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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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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Witnessing Tips: Identifying Logical Fallacies (video)

Christians can sometimes get intimidated when others throw out objections to the Gospel message. However, many times the objections offered are a result of bad reasoning or biased thinking.

In this short video clip, Lenny identifies several logical fallacies that are frequently volleyed against Christians and provides ways to show how to defeat flawed logic.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Was Jesus Buried in a Tomb?

It's clear that Christianity lives or dies by the resurrection of Jesus. A central part of the resurrection account is that Jesus was buried in a tomb which was found empty on Easter morning by some of his women followers. But just how strong is the evidence for this claim?

Certain skeptics of the resurrection account have doubted that the burial account is historical. 19th century scholar Charles Guignebert claimed, "The truth is we do not know, and in all probability the disciples knew no better, where the body of Jesus had been thrown after it had been removed from the cross, probably by the executioners. It is more likely to have been cast into the pit for the executed than lain in a new tomb."1 Guignebert's conclusion was basically echoed 150 years later by John Dominic Crossan in his book Who Killed Jesus? "In conclusion, what is the historicity of the burial? From Roman expectations, the body of Jesus and many others crucified with him would have been left on the cross as carrion for the crows and for the dogs."2 In pondering whether Jesus's body would've been buried to follow the Jewish commands of Deut. 21:22-23, Crossan remarks, "Even if it was, the soldiers who crucified Jesus probably would have done it, speedily and indifferently, in a necessarily shallow and mounded grave rather than a rock-hewn tomb. That would mean lime, at best, and dogs again, at worst." 3

The Evidence for Jesus's Burial

I find huge problems with dismissals such as these for the burial of Jesus. First, we know that the Jews would demand even criminals be buried. The first century historical Josephus tells us as much in his Wars of the Jews: "Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun."4 Crossan knows of the Josephus passage but dismisses it as something done only "in theory" claiming Jesus's burial is a "maybe, but the barest of maybes."5 Yet we have the additional testimony of the soldier breaking the legs of the other two condemned with Jesus to hasten their death. This point alone shows that there was a concern the criminals would die so their corpses could be removed before sundown.

A second point is there exists archaeological evidence that burying victims of crucifixion is not simply theoretical. In 1968 Jewish archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis excavated a Jewish ossuary, which is a box that was used to keep the remains of dead. Inside he discovered a well-preserved heel bone with a nail still piercing it from crucifixion. The nail could not be removed because the tip had bent.6 Clearly this with the Josephus passage and the command of Moses in Deuteronomy would make burial a very real possibility.

A third point is one that Craig Keener argues by noting of Pilate's wish to accommodate the Jewish leaders in the story. Pilate seems honored their request for execution not because Jesus's actions are offending Roman law, but simply in order to keep the peace. Given Pilate's concern for Jewish sensibilities, their aversion to leaving the dead unburied would've been well understood.7 Add to this that the one requesting the body was Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and I think Crossan's doubts of Jesus receiving a proper burial are on shaky ground.

The Historical Attestation for Burial in a Tomb

Of course the biggest reason why a majority of New Testament scholars believe that Jesus was buried in a rock-hewn tomb is that we have multiple ancient historical sources that attest to the fact. Mark is our earliest gospel and he tells of Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for Jesus's body, having his request granted, and laying t in a rack-hewn tomb. We have the testimony from John that corroborates Mark. We also have the early testimony that Paul recited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 claiming Jesus was buried. While the account in 1 Corinthians doesn't mention a tomb due to its abbreviated nature, the burial account is clearly very early and part of the fabric of the resurrection story.

So, when comparing the evidence for Jesus's burial, we have very early accounts of his burial showing up in multiple independent sources. What is the evidence for Jesus being left on the cross or eaten by dogs? There is none. There isn't one single document that infers such a fate. Even the Jewish leadership didn't say "The dogs must've eaten the body" when the disciples shortly afterwards proclaimed his resurrection. Instead, they claimed the disciples stole the body, which implies that the body was missing from an identifiable location, e.g. a tomb.

Given the evidence, it is much more reasonable to believe that Jesus was buried in a tomb than to believe otherwise. All the evidence we have points in only one direction. To doubt the burial of Jesus, like Crossan and Guignebert have is to read into the account additional details that are not evidence but conjecture. Conjecturing a theory that opposes the facts isn't good history, it's a sign of bias.


1. Guignebert, Charles. Jesus. New York: U, 1956. Print. 500. As cited in Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. San Bernardino, Ca.: Here's Life, 1979. Print.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Print. 187.
3. Crossan, 1995. 188.
4. Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987. Print.679.
5. Crossan, 1995.187.
6. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. "A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods." Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archaeology Society, 22 July 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
7. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 326.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

B.B. Warfield on Why Churches Need Apologetics

B.B. Warfield was one of the great theologians of the early 20th century. His writings are influential with many pastors even to this day. When Warfield was asked to write an introduction to a book of apologetics by Francis R. Beattie, he didn't take the standard route of providing a mini-book review. Instead, Warfield chose to answer a viewpoint within the church that had been growing in popularity, which is the idea that apologetics is an eccentric field of study, which is of little use to most Christians. Such a view was held by Warfield's peer Abraham Kuyper, as reflected in his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology.

I offer this snippet from Warfield's introduction because it reflects the mindset of many churches even today. Though Christians are bearing the burden of greater and greater assaults against their beliefs and their worldview, a majority of church leaders are reticent to provide their congregation with any type of apologetics training. Warfield's words are a good reminder as to just how important apologetics is to the task of evangelism.
The fact is, despite the richness of our apologetical literature, Apologetics has been treated very much like a stepchild in the theological household. The encyclopaedists have seemed scarcely to know what to do with it. They have with difficulty been persuaded to allow it a place among the theological disciplines at all. And, when forced to recognize it, they have been very prone to thrust it away into some odd corner, where it could hide its diminished head behind the skirts of some of its more esteemed sisters.

This widespread misprision of Apologetics has been greatly fostered by the influence of two opposite (if they be indeed opposite) tendencies of thought, which have very deeply affected the thinking even of theologians who are in principle antagonistic to them. I mean Rationalism and Mysticism. To Rationalism, of course, Apologetics is an inanity; to Mysticism, an impertinence. Wherever, therefore, rationalistic presuppositions have intruded, there proportionately the validity of Apologetics has been questioned. Wherever mystical sentiment has seeped in, there the utility of Apologetics has been more or less distrusted.

It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. But surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. It is equally easy to say that Christianity is attained, not by demonstrations, but by a new birth. Nothing could be more true. But neither could anything be more unjustified than the inferences that are drawn from this truth for the discrediting of Apologetics. It certainly is not in the power of all the demonstrations in the world to make a Christian. Paul may plant and Apollos water; it is God alone who gives the increase. But it does not seem to follow that Paul would as well, therefore, not plant, and Apollos as well not water. Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons"; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light, because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. Accordingly, our Reformed fathers always posited in the production of faith the presence of the "argumentum propter quod credo," as well as the "principium seu causa efficiens a quo ad credendum adducor." That is to say, for the birth of faith in the soul, it is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart.1


1. Edgar, William; K. Scott Oliphint. Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2011. Kindle Edition.395, 398-99.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Must Science Assume Atheism?

