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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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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jesus Redeems Us from the Monsters

As we approach Easter Sunday, I think it's important for Christians to reflect on various aspects of our salvation. It's too easy to think of being saved as a promise for a happy life in heaven. There's so much more to the redemption than our happiness and I think we can appreciate Easter more fully if we thought a little harder on some of the less comfortable implications of salvation.

What It Means to Be Human

ISIS has been capturing headlines consistently in the news media and across social channels for nearly two years now. There's hardly a soul alive who doesn't know about the Islamic State's terror campaign across areas of the Middle East, with gruesome YouTube posts showing the savage beheadings of those they consider enemies, those of different faiths, or those with whom they simply disagree. The pillage of towns like Mosul where ISIS warriors brought back a version of the Nazi yellow badge to mark Christians and drove them from the place they called home for nearly 2,000 years. I think all sane people agree that those in ISIS demonstrate the worst in humanity.

But, the ISIS terrorists are not the exception when one asks what it means to be human. Their actions are neither new nor novel when we survey the annals of history. In fact, as Dr. Clay Jones put it, labeling ISIS as "monsters" or "inhuman" is our attempt to separate them from ourselves and perhaps provide a bit of comfort to our consciences. Yet, as Jones states, "these horrors are precisely human. They indict all of humankind in a particular way."1 Every single one of us has the capacity to become ISIS-enabled, holocaust-enabled, or 9/11 enabled. Being human means being broken to the point of the monstrous.

This isn't just my view. Just survey the wars of history. Whether it's the burning or beheading of children as a sacrifice like the ancients did or the brutal rape and machete-hacking dismemberment of the victims in Sierra Leone's civil war, history is replete with the carnage that humans continually accomplish. In his article written for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jones compiles statements from historians and psychologists as well as holocaust survivors like Elie Wesel who all say that evil is standard fare for humans. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet Gulag confirmed this when he wrote:
Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood?

It is our own.

And just so we don't go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: "If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?"

It is a dreadful question if one answers it honestly.
The capacity for unspeakable evil lies within every beating heart.

We Need Redemption from Our Own Nature

In Christian theology, this idea is nothing new. When Paul was writing to Titus, he said the natural man was "detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:16, ESV). Paul didn't even exclude himself from such a judgment, claiming "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom 7:18, ESV). As natural human beings, we are completely saturated with sin and rebellion, and there is no way for us to escape our own corruption.

But Jesus.

While it is impossible for us to escape the corruption of sin that would make us monsters, it is possible for God himself to provide a way of escape. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes it possible for us to move from the evil darkness of our lost state to one where we can actually be something different. Just after he states that there is nothing good residing within his flesh, Paul writes:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4, ESV)
This is why believers are told that they are "a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). We are remade in the Spirit and we await the day when we will be remade in our bodies. We are not saved merely from hell. Monsters deserve hell and given that all human beings are monster-enabled. But Jesus does to redeem us from our evil nature. He provides for us a new nature and he provides a way of escape. That's something to be thankful for this Easter.


1. Jones, Clay. "9/11: Are We All Moral Monsters?" Biola News. Biola University, 2 Sept. 2001. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How Can the New Testament Be Trusted If the Writers Are Biased?

There are many people who are skeptical of the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. Atheist Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity, asserts "many biblical scholars have argued that the Resurrection story was shaped by the theological aims of the evangelists."1 Basically, Martin holds that the gospel writers were led to construct the resurrection accounts "shaped by the purposes of the evangelists."2 The New Testament writers were obviously writing to sell Christianity to their audience, so why should we believe their accounts?

There's No Escaping Bias

The charge of bias is an easy one to make, but because an author is biased doesn't mean we can't have a certain level of assurance that the events he described did indeed happen. We are all biased in our views; there's no way to escape bias on one type or another.  Mike Licona notes that it is common practice for those who record history to "select data because of their relevance to the particular historian, and these become evidence for the building the historian's case for a particular hypothesis."3 Licona compares such actions with a detective as a crime scene who "survey all of the data and select specific data which become evidence as they are interpreted within the framework of a hypothesis. Data that are irrelevant to that hypothesis are archived or ignored. Historians work in the same manner."4 There's no escaping bias.

Bias Doesn't Mean Unreliable

Even though all ancient historians had a bias, it doesn't mean that their writings are unreliable or useless. Indeed, if we were to reject ancient historical sources because with writers were biased, we would have to reject pretty much all the accounts of history that have been left to us by folks like Josephus, Herodotus, Pliny, Lucian, and every other author from antiquity. The ancient historian Lucian himself complained about the lack of emphasis one person gave to a significant battle in his memoirs. In his The Way to Write History, he levels charges of bias when he complains, "There are some, then, who leave alone, or deal very cursorily with, all that is great and memorable…  and loiter over copious laboured descriptions of the veriest trifles… For instance, I have known a man get through the battle of Europus in less than seven whole lines, and then spend twenty mortal hours on a dull and perfectly irrelevant tale about a Moorish trooper." 5

Because the gospel accounts of Jesus are seen today by most scholars as a subset of the ancient biography genre (known as bioi)6, each Gospel writers would have selected certain accounts of Jesus's life and actions to pursue a particular point. Richard Burridge, whom Licona quotes, states the Gospels "have at least as much in common with Greco-Roman [bioi], as the [bioi] have with each other."7  Licona states that for biographies in antiquity:
Each biographer usually had an agenda in writing. Accordingly, they attempted to persuade readers to a certain way of political, philosophical, moral, or religious thinking about the subject. Just as with many contemporary historical Jesus scholars, persuasion and factual integrity were not viewed as being mutually exclusive. It was not an either/or but a both.8
The question of bias isn't then will any kind of bias will appear in historical narratives, but whether the writers were so biased that they unreasonably or intentionally distort the events they record. Licona sums up the Gospel writers' motives by quoting David Anne, who states: "While the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adopt the Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened."9

 It doesn't follow that just because the authors of the gospels were Christians that they were going to be liars any more than it follows that the man who spent some twenty hours describing a Moorish trooper was lying to Lucian. One who assumes so shows his or her own bias against the Gospel records.


1. Martin, Michael. The Case against Christianity. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1991. Print. 77.
2. Martin,1991. 78.
3. Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 34.
4. Licona, 34.
5. Fowler, H. W., and F. G. Fowler. "The Way to Write History." Works of Lucian, Vol. II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
6. Licona, 202.
7. Licona, 203.
8. Licona, 203.
9. Licona, 204.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Incomprehensibility of Naturalism (Quote)

Dallas Willard spoke at an academic symposium in 1998 dealing with the topic of "The Christian University in the Next Millennium." Willard's paper, entitled "The Redemption of Reason," laid out a powerful argument, with his thesis being "only the body of Christian knowledge and intellectual method can redeem reason. There, Willard said:

This is the fundamental fact of our time, from which reason must be redeemed: the incomprehensibility of reason and knowledge in naturalistic terms. Reason and knowledge are not to be found in the sense-perceptible world. It’s just that simple. If you have to understand everything in terms of the sense-perceptible world, reason and knowledge are gone. That is why you have the many strained and forced interpretations of knowledge and consciousness and reason, including all of the creative arts, and all of the areas of expression of the human spirit that we study in the academy—the forced interpretations of these as sociological, as behavioral, or even chemical. Even the interpretation of love has to be put in a naturalistic mold. I’m reminded of a man who said "Sawdust is wonderfully nourishing if you will substitute bread for it." When you try to put truth into the naturalistic mold, it’s gone. It is the same when you try to put evidence, when you try to put logic, logical relationships, probability, all of these fundamental things into a naturalistic mold. There are many dimensions of evidence, and many of them fall in a very variegated way within what we would call "sense-perception," but not sense-perception in the narrow sense that the naturalist wants to take it. And so we have to simply understand that the sociological, behavioral and chemical attempts to treat knowledge, reason, and creativity are due to the fact that the only categories available are the ones posed by the naturalistic world-view.

