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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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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Top Ten Apologetics Blog Posts

This year the Apologetics Notes blog has really exploded. I switched to a daily post format, and you all have responded by continuing to come back to read the various articles and topics that we talk about. There are well over 20,000 pages read every month and the audience is growing daily.



The growth is also reflected in the most popular blog posts, all of which were published in the second half of the year. Some posts are straight apologetic while others, such as the Ann Coulter piece or the Hillsong article, focus on topical events. But every one was enthusiastically shared across social media.

Without further adieu, here are the ten most popular blog posts of 2014:

Article Pageviews
10 Conflicting Beliefs of Modern Atheism 2805
The Missing Piece in the Hillsong Controversy 2255
Christianity is a Thinking-Man's Faith 1812
Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable 1284
Morality Relies Upon God's Character, Not Simply His Commands 1176
Atheist insults believers and is stunned at the result 1093
Atheists contradict themselves by seeking invocations 994
History Testifies that Jesus Worked Miracles 701
Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers 691
One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical 684

Monday, December 29, 2014

Get Smarter by Practicing Doing Nothing

Soon, we will begin a new year and all the weight loss ads will appear. Some will ask you to join a gym while others will promise amazing results with little or no effort on your part. Since inactivity is part of the cause of weight gain, I would hope that people would approach such claims with great skepticism. However, there is a way you can improve yourself that takes little to no physical exertion whatsoever. In fact, to improve you will have to limit your activity quite stringently. You need to practice doing nothing.



As many have noted, we live in an age of distraction. Our world is a noisy one, with video screens and always-connected capabilities robbing us of any time alone with our thoughts. We have become more and more dependent on such distractions, as one study found "Ninety five percent of American adults reported that they did at least one leisure activity in the past 24 hours, such as watching television, socializing, or reading for pleasure, but 83% reported they spent no time whatsoever 'relaxing or thinking.'" 1 So it's no wonder that the researchers found that most people found sitting in a chair and thinking for ten to fifteen minutes was not an enjoyable experience and a significant number chose to administer small, painful electric shocks to themselves rather than simply think about something. 2,3

Deep Thinking Versus Distracted Thinking

You may jump to the conclusion that it's the younger generations that are more incapable of uninterrupted thinking, but in "Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind", Timothy Wilson and his co-authors found that the age of the participant (ranging from 18 to 77) or whether they performed the test at home or in a lab setting made no difference. The only real difference in helping people "gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits."4

I agree that deeply thinking about a particular problem or issue is a lost skill and one that every believer should seek to cultivate. The Psalms are replete with commands for us to meditate on the Scriptures and the works of God5 to help us better understand Him and our place in the world. Therefore, I want to offer some tips on ways you can practice thinking about an issue more deeply. These are just ways I try to approach certain problems I mull over as I work through them.

1. Ensure You're Exposed to Rich Ideas

The first step in thinking well requires you to get in the habit of taking in ideas that you may not have previously been exposed to. The best way to do this is to develop a habit of reading. You don't have to read for huge chunks of time, but simply read regularly. Plan in getting ready for bed and spend the last 30 minutes every evening reading. This will help you wind down from the day and it will also improve your sleep. You should read actively, with a pencil in hand and marking up your books. If you disagree with the author, write it in the margin. If you think a point is confusing, note that too. You don't have to look up a word or reference at this point, just read. Choose some classic works of fiction and choose some non-fiction. Mix it up. You'll find that there are many different ways people approach certain issues. All of this helps you to think about ideas in different contexts.

2. Mull over the ideas to which you've been exposed.

Next, pick a particularly intriguing or difficult idea and start thinking through it. You should do this at a different time than your reading. Morning is always good. In my devotional time, I try to meditate on a different aspect of God's character each morning. I've taken a list of the different names of God and use it to contemplate that aspect of his character. I really try to think about what it means for God to be the Lord Our Banner. What aspects of God does such a title reflect? How do those aspect impact me in my walk? This is my very first action in my morning prayer time.

With other ideas, I usually try to find a time where I will have limited distractions to think over an issue. The key is to focus on one thing. How does that idea fit in with your understanding of the world? Does it have implications for other beliefs that you hold? What are three reasons to reject such an idea? Would such a concept be true under any circumstance? Can you outline an argument in your head for or against that view? Who else would be considered an expert in that topic and have you looked at what they would say? All of these questions will help you explore that topic much more deeply than simply taking the author's word for a particular point of view.

3. See how your previous ideas work with your new thoughts.

Lastly, as you take in new ideas, you'll want to see how well those mesh with previous ideas you have. Are there any points of connection? Sometimes, new insight will be gained by taking two ideas that seem disparate and trying to connect them in some way. For example, I was once reading an opinion piece lamenting the fact that the candidates for the various offices in the city of Los Angeles were almost exclusively male. The pundits were decrying this as a travesty, making the point that women add a voice and an influence that men cannot replicate. I was also working on some questions about same-sex marriage and it really struck me how if each sex offers unique views that are necessary to the well-being of governance, then it should be more true that two parents of different sexes offer unique views that are necessary to the well-being of any children that are raised, which prompted this post.  However, that's just one example of how new ideas can form when you think about an issue more deeply and carefully.

References

1. Wilson, Timothy D., et. al.  "Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind." Science 4 July 2014: 75-77. Print.
2. Wilson, 2014, 76.
3. Pomeroy, Ross. "Some People Prefer Electric Shocks to Thinking Quietly by Themselves" RealClearScience. RealClearScience, 13 July 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014. http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/07/some_people_prefer_electric_shocks_to_thinking_quietly_by_themselves.html.
4. Wilson, 2014. 77.
5. For examples, see Joshua 1:8, Psalm, 1:2, Psa. 4:4, Psalm 77:6, Psalm. 119:23-27, Psalm. 145:5.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? (Podcast)

Every Christmas and Easter the charge is made that these holidays were originally pagan celebrations that Christians usurped for their own purposes. Is this true? Are Christmas and Easter nothing more than an attempt to convert unbelievers by allowing them to keep their festivals? As the holiday season approaches, we'll show why such a charge can be easily dismissed.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why Thinking About God Matters

Philosopher Greg Ganssle on the "big questions" of life and why thinking about God matters:
Why think about God? After all, no one knows whether there is a God, much less which God is real. Well, I am not as sure as you that no one knows. If God exists, then he knows, to be sure. He would have no identity crisis. Besides, we ought not claim that no one knows that there is a God until after we have done our thinking about God. So one reason to bother thinking about God is to see if you can find good reasons to think that there is a God. Another reason is to see if you can find good reasons to think there is no such person as God.

