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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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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Can Governments Define Marriage? (video)



The issue of what marriage is who should be allowed to marry is making headlines around the world. With the homosexual lobby pushing for states to recognize same-sex marriage, it becomes more important than ever to understand just what marriage means and who has control over its definition.

In this video, Lenny explains that marriage stems not from any law or court decision, but from the same source as human equality: natural law. Thus marriage, like human equality, cannot be redefined.



Image courtesy Fibonacci Blue [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Odds Against a Natural Account of Life's Origin



One of the most fundamental questions human beings have asked "Where did we come from?" The Christian will respond that we are creations of God. Modern atheism, though, seeks to erase God from the picture by proposing that we came about as a result of a very lucky combination of material and the laws of science where short strands of polynucleotides—the stuff that makes up our DNA and RNA molecules—would stick together to form longer chains. The story goes that eventually, an RNA molecule would form that could self-replicate and life would begin.

Just how much luck was involved? Dr. David Berlinski discusses it here:
Was nature lucky? It depends on the payoff and the odds. The payoff is clear: an ancestral form of RNA capable of replication. Without that payoff, there is no life, and obviously, at some point, the payoff paid well. The question is the odds.

For the moment, no one knows precisely how to compute those odds, if only because within the laboratory, no one has conducted an experiment leading to a self-replicating ribozyme. But the minimum length or "sequence" that is needed for a contemporary ribozyme to undertake what the distinguished geochemist Gustaf Arrhenius calls "demonstrated ligase activity" is known. It is roughly 100 nucleotides.

Whereupon, just as one might expect, things blow up very quickly. As Arrhenius notes, there are 4100, or roughly 1060 nucleotide sequences that are 100 nucleotides in length. This is an unfathomably large number. It exceeds the number of atoms in the universe, as well as the age of the universe in seconds. If the odds in favor of self-replication are 1 in 1060, no betting man would take them, no matter how attractive the payoff, and neither presumably would nature.1
Following that description, Berlinski notes that Arrhenius seeks to escape his own dilemma by proposing that such long self-replicating sequences may not have been as rare in the primeval earth as they are today. He then answers:
Why should self-replicating RNA molecules have been common 3.6 billion years ago when they are impossible to discern under laboratory conditions today? No one, for that matter, has ever seen a ribozyme capable of any form of catalytic action that is not very specific in its sequence and thus unlike even closely related sequences. No one has ever seen a ribozyme able to undertake chemical action without a suite of enzymes in attendance. No one has ever seen anything like it.

The odds, then, are daunting; and when considered realistically, they are even worse than this already alarming account might suggest. The discovery of a single molecule with the power to initiate replication would hardly be sufficient to establish replication. What template would it replicate against? We need, in other words, at least two, causing the odds of their joint discovery to increase from 1 in 1060 to 1 in 10120. Those two sequences would have been needed in roughly the same place. And at the same time. And organized in such a way as to favor base pairing. And somehow held in place. And buffered against competing reactions. And productive enough so that their duplicates would not at once vanish in the soundless sea.

In contemplating the discovery by chance of two RNA sequences a mere forty nucleotides in length, Joyce and Orgel concluded that the requisite "library" would require 1048 possible sequences. Given the weight of RNA, they observed gloomily, the relevant sample space would exceed the mass of the Earth. And this is the same Leslie Orgel, it will be remembered, who observed that "it was almost certain that there once was an RNA world." 2
This section of Berlinski's article deals with just one step of a multi-step process that would fashion the first life. Other pieces include the advancement from self-replicating RNA to a fully working cell producing the appropriate amino acids and nucleic acids to function as well as assembling the right nucleic acids to construct the polynucleotides to begin with. And we haven't even factored in the problem of chirality.  However, looking at Berlinski's numbers alone, it seems clear that a reasonable person would not assume life came about by dumb luck.

