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

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Answering "Why Does God Hate Me?"

Yesterday, I wrote about an article chronicling how Google searches for God have been changing. While searches for churches have been declining, questions about God's existence and the problem of evil are increasing, making them the first and second most commonly asked questions about God on Google.1 These aren't really that surprising as the culture moves further and further away from its Christian worldview.

While questions one and two were familiar, it is the third most popular search that caught my eye. Over 1900 people a month are asking Google "Why does God hate me?" Looking beyond that specific phrase, Google's AdWords tool reports that "god hates me" is queried 880 times and "does god hate me" 590 times per month. That's over 3300 times each month people are desperate enough to go to Google and search for an answer as to why God hasn't helped them out of their problems.

These searches about the person's problematic lives are not only due to event-driven factors. The New York Times article I referred to above also notes that the most common search term to complete the phrase "Why did God make me ___?" is the word "ugly" by a wide margin.2 So, either difficult times or difficult features of one's life can prompt people to search for resolution as to why their lives are not easier than they are currently.

God Doesn't Hate You and He Proved It

First, let me say to those who are asking this question that God doesn't hate you. He really doesn't. I know exactly how it feels when life is crashing all around you and you see a glimmer of hope that somehow vanishes into thin air. You can get bitter very quickly. You see no way to escape and you become frightened. Perhaps you've prayed for a miracle, for that's all you can fathom to alleviate your suffering, but that miracle never comes.

In such situations, it's easy to turn and blame God for not rescuing you. After all, he has the power to do so. What would it cost him? But I think you know such a view is a little too easy, a little simplistic. God is not a genie in a bottle to be summoned when life gets hard. Such a God is unworthy of worship; he becomes the slave of the petitioner. Instead, God desires that you know him. Sometimes he uses the difficult times of our lives to get our attention. It was C.S. Lewis who said "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."3

You may ask "but how can I even trust God when he allows me to hurt so much?" That's a fair question, one that deserves a thoughtful answer. One of the ways you can tell how much a person values another is by counting what it costs him or her. In marriage, a person will sacrifice his time, his comfort and his finances for the sake of his spouse. A man who is unwilling to sacrifice his desires for his wife is selfish and a cad.

What could a relationship cost an all-powerful God? Quite a bit, actually. In order to reconcile you to himself, God sacrificed his own dear son who was crucified on a cross. As a father, I know that this is the ultimate cost; I would much rather die myself than give up my innocent child to be put to death for the sake of someone else. That means a lot. It shows that God is serious. How serious will you be about getting to know him?

Even Though God Loves You, He Won't Rescue You from All Your Troubles

I don't really fault those who seek to blame God for difficult circumstances in their lives. Many people today simply don't know enough about God to have a clear picture of him. Pain is never a pleasant thing but as I said above God is not going to come to the rescue of everyone who is in a bad situation. Any father who bails his child out of all their difficulties spoils the child and diminishes his own role. If God is shouting to us in our pain, perhaps we should look to see what we can learn from our situation. Do we place a higher value on looks than on the character of the person we should strive to be? Did we ignore God while success was easy or perhaps ignore his commands on how to live? Or did we simply ignore God until times got tough?

Every story is different, but I guarantee God wouldn't allow you to go through this period of pain unless there was a reason, even if that reason is to learn how to endure. Corrie Ten Boom had to suffer the loss of her family and the horrors of the Nazi Concentration camp Ravensbruck for saving lives of Jewish refugees. She was doing good and yet she still suffered greatly for her actions.4 She said even there she found a purpose for her suffering while in the barracks, claiming "in darkness God's truth shines most clear."5

God doesn't hate you. He gave up everything for you and wants you to draw closer to him. If you would like to do so, simply use this form to get in contact with us. We would love to hear from you.


1. Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth. "Googling for God." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). 91. Print.
4. "Corrie Ten Boom." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.
5. Ten Boom, Corrie, John L. Sherrill, and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Hiding Place. Washington Depot, CT: Chosen, 1971. 183. Print.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Search for God is Growing-Online

Last week an interesting article appeared in the New York Times looking at Google searches about God and religion. The article stated that search trends—how people look up things on Google and other search engines—is another piece of evidence showing the slide away from religious belief.

Writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers several examples in the piece:
Despite the rising popularity of Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, Google searches for churches are 15 percent lower in the first half of this decade than they were during the last half of the previous one. Searches questioning God's existence are up. Many behaviors that he supposedly abhors have skyrocketed. Porn searches are up 83 percent. For heroin, it's 32 percent.1
If that wasn't disheartening enough, Stephens-Davidowitz tried to broaden his examination to include concepts such as how to treat one's neighbor:
"Love thy neighbor" is the most common search with the word "neighbor" in it, but right behind at No. 2 is "neighbor porn." The top Google search including the word "God" is "God of War," a video game, with more than 700,000 searches per year. The No. 1 search that includes "how to" and "Walmart" is "how to steal from Walmart," beating all questions related to coupons, price-matching or applying for a job.2

What Does It Mean?

As Stephens-Davidowitz notes, one cannot assume too much from the data. People Google things all the time that they may be partly confused on or even things that they do believe, but don't quite know how to explain. In fact, the article even stipulates that in more spiritually active areas of the country should show an uptick in searches about God. "If people somewhere are searching a lot about a topic, it is overwhelming evidence those people are very interested in that topic. Jambalaya recipes are searched mostly in Louisiana; Lakers statistics are searched mostly in Los Angeles."3

I think it's interesting what Stephens-Davidowitz uses as a comparison to the declining searches for God: neighbor porn, how to steal from Wal-Mart, heroin. It's as if the author was trying to correlate the increase in lasciviousness with the decline in religious belief.  Perhaps, but it simply could show that without religion people become more self-absorbed. With no deity to believe in, you aren't ultimately accountable to anyone but yourself.

The Opportunity for Witness

The key to the article, though, isn't that smut searches are on the rise. It is that the people who have questions about God are taking them not to a pastor but online:
The No. 1 question in the country is "who created God?" Second is why God allows suffering. This is the famous problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all good, how could he allow suffering? The third most-asked question is why does God hate me? The fourth is why God needs so much praise.4
Stephens-Davidowitz is correct when he explains "People may not share their doubts with friends, relatives, rabbis, pastors or imams. They inevitably share them with Google." That means ministries that give good answers to these kinds of objections need to not only be online, but need to be Google-friendly. That's why I've been doing online apologetics and evangelism since 1996. The mission field is now a digital one. That's where people are looking and that's where those who wish to topple Christianity are trying to capture the seekers. We need to be there, too.

Of course, it's difficult. This ministry runs on an extremely limited budget and we could use more help to reach even more people. If you'd like to help support the online efforts of Come Reason to provide real answers to those who are questioning God, just click here. We greatly appreciate your support.


1. Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth. "Googling for God." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
4. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Trinity, Firstborn, and the Dead

The Trinity is central to Christianity. If you deny the triune nature of God, then you've denied the historic Christian faith. Some like the Mormons deny there is only one God. Others like the Jehovah's Witnesses deny that Jesus was God at all. New Testament writers like Paul strove to describe the distinction between the Father and the Son while still honoring both as God, but those very passages can be taken out of context and twisted to carry a meaning the original author never intended.

One example of this is the phrase "firstborn" that Paul uses in Colossians 1:15-17. It reads:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.1
In this passage, Paul is trying to stress how Jesus is creator, master, and lord over all of creation. This role has been traditionally understood as God's. The Bible even begins with the grand claim that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Psalm 8 directly attributes the creation to Jehovah, stating "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?" Even we ourselves are the direct creation of God, as Psalm 100:3 admits, "Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his." As we see, over and over the Old Testament ties God to all of creation and uses it to show his rightful lordship over that creation.

Firstborn Doesn't Mean First Created

Despite this, the Witnesses and others point to Colossians 1:15 to try and prove that Jesus was the first created being of God. To do this, they must redefine Paul's use of the word firstborn in that verse to mean first created. On its face, the mistake can be an easy one to make if you aren't paying attention. Western cultures no longer abide by traditional patriarchy and inheritance traditions where the first born son becomes the chief of the family.

So, when we hear the word firstborn, we simply think of "first-born," that is the order of coming into the world. But the Greek word it is ranslated from, prototokos, carries a much richer meaning than simply birth order. It more properly is understood in Colossians as "pre-eminent" or "primacy in rank."2Of course, many Witnesses have resisted this interpretation, claiming that we should take the word firstborn in its natural meaning. I can understand their desire; a more literal rendering of words is usually the first choice of translators unless the context shows otherwise.

Given that most people on both sides of this debate have not mastered Greek, how are we to show that the meaning of firstborn I've offered is to be preferred over the more literal rendering? In fact, it's very easy and context is the key. All we have to do is to keep reading Colossians 1, for in the next two verses we read "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." Note verses 15-17 above and verses 18-19 here are both in the same paragraph. They are all one thought and the word firstborn appears not once, but twice! In the second instance, Paul claims that Jesus is "firstborn from the dead." If we are to use the natural rendering of this word, it would mean that dead people give birth! That doesn't make much sense at all. Jesus wasn't born from a dead person when he rose from the dead; that isn't a resurrection. In fact, Paul explicitly unpack the meaning of the word in verse 19, explaining that "in everything he might be preeminent." Paul is using prototokos to refer to Jesus's pre-eminence! He tells us that very plainly.

The big takeaway here is that it isn't necessary to have mastered a biblical language to answer folks like the JWs when they charge that the Bible makes Jesus out to be less than God. Many times, we just need to read the verses in context and carefully. The meaning can show itself in plain English.


1. Colossians 1, all other scriptures taken from the English Standard Version (ESV). Bible Gateway. Web. 28 Sep. 2015.
2. "prototokos." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 968. Print.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Strengthening the Immune System for the Christian Faith

In his wonderful Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, Os Guinness recounts an evening spent with a Roman Catholic cardinal where, as the evening was ending, the Cardinal asked him for his thoughts on how many Anglican clergy were abandoning the traditional teachings of the faith. Wishing to sidestep a conversation that would take much more time than was available at the moment, Guinness noted Catholic history had its moments of leaders (the Borgia popes) who were notoriously corrupt. He received a surprising response from the cardinal:
"Yes," he said, "Alexander VI (with his record of incest, murder, bribery, and corruption) was one of the worst leaders ever to have led the Christian church. But he never denied a single article of the Apostle's Creed, whereas several of the Episcopal bishops flout the teachings of the church catholic and deny the very heart of the Christian faith. That is the shame of the Episcopal Church, and that is unprecedented in Christian history."1
That's a stunning insight and it shows how much our 21st century biases have reduced matters of faith to relative insignificance. More importantly, as Guinness rightly notes, the abandonment of foundational principles of the church from within the church itself is as appalling as it is dangerous. Guinness then notes the irony that those who can do the most good to safeguard churches from falling into heresy–the apologists–are precisely the ones who have been widely excluded from church ministry teams:
Many revisionists in the Protestant liberal churches, followed by the extremes of Catholic progressivism and emergent evangelicalism, have reached the point where their thinkers preach "a different gospel," some of their leaders are hardly recognizable as Christian, and some have joked that they recite the Apostles' Creed with their fingers crossed. And as the above quotation shows, such revisionism is rife with new forms of toxic syncretism. But the cardinal's response also highlights a wider task facing contemporary apologetics and the church at large. Some of today's deadliest challenges to the Christian faith come from within the church itself, yet in many parts of the church Christian apologetics is weak, poorly understood and openly dismissed as an unworthy and a wrong-headed enterprise. Without faithful and courageous apologists, men and women who are prepared to count the cost, the church is vulnerable to the challenges it faces internally as well as externally2 (emphasis in the original).
One reason apologetics is so vitally important to the church today is that it guards against heresies. Apologetics can function in some ways like the immune system for the church, identifying foreign ideas that would infect and corrupt the one true faith. That's why every believer who cares about the truth of Christianity needs to support apologetics more. If you'd like to support our efforts here at Come Reason, you can do so by offering a gift at this link. Thank you for your consideration!


1. Guinness, Os. Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grove, Il. InterVarsity, 2015.  209.Print.
2. Guinness, 2015. 210.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Who Counts as a Christian? (video)

Mormons claim to be Christians as do Jehovah's Witnesses. But each belief system contradicts the other as to what kind of being Christ is and both contradict historic Christianity. Is there some way to understand who is a Christian and who is not?

Looking back in history, the answer is yes. In this short video, Lenny reviews both the need for an objective standard that defines the minimal beliefs of a Christian as well as how the early church codified that standard.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gospel Variations and Ancient Biography

Much gets made by skeptics these days about the supposed contradictory accounts of Jesus's life in the four Gospels.  They ask about the timing of the events (how could it have been three days and three nights), how many women were at the tomb, and other facts that seems to be reported differently by the Gospel authors. Sometimes, the errors are an example of expecting robot reporting or snubbing style to force meaning.

A couple of years ago, I was able to sit down with Dr. Michael Licona and discuss how the accounts of Jesus's life differ and what that actually means. You can view the entire interview on YouTube, but the Baptist Press gave a nice summation of it in their publication. One portion I'd like to focus on particularly is Dr. Licona's work in comparing the Gospel accounts to other ancient biography that was written at the same time:
In an interview with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting, Licona, a former apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board, said it had not necessarily ever bothered him that some facts reported in the Gospels appeared to be contradictions.