I recently listened to an interesting conversation between Alister McGrath and Jim Al-Kalili on the Unbelievable! podcast. Both guests have an extensive science background and had a very thought-provoking exchange. While McGrath is a Christian apologist Al-Kalili is a theoretical physicist, radio host, and president of the British Humanist Association.

One key point that McGrath mentioned on the program is the assumptions people take from the scientific enterprise. For example, I've spoken with many atheists who say in order to "do good science" one must assume atheism. They then conclude that science is itself an atheistic enterprise and they believe science and faith are then set against one another. But this is actually sloppy thinking, as McGrath pointed out, and it misses a key distinction.

Methodology versus Ontology

McGrath makes the point that science does adopt a certain methodology in its discipline, what is known as methodological naturalism. In other words, science approaches its exploration of the world as if the answers can all be found by uncovering various natural laws and functions. Scientists take this approach because it forces them to dig deeper; asking the "why does this thing function in this way" helps us investigate the natural world more completely.

However methodological naturalism is just that: a methodology. It's an assumption the scientist makes as he approaches his work.  This assumption, just like any other, has limitations and cannot inform us of other questions which may be equally relevant.  As an illustration, think of a forensic scientist. A forensic pathologist can study a body and determine the cause of death. Perhaps the victim's heart gave out under extreme stress. What the pathologist cannot do is say whether the person was under stress because of an emotional crisis at home, because the victim was exercising to try and get into shape, or because the victim was under duress by being held at gunpoint. The mental state of the victim is out of reach to science. Even if it is shown that the death was caused by another party, motive for the crime cannot be shown scientifically. The detectives must employ methods other than naturalism to uncover those.

This is where most atheists who make the claim that science and faith are at odds go wrong.  They jump from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to the existence of God Himself. That's an unwarranted leap. Existence is a question of ontology, not methodology. That is it is a question of existence.  As McGrath stated, "By definition, a research method can uncover some things and not others, and this is the method that science uses. But we have to be very careful we don't conflate that into a view of reality." That would be like a shopkeeper believing that since his inventory shows negative two widgets, he is in possession of widgets made out of anti-matter! The method of inventory is not the same as the reality.

Weighing Science Along With Other Forms of Knowledge

To claim that science is atheistic is to confuse methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, a mistake thinking people should never make. A more thoughtful approach to questions of truth and reality is to take those findings we understand through scientific discovery and see how they fit with all the other ways we can know things. Like the detective, we must gather our facts about the world from more than just the science. We must weigh all the evidence we have and see if we can draw an inference to the best explanation from them. Shutting out other forms of knowledge doesn't make one more intelligent; it makes them less so.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don't Abuse 'What Would Jesus Do'

All Christians should strive to be more like Christ. Paul tells us that we are to be "conformed into the image of his son" (Rom. 8:29). Christians, seeking to model their lives after their Lord several years ago began popularizing the "What would Jesus do?" slogan. This caught on, but was also used by those critical of certain church positions to claim Jesus "would never do" thus and so. Others balk at their claims, saying Jesus would indeed hod to whatever position they are advocating.

How can a Christian in good faith model his choices after Jesus when there seems to be no clear answer? Given the circumstances and viewpoints of the modern culture differs so drastically from first century Palestine, is it even possible to do what Jesus would do today? In this excerpt from his article What Would Jesus Think or Do? J.P. Moreland offers three ideas on how modern Christians can order their lives on the teachings and example of Jesus.  Dr. Moreland writes:
First, we should do our best to interpret the Gospels in their historical setting. I believe the Gospels are historically reliable but cannot take the time to defend that belief here. If you don’t believe the Gospels are historically reliable, it doesn’t matter for our purposes. Why? Because it is the Jesus of the New Testament who figures in the culture wars and who is the object of the question “What would Jesus think or do?” So the biblical Jesus should be our object of focus.

Second, we should accept the teachings of the Old Testament (properly interpreted) as expressing what Jesus would think or do. In his most important inaugural address when he was launching his ministry and distinguishing himself from other leaders of his day, and on an occasion where Jesus was clearly presenting Himself as the New Moses who was forming a new covenant community centered around His teaching about, demonstration of, and embodiment of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ very first teaching was his complete commitment to the entire authority of the Old Testament as the very word of God (Matthew 5:17-19). He repeatedly affirmed this belief and accepted as true the entire Old Testament. While he did critique false interpretations of the Old Testament, he never rejected the Old Testament itself, which becomes an important source of information about Jesus’ views for the following reason. If a teacher has not explicitly commented on a topic but, instead, has affirmed his acceptance of a body of literature as speaking for him, then it is fair game to employ that literature for developing an accurate picture of the teacher’s views on topics he did not expressly address. For example, Jesus never addressed the abortion question, but a clear view of the status of the fetus is taught in the Old Testament, and it would be intellectually irresponsible not to hold that Jesus accepted this view. Of particular interest will be Messianic prophecy because it quite explicitly teaches what the Messiah would think and do and Jesus repeatedly taught that he was the fulfillment of those prophecies and, in fact, was the Messiah.

Finally, for supplemental information we should turn to the teachings of those who knew Jesus best—the authoritative guardians and disseminators of Jesus’ thoughts and deeds and the designated authorities over Jesus’ community. In keeping with Jewish tradition in his day, Jesus explicitly appointed apostles to serve as authoritative preservers of information about Him and as the appropriate interpreters of his teachings to new and different situations. The apostles were appointed by Jesus to represent him accurately after his death, and they knew him well enough to carry this out. Thus, Paul—whose ideas were in complete agreement with the community authorities (e.g., Peter, James and John) in Jerusalem—is a better guide for what Jesus would say and do than is the Huffington Post or Rush Limbaugh.

It is important to keep in mind that the canonical Gospels are not the only sources of we have for what Jesus would think and do. The Old Testament and the teaching of His apostles fill in gaps that are left out of those Gospels.1
1. Moreland, J. P. "What Would Jesus Think or Do." J.P. Moreland, 11 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Image courtesy CrazyLegsKC. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Movies Can Make Your Witnessing Efforts Easier

Engaging people with the Gospel is tough, especially in today's post-Christian culture. People hold to a different worldview; they operate using different assumptions and different stating points, making it more difficult to agree about things like the existence of God, objective morality, and what counts as sin. If someone doesn't believe in such a thing as absolute right and wrong, it's pretty hard to convince them they are sinners in need of a savior!

In the abstract, it's easy for moral relativists to deny absolute moral values and duties. When pressed, they will try to justify their position, even to the point of saying rape may be OK. Usually that type of reaction isn't honest, though. Because the discussion is happening in the abstract, the relativist is simply trying to save face and apply his or her pre-stated ethic consistently. Still, once the conversation has descended to that level, it's hard to get the other party to admit anything.