So of course, that’s why I say only the Christian knowledge-tradition can save knowledge in our time. If we don’t have that, we have a constant struggle within our Christian schools with what one writer has called "the problem of stemming the drift". The question comes up, "What is it about higher academic life that seems to make it such a hard-and-fast rule that given enough time, any institution, no matter how rooted in orthodoxy, will sooner or later slip away from its anchors?" In an article that appeared in "World Magazine" in May of 1997, Joel Beltz tries to address this. He quotes Gaylen Byker, President of Calvin College, on the problem. "The problem" is: How do you secure faculty for first-class programs in Christian colleges, without losing them to the secular mindset? When you’re hiring faculty you begin to think thoughts like, "Is it really important that a math professor hold to his school’s theological position?" With regard to experts in the various subject matters, Byker comments—and it’s very true in this simple statement he makes—"It’s hard to justify hiring a third-rate Christian when you can get a first-rate non-Christian." Those are his words, and I think we all understand this is a serious problem, not something to be dismissed.
Check out the rest of Willard' paper here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses (podcast)

Jehovah's Witnesses have made a name for themselves by traveling door to door and converting people. But how can we defend our beliefs against their objections? What's the best way of discussing the Bible with them? In this latest podcast series, Lenny shows you how to dialogue with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Shocking Biology Book that Triggered the Scopes Trial

Whenever the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial is brought up, most people believe it is a concrete example of the stubbornness of religious believers to not allow the facts of science in the classroom. That's definitely the way Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee saw things in their subsequent re-imagining of the events that took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. Their treatment of those who held to religious beliefs when writing Inherit the Wind is clearly designed to make that point.

However, when one researches the facts of the case a different picture emerges. I've already talked about how the entire incident was manufactured; with the various parties hoping garner publicity for whatever side they happened to champion. As for the trial itself, Carol Iannone does a great job summarizing how the play distorts the facts in her First Things article. For an even more in-depth look into the events surrounding those eight days may be found in, Marvin Olasky and John Perry's Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial.

What Triggered This?

In looking at the background, there were a lot of pieces at play. As a reaction to the German high criticism and the more liberal spin that many prominent denominations were placing on the biblical texts, Christian fundamentalism had become a major force, even succeeding in helping to pass prohibition laws.1 The explosion in scientific achievements such as the telephone, in-home electricity, the airplane and the discovery of x-rays were changing the way people lived. Sigmund Freud, a self-described materialist whose psychoanalysis was hugely influential, taught that religion was nothing more than a human projection onto the world for those seeking to fulfill deep-seated wishes.2

In all of this change, Darwin's theory was being promoted across most of the school systems in the country. Yet, the Darwinism of the 1920's was not what one may hear today. The Darwinian champions of the early 20th century were themselves more fundamental in their understanding of the advancement of living creatures, including humans. The biology textbook used to teach the students in Tennessee in 1925 shows us just how much was really objectionable.

Reading the Biology Book Taught in Tennessee

As I noted previously, when asked whether he had taught evolution in the classroom, "Scopes said that any teacher who followed the state-approved textbooks taught evolution."3 The state-approved textbook for biology at that time was A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems written by George William Hunter in 1914 and published by the American Book Company out of Cincinnati. The entire book has been digitally archived and is available online at the Project Gutenberg website, but I wanted to highlight a few passages for you. Under the subtitle Evolution, Hunter lays out the story of man descending from apes and points to nomads as "little better than one of the lower animals." 4 Hunter's comment impugn the mental functions of people groups like native American or the various tribes across Africa that never developed beyond their stone age roots. Here's what he wrote in A Civic Biology about the races:
At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America. (Emphasis added.)5

Kill the Worthless People

Of course, holding to evolution in the early 20th century, it was easy for Hunter to embrace and teach eugenics. He clearly held that there were inferior human beings who he described as parasites. Here is the entire relevant section:
The Jukes.—Studies have been made on a number of different families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents. The "Jukes" family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as "Margaret, the mother of criminals." In seventy-five years the progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York over a million and a quarter of dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case recently studied is the "Kallikak" family.35 This family has been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl. She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral, 24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness. The evidence and the moral speak for themselves!

Parasitism and its Cost to Society.—Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy.—If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.

Blood Tells.—Eugenics show us, on the other hand, in a study of the families in which are brilliant men and women, the fact that the descendants have received the good inheritance from their ancestors.
In Bryan's closing argument before the court on the Scopes trial, he made some very salient points. He opened declaring that he was not trying to stifle the free speech of any teacher:
Let us now separate the issues from the misrepresentations, intentional or unintentional, that have obscured both the letter and the purpose of the law. This is not an interference with freedom of conscience. A teacher can think as he pleases and worship God as he likes, or refuse to worship God at all. He can believe in the Bible or discard it; he can accept Christ or reject Him. This law places no obligations or restraints upon him. And so with freedom of speech, he can, so long as he acts as an individual, say anything he likes on any subject. This law does not violate any rights guaranteed by any Constitution to any individual. It deals with the defendant, not as an individual, but as an employee, official or public servant, paid by the State, and therefore under instructions from the State.

The right of the State to control the public schools is affirmed in the recent decision in the Oregon case, which declares that the State can direct what shall be taught and also forbid the teaching of anything ''manifestly inimical to the public welfare." The above decision goes even further and declares that the parent not only has the right to guard the religious welfare of the child but is in duty bound to guard it. That decision fits this case exactly. The State had a right to pass this law and the law represents the determination of, the parents to guard the religious welfare of their children.6
My question to those who use the Scope trial to say how backward the citizens of Tennessee were in objecting to the text is would you want your children to be taught this stuff?


Eskridge, Larry. "Fundamentalism." Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. Wheaton College, 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

2 Nicholi, Armand M. The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Free, 2002. Print. 18.

3 Bergeron, Paul H., Stephen V. Ash, and Jeanette Keith. Tennesseans and Their History. Knoxville: U of Tennessee, 1999. Print. 252.

4 Hunter, George W. A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems. Cincinnati: American Book, 1914. Print. 192.

