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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, August 30, 2014

Christians Must Stop Staying Invisible (video)

Imagine Thomas Jefferson wanting to stay anonymous when the U.S. was founded. What if he chose to only talk with those who agreed with him instead of drawing attention to himself and risked his livelihood by becoming a figurehead of the revolutionary effort? What would the United States look like today without the ability to point to Jefferson and his ideas?



That is the very problem plaguing Christians in who fight in the war of worldviews. The Barna organization reports that the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives has become largely invisible. It's not that there is no influence, it's simply that no one realizes how much Christianity matters to society. Christians are buying the lie that they should keep their faith as a private matter, and it weakens the moral and spiritual principles upon which our society runs.

In this short clip, listen in as I note the threat to our modern way of life when Christians become invisible in culture.




References

Image courtesy Leo Reynolds and licenced via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Friday, August 29, 2014

You're Smarter than You Think You Are

I'm a big comedy fan. Nobody does silly-smart like Monty Python. Their "Philosophers' Football Match" was hilarious. It makes you appreciate good satire.

The Far Side, the single panel comic strip by Gary Larson, was another piece that had some pretty funny moments. One comic in 1986 that I distinctly remember was a panel showing two deer standing only on their hind legs facing each other. One deer has two concentric circles forming a target on his chest. The caption has the other deer saying, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal."



As we press on into the twenty-first century, I find that more and more Christians are feeling the same way that deer felt. We can feel the frequency of attacks against Christian believers increasing faster than ever before. We see this most evidently in the recent best-selling works of the so-called "New Atheists," such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. These titles are now well-known and they've been extensively covered by popular media. However, I think that the prominence of these books is a comment on how our society has become more uncomfortable with a strong Christian faith.

It really seems as if we're entering a time where lines are being drawn more clearly. We live in a society that views belief as a deeply personal approach to life, and the most important thing to guide one's moral life. Yet most people also adopt a "salad-bar theology" in their beliefs; they think that they can pick and choose beliefs by what they like and don't like. If your plate looks different than mine, that's OK. Just so long as I can have only what I like1.

But we cannot be passive in the face of attack. In fact, the Bible commands us to engage with others in the war of ideas. We are the "always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks, yet with gentleness and reverence" as 1 Peter 3:15 tells us. That means we will need to be ready to have answers and face people who may seem pretty smart.

Think About It

How do you feel about what you believe? Is it only a personal choice or are there reasons why you believe what you do?

Pretty scary, huh? Well, don't be too worried. You're smarter than you think you are! You have the ability to give good, solid answers for the things you believe. You have just as much ability to stand up for your faith as anyone else—even the so-called experts. Then, why do most people get so flustered when objections or questions come their way? Well, primarily it's because they haven't ever taken the time to sit down and think through what it is they actually believe. But, as Christians, we're commanded to do just that!

Although many people want to shrink from such a command, I want to encourage you to move forward. Pick a topic, such as the existence of God. Study it. Read some of the good books, web sites and other materials that are already online. Checkout podcasts, like our weekly Come Let us Reason podcast.  It isn't as hard as you think. And it's crucial to remember just what's at stake.

You see, ideas have consequences. Believing what God says about people being made in His image caused advocates like William Wilberforce to rise up and demand the abolition of slavery. Believing that all human beings are precious powers the pro-life movement and has a direct impact on saving babies. It's not about trying to be some type of intellectual; it's about how knowledge affects the way we react to events as we see them. It means we're able to impact the world because we know things. We are fighting a spiritual war and souls hang in the balance. Let's fight smarter.

References

1. A Barna survey reports "74% to 23%—adults agreed that their religious faith was becoming even more important to them than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance." The report also states "By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church." See "Christianity Is No Longer Americans' Default Faith", Barna Group Ltd. Jan 12, 2009. Online at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/15-christianity-is-no-longer-americans-default-faith accessed 7-23-2009



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blinding with Science

Frequently when I discuss issues of science as they relate to faith, I'm often told that science shouldn't be doubted. After all, science, unlike faith, isn't about what people want to believe. It only deals in cold, hard facts, and when science reaches a consensus, like it has with the modern neo-Darwinian paradigm, it is unreasonable to reject it. Rejecting the scientific beliefs of the vast majority of scientists is equal to denying that the earth is round.



That's the story, but that isn't science. It's scientism. Fundamental to science is the concept of questioning the facts we think we know, even what can be considered well-established facts. Newton's laws were thought to hold in all applications for centuries until quantum mechanics came along and threw a fly in the ointment. Other assumptions, such as the steady state model for the universe, have also been upended.

But many of those ideas are too esoteric for the average man on the street to really grasp. However, there is currently a paradigm shift happening in the health sciences that perfectly illustrates how accepted science can be flimsy, biased, and based not on facts but strong wills and politics. The story is fascinating and illustrates how just one man can create a belief that is so strong, it affects the viewpoint other experts, changes government regulations, and becomes an embedded belief by the general population.

In her article "The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?" author Nina Teicholz summarizes her findings of a nine year investigation into the commonly-accepted belief that the more saturated fats you eat, the worse it is for your heart. I recommend you read the entire article, or if you would like even more detail, grab her well-documented book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. However, here are a few quotes of how the myth of the unhealthy high fat diets became the unquestioned standard:

1. One man's assumption led to bad conclusions

Teicholz writes that the idea to link saturated fats to heart disease was proposed by Ancel Keys, a pathologist who was "an aggressive, outsized personality with a talent for persuasion."1  Keys' studies on this link "violated several basic scientific norms,"2 according to Teicholz.  For example, Key's findings were based on a single study, claiming to look at the diets of some 13,000 men across seven countries. However, Teicholz reports that Keys did not select random nations, but only those that supported his hypothesis, and he ignored others. She writes there were other problems with the study as well:
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate nutrition data, Keys ended up sampling the diets of fewer than 500 men, far from a statistically significant sample. And the study's star subjects — men on the Greek island of Crete who tilled their fields well into old age and appeared to eat very little meat or cheese — turned out to have been partly sampled during Lent, when the study subjects were foregoing meat and cheese. This must have led Keys to undercount their saturated-fat consumption. These flaws weren't revealed until much later. By then, the misimpression left by the erroneous data had become international dogma.3

2. One man's push led to accepted dogma

The second factor that led to the widespread acceptance of Keys views was a combination of good timing and Keys' dominant personality. Teicholz reports:
He found a receptive audience for his "diet-heart hypothesis" among public-health experts who faced a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease. The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.4
Once the idea became ingrained, it became a foregone conclusion.
There were subsequent trials, of course. In the 1970s, half a dozen important experiments pitted a diet high in vegetable oil — usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil — against one with more animal fats. But these trials had serious methodological problems: some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best…

When Ronald M Krauss decided, in 2000, to review all the evidence purporting to show that saturated fats cause heart disease, he knew that he was putting his professional career at risk. Krauss is one of the top nutrition experts in the United States, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley. But challenging one of his field's most sacrosanct beliefs was a near-heretical act.