Try Using Film as Clear Examples

Most people are not taught to reason from a beliefs to its real-world implications. They separate these two concepts, which is why so many people feel so satisfied in their beliefs even though they may lead to contradictions. They simply don't see the connection and they therefore don't see the contradiction. One of the ways I've found that helps avoid this problem is to leverage popular movies as a common point of reference with those with whom I'm engaging.

Blockbuster motion pictures are one of the primary references that most people have in common. If the filmmakers have done their jobs, the audience will all have a similar experience understanding the story. We want Truman Burbank to discover he's being deceived. We recognize Neo as the hero and Cypher as a bad guy. We see the humans on the ship in WALL-E surrendering their full humanity for mere creature comforts. Film not only tells us a story, but it makes us feel a certain way and it makes us care for the characters. One has to only look at Anakin Skywalker's struggle with the Dark Side of the Force to see how film connects ideas and the ramification of those ideas.

The Apostle Paul Leveraged the Culture of His Day

The idea of drawing on the arts in witnessing is not a new one. In previous generations, books were the common cultural reference point and these could be used to quickly explain more abstruse ideas. The Apostle Paul modeled this kind of evangelism in Acts 17 when he began witnessing to the citizens of Athens. Given their Greek background and their worship of many gods, Paul would have a hard time communicating the Gospel message to them by using the Old Testament. Instead, Paul leveraged the popular poetry of the day to make his point. In Acts 17:28, he quotes two famous poets to show that there is one God to whom we are all accountable. He leads with the phrase "In him we live and move and have our being" which was penned by the 6th century BCE poet Epimenides in his Cretia:
They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being. 1
In the same verse, Paul draws upon a line from the Phaenomena by Aratus, a poet who was popular at that time to demonstrate that all people owe their existence to God ("For we are indeed his offspring") and therefore should seek to finds out who God really is.

By leveraging the connections that people already have to films and characters, one can more quickly and easily make difficult ideas clearer. Because film is a visual medium, it also makes it more difficult to leave the concepts in the abstract. I offer these ideas a tools for you to try in your witnessing efforts. They don't work in every case, but they may speed up your discussion and give you a new and interesting way to engage with others. For more specific examples on how you can use film in your witnessing, check out my podcast series "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel."


1. Hotchkiss, Mark A. Legend of the Unknown God. S.l.: Tate Pub & Enterprises Ll, 2014. Print. 170.
Image courtesy wearedc2009 Scholars [CC BY 2.0]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why Doesn't God Just Make Everyone Love Him? (video)

One of the objections to the Christian message of salvation is that those who don't follow the Christian God are condemned to eternal torment. But, if God is all powerful, couldn't he just have created people who would automatically love him? in this short clip, Lenny answers that objection by demonstrating that any compulsion to love created by God wouldn't really be love at all.

Image courtesy sleepyrobot13 [by-nc-nd/3.0/]

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why the Gospels Cannot be Dismissed as "Religious"

Yesterday, I was part of a panel answering questions at the local college. A member of the Secular Students Alliance approached us and asked about the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. As I explained to him, the vast majority of New Testament scholars from the most conservative to the most skeptical (think Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and other Jesus Seminar scholars) hold to certain central facts about Jesus, namely his death by Roman crucifixion, his followers truly believed he rose from the dead, the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul from church persecutor to Christian evangelist, and even how most hold to Jesus's tomb being empty. 1 These count as evidence towards his resurrection.

However, the student kept rejecting the Biblical accounts as legitimate sources of knowledge. He waved off the accounts as "a single source" from "a religious book." But his dismissal is simply wrong for a couple of reasons, both of which should be clear to anyone who wishes to approach the evidence thoughtfully.

The Bible Isn't a Single Source

The first and most flagrant error the student made is to assume the Bible is a single source documenting Jesus's life on earth. This is simply an error of his modern mindset. As I've said, the Bible isn't a single work; it's a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors over a 1500 year span. When counting independent sources that discuss the resurrection, one would count at minimum Mark, John, and Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew and Luke draw from Mark's Gospel so scholars may not count them as independent, but dependent on Mark. However, as Michael Licona in summarizing N.T. Wright notes, "dependence may be also be an illusion resulting from a 'natural overlap' in oral tradition or the presence of terms that would be common even if all four Gospels were completely independent when they included reports of women going to the tomb, discovering it empty and being told by an angel that Jesus has risen from the dead."2

Regardless of whether Matthew and Luke (and even the theoretical "Q") count as independent sources, historians would still agree that we have at least three independent sources that describe the resurrection. Multiple attestation is a huge deal when trying to uncover ancient historical events; it's the best data we have and shouldn't be dismissed so easily. The Biblical accounts of Jesus's resurrection by any measure cannot me seen as a single source.

Bias against Religious Texts

The other reason the secularist dismissed the biblical accounts is because they were what he deemed "a religious work."  On this point I tried very hard to make him understand that such a classification is misplaced. As Licona explains, prior to 1990 there were a large segment of New Testament scholars who believed the canonical Gospels fell into a literary genre of their own, a kind of mythical approach to the life of a real person written in order to advance a belief system.3 However, since that time, scholarship has changed dramatically.

In his book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Craig Keener reviews the different literary genres used at the time the Gospels were written and demonstrates that they fit the category of ancient biography especially well. Keener also notes that skeptical scholar Richard Burridge (who sought to disprove the notion that the Gospel accounts are biography) fits the genre better than any other. Keener comments "So forceful is Burridge's work on the gospel genre as biography that one reviewer concludes, 'This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character.'"4

It is only because the Gospels are understood as religious texts today that the student's bias has any weight in the mind of others. But using modern glasses to view ancient texts is a poor way to do history. The fact that my interlocutor would not accept my explanations to him concerning the classification of the accounts of Jesus's life says a bit more about his biases than it does the reliability of the Gospels themselves.


1. For detail on this, see Gary R. Habermas, and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 48-77.
2. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 207.
3. Licona, 2010. 201.
4. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Necessity of a Biblical Worldview (audio)

Recently, I was interviewed by Pastor Mike Spaulding of Soaring Eagle Radio on apologetics and how we are losing the Christian worldview, both in the church as well as in the greater culture. In this discussion, we discuss the need for apologetics in the church, how apologetics ministers to both believers and non-believers, how to answer questions nonbelievers offer, and ways you can grow in your own apologetics efforts. Listen to the recording below or click here to download the mp3 recording.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars, Super Heroes, and How Relativism Doesn't Satisfy

Today is October 21, 2015, known as "Back to the Future Day" in pop culture circles. In Back to the Future II, today is the pivotal point where Marty travels to the future, Biff steals the time machine, and the entire course of history is changed where the villain becomes triumphant. Marty must restore the timeline so the good guy wins and evil is vanquished.