References

1. Berlinski, David. "On the Origin of Life." The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. By Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski. Wilmington: ISI, 2011. 286. Print.
2. Berlinski, 2011. 286-287.
Image courtesy Toni Lozano [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 29, 2015

Answering a Unique Objection to Natural Marriage Laws



Last month, I taught a class on how to engage the culture when discussing the issue of marriage, rights and homosexuality. One of the class attendees asked how she should respond to the argument she had heard from her professor in a university gender studies class. She said the professor, who identified herself as a lesbian, offered several arguments for allowing homosexual marriage, but there was one particular argument she hadn't heard before. She said, "One of the arguments was about hermaphrodites. Given that the intersexed were assigned a sex by their parents or doctor, they didn't get to choose. Because they are not strictly male or female, shouldn't they have the opportunity to marry whomever they want, regardless of the assigned sexed placed upon them growing up?"

I have to admit, I had never heard of such a tenuous argument either. However, this professor is not alone in thinking this way. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), a support group for those who are considered intersexed, offers a similar challenge on its web site:
People who are proponents of prohibitions against "same sex" marriage think it is easy to figure out who is "same sex" and who is "opposite sex." Not so…

Lots of people with intersex that we know are legally married. What will happen to them if we end up with simplistic notions of sex?

And lots of people with intersex we know can't get legally married, because some doctor decided for them which sex they would count as forever more. Why should a doctor get to decide who you can grow up to marry?1
While this situation seems pretty strange, it does require a response. First, we should comment on what constitutes an intersexed person. Most of the time, the label of intersexed is given to a person who is genetically male or female (XX or XY) but has ambiguous genitalia. These individuals comprise about .018% of the population, according to Leonard Sax. 2 This is an incredibly small portion of the population to base an argument for disregarding the concept of natural marriage that has been the foundation of human society for millennia. Even if we assume the ISNA's broader estimate, which counts those with chromosomal abnormalities, intersexed people comprise 1.7% of the total population.

Should Laws that Cannot Apply to All Apply At All?

The real objection offered by both the ISNA and the professor is that since the laws defining marriage would be considered unfair to those who are diagnosed as intersexed, they should not apply at all. Does that make sense? In my answer, I offered a counter-example. I pointed to a relatively common traffic law: if an emergency vehicle approaches with both a red light displayed and a siren sounding, drivers are required to pull to the curb. However, in my state, deaf people can legally obtain their driver's license, too. So, a deaf person could be ticketed for not obeying this law, even though it is physically impossible for them to hear the siren. Therefore, should such a law be repealed? Of course not! If the right curb rule was repealed, it would do much more harm than good; obstructing emergency vehicles and endangering drivers and emergency respondents.

A recent study estimates that between .9% to 2.2% of the population suffers from a significant hearing impairment. Does it make sense to change the traffic laws since they make no sense for this segment of society or would it make more sense to keep the law and review any citations individually? Legislation has always taken the latter approach. Similarly, it makes no sense to wipe out all the marriage laws with the advantages they offer society and the protections they provide children simply because they don't make sense to an even narrower portion of the population. The argument smacks to me of desperation.

References

1. "What Do Intersex and the Same-sex Marriage Debate Have to Do with Each Other?" Intersex Society of North America. Intersex Society of North America, 2004. Web. 29 May 2015. http://www.isna.org/faq/marriage.
2. Sax, Leonard. "How Common Is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto‐Sterling." Journal of Sex Research 39.3 (2002): 174-78. Web.
Image courtesy Scott Davidson. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Lost Gospels" are to the Gospels as Sci-Fi is to Shakespeare



Yesterday, I began to discuss the so-called Lost Gospels, those second and third century writings claiming to be Gospel accounts by Apostles like Peter, Thomas, and Judas. As I noted, the Apostles names applied to these writing are clearly forged. The writings themselves are too late to come from those living at the same time Jesus ministered, unlike the four recognized Gospels of the New Testament. However, that doesn't stop some skeptics from trying to promote the idea that these documents are somehow on par with the canonical Gospels.

