individual Christians. But this doesn't make sense in light of the preceding verses where Paul talks about his individual suffering and how we (as individuals) eagerly await the redemption of our bodies.

There are other problems raised by the open view, how God sometimes changes His mind, for example. But in focusing on our discussion, I think you can see how the open view is a less than satisfying answer to the problems raised by determinism.


1.Reichbach, Bruce "God Limits His Power" Predestination and Free Will
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986. 105.
2. Ibid.
3. Reichbach,. pg. 103
4. Hasker, William. "The Openness of God" Christian Scholar's Review 28:1 (Fall, 1998: 111-139) Web.,_csr.htm
5. Boyd, Gregory. God of the Possible
 Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000. 16
6. "A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View." ReKnew. ReKnew, 29 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Oct. 2014. .
7. Pinnock, Clark "God Limits His Knowledge" Predestination and Free Will
Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1986. 158.
8. Craig, William Lane The Only Wise God
Wipf and Stock Pub., 1999. Eugene, OR: pp.55-56
9. Ibid p.57
10. Boyd, Gregory God of the Possible
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mi. 2000 p. 34
11. Boyd, Op. Cit. p. 48

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Questioning the Bible

Jonathan Morrow may not be a name most people recognize, but the author of Think Christianity has shown that he is adept at taking front-line issues in defending the faith and making them accessible to a broad audience. He does this again in his latest work, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority. Here, Morrow delves into eleven common objections to the trustworthiness of not only the Biblical texts, but the general cultural understanding of the Bible as well, all written in a light, easy to understand style.

The book opens with a wonderful introduction addresses specifically to the Christian in the pew. Morrow sets the stage well as he notes that traditionally, pastors' sermons usually begin with the presupposition that the Bible is both accurate and authoritative. However, those concepts should not be so easily assumed, as the culture has become more and more secular, and therefore skeptical of those claims. In chapter one, Morrow next creates a broader foundation for his arguments by showing that faith may be built upon evidence, that the heroes of the Bible built their faith in just that way, and that we as modern Christians are also commanded to provide reasons for our own faith.

Once the foundation is established, Morrow moves into the question of the historicity of Jesus and the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. The former topic is key as the "Jesus as myth" movement many atheists propose seems to be gaining ground today, particularly via spurious Internet sources. Chapters 4 through 6 focus on the collection of texts that make up our New Testament, first showing that the Gospel accounts were chosen neither frivolously nor, as books like The Da Vinci Code would assert, to advance a certain political agenda. Morrow discusses the problem of forgeries that were identified and then shows why the biblical gospels cannot be considered forgeries themselves. H ends this section by showing why the modern New Testament text itself is a reliable copy of what the original authors wrote.

Once the biblical texts are confirmed accurate, the next question would be do they match with reality? While we may have the original texts, that doesn't mean they tell the truth or are giving us real knowledge. Morrow now answers these objections in the next three chapters, which deal with claims of Biblical contradictions, the claim that the Bible is unscientific, and the charge that the Bible is prejudiced or backwards compared to our modern morality. The last two chapters are reserved for issues focused on Christian application of the scriptures.

Overall, the book offers some really great tools to help the reader not only understand but implement the content. Chapters are short and the content is broken up by subheadings every page or two, creating bite-sized ideas that are easy to take in. There are not a lot of illustrations, however every chapter is summarized at its end with its "three big ideas", tips for how you can explain the main points of the chapter within a conversation, as well as a couple of resources that allows the student to dig deeper into that chapter's topic.

One key point is that there are three appendixes at the back of the books, which could really be three additional chapters. While not really fitting into the main scheme of questions that challenge the Bible's authority, they still touch on key issues that help establish the Bible as the authoritative word of God. While the writing style is conversational and friendly, each chapter is properly sourced, with the footnotes found at the back of the book.

As Morrow notes in his last appendix, today's youth are not taking the Bible as seriously as previous generations. Because of the growing secularization of the culture, the anti-institutional attitudes that pervade the younger generation, and the increasing onslaught of skeptics and atheists, Christian kids today have more confusion about the authority of Scripture than ever before. Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority goes a long way in quelling those doubts and reestablishing why trust in the Bible is a rational position to take. Morrow has given the church a gift in this book. I recommend it highly for youth groups, personal study, or simply general edification. You may be surprised—it could even answer questions you didn't know you had.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

People Who Think Killing Babies for Pleasure is OK

If you've ever listened to a discussion on how moral values are universal you may have heard someone use the example of "killing babies for pleasure is always wrong." The example is a useful tool, as people recognize that any person who takes of a young, innocent life just to extend their own pleasure can never claim the moral high ground. It doesn't matter if you are talking about ancient Assyrians, Aztec priests, or modern pedophiles that kill children after they abuse them, it's always wrong. It's wrong in every location and at every point in history. It's wrong no matter if other people believe it's right or the government makes it legal to do so.