Challenging any of the conventional wisdom on dietary fat has long been a form of professional suicide for nutrition experts. And saturated fats, especially, are the third rail.

3. The power of intimidation affects consensus

Finally, Teicholz states that Keys himself was not as interested in advancing the science as he was in keeping his findings in the center of belief. He would belittle and mock those who would oppose his theory:
Keys aggressively criticised these observations, which were like missiles aimed at the very heart of his theory… In response to a prominent Texas A&M University professor who wrote a critique of Keys, he said that the paper "reminds one of the distorting mirrors in the hall of jokes at the county fair".

Rolling over the opposition by sheer force of will was typical of Keys and his acolytes in defending their saturated-fat hypothesis. Keys was "tough and ruthless and would argue any point", Oliver, a prominent opponent, said. Since Keys's allies controlled so many top government health posts, critics were denied research grants and key posts on expert panels. As retribution for defending the healthiness of eggs, despite their cholesterol content, Oliver was publicly branded by two of Keys's main allies as a "notorious type" and a "scoundrel" because "he opposed us on everything".

In the end, Keys and his colleagues prevailed. Despite contrary observations from India to the Arctic, too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Keys's hypothesis. The bias in its favour had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.5

The parallels between this and modern paradigms like global climate change or neo-Darwinian synthesis are striking. Each was formed at the right time, by those looking to dismiss a creator or in a time of significant environmental sensitivity. Each has had high-profile proponents. Each has claimed the scientific high ground to the degree that any deviation from the accepted consensus would be mocked and belittled, and considered professional suicide.
Many good scientists would speak authoritatively on the saturated fat-heart disease link, even today. However, the consumer needs to be more dubious of any connection between the two. While many Keys's critics gained some clout by having a well —respected journal (the Lancet and the British Medical Journal) willing to publish their work, and thus began to crack the saturated fat myth, one wonders how long it would have persisted if the British medical professionals had not investigated the claims.

The tale of saturated fat and Ancel Keys should serve as a warning to those who claim that "consensus" and "accepted science" are good enough to keep scientific claims from being questioned. They show exactly the opposite. After all, scientists are people, and people are prone to be biased. So, don't accept the tale that science is above reproach. It can be a flawed belief system, too.


References

1. Teicholz, Nina. "The Science of Saturated Fat: A Big Fat Surprise about Nutrition?" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2014.
2. Teicholz, ibid.
3. Teicholz, ibid.
4. Teicholz, ibid.
5. Teicholz, ibid.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Didn't God Create a World Where Everyone Would Go to Heaven?

Christianity teaches that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. However, it also teaches that salvation is exclusively through Jesus and God "is not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance"(2 Pet. 3:9). If God has all knowledge, He would know that certain people will choose not to follow Him. Yet he creates these people anyway, resulting in  many souls being lost. Why would He create such a world? Wouldn't He look through all possible worlds He could have created and chosen to create one where everyone is saved?



I have argued elsewhere that hell is a logical result of a person choosing not to follow Christ. So, the assertion shouldn't be stated "why does God send anyone to hell", but rather "why wouldn't God create a world where all people choose Him and are saved".

Now, we know that God created us with the freedom to choose His ways or our own ways1. People are condemned to hell because they reject the righteous ways of God and seek their own pleasures (ref: Rom. 3:12, Matt:7:14). William Lane Craig asserts this when he writes, "People who are damned are so because they willingly reject God's grace and ignore the solicitation of His Spirit."2

Logical Limitations of God

The assertion above, though, assumes that there could exist such a world where everyone is saved and that world would suit God's purposes. This isn't necessarily so.

God is omnipotent (all powerful), but it is well recognized that omnipotence does not include performing that which is logically contradictory. In other words, to ask if God can make a rock so big that He can't lift it is nonsense. It's not a lack of omnipotence.

Similarly, it may not be logically possible for God to create a world where a significant number of people exist, all people are given freedom of choice, and all people choose to be saved. Dr. Craig writes "For God's ability to actualize worlds containing free creatures will be limited by which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true in the moment logically prior to the divine decree."3 Since truly free people have the ability to reject God, there may be no possible world where everyone freely accepts Christ's atonement. If that is true, then it is illogical to demand that God make such a world that can't exist.

Choosing Between Possible Worlds

But, even if some world is possible where everyone chooses salvation, it is also possible that the total number of individuals is so small that an all-loving God would choose to create another. Craig continues:
Suppose that the only worlds feasible for God in which all persons receive Christ and are saved are worlds containing only a handful of persons. Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ? Not only does this seem to me possibly true, but I think that it probably is true. Why should the joy and blessedness of those who would receive God's grace and love be prevented on account of those who would freely spurn it? An omnibenevolent God might want as many creatures as possible to share salvation; but given certain true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, God, in order to have a multitude in heaven, might have to accept a number in hell.4
Here Craig shows how it is not contradictory to believe that an all-loving and all powerful God could create a world where many people are not saved. As Craig points out, it is entirely possible that God would want to bestow His grace to as many as possible - not merely a handful. It is not out of the realm of possibility that certain free persons exist who—no matter what the circumstance—would simply never choose to follow Christ.

God, Salvation, And This World

Craig argues what God has done is bring into reality a world that maximizes the number of people who are saved while minimizing the number of people who are lost. He states "it is possible that God wants to maximize the number of the saved: He wants heaven to be as full as possible. Moreover, as a loving God, He wants to minimize the number of the lost: He wants hell to be as empty as possible. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more lost than is necessary to achieve a certain number of the saved. But it is possible that the balance between the saved and lost in the actual world is such an optimal balance.

"...It is possible that the terrible price of filling heaven is also filling hell and that any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost would be worse."5

Ultimate Ends

So, it is possible that if God were to create any world at all, the one in which we live contains an optimum balance between the saved and lost. An objector may counter "then God shouldn't have created anyone at all". However, this ignores the fact that people do choose their actions. It isn't reasonable to say that some shouldn't enjoy eternal life with God because others will willingly choose to rebel against Him. God is not responsible for those individuals rebelling, even if He knew they would before they were ever created.

References

1. See the article "Does Man Have Free Will?" at http://www.comereason.org/free-will.asp
2. Craig, William L. "Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism." Sophia 34 (1995): 120-139.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/middle-knowledge-and-christian-exclusivism
3. Craig, William L. "'No Other Name': A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ". Faith and Philosophy 6. (1989): 172-88.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/no-other-name-a-middle-knowledge-perspective
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Will We Remember in Heaven?

One of the more well-known Christian answers to the problem of evil is found in the free will argument, which hinges on the fact that love can only be given by creatures who can freely choose to love or rebel against God. However, such a response raises some other questions, such as how could we then have free will in heaven and yet not sin? While I've answered that already, another problem people ask is about the ramifications of judged evil. Heaven is supposed to be a place of complete joy, with no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore" (Rev. 21:4). But, if among those judged are those people we care about, how can this be? How can one have eternal joy knowing a friend or family member is in hell?