In his book Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman makes the claim that there was some kind of competition between the four Gospels we know and these other writings. He states:
The Gospels that came to be included in the New Testament were all written anonymously; only at a later time were they called by the names of their reputed authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But at about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available, sacred texts that were read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world: a Gospel, for example, claiming to be written by Jesus' closest disciple, Simon Peter; another by his apostle Philip; a Gospel allegedly written by Jesus' female disciple, Mary Magdalene; another by his own twin brother, Didymus Judas Thomas.1
Ehrman then claims "Someone decided that four of these early Gospels, and no others, should be accepted as part of the canon," and then asks "How can we be sure they were right?"2

Obfuscating the Late Composition of the Gnostic Texts

As a New Testament scholar, Ehrman is being extremely disingenuous here. First, notice the phrasing of the sentence "about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available." It is written tom mislead readers that the Gnostic accounts are nearly contemporaneous with the Gospels. That isn't true. The Gospels were well known and circulated from the first century onward. As I've shown here and here, early church fathers named the authors of all four of the Gospels by 100 AD and no other candidates were ever seriously advanced. The Gnostic texts weren't even written until the second and third centuries, and that's when the church began making lists of what counts as Scripture and what doesn't. Thus, when Ehrman claims that "other Gospel books were becoming available," he means other Gospel books were being written. And when he claims this happened "about the same time these names were being associated with the Gospels" he means the Church put down on paper a list of Gospels bearing the names Matthew. Mark, Luke, and John.

But what of Ehrman's other claim that these texts were considered sacred, revered and worthy to be considered as part of the Christian Scripture? Internet skeptics make similar assertions all the time. However, these Gnostic texts, although labeled by their forgers as "Gospels" don't hold a candle to the real Gospels. In fact, all it takes is a quick read of them to show they are about as similar to the Gospels as a pulp science fiction novel is to one of Shakespeare's plays. Let's take a look at a few snippets to get a flavor.

Gospel of Peter

Ehrman points to the Gospel of Peter as a potential candidate for Scripture. Yet, in the Gospel of Peter, Pontius Pilate becomes free of all guilt because he washed his hands, thus flipping John's account on its head. It was the unwashed Jews and Herod that are supposed to take the blame for Jesus's death:

But of the Jews no man washed his hands, neither did Herod nor any one of his judges: and whereas they would not wash, Pilate rose up. And then Herod the king commanded that the Lord should be taken into their hands, saying unto them: All that I commanded you to do unto him, do ye.3

Such a re-envisioning of Herod's washing as a good thing is remarkable enough, but what's worse is how the account of the resurrection portrays Jesus coming out of the tomb on Sunday morning accompanied by two angels. All three of them have elongated necks and there a floating cross that answers God the Father! The passage reads:

They saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.4

Certainly, the Gospel of Peter does not hold the same historical weight as the Gospel accounts.

Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas was another account that Ehrman mentions. This text is interesting because it is probably the earliest of the Gnostic texts written sometime in the early or middle second century. But to call it a Gospel is to malign the term. First of all, it isn't a narrative of Jesus' ministry. It is only 114 verses long and is a collection of supposed sayings or teachings of Jesus. About a third of these are copied from the existing Gospel accounts. About a third are teachings not necessarily incompatible with Christian doctrine, but we don't know if Jesus said them. The last third, though, are completely Gnostic.

For example, take verse 22, which is comprised of double-speak :
 When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].5
Or verse 30, which is not only confusing but seems to reject monotheism:
Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.6
Finally, Thomas ends with a disturbing bit of Gnostic ideology where Jesus states only men can get into heaven and Mary Magdalene must be turned into a man to enter the Kingdom:
Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.7
I could go on, but I think my point is made. The so-called Lost Gospels are nothing of the kind. They weren't lost, they were rejected. And they weren't Gospels, because they are devoid of the Good News of salvation. Of course, people can spiritualize anything; that's why a significant number of people in England and Wales identified themselves as holding to the Jedi faith.8 Holding that the Gnostic texts were serious candidates as Gospels falls into the same category as believing Obi-Wan Kenobi is a religious scholar. It makes me wonder in what way Dr. Ehrman watches Star Wars.