Another popular movie franchise is also on everyone's lips this week as the last trailer for the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga has been released. I found it interesting that people were lining up and crowding movie theaters to see the trailer for the film! People have already bought tickets to a showing that's two months away. The Avengers and other comic book hero films are similarly popular. All one has to do is look at the top all-time box office grosses to see how superheroes and genre films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings are massively successful. What's causing all the attraction to these kinds of films?

A Rising Culture of Moral Ambiguity

One reason why my curiosity was piqued at the popularity of these films is their very simple portrayal of good and evil. Star Wars and comic hero films draw very clear lines between good and evil. The characters may have some inner struggles, but they aren't an anti-hero like the television series Dexter or Breaking Bad. Those characters have become more popular as they reflect the moral relativism held by so many people, especially the younger generation. As the television site Flow notes:

Dexter possesses a key element common to a lion's share of the series that critics, fans and scholars laud as contemporary quality television: a central character that is, at best, morally ambiguous and, at worst, either so pathologically self-centered or self-contained that his/her actions stretch our common lexicon for one who has "emotional baggage" that often ends with blood (and lots of it); in other words, "amoral" or "immoral" don't seem quite fit the discursive bill.1

Clearly, the belief that morality is relative is increasing. It is the default position on college campuses today, and students are so entrenched in it they would rather say rape is OK than admit that there are objective values and duties to which we all must conform. The clear good/evil distinction seems out of place in such a world, so why are films that reflect is so incredibly popular, especially with the youth?

How to Kill a Dragon

I think the answer is a simple one. Moral relativism may sound great, but inside most people there's a nagging suspicion that it isn't true. People long for good to triumph and evil to be vanquished. Underneath it all they really want there to be a right and a wrong, a good and an evil, and they want to be able to identify which is which. Hero movies meet this need.

G.K. Chesterton famously observed:
Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.2
We used to tell myths of knights and dragons to communicate the idea of good conquering evil and right overpowering wrong. I know of no parent who reads such stories to their children any longer. While our film experiences let us escape in the wonder of a world that is morally clear and encourages us to slay our own dragons, our television choices week after week paint in all greys and show how self-justification can be leveraged to help us do what we want, just like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II. The only question is which timeline will remain as part of our future?


1. "Darkly Dreaming Of Dexter: If Loving Him Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right." Flow. Department of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin., July 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
2. Chesterton, G. K. Tremendous Trifles. Project Gutemberg. 5 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Irrationality of Indifference to God

In my time on college campuses, I've had the opportunity to engage with people who are passionate about their particular faith, and I've been able to engage with those atheists who are passionate about their particular lack of faith. However, many of the students I engage are those who identify themselves as not really religious and not really interested in exploring the concept of God. They perhaps have some preconceptions, usually formed in the elementary or middle school years, and they reinforce those beliefs by pointing to selective evidence. For them, to actually put forth effort to examine the question of God, his revelation, and his attributes is simply too much work.

But this is certainly an irrational position to take. The question of God—does he exist, how can we know about him, and what does a living God mean for our own existence—should be of primary concern to everyone. If the Christian God is real, how we can know him and what he requires of us is of eternal significance.

Blasé Pascal argues much the same way in his Pensées. He explains:
Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.

Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts them of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to confound them by the first glimmerings of common sense and by natural feelings.

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.

There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they do not take another course.

On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.

Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it and threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.

This is a doubt of terrible consequence. They are in peril of eternal woe and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they neglect to inquire whether this is one of those opinions which people receive with too credulous a facility, or one of those which, obscure in themselves, have a very firm, though hidden, foundation. Thus they know not whether there be truth or falsity in the matter, nor whether there be strength or weakness in the proofs. They have them before their eyes; they refuse to look at them; and in that ignorance they choose all that is necessary to fall into this misfortune if it exists, to await death to make trial of it, yet to be very content in this state, to make profession of it, and indeed to boast of it. Can we think seriously of the importance of this subject without being horrified at conduct so extravagant?

This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in such ignorance of what they are and without seeking enlightenment. "I know not," they say…1
We chastise people for not having car insurance to guard against the expenses that would accompany an accident that might not happen. We shake our heads at those who would spend their paycheck on video games instead of paying their bills. Such behaviors are properly denounced as childish. Yet, death is not an uncertain end to our earthly existence. The statistics on death are pretty solid: every one out of one person dies. To dismiss the question of God and eternity then is to be even more foolish.


1. Pascal, Blasé. "Pensées (Fragments 195- 285)." Christian Apologetics Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2: From 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 178-79. Kindle Edition.

Image courtesy Sander van der Wel. Licensed by [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 19, 2015

I Think, Therefore God Exists

Rene Descartes is famous for his quest to identify at least one thing that was absolutely certain. He considered what he saw and what he felt, but he reasoned that his senses could be lying to him. He considered his past experiences, but he thought that it could be the case that he didn't remember them accurately or perhaps an evil daemon placed those thoughts in his mind even though they weren't real events (think: The Matrix). The more things he thought about, the more he doubted until he came to the realization that he couldn't doubt the fact that he was doubting! If doubting is going on, thinking is going on and someone has to do that thinking. Thus we get Descartes famous statement, "I think, therefore I am."

Conscious thought not only proves the existence of the thinker, as Descartes argued, but it also points to the existence of the Creator of the thinker. Materialists believe that all thinking is merely the outworking of physical processes like brain chemistry and electrical stimulation. But that view faces huge problems; it fails to explain where thoughts come from at all and why unconscious matter would suddenly have this new ability, especially given an evolutionary paradigm.

We Can't Assume Thought Just Emerges

Have you ever had a brand new thought that seems to come from nowhere? Or perhaps you held to a particular belief and you read something and it strikes you that your belief is wrong, even though the piece you're reading isn't directly related to that belief. Where do these thoughts come from? How do they appear? Why should we have them at all?

J.P. Moreland says that to simply wave off consciousness as a product of the physical functions of the brain is tantamount to ignoring the question. Mental states do not "just appear." JP says they are "puzzling entities that cry out for an explanation."1 Philosopher Thomas Nagel agrees. In his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False he explains that the goal of science is to understand just how it is that things work the way they do. Nagel states that in science there is "an assumption that certain things are so remarkable that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world"2

The materialist view that thoughts are simply products of brain chemistry without need of any further explanation should then be considered the opposite of real understanding. It's guesswork and it's offered because the materialist holds a preconceived bias against immaterial causes such as the soul as the source of thought.

Why Should an Organ Produce Consciousness?

 Another problem with the materialist account of human consciousness is it doesn't fit neatly into the Darwinian explanation of how complex entities arise through means of natural selection. Just how does unconscious material become conscious in the first place? When we see plants that grow in the direction if the sun, we can explain their actions through physical processes, but since it's impossible to describe mental events using physical explanations, it's impossible to offer a physical explanation for the emergence of consciousness.