Some have tried to answer the problem by holding that we would forget those people who are lost. The website Got Questions.org quotes Isaiah 65:17 which reads, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered" then concludes that "There is no reason why we could not possess many memories from our earthly lives. The memories that will be cleansed are the ones that involve sin, pain, and sadness."1 This view seems to say that anything that may cause us any type of regret or despondence will be wiped from our minds. But, that strikes me as odd. If God is so careful to give us free will and not to impose His will upon us then why would He erase significant portions of our lives from our memories? Would God really erase the memory of a particularly traumatic event, even though it may have helped shape us to be God-fearing?

John Piper, in looking at the same verse, doesn't take quite that stark a view. He writes, "What we will forget and what we will remember is not a simple class of bad and good. Rather we will forget and remember things in accord with what will maximize our enjoyment of God. If remembering something enhances our worship, we will remember it. If it would hinder our worship we will forget it."2 Piper notes the difficulty one has with the cross itself. Certainly, the cross is the most glorious thing since it reconciles us with God, yet it is also the worst atrocity in history as the sinless Son of God was tortured and killed by sinful men.

God is the one Doing the Forgetting

I don't agree with either answer above. As I study the scriptures, I don't believe God will tamper with our memories at all. The concept of "forgetting" in the Bible doesn't mean unable to recall, but simply that the events are too insignificant to pay attention to. We see this in Hebrews 10:17 where the Holy Spirit states "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." God obviously cannot be omniscient and forget anything. So the phrase about remembering no more means that he will never bring it up again as the penalty has been paid in full. Likewise, the verse prior to Isaiah 65:17 uses the same idiom when Isaiah writes, "Because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes." Note who is doing the forgetting here – it isn't the people of the new heavens and the new earth, it's God Himself! God is doing the talking; therefore the personal pronoun "my" is referring to the speaker. Then, in the very next verse, God reinforces the idea by saying "the former things shall not be remembered." So, Isaiah 65:17 really doesn't speak about wiping out any part of the believer's memories at all.

In the New Heavens, We Will See Clearly

So, how can we have our memories of our painful struggles while on earth and yet be promised no more pain in heaven? I believe this is where the ability to see God's plan clearly becomes key. Paul tells us that "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor 13:12). In other words, we will have a much fuller understanding of God's plan once we're in heaven. If God causes all things to work together for the good, as Romans 8:28 says, then God has made sure that any pain or sorrow we experienced was ultimately in His plan for our benefit. Paul also tells us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Once we are in heaven, the trials and tribulations we place so much emphasis on will seem to us as a bad dream did one day later. Dreams feel so real when we're dreaming, but once we wake up, we realize how silly and ethereal they really are.

In another example, John writes of the martyrs who are in heaven in Revelation 6:9-10. He records, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" It sure seems like the martyrs remember what happened to them! But note what they are asking. They are not calling to wipe away the memories of their martyrdom; they seek God's justice. They see the inherent sin of humanity (for the actual people who had martyred them are likewise dead by now) and they cry out for God to restore righteousness and out His creation back in order.

That is the key, I believe, to how one can be filled with joy in heaven even if ones friends or family are condemned to the judgment of hell. I think once glorified, we will see sin for what it is. Just as I answered in my article "How Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin?", sin will appear so repugnant to us, that we will cry out for God to punish it. Our relationship will change because our understanding will change. We will see the righteousness of God in judging sin and we will recognize it as the holy act it is.

The idea of God wiping out any bad memories really doesn't make sense. After all, the Bible records all kinds of evil acts; does that mean God's Word won't be with us in the new heavens and the new earth? We know that Jesus will carry the marks of crucifixion with Him forever (Rev. 5:6) as well. Instead, it makes much more sense that our understanding of holiness will increase and our tolerance for sin will decrease to such a degree that we would simply see things a lot more like the way God sees them now. I know I cannot love anyone more than he does and knowing that any punishment is in the hand of a holy and righteous God, I can take joy in that.

References

1 "Will we remember our earthly lives when we are in Heaven?" GotQuestions.org Web. http://www.gotquestions.org/remember-Heaven.html Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

2 Piper, John. "What Will We Remember in Heaven?" DesiringGod.com. Web. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/what-will-we-remember-in-heaven 20 Feb 2007. Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Isn't the Skeptic Skeptical About His Morality?


Many times when I'm in a conversation with an atheist or a skeptic, they will bring up some disaster or evil act as a way to prove that God doesn't exist. A couple of years ago, I received a letter from one that proves fairly typical:
I have been trying to figure out why God created the hurricanes that devastated the gulf coast, the tsunami in Asia & allowed the devastation that occurred in N.Y. in his name on 9/11. Why did god murder all those innocent people? What could have gotten him so pissed off to commit genocide? Has he been talking to Hitler or Idi Amin again?

I do not believe in God, but I do believe man has the potential to be God-like in his kindness & generosity. After all, god was created in man's image. Perhaps that is why god is evil!!
The letter writer does touch on issues of the problem of evil that Christian thinkers have taken very seriously over the history of the faith. I've written on it many times as well, and I won't rehash those thoughts here. However, there are some presuppositions that this questions rests upon that should also be examined.

From where do you get your understanding of right and wrong?

While the last paragraph on my correspondent comes off snarky, the basic question of "How could a loving God allow X" seems to presuppose that the questioner can see right and wrong clearly, and is therefore able to judge the "X" action as good or bad. So, my first question would be "How do you know that the morality by which you are calling God out because He created a world in which hurricanes or earthquakes exist is the right morality? By what standard are you judging God?"

In order for good and evil to make sense, there must be an objective moral standard to which all people are obligated. Where did the skeptic's understanding of morality come from? Because he or she is questioning the existence of God, and God is the standard of right and wrong, that one must ask, "then where does your standard of morality come from?"

How do you know your morality is superior?

The second question I would have to an atheist or a skeptic is simply, "How do you know your moral judgment more correct than God's when judging God's motives?" You see, when ascribing evil to God, one claims a morally superior position. But that's a pretty tough position for humans to take. Especially since no human being has ever been consistent in his or her own moral understanding. We change our minds on morality all the time! Think about this: have you ever previously thought that something was permissible that you now believe is wrong? Have you ever decided that something you thought was wrong is now Ok?

I'm not even talking about being inconsistent within one's view, although that happens a lot. An inconsistency is when you believe lying or stealing is wrong, but you fudge your taxes or maybe take some pens from the office and justify your actions in some way. What I mean is real shifts in the way we understand moral duties. Perhaps someone previously felt that any medical testing on animals was wrong, but as they've aged they changed their position on that issue. The morality of allowing homosexual unions has seen great shifts in thinking just in the last five years. Perhaps in another decade it will change again, who knows? Regardless of what position one takes, the fact is that our moral framework is not something to rest on. It shifts too frequently.

