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

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Answering Objections to the Resurrection (podcast)


The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. If the resurrection isn't true, Paul says "we are of all people to be most pitied." How do the facts of the resurrection stack up against the charges of its critics? Listen in and see why we can be confident that the resurrection is a true historical event.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hidden Benefits of a Church-Based Apologetics Ministry

"Apologetics? What are you apologizing for?", "Is that a class that husbands are supposed to take?", "What is that?" These are questions I hear frequently whenever I mention the study of apologetics. It probably comes as no surprise the word "apologetics" is foreign to most people, not only the general public but also those who are a part of the Christian church. Even evangelicals, who define themselves by their passion to follow Jesus' command to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations"(Matt. 28:17) usually look quizzically at me whenever I begin discussing the need for apologetics, even though apologetics is an essential part of making disciples. Why would this be?



One of the problems is simply that the church doesn't talk a lot about it. Apologetics is generally understood to be a specialty discipline—specifically engaging in defending the faith against skeptics, alternate religions and cults, and contrary worldviews. As such, many pastors eel that it can only play a very limited role in ministering to the needs of their congregation. How does apologetics help the man trying to feed his family after losing his job or the newly widowed woman?

I've said before that in many churches, a person telling his or her pastor of their desire to start an apologetics ministry results in an experience similar to a young man telling his Jewish mother he wants to be a proctologist. "Well, I glad you're going to be a doctor," she would say, "But why did you have to choose that!" Pastors are happy to have people desiring to get into ministry opportunities, but they simply aren't sure where apologetics fits in their church. However, many times both church leadership and laity fail to understand the more holistic aspects of providing a strong apologetics ministry to the local congregation. In this article, I'd like to highlight some benefits of an apologetics ministry that applies directly to every member of the church congregation, benefits that you may not have considered before.

Apologetics guards believers against heresies

The word apologetics literally means providing reasons and evidence for the Christian faith. Part of this means defending the Christian faith from imposters or detractors, but it also means protecting those in the church from the wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. I've often made the claim that one could define apologetics as theology properly applied and there is no greater need to apply theology properly than with new believers. The Burned-Over district of western New York in the early 1820s is a good example. Just as church congregations continued to grow and revivals spread, these were accompanied by the establishment of such unorthodox beliefs systems as the Mormons, the Spiritists, and the Millerites who spawned both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists .1

 If we are to defend our beliefs with reason and evidence, then it follows we need to know just what we believe and the reasons why we hold to those beliefs. Since apologetics encompasses the study of theology, especially as it relates to orthodoxy, it is one way Christians learn to discern orthodoxy from heresy. Thus one of the hidden benefits of a church beginning an apologetics teaching ministry is it helps guard Christians from falling into heretical beliefs. Apologetics is defensive as well as evangelical.

References

1. John H. Martin writes of the District: "The Burned-Over District of New York spawned one religious revival after another in the decades between 1820 and 1850. Revivalism, Millennialism, Spiritualism followed each other, often overlapping and partaking of similar elements. There was a credulity at the time (and at other times as well, no doubt) which led individuals from one religious impulse to another. There was a spiritual yearning for answers to the questions and problems of this world and a concern about any future existence which might be faced after this life. There also existed a willingness to follow any one who seemed to have answers, be it Charles Grandison Finney, William Miller, the Fox sisters, or a new, self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, who appeared on the scene in Palmyra, New York. The very early followers of Joseph Smith came from among the religious restless, the dissatisfied, who succumbed easily to the religious emotionalism of the times. They had been exposed to the popular religious awakenings of the day with the expectations for the life beyond this worldly realm. The traditional theology of Christianity was not of great interest to these seeker for answer, and they were susceptible to explanations which moved beyond the traditional Biblical basis of the various Christian faiths. Thus the beliefs of Joseph Smith were to find a small following in New York before the new faith of Mormonism moved beyond the borders of New York and its future growth." From "Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited" The Crooked Lake Review Issue No. 137. 2005. Web. 3/17/2012 http://www.crookedlakereview.com/books/saints_sinners/martin9.html
Image courtesy http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Answering the Bias Objection

There's a concept held by many today that neutrality is to be valued when discussing important ideas or events. It seems to pop up in diverse conversations about abortion, the reliability of the Gospel accounts, or the debate over creation versus evolution. The claim that because one holds a particular position makes them "biased" and therefore unqualified to objectively weigh a matter is widely assumed, but it's completely mistaken. While biases can lead people to ignore or deny certain facts, biases are absolutely necessary to be an informed human being.


What is a bias?

Just what is a bias? The word has become associated with the concept of prejudice or, as Wikipedia puts it, the inclination to "hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view."1 Yet, that's not the only definition of what bias is. Bias can be any leaning or predisposition towards a point of view as the Oxford English Dictionary definition notes.2 In other words, anyone who leans towards one position over another in any field will have some kind of bias. But that isn't a bad thing. For example, Jonas Salk had a belief that the same approach to developing an influenza vaccine could be applied to polio, even though prior polio vaccination attempts had been disastrous, causing paralysis and even death in those who had taken it.3  Salk assembled a team and worked for seven years creating a dead-virus version of the vaccine that ultimately proved hugely successful, and it was Salk's bias towards the vaccine method that drove him to keep trying.

It makes sense that bias would be necessary for advancement in a field like medicine. It is simply unreasonable for a person who after years of study and research and to remain neutral and uncommitted about his or her specialty. We expect experts in their field to have some bias towards certain theories or procedures. Bias in this sense is a good thing. As Robin Collins puts it:
Not every bias distorts: some biases can help us decided ahead of time what's worth paying attention to and what is not… I am biased against the possibility that the number of puppies in a litter has anything to do with the number of legs the father has, so I would never pay anyone money to study what the relationship is."4

The myth of being "bias-free."

Of course, the corollary to the "bias is always bad" myth is that there are certain disciplines that are somehow bias-free. Folks assume that journalistic standards or the scientific method can provide unbiased observations about the world. This simply isn't true, either. I've written before about how one man's bias became scientific dogma that we are only now finding to be false. His resilience influenced other scientists, and his bias was accepted as the scientific consensus, shaping national dietary guidelines and doctor recommendations for some fifty years. That's just one example. In any experiment, one cannot measure every aspect of a scenario, so scientists look to measure the "relevant" factors and exclude any "irrelevant" ones. But it is one's previous biases, as with Collins' dog litter example above, that shape what one considers relevant. Thus, he notes "Some biases can distort: people who think that all human behavior can be explained by our genes have a bias that blinds them to moral realities. So, we cannot promise that science is without bias; and we have to assess—by critical thinking—whether that leads to sound or unsound conclusions."5

Looking for the truth value

So, bias is not the determining factor in finding out truth. Some biases, like Salk's, help us to discover new things. Others are unwarranted and lead us away from the truth. The big question is the one Collins asked: can we use our critical reasoning to weigh these things and determine if the biased are appropriate or simply prejudice? That means examining the facts, something that tends to be missing from the conversations of those who seek to shut you down with the simplistic objection of "you're just biased."