There are other reasons to think about God besides trying to figure out if there is such a person. What you believe and think about God affects nearly every area of your life. Many of the big and deep questions that shape how each of us sees the world are very closely related to questions about God. For example, it is a big and important question whether life has any meaning or purpose other than whatever meaning we give it ourselves. If we push this question very far, we will wind up thinking about God. If there is a God who created us and knows us, then whatever purpose we have will probably be related to whatever purpose he has for us. Another big and important question has to do with the nature of moral reality. Are there things that are right or wrong regardless of the opinions of others? Again, if God has a purpose for us, it might be that his purpose involves our living up to or reflecting moral reality. You can see that the question of God is a central question. If we want to think well about our lives, we will want to do some of our best thinking about God.
From Ganssle, Gregory E. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print. 16.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Top Five Apologetics Podcasts

The Come Let Us Reason Together podcast has continued to grow in 2014, seeing an average of nearly 1,700 downloads a month as we approach the end of the year. Part of Some of the increasing popularity has come from people interested in listening to previous podcasts, a task that was made much easier since we have redesigned the podcast page and integrated it into the comereason.org site.



Of the popular topics for 2014, two of them ("Tools for the God-Fearing Mind" and "Science, God, and Knowing") deal with some complicated issues. Yet, these made it into our top five. Some others deal with questions that you hear from skeptics and the top podcast topic is one we've approached before: how to understand and witness to Muslims.

Here, in reverse order of popularity, are the top five podcast topics of 2014.
  1. Would the World be Better Without Religion?
    Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins often claim that the biggest evils in the world are perpetrated because of religious beliefs. Does religion cause more wars, more hatred and prejudice than other views? What would a world free of religion look like? Join Lenny as he shows why such objections have no grounding in reality.
  2. What's the Conflict between Faith and Reason?
    We constantly hear that faith and reason are opposites; if you have faith in something, you’ve left reason behind. Do Christians follow a "blind" faith? Is reason the enemy of faith? Listen in as Lenny shows why Christianity is an inherently reasonable faith.
  3. Tools for the God-fearing Mind
    Jesus commanded us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but many Christians simply don't know how to love God with their minds. Before we can think rightly about God, we need to learn to think rightly, to think logically. In this talk, Lenny teaches you how you can tell the difference between good arguments and bad ones and how you can offer unbelievers rational, persuasive arguments for your faith.
  4. Science, God, and Knowing
    Today, people look to scientists to find the answers to our problems in the world. But does science have limits? Are there other ways to know something as fact? And how are questions about God and religion tested scientifically? In this class, Lenny shows why scientific objections to God fail.
  5. The Challenge of Islam
    Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, but is still a mystery to most Christians. Is it a religion of peace and a breeding ground for terrorists? Join us as we examine Muslim beliefs and discuss how to effectively witness to Muslims.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Enjoy the Trappings of Christmas



Merry Christmas! I hope you have a chance to celebrate the day today. It's easy to see all the commercialism, the merchandising of a sacred remembrance, and resent buying gifts or gathering to spend time with extended family. It's even easy to think that the trees, presents, and decorations distract us from the real reason for Christmas, that is the coming of Jesus. But that isn't true. Just as the solemnity of bonding two people together is followed by a celebration, so to should the joining of holy God with human flesh be recognized. That isn't my idea; Saint Augustine preached on it over 1500 years ago:1
That day is called the birthday of the Lord on which the Wisdom of God manifested Himself as a speechless Child and the Word of God wordlessly uttered the sound of a human voice. His divinity, although hidden, was revealed by heavenly witness to the Magi and was announced to the shepherds by angelic voices. With yearly ceremony, therefore, we celebrate this day which saw the fulfillment of the prophecy:
  • "Truth is sprung out of the earth: and justice hath looked down from heaven." 2
  • Truth, eternally existing in the bosom of the Father, has sprung from the earth so that He might exist also in the bosom of a mother.
  • Truth, holding the world in place, has sprung from the earth so that He might be carried in the hands of a woman.
  • Truth, incorruptibly nourishing the happiness of the angels, has sprung from the earth in order to be fed by human milk.
  • Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from the earth so that He might be placed in a manger.
For whose benefit did such unparalleled greatness come in such lowliness? Certainly for no personal advantage, but definitely for our great good, if only we believe. Arouse yourself, O man; for you God has become man. "Awake, sleeper, and arise from among the dead, and Christ will enlighten thee."3 For you, I repeat, God has become man.
  • If He had not thus been born in time, you would have been dead for all eternity.
  • Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, if He had not taken upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh.
  • Everlasting misery would have engulfed you, if He had not taken this merciful form.
  • You would not have been restored to life, had He not submitted to your death; you would have fallen, had He not succored you; you would have perished, had He not come.
Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festal day on which the great and timeless One came from the great and timeless day to this brief span of our day.
So, give voice to the joy that we have in the Savior's arrival. Enjoy your holiday and I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

References

1. The text of Augustine's sermon #185 has been reformatted by me. The translation is taken from "For The Feast Of The Nativity: Sermon 185." Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons. Trans. Sister Mary S. Muldowney. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1959. 6-7. Print.
2. Ps. 84.12
3. Eph. 5.14.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why It Must Be a Manger

In our house, the manager of our nativity set stays empty until Christmas eve, when we place the baby Jesus there. We used to have a nativity that was ceramic and hand made by my mother. Jesus couldn't be removed. But when my kids were born, they were fascinated by the set and wanted to play with the people. Rather than forbidding such curiosity, we encouraged it by buying a molded rubber set where they couldn't break the figures.



One of the outcomes of that choice was a couple family traditions that developed. First, the Wise Men were placed at the back of the house and traveled through each child's room before arriving in "Bethlehem" on Christmas Eve. (Yes, I know this isn't historically accurate, but it serves to make the point to the young audience.) Secondly, the baby Jesus is hidden and doesn't get placed in the manger until we ask one of the kids to do it on Christmas day.

The act of placing Jesus in the manger offers all kinds of opportunities for discussion. Have you ever wondered why Luke makes the point of saying that Jesus's first bed was a manger? There are at least three reasons that I can think of to show why the manger is important.

The Manger Links Jesus to All Men

Scholars like Ben Witherington tell us that Bethlehem was most likely too small to have a formal inn. The word used for inn is the Greek katalyma which is translated "guest chamber" and could be used for a guest room as well. Jesus sent his disciples to find a katalyma to eat the Passover meal in Mark 14:14. Given that Bethlehem was the family home of Joseph, they most likely stayed in a relative's house, but with so many relatives showing up, they would be relegated to the larger open room attached to the house where people would bring their animals in for the night.1

This would instantly make Jesus relatable to shepherds. Shepherds themselves were not thought of highly in Jewish culture, and to see the Savior of the world in the very tool they themselves used to feed their livestock symbolized that this King of Israel was for all mankind. No rank or provide bars access to the lord. He has come for anyone who would seek him.