5 Hunter, 195.

6 Bryan, Willam Jennings. "Text of the Closing Statement of William Jennings Bryan at the Trial of John Scopes, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925." California State University Dominguez Hills. California State University Dominguez Hills, 31 Oct. 2005. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Scopes Trial: Theater in the Making

Yesterday, I wrote about Inherit the Wind, the play and movie that used the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial as its inspiration. As I explained there, the play distorts the events that happened in Dayton, Tennessee to the extreme, making all but the broad outline unrecognizable. This is a shame, because the real story is no less riveting, even though no one has really heard it. In order to understand the events that played out at what was termed "the Trial of the Century,"1 one must understand the motivations behind the trial itself.

The Scopes Trial — The Background

Because of the play, the Scopes trial has been tarnished as an exercise in closed-mindedness and anti-science. Actually, it seems that everyone at least tacitly understood the whole thing to be a publicity stunt. While the Butler Act was passed overwhelmingly by both the Tennessee House and Senate, there was at least some expectation that the bill would be vetoed by Governor Peay. According to Tennesseans and Their History, "The governor considered the Butler Act chiefly symbolic and publically doubted that it ever would be enforced."2

However, no one counted on the newly founded American Civil Liberties Union and its president looking to set up a case to garner some free publicity. According to Marvin Olasky and John Perry:
The organization had a steady flow of money… what the ACLU needed more than cash was publicity. To that end, Baldwin and the rest of the leadership scanned the landscape for government actions they could challenge or laws they could test. With their original rationale gone, ACLU leaders moved from one cause to another in defense of free speech and free thought.3
They go on to describe how the ACLU's secretary, Linda Milner, would collect "stacks of newspaper clippings" on anything that might interest the leadership. When she found an article on the law passed in Tennessee, she showed it to Baldwin and "he and Milner agreed on the spot that enactment of the law signaled an important opportunity to promote the ACLU and its liberal agenda."4 The ACLU then took out an ad in several Tennessee newspapers, asking for a person to volunteer as a defendant in "a friendly test case" of the law.5

The Scopes Trial — Searching for a Defendant

That ad was read by George Rappleyea, a mining engineer, who knew his impoverished town of Dayton needed something to breathe life into its morbid frame. Olasky and Perry write that in reading the ad:
Rappleyea saw something beyond a law or an argument. He saw a national cause in search of a focal point, a national stage casting for a willing star. Surrounded by the rusted relics of Dayton's prosperous past, he saw in the ACLU appeal a chance to put his struggling community in the national spotlight. Big news would generate big crowds, and that meant big business—maybe even a return to the glory years.6
Rappleyea sold the idea to the Dayton town leaders while talking at a local drug store soda fountain table. In The Tennesseans and Their History, it tells that Rappleyea was debating the point that "biology could not be taught without teaching evolution. Scopes happened to come in at this point" and agreed. While he wasn't the biology teacher, he did help the students prepare for their tests. When asked if he ever taught evolution "Scopes said that any teacher who followed the state-approved textbooks taught evolution. The Dayton town leaders decided to take the ACLU up on its offer and had Scopes indicted by the Rhea County grand jury. (This put Scopes in an somewhat awkward position, as he was not sure that he ever had taught evolution, and he hoped his students would not remember he hadn't.  The regular biology teacher, however, was a family man who did not want to face trial.)"7

The Scopes Trial — Add Celebrity Lawyers

Give that teaching evolution was a national discussion in 1925, the case made national news. But, the trial positively exploded when two of the most famous lawyers of that day decided to get involved. William Jennings Bryan was a popular figure of the World's Christian Fundamentalist Association, an early 20th century movement. The ECFA was worried that the ACLU would get all the press and spin the publicity against their version of creationism, so they asked Bryan, a nationally known speaker and three-time presidential candidate to partner with the prosecution, an offer that the Dayton leadership willingly accepted.

For the defense, the reporter, atheist, and Friedrich Nietzsche fan H.L. Menken (characterized in the play as E. K. Hornbeck) approached Darrow to lead the defense, but not for John Scopes' sake. "Nobody gives a damn about that yap schoolteacher. The thing to do is to make a fool out of Bryan" he is recorded saying.8 Darrow agreed to do so and waived all fees as "he couldn't resist such an enormous target" as Olasky puts it.9

The Scopes trial is normally offered as evidence of how science and religion are at odds. While it is true the various factions had different opinions on creation, evolution, how to teach, God and law, there is one point upon which everyone agreed: the trial had nothing to do with finding the truth, it was all about the publicity.


1. "The "Trial of the Century" Draws National Attention." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
2. Bergeron, Paul H., Stephen V. Ash, and Jeanette Keith. Tennesseans and Their History. Knoxville: U of Tennessee, 1999. Print. 251.
3. Olasky, Marvin N., and John Perry. Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005. Print. 18.
4. Olasky, 18.
5. Olasky, 18.
6. Olasky, 8-9.
7. Bergeron, 252.
8. Olasky, 26.
9. Olasky, 26.
Image courtesy Ann McKelvie. Licensed by Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Blow-Hard Bias of Inherit the Wind

"I'm frustrated!"

The plea came in from a girl who was taking a required undergrad English course where the professor assigned an analysis of the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, which presents a fictionalized account of the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial held in Tennessee thirty years earlier. For those of you that don't know, substitute teacher John Scopes was put on trial for violating Tennessee's Butler Act, a law prohibiting any state-funded school from teaching that "man has descended from a lower order of animals."1

Inherit the Wind – Not History

The play (and the subsequent 1960 movie with Spencer Tracy) proved immensely popular at the time. However, there are some real problems with the events in the way the play presents them. While the broad points are the same, the play changes so many details that the authors acknowledged their play isn't history. In the play's preface they wrote:
Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own.

Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial. Some of the characters of the play are related to the colorful figures in that battle of giants; but they have life and language of their own - and, therefore, names of their own.2
While this disclaimer may help, I don't think it makes things clear enough. Most people don't realize just how slanted and biased the caricatures are in the play when one compares it to the real-life events. Therefore, I would like to take a bit of time to explore some of the misconceptions that usually occur when the play or movie is viewed.

Inherit the Wind – How the Bias Shows

In both the play and the film, Christianity and its proponents are nothing more than straw men that authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee knock down with ease. Lawrence and Lee state, "Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as 'Not long ago.' It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow."3 Lawrence in an interview stated the motivation for writing the play wasn't religion versus evolution, but the intellectual stifling he saw in the anti-Communist movements of the 1940s and 1950s, ""We used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."4 Yet, it's more than clear that Lawrence and Lee place those who hold to something other than an evolutionary account of human origins into the "mind control" camp. For example, take two characters Lawrence and Lee create who didn't exist in the actual trial, Reverend Brown and his daughter Rachel, who is engaged to the Scopes character, named Cates in the play. During the play, Rachel, explains "You see, I haven't really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think, so it seemed safer not to think at all" but then sees that she must change and begin to see things Cates's way.