Therefore, when someone tells me that he or she cannot believe in God because of the evil in the world today, I have to ask, "You're a skeptic. You seem to be pretty convinced, based on your mortality, of God's non-existence. But how come you aren't more skeptical of your own morality?" It seems to me that the morality by which one concludes God doesn't exist is much more tenuous. Perhaps the skeptic's skepticism should start there.

References

Image courtesy Brian Costin via Flickr. Licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why Every Christian Needs to Study Theology

Many times average church-going Christians feel that reading academic books or studying topics such as theology are too esoteric and filled with too much "head knowledge" for them to worry about. "Just give me Jesus and I'll be fine" they believe. But that's not the biblical model. What we know about God matters very much. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary sums it up here:
Let us not think that we really have a choice between having a theology and not having one. We all have our theologies, for we all have a way of putting things together in our own minds that, if we are Christian, has a shape that arises from our knowledge of God and his Word. We might not be conscious of the process. Indeed, we frequently are not. But at the very least we will organize our perceptions into some sort of pattern that scans to make sense to us. The question at issue, then, is not whether we will have a theology but whether it will be a good or bad one, whether we will become conscious of our thinking processes or not, and, more particularly, whether we will learn to bring all of our thoughts into obedience to Christ or not. The biblical authors had a theology in this sense, after all, and so too did Jesus. He explained himself in terms of biblical revelation, understood his life and work in relation to God, and viewed all of life from this perspective. He had a worldview that originated in the purposes and character of his Father and that informed everything he said and did. (Emphasis added.)
1. Wells, David F. No Place for Truth: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Pub., 1993). 3-4.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Postmodernism is Infecting the Church


When the Church abandons truth, it is one of the most offensive acts you can imagine.

The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. It's a huge problem and a big danger to the health of Christianity. As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. Watch this short video as I comment on the recent trend by believers of accepting a relativistic view of truth and morality and offer a few points on how to counteract this dangerous precedent.




Photo courtesy: Jason Borneman Licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Friday, August 22, 2014

Atheist Insults Believers and Is Stunned at the Result

If you've ever been involved with countercult work, you will know how easily the charge of persecution is levied by those who hear arguments against their beliefs. I've had both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, when presented with evidence that the teachings of their organizations are demonstrably false, claim that they are being persecuted for their beliefs. But telling someone they're wrong or being lied to is neither wrong nor persecution. It's correction.


The reason the persecution charge is thrown so easily is because it holds some hidden premises. People who feel persecuted because of the rejection of an idea believe they're right. They think that their beliefs are obvious, and there are no rational positions contrary to their own. Therefore, any kind of dissent must be some kind of ignorance or bigotry. They believe "Those people who dismiss my view have been infected with wrong thinking."

But it isn't just those who knock on doors who feel this way, but certain atheists as well. Just this week, evolutionary psychologist Sue Blackmore posted an article on Richard Dawkins' site complaining that 100 students walked out of a talk she was giving at Oxford Royale Academy on memes. Blackmore explains:
Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls' by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn't gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?' There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,' and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

…By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard's fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind', the lecture hall was looking rather empty. 1

Blackmore said that she "was still shaken by yesterday's lecture and its aftermath." She even reports on calling out to some of the departing students as they were walking out, "Can't you even listen to ideas you disagree with? In Oxford, of all places, you should be open-minded enough to hear alternative views." 2 She ends the article by claiming the high ground:
Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I'd learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer — when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren't so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?3

Modeling What You Claim to Despise

Blackmore wants to claim bewilderment on why her talk went so badly. While I'm sure there are some who may left because they didn't want to hear any criticisms at all, given Blackmore's own descriptions of her talk I probably would have walked out, too. She was condescending while at the same time being ignorant of the facts. She caricatured religious belief and belittled it, having volunteers mock the Christian Bible, and lumping all beliefs together as if they were equal to one another. She created a flimsy straw man and began knocking it down, taking joy in the discomfort of her listeners as she did.

Such actions would have told me that this woman is not worth listening to and I would have gotten up and left. My actions would have been a result of my thinking for myself and not passively letting a person make bad arguments and get away with ridicule on my dime. The Oxford Royal Academy is an optional summer school program where parents pay for their high-school age students to attend and explore topics more deeply to "gain an academic edge" over their peers.4 Given that, leaving is appropriate.

But Blackmore simply can't understand why some 17 and 18 year olds would choose to walk out of her offensive lecture instead of engaging the instructor in an impromptu debate. Even if their facts were strong, the man with the microphone will usually win that debate. Afterwards, Blackmore talked with some of the Muslim students outside. "I was angrily told that I'd made them feel ignorant." Instead of trying to hear them and understand that they were talking about their feelings as human persons who have inherent worth, Blackmore sought to justify herself. "What should I have done? They are ignorant aren't they?" (emphasis hers.)

Blackmore here shows that she cannot think past her atheistic, memetic worldview. She's a bright, after all, smarter than some kids. In damning those who walked out of her talk, she has become what she claims to despise—one who will not consider a contrary opinion or the fact that she may be wrong on whether she's worth listening to.  The reaction by so many "bright, but ignorant, young people" should have told her she was wrong somewhere, even after she "prepared carefully" by delivering the talk to one relative and adding Internet trends to her slides. But I get the feeling that Blackmore believes she couldn't be wrong. She can't think of anything to do differently, categorizing any apology as cowardice.

Even the chairman of the unit, who invited Blackmore was not pleased, yet she chalks this up to nothing more than the fact that he was a Christian. ‘After all, he must have known when I was invited that I was a vociferous atheist, and since I was invited to talk about memes he must have expected me to mention religions." Yes, I'm sure he did. But perhaps he anticipated something more academic and less acerbic. But I guess Blackmore cannot offer any kind of religious believers (you know, those who make up the vast majority of people on the planet)5 an ounce of respect for their views. She mocks them and then uses their umbrage to make herself feel more enlightened. It is Blackmore who wants to put her hands over her ears and not listen to dissent, dissent in the form of people walking out on her.

References

1. Blackmore, Sue. "A hundred walked out of my lecture." The Richard Dawkins Foundation. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/a-hundred-walked-out-of-my-lecture/
2. Blackmore, Ibid.
3. Blackmore, Ibid.
4. "Why Choose ORA?" Oxford Royal Academy. Web. http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/ora/why-choose-ora Accessed 22 August 2014.
5. "Religions." The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. Web. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html Accessed 22 August 2014.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forrest Gump and Jesus' Resurrection


The Jesus-Mythers are growing. For the uninitiated, the Jesus-Mythers are a small but growing group of atheists who don't merely doubt the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but hold that he never really existed at all. They believe he was a complete fabrication by the various Gospel writers, who used a standard formula of a dying and rising messiah to attract others to their newly-forged faith. In his book Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus, Earl Doherty opens with this claim:
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.