The Manger Shows Jesus's Humility

Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, the humble beginnings of Jesus in the manger shows the very attitude of Jesus in becoming incarnate. Philippians 2:5-8 describes the incarnation this way:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That attitude persisted even through Jesus's adult life. He remained poor, and eschewed material comforts, saying The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Luke 9:58, NASB).

The Manger Shows Jesus as the Bread of Life

Lastly, the manger is a crucial symbol of Jesus as the one upon who we rely for our existence. Mangers are feeding toughs; from them an animal receives its nutrition. Jesus frequently compared himself to our sustenance, saying "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). Even in establishing the communion service, Jesus equated the bread to his own body. The first thing done to the body of the baby Jesus is to lay it in a manger. Thus, by that very act he is shown to be real food for the whole world.


References

1 Witherington, Ben. "No Inn in the Room-- a Christmas Sermon on Lk. 2.1-7." Ben Witherington. Ben Witherington, 9 Dec. 2007. Web. 24 Dec. 2014. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/12/no-inn-in-room-christmas-sermon-on-lk_09.html .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

You Just Might Be Celebrating a Japanese Christmas

To look at it, Christmas in Japan looks pretty Western. There are Christmas trees, lights, and even pictures of Santa adorning windows. There are some differences, of course. Christmas cake is ubiquitous and you may be a bit disturbed to discover that what you thought was a statue of Santa was actually Colonel Sanders decked out in a red Santa outfit. It seems that many Japanese think a proper Christmas dinner centers around a bucket of KFC. But, such are the quirks of a holiday spread across the globe. Cultures will interpret the joy of celebrating Christ's coming in their own ways, right?



Except the Japanese don't. Japan is a country that is only about 1% Christian, according to the Pew Forum1. Christmas isn't an officially recognized holiday at all; children still attend school and businesses are open (especially KFC!) Yet, the trappings of a Western tradition are there. So, why do the Japanese get into the decorations and the trees at all? It seems those Christmas cakes provide some good insight into the motivations for the Japanese celebration.

Pre-World War II Japan didn't have a lot of exposure to Christians. The Roman Catholic Church had sent missionaries to the island in 1549where they "soon established churches, hospitals, orphanages and educational institutions, which became venues whereby the two cultures could encounter one another."2 Yet, crushing martyrdoms and extended persecutions left Japan with only a sliver of Christian believers who were forced underground for centuries.3 The nation was still feudal and agrarian, with only the elites having the wealth for indulgence. Cultural scholar Hideyo Konagaya states that "Modernity and affluence in Christmas were still not a realistic notion when rural lives and feudalistic social systems still predominated."4

Christmas as Affluence

After World War II, things were worse. According to an NPR article, the economy was a disaster. People there did whatever they could to make ends meet, but luxuries such as sugar or chocolate were in short supply. However, US soldiers often had candy bars they distributed to children.5 Konagaya writes, "Sweet chocolates, above all, given by American soldiers epitomized the utmost wealth Japanese children saw in American lives. They brought the message that affluence and happiness took American forms (Fujiwara)."6 Cake had also been previously linked to western affluence and it was "available exclusively to the upper aristocratic class or urban elite."7

However, as Japan's economy recovered and then boomed in the 1980's, "Christmas celebrations gave the Japanese the most tangible pictures that could convey images of prosperous modern lives in America" and the cake was the epitome of that symbol of success."8 Today, young urban Japanese see Christmas Eve not as a day to celebrate at home with family, but as an upscale night on the town where tangible gifts to your beloved are expected.

Sometimes a Mirror is Uncomfortable to See

While the Japanese interpretation of Christmas may seem remote, I think Konagaya was right when noting that the Japanese were simply trying to mimic American values and traditions. They saw the commercialism, the emphasis on stuff, the weight we placed on the trappings of the day and presented all of that without any of the spiritual root that should be the focus of Christmas. Was something lost in the translation? Perhaps. Yet, an imperfect mirror will distort an image but it can highlight flaws you hadn't noticed before.

We need to make sure in our Christmas celebrations that Jesus is the central focus for the day. The Japan Times noted this conversation where a Japanese woman enquired about the origin of Christmas from an American man:
Young Japanese woman: Is Christmas celebrated to mark the birth of Jesus or his death?
American man: Do people usually go shopping before a funeral?
At least she knows it has something to do with Jesus!

When my kids were young, we used cake to celebrate Christmas as well. It wasn't a Japanese Christmas cake; it was a birthday cake. We had a plastic Nativity set that the kids could play with. We would set the Wise Men figures at the back of the house and the kids would move them each day until their journey was complete on Christmas Eve. We would also hide the baby Jesus figure until Christmas morning. Later that day, we'd decorate the cake with birthday candles and everything. It isn't much, but these traditions put the emphasis back on the coming of Jesus instead of the coming of presents.

I pray that you and your family will emphasize the amazing gift of the Savior, of God with Us, this Christmas. Make sure that your outward celebrations show that aspect of the holiday. After all, you never know who's watching.

References

1. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, comp. "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population." PewForum.org. Pew Research Center, Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. http://www.pewforum.org/files/2011/12/Christianity-fullreport-web.pdf 2. Hull, Simon. "Christian Heritage of Japan." The Japan Times. Japan Times Ltd., 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/08/04/commentary/world-commentary/christian-heritage-japan.
3. Hull, 2014.
4. Konagaya, Hideyo. "The Christmas Cake: A Japanese Tradition of American Prosperity." The Journal of Popular Culture 34.4 (2001): 121-36. Web.
5. Bruzek, Alison. "Japan's Beloved Christmas Cake Isn't About Christmas At All." NPR. NPR, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/12/16/369830094/a-christmas-cake-that-isn-t-about-christmas-at-all.
6. Konagaya, 2001. 122.
7. Konagaya, 2001. 122.
8. Konagaya, 2001. 123.
Image courtesy Catherine and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Monday, December 22, 2014

To Witness Like Jesus, Use Logic and Reason

Christians will many times hear atheists make the claim that faith is somehow opposed to reason.  Most people of faith that I talk with reject that idea. They don't believe that one must choose either faith or reason. However, there are quite a few Christians who think that faith and reason are separate realms that may coexist, but they don't touch. For some Christians, think this idea is comforting. They have taken certain slogans of "bumper-sticker" Christianity such as "Jesus is all I need" and think that such a position is powerful enough to ward off objections. Worse, they think that the same approach works with evangelism.