In her very comprehensive article that takes down many of the foibles in the play, Carol Iannone observes "While Inherit the Wind remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax."5

Inherit the Wind – More Factual Errors

Other factual errors abound, and all of them are strategically created to make those who want the Butler Act upheld to look bad. Dr. Richard M. Cornelius, who is one of the foremost experts on the Scopes trial wrote the book William Jennings Bryan, The Scopes Trial, and Inherit the Wind. Below, he provides a quick overview of some of the pore egregious errors perpetrated by the play:
Here are some of the instances where Inherit the Wind differs from the historical facts of the trial record and the events surrounding it. (For convenience, the names of the historical characters which the play supposedly involves are used.)6
  1.  The trial originated not in Dayton but in the New York offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, for it was this organization that ran an announcement in Tennessee newspapers, offering to pay the expenses of any teacher willing to test the new Tennessee anti-evolution law.
  2. When a group of Dayton leaders decided to take advantage of this offer, their main reason was not so much defense of religion as it was economics, for they saw the trial as a great means of publicity that would attract business and industry to Dayton.
  3. Others responsible for the trial were the media, who worked hard to persuade Bryan and Darrow to participate in the trial.
  4. John T. Scopes was not a martyr for academic freedom. Primarily a coach of three sports, he also taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, and general science. He agreed to help test the law even though he could not remember ever teaching evolution, having only briefly substituted in biology. He was never jailed, nor did he ever take the witness stand in the trial. The people of Dayton liked him, and he cooperated with them in making a test case of the trial.
  5. William Jennings Bryan was not out to get Scopes. Bryan thought the Tennessee law a poor one because it involved fining an educator, and he offered to pay Scopes' fine if he needed the money.
  6. Bryan was familiar with Darwin's works, and he was not against teaching evolution—if it were presented as a theory, and if other major options, such as creationism, were taught.
  7. The trial record discloses that Bryan handled himself well, and when put on the stand unexpectedly by Darrow, defined terms carefully, stuck to the facts, made distinctions between literal and figurative language when interpreting the Bible, and questioned the reliability of scientific evidence when it contradicted the Bible. Some scientific experts at the trial referred to such "evidence" of evolution as the Piltdown man (now dismissed as a hoax).
  8. The defense's scientific experts did not testify at the trial because their testimony was irrelevant to the central question of whether a law had been broken, because Darrow refused to let Bryan cross-examine the experts, and because Darrow did not call on them to testify. But 12 scientists and theologians were allowed to make statements as part of the record presented by the defense.
  9. The topic of sex and sin did not come up in the trial. Neither did Bryan believe that the world was created in 4004 B.C. at 9 a.m.
  10. Instead of Bryan being mothered by his wife, he took care of her, for she was an invalid.
  11. Scopes was found guilty partly by the request of Darrow, his defense lawyer, in the hope that the case could be appealed to a higher court.
Tomorrow, I will explore the background behind the original trial and show why it isn't the draconian groupthink it's portrayed to be.


1. "House Bill No. 185 – Butler" Public Acts of the State Of Tennessee Passed by the Sixty-Fourth General Assembly, 1925. 1925-3-21.
2. Lawrence, Jerome, Robert Edwin Lee, and Alan Woods. The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1995. Print. 9.
3. Lawrence, Lee, and Woods. 1995.
4. "Garfield Center Announces Open Auditions for Inherit the Wind." The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre. Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
5. Iannone, Carol. "The Truth About Inherit the Wind." First Things. First Things, Feb. 1997. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
6. "Inherit the Wind" (2002). Theatre Productions. Book 25.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Five Things Your Worldview Must Account For

Recently, Tom Gilson posted an open question on his blog. He asked those that identify themselves as atheist or agnostics, "What does your worldview explain better than Christianity?" Gilson was careful to distinguish an atheistic belief from a worldview, given that atheism is the denial of God's existence but isn't robust enough in itself to qualify as a worldview.

There have been many answers to the question received so far from atheists, but most have been disheartening. It isn't because I may or may not disagree with them. They are disheartening because none of them describe a worldview. They each take on one aspect of understanding the world, namely the scientific enterprise, but leave so much more out of their answers.

I've explained before that a worldview is the way one sees and interprets the way the world works. It's basically a framework for understanding and interpreting the various facts we encounter in our lives. That's why any attempt to outline a worldview must account for at least the following five things. I'd like to go over each of these quickly.

1. One's understanding of origins

The concept of origins is central to interpreting many things in the world. Some of the key questions of origins include: Where did we come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is reality? Where do good and evil find their foundations? These are all crucial when seeking to make sense of people and situations. For example, if you hold that human beings bear God's image, you are going to have a different perspective on the nature and dignity of issues like assisted suicide, abortion, and the equality of all people.

2. One's understanding of rationality

Reason is a key component of understanding our world, so providing an account of rationality and why or if we can rely on our reasoning skills is important. How does reason work in the world? Is it a reliable way of knowing things? How can one know that?

3. One's understanding of purpose

Another primary factor in interpreting the world is identifying if there is any kind of purpose to our world and if so, how can one discover that purpose. The understanding of telos—that there is a design or an ultimate end to the cosmos, humanity, or even to each individual will play a huge part in how one values others, the environment, and many other areas.

4. One's understanding of morality

Morality and its grounding has been something I've written about quite a bit, but every worldview must have some kind of understanding of what morality is and where it comes from. Societies simply cannot function without certain agreed upon notions of right and wrong. Even if your worldview holds that objective morality doesn't exist, it must be expressed and integrated into your explanation of how society determines values.

5. One's understanding of ultimate ends

Lastly, every worldview has some kind of account of what our ultimate ends are. Is there a reality beyond this world? Do we cease to be when we die? How does one discover this end and how does this life relate to any our ultimate end? This along with the question of purpose are key to helping us decide how to act in various circumstances.

One of the reasons I hold to the Christian worldview is it answers each of the five questions and does so in a way where each area is integrated with the others to form a coherent whole. Christianity gives a single picture of the world, where each of these five areas makes sense with 1) the way we observe our world to work and 2) makes sense with each other. They follow naturally from one to the next. Without an integrated, coherent worldview, values and judgments become confused or contradictory.

So, what's your worldview? Have you thought about each of these five areas? Does your worldview not only account for each, but does it do so in a way that isn't ad hoc, or happenstance?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Do We Mean by Morality?

It's quite popular today to believe that morality is not something that stands above all of humanity but that moral laws are themselves created by humans. Consistent Christians should deny this view; the Bible teaches that moral duties come from God and are therefore objective and not relative to an individual or to a culture. Yet, most people don't have a good understanding of what we even mean by morality or what is necessary for certain values and duties to be considered moral at all.

In this video clip, Lenny reviews three specific components that must be accounted for in any moral framework: how do moral obligations obtain, does the person have real moral freedom, and is there a genuine responsibility that attaches the obligation to the person in question. Any theory of morality that is missing one of these components cannot explain morality in any meaningful way.

Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Are Christians Wrong to Believe in Only One Way?