Most sane people agree with the precept above. But, what if no one can see the child that's being killed? Does it change the immorality of the act? I think most people would agree that being able to see the child doesn't matter. Wrong is wrong.

I offer this example because there are those in society who seem to believe that in certain instances it is OK to kill a baby to increase the level of pleasure one has – and that's when the life of the mother to be is made less pleasurable because caring for her child will cause her inconvenience. It makes her life more difficult, i.e. less pleasurable. Therefore, it is argued by pro-abortion advocates that the mother should kill the baby before he or she is born.

Sometimes abortions are counseled because the child suffers from a medical condition or genetic abnormality, such as Down's syndrome. Atheist Richard Dawkins recently counseled an expectant mother of a child with Down's syndrome to "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." Immoral? Why? Countless families of Down's syndrome children have confirmed how happy and loving those kids are. Dawkins' comments were justifiably vilified by these families, but there are many doctors who would counsel expectant parents similarly.

There are more egregious reasons people give for aborting their children. By far the most common reason to abort a child is that the mother wasn't planning to become pregnant. She is concerned that her life will be fundamentally changed by having a child.  I agree that it will. However, even if she cannot support the baby, adoption is another option. The only reason to select abortion is to increase the level of pleasure in the mother's life. That's really it. Yet, this is advocated as a viable option by many people in our society today.

In fact, an interesting thing is occurring in the US midterm elections. Given that President Obama's ratings are in the gutter, Democrats who are running for office are making abortion a primary component of their campaigns. The Democratic candidate for Senate in Colorado exemplifies this approach. Senator Mark Udall has made his pro-abortion plank basically the only thing he talks about in the campaign, so much so that the press has dubbed him "Mark Uterus." The Los Angeles Times, in a curious coincidence of timing, ran two front page stories back to back highlighting the "Abortion Wars" plus an editorial, all just a few weeks prior to the election. Of course The Times knows they must get women out to vote in a midterm election if Democrats want to maintain control of the Senate and other offices.

But all the talk of women's rights is simply smoke and mirrors. Women have a right to… what exactly? They may have some control over their own bodies, but not at any expense, just as our free speech rights end when we falsely shout "fire" and endanger other human beings. These women want the "right" to kill a human being so they are not inconvenienced for nine months. They feel their lives will be better; they will be happier and have less responsibility, less embarrassment. To me it sounds like they want to kill a baby so they may enjoy certain benefits that accompany not being pregnant. But killing babies to increase pleasure is wrong, it's always wrong. It's just as wrong as the mother who gave birth but left the child to drown in the toilet and then waked away free on a suspended sentence.

Once killing the defenseless for convenience is justified, these kinds of hideous results follow. Killing babies to allow your own pleasure is clearly immoral. It's time more people were consistent on that point.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Rosetta Stone, SETI, and the Existence of God

For centuries, the hieroglyphics that adorned Egyptian ruins were a mystery to all. Those that saw them recognized them as some type of communication system, but no one knew if the pictures stood for words, letters, or something else. When archaeologists finally discovered the Rosetta Stone, they were very excited because they felt this would finally give them a chance to decode the mystery.1 How did they know this? They saw the same inscription was carved into the stone three ways: in Greek, in Demotic script, and in the hieroglyphs. Since scholars had a strong knowledge of ancient Greek and a little understanding of the Demotic, which was an outgrowth of the ancient Egyptian language, they had the basic pieces in place to begin unraveling the hieroglyphics. But you should ask yourself at this point how did they know that the hieroglyphics were decipherable at all? The answer is simple on this point: language represents ideas and ideas can be transferred between mediums. Information exists separately from the systems that carry it.

Because this is a hard point, let me unpack this a bit further. The Rosetta Stone inscription basically declares the newly-crowned King Ptolomy V a god and provides details on feast days, temples, and such.2 Even though the people who engraved the stone lived 2300 years ago and the language they spoke bore no resemblance to English, we can still understand their intent because the underlying ideas contained in the Stone do not exist only in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ideas, that is, the information that is contained within the Stone, existed in the mind of the writer prior to the Stone's engraving. We are able to understand it not because we understand the language, but because we understand the ideas that the language represents. I can be fluent in many languages, but I must first have an idea before I can use any of those languages effectively. With no idea behind them, words become like those letters on my refrigerator door. They may accidentally fall into place at times, but they really don't mean anything. Information must precede the message system that carries it.