This is why Darwinian explanations for the emergence of consciousness fall short. David Berlinski noted the same when he asks:
Why should a limited and finite organ such as the human brain have the power to see into the heart of matter or mathematics? These are subjects that have nothing to do with the Darwinian business of scrabbling up the greasy pole of life. It's as if the liver, in addition to producing bile, were to demonstrate the unexpected ability to play the violin. This is a question Darwinian biology has not yet answered.3
Consciousness, the ability human beings have for rational thought, cannot be explained in materialist terms. Our ability to reason separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is something that cries out to be explained and by limiting oneself to only the materialist's tools of empirical evidence gives us no explanations at all. Our senses can deceive us, as Descartes rightly reasoned. Instead, consciousness points to an immaterial aspect of who we are and the emergence of consciousness points to an immaterial origin. Minds come from minds, consciousness comes from conscious beings. The Christian argues that the conscious mind is part of the immaterial soul, created by a conscious, rational, immaterial God. Such an explanation is both consistent and sensible. Consciousness gives us reason to believe God exists.


1. Moreland, James Porter. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM in Association with the Center of Theology and Philosophy, U of Nottingham, 2009. Print. 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
3. Berlinski, David. The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. New York: Crown Forum, 2008. Print. 16-17

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thank Christianity for the Technology Revolution

The standard narrative of secularists is that religion offers a backwards view of the world that is outdated in our technologically advanced culture. But as historians have looked back upon the development of technology, one can see that Christianity creates the fertile soil in which technological advancements can grow. In his book The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created The Soul Of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi makes this point well.  He writes:

Professor David Landes studied clock making in China and concluded that the development of technology is not merely a matter of ingenuity. The Chinese had technical ability, yet clock making did not become an industry, nor did it become a source of continuing and growing technological innovations in China as it did in Europe. Why? The Chinese were keen neither to know time nor to organize their lives accordingly.

 The development of the watermill illustrates that culture is as important for the development of technology as ingenuity is. In 1935, Marc Bloch published his finding that the watermill had been invented at least a century before Christ. Later, its usefulness for grinding grain was known in Afghanistan, on the border of geographic India. Almost everyone needed to grind grain, yet the use of the watermill never spread in Hindu, Buddhist, or (later) Islamic cultures. Christian monks in Europe were the first to begin the widespread use of the watermill for grinding and for developing power machinery.

 The above question was the topic of a 1961 Oxford Symposium on Scientific Change, spearheaded by Alistair Crombie. The best answer was given by Marburg historian Ernst Benz, who published a seminal essay in 1964, “Fondamenti Christiani della Tecnica Occidentale.” It demonstrated that “Christian beliefs provided the rationale, and faith the motive energy for western technology.” Benz had studied and experienced Buddhism in Japan. The antitechnological impulses in Zen led him to explore whether Europe’s technological advances were somehow rooted in Christian beliefs and attitudes. His research led him to the conclusion that the biblical worldview was indeed the key to understanding Western technology.
Technology flourished just as science flourished in the West because Christianity valued God as creator and it valued seeking the understanding of God's creation. Following God's example, creating and mastering creation leads to the technological explosion we enjoy today. So no matter which technology you've chosen to read this post, the fact you can read it at all is a result of the Christian worldview. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Most Insidious Sin

Today I'm in North Carolina preparing to speak at a national apologetics conference. I'm staying at a hotel that was built in the 1980s as part of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's empire. Of course, Jim Bakker is most famously remembered as one of the prominent televangelists who fell when his sexual sin was made public. The media ran with the story knowing the pubic loves a scandal, especially one where a minister—someone who is supposed to be a moral leader—has been caught in adultery.

Sexual failings are pretty much guaranteed to grab attention. Even in local churches, people who have fallen to sexual sin, be it adultery, homosexuality, or pregnancy outside of wedlock will cause people to talk. We tend to think sins like these are "major;" ones that carry a stigma unlike lying or addiction. Even as the culture becomes more and more sexually charged, sexual sins are held to almost a different standard. But there is a sin that is more problematic in the church than abusing sexual desire, one that no one points and whispers about: the sin of pride.

The Leaven of Puffing Up

How much do you think about the sin of pride? How do you guard against it? While there are ministries that offer filtering of pornography for your internet connection, what filters are there for one's pride? As an apologist, I know first-hand just how easy it is to fall into pride. Anyone in a position where he or she is teaching or leading others can almost effortlessly fall into this sin. As the Bakkers built their Heritage USA center, it should have been obvious that they were no longer doing ministry toward others but constructing a monument to themselves.

Pastors and apologists can fall into the same trap. They are trying to do God's work. They preach, they witness, and they defend the faith which is good and important work. TI truly is ministry. However, when one begins to believe the ministry is so important that they don‘t have time to sit and listen to people or their calling has a higher value than another's, they've begun to elevate not God's blessing upon them but their won self-worth.  That's why I believe pride is the most insidious of sins; it is the leaven that corrupts by puffing up an individual from the inside. It replaces one's reliance on God with a reliance on one's own ability.

The Bible warns against the sin of pride quite a bit. God tells Jeremiah, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth" (Jer. 9:23-24). James reminds us "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6), and Proverbs declares "Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished." (Prov. 16:5).

Guarding Against Pride

Because it's so easy to fall into pride but so difficult to detect, each of us must be extra vigilant to guard against it. One way to do so is to have an accountability partner or partners with whom you meet on a regular basis. Perhaps this partner may be a spiritual leader, but it should be someone who can be completely honest with you. You may even benefit by choosing a partner that has different spiritual gifts, so they can provide a balanced perspective. Regardless, being able to ask someone to watch and keep you humble is a big step in protecting yourself and your ministry.

Prayer and daily devotions are another way to guard against pride. As we seek God in his word and in prayer, we should be confronted by how reliant we are on him for all that we are. One thing I always include in my daily devotions is a time of reflection on Jesus's decision to go to the cross. I am continually amazed at his determination and self-sacrifice, how "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:9). I remind myself of how the Father was willing to sacrifice his only son for me and my gifts are only a result of that sacrifice. How could I be proud in my strengths in the face of these amazing acts of selflessness? Thus any boasting I would do should be boasting on the cross and how his acts saved me.

In his book I Was Wrong, Jim Bakker said that it took prison for him to realize his excesses were anti-biblical:
Tragically, too late, I recognized that at PTL I had been doing just the opposite of Jesus' words by teaching people to fall in love with money. Jesus never equated His blessings with material things, but I had done just that. I had laid so much emphasis upon material things, I was subtly encouraging people to put their hearts into things, rather than into Jesus.1
Don't let the sin of pride go unguarded in your life. It shouldn't take prison to make you realize that Jesus is the center of not just your ministry but all ministries and each serve an important function in the body of Christ. Remember, God can accomplish his plans with or without your involvement. Guard against the leaven of pride.


1. Bakker, Jim. "I Was Wrong: Excerpt From Jim Bakker's Autobiographical Book." Spiritwatch. Spiritwatch Ministries, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Image courtesy jim gifford Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Keeping Crosses on Public Lands (audio debate)

Within the last ten years or so groups like the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have brought lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to remove crosses from various public lands. One recent skirmish hit very close to home for me, as AU attorneys sought to remove the historic Mt. Rubidoux cross in my home town of Riverside, CA.