References

1. "Bias." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias.
2. "Bias." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18564?rskey=S5Ld2w&result=1#eid.
3. Brodie, M., and W. H. Park. "Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 105.14 (1935): 1089-093. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1154662.
4. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
5. Collins, 2003. 31.
Image "Research Bias"  courtesy Boundless.com and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is Science, Anyway?

What is science? That may seem like a simplistic question, but the answer is neither easy nor unimportant, especially in this day and age. We live in an era where the scientist has become the one assumed to hold the answers to a wide diversity of questions, even those that are not scientific. Michael Shermer just published an article where he credits "scientific thinking" for human moral progress since the enlightenment.1 I've had people ask me to prove God's existence scientifically, and of course discussions on creation of the universe or the emergence of life on earth put science right in the middle of the debate.



Given how modern society places its nearly unquestioning trust in science, it's easy to see why someone would seek to dismiss God's existence or intelligent design with a wave of a hand and the claim of "that's not science." But just what is science, then? As a recent video by Stephen C. Meyer (included below) points out, science has been notoriously difficult to define. Let's take a look at some definitions of what supposedly qualifies something to be science.

Collecting data through observation

One of the more common definitions of science pivots on how one goes about gathering their evidence for their hypothesis. Robin Collins writes , "I remember being taught as a boy that 'science' is, at its simplest, collecting data from observations of the world, and then organizing those observations in a way that leads to a generalization called a 'law.'"2 Meyer states in the video that "If a theory is going to be scientific, it must not invoke unobservable entities." Yet, as he then references, the entire field of theoretical physics is currently dealing in objects and concepts that by definition are unobservable. No one can see quarks. Quantum vacuums are unobservable. Does that mean that Stephen Hawking and those in his field should not be considered "doing science" when they invoke such causes?

The criteria of falsifiability

A second definition is one that philosopher of science Karl Popper made famous, the concept of falsifiability. Yet, falsifiability is really the other side of the observability coin. Popper, who had a "teenage flirtation with Marxism,"noted that Marxist explanations of history conformed with observed facts, such as the greater economic influence of the lower classes. However, competing economic models used the same set of historical data to fit their explanations as well. Later, Popper found that Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was too capable of explaining every situation. There was never a situation where Freud's theories would be shown to be false; every circumstance could be justified in some way. Thus Popper came to the conclusion that a theory is scientific if there's a way to prove it false.4 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums it up this way:
If a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.5
The problem here, though, is similar to the one above. If certain fields of study are unobservable, how can someone observe their falsification? Modern evolutionary theory posits mutations and intermediate forms that, as Meyer points out, are unobservable. We cannot see into the past and there is no way to know that one fossil is a transaction from another, those are all inferences. Therefore, using this criteria, Neo-Darwinian theories are not based on science, but (as Popper labeled them) pseudo-science.

The truth-value of a proposition

All of this discussion on what makes us science is valuable, but it isn't the most important thing we need to worry about. We should be primarily concerned about whether or not something is true first. As I've previously written, science is not the only way we know things. It isn't even the best way to know certain things. Meyer makes the same point in the video:
I don't care whether intelligent design is considered to be science or not. That is not the most important question. That is a semantic question. The most important question is whether it is true, or whether it is likely to be true, or most likely to be true given the evidence we have. What people have done to avoid answering that most important question is repair to these semantic arguments. "Intelligent design is not science; therefore we don't have to consider the case for it. I don't think that follows."
Watch the whole thing here:


References

1. Shermer, Michael. "Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?" Reason.com. Reason Foundation, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. http://reason.com/archives/2015/02/17/are-we-becoming-morally-smarte/.
2. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
3. Thornton, Stephen. "Karl Popper." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 13 Nov. 1997. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#BacHisTho.
4. Thornton, 1997.
5. Thornton, 1997.
Image courtesy GeoffAPuryear and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Contradiction of the Tolerance Brigade

Imagine the sacrifice that's involved in becoming a vegetarian. Certainly, such a decision comes at some significant sacrifice. You would have to renounce your ham and sausage breakfast sandwiches and learn to enjoy different types of meals. And you'd have to be more selective when eating out as your choices will be more limited. You would have to clean out your kitchen of meat products or meat-derived sauces and flavorings. You would need to learn a whole new way of preparing food.



So, in order to be better prepared for the vegetarian lifestyle, you decide to enroll in a vegetarian culinary course at the local college. Here, they promise to help all vegetarians learn ways to prepare well-balanced and healthy meals that fit their chosen lifestyle. Yet, after you arrive, you notice that some chefs are teaching their students the different seasoning choices for trout, salmon, or halibut. Another is discussing how to make chicken tacos while a third is demonstrating the proper temperature to cook a steak!

You first complain to your fellow students, but you're told you're judgmental and intolerant. "But, this is supposed to be a vegetarian cooking course," you say. They answer, "We stand with teachers in rejecting culinary clauses that impede their freedom, including the right to choose what to use when preparing a meal." I would imagine that after all your personal sacrifice and hard work, this would not only be offensive to you, but you would walk into the office and demand your money back!

Sacrificing Morality in the Name of Morality

The same thing is happening right now in San Francisco. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has set forth a set of rules for all instructors of primary and secondary Roman Catholic educational institutions in the San Francisco archdiocese to be adopted in the fall of 2015. It includes certain moral actions, such as teachers should affirm and believe in the churches teaching on chastity, and "only in marriage between man and woman that the intimacy of sexual union" is allowed while extra-marital relationships, including homosexual relationships are defined by the church as "gravely evil."1

None of this should be surprising, as these are well known beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, people are protesting the statement, rallying under the hatshtag #teachacceptance. They have asked for volunteers, stating:
We believe that the students and employees at our schools deserve to go to work and attend classes free of fear and discrimination. In addition, the Archbishop has mandated that all faculty and staff be reclassified as "ministers," which will leave them without workplace protection.

We affirm and believe in the value of diversity of thought within our Church. We also affirm and believe in the value of diversity and inclusion within the halls of our school. It is unconscionable that any employee or student should fear discrimination.2
Their Facebook group, Support SF Teachers, even organized a rally to protest these changes to the schools' handbook. They write "We stand with teachers and faculty working in the San Francisco Archdiocese in rejecting morality clauses that impede their freedom, including the right to choose who to love and marry and how to plan a family." Basically, they want it all; they want to be called Roman Catholic while opposing some of the most fundamental moral standards held throughout the church's history.