This is not only a travesty, it is antithetical to who Jesus is and how he evangelized. Jesus was an intellect. In fact, Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived and reason is at the core of who he was. We can see that clearly when the scriptures identify him as The Logos (John 1:1). The Greek word logos is usually translated "The Word" in our English Bibles, but it has a richer meaning. "The Word" is a concept of knowledge. As Merrill F. Unger puts it, "Words are the vehicle for the revelation of the thoughts and intents of the mind to others."1 In fact, logos is where we get the English word "logic."  The word holds the concept of "consideration or evaluation, reflection, or in philosophy, ground or reason."2

Because Jesus is the Logos, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Jesus used logic in his efforts to evangelize others. Jesus' aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to impart understanding or insight in the minds and hearts of his audience. Dallas Willard writes:
 (Jesus) typically aims at real inward change of view that would enable his hearers to become significantly different as people through the workings of their own intellect. They will have, unless they are strongly resistant to the point of blindness, the famous ‘eureka' experience, not the experience of being outdone or beaten down.3
We read of clear examples of this in scripture, such as Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 and the different exchanges with both the Pharisees and the Sadducees in Mathew 22.

Jesus even rebuked His disciples for not thinking rationally. In Matthew 16, Jesus is warning his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." However, they miss his point, and instead begin worrying that he was going to get mad at them because they didn't bring enough bread for the trip.  Jesus replies:
You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?4

Stronger Minds Mean Stronger Convictions

Reason is part of the model Jesus gave us to learn, to discern, and to share our faith with others. As disciples of His, it makes sense that we should follow his example. However, there are some real benefits to incorporating logic and reason into our witnessing efforts. By allowing others to "discover" these spiritual truths, they would become more convinced of the reality of Christ and Christianity than those looking for a feel-good faith. Rational believers are much stronger in their convictions and their faith. They are also less likely to be swayed from contradictory teaching since they know that their faith is not "blind" or transitory, but anchored in the truth of the Logos. They know that their beliefs have their origin in history and they provide real answers for a world in need. So, let's think a little harder and incorporate rationality into our efforts to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Jesus would have us do nothing less.

References

1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Logos." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 780. Print.
2. Bromeley, Geoffery W. "Logos." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 510. Print
3. Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.
4. "Matthew 16:5-11." New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, for the Lockman Foundation, 1971. N. pag. Print.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jesus as the Paradigm of Logic and Reason

The thought that faith is somehow divorced from reason or logic has become far too prevalent in our society today. In fact, as I have written before, the very opposite is true for Christianity. The Christian faith has led the way in reasoning since its very inception. Not only did it produce some of the greatest thinkers the world has known, but its very founder, Jesus of Nazareth, was the epitome of intellect.  Dallas Willard explains:
Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person.

He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example—but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?
Willard sums up Jesus'value of the intellect thusly:
There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.

We need to understand that Jesus is a thinker, that this is not a dirty word but an essential work, and that his other attributes do not preclude thought, but only insure that he is certainly the greatest thinker of the human race: "the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth." He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind. Quite certainly it also played a role in his own growth in "wisdom." (Luke 2:52)
Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A (Not Too) Serious Christmas Quiz

With Christmas rapidly approaching, mainstream media fills its coffers with tales of how Jesus never existed or why the traditional Christmas tale cannot be believed.  Therefore, I think it’s time for another of my a bit tongue-in-cheek quizzes, this time focusing on Christmas and its history. For previous quizzes, check here and here.


  1. It’s believed that early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 because:
    1. If it was any earlier, stores would be hanging Christmas decorations right after the Fourth of July.
    2. Given the complexity of assembling bikes and wagons, it needed to be one of the longest nights of the year.
    3. They followed a tradition that Jesus’ death (thought to be on March 25 AD 30) would also be the anniversary of His conception.
    4. Only those crazy Orthodox Christians want to hear Perry Como and Bing Crosby after the New Year begins.
  2. How do we know that the Magi did not show up until up to two years after Jesus’ birth?
    1. Because they’re men and they would have never asked for directions.
    2. Because Matthew 2:11 describes Jesus and Mary now living in a house, and after Herod “determined from them the exact time the star appeared” gave an edict to kill all male children two years and younger.
    3. It took them that long to wrap the gifts.
    4. The roads from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem are always jammed with holiday traffic.
  3. The accomplishments of the real St. Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century, include:
    1. His later life in politics running against Burgermeister Meisterburger.
    2. Being a true proto-hipster and ushering in the beard-cult.
    3. Inspiring Nicholas Cage’s parents with an Internet-meme worthy name.
    4. Attending the Council of Nicea and supporting the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, even to the extent of purportedly punching the heretic Arius in the face.
  4. The Immaculate Conception refers to:
    1. The Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin in order to bear the savior.
    2. A new brand of cleaning product.
    3. A brilliant idea for a concept car… and definitely NOT the clay model of the AMC Pacer or Gremlin.
    4. No-mess adoption.
  5. Bible scholars believe that since Bethlehem was such as small town, Jesus was most likely not born in a cave but in a back room of a relative’s home. The misconception stems from:
    1. The Greek word katalyma which is translated “guest chamber” and could be used for a guest room or an Inn. It was also used in Mark 14:14 when Jesus sent his disciples to find a place to eat the Passover meal.
    2. The need to give the kids who cannot act but only shake their heads “no” some kind of part in the Christmas play.
    3. How dumb our Nativity scenes would look if an angel was perched on the roof next to a television antenna.
    4. No one wanted their relatives to think that extended stays are somehow Biblical.
  6. The Christmas phrase “Peace on Earth, Good will towards Men” refers to:
    1. A misogynistic greeting that has no place in our cis-gendered society.
    2. What you tell the store clerk when you’re trying to return that ugly sweater without a receipt.
    3. God’s goodwill act of providing His Son as the way men could have peace with Him.
    4. An archaic greeting which has been replaced by the now more popular “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”
  7. The practice of abbreviating Christmas as “Xmas” began because:
    1. Large X’s would be placed on children’s back fences, serving as targets for their Red Ryder BB Guns.
    2. It’s how people were crossed off the pot luck list if they ever showed up with a fruitcake.
    3. Because people come into Christmas day eXhausted with their cash eXtinguished.
    4. The X is not crossing out Jesus, but it represents the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter for the Greek word Christ (Χριστοζ).
  8. Early Church Father Tertullian taught that the Magi were instructed to leave “by another way” because:
    1. Holiday traffic would be a killer.
    2. They wanted to see the Dead Sea and maybe pick up some souvenirs at the gift shop.
    3. Given their reliance on astrology and magic, the command symbolized God telling them to change their superstitious belief system.
    4. They had a booking to perform a magic show for a Bar-Mitzvah in Joppa.
  9. The 12 Days of Christmas refers to:
    1. Proof that any gift larger than “five golden rings” is completely unmemorable.
    2. The twelve days beginning Christmas Day and ending January 6 at the Feast of the Epiphany, where some Christians have historically given gifts.
    3. How long it feels waiting in line to purchase those gifts the last days before Christmas.
    4. Each of the days network television will air It’s A Wonderful Life.
  10. The Virgin birth is central to the Christmas story because:
    1. It fulfilled the prophecies given of the Messiah in Gen 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14.
    2. It’s the only time the sermon of the real Parson Brown is more interesting than that of the snowman Parson Brown.
    3. It gives those folks at the Discovery Channel a chance at another “documentary” seeking to debunk something.
    4. Mary saturated everyone’s Instagram and Facebook timelines with baby pictures.
Answers:  1:C,   2:B,  3:D,  4:A,  5:A,  6:C,  7:D,  8:C,  9:B,  10:A