Paul Copan comments on how those who quickly criticize Christians for believing they hold to the one true faith are wrong in their own assumptions. In his book True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith he writes:
For the relativist, it's a curious assumption that those holding to the reality of absolute truth are absolutely arrogant. There's no intrinsic contradiction between (A) holding firmly to convictions and (B) treating with love and dignity those who disagree; living harmoniously with people who hold radically different views is a hallmark of maturity. We'd all benefit from the courageous words of qualified people who display both firmness of conviction and civility (or respect)-as Paul says it, "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Martin Marty (b. 1928), noted observer of religion, states that the problem of modernity is that the people "who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and the people who have strong convictions often lack civility."

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Injustice of Government Defining Marriage

In the history of the United States, there are two United States Supreme Court decisions that everyone agrees were breathtakingly egregious. Both were rulings focusing on government laws that tried to police the natural course of human beings and both times the Court came down on the wrong side of nature.

The first case involved an African-American man named Dred Scott who was bought as a slave. Although his master, Peter Blow, moved from Virginia to the state of Missouri where slavery was illegal, Scott wouldn't be released by Blow. Scott attempted to purchase his freedom and was denied, so he sued for his family's freedom.1 In 1850, the St. Louis circuit court ruled that Scott was free, but appeals and counter appeals went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which threw out the verdict on the grounds that as a man of African descent, Scott didn't have standing to sue in a court of law. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that "When the Constitution was adopted, [those of African descent] were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its 'people or citizens.' Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."2

The second case focused on a woman named Carrie Buck and the state of Virginia's desire to forcibly sterilize her against her will. Virginia had recently passed a law that "the state could sterilize anyone found to be incompetent because of alcoholism, epilepsy, feeblemindedness, insanity, or other factors."3 Buck was presumed to be feeble-minded and to have come from a mother who was similarly classified as such. You can read the details here, but the Supreme Court agreed that the state had a compelling interest in forcibly sterilizing Buck against her will, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously pronouncing "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."4

Redefining What It Means to Be Human

Some would point to both these decisions as wrong because the Court did not grant more freedom to the plaintiff. But it isn't freedom in the sense of the unrestricted ability to do what one wants that was at issue. For example, there is a real compelling interest to incarcerate dangerous criminals. If granting freedom for freedom's sake is all that we should recognize, then prisons don't make much sense.

It isn't freedom where the courts went awry, it was the fact that the court tried to override the natural understanding of what it means to be human. The Dred Scott decision sought to redefine the concept of a person, stating that the government has the power to define just who qualifies as a person. If your family is from the African continent, then the government is within its right to redefine your personhood. The Buck v Bell decision argued that the government had the right to redefine who is deserving of having children or which genes should be passed on to future generations.

Nature and Natural Law

 In both cases, nature and biology would say that there is nothing fundamentally different in Mr. Scott's makeup that makes him any less human and therefore any less a person than anyone else. In Carrie Buck's case, the Court allowed the state to break the natural function of her body and stop it from reproducing. In both cases, the Courts didn't recognize the facts that natural law had established but thought that government institutions could redefine natural law into whatever meaning they wished.

Today, there are two other cases that divide the people. In the 1972 Roe v Wade decision, the Court granted the states the power to redefine an unborn baby as something other than a person, and, just like Dred Scott, without guarantee of the rights and protections that all citizens enjoy. In the as yet undecided same-sex marriage cases, the Court is weighing whether states can refuse to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. States that make such inclusions are also ignoring the natural process that every child is the product of a man and a woman and marriage is simply the codification that process as the best environment for children.

The Danger of Tyranny

We see the decisions against Scott and Buck as coercive intrusions of government over flexing its power to thwart what "Nature and Nature's God entitle them" as the Declaration puts it. Governments must maintain law and order. However, any government that believes it can redefine any aspect of natural law is not creating more freedom; it is creating enslavement. For even if you are a proponent of the new definition, you are conceding that the Government has the power to ignore nature and redefine any aspect of humanity that it so wishes. Once we cede such power to the courts or the government, there are no limits to the tyrannies they could enact. Natural rights must be anchored in natural law and natural law is reflected in our natural biology. When legislation or legal opinions contradict the basic functions of human beings, we all lose.


1. PBS. "Dred Scott's Fight for Freedom." PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation, 1989. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.
2. Scott v. Sandford. 60 U.S. 393. U. S. Supreme Court. 1857. Legal Information Institute. Web.
3. Smith, J. David and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Carrie Elizabeth Buck (1906–1983)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 31 May. 2013. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
4. Buck v. Bell, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded, 274 U.S. 200.U.S. Supreme Court. 1927. American Legal History – Russell. 18 November 2009. Web.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Atheism, Ethics, and Immorality

In my time of interacting with atheists, the problem of moral grounding comes up over and over again. Most atheists believe they are good, yet they cannot anchor their goodness in God. In fact, the UK Huffington Post featured a story on notable British atheists and where they find their morality. Many were asked if atheists were as moral as people of faith. The answers were pretty unanimously "yes." Julian Hubbert said, "I'm always perplexed by those who believe that in order to have a moral code it is necessary to have a religious belief - it seems to me astonishing that people would have to look up what is morally right and wrong." Richard Dawkins made the claim, "Atheists can be just as moral as religious people. And I think there is some reason to expect a statistical tendency for atheists to be more moral."1

But the question becomes more complex when they are asked how one discovers moral duties. Comedian David Baddiel said, "I have only one principle, not even a moral one, really. Which is: to be as true as possible, both to myself and to some notion of objective reality, all the time." He's right there; such a code may be used as justification for all kinds of immoral behaviors. Polly Toynbee asserts that "everyone is born with an inbuilt moral purpose. It springs from mankind's evolution as a social being, acting collaboratively, with altruism and good of the community hard-wired."2 I don't believe that matches reality at all. Certainly, as a newspaper columnist, Toynbee must read the papers and know the ongoing selfishness and violence people inflict upon each other every day.

Assuming Self-Interest

As I've spoken to atheists, many of them have told me that they would deny absolute morality but they are ethical in how they live. One of our guest atheist speakers stated that he felt ethics was a much more interesting topic that morality. When questioned about the objectivity of their morality, other atheists tried to shift the discussion to ethics as well. But that won't help. Ethics is setting a standard of how morality plays out in various situations. So, to be ethical in business for example, one must not defraud another. How is that different from the biblical command "Thou shalt not lie?" It simply isn't.

I think many people assume since ethics is mostly spoken of in instances of organized interaction like business, people assume it protects them from the cheat, while morality prohibits them from doing things like being sexually promiscuous. Yet, ethics still encompasses an "ought": one ought to behave this way and not that way. And that's the trouble. Oughts are the language of morality.

Attaching Obligation

As I've written before, anytime there is an ought, it implies that the person being told to follow the ought is under obligation to do so. Simply because a man walks onto a court with a ball, we cannot tell what way he ought to handle that ball. If he is playing volleyball, there is a rule penalizing him for letting the ball fall to the ground whereas that rule makes no sense in basketball. The rule isn't binding on him.

