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

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Why You Can Be Confident We Have the Original Bible Texts

Earlier this week, I mentioned the Newsweek cover article entitled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin" written by Kurt Eichenwald that set the text of the New Testament in its cross-hairs. There, I showed why the translation of the Bible we have today is not like a game of telephone, being translated from a translation from a translation.

But Eichenwald doesn't argue that multiple translations are the only problem in discovering the original text. He also mentions the fact that we don't have the original writings of the New Testament, but "hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times."1 There is a bit of truth to this claim. If the manuscripts from which we are translating the New Testament are themselves corrupt or wrong, then it really doesn't matter how well we have translated the text. We're simply translating an error. Let's examine this critique and see if it holds up.

First, it is true that we don't have the originals, or the first generation copies, or even the second generation. While we don't know just how many times the text was copied prior to the earliest copes we do have (called manuscripts), it is safe to say they are for the most part dozens of times removed from the originals. What makes things seem worse is the earliest pieces we do have are not large portions of text, but small fragments. For example, the earliest gospel portion is the John Rylands fragment (P52) that only contains part of John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other. The more complete manuscripts are from hundreds of years later.

Doesn't the fact that we are separated by hundreds of years from the originals to the copies we have cause concern? Actually, not at all. New Testament scholars—both Christians and skeptics—have the greatest confidence that we know just what the original authors wrote. How can this be? I can explain with an example: tracing my family's recipe for spaghetti sauce.

Nonna's Family Sauce

My great grandmother came to the United States from Sicily in 1921. With her, she brought a recipe for spaghetti sauce that her mother had cooked. She in turn taught it to her three daughters, of which my grandmother was one. My grandmother passed that along to her four children, including my mother. She taught it to my wife and my siblings and my wife taught it to my daughter-in-law. The other daughters passed the recipe onto their children who passed it to theirs as well.

Now, suppose the descendants of my Great grandmother all get together at the 200th reunion of her arrival and say, "we want to make the sauce, but we want to make sure that it is the exact sauce she would have tasted in Sicily as a little girl." Would such a feat be impossible? Not really. In order to find the original, all the families would write down their recipe as they now fix it. There would be more than a hundred copies of the recipe, and there would no doubt be variations in the ingredients, amounts, and preparation. However, because we have such a large collection, we can begin to compare them one to another.

We may notice that all the recipes use crushed tomatoes except for 20 which say tomato sauce. We also not the crushed tomatoes show up nearly unanimously in the recipes supplied by the older generations. It is a strong bet that crushed tomatoes is right. Secondly, we notice that one group of recipes call to use twice as much garlic in the sauce. But all of these recipes come from the family of one uncle who liked the strong taste of garlic. Another group tell us to add sugar, but that cousin was known to have a sweet tooth. Some are missing ingredients, others have the preparation steps reversed, and a few add meat. However, because we have so many copies, we can reasonably rebuild the original recipe. Those copies coming from the older generations are less likely to deviate from the original since they have gone through fewer iterations. Overall, though, the receipt they come up with is probably the one my great grandmother was served as a little girl.

Thousands and Thousands of Copies

Those who reconstruct the text of the New Testament do basically the same thing on a larger scale. They have many thousands of manuscript copies, partials, and portions from different places all over the ancient world. New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace places this in perspective when he writes:
Altogether, we have at least 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other ancient languages that help us to determine the wording of the original. Almost 6000 of these manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data.2
This is why scholars today have a 99% confidence level that the text of the New Testament we have is what the original authors wrote.

I've only scratched the surface of Eichenwald's article; there are many more claims about the Bible he makes that fail to take modern scholarship into account. These two points, though, should give you confidence that his claims about no one today "has ever read the Bible"3 are unjustified. We do have the books as the New Testament authors wrote them. I would bet a plate of pasta on it.


1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. Daniel B. Wallace. "Predictable Christmas Fare: Newsweek's Tirade against the Bible." Daniel B Wallace. The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, 28 Dec. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
3.Eichenwald, 2014.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Cause of the Universe Must Be Intentional

We know the universe began to exist. That fact is agreed upon by the majority of theists and atheists alike. But what else can we know from that fact? By conceding that the universe has a beginning, does that give us proof of the Christian God? Not really, but it gets us closer than you may initially realize.

The first thing one can infer is whatever it is that caused the universe to exist (I will refer to this as the Cause with a capital C) must itself exist prior to the universe and its created parts. This means that the since the Cause created all matter, it must itself not be made of matter. If the Cause is made of matter, then it isn't an explanation of the universe, it is part of the universe. The cause of the universe must be immaterial.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that since time is also a part of the created universe, the cause of the universe's existence must be at least initially timeless. It must exist in a state of timelessness prior to any creative act. However, this conclusion adds additional facts to the picture. As I said yesterday, one can define time as a change in states or a succession of events. If there is a before and after, there must be time involved. Therefore, at the creation event time begins because there is a change in states. The Cause was not creating in its timeless state and it now is.

Such a description is fine when one is thinking about time beginning, but it begs a question: what makes the Cause start creating at all? If the Cause (whatever it is) is timeless, then why all of a sudden start creating? Here is where we need to differentiate how different causes work, and it leads to some interesting conclusions.

Two Types of Causes

There are two types of causes that we have observed through all of history. The first are causes that are the result of a certain set of circumstances. The 35th domino in a line of dominoes falling will cause the 36th domino to fall. In the same way, vinegar will cause a cup of baking soda to react and ultimately cause carbon dioxide gas to be released. Similarly, heat will cause fuel and oxygen to ignite into fire. All these causes (the domino, the vinegar, and the heat) create an effect that follows inevitably from the laws of nature. They are what I would call mechanical and they are contingent upon the universe being the way it is. Given the chemical properties of baking soda and vinegar the effect must occur if the causal conditions are met.

But such causes require other things to already be in existence. The 35th domino wouldn't have fallen had the 34th domino not fallen. The force of gravity must exist (lining up dominos in the International Space Station is much harder to do and won't give you the same effect.) Molecules must be able to share electrons in a certain way before the vinegar can react with the baking soda. There is therefore no mechanical cause that can jump start the whole process.