Image from A Christmas Story © 1983 Warner Bros. Movies. Used in accordance with fair use.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Can I Celebrate Peace on Earth With Tragedy In My Life?

This past week, the headlines have been especially horrifying. A crazed terrorist takes hostages in a Sydney chocolate shop, killing two people including a woman shielding a pregnant woman from the gunman. The Taliban kills nearly 130 school children in Pakistan. How can the promise of Christmas, the season of peace on earth and goodwill towards men be realized with such evil going on?


Actually, the question isn't new. In a Huffington Post article entitled "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" Robert Fuller said that he wondered the same thing even as a child:
My take-away questions from Sunday School were:
  • Why are moral precepts—even those that everyone accepts—widely ignored?
  • Why has "peace on Earth, goodwill toward Men" not been realized?
I wondered about this gap between the ideal and the reality as World War II raged, as the Holocaust was revealed, and as Japan surrendered to American atom bombs. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that religion's most serious short-coming was not that it harbored "deniers" of well-established science models, but that it had not found a way to realize its own aspirational goals.1

Looking For Candy Canes in Coal Mines

I think that a lot of people feel the same way as Robert. They watch the various Christmas specials, they see the slogans painted on storefront windows, yet they think that the Christmas promise of peace and goodwill is just as illusory as the story of a jolly old elf sliding down your chimney. But these folks are starting in the wrong spot. They're like people who shop for stocking stuffers in a coal mine. You'll never find toys and candy there. The reality is that this world is fallen. It's filled with men who are corrupted by sin and if left to themselves would never seek peace with one another.

But that's exactly why the Christmas message is so joyful. God hasn't left us to ourselves; He sent His only Son to earth to save us from our fate. In announcing the birth of Jesus, the angels weren't asking human beings to be nice to one another. They were announcing that God has provided a way for peace between Himself and mankind. God was exhibiting goodwill toward men in giving them a Savior. See how Luke 2:14 is rendered in different translations:

Translations of Luke 2:14

New International Version Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
New Living Translation Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.
English Standard Version Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
New American Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
King James Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Holman Christian Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
NET Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!

As you can see, the responsibility is God's and the action is towards mankind. That's why Christians should celebrate Christmas even during the most difficult of circumstances. I know it can be hard to feel the Christmas spirit when the bills are piling, health is threatened, or tragedy is pushing in all around you. Yet, Christmas proves that God has better plans for us. Perhaps we won't see that this year, or even the next. Our hope lies ultimately in our destiny where God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Rev 21:4, ESV). That hope began by lying in a manger in Bethlehem and was proven on Calvary's cross.

I feel sorry for folks like Robert Fuller. He thinks that Christianity fails because we aren't getting any better. (Actually, Christianity has dramatically improved the lot of humanity in demonstrable ways.)But the promise of a world of peace and goodwill isn't found by those who work for it. It has been offered as a free gift to those who believe on Him who God has sent (John 3:16, Romans 10:9). Unless you claim that gift, Christmas will always be a disappointment.

References

1. Fuller, Robert. "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 July 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-fuller/whatever-happened-to-peace-on-earth-goodwill-toward-men_b_1644922.html.
Image courtesy John and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable

Naturalism is simply unbelievable. I don't mean unbelievable in the fantastical sense, although I do think there's a lot of hand-waving that goes on to try and excise any supernatural explanation as to why we exist. I mean, the viewpoint is unbelievable in that its own assumptions destroy itself. It is illogical to hold to naturalism.



The naturalist wants us to believe that the natural world is all that exists; we came about through evolutionary processes and our minds are one of the products of that process. Given the survival of the fittest paradigm that rives evolution, the naturalist must also assert "What your beliefs are don't matter nearly as much as what the survival value of your actions are." In fact, they do this when discussing religion all the time. Religion isn't true, they would assert, but it served an evolutionary purpose.

To use an example, picture an overweight man who is running. Now, the man may believe he has a better chance at survival if he runs because he puts his body in better shape, reduces the chances of heart attacks, and is generally more fit for the tasks of survival. However, the man may equally believe that running is an act of worship to the life-god and it drives out the fat demons that plague much of his tribe. Either belief produces the same result: the man runs and the man has an increased chance of longevity. Either belief helps him survive equally well. It doesn't matter which is true on an evolutionary worldview because evolution is all about survivability.

Reason Offers No Evolutionary Advantage

Because all evolution cares about is the survival of the individual, reason alone offers no evolutionary advantage. In fact, evolutionary theory proves this. According to all New-Darwinian models, there was a time on the earth where there existed no rational thought whatsoever! Animals were primitive and they had no capacity to reason, yet they survived just fine. They mere responded to external stimuli and adjusted their behavior. They don't know why the water is here and not somewhere else; they simply desire water.

This is why you can get a pet dog or cat to chase a flashlight beam or laser pointer on the floor. The dog bites at it and it isn't there, yet he will continue to chase the beam! Your pet is simply responding to stimuli. They aren't thinking abstractly. A dog never wonders it's like to be a cat!

Knowing that the earth circles the sun as opposed to the sun circling the earth gives us no evolutionary advantage whatsoever. We gain nothing in terms of the advantage to put food in our stomachs or to shelter us from the cold nights. This is because reason and responses are categorically different kinds of things. There is a difference between neural stimulation and mental reflection. The naturalist will say "All reason is is a process of neural stimulation" but C.S. Lewis argued that natural selection only operates by eliminating biologically harmful responses and increasing responses linked to better survival. He writes:
It is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn [the animal's thoughts] into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relationship between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known.1

Beliefs Can be Counter-Intuitive

Sometimes we have to believe things that are completely counter-intuitive based on our stimulus. Exercise is a good example of this. For me, it is counter-intuitive when lying in my comfortable, warm bed to get up and put my body in a situation designed to cause strain and pain. So the desire to exercise doesn't come from external stimuli, but from our reasoning capabilities. We do the things that are counter intuitive to everything the body is telling us because we have a reasoned that that's a better way to go. It doesn't make sense evolutionary because the benefits are a long way off.