"I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also realize that biblical inerrancy is not one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is," Licona told Esposito. "So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren't. So it didn't really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians."

Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.

As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.

Licona focused on Plutarch's biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.

"So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar's assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he's writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language—Greek—to boot," Licona told Esposito.

"As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," Licona said.1
There's a difference between a contradiction and a stylistic change meant to emphasize one aspect of an event in one account, while another account may stress different aspects of the same event. As I've stated, these differences actually work in favor of the validity of the eyewitness accounts.


1. Roach, Erin. "HBU's Licona Addresses Bible's 'contradictions'" Baptist Press. Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Convention, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Claiming Religion is False Undercuts Darwinism

According to atheists like Daniel Dennett, religious belief is a falsehood that arose via evolutionary processes. In his debate with Alvin Plantinga on the topic "Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?" Dennett said "I think that the natural sciences can provide us with a very compelling explanation of why and how people came to believe in God, which does not at all suppose that it would be a true belief. But if we can diagnose the etiology of the belief in God, we can even make predictions about how and why this would be the case and how it would work. Then, we have undercut the presumption that because so many people believe in it, it must be true."1

This kind of thinking is fairly prevalent in certain atheist circles, used mainly to explain why belief in a god or God is found across all cultures throughout all times in human history. The universal nature of religious belief poses a bit of a dilemma for the atheist, as it demonstrates the desire to reach out to a higher intelligence is as natural as wanting to fill one's stomach. C.S. Lewis famously observed:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.2
If Lewis is wrong, it means that most of humanity has a false desire to believe in God. But given its falsehood, how can naturalists explain its universality? The answer that Dennett and others offer is that such a belief was in its way evolutionarily advantageous. Dennett argues for this view in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In the debate he explained why he believes he's justified in looking to science to explain religious belief: "If we have a good theory that explains how massive systematic falsehoods could arise in the human population and be maintained over generations, then that in itself is a pretty good reason for supposing that we've got a good handle on this, better than their handle on science."3

The Elephant in the Room

So, Dennett and others holds that 1) religious belief arose naturally via evolutionary processes4 and 2) it is a belief that is false. It follows logically from those two premises that evolution produces false beliefs. Not only does evolution produce false beliefs in certain people or in a small population, but if the two premises are correct, evolution produces, to use Dennett's words, massive systematic falsehoods that arise in the human population and are maintained over generations.

Here's where Dennett runs into a wall, though. The very fact that our reasoning ability exists at all on a naturalistic understanding of the world is due to evolution on his view. We trust our reasoning abilities to give us true facts about the world. One of those true facts that Dennett and other naturalists hold is there is no God, evolution can account for our belief system. But why should I think that belief is any more true than the belief that God exists, if Dennett is right?

In fact, why should we place our trust in human reasoning ability at all if evolution produces huge whoppers of falsehood that permeate all of humanity? Why should we trust our evolved monkey-brains reason to ward s some kind of external truth about where we came from, given Dennett's explanation?

As I've argued in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism:
Basing our ability to reason on a cause-and-effect model doesn't make sense. Reason is not the kind of thing that can be explained by examining the makeup of the brain or its physical processes. Reason must be oriented toward an objective external reality and our ability to tap into that reality. In fact, if naturalism is true, it means either that what we take to be rationality is either in no way grounded in external, objective truth (and as such cannot be called rational), or we're fooling ourselves into thinking that rationality exists at all.5
It seems to me that by holding to religion as an evolutionarily produced falsehood, the naturalist loses his entire foundation to assert that his explanation is itself true. He's undermined not simply evolutionary belief but rationalism itself.


1. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Alvin Plantinga vs. Daniel Dennett." YouTube. American Philosophical Association Central Region, 21 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
2. Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2002. 114.  Print.
3. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?", 2009.
4. Dennett, D. C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Atheism and the Argument from Reason." True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013. Print.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Darwinism, Dawkins, and Complex Designers

Complexity and design seem to be infused into the very elements if life. Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel prize for his co-discovery of the structure of DNA, famously said "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved."1 Indeed, the strong map of design in the living creatures of the earth seems at first blush so strong that the scientists themselves have a hard time describing them without using vocabulary that implies design.

Richard Dawkins dismisses the appearance of the complex, organized features of life as pointing to a designer, though. In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins acknowledges that the complex nature of things like DNA are things that biologists "have difficulty explaining." Yet, Dawkins states that the organized complexity of either the DNA molecule or the molecular machinery used to replicate proteins in no way points to a designer, simply because what ever created it would need to be even more complex. He writes, "Of course, any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself." This would then lead to looking for an even more complex designer of the designer and so on, regressing back to infinity. Thus, Dawkins concludes, to claim a designer "is to explain precisely nothing. "2

Alvin Plantinga, in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, deftly takes Dawkins argument apart. He leads with a rather simple analogy showing why Dawkins' cleverness is unconvincing:
Design doesn’t explain organized complexity (says Dawkins); it presupposes it, because the designer would have to be as complex as what it creates (designs). Perhaps, therefore, Dawkins means to argue along the following lines: there are really just two explanations of life: unguided Darwinism and an explanation, guided Darwinism, perhaps, that involves design. But the latter is really no explanation at all. Therefore the only candidate is the former.

Here there are two problems. First, this argument doesn't depend on the facts of biology; it is substantially independent of the latter. Is it likely that Dawkins would be offering an argument of that sort? If so, why would he claim that it is "the Evidence of Evolution" that "Reveals a World Without Design"?

Set that problem aside for the moment; there is another and deeper problem with this argument. Suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover some machine-like objects that look and work just like a 1941 Allis Chalmers tractor; our leader says "there must be intelligent beings on this planet-look at those tractors." A sophomore philosophy student on the expedition objects: "Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are!" No doubt we'd tell him a little learning is a dangerous thing and advise him to take the next rocket ship home and enroll in another philosophy course or two. For of course it is perfectly sensible, in that context, to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for present purposes) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors. The point is we aren't trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity, and we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general; we are only trying to explain one particular manifestation of it (those tractors). And (unless you are trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity) it is perfectly proper to explain one manifestation of organized complexity in terms of another. Hence it is not the case, contra Dawkins, that an explanation in terms of divine design is a nonstarter. Such an explanation doesn't constitute an ultimate explanation of organized complexity (if God is complex, nothing could constitute such an explanation); but it is none the worse for that. 3


1.Crick, Francis. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic, 1988. 138. Print.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.
3. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 26-27. Print.
Image courtesy goofup [CC BY 2.0]

Monday, September 21, 2015

Gentile Forgiveness on the Jewish Holiest Day?