We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence.

Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed, almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years.1
Here, Doherty makes clear the basic outline of how he believes the Jesus story began. But there are problems with this view, not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us he was a Pharisee and full of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:5-6), so much so he actively persecuted Christians (Phil 3:6,1 Corinthians 15:9). But Paul writes that he was changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells the story of Jesus dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. Paul writes that Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles such as Peter and the church leader James, but Jesus also appeared directly to him.

Here's the problem for Doherty: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before the Gospel of Mark was written. 1 Corinthians is recognized to have been written between AD 53 and AD 55—only twenty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross—while Mark may be dated anywhere from the late 50s to the early 60s. Also, Paul says the story preceded him ("I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" v. 3), so the account of Jesus as a resurrected Messiah must be much older than Mark.

The Forrest Gump Connection

I've written before about how the time element makes it unlikely that the resurrection story could have grown as myth. But let's say the Mythers just got their timetable wrong and someone intentionally created the Jesus myth just around 30 AD, the time He was supposed to be crucified. Then let's say that they added historical details, such as Pilate's prefectorate or Caiaphas's priesthood to add legitimacy to the story. Couldn't that have happened?

Well, no. For a modern day equivalent, we can look at the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was made in 1994, some twenty years ago and the same time span that exists between the resurrection and 1 Corinthians. In Forrest Gump, the filmmaker tells the story of modern American culture by placing the fictitious character played by Tom Hanks in real world scenarios and events. He gets details right, like the jogging trend, the way the president would greet college champions, and so forth.

Now, imagine a high-ranking militant who fought to establish the Taliban's rule and is passionate about establishing Islamic Sharia law the world over. He sacrificed himself for the mujahedeen, and is convinced that every belief other than Islam is blasphemy. The Taliban member sees the movie Forrest Gump, sees that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants exist and knows enough of the history of the US to know that the film reflects history in some way. Maybe he even believes that Forrest Gump did exist somewhere. Would any of that make him renounce his affinity to Islam and the Taliban and become an active crusader for Forrest Gump and the American way? Does anyone think such a carefully crafted tale would reverse everything the Taliban official holds to be true?

Such a conclusion lacks credibility. Why would Paul convert unless he had a deep, life-changing experience that shook him to his core? That's what he claimed happened; Paul tells us that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him directly. The book of Acts fills in some details, but Paul was compelled to change his beliefs not because of a tale told to him, but because he had a real experience with the risen Jesus.

In order to believe that Jesus is a myth, one must indulge in a tale more fantastic than Hollywood. Because of Paul's conversion and his early recording of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jesus-Mythers are on extremely flimsy ground. Paul and his authorship of 1 Corinthians are undisputed by scholars. Even skeptic John Dominic Crossan says that "we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul" and lists 1 Corinthians and Philippians among them.2 This is why New Testament scholar and critic of Christianity Bart Ehrman said "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology."3For a skeptic of Christianity, that's pretty conclusive.

References

1. Doherty, Earl. Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus. (Age of Reason Publications, 2009). Kindle Edition.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. "The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?" The Huffington Post. 5 July 2011. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/apostle-paul-letters_b_890387.html
3. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. 20 March 2012. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html
 Photo Credit: Ricknightcrawler via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Atheists Contradict Themselves by Seeking Invocations


Many times when I have debated atheists, they assert that they don't need to prove their atheism. As Richard Carrier put it, "It is not necessarily incumbent upon me to provide evidence for atheism. I mean if we say that aliens don't exist, then I don't have to prove to you that they don't exist; rather, you need to prove to me they do, or that there are fairies in the woods or demons or so forth. The claimant has to actually establish the fact."1 The common refrain that atheism is not a belief but simply a lack of belief shows up over and over, even though atheists are making a truth-claim about the world.

Here's the interesting thing, though. When placed in other contexts, atheists themselves deny this position. Take government meetings as an example. After the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Greece v. Galloway that opening local legislative meetings in prayer was constitutional2, the Central Florida Freethought Community took a different tack; they decided to petition to offer invocations at various government meetings, even providing a model letter so that other atheist groups could do likewise.

Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority on Greece v. Galloway, captured the purpose of offering an invocation:

The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing…

The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation can be done with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. 3
But this is exactly where the atheist has a problem. If an invocation is to point to a higher purpose and to recognize specific religious beliefs, then it follows that invocations are ways of communicating a faith, which means that there are real claims being made about the nature of the world. The freethinkers, in asking to offer invocations, are asserting a belief system. Therefore, to claim that they bear no burden of proof is absurd.

Imagine a group petitioning a city council to provide an invocation on the grounds that there are no aliens or fairies in the world. They would immediately be rejected because the fact that they don't believe such things cannot support any kind of meaningful invocation. It would do exactly what Kennedy said invocations shouldn't: it would mock other belief systems.

Atheists here are caught in a contradiction. Either they are simply holding to the non-existence of an entity or they are advancing a particular belief system, complete with claims about man, the universe, origins, morality, and the nature of reality. They can't have it both ways. Seeking invocation opportunities betrays the atheist's claim that they simply lack belief. it's a contradiction, and contradictions about the fundamental nature of a worldview by its adherents underscore its implausibility.

References

1. Transcript from "Esposito vs. Carrier, The Great God Debate: Does God Exist?" Come Reason Ministries. 2012. Available at http://www.comereason.org/tools/default.asp?mode=category&dt=4&pcid=20

2. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_bpm1.pdf . Web. 5 Mar. 2014.

3 Town of Greece, 19, 23.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting Until You Feel Your Faith is Dangerous

It's no secret that we live in an age of instant gratification. Crave Mexican food? Restaurants are minutes away. Wondering what other films you've seen that celebrity has starred in? Simply pull out your phone and Google his name. How is your investment portfolio doing? You can log in anytime to check your stocks. I can even use the Internet to see how much electricity my house uses hour by the hour.


While there are clear advantages in living in an age where our wants can be met with ease, there are also dangers. Of course, many have written on the problem of distraction in our wired world, and how much more kids expect to attain a level of notoriety than in the past. But what concerns me more is the expectation of immediate satisfaction as the measure of truth. As our technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to having our desires accommodated immediately. We now expect to satisfy even the feelings of longing or relationship. Facebook provides the illusion of connection. So, what happens when someone seeking a relationship with God but doesn't feel him?

That is exactly the question I was asked a couple of days ago. One of the ministry opportunities I have is serving with the Harvest Crusade, a large evangelistic outreach that just wrapped up a three day event in Southern California. People watching the event online have the ability to request a chat with an online counselor. Some of those requests come to me and I will answer whatever questions or concerns they voice.