 Alvin Plantinga agrees when he writes:
Fleeing predators, finding food and mates — these things require cognitive devices that in some way track crucial features of the environment, and are appropriately connected with muscles; but they do not require true belief, or even belief at all.

The long-term survival of organisms of a certain species certainly makes it likely that its members enjoy cognitive devices that are successful in tracking those features of the environment — indicators, as I've been calling them. Indicators, however, need not involve beliefs (emphasis added).2
There are many of our beliefs that lie completely outside the realm of evolutionary advantage at all. The belief that evolution is true is one of these. The problem is the evolutionist doesn't have good grounds for holding to his own evolutionary tale, since the evolutionary framework gives no grounds for holding that any of his beliefs are true. If evolution is true, then reason isn't trustworthy. How does one escape that when every belief the naturalist has is a product of evolution? Assuming naturalism is to doubt the reliability of reason itself.

References

1. Lewis, C. S. "Miracles." 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 317. Print.

2. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 329. Print.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the 'Atheist Invocation' Really Demonstrates

Isn't it interesting that offense can be used as a weapon by atheists in so many different ways. The push by college campuses in banning Christian clubs is supposedly based on being non-discriminatory so as not to offend a non-Christian who may want to be president of said club. (Huh?) Atheists are offended as seeing crosses on city property so they threaten lawsuits to have them removed. Atheists see this danger of offense as so great that peoples' freedom of assembly, freedom of beliefs, and freedom to their livelihood are considered fair game. But what if it's the atheist who is doing the offending?

Ridicule in the Guise of Prayer

According to the Sun-Sentinel, atheist Preston Smith petitioned to give the opening invocation at the Lake Worth City Commission Meeting in Florida. You may ask yourself how in the world can an atheist offer an invocation when they don't have anyone to pray to? The idea of petitioning a higher authority is absurd on atheist, which makes the request contradictory on its face. Yet, Smith felt that he had something to say and the City Commission obliged him and provided him with the time to open the proceedings.


You can watch Smith's speech here, however, a transcript of it appears below:
Our collective atheism — which is to say, loving empathy, scientific evidence, and critical thinking — leads us to believe that we can create a better, more equal community without religious divisions.

May we pray together.

Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things.

May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us?

And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness' sake.

And so we pray.

So what?

Not an Invocation

Some people were upset that several commissioners and the mayor walked out of the room before Smith delivered his diatribe. But what I'm not hearing is the fact that what Smith delivered was in no way an invocation; it was a mean-spirited attack. In the recent decision by the Supreme Court that invocations are constitutional, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief." Clearly, Smith's mess of a speech violated Kennedy's caution that access to invocations should not be used as disparagement. Smith didn't want to offer a prayer, he wanted to mock and offend as many people who believe in prayer as possible and he chose this as his soapbox from which to try.

Atheist Hemant Mehta (who bills himself as "the Friendly Atheist") said "To be sure, Smith's invocation is not the one I would've given, but that's not the point. The point is that if the commissioners aren't happy with this, there's a simple solution: Do away with invocations altogether. Stop wasting time with prayer and get down to business. Otherwise, they should expect more of these in the future." No, that isn't the point. Atheists don't get to claim offense at having to sit through prayers and then say offense is OK because they wielded it. But it does show that this movement of removing crosses, seeking to ban prayers, and even barring school children from trying to help the poor is not at the fringes of the atheists' value system.

In commenting on the unbelievers of his day, Charles Simmons put it best:
Ridicule - a fool's first and last argument.

The ridiculous is what fools remember longest. Deists in general attack Christianity by ridicule. This is their most powerful, and perhaps their most successful, weapon. All persons can laugh but all cannot reason. This mode of attacking Christianity answers purposes which can be effected no other way; for ridicule is unanswerable. Who can refute a sneer? It is independent of proof, reason, or argument; and as well be used against facts as against falsehood.

Ridicule is no argument but rather a proof of the want of it and the weakness of a cause.2
Smith's mockery and contempt for the privilege of solemnizing a civic meeting should be derided. If you don't believe in prayer then please don't petition to pray before a town meeting. To do what Smith did is offensive to the values of the Constitution and even other atheists should rebuke him for it.

References

1.Mayo, Michael. "Mayo: Lake Worth Commissioners Walk out on Atheist Invocation." Sun-Sentinel.com. Tribune Interactive, Inc, 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/michael-mayo-blog/sfl-mayo-lake-worth-atheist-walkout-20141209-story.htm
2.
Simmons, Charles. A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker Containing over a Thousand Subjects, Alphabetically and Systematically Arranged. Toronto: R. Dick, 1853. Print. 463.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Resurrection is Central to the History of Jesus

While some people hold that Jesus the Messiah is simply a mythical character, a much greater majority of people believe that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived in first century Palestine. They hold that the resurrection of Jesus is simply a later addition to the life of a wise teacher who created a compelling moral code for others to follow. However, William Paley (of  the argument of design of the eye fame) shows one reason why such an idea is ridiculous in its face.
The history of the resurrection of Christ is a part of the evidence of Christianity: but I do not know whether the proper strength of this passage of the Christian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evidence, consists, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the resurrection ought to be accounted a more decisive proof of supernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that as it stands in the Gospels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain that the apostles of Christ, and the first teachers of Christianity, asserted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four Gospels had been lost, or never written. Every piece of Scripture recognizes the resurrection. Every epistle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, concur in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article of his history, received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians, as alleged from the beginning by the propagators of the institution, and alleged as the center of their testimony. Nothing I apprehend which a man does not himself see or hear can be more certain to him than this point. (Emphasis added.)

William Paley, quoted in A New Edition of Archdeacon Paley's View Of The Evidences Of Christianity Comprising The Text Of Paley, Verbatim. Cambridge: W. Metcalfe, 1831. 339-340.e-book available at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdid=book-Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdot=1

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Date of Christmas has Nothing to Do with Pagan Holidays (video)



Is Christmas really just a repackaging of a Roman Feast? Two Roman celebrations, Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, were celebrated in December. However, that doesn't mean that Christians used those dates to create a holiday of their own. In this short excerpt, Lenny demonstrates how December 25 has its origin in a Christian tradition and why it makes no sense to think that early Christians were trying to come up with their own alternative to pagan holidays.