Why read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur? This evening will mark the observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This is by all accounts the holiest day pf the Jewish calendar when all observant Jews will fast, reflect on the sins they've committed in the past year, and seek some absolution from them. Yom Kippur was instituted by God in Leviticus chapter 16 and it is the one day out of the year where the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple to bring a blood offering designed to cover the sins of the people. Included in the ritual is the transfer of sins from the people to a scapegoat.

Because there is no Temple today, the ritual commanded by God cannot be followed. Instead, some Orthodox Jews follow the Rabbinic tradition of the Kaparot Ceremony, where a chicken is used to transfer the sins from the people.1 Observant Jews also refrain from eating, wearing leather, and sex for the entire day.2

A Reluctant Jewish Witness and Forgiveness for the Gentiles

There is one other interesting tradition, though. On the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is read in Synagogues across the world. Of all the books in the Old Testament, this one is a really strange choice, as the Jewish prophet Jonah is continuously derelict in carrying out God's command to preach repentance to the savagely cruel Ninevites. After seeking to flee from God's command and a bit of aquatic indigestion, Jonah eventually (albeit reluctantly) preaches forgiveness to these enemies of Israel. He then sits atop a hill to watch their impending judgment only to be utterly amazed that these Gentiles actually repented and were forgiven! The bad guys make good and the good guy comes off really bad.

Nahum Sarna offers some insight into the choice of this strange text:
What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.

It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day's two prophetic lectionaries.1 Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin;2 its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.3

The Dovetailing of Both Traditions in Christ

Given the Temple's destruction, there is no faithful follower of Judaism that can accomplish the traditions commanded of them in Leviticus 16. The Orthodox seek to emulate it as best they can, with each synagogue offering a chicken. Less stringent forms of Judaism see personal abstinence and prayer as enough. But the huge hole that the lack of a Temple creates is a noticeable void.

That void is filled when you understand the ultimate atonement that Jesus offered. The New Testament book of Hebrews makes it explicitly clear. In chapter 10 it states:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.4
The writer to the Hebrew them explains that Jesus didn't have to offer his blood year after year but he entered the true Holy of Holies in heaven and offered it once for all time. Because of the perfection of this atonement, his forgiveness is extended to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. While the Jews have been reluctant to receive it for now, the Gentiles have embraced it giving us a perfect reflection of the book of Jonah.

Some say that Christianity is a cult of Judaism; it's an offshoot that abandons the core Jewish understanding of God and his dealings with man. I don't see it that way. I see Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism and the only way one can properly approach God based on the requirements he delivered through Moses. Jesus fulfills the law. May my Jewish friends be blessed and have an easy fast this Yom Kippur.


1. "The Kaparot Ceremony." Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
2. "What is Yom Kippur?." Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
3. Sarna, Nahum. "Jonah and the Whale: Why the Book of Jonah Is Read on Yom Kippur." Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archaeology Society, 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
4. Hebrews 10:1-4, ESV.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Answering Questions as God's Herald

Most people think of apologetics as either an intellectual exercise or a way to try and convince unbelievers of the Christian faith. Neither of those views is accurate. Ministry-minded apologetics serves many functions: it powers our evangelism, it strengthens our own faith, and it is relevant to understanding the changes in today's culture.

Joe Gorra offers another aspect of how apologetics, specifically the ministry of answering questions from both believers and nonbelievers, is ministerial: we become heralds of God's word. In A Reasonable Response, Joe offers five reasons for having a ministry that is engaged in answering questions. It is his fifth point that is especially poignant. He writes:
When answering people's questions, not only must we "go beyond" what is in the foreground and help people discover a background, but we must also help direct people's attention to how God is at work in their lives and in the lives around them. We announce how the kingdom of God is near to them. We invite them to acknowledge this, not because we are trying to "close a deal" between them and God (for He's really good at completing good work that He's started), but because we owe it to our fellow human beings to let them in on the "divine conspiracy." This is not a call to be loud and noisy with our answers, or to be "triumphalist" in our answers, but to find meaningful ways to declare, herald-yes, verily, and truly, preach-in order to bring attention to what is in their midst! After all, doctors, meteorologists, and pundits of society and the "good life" do this all the time; they bring knowledge (hopefully!) to bear on our life.

If we are sincerely interested in offering answers, we must not shrink from the opportunity of helping others notice how the gospel of the kingdom of God, indeed, Jesus Christ Himself, is near to us by the ministry and presence of the Spirit, and can be found whenever He is sincerely sought. To draw attention to Jesus' authority, presence, ministry, words, deeds, knowledge, wisdom, mission, and even His very questions and answers is to herald Him. How sad it would be if we answered people's questions but did not seek to help them pay attention to the living and risen Christ who is here, and not far off. How incomplete it would be to grant them wisdom to their questions but not invite them to be encountered by the Fount of all wisdom and understanding. In short, we might understand heralding as calling people to be confronted by the significance of the moral and spiritual authority of God for their life.[1]
I think Joe has put his finger on something that is both insightful and instructive. If we are approaching apologetics correctly, others should see God more clearly. Certainly, the atheist may balk at the positions we take, but that is no different than what they did to the prophets of old or the evangelists who sought to spread God's word. We should see ourselves first and foremost as messengers who are delivering the truth of the Gospel in its fullness to both God's people and a lost world. That is the correct attitude to take. It diminishes contention, increases consideration, and offers a humble approach to a ministry that runs a risk of puffing up its ministers. That's a great approach to take.


1. Craig, William Lane, and Joseph E. Gorra. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2013. 42-43. Print.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

To Draw Close to God You'll Need Theology (video)

Ever heard anyone say, "I don't need all that book-learning. Just give me Jesus and that's enough for me"? It's become common in the church to base our understanding of God on our feeling of him instead of our knowledge of him. In this short clip, Lenny  demonstrates from C.S. Lewis and from the Bible why the study of theology is crucial for the Christian to grow closer to the God we love.

Image courtesy Paul O'Rear and licensed via Creative Commons. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Talking with Mormons: When Beliefs Contradict Themselves

Yesterday, I had two LDS missionaries come to my door. These sisters have visited me before; they came to the door a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a birthday card for a neighbor which gave me the opportunity to engage them in conversation. Both girls were in their early twenties and both had grown up in Utah. Each had at least one parent who was a multi-generational Mormon.

As we talked, I explained that I've spoken with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have come to the house. These folks were very sincere in their beliefs, but I explained why sincerity isn't enough. I explained that there is only one good reason for believing anything, and that is it must be true. I then said that a lot of people trust their feelings as a guide to know what's true, but this is a terrible guide, for certainly the Muslims who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings are very sincere in their beliefs. I offered the tape measure analogy as a better way to discover truth.