The other type of cause is a personal cause. Personal causes can happen spontaneously. If I have a desire to raise my arm, I simply raise it. There needs to be no preceding event that makes me want to raise my arm. The cause is created in my mind. While some desires or intentions may stem from external stimuli (such as wanting to raise my arm because it is tired, it aches, or I want to answer a question the teacher posed), such a prior cause is not required. I'm not compelled to answer a question the teacher posed, I may simply want to contribute to the discussion. I may simply have a desire to answer and I then intend to answer by causing the effect of putting up my hand.

Desired from Eternity Past

Of the two types of causes we know, which would be better at explaining the cause of the universe? The first one can't do so because it requires something to exist already. Some try to argue about the laws of gravity creating the universe, but such arguments fail to take into account what's required before any law, including gravity, can work. These kinds of causes don't answer the question of beginnings, they simply push it back a step and imagine a universe-making machine. The obvious question is "what made the machine?"

The second kind of cause makes more sense. But intentions and desires don't exist on their own; they are the products of a mind. A mind is not a physical thing, like a brain. It is fundamentally different and because thoughts, intentions, and desires are themselves immaterial, they can be present in an immaterial mind.

So, we have a Cause that is immaterial, timeless, and shows desire to create. That means the cause is personal; it has a mind. You may at this point say, "But wait! How can a timeless mind have a desire? If there is a change in the Cause where a desire is created, that means such a Cause is not timeless." This is true. However, it isn't necessary that a desire come into being. Some intentions or desires can always be there. Think about the desire to survive, for example. All humans have it, even if they never have to exercise it. The desire for life exists since birth, but only when we are threatened do we act upon it.

It is reasonable, then, to have a timeless, immaterial, personal Cause for the universe that desired to create (and create us) from the eternal past. While that doesn't specifically argue for the Christian God, it comes pretty close and excludes a whole lot of other contenders.

Image courtesy Jessica Mullen and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is God Existing Before Time Illogical?

Yesterday, I had a short online conversation with someone about the existence of God. Specifically, we discussed what could be reasonably inferred from the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The argument is simple:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.
The challenge came when my interlocutor questioned how the cause of the universe (whatever that may be) can be timeless itself. He asked, "Wouldn't a cause require time?" I think this is a fair question and one that needs unpacking a bit. The concept of time and God's relation to it is pretty misunderstood by most people, but with a little explaining, I think we can gain a little clarity.

How to Define Time

Has anyone ever asked you to define time? Think about how you would answer that question. Can you come up with a definition that doesn't include the word time in it? Defining time using its units of measure (hours, minutes, seconds, etc.) doesn't really help since their definitions include "a unit of time." So, how does one define time?

Basically, time may be defined as the succession of moments. That sounds a little obtuse, but it means whenever there is a change, time has passed. If a point A things are one way and then at point B things are different (no matter how slight) time has elapsed. Basically, if there is a before and an after, you will have time. For our universe, molecules are always in motion so time is always moving forward.

Modern science agrees that with the creation of matter, time was also created. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity demonstrated that time and space are linked.While time passes more quickly or slowly based on one's speed and mass, everything in our universe and the universe itself experiences some kind of passage of time.

The Before and After of Creating the Universe

Given all that, it raises the question of how God could have created the universe before there was any time. To ask, "What's before that, before time?" strikes one as nonsensical. There can't be a before time since time itself deals with before and after. Yet, the argument for God's existence above makes the deduction that God created the universe. That means God existed prior to the universe's creation; but wouldn't that also imply there was a time before time? The answer is not in the way you're thinking. This is where our use of language can get us into trouble, so I want to be careful in my explanation.

God's existence does precede the creation of the universe in some sense. God must exist to do the creating. Prior to time, it would be technically wrong to say that God existed before creation, but that God existed beyond creation. Philosophers will speak of God existing logically prior to the universe, not temporally prior. The best way for me to illustrate the distinction is by illustration, one I heard William Lane Craig use.2 Think of a bowling ball resting on a pillow on a bed. The ball makes an impression on that pillow; the pillow has a rounded dent in it. Yet, it doesn't have to be the case that the ball was at some point not making the impression on the pillow. Imagine now that the ball had been resting on the pillow from eternity past; the dent will still be there. The ball is the cause of the dent, but that doesn't necessitate the ball needing to exist prior to the dent. Similarly, a truss can be the cause of one's roof not falling down even if the truss and the roof were built simultaneously.

Because we can have a cause that doesn't have to exist chronologically prior to its effect (of holding up the roof or making the dent in the pillow), we speak of the cause being prior to the effect only in the logical sense. The ball must be there or the dent never forms. Thus the ball is logically prior to the dent, but not chronologically prior. When we apply this to God, we can say that God existed in a timeless state prior to creation. It was only Him and since God does not change, then there is no before or after and time doesn't exist. At the very moment God chooses to create, time becomes a reality. From that instant on, events have a before and after and they exist in time.


1. "The Relativity of Space and Time." Einstein Online. Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
2. Craig, William Lane. "God and Time." Reasonable Faith, 2 Dec. 2007. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
Image courtesy Andrew Shiva [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Atheist's Bait and Switch on Morality

In the 1988 comedy Coming to America, Eddie Murphy plays an African prince who seeks a wife by trying to blend in with the "regular people" of New York. One way he attempts this is by taking a job at a hamburger shop named McDowell's. Part of the joke is that McDowell's advertises with some familiar golden arches and red and white color schemes, hoping to capture an unsuspecting customer desiring a Big Mac. In the film, owner Cleo McDowell explains: " and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's...I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds."

In the real world, McDowell's wouldn't stand a chance in a court of law. They've intentionally mislead customers to think their experience is going to be one thing, when it is in fact a cheap imitation. That's the feeling I had this morning reading the latest article by Michael Shermer in today's paper. Entitled "The influence of science and reason on moral progress," Shermer claims that we are "living in the most moral period in our history" and then makes a bold assertion:
To what should we attribute this moral progress? Understandably, most people point to religion as the primary driver, given its long association with all matters moral. But the evidence shows that most of the moral development of the last several centuries has been the result of secular forces, and that the most important of these are reason and science, which emerged from the Enlightenment.1

Substituting a Cheap Imitation of Natural Law

The article has a huge number of problems, like trying to classify the writings of Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson as exercises in empirical science. He writes, "Enlightenment natural philosophers (we would call them scientists today) such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Immanuel Kant placed supreme value on reason, scientific inquiry, human natural rights, equality and freedom of thought and expression."2 Actually, no one calls them scientists. One doesn't study Kant or Locke in Life Science class. Go to any college or university and you will find analysis of their works in the philosophy department. Shermer is astoundingly wrong here.