When the cross was threatened, I was asked by radio host Lou Desmond to appear on his show and go toe to toe with the secularist attorney seeking to sue the city of Riverside. Listen in as we discuss the historic background that roots the cross in culture and see why arguments like those made by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are inconsistent and ultimately unconvincing.

Download the mp3 file here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Three Ways Religions Pluralism Fails

Is it bigoted to claim that Christianity is the exclusive way God desires humanity to approach him? Many people think so, citing the importance of being tolerant of others' beliefs. But to simply allow a lot of different religious systems exist within a society would be a culture that allows for religious liberty or religious diversity. Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong has stated, "The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world."1

In today's parlance, tolerance doesn't mean we should allow others to practice their faith even though we believe it is false. Rather, it is interpreted to mean all religions are equally true or worthy. That seems to be the positon taken by Scotty McLennan, Dean of Religious Life at Stanford University, who preached a sermon entitled "Religious Pluralism as the Truth" at Stanford Memorial Church. He opened that message by declaring:
There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain. There's not just one way through Jesus Christ. As a Christian pluralist, I personally affirm Jesus as my way, as my Lord and Savior, but I also believe that the exclusivist claim is wrong. I have no doubt that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, at least figuratively speaking, but I believe that Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, the Buddha and Socrates do too, among others. They're all there at the top of the metaphorical spiritual mountain — they are all the way and the truth and the life — and no one comes to the Father except through a multitude of them, or by having walked in many footsteps, or by being in a large presence (whether one fully realizes that or not).2
I wonder just how carefully those who hold to such a view have considered their position. It seems to me that to hold the idea of equal worth of all religious faiths, one is forced into one of three positions: all faiths are true, all faiths are false, or the very concepts of true and false are meaningless. I'd like to look at these one at a time and see if they make any sense.

Knee-jerk Pluralism — "They're All True"

The first way one may intend the statement all religions are "way and the truth and the life' would be to make the claim that all religions are equally true. This may be what Dean McLennan is asserting above. However, as I demonstrated in a recent article, such claims make no logical sense. God cannot be the Christian's Triune deity and the Muslim's monadic deity and the Advaita's brahman (the non-personal ultimate soul of the universe3) as well. These are simply contradictory claims and logic tells us it is unreasonable to believe contradictions.

Sophisticated Pluralism — "They're All False"

Sometimes academics will recognize the contradictory nature of different faiths, but still hold a sincere belief that all religions offer the same worth. They are simply trying to communicate that all religions are in fact feeble attempts to express our approach to the divine. In other words, religions are simply cultural developments to explain the unknown or to establish certain moral guidelines and frameworks for the benefit of their particular society and the true reality is simply unknowable. One proponent of this view is philosopher John Hick who writes, "We cannot attribute to the Real a se any intrinsic attributes, such as being personal or nonpersonal, good or evil, purposive or nonpurposive, substance or process, even one or many… It is only as humanly thought or experienced that the Real fits into our human categories."4

This strikes me as an equivocation. It isn't illogical to hold the possibility that all faiths have it wrong, but it doesn't explain anything. It leaves us as agnostics who want to feel the warm-fuzzies of transcendence. But if everything is wrong, why should anyone believe there's a transcendent reality at all? Also, I don't think such a position takes the details of faith seriously enough. There are reasons why I am a Christian, good solid, rational reasons. Those should not be dismissed so easily.

Religious Relativism — "There Is No Truth"

The last option for the pluralist is to simply discount the notion of religious truth altogether. Alister McGrath summed up the view with the question, "How can Christianity's claims to truth be taken seriously when there are so many rival alternatives and when 'truth' itself has become a devalued notion? No one can lay claim to truth. It is all a question of perspective."5 Such a person would hold there is no way anyone can tell what is true since truth is different for each person. Therefore, beliefs are a personal matter based on the holder's perspective and they become true for that person.

However, to hold this is to become a relativist and give up any idea that statements of God have any significance at all. We cannot ascribe the existence of the universe, why there's something rather than nothing to God because we cannot make any meaningful statements about God that would be objectively true. The problem becomes in the grounding of the belief that "No one can lay claim to [religious] truth." How does the religious relativist know that claim is true? That strikes me as a claim about ultimate reality that applies to all people. How can one be so sure this belief objectively holds and then dismiss all other ultimate claims about reality as preferences and not objective?

Each of the three different approaches one must take to hold to religious pluralism fails in some way. Thus, exclusivist claims about religion are a much more rational position to hold.


1. Spong, John Shelby. A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. 179.
2. McLellan, Scotty. "Religious Pluralism as the Truth." Stanford Office for Religious Life. Office for Religious Life, Stanford University. 22 May, 2011. Web. 14 Oct 2015.
3. "Brahman | Hindu Concept." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
4. Hick, John. "A Pluralist View." Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Ed. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996. 50. Print.
5. McGrath, Alister E. "Understanding and Responding to Moral Pluralism." Center for Applied Christian Ethic. Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. February, 1994. 5. Web 14 Oct 2015.
Image courtesy Jyri Engestrom. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Religious Symbols, Public Land, and the Charge of Offense

Is a cross an offensive object and if it is, in what way is it offensive? In today's over-sensitive culture, causing offense is one of the worst things one can do. With charges of microaggressions and trigger warnings now the norm on college campuses, we've moved to a surreal understanding of what is deemed proper in polite society. Still, does a cross on a city-owned hilltop in and of itself cause offense?

A couple of years ago, I engaged in a discussion on the radio with the lawyer from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State who had threatened the city with legal action because a 110 year old cross sat atop publicly owned property. The hilltop, known to local residents as Mount Rubidoux, had been owned by the family of Frank Augustus Miller, one of the influential citizens in the young California community. Miller was a fan of California history and mission-revival architecture. Miller built the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside and placed the cross atop Mt. Rubidoux to honor Father Junipero Serra along with a plaque explaining the same. The monument was unveiled by President William Howard Taft in 1909.1 After Miller's passing, his family donated Mt. Rubidoux to the city, as a gift for the community to enjoy.

How Does Offense Disappear with Ownership?

I offer this background to show that the primary purpose of the cross was recognition of a historical figure, father Junipero Serra. Yet, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wanted it taken down. In the radio interview, AU associate legal director Alex J. Luchenitser claimed the cross was considered offensive. "We received a complaint by a local resident who was deeply troubled by the cross." It was troubling for this person to look up at the cross every day and see what he considered an endorsement of a specific religion. The supposed complainant was "deeply troubled" to use Luchenitser's own words.


I could imagine Jewish people looking over a monument with a Nazi swastika being offended at seeing that every day. I could understand it if a city left up signs in front of drinking fountains that said "Whites only" as being offensive. I don't understand how this cross fits in the same category, yet I will take Luchenitser at his word.