Lastly, I said that for belief systems, the way one can objectively assess their truth value was to look for two things: external correspondence and internal consistency. That is any belief system or word view must be internally coherent and not hold to contradictory beliefs and its claims must match the way we understand the external world to really work. If a belief system is contradictory, then I cannot see how it can be true.

Up to this point, the ladies were following along pretty well and agreed with me. So I then raised the point of eternal progression. I didn't want to talk about ancillary issues but focus on the critical beliefs central to their faith, and eternal progression sits right at the center of Mormonism. They agreed and also agreed that the God we now worship had also progressed from being a man to a God. So, I said I had a difficulty here as the Book of Mormon states in Moroni 8:18 that God is eternal and unchanging (you can read the entire argument here.) The sisters were taken aback at this passage and said they would have to research it more. They took down my number and agreed to come back with an answer for me. I gave them my thanks and our meeting ended.

A Question, a Contradiction, and a Response

Yesterday, the ladies returned with a response. They told me that it was pretty difficult to get an answer to this question; they had to go all the way up to their mission president to find one. As they explained it, all human beings exist in a spiritual state prior to their earthy birth. (This I already knew.) Their president had told them that our God, Elohim, then had existed with his God attributes in this state and he still has them now. They pointed to the teaching of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse where there was a council of the Gods called to create a plan of salvation for the people of earth and how Jesus existed as God there even before he was born on earth.1 They concluded that just like Jesus was considered God before his embodiment, so too was Elohim considered God before his embodiment and thus has been God forever.

The answer has several problems, two of which I pointed out immediately. The first was "If God existed as God before his embodiment, then why bother with the work of being embodied at all?" The whole concept of God means a perfect being. That's why we worship him. If Elohim had all the attributes necessary to qualify him as God, then he doesn't need to be improved through bodily experiences where he can be shaped and learn. Either he was something less than God in his premortal existence or He went through the exercise for no purpose. Notice this is Elohim, not Jesus we're discussing.

Why Worship God and Not the Guy Down the Street?

The second reason is even more troubling. If their claim is true, that Elohim was God in a premortal state, and he retained that even when he was embodied and went through all the experiences and temptations, learning to resist them on his planet then it means that everyone who is in that embodied state now is also God right now! Mormon theology makes no distinction between Elohim's eternal progression and those Mormon missionary ladies who were standing in front of me. So I asked them, "Why then should I worship Elohim and not the Sister standing next to you right now if what you say is true? In fact why should I worship anyone if I'm a God in my earthy state?"

They countered that we worship God because he created us, but that isn't right as we existed as God prior to our embodiment. This is where Mormon theology becomes hopelessly confused. According to LDS thought, all spirits existed eternally in the past. There is no creation ex nihilo for the LDS. Elohim and his spirit bride gives birth to spirit children who are I guess formed into spiritual bodies (their understanding here was vague) just as earthly parents then give birth to physical children where that spirit joins with a physical body. But given this view, it's just as legitimate to worship our physical parents as it is to worship Elohim, who is our spiritual parent. Of course the sisters were not at all eager to believe in worshiping other people. But that's the logical conclusion if their explanation of Moroni 8:18 is right.

In order to get out of the quandary, they appealed to the mysteries of God, quoting article 9 of their articles of faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."2 They suggested that he may reveal more, but we just must have faith and approach God sincerely.

At this point I reminded them of my first conversation with them, that the truth is something more than sincerity; the 9-11 hijackers were very sincere. I said this is more than a misunderstanding; it's an internal contradiction in Mormon theology. And it isn't any little issue, either. It is the core of Mormonism! Why should I reject historic Christianity for a system that shows itself to be incoherent? (I didn't use those words, but that was the jist of my question to them.)

I then asked how well they understood historic Christian theology. They responded that they didn't know it very well. That gave me the chance to tell them the Gospel and how Christianity is never about works (article 3 of their Articles of Faith) but about a loving response to what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

I don't know if I'll see the sisters again. I hope I do. But I pray even more that those bothering contradictions that sit at the center of Mormonism will dog them. I pray that the Hound of Heaven will pursue these ladies and they don't find rest until they rest in the one through whom all real rest comes. Pray for them if you get the chance. I think God is on their trail.


1. Joseph Smith Jr., "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. May 1971, 13
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "Articles of Faith." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
Image courtesy More Good Foundation and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Those Guilty of Doing Nothing in the Face of Evil

On October 27, 2009, a 15 year old girl went to her homecoming dance being held at the gymnasium of Richmond High School in Richmond, California. She was attacked outside the building and for some 2-1/2 hours was gang raped while as many as 20 bystanders looked on and did nothing.1 In October of 2012, a man is savagely beaten, robbed, and stripped of his clothes while onlookers laughed and filmed the event on their phones (clips of which can be seen here.)2 Jose Robles, manager of a Manhattan deli, after being beaten and mugged, complained from his hospital bed that no one stepped in to answer his cried for help. Instead, "people were watching and they were having a good time filming" the crime he said.3

Many people wonder how or why otherwise upright individuals could so callously ignore someone in need. Why wouldn't anyone help? In some situations, actually having a lot of people know about a heinous situation diminishes the desire for people to step in. Because of perceived social cues and reluctance to stick out, people will shy away from helping until they see others do so. The phenomenon is known as "the bystander effect" in psychology circles.4

The Bystander Effect

In her article on the bystander effect,5 Dr. Melissa Burkley references a landmark series of experiments conducted by John Darley and Bibb Latane. There they found two main components driving the lack of involvement by others. The first she dubs "pluralistic ignorance" and uses an example of a child who's splashing wildly in a pool. Upon seeing the child, you may survey the other adults in the pool area to see if anyone else is bothered by her actions. If they are concerned the child is drowning, you would dive in to rescue her. If they're indifferent, you may conclude nothing's wrong. But if no one knows and they all are looking at each other, then a false message is communicated.

The second factor of the bystander effect is what Burkley labels "diffusion of responsibility." She explains:
When you are the only eyewitness present, 100% of the responsibility for providing help rests on your shoulders. But if there are five eyewitnesses, only 20% of the responsibility is yours. The responsibility becomes defused or dispersed among the group members. In these situations, people may assume that someone else will help or that someone else is better qualified to provide assistance. But if everyone assumes this, then no one will intervene.6
It shouldn't be a revelation that those who succumb to the bystander effect are wrong. Even Jesus taught against it in his parable of the Good Samaritan. As beings who are morally aware, every person has a duty to help those in need. To watch others and assume you carry only a fraction of the moral responsibility in a dire situation is to allow evil to persist. Even if one is unsure, as in the pool example, there is nothing improper for a person to walk toward the edge of the pool and ask the child if she is in distress. An inquiry is preferable to a child's death.