This last weekend, I was talking with a young viewer from Japan. He wrote that he was very disturbed because he felt his "troubled heart keeps me in dark" and that he couldn't see God or receive any good news. He basically explained that he couldn't know God because he couldn't feel Him. The idea that one must feel in order to believe is becoming more common; I'm hearing more of it all the time. But to limit one's understanding of truth to only that which one can feel is not only foolhardy, but dangerous! I may feel like I haven't spent much money this month, but if I go by my feelings, I'll soon be overdrawn.

As an illustration, I asked this young man if he was familiar with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that happens when people allow their bodies to overheat due to weather and activity. Mostly occurring during summer, folks will be busy participating in outdoor activities and forget to drink enough water or to cool down. They may not feel thirsty, but their body temperature rises to a point where their organs can be permanently damaged.Doctors will instruct athletes and others outdoors to drink plenty of water even if they don't feel thirsty. It isn't the feeling that matters; the body needs to cool down and consuming liquids is how it accomplishes that. Similarly, no one should rely only of feeling God's presence as a way to determine if they may be accepted by him. You can know that God cares for you because of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. We have the evidence to know that the resurrection is a real event in history. By looking at the facts that the Bible offers instead of your feelings, you can get a better picture of the truth.
Photo courtesy Markus Schoepke. Licenced by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beyond Science: Understanding Real Knowledge

In previous articles, I looked at how many people make the mistake of assuming that science is the only way we can know something is true. We showed how this view, known as scientism, must be false since it is self-refuting. This time, I thought we'd look at the idea of how we know that we know anything at all and how to better understand the differences between knowledge and beliefs.

Types of Knowledge

Philosophers have spent a lot of time on understanding what it means when we say we know this or that. In their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig identify three basic types of knowing. The most basic type is knowledge by acquaintance which is simply that you have had some type of direct experience with an object or idea and therefore know it to be true. The authors offer an example of "I know the ball is in front of me." Because the ball is directly present in your conscious experience, you can confidently know that statement to be true. 1

A more debated aspect of this type of knowledge is basic mathematic statements and logical deductions. Some philosophers argue that we know 2+2=4 in the same sense that we know a ball is in front of us. It is directly perceived as true. You don't have to go out and observe 2+2 in different environments around the world or around the universe to confidently hold that he product will always turn out to be 4. We understand that it just is that way. Similarly, we experience the same type of understanding when we argue in this way: All men are born. Socrates was a man; therefore Socrates must have been born. That is a logical argument, but we know it to be true directly.

A second way we know something is through know-how. Know-how defines certain skills or abilities one may possess. When someone claims "I know how to play golf", they are expressing knowledge of ability. Moreland and Craig point out that knowledge of the laws or mechanics is not necessary to hold this type of knowledge. They write "For example, one can know how to adjust one's swing for a curve ball without consciously being aware that one's stride is changing or without knowing any background theory of hitting technique." 2

The third type of knowledge is what is usually debated the most. Known as propositional knowledge this type of knowledge deals with statements that make some kind of claim to fact. Statements such as "I know Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States", "I know our Sun is 93 million mionles away" or "I know humans evolved from apes" are all propositional statements.

Justified True Beliefs

One of the reasons propositional knowledge has been debated is because it has been more difficult than other types of knowledge to define completely and accurately. One of the most foundational definitions of propositional knowledge is the concept of "justified true beliefs" that Plato offered in his writing "Theaetetus". Plato said that if we claim to know something, then what we claim must indeed be true. If a claim is not true, then we didn't really know it; we were mistaken. Further, if we claim to know something we must actually believe the claim to be true. It makes no sense to know something but not to believe it. If I say, "I know the ball is on the floor, but I don't believe the ball is on the floor" I've spoken nonsense.

So truth and belief are what we would call necessary conditions for knowledge. For knowledge to exist, they must both be present. However, they are not sufficient conditions for knowing. Many people believe things, and those beliefs may in fact be true, but that doesn't mean they know those things. Take the statement "I know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night." Now, it may be the case that Jones did indeed have roast beef for dinner, and it may be the case that I truly believe Jones had roast beef for dinner, but by making that assertion without any basis, I've just guessed the right answerand thus cannot be taken as knowledge.

In order to truly know something, there must be some acceptable reason to hold that belief. Justified true belief is believing something that is true with good reason. If I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because it's a Monday and he always has roast beef on Mondays, and I smelled roast beef coming from his home, I have good reasons to believe Jones in fact had roast beef. That is a justified belief that can be counted as knowledge. If, however, I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because I consulted my Magic 8 Ball, that's not knowledge since the reasons I've given are spurious. It becomes the same as guessing.

Knowledge and the Limits of Science

So why does all of this knowledge stuff matter? Because it helps us understand what is real knowledge and what isn't. When looking at scientific propositions, we understand we can know certain things like the speed at which an object falls or what chemical reaction is necessary to produce nitro-glycerin. Science deals with observations of the material world, so these are justified beliefs; we can say we can know such things through science. However, for other claims, such as whether God exists or whether DNA is the proper basis for measuring the similarities between humans and other animals, science has no justification to make claims of knowledge.

You see, science can only tell us facts about the material world. By definition, science has no way of meaningfully commenting on the many other ways we know things. Science can tell us whether a person's heart is beating faster and he is sweating, but it must fall silent as to whether the cause of that reaction is lying or love. Similarly, science cannot tell us about the most unique aspect of humanity, that is the human soul. When looking at propositions such as the existence of God, science has no way of "testing for God-ness". However, I can know through reasoning that universe began to exist and whatever begins to exist must have a cause. 3 I can therefore conclude that if whatever exists must have a cause and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause: God. That is a belief that has strong justification for it. It is knowledge that is outside the scope of science, but it is probably a more authoritative basis for knowing.

So, even though popular culture looks to the scientist to tell them "the facts" about all things, science is really woefully inadequate to explain many aspects of reality. Scientists may presupposes certain things like miracles cannot happen or there is no God, and then formulate other theories. But that's not knowledge, that's presupposition. Personal experience, emotions, reason, logic, and revelation all address truth-claims and all can be justifiable in their proper instances. To limit one's self to science in order to gain knowledge is like trying to build a house with only a hammer. A hammer can pound nails, but you wouldn't want to use it to drive a screw and it would be completely useless to cut wood.

References

1.Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
(Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 2003). 72.
2. Ibid. 73.
3. See my article "What the Kalam tells us about God's existence"

Sunday, August 17, 2014

J.P. Moreland on Why God Won't Force People Into Heaven

If you were to force people to do something against their free choice, you would be dehumanizing them. You would be saying that the good of what you want to do is more valuable than respecting their choices, and so you're treating people as a means to an end by requiring them to do something they don't want. That's what it would be like of God forced everyone to go to heaven.