In reading the article, Shermer is dead set on substituting the real arguments made by men like Locke and Jefferson with his own cheap imitation.  He takes the phrase "natural philosophers" and "natural law" and equivocates on what the word "natural" means. He portrays it to mean "only dealing with nature," that is the material world. But such an assumption is like substituting a tofu patty for 100% pure beef. The Natural Law that Locke appeals to is based on the created order. Locke states:
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.3

Appealing to God for Equality

One can easily see that Locke is using the term "naturally" to talk not of biology or material aspects of human beings, but of the right of each person to be free. Locke says that this state of nature derives from the Natural Law or law of nature. He goes on to specify the source for that law:
In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him (Section 8)…

that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, … and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind (Section 11)…

I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that selflove will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men (Section 13). 4
So, in arguing that government has authority to punish evil men, Locke appeals to God and his created order. That is, the natural state of man means God created him with freedom, but also the warrant to protect himself from others. Since men tend to play favorites, the Government must judge all men impartially, and again the government is given this authority by God (ref Romans 13:1-7).

Of course, Shermer doesn't have to be a Lockean scholar to understand this. All he needed to do was read the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson clearly spells it out in the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." That's a pretty fair summation of Locke and the word Creator is right in the middle of it.

Part of Shermer's problem is he sees everything through his scientism/materialist worldview. He forces the word nature to mean something that Kant, Locke, and Jefferson didn't intend it to mean. He hasn't simply "left off the seeds," he's changed the entire main course. Shermer's morality is a bait and switch that no nutritional value whatsoever.


1. Shermer, Michael. "The Influence of Science and Reason on Moral Progress." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
2. Shermer, 2015.
3. Locke, John. "Chapter II. Of the State of Nature." The Second Treatise of Civil Government. N.p.: Public Domain, 1690. Constitution Society. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
4. Locke, 1690.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the Bible Reliable Since Its Been Translated So Many Times?

When Google's translation page first came out, some friends and I would have a little fun translating the web page of our employer from English into another language like French or Japanese. We would then copy that text and paste it back into the Google translator and let the computer try to recreate the English. The final result was awkward and would produce pretty comical phrasing, with words implying something completely different from the original message.

The reason we attempted such silliness is to try and intentionally confuse the translating robot. We knew that churning out a translation of a translation would force mistakes to be multiplied, a realization that takes no scholarship at all. Yet, this is the way many people assume the scholars responsible for our modern bibles have worked. Yesterday, a gentleman at my church said he had been in a conversation with a Muslim who said, "Your Bible has been translated so many times challenged by a Muslim on the validity of the Bible as it compared to the Qur'an." This isn't an uncommon claim and many atheists and non-believers have tried to make the same point.

Take the Newsweek cover story published just two days before Christmas entitled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." The article, which seems to take as its goal the undermining of biblical authority, is rife with inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings about how biblical scholarship works. Interestingly, its very first criticism is at the problem of multiple translations. Author Kurt Eichenwald, under the heading "Playing Telephone with the Word of God," writes:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we've all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.1
That's the thinking that many people have. yet this perception is so incredibly wrong it takes my breath away. But Christians seem to not know how to respond to such accusations, as the question posed to the man at church shows.

Counting Up the Number of Translations to You

The first thing I emphasize when tackling the objection that we are somehow insulated from the real meaning of the Bible because of so many translation is to simply ask, "how many times do you think the Bible version you have has been translated from its original languages?" People are feign to guess, imagining perhaps ten, dozens, or more. The reality is that every modern Bible translation has been translated exactly once from the original Greek and Hebrew. Once. That's all. There is no "translation of translations of translations." Biblical scholars work directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts to create the English versions we have today. Eichenwald could have seen that if he had bothered to look at the prefaces to any Bible. Here's what the Translation Committee for Crossway, which publishes the English Standard Version states:
"each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text."2
Here's what the Lockman Foundation, who created the New American Standard Bible says:
The New American Standard Bible has been produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture, as originally penned in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, were inspired by God… At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable. This method follows the word and sentence patterns of the original authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts.3
Here's what the NIV translation committee explained:
In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars met near Chicago and agreed to start work on the New International Version. Instead of just updating an existing translation like the KJV, they chose to start from scratch, using the very best manuscripts available in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.4
And just to show that this translation approach is not something that only began recently, here's what the translators wrote in the preface to the original 1611 King James Version:
That out of the Originall sacred tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our owne and other forreigne Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue; your MAJESTIE did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the worke might be hastened, and that the businesse might be expedited in so decent a maner, as a matter of such importance might justly require (emphasis added).5
Note that the translators state that they look at the originals and then look at other translations (the "many worthy men who went before us," such as Tyndale) to be better informed on their own word choice. Consulting existing translations is actually a benefit, as it adds more counselors to the translation efforts, not fewer. Yet, each and every translation begins and is compared against the original languages to ensure accuracy and compatibility. Your Bible, no matter which translation you choose, has been translated only one time, and straight from the original languages to English.


1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. The Translation Oversight Committee. "Preface to the English Standard Version." About ESVBibleorg. Crossway, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
3. The Lockman Foundation. "Overview of the New American Standard Bible." The Lockman Foundation. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
4. "The NIV Story." Biblica. Biblica, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
5."King James Version Original Preface." BibleNetUSA, 2006. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Darwinism's Fatal Flaw (podcast)

The idea that complex life arose through nothing but natural means is a hallmark of modern evolutionary theory. But what if we discovered a problem with Darwinism that was so fundamental, all of science wouldn't work? In this podcast series, Lenny highlights a new argument that shows why evolutionary naturalism is a non-starter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

C.S. Lewis on "Being Born That Way"

Much is made to day of the way people define themselves, their gender, or their sexual orientation because of their feelings. They feel they are a person trapped in the wrong body or they feel an attraction to the same sex. I don't doubt that these feelings are real; it is only the person himself that can confirm or deny such predispositions. However, just because one has a predisposition doesn't mean that the predisposition is correct or that it should be pursued.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis makes the same point. In speaking of the desires and mental pulls we face (Lewis uses the word "Instinct" with a capital I), he makes a great point that no person follows every desire that strikes him. That would lead to barbarism. We weigh our desires, using reason, logic, and our moral compass to guide us.