What's Left to Distinguish?

So, can you call someone who dines on T-bone steak every Saturday night a vegetarian? Just because I have oatmeal for breakfast each morning, it isn't enough for others to consider me a vegan. Why would groups like the Support SF Teachers demand the acceptance and tolerance of values antithetical to that define the Roman Catholic Church? Because they just want to call themselves Catholic?

The rife contradiction in this isn't even lost on the left. Slate.com has never been a destination to find conservative thought, yet, Slate's William Saletan recently wrote an article about the ridiculousness of those demanding the church change its position.3 Saletan nails it when he states:
The protesters are confused. They reject morality clauses but call the archbishop's behavior sinful, shameful, and wrong. They belong to a church but seem to think it shouldn't forbid anything. They insist that no one can be judged, except for issuing judgments that contradict their own. They can't explain or even acknowledge the moral differences between homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. The nonsense of nonjudgmentalism has turned their brains to mush. It's clouding their ability to think and speak clearly about society's mistakes—and their own.
I agree. How is one to define the distinctives of any faith if none of those distinctives are allowed? Such an approach isn't tolerance, its ridiculousness. Vegetarians are vegetarians because they don't eat meat. If you want to teach how to cook a steak, don't apply at a vegetarian cooking school. Likewise, believers are believers because they follow the tenets of their faith. If you want to be morally promiscuous, don't apply at a school where they demand that you act morally responsible. Today's demand for tolerance makes as much sense as a vegetarian owning a butcher shop.

References

1. "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church." Catholic San Francisco. Catholic San Francisco, 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. http://www.catholic-sf.org/ns.php?newsid=25&id=63175.
2."Volunteer Form for #TeachAcceptance." Google Docs. Support SF Teachers, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QeY03_-_P1o0JlUlIurFwTnoEbFYdyNrrb6_5ImcAPg/viewform.
3.Saletan, William. "Why San Francisco Catholics Are Wrong About the Church's New Morality Clauses ." Slate. The Slate Group, LLC, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2015/02/san_francisco_catholics_are_protesting_salvatore_cordileone_s_morality_clauses.html.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

J.P. Moreland: Why the Church Must Overcome Its Aversion to Intellectual Development

One job of the church is to be salty to the world in which it finds itself, so if that world grows saltless, we should look first to the church herself to glean what we can about her contribution to the situation. ... A major cause of our current cultural crisis consists of a worldview shift from a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality to a post-Christian one. Moreover, this shift itself expresses a growing anti-intellectualism in the church, resulting in the marginalization of Christianity in society—its lack of saltiness, if you will—and the emergence of the most secular culture the world has ever seen. That secular culture is now simply playing out the implications of ideas that have come to be widely accepted in a social context in which the church is no longer a major participant in the war of ideas.1 In the rest of this book, then, I’ll try to demonstrate how the church must overcome the neglect of this critical area of the development of the Christian mind, perhaps the most integral component of the believers’ sanctification. The role of intellectual development is primary in evangelical Christianity, but you might not know that from a cursory look at the church today. In spite of this, if we are to have Christ formed in us (Galatians 4:19), we must realize the work of God in our minds and pay attention to what a Christlike mind might look like. As our Savior has said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). To do this, we cannot neglect the soulful development of a Christian mind.
 J. P.Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. 2nd Ed. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012. Print.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Questions for Skeptics: Why Aren't You More Skeptical of Your Morality? (Video)


A lot of skeptics object to the God of the Bible as being cruel, intolerant, genocidal, or worse. All of these claims hinge on a specific moral position, though. How does the skeptic know that he or she has the appropriate moral high ground? From where does their morality stem?

In this short video, Lenny discusses the problem of moral grounding and asks why these skeptics don't question their own moral position in the same way they question God's.


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Lot of Hand-Waving by Evolutionists

In college, I was a physics major. In physics, we sought to provide some precise answers to specific data presented to us. For example, we know that a car turning a corner must rely on a certain amount of friction to turn a corner. We want to know how to calculate this so we can set safe speed limits on corners. In chemistry, we seek to know just what is happening when iron rusts or an acid and a base are combined. In medicine we seek to know exactly why someone who suffers from Sickle cell disease. Doctors have traced the problem back to a single DNA point mutation which then changes the coding of a single amino acid.1 This is pure science, seeking to find an answer while examining the details.



Of course, not all science can be done in this way. There are fields such as plate tectonics that take observed data and use them to create models of how the different plates of the earth's crust will affect each other. Still, these models attempt to be very specific in just what is moving and how, and it's this specificity that makes the difference in the explanatory value of any theory. The devil's in the details, as it were.

What's Needed to Make a Whale

Yet, when I talk with proponents of evolution, the discussions are different. Yesterday, I engaged again in an exchange with a proponent of evolution. I asked his again to provide a definition, to which he replied "Evolution Is Change in the Inherited Traits of a Population through Successive Generations" (borrowing the title from this web site.) But, as I wrote yesterday, that's not a very useful definition. Just because things change doesn't mean we get new biological systems. Men can be four feet tall or seven feet tall, but not 12 inches tall or 12 feet tall. Those who inherit the sickle cell trait are immune from malaria, but their children are at risk of a painful life and an early death. Even here, the inherited immunity isn't a new feature, but a crippling of a functioning system.

So, I ask for specifics. I offered the humpback whale as an example. Supposedly, the whale evolved from a land mammal over the course of about 10-12 million years.2 One may try to explain the size increase by simple growth over time, (although a recent article in the journal Science says that such an explanation fails), there are still a huge amount of systems that must be changed for a land-dwelling mammal to change into an ocean-dwelling one. The nose must be migrated to the top of the head and turned into a blow hole. Breathing is no longer automatic but must take conscious effort. Walking limbs must be transformed into flippers. The kidneys must be changed to handle the intake of salt water. Testes must be located inside the body to keep warm. The young must be able to nurse under water, and on and on.3

How Much Change Does that Take?

You may imagine that changing one body part into something different, like a nose into a blowhole would take quite a bit of DNA rearrangement. These morphological changes not only have to all happen, but they have to happen together, for a blowhole isn't going to help if you are breathing without thinking. The animal will simply drown. But even more problematic, the vast number of changes to the DNA must happen within that relatively short window of 10-12 million years because that's what the fossil record shows. If whales came from the land mammal pakicetus, then using the traditional dating of fossils found, all these changes must take place with what would be on an evolutionary timeline, a very brief span.