My problem, then, is with the solution that Luchenitser offered: if the city would simply sell the cross monument and the land surrounding it to a private entity, the problem will be solved; the cross would no longer be offensive. Now, how does that work? I'm certain that the Jewish citizen would continue to be offended at the Nazi insignia prominently displayed no matter who owned the thing. Similarly, selling the drinking fountain and the building to which its attached would in no way diminish the offense of a "Whites only" sign. This resident that initially complained to the AU, won't he or she still wake up every morning and see that cross in the same place as before? Why is that person no longer offended?

Ultimately, the solution that Luchenitser offers proves the offense objection isn't sincere. Either the cross is an offensive symbol or it isn't. What Luchenitser and his ilk at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State really want is to try and erase any and all reminders that religious motivations factored into the founding of our nation and our local communities. That's the real goal of such frivolous lawsuits. Luchenitser also argued that such a display is tantamount to the government proselytizing. That's a separate argument that can be answered at a later time. My point for today is that any claim that a cross would be removed because it is offensive should be rejected.

In order to settle the dispute and not tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, the city of Riverside chose to sell the cross to a private organization, the Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. It stands in the same spot and is still visible for miles around. It is either a beacon of offense (and if so, the city is complicit in allowing such an offensive symbol to remain) or it is what it always has been: a symbol recognizing the role that Christianity played in settling Riverside and the state of California.


1. Drysdale, William T. "A Memorial to Mt. Rubidoux." Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. Sept. 1999. 4-5. Web. Oct. 12, 2015.
Image courtesy Paolo and licensed via Creative Commons [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is God An Egomaniac In Desiring Worship? (video)

One of the more flimsy objections to the concept of God I've heard is "Why would God create beings so they could just turn around and praise him? Doesn't that seem needy or egotistical? Why does an all-powerful God need us to worship him?" The question displays both a superficial understanding of what worship is and how it shapes the believer. It also demonstrates an amazing level of arrogance by the person who thinks that he should never have to show deference to his creator.

In this short video, Lenny explains why t is both decent and proper that human beings should worship a God of love who created them.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Believing in God is not Believing in Magic

"You believe in magic!" Such is the charge that has been leveled against me and all religious believers by atheists who see the very concept of the supernatural as out of bounds. However, Christians do not hold believe in magic at all. In fact, the very idea of magic is antithetical to Christian theology.

The error that these atheists make is one of equivocation. They mis-define magic to mean anything that is outside of a purely naturalist worldview. Of course, this is very wrong. As Dr. Ewin Yamauchi notes in his article "Magic in the Biblical World," even in Old Testament times when cultures existed that believed in magic and tried to practice it, there was a marked difference in understanding religion and magic. He explains:
There can be no doubt that both the Old Testament and the New Testament were born in environments permeated with magical beliefs and practices. It should come as no surprise to find Moses contesting with magicians in Egypt, later identified as Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:6-8), as magic was a dominant factor in Egyptian culture. For Egyptians to attain to an afterlife they had to provide themselves with magical incantations such, as the Pyramid Texts in the Old Kingdom, the Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom, and the Book of the dead in the New Kingdom. Magic was also a potent force in other contemporary cultures, such as that of the Hittites.

Though magic and religion are not mutually exclusive categories, they have generally been understood to represent two different attitudes. Put simply, in religion one prays to the gods; in magic one commands the gods. In this sense Egyptian religion was, as often as not, magical. The Egyptian magician threatened the gods by gods by virtue of his magical power.

This prime distinction between magic and religion, which is usually traced back to the pioneer anthropologists, E. B. Tylor and James Frazer, was originally noted by the Protestant Reformers. The element of 'coercion', 'control', or 'manipulation' has been regarded as an essential element of magic in many definitions. For example, H. H. Rowley notes:
The line between magic and religion is not always easy to define, but broadly we may say that wherever there is the belief that by a technique man can control God, or control events, or discover the future, we have magic.
According to William Howells, an anthropologist, 'magic can compel things to happen, whereas prayer to a gad can only attempt to persuade. The psychologist Walter Houston Clark declares, 'Typical of the magical attitude is the idea that man may coerce or strongly influence God by adherence to proper rituals or imprecations'.

The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski further argues that religion deals with ultimate issues, whereas magic focuses on the immediate concerns: 'While the underlying idea and aim is always clear, straightforward, and definite, in the religious ceremony there is no purpose directed toward a subsequent event.1


1. Yamauchi, Edwin M. "Magic in the Biblical World," Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983): 169, 175-176.
Image courtesy Sean McGrath [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 09, 2015

Why "Many Ways to God" Makes No Sense

Oprah had a captive audience as she spoke on faith and belief. Referencing the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn she states "One of the mistakes that human beings make is that there is only one way to live, and that we don't accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world. There are millions of ways of being a human being and many paths to what you call God…"

I'm certain that many in the studio audience as well as at home agreed with her. The idea that the Christian faith could be the exclusive path to God usually spurs discomfort on the part of people who hear it explained that way. They don't like the idea of only one way and their immediate reaction is to think the Christian who holds to exclusivity is being biased in his or her own favor. But is this so? Let's take a look at a few reasons why people believe in Oprah's understanding of multiple paths to God and see if they make sense.

Exclusivity is Bigoted

In the Oprah quote above, you can immediately see how the television host reacts to the audience member who stated there is only one way to God. She called it a mistake and she tied the idea of communing with God to the diversity of human living on the globe. Many others I've spoken to have similarly challenged me, claiming that I was being bigoted by proposing my way as the only way to God. This concept has become even more prominent as we strive to become a more diverse and multicultural society.

Yet multiculturalism in and of itself tells us nothing about the truth value of any belief. For example, different belief systems vary greatly in how they understand even the fundamental aspects of who God is. Theraveda Buddhism doesn't hold to any kind of personal God at all while Judaism believes in a God who interacts with men. Islam is strictly monotheistic while Hinduism holds to a multiplicity of gods. How could these all be true?

All religions make exclusive claims about God. The fact that these claims exist tell us at least two things: not all religions can be right sine their claims about God stand in contradiction to one another and a claim of exclusivity does not automatically disqualify any belief from being right, lest they all be disqualified. The last point is simply logical and we recognize it in other areas. A lot of people wish to have children, but there's only one way to create a child and that involves combining male and female reproductive cells and gestation inside a womb. The process is exclusive. Men cannot become pregnant, but because it is exclusive doesn't mean that it is incorrect.

An All-Loving God Would Be More Accepting than Me

The second objection offered against an exclusive way to God is that an all-loving God would be more willing to look past the faults and flaws of individuals and see the desire to please him as enough. Such a position emphasizes one aspect of God's character at the expense of another; it touts God's grace and forgiveness without taking into account God's justice and holiness. It is very common for people to believe that all God needs is a sincere belief and a level of basic morality to please him. Of course, what counts as basic morality is left out of the discussion. Certain traditional Hindus would see the practice of sati (throwing a dead man's wife on his funeral pyre so she will burn with him) as proper. The word "sati" (sometimes transliterated "suttee") even means "good wife".1 Saudi Muslims believe that it is immoral for women to not be cloaked in a veil or in any space with a man that isn't an immediate relation. I'm sure that Oprah would see these kinds of subjugations as immoral, so the assertion strikes me as question-begging.