You can watch the entire lecture here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Christmas Faith-Defending Challenge

A couple of years ago, I decided to offer a Christmas Faith-Defending Challenge, asking donors to prayerfully consider giving $25 to at least three worthy organizations dedicated to training Christians on how to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." While Christian apologetics is not well known in many circles, the work that these ministries do is proving more and more vital to young believers who are challenged both intellectually and morally; and challenged with an increasing intensity. Many of the organizations are quite small and every donation can make a huge difference in their ability to carry out the calling God has uniquely equipped the to do.


So look at the list below, choose three (or more if you desire) and meet the challenge! You will truly be a blessing to them and make a difference in the Kingdom.
  1. Apologetics 315 Ever since Brian Auten got the itch to blog his apologetics homework back around 2007, Apologetics 315 has been one of the top resource sites for gathering and disseminating apologetics information. The weekly apologist interviews along with the Top 16 Apologetics podcasts and the growing list of apologetics ministries and materials put Brian at the forefront of internet resources for both apologists and lay people. Since my last challenge, Apologetics 315 has completed its registration with the IRS and donations are tax-exempt..
    Support Apologetics 315 here
  2. Christian Apologetics Alliance The Christian Apologetics Alliance is a relatively new group that formed through social media as a way to help train budding apologists in ways to better their craft. It has grown into a full-fledged ministry with a speaking referral service, an online publication, a special apologetics for parents group, and much more. They are still in the process of gathering funds to file for a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt license, but all gifts given to the org are deductible upon its completion. The CAA currently accepts donations via PayPal.
    Support the CAA here.
  3. Come Reason Ministries 1996 marked the beginning of the www.ComeReason.org web site, one of the first apologetics sites on the Internet. Since then, the ministry has grown to include a wealth of online resources like podcasts, YouTube videos, articles, blogs, and live teaching events. Over 20,000 people each month access the site articles with visitors coming from most every country on earth.

    Currently, Come Reason takes up about 50% of my workday but provides only 10% of my income. As we receive more and more requests for help and materials, I want to be able to focus exclusively on providing answers and apologetics materials to those who need it.
    Support Come Reason here.
  4. Evangelical Philosophical Society If all your favorite apologists could be considered superheroes in battling worldviews, the Evangelical Philosophical Society would be the Hall of Justice where they all congregate. The EPS has done a stellar job putting out one of the top-ranked scholarly journals on the philosophy of religion (Philosophia Christi) as well as the annual EPS Meeting where scholars can meet and discuss the latest issues in the field of apologetics. Beyond the academic arena, they host the annual EPS Apologetics Conference, where each of the over 30 speakers present for free in order to keep the costs down for the general public. The EPS basically covers their costs with memberships and subscriptions, so any donations provide a bit of a cushion to the great work they do.
    Support the EPS
  5. Illustra Media We live in a visual age and if you want to get your message across, you will need to do so visually. Concepts such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum or the origin of life are especially difficult to discuss without a model. Luckily, apologists have Illustra Media to handle the tough task of making compelling DVDs on such intricate topics - and they do so with beauty and finesse. Using computer animation along with interviews from high-visibility personalities such as Lee Strobel and Dr. Stephen Meyer, Illustra makes a compelling case for the Creator that is as faith affirming as it is awe inspiring. All this even though the two founders operate basically out of their house!
    Support Illustra Media here
  6. JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center Another well-known figure in philosophy and Christian apologetics is Dr. J.P. Moreland, who authored the phenomenal Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (with Craig), Scaling the Secular City, and many other popular books. However, most people don't know that Moreland, as an in-demand speaker, also has his own nonprofit ministry, Eidos Christian Center. The main goal of the organization is to help support selected speakers and authors who are doing great work in promoting the Christian worldview. There are many churches and groups who may not be able to afford a speaker the caliber of Moreland, but Eidos seeks to stand in that gap, providing the funds necessary to get solid Christian thought into the minds of the larger culture. JP's been a huge influence on me in my growth as an apologist and his organization needs to be more recognized.
    Support JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center here.
  7. Ratio Christi Ratio Christi is a unique organization reaching out to college students. Rather than creating a whole new ministry, they leverage existing Christian clubs and study groups on college campuses and universities across the country, and pair them up with a trained apologist who can help answer the tough questions that students or their professors will invariably raise. The idea of meeting people where they are is practical and I love the idea of empowering apologists to come out of the study (or away from the computer screen) and meet real students with real needs. Their San Jose State University club was just kicked off campus along with other Christian groups as part of the university's draconian "diversity" policy.
    Support Ratio Christi here.
  8. Mike Licona/Risen Jesus Mike Licona's monumental work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach delivers over 700 pages of support for the contention that the resurrection of Christ is as strong a fact of ancient history as there ever can be. Many talk about his book replacing N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God as the new standard work on the topic. Licona has been very active in conferences where he teaches on topics such as addressing so-called biblical contradictions and how to understand the historical nature of the Gospels.
    Support Mike Licona/Risen Jesus
  9. Mary Jo Sharp/Confident Christianity Speaking of women in apologetics, Mary Jo Sharp has not only embraced her calling, but she's running with full gusto. From conference speaker to author to a couple of very stimulating debates against Islamic scholars, Mary Jo and Confident Christianity are showing what an apologetics ministry with focus and purpose can accomplish - even with a miniscule budget. Her clear style resonates well with both students and women's groups. A donation here could help Confident Christianity cover travel expenses so she can reach even more people with a smart and winsome Christian faith.
    Support Confident Christianity here
  10. Stand to Reason's Brett Kunkle & Alan Shlemon Stand to Reason is one of the flagship apologetics ministries in the country. Led by Greg Koukl, the team there is always providing top-notch teaching and material, whether on the radio, on the web, or in person. While STR is pretty well known, less so is its powerful student impact leader, Brett Kunkle and speaker Alan Shlemon. Kunkle has been doing a remarkable job with junior high and high school students, preparing them for the absolute war of worldviews they will face when heading off to college. He is the originator of the Apologetics Missions Trip concept; taking kids "in the field" to talk with atheists, Mormons, and others hostile to Christianity. Shlemon has been cutting his own path in focusing on cultural issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage, and Islam. Both gentlemen do not get paid by STR, but must raise their own support - so your gifts can mean quite a lot!
    Support Brett Kunkle   Support Alan Shlemon
There we are. These are ten different apologetics organizations that could really use your support. For $75 you can be a huge blessing to these organizations and also truly help advance the Christian worldview. Blessings to you this Christmas season and during the New Year. May you continue to take every thought captive for Christ.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Monkeys, Typewriters, and Assumptions

Have you ever heard the suggestion that given enough monkeys banging on enough typewriters with enough time, they will eventually produce something like a work of Shakespeare? That idea was first proposed by French mathematician Émile Borel1 and then used by British astronomer Arthur Eddington. Both were using the analogy to show while nothing can be considered impossible from a mathematical standpoint, certain ideas are so unlikely that they can be discounted.2



However, as what came to be known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem entered the popular culture, it seemed to be turned on its head. Many people seem to think that the analogy shows that absolutely nothing is impossible given enough time. The problem is m the analogy was used to show just how improbable a particular theory on gas movements really is by comparing it to something more easily pictured in people's minds: monkeys producing works of literature. That's why Eddington finished his version of the analogy with "The chance of the monkeys doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel."3

The folks over at Uncommon Descent have written a detailed response to the Infinite Monkey Theorem and how it applies to the origin of life, but that isn't my reason for writing this post. The more interesting point in my opinion is the assumptions that are carried along with the analogy itself. In Borel's day, there were no such things as computers that could generate purely random outputs of letters, so he used a theoretical monkey to make his case. But the folks over at the University of Plymouth were intrigued by the concept, so they thought they'd give it a try on a much smaller scale.