Thu, my question to my interrogator was simple how quickly would the mutations of DNA have had to happen to produce all of the necessary changes to get the whale from its supposed ancestor? Does any natural selection and genetic mutation that we observe now correlate to those changes? One must remember that we aren't taking about bacteria that reproduce very quickly and have very large populations. Mammals like pakicetus are the same size as a large dog, which means that they might reproduce only after a year or two upon maturation and produce a few litters. With a smaller population and more time between generations, evolution via mutation is made even more difficult.

So, what's the model? Where's the math? What's the actual number of beneficial mutations posited generation to make this kind of a transition? I was met with nothing but obfuscation. It was all hand-waving, and talk of me supposedly ignoring "hundreds of years of hard scientific work." This is what I find all the time in discussions of evolution. Everyone claims it's an established fact, but no one offers the details. Dawkins speaks of cells that morph into light-sensitive ones, then become aligned, and eventually we get the human eye.4 However he never gives us just which genes changed, how many would've needed to change, or how fast it would have to occur. It's a just-so story that has no numbers behind it. Modern proponents seem a little too light on the details to say evolution is of the same type of knowledge as the earth revolving around the sun.5 We have the formula for gravity. We have silence regarding genetic changes.

References

1. "Sickle Cell Disease." Genetics Home Reference. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/sickle-cell-disease.
2. "Going Aquatic: Cetacean Evolution." PBS. PBS, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/ocean-giants-going-aquatic-cetacean-evolution/7577/.
3. Andrews, Max. "Darwinian Whale Evolution." Sententias. Sententias, 06 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. http://sententias.org/2012/02/06/darwinian-whale-evolution/#more-1563. See also Richard Sternberg's video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbAzZEu13_w
4. Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), 140-178.
5. "Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?" Evolution Resources from the National Academies. U.S. National Academy of Sciences., 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. http://www.nas.edu/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Do You Mean by Evolution?

I've recently had a couple of conversations where someone sought to challenge my questioning of the modern assumption that evolution is a proven fact. One person commented to me "To disbelieve in the theory of evolution requires a suspension of reason so extreme as to be almost pathological." That's a pretty big claim! However, in the broad topic of evolution, the devil is in the details. In fact, for most complex scientific theories, the devil is in the details. Newtonian laws work really well to describe the actions of most things in motion, but when you get down to the sub-atomic level they don't work. That's why whenever I'm challenged by someone by such an assertion, I think it becomes crucial to first make sure you define your terms.


"Change Over Time" Is Unproblematic

One of the biggest problems in causal discussions over evolution is that the word has become so plastic, it can mean almost anything. When someone asks "Do you believe in evolution," I first ask "What exactly do you mean by evolution?" For example, in my conversation, I received the definition of evolution as "inherited traits [that] vary across a population with time." If that's all evolution is supposed to be, then I wouldn't disagree with it. All the breeds of dogs we see are from inherited traits varying across the population with time. Bacteria can and do develop resistances to antibiotics. These things are not controversial in the least.

Physicist Gerald Schroeder makes a salient point here:
The magnificent Natural History Museum in London devotes an entire wing to demonstrating the fact of evolution. They show how pink daises can evolve into blue daises, how gray moths can change into black moths, how over a mere few thousand years, a wide variety of cichlid fish species evolved in Lake Victoria. It is all impressive.

Impressive until you walk out and reflect upon that which they were able to document.Daisies remained daises, moths remained moths, and cichlid fish remained cichlid fish.These changes are referred to as micro-evolution.In this exhibit, the museum's staff did not demonstrate a single unequivocal case in which life underwent a major gradual morphological change.1
Yes, change over time happens. Populations become taller, fatter, and balder. But that is neither controversial nor very interesting when discussing the issues of God or why there is so much diversity in life and still so many biological systems seem perfectly designed for their environments.

Competing Definitions

In an article written for Evolution News a couple of years ago, David Klinghoffer quoted form Jay Westley Richards on some of the multiple meanings the word evolution takes on in discussions. He notes six that were first identified by Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas:
1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.

2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.

3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.

5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.

6. "Blind watchmaker" thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.
Richards then adds two more:
There is also the metaphorical sense of evolution, in which Darwinian Theory is used as a template to explain things other than nature, like the rise and fall of civilizations or sports careers…

Finally, there's evolution in the sense of "progress" or "growth." Natural evolution has often been understood in this way, so that cosmic history is interpreted as a movement toward greater perfection, complexity, mind, or spirit. A pre-Darwinian understanding of "evolution" was the idea of a slow unfolding of something that existed in nascent form from the beginning, like an acorn eventually becoming a great oak tree. If anything, this sense of evolution tends toward theism rather than away from it, since it suggests a purposive plan.2
Of course, not all of these will be applicable in your discussions with others on evolution. However, it does show how fungible the word has come to be. Asking with model of evolutionary theory can help take some of the imprecision out of the discussion and it helps to make sure that the ones challenging you knows what they are talking about, too.

References 

1. Dembski, William A., and Sean McDowell. Understanding Intelligent Design. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 2008. Print. 48.
2. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of Evolution." Evolution News & Views. Evolution News & Views, 26 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Image courtesy Aaron "tango" Tang and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Unlikely Candidates for Gospel Writers

Do you ever remember cutting class in High School? Perhaps there was an event you wanted to attend, so you decided to ditch one day. The problem with ditching school is the ever-present danger of being caught. Teachers take attendance and they want to know why you missed class when you show up the next day. A lot of kids I knew would simply forge an absence note from their mother or father to escape detection.



Why do kids forge notes from their parents, but not the next-door neighbor or a sibling? Usually, it is because it would make the note a whole lot less believable. If a neighbor signed the note, the student would be forced to go to much greater lengths to demonstrate he or she was in the neighbor's care or the neighbor had some legal authority over the child. It complicates things and makes people ask questions in a way that the more widely-recognized authority of the mother and father don't.

Why Forge These Guys' Names?

I bring this point up as I wrap down my little series on the authorship of the Gospels. While it is agreed that the original authors of the gospels didn't sign their names to them (something not uncommon when dealing with a popular level biographical account in the ancient world), they have always been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In fact, that's a big point. Those who are skeptical will usually claim that no one knows who wrote any of the gospels. They were anonymous and the names they now bear were attached later. Yet, the gospels themselves claim to come from eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-3, John 21:24) and ancient biographers sought out eyewitnesses as the best type of evidence. Richard Bauckham, comments that historian Samuel Byrskog stresses that "for Greek and Roman historians, the ideal eyewitness was not the dispassionate observer but one who, as a participant, had been closest to the events and those who direct experience enabled him to understand and interpret the significance of what he had seen. The historians 'preferred the eyewitness who was socially involved or, even better, had actively participated in the events.'"1

Given that involved eyewitnesses would be considered more valuable, then one would imagine that these anonymously-written accounts would offer some more significant apostolic names to be associated with them. Two of the four gospels aren't even names of the apostles: Mark and Luke. Isn't this a bit like picking the next door neighbor to write your absence note? It takes more explaining and weakens the case for their authenticity. Of the two gospels that do bear the names of apostles, Matthew is more relatively obscure apostle, not an Andrew or Peter or James. Only John's gospel account bears the name of one of the "inner circle" of apostles, and his is the one that shows up last. If the pattern was to forge the names onto the Gospels, why wait until John to pick a prominent apostle, unless Matthew, Mark , and Luke actually did write their own Gospels?