If God has given people free will, then there's no guarantee that everybody's going to choose to cooperate with him. The option of forcing everyone to go to heaven is immoral, because it's dehumanizing; it strips them of the dignity of making their own decision; it denies them their freedom of choice; and it treats them as a means to an end.
God can't make people's character for them. And people who do evil or cultivate false beliefs start a slide away from God that ultimately ends in Hell. God respects human freedom. In fact it would be unloving—a sort of divine rape—to force people to accept heaven and God if they didn't really want them. When God allows people to say 'no' to him, he actually respects and dignifies them.

- J.P. Moreland quoted from Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reaching Your Community by Intentionally Reaching Out (video)


There's a lot of worry in our churches today. Everyone is asking "How can we stop the tide of young people leaving the church?" Even Bible-believing churches have seen a decrease in the number of young people engaging.  But all is not dire.

In our relativistic culture, people generally want to find something that is more meaningful and more solid than the whims of amorphous spirituality that the world preaches. Young people want to take action! In this video I talk about how among Christians, interest in participating in community projects is escalating. That means the Church has a great opportunity to reach out in love, to touch the lives of others, and to show one way Christianity is still incredibly relevant in the world today.




For more on this idea, see my post here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Get into Spiritual Conversations - Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a popular post on how to start spiritual conversations (you can read it here.) There, I said that one way to begin discussing spiritual things is to listen and discuss topics where people are already interested, such as a news event or a holiday. Just this week, both the news and social media have been awash in stories about Robin Williams and his recent death. Certainly, thoughts about our mortality and whether there's an afterlife come into play. However, it isn't always best to force such a conversation, especially if the person had strong feelings towards the actor. People need to feel; they need to process difficult news and it would be offensive to jump in and immediately turn a tragedy into a sermon.


That said, once a few days pass, it may be appropriate to speak in more general terms about the cult of celebrity and whether our culture places too much value on the lives of the rich and famous. I remember when Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, died. The day after his passing, the International Business Times published a story which led with "Steve Jobs is dead, but his legacy will live on for decades to come. It is impossible to overstate the impact his work had not only on the world of technology, but on the world as a whole."1 Time magazine included Jobs in its 2012 list of the 20 most influential Americans of all time.2 Not of the past century, but of all time!

Some of the stories released seemed to treat Jobs' achievements as if they were on par not with Henry Ford but Jonas Salk. Such gushing even caused the popular secular tech site Gawker to publish an article with the title "Steve Jobs was not God."3 Author Hamilton Nolan writes:
"So, Steve Jobs is dead. A tech genius has passed on. Sad. Certainly a devastating loss to Steve Jobs' close friends and family members, as well as to Apple executives and shareholders. The rest of you? Calm down.

Among my Facebook friends yesterday, more than one wrote publicly that they were "crying" or "can't stop crying" or "teared up" due to Steve Jobs' death. Really now. You can't stop crying, now that you've heard that a middle-aged CEO has passed on, after a long battle with cancer? If humans were always so empathetic, well, that would be understandable. But this type of one-upmanship of public displays of grief is both unbecoming and undeserved.

"Real outpourings of public grief should be reserved for those people who lived life so heroically and selflessly that they stand as shining examples of love for all of humanity. People like, for example, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth."4
For those of you who may not know, Shuttlesworth was a civil rights leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.5 He happened to have died the same day as Jobs, but did anyone hear about it? The New York Times ran the story on Shuttlesworth on page A33, the story on Jobs ran on A1.

Although Jobs made products that many people love and use daily, I can easily picture a world not too different from this one without him. Further, although Jobs at his death was worth $8.3 billion, he didn't have a strong history of philanthropy. Jobs gave some personal donations to area hospitals and to AIDS support, but his gifts amounted to less than 1% of his wealth. Andrew Ross Sorkin even noted that as a company, philanthropy wasn't part of the Apple culture:
While many high-growth technology companies have philanthropic arms, Apple does not. It does not have a company matching program for charitable giving by its employees like some other Fortune 500 companies. The company did donate $100,000 in 2008 to a group seeking to block Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would have banned same-sex marriage in California. But over all, Apple has been one of "America's least philanthropic companies," as termed by Stanford Social Innovation Review, a magazine about the nonprofit sector, in 2007.6
So, in what type of esteem should one hold Jobs? Because he made popular products and had a keen eye for the future, does that merit the level of adulation he received after his passing? Does our culture place too high a value on things and people who make us feel good rather than how they may help others? How does it reflect upon us as a society if people "can't stop crying" after the death of someone they never knew? Does taking the Christian teaching on altruism and selflessness seriously change how people who are successful use their wealth?

There are many spiritual discussions that you can get into in this way. By using an example that's old news, you avoid the "raw" quality of attacking a recent situation but you can still make people think a bit about the reactions they see.

References

1. IBTimes Staff Reporter. "Steve Jobs Dead: 5 Ways His Legacy Changed the World." IBT Media. 06 Oct 2011. Web. http://www.ibtimes.com/steve-jobs-dead-5-ways-his-legacy-changed-world-321751
2. "The 20 Most Influential Americans of All Time." Time Magazine.24 Jul 2012. Web. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/25/the-20-most-influential-americans-of-all-time/
3. Nolan, Hamilton. "Steve Jobs was not God." Gawker.com. 06 Oct 2011.. Web. http://gawker.com/5847338/steve-jobs-was-not-god
4. Nolan, Ibid.
5. Norheimer, Jon. "Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, an Elder Statesman for Civil Rights, Dies at 89." The New York Times. 05 Oct 2011. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/us/rev-fred-l-shuttlesworth-civil-rights-leader-dies-at-89.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
6. Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "The Mystery of Steve Jobs's Public Giving." The New York Times. 29 Aug 2011. Web .http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/the-mystery-of-steve-jobss-public-giving/

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Arguing God's Existence Even When There are No Atheists

Today, Christians can run into many people who doubt God's existence. While books by the New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are the most well-known, many "Internet atheists" will comment about the lack of evidence for God's existence or the supposed incredulity of a Supreme Being.


Most Christians who defend God's existence have quite a few different arguments from which to draw upon. Apologists can recount arguments based on the fact that something exists rather than nothing (cosmological arguments), the design evident in creation (teleological arguments), the existence of moral values and duties (axiological arguments), as well as the argument from contingency, the argument from reason, the argument from consciousness, and even arguing that the greatest possible being must exist (ontological arguments).

The amazing thing isn't that as veritable smorgasbord of arguments for God's existence exist within Christianity, it's that arguments for God's existence have existed for millennia, while atheism as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. In his book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, Nick Spenser writes that while some of the seeds of atheism had developed through the Renaissance, it really wasn't until ‘the end of the eighteenth century, in which a handful of pioneers, most prominent in France, put forth the first openly and unapologetically atheist arguments since the classical period." 1 Yet, 1200 or so years before Hume and H├ębert,  Augustine was offering arguments for God's existence in his On Free Choice of the Will. In the 11th century, Anselm came up with his famous Ontological argument, and during the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica which included the famous Five Ways arguments for the existence of God.