References

1. Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. 4.
2. Ehrman, 2003. 4.
3. Gospel of Peter, I.1-2. Translated by M. R. James. The Gnostic Society Library. The Gnostic Society Library, 1995. Web. 28 May 2015. http://www.gnosis.org/library/gospete.htm.
4. Gospel of Peter,XI.38-42.
5. Gospel of Thomas. 20. Translated by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer. The Gnostic Society Library. The Gnostic Society Library, 1994. Web. 28 May 2015 http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html
6. Gospel of Thomas, 30.
7. Gospel of Thomas, 114.
8. "'Jedi' Religion Most Popular Alternative Faith." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 28 May 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9737886/Jedi-religion-most-popular-alternative-faith.html.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why There's No Such Thing as a Lost Gospel


Are there really "lost" Gospel texts that were eliminated from the Bible? The claim has been circulating for many decades now, with specials on television that highlight the Gospel of Judas or books such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Yet, simply because someone calls a writing "Gospel" does that mean it should be considered as a candidate for Scripture alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? I don't think so.

There are a number of reasons why the texts that are collectively known as the "lost" Gospels are nothing of the kind. First of all, they were written much later than the canonical Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all penned in the first century, within 30 to 60 of Jesus's ministry. However, scholars have dated the vast majority of the Gnostic Gospels to originate in the second or third centuries. Scholars who are both liberal and conservative agree that the Gnostic accounts were created after the apostolic age.1 That means Gnostic works bearing the name of Thomas or James or Peter or Judas are definite forgeries.

Gnostic Texts Rely on the Canonical Gospels

Although the Gnostic Gospels are forgeries, the reason why they use the names of well-known apostles is interesting. The writers knew that for their writings to have any credence at all, they would have to bear the name of recognized figures during Jesus's ministry. Thus, the names of Thomas, James, Peter, and Judas are used to try and give these writings an air of authority.

Martin Hengel makes the point that unlike the original four Gospels, these Gnostics were written with the name attached to them from the very beginning. He notices that there are no competing claims nor are there any discussions about the author attribution for the Gnostic texts as there was for the canonical Gospels. He then concludes, "The uniformity of this unusual form of title strongly suggests that the titles "were not secondary additions but part of the Gospels as originally circulated. . . . [T]hese superscriptions were not added to the Gospels secondarily, long after their composition . . ."2

The question one should ask next, though, is how did those reading the Gnostic texts know these names of the apostles? The answer is simply that the four canonical Gospels were not only already in existence, but accepted as authoritative. In fact, by the middle of the second century, all four of the Biblical Gospels have been quoted as authoritative by Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and included in the Diatessaron, a book that sought to harmonize all the Gospel accounts.

Further, throughout the Gnostics accounts, familiar portions of the canonical Gospels are leveraged. We read of Pilate washing his hands and of Jesus being buried in a tomb in the Gospel of Peter. About a third of the Gospel of Thomas are sayings of Jesus that steal from the canonical accounts.3 Ben Witherington concurs, writing "One of the key indicators that Gnosticism is a later development is that it depends on the canonical Gospels for its substance when it comes to the story of Jesus. Even more tellingly, the Gnostic texts try to de-Judaize the New Testament story."4

Gnostic Texts Seek to Usurp Gospel Accounts

Witherington's last point is not to be missed. The Gnostic texts set themselves apart from the canonical texts in both their theology and their claims to be the truth while the established Christianity of the church fathers was false. The term gnostic is based on a Greek word for knowledge, and the Gnostics continually preached that they had secret knowledge others didn't. The Apocalypse of Peter clearly sets the Gnostics against the Christian church leaders when it proclaims, "And there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgment of the leaders. Those people are dry canals" (emphasis added).5 The Testimony of Truth proclaims "They do not have the word which gives life." 6

It is clear that the Gnostic Gospels are not on par with the canonical Gospels with regards to their sources. They are forgeries that were written too late, they relied on the existing four Gospels for at least some of their content 9thus tacitly endorsing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as properly authoritative), and they set themselves up to be competitors to the teachings of the church that were handed down from the apostles. These so-called Gospels were never lost; they were simply rejected as poor imitations of what true scripture would look like.