No Other Choices

Not only do we have some relatively obscure authors chosen for three of the four gospels, we also notice that there has never been any alternatives offered for the sources of the Gospels. Compare that to a truly anonymous book of the New Testament: the book of Hebrews. Early writers like Eusebius and Athanasius attribute the book to the Apostle Paul. Origen seems to have some misgivings about that, writing "For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul's. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows" (Eccl. History 6.25.13-14). Other possibilities like Silas, Timothy, or Apollos have also been offered, yet the book remains anonymous. The same is not true of the gospels; they are always and confidently ascribed to these four authors and no other possibility is ever advanced. Further, when the second century produced a flurry of forged gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter, these were summarily rejected because they were forgeries. There does not exist any ancient list or writing offering as authoritative any accounts of Jesus's life other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is strong evidence that the early church fathers were critical of claims that an apostle wrote a book without any good supporting evidence for it that ties it all the way back to the apostles themselves.

What's More Reasonable?

Given all that we know about the gospels, the testimony of people like Papias who sought to establish their relation to the eyewitnesses, the internal testimony and claims that they were written by eyewitnesses, and the lack of other options, it is more reasonable to hold that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John than to believe they are forgeries.

References

1. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 9.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels – Evidence for John

Who wrote the Gospel of John? While our modern Bibles attach John's name to the beginning of the Gospel, John (just like the other gospel authors) never documented his name within the book. In our previous articles, we looked at evidence for Mark and Matthew's authorship as well as Luke's. So how can we know that the apostle John wrote the fourth gospel?

John's Gospel: The External Evidence

John most probably wrote his gospel last, possibly even into the early 90's, though there's some debate about that. One would think that since the early church historian Papias was alive and collecting his sources at the time of the different gospels' authorship, this would be the easiest of the four to identify. Unfortunately, it isn't that cut and dried. The quotation from Papias isn't as clear as we would like.

Eusebius, when he quotes Papias on John's gospel records that Paipas seems to list John the apostle, grouping him with the likes of Andrew, Peter, James, Philip, and Thomas. This group Papias labels "the elders." He then mentions "other disciples of the Lord' which seems to imply those who also heard Jesus's teachings. 1 However, Papias lists another John, whom he calls "John the Presbyter" as well. This John is also called "The Lord's disciple," but Eusebius thinks that this John is different from the apostle, and this use of the term disciple in this second instance may be more generic; it is a way of identifying a follower of Jesus's teachings and not one who sat under Jesus himself. Others disagree and say the phrase is to focus those disciples who were still alive and teaching in churches in Asia.2,3

That doesn't mean we have no testimony on authorship of the fourth gospel from the early church fathers. The claim that Apostle John was the author is made by Irenaeus, who tied it to the epistles of John and the book of Revelation.4 The second century church father Polycrates, writing about AD 190, stated that John "was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord."5

John's Gospel: The Internal Evidence

While we cannot point with certainty to Papias, we can at least deduce from early on the author of the Gospel was someone named John. That's actually helpful, as the author of John's Gospel does include himself in the narrative, but never by name. He always refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," such as in John 21:20 where Peter was questioning his fate. He then makes a bold claim: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). Here, we have the author claiming to be an eyewitness of the events he has written about. Knowing that the Beloved Disciple was present at the Last Supper (John 13:22) and leaning on Jesus's breast, it narrows this author down to one of the original twelve apostles. Given that Jesus charges him with the care of his Mother, Mary (John 20:26-27), this must've been not simply any disciple but one who was deeply intimate with Jesus.

Yet, there is more evidence. Another claim to being an eyewitness is found at the beginning of the Gospel. In John 1:14, the author says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory." That phrase of "his glory" is key. Jesus only revealed his glory one time, and that as on the Mount of Transfiguration. While that event is not recorded in John's gospel, it is captures in the other three, who are in agreement that Jesus took only Peter, James and John with him. It was big enough to make an impression on both Peter and John, given that Peter points to it in claiming his eyewitness credentials: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

When we look at John's three epistles, we can see that John uses the term "the elder" for himself (2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:1). The epistle writer also claims to be an eyewitness in 1 John 1:1-3: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you." Further, the style of the three epistles and the fourth Gospel are so close that it is clearly evident they were all written by the same person.

For John's Gospel we now know that:
  • The author was an eyewitness of the events he recorded
  • He was intimately acquainted with Jesus
  • He was an elder in the church, providing instruction through much of the first century
  • He wrote the three epistles that are also identified with the apostle John
  • He claimed to not only see Jesus, but to see him "in his glory" which points to the Transfiguration
  • Jesus's took only three of his closest disciples with him to see his transfiguration
  • There is second century tradition that points to john the Apostle as being the author of the fourth gospel.
Given the evidence, it seems reasonable to hold that John's gospel was indeed written by John the apostle. He's the only one that fits all the criteria.


References

1. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.4
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 17.
3. Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Second ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 2007. Print. 27.
4. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.8.4-5
5. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.24.2

Monday, February 16, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels - Evidence for Luke

Last week, I wrote about how the early church fathers provided testimony going all the way back to the disciples of the apostles themselves that the four gospels in our Bible were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. More specifically, we have very good evidence for both Mark and Matthew as being the authors of their respective gospels from the testimony of Papias and Clement. Today, I'd like to turn my attention to the authorship of Luke's Gospel. To begin, we can examine a different line of evidence: the internal corroboration of the Bible itself.


The place to start when investigating the gospel attributed to Luke is actually the book of Acts. We begin here because the author tells us that Luke and Acts are a two-volume set, written by the same person to the same recipient. The book of Acts begins, "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1). This corresponds exactly to the opening of Luke's gospel where he writes:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
Theophilus is addressed as the recipient in both accounts and the author claims to have direct access to eyewitnesses, thus scholars are agreed that the author of Luke is also the author of Acts.