This is why while the kleptomaniac may have an overwhelming urge to steal, we don't respond by saying, “Oh, you were born that way!” and throw open the department store doors to let them have their fill. We know that stealing is wrong and we as a society tell the kleptomaniac that while his feelings are real and he may even have been born that way, he needs to seek help for his improper desire. Lewis writes:
Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.1
Lewis is right. College men are coming under immense scrutiny right now if they act upon their sexual appetites. The whole “Yes means yes” law implies that a person can overcome strong natural urges to engage in sexual activity. Yet we are told by some of the same advocates that abstinence programs will never work and those with a predisposition to homosexuality should express themselves because of what they feel. How is that consistent?


1. Lewis, C. S. "The Abolition of Man." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 710. Print.
Image courtesy Noel Hildalgo and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What's a Christian to Think of the Killing in American Sniper?

The film American Sniper, which dramatizes the career of Chris Kyle, one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. military history, has smashed box office records. The movie is said to be well made and scenes like the one featured in the trailer highlight some of the impossible decisions snipers face.

However, given the nature of what a sniper's job description is, some Christians are wondering if it is appropriate to see the movie or how we as followers of Jesus should view such a position. One person was sincerely seeking an answer, noting the sixth commandment of "Thou shalt not kill," but also the larger teaching within Christianity of not taking vengeance into our own hands but allowing God to repay.

I haven't yet seen American Sniper, nor read the biography, so I cannot comment on the specific situations it portrays. However, I can comment on the general question of Christianity and the use of force, even in war situations.

The laws of the Old Testament can be a little confusing because some of them are applicable to individuals while others apply to a governing authority. It is important to remember that the Ten Commandments were give as a guideline for individuals to follow. Thus, the commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13 loses a bit in certain English translations. The Hebrew word ratsach implies killing without proper justification. The command may be translated "thou shalt not murder" just as fairly; which is exactly how both the NASB and the ESV render it. It doesn't exclude things like capital punishment as the Levitical law calls for capital punishment in certain situations, including the concept of a kinsman redeemer to avenge a murder of a relative.

Another situation where this wouldn't apply is killing another in self-defense or to protect the life of a third party. Think of the 2012 San Antonio Theater incident where off duty officer Lisa Castellano shot a gunman who had entered the theater and began shooting randomly, injuring one patron. One would expect Castellano to protect others because of the fact that she was armed. In fact, if an attacker was threatening to kill a stranger and you were armed, it would be your moral obligation to shoot an attacker and stop him or her from killing an innocent victim.

Snipers and Just War Doctrine

Some may say the imminent harm of a shooter justifies deadly force, but a sniper hiding on a rooftop hundreds of yards away is different. I don't think it is. In the case of war, we have an extension of the attacker and the innocent victim. The sniper's job is simple; hew is to protect his fellow troops. If they would be threatened by a terrorist or enemy combatant, they are obligated to remove that person as a threat against their comrades. The difficulty comes, as the clip above shows, in recognizing who is a combatant and who isn't.

The role of the sniper is a small part of a much bigger discussion on Christians' involvement in the act of war. While some believe that Christians should be pacifists, the Bible doesn't teach this. Certainly God called Israel to fight on his behalf many times in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament (Romans 13), Paul tells us that God gives the sword to the government for protection and punishing the wrongdoer. When one country threatens the population of another, it is like a man who threatens your family. Even third parties like the United States may be justified in stepping in to ensure that justice prevails. Of course, this power of the sword can be misused by evil men, but that makes it even more important that nations who care about justice step in to ensure abuse doesn't run amok.

In the history of Christianity, there has been a lot written about the concept of a Just War. Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas thought carefully about both what justifies engaging in war and what it means to wage war in a just manner. These can be summarized as:
  1. Obey all international laws on weapons prohibition.
  2. Discrimination and Non-Combatant Immunity. That is soldiers are only entitled to use their (weapons to target those who are engaged in harm.
  3. Proportionality. Soldiers may only use force proportional to the end they seek.
  4. Benevolent quarantine for prisoners of war (POWs).
  5. No Means Mala in Se. Soldiers may not use weapons or methods which are "evil in themselves," such as mass rape campaigns; genocide or ethnic cleansing; using poison or treachery (like disguising soldiers to look like the Red Cross); forcing captured soldiers to fight against their own side; and using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled, like biological agents.
  6. No reprisals. A reprisal is when country A violates these precepts in a war with country B. Country B then retaliates with its own violation of the rules.1
If a sniper follows these basic principles, he is engaging in proper wartime activities. Much of the problem our troops face today is that many enemies do not follow a Just War doctrine. They target civilians, they enlist the help of civilians, and they disguise themselves as non-combatants in order to achieve their own ends.

For more on Christians and war, see this article on the Come Reason web site:


1. Orend, Brian. "War." Stanford University. Stanford University, 04 Feb. 2000. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Image courtesy MOD (Ministry of Defence) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why Would the Press Ignore a Real Life House of Horrors?

2013 was a strong year for the crime and horror genre. The Walking Dead was a runaway hit on cable and crime procedural s such as NCIS and Criminal Minds were topping network ratings.1 The horror film genre pulled in over $450 billion in ticket sales, the highest in years.2 So, one can understand the anticipation of a large audience at the real-life trial of a man accused of running a "House of Horrors," using the term of the NBC news story when the initial report was sent to the Grand Jury in 2011. It states that the remains of seven children and one woman had been discovered, but prosecutors believe there had been many more. Bags and bottles of body parts "were scattered throughout the building," according to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.3

Understandably anticipating an enormous crush of reporters, cameramen, and others, the court duly set out to reserve seating for all the press during the trial. Except no one came to cover the trial. According to JD Mullane, himself a reporter with a local New Jersey paper, there was some local press, along with a few blog site reporters. No one else showed up.4 You can see Mullane's picture of the empty seating yourself below.

Given the sensationalistic nature of the story and the horrific evidence of the crimes, it simply doesn't make sense that a real life drama with all the markings of the most gruesome Criminal Minds episode wouldn't be covered daily. Until you understand that the defendant was an abortion provider and his crimes uncover the lie that legal abortions somehow make women safer.