Bystander Effect and Planned Parenthood

I bring this up because I'm seeing the bystander effect writ large in our society today. Millions of Christians as well as others are ignoring the evil of Planned Parenthood's extracting live babies from their mothers wombs in order to cut them apart and sell them off piece by piece. A few folks have written to me and asked "Why aren't people more upset about this?" As I've stated before, if public outcry can spur legislation within a month to ban confederate flags or one lion's death can ignite indignation across the country via social media, then certainly the lives of the most defenseless of human beings should be worth our time and effort. To ignore it or assume others will carry on with the fight is wrong.

There are many ways you can make a difference in the effort. First, if you haven't done so, make sure you watch the videos. I've linked to them all here. You don't have to watch the full footage, but the ten videos to date are damning evidence that this isn't manipulation or slick editing. Secondly, share them. Share them a lot. Voice your outrage at this barbarism. You can also follow some of the suggestions I've outlined here. And if you'd like to pass on some answers to the objections Planned Parenthood supporters are raising, check out the links to the articles below.

We must act in this crisis and not wait for others. As Carly Fiorina stated in the Republican Presidential debate on September 16, 2015:
I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation.7
It's also about the character of each of us as individuals.


1. CNN. "Police: As Many as 20 Present at Gang Rape outside School Dance." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Oct. 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
2. Sylvester, Lisa. "Onlookers Jeer as Man Is Beaten, Stripped and Robbed in Baltimore." CNN. Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
3. Burke, Kerry, Tina Moore, and Bill Hutchinson. "Port Authority Attack Victim Angry at Do-nothing Witnesses." NY Daily News., 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
4. Burkley, Melissa, PhD. "Why Don't We Help? Less Is More, at Least When It Comes to Bystanders." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 4 Nov. 2009. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
5. Burkley, 2009.
6. Burkley, 2009.
7. Beckwith, Ryan Teague. "Transcript: Read the Full Text of the Second Republican Debate." TIME. Time, Inc., 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. .

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sharing Absolute Truth with a Relativist

Postmodernists are those who deny that absolute truth exists.They believe truth is like the popular bromide of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. To them, since any absolute truths are unreachable; truth is whatever one identifies as true for them. Such an attitude poses a particularly difficult challenge for Christians who seek to argue for the absolute truths of the Christian faith. How does one convince a postmodernist of the truth claims of Christianity when truth itself isn't absolute?

In his book Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin, Os Guinness addresses the problem of apologetics and the postmodernist. He offers two tactics in his approach, the first being: "relativizing the relativizers" of those things that truly matter to them. He explains:
When I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in the 1960s, an Arctic chill was still hanging in the air that froze any serious appreciation of religion. The source had been the philosophy of logical positivism and the celebrated "verification principle" of A.J. Ayer. Only that which could be tested by the five senses could be verified as true, he said. Theology was therefore "non-sense," or as it was famously said, "The word g-o-d is less meaningful than the word d-o-g."

The trouble for A. J. Ayer was that his verification principle couldn't verify itself—it was self-refuting. For to accept as truth only what can be tested by the senses is a principle that itself cannot be tested by the senses. It too is non-sense. Ayer's approach, he later admitted, was "a blind alley." Years later I enjoyed a conversation with him on the train between London and Oxford. Although retired and knighted as Professor Sir Alfred J. Ayer, he was candid about the failure of his principle. "I wish I had been more consistent," he said. "Any iconoclast who brandishes a debunker's sword should be required to demonstrate it publicly on his own cherished beliefs." Indeed. 1

Pointing Out the Signals of Transcendence

While relativizing the relativizers undercuts the postmodernists' assumptions about their own views, Guinness admit this is primarily negates his view but doesn’t provide a positive argument for the absolute. This is why he also recommends a second approach, one called "pointing out the signals of transcendence" and offers a rather stark example:
Have you ever heard an atheist exclaim "Goddammit!" and mean it? We can all be taught not to judge; we can all be told that there are no moral absolutes. But when we come face to face with raw, naked evil, then relativism, nonjudgmentalism, and atheism count for nothing. Absolute evil calls for absolute judgment. Instinctively and intuitively, we cry out for the unconditional to condemn evil unconditionally. The atheist who lets fly "Goddammit!" in the face of evil is right, not wrong. It is a signal of transcendence, a pointer toward a better possibility—and unwittingly a prayer.

For no human being lives outside the reality common to us all. Whatever people may say the world is or who they are, it is what it is and they are who they are. Again, no argument is unarguable, but there are thoughts that can be thought but not lived. When all is said and done, reality always has the last word. The truth will always out. Standing up to falsehood, lies, and crazy ideas is never an easy task, but—as we explore next—it is far easier than the hardest task of all, becoming people of truth ourselves.2


1 Guinness, Os. "Time for Truth." Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. New York: Crossway, 2011. 649-650. Kindle Edition.
2 Guinness, 2011. 654.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Rebelling Against the Lovable Lothario

Entertainment has an enormous impact on our understanding of the world. It's important that we not only watch with a critical mindset ourselves, but that we talk with our kids about what they see.

Film and television can manufacture characters through whom we see ourselves. Sometimes the characters live an idealized life, such as super-hero stories or spy adventures. Mostly, though, the main characters are put into situations where while they have a heart of gold, they must struggle and work through those flaws they will eventually overcome with enough persistence.

Sitcoms like Friends and How I Met your Mother work off this premise. Both shows start with a young, educated but struggling to make it group of 20-somethings carving lives out for themselves in greater Manhattan. Both series follow an arc showing how each person in the group eventually achieves success, usually an unbelievably high level; of success, in their professional lives and how their friends have carried them along the way.

Friendship is a key element in many of these shows, so it should be no surprise that they are highly attractive to teenagers, whose emotional development begins to rearrange the priority of their relationships. As children reach puberty, they start to try and define themselves as individuals and place greater emphasis on their own friendships while lowering their reliance on their relationships with their parents. Thus, when adolescents watch these shows, they naturally fantasize about living a similar life: hip, urban, independent with their friends surrounding them.

Of course, sitcoms have another purpose, too. They are designed to make the audience laugh, so they need to build in outrageous situations and characters, too. Generating jokes each week is no easy task, and many series have leveraged a sure-fire way for generating a multitude of jokes—what I call the lovable lothario. Characters like Joey Tribbiani or Barney Stinson are persons who sleep around and generally treat women more as trophies to be counted than human beings worthy of respect. They're attractive and skilled in the mechanics of seducing women and there's an endless supply of cheap floozies ready to agree to their advances.