The Early Authorship of Acts

The book of Acts records the actions of the early church and Paul's missionary journeys. Yet, the book stops rather abruptly at Paul's house arrest, yet before his trial in Rome.  We know from Clement's writings (about AD 95) that Paul was released from Rome and visited "the extremity of the West."1  This is most likely Spain, as Paul himself said he planned to visit there in Romans 15:24. So, why would the author of Acts leave out such a victory as Paul getting exonerated and released at his trial in Rome? The only reasonable explanation is the book of Acts was completed before Paul was freed. This means that the book of acts was written around AD 62, placing the author in direct contact with most of the apostles. This still doesn't point to Luke as the author, but it makes the author at least a contemporary of Luke's.

Luke Includes Himself in Acts

The biggest clincher in who authored Luke and Acts is the section beginning in Acts 16:10, where the author begins to include himself in the narrative. Up to this point Paul and Silas are referred to in the third person plural "they." Yet, at Troas, the pronoun switched to "we". When Paul and Silas were thrown in prison it switches back to "they" seemingly indicating that the author was not jailed with them. Yet, in Acts 20, when Paul and Silas come back to Troas, the "we" returns. Thus, the author traveled with Paul for some of his missionary journeys. Paul himself tells us that Luke was accompanying him, mentioning Luke by name in his letters (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11, and Phil. 1:24). Irenaeus in the second century tell us that "Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him," and in the earliest surviving writing after the apostolic writings (the Muratorian fragment, dated about AD 170) it states "The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to the [general belief]." 2

Given all the above, we know that the author of the Gospel of Luke:
  • Also wrote the book of Acts
  • Lived during the times of the events recorded in the Book of Acts
  • Accompanied Paul on some portion of his missionary journeys
  • Would have direct access to the apostles to interview them
  • Is intimate enough with Paul to be mentioned by him in his later years
  • Is claimed to be Luke by some of the earliest traditions.
Given all of these points, there are strong reasons to hold that the author of Luke is Luke, Paul's companion.

References

1 Hoole, Charles H. "The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians." Early Christian Writings. 1885. 15 Feb. 2015 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-hoole.html
2 Metzger, Bruce M. "The Muratorian Fragment." Early Christian Writings. 1965. 15 Feb. 2015 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/muratorian-metzger.html.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why Postmoderns are The Most Dangerous People

G.K. Chesterton had an amazing way of putting his finger on the state of modern society. Even in his fictional novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare he succinctly exposes the dangers of those in our society who seek to redefine traditional values. Pointing to the individuals who try to justify the tearing down of the traditional understanding of morality, truth, and meaning in the name of progress or changing with the times, (Chesterton calls these deconstructionists the "modern philosophers"), he notes that such people are the biggest threat to a lawful and civilized world:
We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fullness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people's … The common criminal is a bad man, but at least he is, as it were, a conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be removed—say a wealthy uncle—he is then prepared to accept the universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to annihilate them.1
Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. Reproduced in The Essential Gilbert K. Chesterton. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2007. N. pag. Print.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable (video)


Can we trust the Gospels? Why should people place their trust in documents written so long ago that don't even agree with each other? In this video given at last year's Speaking the Truth in Love Conference, Lenny investigates two little-known pieces of evidence that demonstrate why the Gospels are reliable history.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels – Testimony from the Church Fathers

In my interactions with skeptics, I've noticed a recurring trend. They take a certain pride being both skeptical and reasonable. They feel that the two go hand in hand; a person who doesn't question claims is vulnerable to believe anything. This may be true to an extent, but there are levels of skepticism that can be considered unreasonable and many times I find myself arguing with the very people who so proudly proclaim their rationalism demanding a level of proof that is simply irrational.



For example, take the authors of the Gospel accounts. We know that the four Gospels were not signed by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. This is not uncommon, as there were other popular biographies that were also anonymous when written. However, there are good reasons to hold that the Gospels were written by these four men. Let me begin by reviewing the historical tradition linking the four to the Gospel accounts.

The Testimony of Clement

While Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not sign their names to their Gospels, the church recognized them as the authors very early in its history. Eusebius, writing at the end of the third century specifically credits the four Gospels to those four writers. Of course, writing about authorship some 200 years after the Gospels were composed may lead people to wonder just how reliable that is. But Eusebius didn't make the connection himself. He quoted from earlier works such as Clement of Alexandria.

Clement of Alexandria lived 100 years before Eusebius and held that Mark wrote his Gospel, taken from the teaching of Peter. He also notes that this Mark is the one Peter mentions in 1 Peter 5:15 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2).1 He later states that Mark's writing of the Gospel happened while Peter was still alive (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.16.6).2

The Testimony of Papias

While Clement's writings bring us to within a century of the Gospels' composition, Eusebius quotes and even earlier source, the writer Papias. Richard Bauckham notes that Papias' writings, while composed probably around 110AD are reflections from his earlier investigations as he collected oral reports from disciples who sat under either the apostles' direct disciples or the apostles themselves. Bauckham notes "the period of which he is speaking must be around 80CE."3 According to Craig Blomberg, Papias states Mark, who served as Peter's interpreter, "wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord."4

Similarly, we have early support for the other authors as well. Blomberg notes that Papias tells us that Matthew wrote his gospel "alleging that he originally wrote the ‘sayings' of Jesus in the Hebrew dialect."5 Irenaeus, who lived just after Papias confirms that Matthew wrote his gospel and did so early: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church" (Against Heresies 3.1.1). Clement of Alexandria, in the same Eusebius passage where he confirms Mark authorship also confirms Luke and John's authorship of their gospels.

Next time, I will look at some additional reasons why he hold these four men as the proper authors of the Gospel accounts. For now, we can know that there is a strong chain of testimony linking these men to the Gospel accounts.

References

1. See this passage in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library digital version of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xvi.html.
2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.xi.xiv.html.
3. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 14.
4. Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Second ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 2007. Print. 25.
5. Blomberg, 26.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Spider-Man, Marvel, and the Need for Justice

The Internet is awash in prayers of thankfulness. Millions of comic geeks are hailing the recently announced deal allowing Spider-Man back into the Marvel movie universe. Sony Pictures, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, has developed five successful films featuring the character, but the last two didn't perform as well as expected. Meanwhile, Marvel has done quite well for itself launching secondary characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.



Why is this big news? Why should we care about which studio gets to make a movie with Spider-Man in it? Because there's something going on here that's bigger than just the comics. We live in the era of the superhero blockbuster. According to Box Office Mojo, four of the top twenty grossing films of all time have been superhero action movies. The genre is considered gold, and there are nearly 30 superhero films said to be appearing just in the next six years.1 That averages to five superhero films every year! Obviously, something in the genre is satisfying a significant section of the public, and not only in the United States, but worldwide.