Kermit Gosnell was a late-term abortion doctor operating with a legal license in a city where late term abortions were illegal. He would commonly deliver babies alive and then kill them afterwards. This "procedure" was so common that they were considered "standard procedure" and prosecutors estimate that hundreds of babies had been murdered that way.5 Gosnell's wife would perform the despicable act on Sundays if he were not around.

The women who sought Gosnell out were also in danger. According to the Grand Jury report:
Instruments were not sterile. Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust, and had not been inspected. The same corroded suction tubing used for abortions was the only tubing available for oral airways if assistance for breathing was needed. There was no functioning resuscitation or even monitoring equipment, except for a single blood pressure cuff in the recovery room.

There were cat feces and hair throughout the facility, including in the two procedure rooms. Gosnell, they said, kept two cats at the facility (until one died) and let them roam freely. The cats not only defecated everywhere, they were infested with fleas. They slept on beds in the facility when patients were not using them. 6
At least two women died as the result of seeking Gosnell's abortion services. The only surprise is that there weren't many more—that we know of.

One worker described the abortions as "literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body" and said "it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place."7 All while Gosnell made millions.

Abortion Hides Misery and Death

Cases like Gosnell's highlight the inhumanity of abortion in our country today. The only difference between what Gosnell did to those babies and what happens in clinics where late-term abortions legal is Gosnell's "snipping" was done a few seconds later than theirs. Other justify their actions by delivering all of the baby but the head. They seem to feel those last ten centimeters offer some kind of moral justification for their actions.

As far as I'm concerned, the press's negligence in covering the Gosnell story makes them somewhat culpable. They don't want to tell the real story because it negatively impacts an agenda they want to promote. The reality is that abortion is the business of death. It is soaked in blood and it doesn't care about the well-being of the women as much as it cares about turning a profit. Not all the abortion clinics are a dirty as Gosnell's. He is an extreme case. But we really don't know much about what the status of most abortion clinics are, given the reluctance of both the regulating agencies and the press to check them out with a critical eye.

As I write this, it is the 42nd anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortions across the country. It is a scourge upon our nation, not to mention terrible law. We must remember the Gosnell case and share it with others to show that making abortion legal makes it neither right nor safe.


1. Schneider, Michael. "America's Most Watched: The Top 25 Shows of the 2012-2013 TV Season." CBS Interactive Inc., 10 June 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
2. "Box Office Performance for Horror Movies in 2014." The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
3. Staff and News Service Reports. "'House of Horrors' Alleged at Abortion Clinic.", 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
4. Hemingway, Mollie. "WPost Reporter Explains Her Personal Gosnell Blackout." GetReligion. Patheos, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
5., 2011.
6. Williams, R. Seth. Report of The Grand Jury. Rep. no. 0009901-2008. Philadelphia: In the Court Of Common Pleas First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Criminal Trial Division, 2011. Office of the District Attorney. City of Philadelphia, 1 Jan 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
7. Araiza, Karen, and Emad Khalil. "Gosnell Abortion Worker: It Would Rain Fetuses." NBC 10 Philadelphia. NBCUniversal Media, LLC, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

Image courtesy Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada and licensed via CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Exposing Our Kids to a More Dangerous Epidemic than Measles

What does Disneyland and a measles outbreak have to do with apologetics? It draws an interesting parallel.

Measles is making the headlines in Southern California. Between December 17 and 20th, one or more visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim had the contagious disease. Within a month of that visit, there have been at least 54 cases of measles reported across Southern California, three neighboring states, and Mexico, according to the Los Angeles Times. Health officials in Orange County are trying to stem its spread by ordering some 50,000 children to stay home from school because they hadn't been properly vaccinated. 1

Officials have stated that the outbreak is the worst the state has seen in fifteen years, yet if you don't live close to the Magic Kingdom, you may find all of this marginally interesting. Until you discover the reason for the rapid spread of the disease: parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. According to the Times article, "Orange County is home to several upscale communities where a higher than average number of parents have opted to not fully vaccinate their children because of their personal beliefs" that vaccinating children may have some link to autism. 2 The science on this is faulty, as the Centers for Disease Control reports. Yet parents say they don't want to take the risk of even a possibility of a vaccine having some tie to autism. Thus, they choose to not vaccinate their children.

Living off Others' Beliefs

Here's the interesting thing in all of this. The parents who are not vaccinating their children truly believe they are protecting them. One parent was quoted in the article saying, "I didn't want to flood her system with a bunch of chemicals all at once. I wanted to be informed and not trust what medical professionals said." But the only reason she would come to the conclusion that not vaccinating her child was safer is simply because she was living at a time when most children had already been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and other childhood diseases. Now, as vaccination rates falls in certain areas, the threat of measles and other life-damaging diseases is on the increase.

I find this is true of our culture's abandonment of Christian values as well. We are now coasting on the remnants of a culture that was anchored in Judeo-Christian values, but its rapidly changing. Over 40% of children born in 2012 were born out of wedlock.3 That's almost half! And with teenage birthrates dropping, the report shows that a significant number of adults are simply choosing not to marry, but to have children anyway. As you can see in the graph below, this trend has increased exponentially since the 1960s, according to the CDC.4

The Plague of the Disappearing Nuclear Family

In 1992, Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle was publicly ridiculed for saying bearing children out of wedlock was wrong and it shouldn't be labeled as "just another lifestyle choice."5 The position taken by folks on the left like Diane English (the producer and writer of the CBS sitcom Murphy Brown) is that Quayle was being ridiculous and backwards. Progressive individuals didn't think marriage was necessary to raising a child. Only love is. But many reports like this one from ChildTrends show "the image projected by movie stars or well-educated, well-paid professional women who choose unwed motherhood has little in common with the situation of most unmarried mothers." 6 That reports states the reality that both women who have unmarried births and their children are:
at a distinct disadvantage as they move through life. Statistically, mothers who bear and raise children without the support of a husband are more likely to be poor and to report greater stress than their married counterparts, and their children are more likely to have academic and behavioral problems. Research findings show that wanted children raised by both of their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage have an easier lot in life and the best chance for healthy development.7
While it was easy in the 80s and 90s to pronounce a progressive view of raising children alone, that ease was facilitated by the fact that children in those situations were invisible and harder to quantify. As children of unwed mothers increase, the effects become more pronounced and they affect all other socio-economic groups as well. Just as the unvaccinated children were borrowing the immunization of the larger community to assert that their choices were good for their children, so the liberal viewpoint that the traditional family unit is unnecessary borrowed from the stability previous generations that were the product of that traditional union brought.