Similarly, the atheist isn't bound by the Christian moral command to not lie; he isn't playing that ballgame. It would be completely logical for the atheist to ask, "Who says? Why should I live by your standards in this area. I choose to play a different game." His being true to himself may simply be expressed in making a lot of money.

The obligation question is a key one and I think many atheists realize that it brings up some difficult problems in their worldview. I don't believe most atheists are seeking to cheat people or are more dishonest than anyone else. But one must wonder, what rules are obligatory to follow if there is no rulebook, no referee, and you don't even know if you're playing the same game as the other person?


1. Ridley, Louise. "Famous Atheists Tell Us Where They Get Their Values From." The Huffington Post UK. AOL (UK) Limited, 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
2. Ridley, 2014.

Image provided by Orietta.sberla is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Cruelty of Karma

Yesterday, the Apologetics Missions Team went to visit the Temple of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (more commonly known as the Hare Krishnas) in Berkeley. This is one strain of Hinduism that teaches the ultimate reality of the universe is a "supreme all-attractive person" whom they call Krishna1 and the devotees of ISKCON believe that all living beings should place their focus of worship on Krishna as the way to help them attain enlightenment and escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

As a school of Hinduism, this isn't all that uncommon. While there are many gods and demi-gods in Hinduism as well as a wide variety of practices and rituals designed to please and appease them. However, one thing common to all forms of Hinduism (as well as Buddhism) is the concept of karma, and the cycle of rebirths. The concept has been sometimes misunderstood in the West, so let me take a moment to explain it.

There are some fundamental questions of life that all faith systems try to answer: where did we come from, what happens to us after we die, what does this life mean, and what about all the evil and suffering we see in the world. Hinduism from its ancient roots answers these through their doctrine of karma. Karma is a fundamental principle of existence. Basically, karma teaches that for every action there is an effect. If you are kind to another, that may get you closer to the Ultimate good and advance you toward enlightenment. If you are mean or evil, you instead accumulate karmic debt that will be paid back in some way. Sometimes this plays out in the same life where the deed occurred mostly this karmic debt is paid back to you in subsequent lives.2

This is the way the Krishnas explain why bad things happen to good people, and how despots who caused tremendous suffering and then died will ultimately be repaid for their evil. It could take thousands of lives to pay back the karmic debt amassed by Pol Pot during his time running the Khmer Rouge. And since no one is perfect, it takes us thousands of lives to rid ourselves of the more mundane debt we build for lying or being prideful.

The Problems of Karma

I think one of the more attractive features of karma in its surface is the idea that no bad deed will escape judgment. Whatever is done has an effect. It seems fair; yet the concept of karma is a horribly cruel one if you think about it for a moment. First of all, karma is the way the Krishnas explain why the loving father contracted cancer or the generous retired couple lost their home during the financial meltdown. It wasn't really their fault in this life. They were evil in a previous life and their bill had come due.

But no one ever knows what specific evil was perpetrated that would subject the sufferer to such a sentence. How does this karmic justice help the victim improve? How can he or she learn to not again do the things that initiated the karmic retribution? The answer is unknowable. Cancer doesn't point to a specific evil act that must be corrected. Thus even the devoted follower must try and guess what rule he broke to receive such a heavy punishment, and it is highly likely he will guess wrong. How does this help anyone achieve enlightenment?

Punishing the Good

Secondly, karma offers no real comfort. One guide at the Temple explained to us that if a young couple has a child who dies shortly after birth, that was her karmic cycle. The baby needed just a short time in the material world to become that much more improved so it could move onto a different plane. Thus, the Krishna devotee will turn to the grieving parents who are asking why their child died in innocence and say "karma, karma." She stated "that is all the answer there is." It truly seems to be hollow idea, since it is the karma itself that is now causing pain and suffering in the lives of the parents! How can a law of justice be so cruel? How does karma itself pay its own karmic debt? These questions are never answered.

Our guide also told us that because of karma one must be careful of even good intentions. A man was asked by a relative to donate blood for that relative's operation. The teacher admonished the man against doing so. According to our guide, "He said to him, ‘Do you realize that in order for that man to pay you back the debt of you giving him your blood, you would need to somehow be in a life-threatening situation where you would now be the one who needs the blood donated!" The guide summarized the concept with the colloquialism "No good deed goes unpunished."

The ISKCON law of karma is not about justice, it's about stasis. No one owes anyone else anything, all is in balance. But kindness doesn't need balance. Goodness doesn't need to be repaid with sickness. Karma, this ultimate law, would itself be evil if it were true. That's why the Christian concept of justice is superior to the ISKCON one. Christianity teaches that God did not leave us to suffer whatever consequences we may have coming to us, and force us into an innumerable series of lives to suffer through until we get it all right. God sent his son to take our debt upon himself. He suffered so we don't have to and he rose from the grave, proving that he did indeed defeat death.

No, karma is not a good concept. It offers no real hope, and says suffering will continue in your life. That's not justice; that's unfeeling oppression.


1. "What Is Vaishnavism?" ISKCON The Hare Krishna Movement. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
2. "Karma" ISKCON The Hare Krishna Movement. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Photo courtesy Eric B. and licensed via the Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Atheists Disbelieving of Impostor Christianity

I'm in the middle of leading a group on an Apologetics Missions Trip to Berkeley, CA. One of the things we do on these trips is to invite prominent atheist speakers to come and address our students. They will speak on a topic and then we have a time of Q &A so the students can probe the atheist worldview and see how well it can support itself a cohesive theory.

We've had a couple of different speakers present so far on this trip. Both gentlemen said they had been raised in traditional Christian homes and both said they left Christianity because it simply didn't make sense to them. The first speaker was raised a Southern Baptist, but at the age of twenty lost his Christian faith. Most of the reasons he offered for this were personal; he had built up an arsenal of ways to argue with Mormons or Muslims about why those faiths were untrue and engaged in these types of personal debates throughout high school. When a woman confronted him and told him that Hinduism was a much older faith than Christianity, he first went into debate mode. Just as he was getting ready to tell her she was wrong, he stopped, realizing that he didn't really know if Christianity or Hinduism was the older faith. This caused immense doubt in him about Christianity; he was stating facts that he didn't know and in his mind Christianity became just as fake as all those other faiths.

The Christianity he described turning away from was foreign to me. For example, he said that he felt closer to people as an atheist, stating "I no longer looked at people and thought, 'You're going to hell,' or 'you're part of my group.'" That isn't what Christianity is. It isn't about being in the right club or if you can take down someone else's beliefs. It is first and foremost recognizing that you are a sinner who needs to reconcile yourself to a holy God.

Our second speaker told us of how he was raised in Christianity by church-planting parents. He volunteered, started urban youth programs, and even went to seminary. Yet, he said that he never felt he had any type of personal relationship with Christ. In fact, the idea seemed foolish to him. He saw Christianity as being a good person and treating others with kindness. He fought for civil rights of African Americans during the civil rights movement in the 1960's, and he objected to the killing in the Viet nam war. But when he discovered that family members who taught him that "Jesus loves the little children, black and yellow, brown and white" were also themselves racists, he decided that he could be good without the need for what he called "the extra layer" of religion.