Of course, the shows don't want to give too much credence to demeaning women, so we see them get slapped in the face or rebuked by their friends with a wag of the head and a disapproving "tsk, tsk" as well. But the friends know that underneath it all they really have a heart of gold and they just need to grow up a bit and they'll be fine. The message is subtle, but it reduces the terrible act of manipulating another person to get pleasure with no regard for their feelings or their future to a character flaw akin to being too geeky or being a perfectionist.

Who Would Really Stay Friends with Such a Person?

None of this is a revelation to anyone. Yet, I must wonder how many of us have asked our children if such a person is worthy of being called a friend in the real world? What would happen if we discovered that one of the people in our clan behaved in a way similar to the lovable lothario? Is the well-being of those women valuable enough to distance a person of that Ilk from their group? Would their reputations suffer simply as a result of befriending such an individual? Would it matter if it was their sister that was being manipulated so? If not, why does television make it seem the lothario is basically a good person? How many times does one person have to use someone else before he should be considered not loving but dangerous? These are all great questions we should be asking our kids.

I don't think the lovable lothario exists in real life. If one is that crass and selfish to take the most intimate of acts and leverage it for nothing more than personal pleasure, I see no way anyone like that can maintain a heart of gold. Real people cry real tears from being used. And to be fair, I don't think sitcom producers want anyone to model themselves after the lovable lothario, either. He's an extreme persona, but he helps demonstrate that the regular carnality of the other characters can be excused as being not so bad in comparison. We need to counter that message by really talking with our kids and asking them to think through real world perspectives. Such will go a long way in helping them to spot and reject the problematic values entertainment seeks to inject into their lives.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is Methodological Naturalism Question-Begging?

Metaphysical naturalists may be inclined to suggest that they cannot be accused of question-begging in endorsing methodological naturalism, since this methodology is simply a logical extension of their metaphysical views. If one has good reason to believe there exist no nonnatural entities, then one can hardly be faulted for adopting a methodology which refuses to countenance nonnatural causes.

What this suggestion ignores is that metaphysical naturalists typically assert the truth of naturalism on the basis of Ockham's Razor. Very few naturalists are willing to argue that it can be demonstrated that the existence of nonnatural entities is logically impossible. Rather, they assert that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of such entities and that one should, therefore, refuse to posit them.

It seems, however, that the existence of physical events which are best explained on the hypothesis of a nonnatural cause would meet the requirements of Ockham's Razor and thus constitute evidence for a nonnatural entity. For the metaphysical naturalist to adopt a methodology which holds that it is never, even in principle, legitimate to posit a nonnatural cause for a physical event, is to guarantee that the requirements of Ockham's Razor will not be met. This begs the question of whether there exists sufficient evidence to justify belief in nonnatural entities and thus disbelief in metaphysical naturalism, since what is being proposed is a methodology that, by its refusal to countenance the legitimacy of ever postulating a nonnatural cause for a physical event, precludes any marshaling of evidence in favor of nonnatural causes.1

-Robert Larmer
Larmer, Robert A. "Is Methodological Naturalism Question-Begging?" Philosophia Christi 5.1 (2003): 113. Print.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Defining What It Means To Be A Christian (video)

What does it mean to be a Christian? Just because someone claims to be a Christian, doesn't mean they are any more than claiming to be a superhero gives one super powers. Words matter and defining a Christian has become a more and more difficult thing. Listen to this short video—the second in our series on impostor Christianity—to learn more of why knowing what is required to be a Christian is crucial.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Consequences of Beliefs

I've spent a lot of time on college campuses engaging with students and answering questions. Some are intrigued by a concept of Christianity they were unfamiliar with before our conversation. Most, though, don't see why I or Christians like me would seek to argue for our faith at all. They believe that people should be able to choose whatever faith they're comfortable with and everyone else should leave them alone. They think that beliefs are preferences akin to what flavor of ice cream they prefer.

But beliefs aren't preferences like ice cream. They deal with not simply what we like, but what's true. One may like cigarettes but still hold the belief that they will kill you and thus seek to quit smoking. Another may not believe this, and satisfy his or her liking for cigarettes. Beliefs are not simply preferences, they are what we think is true about something or not, and there are consequences for holding to one belief over another.

Because beliefs have consequences, it follows that the more important the issue, the more important the belief. If I hold a belief that shoe brand A is built better than that shoe brand B brand, I may purchase brand A only to find out my beliefs were wrong. The shoes wore out quickly and I've lost a few dollars in the process. But if I'm an oncologist and I believe in the medieval practice of bloodletting to cure cancer, that's a bigger issue and the consequences of my beliefs are going to have bigger effects on both myself and my patients.

Religious Beliefs Matter the Most

We've agreed that the importance of true beliefs rises along with the importance of the issue, but where do religious beliefs fit in? Are they, like those students on campus claim, just useful to give the believer a good feeling? The answer lies in the issues that are central to all religions and even to those who hold to no religion as well. The focus of one's religious belief or non-belief is basically the nature of reality itself. Why are we here? Is there some purpose to life? Should I live toward some end? How do I fit in a world of other people and what do I make of them? Where do moral laws come from? Is there a God or higher power to whom we are all ultimately accountable? These are serious questions on how we value ourselves, other people, and our world. They are the biggest questions humanity wrestles with.

Because the issues answered by religious belief are so important, it should be no surprise that the consequences of those beliefs will have a major impact upon the world as well. My wife and I had the opportunity to stay in Manhattan in June of 2001. We spent four days in the city, even walking around the World Trade Center. Of course we didn't realize then that within three months those buildings would fall along with the lives of nearly three thousand people simply because of the beliefs of a small group of men. If 9/11 has taught us anything, it should be that beliefs matter and the big beliefs matter quite a bit. Yet, I still hear students tell me that beliefs are akin to ice cream. How could they come to that conclusion?

As we reflect and mourn those lost on this day, we should also reflect on how important it is to examine our beliefs and see if we have good reasons to believe what we do. Everyone has beliefs; the real questions are why do you believe what you do and are you willing to inspect your own beliefs to see whether they are true? That's what a rational person would do.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Claiming “Belief is a Psychological Crutch” Backfires

I just had the opportunity to listen to a recent Unbelievable? podcast where Christian biologist Zachary Ardern squared off against Peter Atkins, debating the topic "The Case from Science For & Against God." Atkins is an avowed atheist and is steeped in philosophical naturalism and scientism. He even said near the end of the interview (about 55:35 and following) that science is really the only way to discover truth and if one isn't leveraging science as the ultimate arbitrar of truth people are "not fulfilling their human capability."1 I guess that means we should shutter all the humanities departments at the colleges as a huge waste of money!