The biggest difference I see is that while public officials are reacting to the measles epidemic by seeking to quarantine those infected and requiring vaccinations before children can return to school, no one in government is trying to stem the more insidious evil of out of wedlock births. As parents see the risks to the well-being of their children, they are now seeking vaccinations. Unfortunately, there is no simple shot that can sure the problem of a generation of kids growing up without a traditional family.


1. Lin, Rong-Gong, II, Roxanna Xia, and Nicole Knight Shine. "In Measles Battle, O.C. Bars Two Dozen Students Lacking Proof of Shots." The Los Angeles Times 21 Jan. 2015: A1. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
2. Lin, et al. A1.
3. Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Ventura SJ. "Births: Preliminary data for 2012." National Vital Statistics Reports; vol. 62 no 3. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. Web.
4. Ventura SJ, Bachrach CA. "Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940-1999." National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 48 no 16. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. 2000. Web.
5. Sawhill, Isabel. "20 Years Later, It Turns out Dan Quayle Was Right about Murphy Brown and Unmarried Moms." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 25 May 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
6. Terry-Humen, Elizabeth, M.P.P., Jennifer Manlove, PhD, and Kristin A. Moore, PhD. "Births Outside of Marriage: Perceptions vs. Reality." Child Trends Research Briefs (April, 2001): Child Trends. Apr. 2001. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
7. Terry-Humen, et al. 2001.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Miracles Don't Contradict The Laws of Nature

Miracles are a big topic. The skeptics dismiss then, faithful believe in them, many pray for them to occur in their lives. However, a lot of atheists seem to mis-define them. I was talking with an atheist friend who stated "By definition, a miracle violates natural law." By violate, I think he means "contradict." He isn't alone in that definition. The 18th century Scottish skeptic David Hume also sought to dismiss any claim of miracles as unreasonable in his Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. He wrote:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.1
That definition has become popular with hose seeking to debunk any miracle claims. However, Hume was wrong. A miracles doesn't violate the laws of nature, it suspends them. That's a big difference. The suspension of a law isn't a violation; it's simply an intervention. If you were in your kitchen and saw an egg rolling off the counter, you would know that gravity will pull that egg to the ground. However, you can intervene and catch the egg to keep it from falling to the ground. You've exercised your power to stop what would by the laws of nature produce a mess. So if God can intervene in our world to keep a man from falling into the sea, allowing him to walk on water, we would see it as a miracle.

Some may object that the example above isn't fair. After all, catching an egg is just as natural as letting it fall. While this is true, the concept of intervention holds if the one intervening is not limited to the natural world. As an example, think about computer programs. If you are a programmer, you write a computer program to perform certain tasks in a certain order. Perhaps you are creating a shopping site and you wish customers to enter their names, address, credit card number, expiration, and card verification value (that little three digit number on the back of the card) before you process the sale.

You've created these rules and any time the customer checks out, they will always follow this pattern. But, as the programmer you sometimes have to test certain portions of your code. When you are running sample transactions over and over, it becomes too time consuming to enter all that information each time. Yet, because you are the programmer, you can choose to initiate your code at any point. You can write a script that will bypass all these requirements and process a transaction with no data whatsoever. Then, when you are satisfied with the code, you remove the test script and allow the page to function as it normally does.

"Back-Door Code" to the Universe

There is nothing illogical about this kind of suspension of the computer program's rules. They weren't violated, they were bypassed. Similarly, God wrote the rules for how the world works. Therefore, he can write "back-door" code to bypass the normal systems and it is perfectly appropriate to do so. Just as a computer programmer can still not violate the operations of his programming language but suspend the laws of submit a blank transaction, so God can work within his own abilities and suspend the laws of nature to achieve his desired result.

Philosopher Richard Purtill defines a miracle as "an event in which God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things."2 That's a pretty good definition.
  1. A miracle is a temporary (the natural course of order will resume upon the miracle's completion)
  2. It is an exception to the ordinary course of nature
  3. It requires us to know what the limits of "ordinary course of nature" are.
A miracle is not God contradicting Himself or His laws.


1 Hume, David. "Of Miracles. Part I." An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding., 1993. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
2   Purtrill, Richard L. "Defining Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 62. Print.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Christian: Your Relationship with God Is Not Your Own

Last week a small group from my church attended the 2015 Los Angeles Theology Conference. The conference had several notable speakers and interesting papers surrounding the topic of the atonement. However, one of the most edifying times was the extended open periods available for discussion.

On Friday as we sat down to lunch, we were joined by Mark McConnell , a theology professor from Laidlaw College, NZ. Dr. McConnell said that in his time teaching theology to his students he would ask the question "Is Jesus still a man today," whereby he would overwhelmingly receive the response of "No." It seems many Christians believe that while Jesus was fully human on earth, he shed his humanity at the resurrection. But that belief is a heresy known as Gnosticism that the early church fought against!

Early Christianity recognized that once Jesus is incarnated as a human being, he will remain a human being throughout eternity. Paul writes that "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5, ESV), showing that Jesus remains a man in order to reconcile us with God.

Our Relationship is Borrowed from the Son

You may think "Ok, so some people have made a mistake. It's nice to know theology and all, but I have a relationship with God, that's enough for me!"  Actually, one reason why it matters is that the very relationship you point to requires Jesus being a man. Dr. McConnell provided a great illustration for this. He said:
Imagine a man sitting at his desk in his office at home. The door opens and his young son, who had been playing in the yard with a neighbor from down the street, runs in and jumps into his father's lap with the kind of joy and exuberance children have. The father will of course receive his son and embrace him.