References

1 Scholar Darrell Bock in his book The Mission Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub, 2006), points to the work of Rebell, Ehrman, Klauk, Lapham and White to support these dates.
2. Hengel, Martin. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Collection and Origin of the Canonical Gospels. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International, 2000. Print. 50.
3. One such example is Thomas 20 which reads, "The disciples said to Jesus, 'Tell us what Heaven's kingdom is like.' He said to them, "'It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.'"
4. Witherington, Ben. The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print. 22.
5. "The Apocalypse of Peter." Translated by James Brashler and Roger A. Bullard. The Nag Hammadi Library. Web. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/apopet.html
6. "The Testimony of Truth." Translated by Søren Giversen and Birger A. Pearson. The Nag Hammadi Library. Web. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/testruth.html

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Does a Fertilized Egg Have a Soul?


A recent article in the British publication Premier Christianity asked the question, "Does individual life really begin at conception?"1 David Instone-Brewer argues conception is too early to consider the embryo or zygote a person, pointing to the fact that cells are undifferentiated and the embryo could split into twins. He notes that prior to the 14 day mark, cells are undifferentiated, therefore "the number of nerve and brain cells in the human embryo is zero, and it has less complexity than the simplest microscopic worm."

Instone-Brewer doesn't rest his argument on biology, however. He's more fair than that. He offers a theological argument as to why 14 is the magic number. He continues:

For a completely different reason, theologians might also regard 14 days as a significant starting point for individual life. This is the date before which the cell-bundle could split into identical twins or larger multiples. We don't know if God injects a fully formed spirit at some point (like Plato imagined) or whether our spirit develops while our body develops. However, we can be sure that God does not give an individual spirit to a bundle of cells before 14 days because if those cells did subsequently split into identical twins, they would have only half of a human spirit each. Theologically speaking, therefore, individual spiritual life cannot start before 14 days after conception.

What Makes a Living Thing Alive?

Here is where I think Instone-Brewer goes wrong. While it is true that a single embryo will infrequently split into multiples, Instone-Brewer seems to offer a stunted definition of what the soul is. In his explanation above, he tries to separate the soul from the growing embryo as something that God perhaps adds to the entity. Yet, he doesn't take into account what is the thing that causes the embryo to be considered a living thing at all.

Regardless of whether our soul is fully formed or develops with the body, there is something that is unique about an embryo in that it is a living entity. It is different from a rock or a piece of wood. It is even different from a human corpse. The embryo is alive. The Bible has traditionally taught that the thing that separates a living being from an inanimate object is the soul.2 In Genesis 2:7 we read, "Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." The word used for God's breathing and the word used for being are both forms of the Hebrew word nephesh which is the primary word for soul. In the Genesis passage, God fashions the body—that is, all the parts are there and read to work—but the body doesn't become alive until the soul is given to it by God.

There are several other passages that illustrate the soul as being the distinctive element separating life and death. Genesis 35:18, which recounts Rachel's death, describes her passing by recording her soul's departure from the body. Also, Elijah when raising the widow's dead son in 1 Kings 17:21 prayed "Let this child's life (nephesh) return to him."

The Difference between a Being and Tissue

Of course, someone may offer an objection at this point, asking "What about cells such as skin cultures they keep alive in Petri dishes? Certainly, those don't have a soul, do they?" Well, I would argue no. First, a soul is a single entity that relates to the entire being. Instone-Brewer is right in noting that an embryo splitting into twins would leave each with half a soul. Similarly, a sperm cell and an ovum don't each have half a soul that fuses together when they unite. This is equating the immaterial aspect of the soul with the material aspect of the cells themselves. The soul encapsulates and animates the entire person.

Because the soul supervenes upon the entire person, it can be said that the soul provides the guidance or teleos for the body to operate properly. In other words, one's body is like an assembly of musicians and one's DNA is the sheet music. However, without a conductor to regulate the system, a symphony would never be produced. An embryo and even a zygote (fertilized egg) have that conductor in the soul, which animates the organism with forward progress. It builds a body.