Real Monkeys and a Word Processor

In 2003, researchers placed a computer with monitor and keyboard in a cage of six monkeys at the Paignton Zoo for a month. The Associated Press report quoted lead researcher Mike Philips who said, "At first, the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard." 4

Eventually, the simians figured out that the screen would respond to a keyboard touch. Would this be the breakthrough to have the monkeys produce a word or two of English? Unfortunately, no as the primates only "produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in."5

How Our Assumptions Color Our Beliefs


The Infinite Monkey Theorem is interesting on several levels. While it is mathematically possible to generate something like Hamlet using an infinite number of computers for an infinite time, such actions would require more time and more matter than has been estimated in our universe since its beginning. It is therefore zero for all practical purposes. So such word pictures don't help on issues like the origin of life.

More importantly, it demonstrates how much we color scenarios with our assumptions. Most people picture putting a keyboard before a monkey and the animal will be pushing buttons before too long, not using it as a lavatory. Our humanity assumes that others will act like us. It's why many animal researchers make the mistake of anthropomorphizing animal behavior and what's responsible for the Clever Hans effect.

So, it's important to examine your own beliefs. Sometimes your biases are harder to spot than you think!

References

1. See http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/borel/#monkeys. The analogy seems to have first appeared in Borel's "Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité," J. Phys. 5e série, vol. 3, 1913, pp.189-196.
A big thanks to Guillaume Bignon for providing me with his translation of Borel's analogy from : "Let's imagine that one trained a million monkeys to randomly hit strokes on a typewriter, and that, under the watch of unlettered slave-drivers, these typist monkeys work painstakingly 10 hours every day with a million typewriters of different types. The unlettered slave-drivers would gather the blackened sheets and bind them into volumes. And after a year, these volumes would contain the exact copy of the books of all natures and all languages, found in the riches libraries in the world. Such is the probability that during a very short instant, in a space of any given length, a notable spread occurs (away) from what statistical mechanics considers to be the most probable phenomenon."
2. Kairosfocus. "ID Foundations, 11: Borel's Infinite Monkeys Analysis and the Significance of the Log Reduced Chi Metric, Chi_500 = I*S – 500." Uncommon Descent. Uncommon Descent, Inc., 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/id-foundations-11-borels-infinite-monkeys-analysis-and-the-significance-of-the-log-reduced-chi-metric-chi_500-is-500/.
3. Eddington, A. S.. The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures, 1927. New York: Macmillan, 1929. Print. 72.
4. Associated Press. "Plymouth Experiment's Monkeys Type No Shakespeare-like Text." Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 10 May 2003. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051003/ent_051003027.shtml
5. Associated Press, Ibid.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Miracles May Be More Common Than You Think

"Why aren't there more miracles today?"

That's a question I hear quite often from atheists, skeptics, or even Christians questioning the accounts they read in the Bible with what they experience in their own lives. Reading through the Old and New Testaments, one can get the idea that miracles were a fairly common occurrence. Jesus would go from town to town healing people of their diseases and giving sight to the blind. Peter and John heal a lame man1 in the book of Acts while later Paul even raises a man who died after falling out a window when listening to him speak!2



With so many miraculous events recorded in the Bible, why do we never hear of miracles happening today? The question is actually more and cursory; it formed one of the objections offered by David Hume, the famous British skeptic philosopher, who held that it was illogical to believe in miracles at all. Hume writes:
A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution: he weighs the opposite experiments: he considers which side is supported by the greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. All probability, then, supposes an opposition of experiments and observations, where the one side is found to overbalance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance.



A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.3
To summarize, one of the ways Hume argues against miracle claims is that they cannot be believed simply because they occur so infrequently. (There are other arguments Hume offers, some of which I have dealt with elsewhere.)

As miracle accounts grow, what's considered unique?

However, miracle accounts may be reported and doctors may observe the results of miraculous healing more frequently than most people realize. Dr. Craig Keener, whose two volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts reports on hundreds of documented cases of miracle accounts around the world made an interesting point. In a Huffington Post article on miracles he writes "Today, however, when hundreds of millions of people from diverse cultures claim to have experienced miracles, it seems hardly courteous to presuppose a 'uniform' human experience on the subject. If any of these experiences constituted a genuine miracle, Hume's argument against miracles, which in some circles has hardened into an uncontested consensus, would fail."4

Some may say that Keener is uncritical or biased. Keener humbly understands that his capability in defining what counts as miraculous is limited. However, he doesn't rest solely on the accounts he has uncovered. He cites a fascinating 2004 survey of physicians conducted by HCD Research, a secular research company located in New Jersey. Keener states:
That some doctors would testify to miracles is not as surprising as one might suppose if one assumed that all intellectuals accepted Hume's view on miracles. In one 2004 national study of 1,100 physicians, 74 percent responded that they believed "that miracles have occurred in the past," while almost the same number, 73 percent, affirm that they "can occur today." The majority of physicians (59 percent) pray for their patients, and roughly 46 percent encourage patients to pray at least partly for God to answer their prayers. What might be the largest surprise in the survey, however, is that 55 percent of physicians claimed to "have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (emphasis added).5
The actual HCD Research press release with those findings may be found here. However, Keener's point is made. With the majority of physicians believing that they have seen a miraculous healing during their time of practicing medicine, I think Hume's argument is undermined. And those are only the miraculous interventions that physicians saw; it doesn't take into consideration all the miracles claims by people who didn't have the ability or didn't yet seek medical attention. Miracles may indeed be more common than you think!

References

1. See Acts 4:1-10.
2. Acts 20:9-10.
3. Hume, David. "On Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 30, 33. Print.
4. Keener, Craig S. "Are Miracles Real?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-s-keener/miracles-in-the-bible-and-today_b_1274775.html.
5. Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Print. 721.

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