Now, imagine that they neighbor friend chases after the boy and he also jumps into the lap of the father. The father catches him, too, while still holding onto his son. In any other circumstance, such a move would be considered presumptuous, rude, and out of place. However, in this instance, the neighbor is allowed to borrow the relationship of the son to the father. It isn't his own relationship that grants him access to such intimacy; it is the intimate relationship the son has always had with the father that the neighbor is now sharing in. Thus, the neighbor relies on his connection with the son and the son's relationship with the father to have some kind of relationship himself.1
I think Dr. McConnell's illustration is a great way to communicate a couple of key ideas. First, our relationship with God is dependent upon our relationship with Jesus. Paul states he is found in Christ "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ" (Phil. 3:9). It is our relationship with Jesus and his righteous standing before the Father that allows us to have that relationship with the Father as well. The Father sees us not as we are, but counts our faith in Jesus as righteousness because of Jesus's right relation with the Father (Rom. 4:5, 22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Our Justification Depends on Jesus Being a Man

Secondly, we can have a relationship with Jesus because of the fact that he is fully human. In 1Timothy 2:5, which is quoted above, Paul declares that the mediator between God and mankind must be a man. Further, the writer of the book of Hebrews states:
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb. 2:16-18).
While there are other reasons Jesus must be fully human and there are other ways the Bible portrays our relationship with the Father (e.g. adopted sons and born again as a new creation) I think the concept that we are borrowing Christ's relationship with the Father is a significant one. As a human being in the line of Adam, Jesus was not separate from us. He is our kinsman. This kinship brings us into relation with him, and allows us to then jump into the lap of the Father. Our intimacy with God depends on the relationship of us to Jesus, through his humanity. If Jesus is no longer a man, we are like presumptuous kids trying to hop into the lap of a stranger. Such presumption doesn't afford that child grace, but punishment for his actions.


1. While this isn't a verbatim quotation from Dr. McConnell, it does portray the crux of his argument.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Top Five Blog Posts for December

While the holiday season proved a busy one, we had a lot of folks stop by the blog. Last month saw over 25,000 pageviews which is the largest month to date! Three of the top five posts focused on Jesus, which was befitting. Two others took on atheism and naturalism. So, without further adieu, here are the top five posts for December:
  1. Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable
  2. History Testifies that Jesus Worked Miracles
  3. To Witness Like Jesus, Use Logic and Reason
  4. The Resurrection is Central to the History of Jesus
  5. What the 'Atheist Invocation' Really Demonstrates

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Culture Filled With Empty Selves

In his book Kingdom Triangle, Dr. J.P. Moreland warns that our culture continues to slide towards immaturity through an increasingly "thin" view of the world and the aggrandizement of pleasure over other pursuits. While we have more free time and more entertainment choices than ever before, happiness seems to be more elusive than in previous generations. J.P. blames part of this on the empty self. He writes:
My observations about happiness are not ivory-tower ruminations. I speak here with real gravity. For the first time in history a culture-ours-is filled with what psychologists refer to as the "empty self". The empty self (also called "the false self") is so widespread in Western culture that it is sometimes referred to as a cultural plague. According to psychologist Phillip Cushman:
the empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, 'politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists .... [The empty self] experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning ... a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.
Most of us would recognize characteristics of the empty self among adolescents, and it would be wonderful if the problem left when teenagers became old enough to vote. Unfortunately, that is not the case. People continue to manifest features of the empty self well into middle age. It does not take a rocket scientist to observe that the features of the empty self simply make spiritual growth impossible. The path of discipleship and the life of an empty self mix like oil and water.1
J.P.'s seven characteristics of the empty self are outlined in this brief article. Even though one who desires to be a disciple of Jesus should strive to avoid all of these traits, they are far too prevalent in the church today, let alone the larger world.


Moreland, J.P. Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. Print. 24-25.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Atheist Steals from Christian Values

Phil Zuckerman is an expert on the modern day secular family and he wants you to know how moral secularists are. In a recent Los Angeles Times article entitled "How secular family values stack up," he asks, "So how does the raising of upstanding, moral children work without prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Quite well, it seems" which he follows up by saying, "My own ongoing research among secular Americans… confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts."1

But just does a secular moral standard look like? What kind of authority does secular families look to in order to anchor their moral precepts. Zuckerman answers:
For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.

Doesn't Zuckerman realize that the teaching of treating other people as you would like to be treated is a specifically Christian teaching that comes straight from the mouth of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus says in Luke 6:31 "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you" (NASB). So, why would Zuckerman try to smuggle a clear Christian teaching off as a secular moral precept?

Is the Golden Rule Universal?

Part of the confusion may be due to Confucius. It is true that some 500 years before Jesus that Confucius wrote "What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men" as the goal to which Tsze-kung should aspire.2  Hinduism teaches the same basic concept. But that isn't the same thing as Jesus's teaching. It is one thing to resist knocking another man over the head because you disagree, it is quite another to carry a Roman soldier's pack an extra mile after he compelled you to carry it the first mile. Jesus taught "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also" and "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"(Matt 5:40,44). These are specific ways to carry out the Golden Rule, with his ultimate example being the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy agrees that it was Christian teaching that made the Golden Rule the powerhouse it is:
Only when this rule was made a centerpiece of social interaction (by Jesus or Yeshua, and fellow John-the-Baptist disciples) did it become a more radical message, crossing class, clan and tribal boundaries within Judaism. Of special note is the rule's application to outcasts and those below one's station—the poor, lepers, Samaritans, and certain heathens (goyem). [Jesus] apparently made the rule second in importance only to the First Commandment of "the Father" (Hashem). This was to love God committedly, then love thy neighbor as thyself, which raised the rule's status greatly. It brought social inclusivity to center stage, thus shifting the focus of Jewish ethics generally. …

Only when the golden rule was applied across various cultures did it become a truly revolutionary message. Its "good news," spread by evangelists like Paul (Saul of Tarsus), fermented a consciousness-shift among early Christians, causing them actually to "love all of God's children" equally, extending to the sharing of all goods and the acceptance of women as equals.3
Meanwhile, Confucius's teaching didn't have the same effect, as the Chinese "increasingly interpreted the rule within the existing network of Chinese social conventions. It was a source of cultural status quoism—to each social station, its proper portion. … The social status quo in Confucian China was anything but compassionate, especially in the broader community and political arenas of life."4

The Necessary Conditions for the Golden Rule to be Authoritative

As the Chinese outcome demonstrates, the moral grounding of the do unto others imperative cannot exist in just any moral system. Christianity taught a very specific moral and metaphysical grounding that provided the fertile soil to root Jesus's teaching. This includes the doctrine that all human beings are equally valuable as image-bearers of God. Thus, the teaching is predicated on 1) a belief that God exists, 2) that every human being has an immaterial essence that holds the image of God, and 3) that Jesus has authority to instruct humanity on moral issues.