Contrast that with cells in a dish. There is no telos there; the cells simply continue in a mechanical fashion as long as. In fact, one can compare them to the organs of an organ donor. If you are an organ donor, you have allowed certain body organs to be taken from you after you die and transplanted into another person. The organs are not removed until you are really dead, yet certain organs can for a limited time and with intervention stay viable for longer periods. While the cells of these organs are still operational, they will also die unless they are placed within a living being where their purpose may be fulfilled.

Embryos are not like an organ simply because the telos of an embryo is to create an independent entity. One may realize this doesn't happen in 14 days (or even nine months; it takes many years before a human being can be considered fully independent), but it marks a clear distinction between that which is a living being and cells that are mechanically operational.

On the question of where the soul of the twin comes from, you can read the excellent reply Peter D. Williams writes here. However, by ignoring the theology about what makes a human being alive, I think Instone-Brewer's answer is too short-sighted.

References

1. Instone-Brewer, David, and Peter D. Williams. "Does Individual Life Really Begin at Conception?" Premier Christianity. Premier Christian Media Trust, 14 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/June-2015/Does-individual-life-really-begin-at-conception.
2.. Although I offer some examples here, a much fuller argument for the soul as that which gives life may be found in J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae's Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), pages 26-40.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is Morality Grounded in Nature, Utility, or God?



Just as there are three possible sources for moral obligations (determined, designed, or discovered—see previous video), there are three competing ideas offered today for the grounding of morality. Can one derive objective moral principles from naturalism or utilitarianism or must moral law be grounded in God alone? In this last of a four-part series, Lenny discusses the problems with both naturalistic and utilitarian view of morality and shows why moral values and duties are rooted in God and his laws.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Os Guinness Says "We Are All Apologists Now"

I recently received an advanced copy of Os Guinness' forthcoming book Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. While I haven't yet read the whole thing, Guinness is a solid scholar and a stalwart author who takes both cultural engagement and the defense of the faith seriously.

In this contribution, Guinness doesn't offer another catalog of answers so much as he offers keen insight into the method of communication Christians need to develop in order to be heard in our increasingly noisy society. I'll review the entire book at a later date. For now, I'll leave you with the opening lines of the introduction, which should whet your appetite for more.
We are all apologists now, and we stand at the dawn of the grand age of human apologetics, or so some are saying because our wired world and our global era are a time when expressing, presenting, sharing, defending and selling ourselves have become a staple of everyday life for countless millions of people around the world, both Christians and others. The age of the Internet, it is said, is the age of the self and the selfie. The world is full of people full of themselves. In such an age, "I post, therefore I am."

To put the point more plainly, human interconnectedness in the global era has been raised to a truly global level, with unprecedented speed and on an unprecedented scale. Everyone is now everywhere, and everyone can communicate with everyone else from anywhere and at any time, instantly and cheaply. Communication through the social media in the age of email, text messages, cell phones, tweets and Skype is no longer from "the few to the many" as in the age of the book, the newspaper and television, but from "the many to the many" and all the time.

One of the effects of this level of globalization is plain. Active and inter­active communication is the order of the day. From the shortest texts and tweets to the humblest website, to the angriest blog, to the most visited social networks, the daily communications of the wired world attest that everyone is now in the business of relentless self-promotion—presenting them­selves, explaining themselves, defending themselves, selling themselves or sharing their inner thoughts and emotions as never before in human history. That is why it can be said that we are in the grand secular age of apologetics.