How do you know which actions done ion sincerity are the ones that would please God? Should God be angry with those who inflict female genital mutilation upon young girls? Would a just God allow that to "slide"? Does a perfectly holy God allow ANY sin a free pass or do they all need to be dealt with so that justice may be fully realized? Interestingly, only Christianity offers the solution to God's absolute holiness, God's full justice, and God's loving grace in the atoning death of Jesus.

The idea of many paths to God sounds good to our 21st century ears, but such a position usually shows the person who asserts such hasn't truly thought through the position carefully. God is not only forgiving, but holy and just. Any path to God must take those attributes into account before it can be considered viable.


1. Doniger, Wendy. "Suttee | Hindu Custom." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Consciousness Undermines Evolution

In his groundbreaking book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, philosopher Thomas Nagel identifies consciousness as a problem for not only the materialist (one who believes only physical/material things exist), but also the evolutionist. He makes the case that consciousness cannot be simply reduced to physical processes like brain synapses firing firstly because there is a difference between a brain state and the concept of pain and secondly because subjective experiences show that physical processes cannot explain all aspects of mental consciousness.

Nagel then focuses on the problem of the origin of consciousness, which he sees as a crucial issue. All evolutionary theories must account for our mental states if they are to be held as the only explanation for our existence. But since mental states cannot be accounted for through purely physical means, it is no surprise that absolutely no kind of Darwinian account exists other than assuming consciousness as a brute fact. This holds huge implications, as Nagel states:
What kind of explanation of the development of these organisms, even one that includes evolutionary theory, could account for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects? In brief, I believe it cannot be a purely physical explanation. What has to be explained is not just the lacing of organic life with a tincture of qualia but the coming into existence of subjective individual points of view—a type of existence logically distinct from anything describable by the physical sciences alone. If evolutionary theory is a purely physical theory, then it might in principle provide the framework for a physical explanation of the appearance of behaviorally complex animal organisms with central nervous systems. But subjective consciousness, if it is not reducible to something physical, would not be part of this story; it would be left completely unexplained by physical evolution—even if the physical evolution of such organisms is in fact a causally necessary and sufficient condition for consciousness.

The bare assertion of such a connection is not an acceptable stopping point. It is not an explanation to say just that the physical process of evolution has resulted in creatures with eyes, ears, central nervous systems, and so forth, and that it is simply a brute fact of nature that such creatures are conscious in the familiar ways. Merely to identify a cause is not to provide a significant explanation, without some understanding of why the cause produces the effect. The claim I want to defend is that, since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include an explanation of the appearance of consciousness. That cannot be a separate question. An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such.

Since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth. Organisms such as ourselves do not just happen to be conscious; therefore no explanation even of the physical character of those organisms can be adequate which is not also an explanation of their mental character. In other words, materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.1
Consciousness is a significant problem for the evolutionist. It fails to account for that thing that makes us human. Without consciousness we cannot even reason towards an evolutionary theory, yet all evolutionary theories have no plausible explanations for that very consciousness. It is much more reasonable to believe that materialistic accounts of life are false.


1. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 44-45. Print.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

We are More than Our Brains – The Reality of the Soul

Last week I was invited to a college campus to answer questions about Christianity and the Bible. The event was hosted by the local Christian club and several members of the Secular Student Alliance were in attendance to offer their best objections. It was a good interaction.

At one point, the discussion came to ideas about the soul. The secularists held that all our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and even our consciousness could be explained by pointing to electrical signals firing across specific neurons. They claimed they knew this and that science has allowed us to see this happening. Of course, it is easy to assert such things but when one examines the details of PET scans or MRI-type imaging, we find out that the science isn't so precise after all. Neuroscientists cannot see thoughts at all. As the secular neuroscientist Alva Nöe explains, "images produced by PET and fMRI are not in any straightforward way traces of the psychological or mental phenomena. Rather, they represent a conjecture or hypothesis about what we think is going on in the brains of subjects."1 (See his fuller explanation here.)

The Problem of Physical Explanations

Given that scientific instruments cannot give us any real window into the inner workings of thoughts, I told the students that we can know our consciousness is different than simple brain activity by thinking about it a bit more. First, physical attributes can always be explained using physical descriptors. For example, if I wish to talk about why an apple has the attribute of redness, I can talk about physical wavelengths of light being absorbed or reflected on the apple's skin. If I want to explain why a computer completes a specific task, I can talk about binary code, chains of ones and zeroes that will affect the mechanical apparatus attached to it. Physical attributes can be explained using physical terms.

However, thoughts and intentions are not like that. When one asks about an intention to lift one's arm, where does that come from? Sure, you can explain the lifting of the arm in bio-mechanical terms, even if it were possible to trace the beginning of the action to an initial signal sent from the brain. But where did that initial signal come from? Why does that signal appear when you wish to ask a question but not when someone asks for volunteers to clean the bathroom? Who materializes the desire or intent to raise an arm? The electrical stimulus doesn't just appear out of nowhere; if it did we'd be raising our arms as a happenstance, which would cause quite a bit of confusion in the classroom, I'm sure! Mental attributes cannot be explained in physical terms.

The Difference Between Physical and Meaningful Descriptions

A second point is that there is a difference between physical descriptions of thoughts or ideas and meaningful descriptions. To demonstrate this to the students in attendance, I walked up to the classroom whiteboard, picked up a marker and wrote "John Loves Mary." I then wrote next to the sentence a bunch of scribbly lines that had no real pattern to them. I then asked "Is there a difference between the first writing and the second?" The class grew a bit quiet. I continued, "If I were to explain each of these writings using the language of physical and chemical properties, the sentences would appear to be exactly the same. It's the same board, the same ink, and the same kind of chemical bond that keeps the ink applied. Let's assume there is the same number of straight lines to curved lines and the same amount of ink was used. There is no way you could physically describe the sentences to show the difference between the first and second sentence. But there is a real difference between the two: the first one conveys an idea and the second doesn't."

I think this is a big problem for those who would reduce our conscious behavior to simply neurons firing and brain chemistry. Anyone can see there is a fundamental distinction in the words "John loves Mary" as compared to a scribble. In fact, the key difference doesn't even require the whiteboard. I can say the statement, I can transmit it via Morse code, or I can simply think about the sentence without it ever being physically output at all. No matter the physical medium, the central aspect of the message is consistent and remains unchanged

The Secular Student Alliance students didn't seem swayed by my arguments, but they didn't have any answers, either. They couldn't explain why the first sentence is different from the second. They had no idea where intentions or will comes from. Given that their "proof" of MRI imaging is far from conclusive, I think they need to seriously examine the fact that human consciousness requires more than a physical system to work. Consciousness is not physical; it's part of the immaterial aspect of human beings. Consciousness resides in the soul.


1. Nöe, Alva Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons of Consciousness.
New York: Hill and Wang, 2009. 20.
Image courtesy Wellcome Images and licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.
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