So Zuckerman is simply wrong that secularists who use the Golden Rule are anchoring their family's morality in secular values. I want to be careful here to make sure I'm not misunderstood. I believe that secular people and secular families can and indeed are as moral as anyone else. I am again demonstrating that there is no way to ground morals in secularism. Zuckerman himself steals from Christian moral teaching as he tries to argue for the morality of secular families. What are we to make of that?


1.Zuckerman, Phil. "How Secular Family Values Stack up." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
2. Confucius. "The Analects." The Internet Classics Archive. Daniel C. Stevenson, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.
3. Puka, Bill. "The Golden Rule." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
4. Puka, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hidden Factors in Atheism

Professor of Psychology Paul Vitz was an atheist. Though he was raised in a minimally Christian home, he identified as an atheist during his college years and into his adult life. Vitz went on to study the motivations of atheists past and present, ultimately producing the book Faith of the Fatherless, where he lays out his theory that "in most cases alienation from God was a reaction to an absent or defective father."1 Vitz himself credits his strong relationship with his father for helping him come out of atheism.

While Vitz’s theory is fascinating, I think that Vitz’s personal story is just as informative. In a short paper entitled, "The Psychology of Atheism," Vitz provides a brief summary of the factors that contributed to his own denial of God. He notes that he wasn’t aware of these factors playing in his decision to abandon belief, yet upon retrospect they were the main contributors to his atheism. He writes:
The major factors involved in my becoming an atheist-although I wasn't really aware of them at the time-were as follows:

General socialization. An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.

I remember a small seminar in graduate school where almost every member there at some time expressed this kind of embarrassment and response to the pressures of socialization into "modern life." One student was trying to escape his Southern Baptist background, another a small town Mormon environment, a third was trying to get out of a very Jewish Brooklyn ghetto, and the fourth was me.

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion. As the psalmist says, ". . . The man greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 10:3-4).

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.

Personal convenience. Finally, in this list of superficial, but nevertheless, strong irrational pressures to become an atheist, I must list simple personal convenience. The fact is that it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's powerful secular and neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a good deal of time.2
One of the most popular statistics that atheists have shared with me is the fact that the vast majority of scientists alive today don’t believe in God. For example, according to a 2009 Pew study, only one in three of those who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe on God. 3 Looking at the motivations that Vitz describes, it isn’t a big stretch to think that many who jump into the various fields of scientific study face the same pressures and will also succumb to them. In fact, these factors may be prevalent in a lot of areas, not just in scientific academics.

The fact that biased environments can increase bias among its population shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact that most atheists may not even realize unspoken factors of socialization have a real influence on their lack of belief is important for Christians to understand. When sharing our faith, hidden reasons for atheism may be very common. What’s unique is Vitz’s candor and introspection. That’s because examination of hidden motivations is difficult and can leave people vulnerable. I wonder how many atheists are willing to risk such dangerous undertaking.


1. Van Hove, Brian, S.J. "Atheism and Fatherlessness | A Review of Paul Vitz's "Faith of the Fatherless"" Ignatius Press, 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
2. Vitz, Paul C. "The Psychology of Atheism." LeaderU. Faculty Commons, 9 Jan. 1996. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.
3. Masci, David. "Scientists and Belief." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 04 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jesus and Logical Fallacies: The False Dilemma

There have been many times where I've been speaking to a non-believer who tells me that he would rather place his trust in science and reason than in faith. Versions of this include "facts rather than religion" or "knowledge over ancient belief."

Such objections are certainly not uncommon today, even though they are completely illogical. Each one exercises a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. A false dilemma tries to limit one's choice between only two options when there may be more options available. To use a popular example, imagine a man on trial. As he sits in the witness stand, the prosecutor comes to him and asks, "Is this the first time you've beaten your wife, yes or no?" Of course, either answer to such a question immediately incriminated the man. The third choice of "I have never beaten my wife" is never offered by the prosecutor, which sets the defendant up with only two options, each of which places him in a bad light.

Why Faith Versus Reason is a False Dilemma

In the objections above, the ideas of faith, religion, and belief are all positioned as incompatible with science, facts, and knowledge. But the assumption that these are incompatible is itself not true. For example, the multiverse theory is based on certain mathematical beliefs and assumptions. There exists no observational data for other universes, nor will there be given that our universe is a closed system. Therefore, scientists who hold to the multiverse theory are doing so based on certain beliefs and a faith in the models they have constructed. Does that disqualify the multiverse theory from being classified as science? Will those skeptics disavow it because they would rather place their trust in reason? Of course not.

Similarly, Christianity is based on certain facts, such as Jesus' resurrection from the dead, based on the historical accounts. Christians use arguments to show that the existence of God is a reasonable position to hold. Reason and evidence are the foundation of Christianity, which just like the multiverse model shows that faith and reason are not exclusive but work in concert.

How Jesus Answered the False Dilemma

Sometimes people offer false dilemmas intentionally as a strategy, such as our lawyer example above. However, it's probably more common for a person to not realize there are more choices than the two presented when he or she is presenting the argument. Still, it is important to highlight the dilemma and show it to be false.

The Gospel of Luke provides us with an example of how Jesus faced a false dilemma. In Luke 20:19-26, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into incriminating himself. Luke tells us that they asked him "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" This was cunning, because if Jesus replied that paying taxes was wrong, he'd be considered a traitor to Rome, but if he said it was OK according to the Jewish law (that is the Old Testament commands) to give a tribute to Caesar, then the would be sanctioning support for a Gentile ruler when Israel's only allegiance should be to God alone.

However, Jesus didn't fall for it. Luke reports:
But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
In Jesus' answer, he brilliantly splits the horns of the dilemma. There are more than the two options of allegiance to God or allegiance to Caesar. One can be a good citizen of the state while disagreeing with some of its positions. The Pharisees weren't offended at the graven image of Caesar so much that they refused Roman money. They simply didn't want to give it back in taxes. Thus Jesus's answer shows that one can be a good citizen and not offend God. In fact, he may have thought of Malachi 6:8, which teaches that all believers should seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Paying for the services of Rome is part of doing justice.

In highlighting the false dilemma the Pharisees offer, Jesus gives us one example of how to better defend our faith. Jesus' use of logic had the effect of silencing his detractors while teaching new truths to his audience. This is just one example of Jesus using logic and reasoning in his interaction with others. We need to prepare ourselves to do likewise.
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