As you can see, he too missed the central aspect of Christianity. He thought being a Christian was being good and treating other well. He never talked of his own sin or his need to reconcile himself to his creator.

I find it interesting that both atheists reviled an impostor Christianity. I can understand their discontent; if Christianity is only keeping rules or winning arguments it would make sense that it feels fraudulent or superfluous. But that isn't what Jesus taught. His focus was always on how to reconcile human beings to the God who loves them. People will by nature choose their passions over God's holiness, yet God still seeks to bring them back to Himself while still remaining holy! A completely holy God cannot let any sin go unjudged. That's why Jesus came to die for us, so that the judgment of our sin may be met and we can still enter into that relationship with God.

I quoted Pascal in yesterday's post where he said, "it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it." As you can see from my experiences above, he was right. Apologetics without the cross helps no one.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why "Spiritual but Not Religious" Isn't Spiritual At All

I've met many people who feel "spiritual but not religious." This kind of ephemeral, mystical grey belief is applauded today; a person who holds such a view is seen as sensitive but not dogmatic. However, I think the position is confused and unworkable in the real world.

Blaise Pascal dealt with a similar viewpoint some 350 years ago. He states that life is ordered in such a way that men and women are forced into examining the question of who God is and what he requires of us. To dismiss the particulars leads not to insight but confusion. They ask "How can you believe there's only one way to God? There are many sincere people who seek out God in their own way." This idea is not a broadening of spirituality. It is actually rejecting the spiritual, replacing it with something closer to atheism. Pascal writes:
The whole course of things must have for its object the establishment and the greatness of religion. Men must have within them feelings suited to what religion teaches us. And, finally, religion must so be the object and centre to which all things tend, that whoever knows the principles of religion can give an explanation both of the whole nature of man in particular, and of the whole course of the world in general.

And on this ground they take occasion to revile the Christian religion, because they misunderstand it. They imagine that it consists simply in the worship of a God considered as great, powerful, and eternal; which is strictly deism, almost as far removed from the Christian religion as atheism, which is its exact opposite. And thence they conclude that this religion is not true, because they do not see that all things concur to the establishment of this point, that God does not manifest Himself to men with all the evidence which He could show.

But let them conclude what they will against deism, they will conclude nothing against the Christian religion, which properly consists in the mystery of the Redeemer, who, uniting in Himself the two natures, human and divine, has redeemed men from the corruption of sin in order to reconcile them in His divine person to God.

The Christian religion, then, teaches men these two truths; that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it. The knowledge of only one of these points gives rise either to the pride of philosophers, who have known God, and not their own wretchedness, or to the despair of atheists, who know their own wretchedness, but not the Redeemer.1

Pensees, Sect VIII, 555.


1. Pascal, Blaise. Pensees. New York: E.P. Dutton &, 1958. Kindle. 157.
Image courtesy Ean Paderborn and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Doesn't God Provide More Proof He Exists?

It's an objection that has been thrown around for years; if God exists, why doesn't he make himself more obvious? Certainly a miracle would convince the hardened atheist, right? Not necessarily.

In this short video, Lenny tackles the question head on and shows that sometimes more proof is not better and maybe the problem lies with those who just don't want to see the evidence in front of them.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's Imperative that Christians Train for Their Faith!

Mischa Elman was a celebrated violinist who emigrated from Russia to New York and spent many years providing captivating music. His wife tells this great story of Elman's quip after the orchestra was making too many mistakes:
One day, after a rehearsal that hadn't pleased Elman, the couple was leaving Carnegie Hall by the backstage entrance when they were approached by two tourists looking for the hall's entrance. Seeing his violin case, they asked, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Without looking up and continuing on his way, Elman simply replied, "Practice."1
Of course this is an old joke that has many iterations, but there is something that we can learn from this old canard. We value practice as one of the primary ways to develop skill and prepare for important occasions.  One would never imagine putting a musician on stage in front of a packed house at Carnegie Hall without them first practicing. No one plays as a major league baseball player without spending many hours in the batting cages.

However, how do we help our kids practice and strengthen their faith before we send them out to face college professors or others who would seek to tear down their beliefs? College is a crucial time for young Christians as they are establishing themselves and their beliefs away from their parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings. This is when young people will begin to examine much of what they've accepted as true. Yet, if the church has never taught them to think critically or how to respond to difficult questions or objections, how will they be prepared to face highly educated opponents? It would be like asking them to pinch hit for the World Series without ever playing in the minor leagues.

Steven Kozak recently wrote a prescient article asking "Are Christian Students Living Within A Christian Worldview?" He states:
The Church has done an excellent job of providing an assurance of salvation, but had not provided her with any intellectual resources to help her defend the impending onslaught of alternative theories and ideologies that are taught in college classrooms. Personal worship? Check. Pretty good moral compass? Check. Hopes of going to heaven someday? Check. A clear understanding of why the gospel is needed in our world, and how to engage our world for the Kingdom of God, hmmmmmm?2
Kozak notes that "Colleges all over the world are content on teaching every system of philosophy and morality possible, and yet excluding the most influential and dominate system of beliefs in the history of the world."3 Without proper preparation and instruction, many young people will never know the incredibly strong intellectual and rational history that undergirds their faith. They will never know that those seemingly convincing objections to God's existence pale in comparison to the Christian evidence of the universe's need for a Creator, its incredible design, the reliability of reason, the need for a moral lawgiver, and many others.

Tomorrow I will lead a group of Christians in a trip to U.C. Berkeley where they will become immersed in a climate completely unchristian. They will engage with atheists, visit a Unitarian Universalist church, visit a Hare Krishna Temple, and interact with secular students on the UC Berkeley campus. Throughout these five days, they may be challenged and stretched, but they will also better understand the reasons people have both for and against Christianity. They will get trained to talk about issues of faith in a loving, intelligent way. And they will know what it's like to engage others without being tongue-tied.

If your church, school, or youth group would like to find out more about these Apologetics Missions Trips, please get in touch with me here. Come Reason Ministries will work with you to plan an event that will be as transformative as it is faith-building. Just click here and we will send you more information.


1. Carnegie Hall. "History FAQ." Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall Corporation, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
2. Kozak, Steven. "Are Christian Students Living Within A Christian Worldview?" Steven Kozak, 1 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
3. Kozak, 2014.
Photo courtesy Josh Hallett and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Can You Be Moral Without Being Answerable to Anyone?

I've spent the last few posts discussing the concept of morality and some of the necessary ideas that must accompany any explanation of where morals come from.  I've said that to judge anything as right or wrong, one must recognize that real moral obligations exists and these must be grounded in a source beyond the created order of the universe. I've also explained that moral agents must be really free to choose to obey moral laws. In each case, we can see that the naturalist understanding of reality fails to account for these aspects of morality. Today, I'd like to look at the third component that must exist for morality to make any sense: the fact that people must not only be free to choose the good, but there must exist some kind of responsibility between the moral laws and the person in question.