Looking for Limits

I believe that one reason people love superhero movies is simply because it provides a way of seeing right and wrong unambiguously. In our modern culture, right and wrong are relativized and excused. To declare that there are certain objective moral values will in many circles be met with disdain or claims of bigotry or self-righteousness. Add to this the fact that people seek to avoid anything that hurts someone's feelings or makes others uncomfortable, even if it means ignoring evil. However, such equivocation goes against the real human need for identifying right and wrong and wanting wrongs to be punished.

In superhero movies, we know who the hero is and we know who the villain is. They allow us to live vicariously through the hero and see evil vanquished, even if its for just a little while. In his review of B. J. Oropeza's The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture, James Fleming comments that "superheroes serve an important cultural function; they allow readers to, in essence, vicariously fight injustice and evil and live on through reading or viewing the otherworldly exploits of their superheroes, a contention that is difficult for any comic reader to dispute."2 I think that's true. While the sinful nature of man seeks to wash away any rules or restrictions that inhibit his drive for pleasure and comfort, there still exists a need within each of us to see evil conquered. Yet, those two desires sit in tension with one another. One thing the superhero move does is give us a respite from that tension. Wickedness is vanquished but it's such a fantastically alien evil it never comes too close to rebuking us of our own moral failings.

The Need for a Superhero

This longing for putting things right is as old as man. In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that God has placed his law in each of our hearts and we become a law unto ourselves and are accountable for violating it.3 Yet, Psalm 73 captures it the best. The psalmist, in seeing the prosperity of the wicked and arrogant complains that they are not punished for their wickedness, but they seem to thrive. He laments this observation, but realizes that their ultimate end will not be so. He concludes, "For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works" (Psa. 73:27-28, ESV).

All of mankind looks for a savior from evil. Each person seeks to be delivered from the injustice reflected in the world today, especially the injustice he or she feels directly. Superhero movies speak to this need, but these are merely fantasies. To truly meet the need for justice would require a savior to step into reality; which is exactly the Christian message. In fact, the Christian savior idea is what powers the modern superhero genre, as you can hear in this video. We need to use these opportunities to talk with our friends and family about how Christ can meet the need for justice while offering each of them forgiveness. We may not be able to save the world, but we may be able to play a part in the salvation of at least one other person. I think that's a super idea.

References

1. Wagner, Tony. "We're in the Middle of a Superhero Movie 'arms Race'" Marketplace Business. American Public Media, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/were-middle-superhero-movie-arms-race.
2. Fleming, James. "Review of The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture ed. B.J. Oropeza." . ImageTexT:Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. 3.1 (2006). Dept of English, University of Florida. 11 Feb 2015. http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_1/reviews/fleming.shtml
3. See Romans 2:14-16. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+2%3A14-16&version=ESV
Image courtesy Artur Andrzej and licensed by the CC BY 2.0 license.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Are Christians Like Atheists With Respect to Islam?

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris makes the claim that Christians know just what it's like to be non-believers. In fact, he asserts they are non-believers if one is considering the Muslim god. Harris writes:
Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. You think that Muslims are fooling themselves? You think that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe is misguided? Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way Atheists view Christianity, and in fact the way we view all other religions.1


Harris seems to make a convincing claim. Is this right? Are we rejecting Islam in the same way that atheists reject Christianity? Actually, no. Harris offers a false analogy here; Christians have very strong reasons for rejecting Islam while still holding to Christianity as the one true faith.

Evaluating the Evidence

Harris first tries to stack the deck with his claim that Christians cannot prove that the angel Gabriel didn't visit Muhammad in a cave to unveil the first verses of the Qur'an. That story is itself not part of the Qur'an, but in the later written collections of traditions about Muhammad known as the Hadith.2 These stories were compiled by al-Bukari some 200 years after Muhammad's life.3 While this doesn't exclusively invalidate the Islamic revelation tale, it certainly doesn't put it on the same footing as the Gospel accounts that were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to Jesus's resurrection.

More importantly, the Qur'an references the Bible throughout its pages. Note that the angel claimed to visit Muhammad is the Arch-angel Gabriel. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old Testament (Daniel 8:16, 9:21) and the New Testament (Luke 1:19,26). Jesus (Isa) is talked about repeatedly as is acknowledged as a messenger from God. Further, the Qur'an points to the Gospels and even instructs Muhammad to verify his doubts with “those who have read the book before you” (Sura 10:94) meaning Muhammad should check with the Christians and Jews who had the Word of God in their book.

Contradictory Claims

Given that Muhammed is to compare his teachings with those of the Bible, it is reasonable to say that the Qur'an recognized and leverages the authority of the Bible. Yet, as Muhammad's teachings evolved over the years, they became more and more unlike those found in Scripture. Islam's description of God is nothing like that found in either testament. So, it is reasonable to reject Islam on the basis that the very authority of their faith (the Qur'an) extols that Bible as the confirmation of the truth, yet contradicts the Bible on the essentials of who God is and what his message is. The Qur'an gives us the test as to whether Muhammad's message is reliable itself: compare it to the Bible. All Christians know that Islam and Christianity are simply incompatible belief systems. They cannot both be true. Since the Qur'an relies upon the Bible and holds it up as a preexisting standard, one is more reasonable to believe the Bible rather than the Qur'an.

The Category Error of Harris' Atheism

There's one other point I want to make in Harris' charge. Believing in no God at all is markedly different than believing in one specific God over another. The fact that there is a Creator of the universe has been recognized throughout all of human history. Getting attributes of the Creator wrong is not the same thing as dismissing any chance of a creator at all.

Other atheists I've engaged with have offered a more sweeping but similar charge, something like “There have been thousands of gods people have believed in across history; you don't believe in Thor or Zeus or Ra. While you're an atheist regarding all these, we just believe in one less god than you.” Such a retort is silly. Imagine turning in your math quiz blank and telling your teacher, “There are thousands of answers to those problems that you don't believe are right. You reject them all. I just believe in one less right answer than you.” I don't think such logic would carry you very far.

Atheists like Harris are categorically different than theists like Christians and Muslims. We recognize that the problem of “Why is there something rather than nothing” is a problem on the table and needs an answer. As a Christian, I will work out the problem with the factors that are set before me. The evidence adds up to Christianity. Harris turns in his blank page and smugly walks away telling everyone else he aced the test.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, 2006. Print.7
2. Al_Bukarhi , Muhammad.“The Revelation.” Sahih al_Bukarhi, (Vol 1, Book 1, Num 3). Web. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_1_01.php
3. "Sahih Bukhari."SahihBukhari.com, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to Quickly Debunk the Horus-Jesus Myth

I remember the first time I heard the story of the Las Vegas vacationer who took a girl back to his hotel room but passed out, only to awake the next morning in a bathtub filled with ice and a kidney missing—the victim of organ harvesters. I had heard it from a co-worker who said it happened to the friend of a shared friend. Since this was before the age of the Internet, there was no Snopes–type web sites to check out such tales. In fact, I hadn't been acquainted with many urban legends up to that point, so in my youth they were more believable.