Given Atkins' full-blown scientism, it should be no surprise that he repeatedly decried any appeal to an immaterial cause for the order and design we see in the universe as "intellectually lazy." Arden tried to challenge Atkins on this point by explaining that scientist routinely distinguish between personal and mechanistic explanations every day (such as by forensic scientists). He then extended that to say an immaterial mind could provide better explanatory power than a purely mechanistic account of how the universe came to be.

The Mind as a Physical Process

Atkins objected to even the idea of an immaterial mind as "gobbledygook." He then replied, "We know what mind is. We know that mind is the outcome of the functioning of the brain. We know that the brain is a conglomeration of interacting cells. We know that those cells work upon physical/chemical principles. So, to say that there is a kind of ‘super-mind' out there, disembodied, that can effectively do what it wants and create the material universe, I think, that's just fantasy."

Arden objected to Adkins characterization. "I think it's very fair to us that there is a distinction between personal explanations and mechanistic explanations."

Atkins quickly shot back: "Well, I agree with that, but I think to understand the personal explanation, you put your subject onto the psychiatrist's couch and you explore how they come to those… that kind of understanding."

At this response, host Justin Brierley sought Atkins to clarify that he believes all minds basically reduce down to the chemical processes that happen in the brain, and Atkins gave a non-equivocal response of "Yes, absolutely!"

What's supposed to happen on the couch?

I want to take up Atkins appeal to the psychiatrist's couch. Atkins seems to hold one who believes in God is mentally deficient. He described it as "the lazy way of answering the big questions" and derided theism throughout the interview. So, Atkins claims anyone who settles on the answers to the origin of the universe by positing an immaterial mind should undergo psychiatric evaluation to uncover the false basis for their belief.

The charges that believers are mentally deficient and rely on mental fantasies have been around since Freud began making them himself.2 But here's the question I would pose to Atkins and other materialists: What is supposed to happen on that couch? Certainly Freud, who was also a materialist, believed that through psychoanalysis a person could change their beliefs. But what is this thing that's doing the changing? If our beliefs are ultimately a product of those physical/chemical reactions, then how can a person will to change anything? Further, how can person A declare person B's physical/chemical processes in the brain as defective if it's simply person A's physical/chemical processes that brought him to that conclusion?

You Can't Change Mechanistic Minds Through Ideas

You can quickly see the problem. If Atkins (and Freud) really believes that the mind is an outproduct of mechanistic laws and chemical reactions, there is no way to know if Arden's or Atkin's processes are those that are functioning correctly. Given the sheer number of theists versus atheists, one may conclude that it is Atkins that needs to seek the couch. But further, the assumption that theists are deluded and they can somehow become undeluded by working through their problems and talking about their feelings makes no sense, either. Certainly we can now change brain chemistry through drugs, but is that what Atkins and other materialists are really proposing? For any action or belief another person does that you don't like, give him drugs to change his brain chemistry. How rational is that?

Peter Atkins has a problem with his understanding of what a mind is. His appearance on Unbelievable? and engagement with Zachary Arden shows he wishes to change minds by making his case. But that very act contradicts his fundamental understanding of what the mind is and how it functions. By appealing to the psychiatrist's couch, Atkins denies the very materialism he claims. To me, holding on to two such disparate viewpoints is, well, crazy.


1.Brierley, Justin, Peter Atkins, and Zachary Arden. "The Case-from Science For & Against God." Audio blog post. Unbelievable? Premiere Christian Radio. 15 Aug. 2015. Unbelievable? 10 Sept. 2015.
2. Nicholi, Armand M. The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Free, 2002. Print. 38.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Sex, Sin, and Christian Hypocrites

"But what about all the hypocrites in the church? Look at those preachers who are only in it for the money! What about Josh Duggar? Did you know that Kentucky clerk who won't issue same-sex marriage licenses has been married four times herself!"

Anyone who has engaged in discussion over religious beliefs has likely heard comments such as these. I've spoken to many people myself who when they've run out of other objections retreat to the charge of hypocrisy. They seem to relish in finding any inconsistency between a Christian's public stance and his or her private failings. Is hypocrisy the trump card Christianity's critics and those on the left think it is?

First, one must be cautious about the charge of hypocrisy itself, as it is bandied about loosely but not well defined. For example, is a person a hypocrite because they previously behaved in a way that runs contrary to their current beliefs or is that growth? That's Kim Davis' story. Yes, she was married multiple times, but that was prior to her conversion. Should we call an ex-convict a hypocrite when he says he now respects the law? That isn't hypocrisy. That's growth and we should encourage it and celebrate it when it happens.

Failing to Uphold Your Own Standard

What about those who declare a moral standard, yet fail to uphold that standard themselves? Are they hypocrites? They may be, but they may also simply be, you know, human beings. Humans are flawed creatures who fail upholding their own standards all the time. If you doubt me, simply examine your morning commute. Have you ever criticized someone for driving too fast, cutting you off, or changing lanes too quickly only to find that you have done the same thing many times yourself?

To decry as a hypocrite anyone who ever fails at living against their ideal is wrong. It may even be wicked, demonstrating a callous disregard for those the charge seeks to condemn. CNN just reported that pastor and Seminary professor John Gibson took his own life six days after hackers exposes his name as one of those who had accessed the Ashley Madison website. His wife said his suicide note mentioned the site. "He talked about having his name on there, and he said he was just very, very sorry," she said.1

When examining Christians, it shouldn't be surprising that we fail to meet the standard we are called to live by. Christianity is a faith founded on grace and its central message is forgiveness. Christianity recognizes its adherents will fail; that's why Jesus taught we are to forgive seventy-times-seven. That doesn't mean we don't try, but it does mean that we will fail, sometimes in very big, very visible ways. Failure is not hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is Leveraging a Lie

What is true hypocrisy, then? Hypocrisy is simply lying by leveraging a moral standard. Basically, it means you wish other to uphold when it suits you, but you won't necessarily uphold it yourself or uphold it in all situations. It's being morally dishonest, and that makes it repugnant.

Do real hypocrites exist? Absolutely. For example, if you cheered Eric Holder's advice to the states' Attorneys General to ignore their own laws banning same sex marriage last year but you decry Davis' ignoring her governor's directive (without any passage of law) this year, you might be a hypocrite. If you only charge those with positions you don't like as hypocrites while failing to examine anyone who aligns with your beliefs might be a sign of hypocrisy.

While we are all guilty of acting in ways that could warrant the charge of hypocrisy, there is one more thing that must be said. For you who hold up hypocrisy as the litmus test of a belief's merit, then I suggest you too become a Christian. In all of history, there has only been one individual who never failed to live up to his teachings and who offers forgiveness for those who do: Jesus Christ. He's the solution to hypocrisy, and he died on a cross to prove it.


1. Seagull, Laurie. "Pastor Outed on Ashley Madison Commits Suicide." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

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