Searching for SETI

The concept that information comes from minds is one that scientists have accepted, a belief that can be readily demonstrated by their formulation of the SETI project.3 SETI is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It is a scientific venture "to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe."4 One of the ways they do so is by trying to observe transmissions from outer space. The SETI scientists use very powerful radio dishes pointed towards space searching for transmissions from intelligent life on another planet.5 But space can be a very "noisy" place. Pulsars and other phenomena emit electromagnetic waves that can either be seen or heard. Therefore, the scientists who are working on the SETI project have a way of determining if the signals they receive are from intelligent life or just signals occurring naturally in space.

In order to determine if a signal shows signs of intelligence, SETI researchers use the same basic principles that we have outlined in our discussion above. They look for orderly signals, not random static. They look for complex signals, not a blip at regular intervals. They look for a specific pattern that would have the earmarks of coming from a mind. In the movie Contact, which used SETI as its basis, researchers found a signal broadcasting the first twenty prime numbers. If these three traits were confirmed in a signal, the scientists at SETI could reasonably conclude that what they are receiving was some type of message system that came from a mind.

A Computer Code Inside Your Cells

Whether it's archaeology, SETI, computer data, or another medium, the principles for identifying an information-bearing system are the same. But what about biology? The DNA inside your cells meets all the criteria of the SETI researchers' qualifications: it is a complex, non-repetitive, specific four-letter code that very much resembles computer code. DNA carries quantifiable information, and like the Rosetta Stone, that information exists independently of its alphabet. The human genome project has cataloged the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that comprise the human DNA.6 We can express them in other forms of writing (such as "begin to assemble this protein"). And even though DNA only uses four letters, it is still capable of carrying out the most complex instructions. Computers today use a binary language comprised of only ones and zeros. Four letter languages actually have an advantage. And like the letters on my refrigerator in the example above, if you rearrange them, you no longer get a cogent message; instead you will get corruption and the message will be lost. They must be organized in a specific sequence to provide a proper blueprint for a human being.

DNA —Evidence of a Mind

So what do we make of this? The conclusion should be readily apparent. If the identification of a message system proves there is a mind at work, and DNA is an information-rich message system, then it follows that DNA must have come from a mind. That's the inescapable conclusion from the premises that precede it. Message systems come from minds, DNA is a message system, so DNA must have come from a mind. Good science has revealed this to us.

Scientists routinely object to this argument within the Intelligent Design community by dismissing ID as not being "science," saying things like ID cannot be tested by experiment and that it isn't falsifiable.7 However, the criteria I've proposed is exactly the same as all those scientists use on the SETI project. The SETI Institute lists over fifty people involved with the project classified as "Scientists and Senior Staff."8 Although I know many who are skeptical about the SETI project successfully finding intelligent extraterrestrial life, I've never met an honest person — believer, skeptic, or atheist — who didn't believe that the SETI project is real science. Even the popular scientist Carl Sagan, who very vocally dismissed a personal God,9 felt that this was good science, vigorously promoting the SETI project.

So if the scientific community are going to be honest, they must either discount the SETI project as non-science or admit that the criteria is good science and is fair game to determine the origin of life. If the criteria are good enough for the astronomers at JPL viewing Mars, the archaeologists investigating the Whiteshell rocks, and the SETI researchers, then they're good enough to prove that there's an intelligent mind responsible for our DNA. DNA points to the existence of God.


1. See the foot note on page 9 of Clarke, Edward Daniel. Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia and Africa: Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land. London: T. Cadwell and W. Davies, 1817. You can access this book online at
2. A fully translated text of the Rosetta Stone may be read at the British Museum's web site.
3. I've found several examples in writings of Intelligent Design advocates using both the SETI project and the motion picture Contact starring Jodie Foster as examples. William Dembski used Contact as his illustration in his "Science and Design" (First Things: Oct 1, 1998), Walter L. Bradley and Charles B. Thaxton used SETI in their article "Information and the Origin of Life" (The Creation Hypothesis. J.P.Moreland, Ed. Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press. 199.)
4. Taken from the mission statement of the SETI Institute at . Accessed August 31, 2010.
5. The SETI website explains, "Currently the Center for SETI Research develops signal-processing technology and uses it to search for signals from advanced technological civilizations in our galaxy." SETI Institute. The Center for SETI Research. Accessed September 2, 2010.
6. Human Genome Project Information. "About the Human Genome Project". . August 19, 2008. Accesses September 2, 2010.
7. See footnote #2 on "Why Intelligent Design is Not Science." Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. Accessed September 6, 2010.
8. SETI Institute. "Leadership Team, Scientists and Senior Staff". . Accesses September 2, 2010.
9. Sagan, Carl "A Sunday Sermon" Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. (New York:Ballantine Books). p. 330.

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