There were no atheists in Christianized Europe during the Middle Ages. There may have been people branded as heretics and there were definitely many different faith traditions, but no one was actively pushing the non-existence of God. So why would some of the most famous collections of arguments for God's existence be written then?

The answer is simply that Christianity has always been a faith based on evidence. Jesus commanded us to love God with not only our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well. Paul also instructs Christians to "test everything; hold fast what is good." Christianity is built for intellectual inquiry. It should be no surprise, then, that Christians such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas would explore questions of God's existence even if there were no atheists to object to their claim that God does indeed exist.

Frederick Copleston, in commenting on Aquinas' arguments makes an interesting observation:
To us indeed living in a world where atheism is common, where powerful and influential philosophies eliminate or explain away the notion of God, where multitudes of men and women are educated without any belief in God, it seems only natural to think that God's existence requires proof… St. Thomas, however, did not live in a world where theoretic atheism was common, and he felt himself compelled to deal with not only early Christian writers which seem to imply that knowledge of God is innate in man, but also with the famous argument from St. Anselm which purports to show that the non-existence of God is inconceivable.2
Copleston says that Aquinas was arguing against other Christian writings, examining them and calling them out where he felt they were deficient. He was providing some intellectual checks and balances as it were. The fact that intellectual Christians would scrutinize their own teachings and offer rebuttals or counter-evidence demonstrates that leaders like Aquinas were interested in the truth.

Socrates is famously quoted as saying "the unexamined life is not worth living." Christianity is not an unexamined faith. It has been examined not only by its detractors, but by its proponents as well. It is probably one of the most scrutinized worldviews in all of history, yet it continues to offer a complete and cogent understanding f our world.

So the next time you hear an argument against God's existence, don't fear. Chances are it has been examined carefully by Christians already, and found wanting.

References


1. Spenser, Nick. Atheists: The Origin of the Species.(London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2014). xvii.

2. Copleston, Frederick, SJ. A History of Philosophy Volume II: Medieval Philosophy. (New York: Image Books, 1993). 336.

Image provided by David Shankbone and licensed under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scientism tries to Turn Man into a Monkey

Many Christians are familiar with the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. For those of you who aren't, it's an allegory of growing in Christian faith where the protagonist named Christian meets some friends (such as Evangelist and Faithful) as well as many unsavory characters like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Hypocrisy, and Talkative in his walk down the narrow path. While Bunyan wrote in the mid 1600's,the book is amazingly poignant for today.

One particularly striking section dealt with a character named Shame. Christian's friend Faithful recounts to him Shame's accusations against believers. Specifically, Shame claims the religious are basically weak-minded individuals, not living in the real world. He goes on to point out how successful and intelligent people don't believe in such things and how believing in Christianity forces one to ignore the scientific advancements and knowledge of the day. "He moreover objected to the base and low estate and condition of those who were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also in their want of understanding in the natural sciences." 1 So, Shame accuses the Christians of being willfully ignorant. Ignoring what he holds to be the true knowledge of science, Shame charges Christian with substituting the crutch of religion to salve his wounds.

Our Popular Conception of Science

Today, we are even more apt to hear such objections to believing the biblical message. This is in large part due to the over-emphasized view science is given in our modern culture. Science is understood in today's world to be the only reliable source of truth. One has only to look at the advertisements we use to sell products to see how much we esteem the concept of scientific veracity. If you really want to make your case for the potency of a product, just have your spokesman wear a white lab coat, begin his name with Dr., or explain how "tests have shown" the item to be more effective. If science has shown something to be true, then it must be true. And if there is a conflict between beliefs and what science has shown, then most people will assume that it is our beliefs that are in error, not science.

These assumptions are unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising. As I've said before, science has helped humanity in incredible ways. Our lifespan have been extended by decades, we can modify our environment if we're too hot or too cold, and technology has made our daily chores easier. Our learning has also increased exponentially; we better understand the way the world works, we can predict certain phenomena and we've even visited the moon! So with all science has proven it can do, how could it not be real way to know truth?

Scientism's Claim to Truth

There are two problems we run into when discussing science and the way we know things to be true. The more egregious error is the one the easier to identify and argue against. That is the belief that only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable and everything else is opinion and conjecture. This view is known a Scientism, and has had proponents such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. Noted skeptic Michael Shermer defined Scientism as "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural or paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an age of science." 2

The proponents of Scientism hold that "only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable", is a true and knowable statement. However, that statement is itself unverifiable scientifically. One cannot construct a hypothesis to test for the statement's veracity. There's no way to go into a laboratory and run this idea through a battery of tests to see whether it can be falsified. Scientism, by setting a standard that cannot itself meets, undercuts its own existence. It becomes what we call a self-refuting statement. Because it does so, Scientism should rightfully be rejected as illogical.

Who Chooses the Standard of Comparison?

The main problem with our popular view of science, though, is more subtle and it therefore takes more care to identify. Because science has taken such a high role in our society, statements that are couched in a scientific approach are thought to hold more weight than other types of assertions. However, many who are purporting to advance a scientific view are really making philosophic statements - and they're making a lot of assumptions along the way.

A good example of this is one that Christian philosopher Francis J. Beckwith related to me at dinner one evening. He told of how he had become engaged in a discussion on origins through an Internet bulletin board whose members were primarily biologists and other scientists. One member was asserting the fact of evolution by noting how science has shown human DNA and chimpanzee DNA to be 98% identical. The biologist then concluded that this proves humans and chimps share an evolutionary ancestor.

Dr. Beckwith countered this claim by asking a simple question: Why do you choose genetics be your basis of comparison? It seems an arbitrary choice. Why not any other field of science, say quantum mechanics? Dr. Beckwith went on to explain that if you examine humans and chimpanzees at the quantum level, why then we're 100% identical! Our atoms move and act in exactly the same way as the atoms of the chimp! Of course, human atoms and the atoms of the table where I'm writing this also act identically. How about if we examine each via physics? Again, we're identical: each species will remain in motion unless enacted upon by an outside force, for example.

The scientists had a very difficult time understanding Dr. Beckwith's point, but it was simply this: one cannot start with science to understand the world. Science relies on certain philosophical rules in order to work at all. What was happening is the biologist was making philosophical assumptions and then using science to try and support them. The assumption in the claim above is that all life can be reduced to its genetic make-up, and everything you need to know about any living thing can be deduced from its DNA. It's this assumption that's flawed. It doesn't follow that if humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps that evolution is therefore a fact. But the scientists today aren't trained in logic or philosophy, so they have a lot of difficulty understanding that they are making flawed philosophical arguments and packing them in scientific facts.

References:

1. Bunyan, John The Pilgrim's Progress
Baker Book house, Grand Rapids, MI 1984 p.89
2
. Shermer, Michael "The Shamans of Scientism" Scientific American June 2002
Accessed online at: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000AA74F-FF5F-1CDB-B4A8809EC588EEDF
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