I should have known better. While the name of our shared friend lent some credence to the tale, it's obvious that the whole this is too sensationalistic and improbable to be true. It's what used to be called a tall tale, a yarn, a cock-and-bull story. Yet, even though I found it fascinating, the legend didn't spread much beyond our conversation. However, now that social media has been implanted into our circulatory systems, we're much more apt to spread such fertilizer in our interactions with others.

The Horus-Jesus Myth: What's the Connection?

Such is the case with the "Jesus is a copy of pagan myths" trope that seems to be gathering steam in many atheist circles. Some of this has to do with the popularity of the YouTube video Zeitgeist, where the first third of the video tries to compare Jesus and several demi-gods worshipped prior to Jesus's birth. Near the beginning, the narrator makes this claim:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Annointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.

These attributes of Horus, whether original or not, seem to permeate in many cultures of the world, for many other gods are found to have the same general mythological structure.1
Richard Carrier also believes that resurrection stories were "wildly popular among the pagans" and begat a something akin to the standard trope, with the Gospels simply following in this tradition:
Among pagans, genuine sons of god who had to be murdered, buried, and then miraculously resurrected from the dead in order to judge and rule from heaven on high as our divine saviors were actually a common fad of the time, not a shocking novelty at all. Osirus and Romulus were widely worshipped to the tune of such sacred stories demonstrably before the rise of Christianity, and similar stories surrounded other dying-and-rising gods long before such as Zalmoxis, Adonis, and Inanna.2

The Horus-Jesus Myth: Be Critical

Just like the stolen kidney story, the Horus-Jesus connection myth has much of what makes an urban legend appealing: a moral tale that shows how one's gullibility can result in one being taken in with serious consequences, the authoritative yet undefined source, a set of facts that on the surface are seemingly plausible, and the ability to shock others with a sensational revelation. Yet, just like the stolen kidney story, all you need to do is to think a bit and the paper-thin claims of Jesus's stolen resurrection will quickly melt away. Here are five points to consider:

1) Look for Loaded Language

Notice in the Zeitgeist story, all the terms used are ones taken from Christianity. Horus is called a "messiah" and was "baptized." He had "disciples" and a "ministry." All of these terms bias the listener because they are Jewish or Christian concepts. The Egyptians would never use these words to refer to their religious rites. The word messiah had a very specific meaning to the Jews, including being a descendant of David. It wasn't any political figure. Christianity teaches that believers are baptized only once, not simply a pre-religious washing ceremony. By mislabeling other deities with Christian terms, the listener is deluded into believing the similarities are closer than they really are.

2) Ask "Can I read the source of these myths?"

The single easiest way to debunk these supposed parallel accounts of Jesus and Horus are to simply ask for the source text of the myths themselves. Just as the stolen kidney tale can't be verified since it comes from "a friend of a friend," so you'll find that the ancient tales that supposedly parallels the life of Jesus are an extended form of hearsay. In fact, all these claims are usually committing the same sin many atheists claim the Gospels commit: they are more like a game of telephone than real texts.

Interestingly, if anyone actually bothers to look up the source texts, a very different picture arises. For Horus, there's no mention at all of twelve disciples, three king visitations, and death by crucifixion and the three day entombment. In fact, Horus was stung by a scorpion and a magic incantation by the god of wisdom, Thoth, purges the venom from his body. This all happens while Horus was a young child, well before his adulthood and battle for the throne. It's nothing like Jesus's resurrection at all.3

3) Ask "What do you mean by "resurrection?"

There's a significant difference between Jesus's resurrection and what you read in the ancient myths. Osirus, according to a late tradition recorded in the first century AD by the Roman Plutarch, was cut into fourteen pieces by his nemesis Typhon and they were scattered all along the Nile. Osirus's wife Isis was able to gather thirteen of those to reassemble her husband. The tale tells us that unfortunately Osirus's sexual organ was eaten by fish and so Isis assembled another out of gold in order for Osirus to impregnate her with Horus. Osirus, since he will never be a complete being again, now resides as the god of the underworld.4

4) Ask "What do you mean by virgin birth?"

Certainly, given the events above, calling Horus's conception a virgin birth strains the idea to its breaking point. Other fables, such as Zeus impregnating Semele with Dionysus. He had physical relations with her even though she couldn't see him. Zeus took Dionysus ads a fetus and sewed him into his thigh and from there Dionysus was born. To say the virgin birth stories should be considered comparable is itself laughable.

5) Ask "Just which calendar were they using in ancient Egypt?"

Lastly, the claims of December 25th are completely erroneous. Many myths don't specify any date at all for the birth of the deities (again, read the originals!) For Horus, Plutarch tells us he was born "about the time of the winter solstice… imperfect and premature."5 Beside the fact that Plutarch mixed many Greek ideas with the Egyptian myths, it is a huge stretch to assume an exact date for Horus's birth. Taking Plutarch's account, the term "about the time of the winter solstice" can be a swing of weeks in either direction. But if the Egyptians wanted to be more precise and attach Horus with the solstice, then his birthday would be the 21/22 of December in the modern calendar, not the 25th. As I've explained before, Jesus's actual birth is not known, and celebrating Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the winter solstice whatsoever.

There are other ideas you should have at the ready as well. For more suggestions, see here and here. But it should be evident by now that the supposed evidence of Christianity's plagiarism of earlier myths is itself based on myths and contrivances. Those that offer such views attempt to paint a picture that doesn't exist. Don't let these organ thieves steal your brain. Challenge them to think.


References

1. Zeitgeist: The Movie. Dir. Peter Joseph. YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvKkR0-d83k
2. Carrier, Richard. "Christianity's Success Was Not Incredible". The End of Christianity, John Loftus, Ed. (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011). 59.
3. Budge, E. A Wallis. " The Legend of the Death of Horus - II.--The Narrative of Isis " Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1912. 170-196. Print. Online text available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg28.htm
4. Budge "The History of Isis and Osiris -Section XVIII." 224-226. Web. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg46.htm
5. Plutarch. Isis and Osiris. Loeb Classical Library ed. Vol. V. N.p.: Loeb, 1936. Bill Thayer's Web Site. University of Chicago, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Isis_and_Osiris*/D.html.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Questions to Ask Skeptics: What About the Problem of Evil? (video)


One of the more difficult questions many Christians face from skeptics is the question "How can a God exist when I see so much evil in the world?" While this is a challenge to many people, one should realize that the evil we face is more of a problem for the atheist worldview.

In this short video clip, Lenny highlights how rather than disproving God, Christianity provides the most satisfying response to the human struggle with evil and suffering.


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