Genuine Responsibility of Moral Agents

What does it mean to be responsible for our actions? It is more than simply being free to choose whether or not to follow some obligation. It also means there is some kind of relation between the individual and the law. Imagine if you will a person who witnesses a mugging occurring while walking down the street. The person recognizes the mugging is wrong and there is nothing hindering that person from stepping in and trying to stop the mugger. Is such a person morally obligated to do so?

You may answer "yes" pretty quickly, but the answer may not be that simple. What if this person is only twelve or thirteen years old? Is a child obligated to step in? I would think not. We understand that the risk a pre-teen would take in trying to stop a mugging mitigates the obligation to intercede. However, the witness may have other obligations (such as calling the police or testifying in court). However, if the person is a police officer, then he or she is more obligated than even an adult passerby.

While the mugging is an extreme example, we may look at less egregious violations. In California, which is my home state, one may make a citizen's arrest for "a public offense committed or attempted in his presence."1 This legislation is broad enough to include speeding, parking violations, driving without a seatbelt or even jaywalking. So, are you morally obligated to arrest someone you've witnessed doing any of these things simply because you think he is wrong and the law allows you to do so? No. Moral obligation calls for something more than that.

What Binds Us to Moral Laws?

To say one is morally obligated to act in a certain way is to say that one is bound to the moral law in a specific way. The police officer in the example above is bound by his position and his duty to protect the citizens of his community. To not intervene in a simple mugging would violate the oath he took and the trust that the community has placed upon him. But what is it that binds every person to concepts like "cheating is wrong" or "do not lie"? What makes every person responsible to not be bigoted against another? How can such responsibilities obtain on a naturalist account of the universe?

The answer is that there is nothing on a natural worldview that obligates us to behave in such a way. We may not like it when other people cheat or lie, but there is no reason on a naturalist account as to why we must not do so. Like the citizen's arrest, while you can choose to act in a way that others consider laudable, there is no law of nature that says you must. On naturalism, survival of the fittest is the ultimate code: if you don't survive, nothing else matters. Realize, it isn't humanity that must survive. It is you, individually and your offspring. So, if you can lie and cheat to give your offspring an advantage, it would make sense to do so.

However, if God created us, then we are obligated to Him for our very existence. That means that if God created us and intended us to behave in a certain way, we should behave in that way. If we don't, as creator he has every right to punish us for violating his precepts. It is only on a theistic worldview that the idea of moral responsibility makes sense.


1. California Penal Code 837. "CA Codes (pen:833-851.90)." State of California, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Image courtesy Android Wear and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Can Naturalism Account for Moral Freedom?

Yesterday, I explained that for ideas like good and evil to make sense, one must hold there are real moral duties and obligations that fall upon human beings. These moral laws must be real, not merely preferences or false beliefs, and they must come from a source outside the created order. But the concept of right and wrong depend on more than the existence of transcendent moral laws. Right and wrong only make sense if human beings are moral agents who are free to choose whether to obey these laws.

Morality means we are able to make meaningful decisions

It has been pointed out that certain species in the animal kingdom show some very disturbing mating habits. For example, the female praying mantis may eat the head of her mate after copulation.1 Female wasp spiders, too, are known to consume their counterparts.2 Perhaps even more disturbing (for women at least) is the fact that male chimpanzees will kill and eat babies that are not their own.3

Such behavior is shocking, as those who were visiting the Los Angeles County Zoo and witnessed one such attack discovered.4 Yet, we don't classify chimpanzees as evil creatures simply because they act in a way that would be considered barbaric by human standards. Why? According to primatologist Craig Stanford, the male chimps seem to be able to make a distinction between the offspring of male competitors and his own. Stanford explained that the action is "something that primatologists are accustomed to seeing regularly" in the wild and he labeled it "part of their behavior."5 Thus the zoo chimp was not euthanized but continues to live at the Zoo entertaining visitors.

Why weren't the chimp's actions thought of as evil? Why consider this normal behavior, not meriting punishment? It is because chimpanzees are not capable of distinguishing right from wrong; they are creatures of instinct that will do certain things because it is in their nature to do that. They cannot meaningfully choose to oppose what their biology tells them to do. That's why you can housebreak a dog but not a chimpanzee. Chimps will naturally defecate where they sleep; dogs have a lair instinct where they are averse to doing so. Thus, if the dog sees his "lair" as the house, he may be trained to relieve himself outside. Not so with the chimps.

Human beings have real moral freedom

Because human beings are rational creatures, we have free will to choose whether or not to obey our urges, lusts, desires, and appetites. We would immediately label a man who killed the baby of his wife's adulterous lover as evil and a murderer. The urges produced by our biology or by the emotion of the situation don't matter. The man could have chosen to not act in spite of those. Human beings have the capability to choose the good.

However, on a naturalist account of humanity, how does one account for such freedoms? If all we are amounts to chemical processes and electrical impulses, then how do any of our action differ from those of the chimp I described above? If there is no component of man that can transcend our biology, it strikes me that in all of my actions, I'm simply the slave of the chemicals in my brain, acting in accord with my instinctual nature and whatever stimulus I receive from the outside word. Basically, my actions are nothing more than a very elaborate row of dominoes, where one will fall inevitably after another given a certain set of circumstances.

Without freedom, morality makes no sense

If that description of human action is true, it means that there is no real freedom. Freedom is a word we use because we may not be able to predict which way the dominoes will fall. But you and I are no more culpable for our actions than the chimp at the L.A. Zoo. Yet, we assume that people could have done otherwise. We chide them and jail them for not choosing the good.

How does the naturalist account for this capability of choice? For the Christian, we anchor our choices in the soul. We understand that there is an immaterial aspect to man that rises above his biology and gives him the capability to make meaningful moral choices. This is what being created in the image of God means. We are created with a sensitivity to moral obligations and duties. We don't just march to our biology, but we also recognize there is a right and wrong way to act. The ability to rise above our passions and desires and oppose them is what makes us morally culpable when we violate a moral law.

Some people lose their ability to freely choose how to act in certain situations. Think of the person suffering from Tourette's syndrome who may shout out a term of bigotry or the individual suffering from kleptomania. In those instances, we hold them to be ill, not evil, and we want them to seek help. But they even have the freedom to seek that help to attempt to get their uncontrollable tendencies under control. So, moral accountability appears even there.

Just as I said in my last post, when one claims to account for morality without God, there are some significant problems that arise. One is what is the basis of moral obligations themselves? Just because the universe is a certain way doesn't mean we have to abide by it. The second is where does the ability to recognize the existence of those moral laws and the capability to obey them in spite of our biology come from? If we are only material beings, I don't see how this can be done logically.

For part three, click here.


1. "Do Female Praying Mantises Always Eat the Males?" Entomology Today. Entomological Society of America, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
2. "Wasp Spider." The Wildlife Trusts. The Wildlife Trusts, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
3. Bardin, Jon. "L.A. Zoo Chimp Killing: A Q&A with Primatologist Craig Stanford." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
4."Zoo in Shock after Baby Chimpanzee Killed by Adult Chimp." LA Now Blog. The Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
5. Bardin, 2012.

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