The whole world has taken up apologetics without ever using or knowing the idea as Christians understand it. We are all apologists now, if only on behalf of "the Daily Me" or "the Tweeted Update" that we post for our virtual friends and our cyber community. The great goals of life, we are told, are to gain the widest possible public attention and to reach as many people in the world with our products-and always, our leading product is Us.1
I completely agree with this passage. Everyone seek self-promotion these days, sometimes in ways that are more subtle than others. People feign expertise in subjects they really know nothing about, appearing smarter than they are. The advent of the Google scholar, where people believe the first three hits from a search term are enough to make one knowledgeable about a subject has the effect of chilling conversation and therefore chilling the true accumulation of knowledge. Therefore, Christians do need to be wise as serpents but gentle as doves in their interaction with others. Fool's Talk would be a good start.

The book will be released July of 2015. You can pre-order on Amazon here.

References

1.Guinness, Os. Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 2015. Print.15-16.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Is It Fair for God to Judge Those Who Never Heard?

Christianity teaches that all people are born sinners. They have a natural desire to rebel against the things of God, to be selfish and immoral. But God does not abandon them here. The good news of the Gospel is that God sent his only son Jesus to become a man and redeem us from our sins. Once we put our trust in Jesus and his act of redemption, we are reconciled to God and we can commune with him forever.



In the Christian story, both the judgment of men and the reconciliation of them are acts of God. But some cry foul at this story, claiming God is unfair for judging those who may have never heard about Jesus or their need for redemption. Is God truly unfair to those who were isolated by geography or history from the Gospel? The Apostle Paul argues they aren't, and offers a couple of reasons why.

1. God Revels Himself to All Men

In Paul's day, most of the world wasn't familiar with Christianity or even the Jewish ideas from which it sprang. When writing to the Romans, Paul realizes that the church in Rome would include people from many different backgrounds and locations across the known world. He tells the Christians there that while God had revealed himself and his holy standard to the Jews through the writings of Moses and the prophets, the Romans didn't. However Paul contends the Romans should still realize there is a God to whom they are accountable. In Romans 1:20 he writes, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Imagine those who were first settling the country. Immigrants didn't speak the same language. They came from places with different laws and different customs. One family travels west and finds a picturesque spot with a stream and a meadow. However, there's a fence that encloses the land. Though the immigrant understands little of the law, he would assume that the fence is an indicator that someone had claimed this land. He would realize the fence doesn't simply appear. Even if he comes from a culture that had never used fences to mark property boundaries, through a quick examination he could easily conclude its purpose and meaning.

Similarly, no matter how isolated any culture is from the Gospel, every human being can recognize that there is design in our world. In fact, every culture has recognized that they didn't appear from nothing and there is an order to nature, to survival, and to reproduction. That's why all cultures adhere to some kind of religious practice. It demonstrates how all cultures have recognized there is something higher than themselves to whom they are beholden. In other words, mankind is never the final authority. One must look beyond himself to discover the deepest truths about his design and purpose in the world.

2. People Don't Even Measure up to Their Own Standards

The second point Paul makes is while different cultures have varying standards of morality, no one can claim innocence before God. Of course, no one can measure up to God's requirement of perfection, especially if they don't know all of what God's perfection entails. Yet, Paul states the Romans have within their own consciences enough of God's law to be accountable for that much. He writes:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares (Rom 2:14-16, NASB).
Here, Paul simply claims that commandments like "Do not lie, do not murder, do not commit adultery" are universal. There would be many societies who had never heard of the Ten Commandments, yet would recognize the wrongness of such actions. While in some cultures a man may have only one wife and in others a man may have four wives, there is no culture where it is OK to take another man's wife.

The hook is all people fail not only at achieving God's standards, but even at holding their own. Think about two men who work at an office. One is coming in three to four minutes late and sometimes stretches his lunch hour to an hour and a half. The other is strictly prompt, but from time to time will use the work printer to make flyers for a birthday party or take a highlighter and some pens home to use there. The first man may justify his actions, thinking "I may be a few minutes late, but at least I don't steal like that guy!" while the second is thinking "I may use a few extra office supplies, but at least I care enough about my job to be on time!" The fact is both men are guilty and their attempts at self-justification prove it.

Driving on the Freeway

The clearest example I can give on how all people fail to measure up to their own law is by simply asking you to think about your experiences on the freeway. In what ways do you criticize others? If your driving was judged by the same standard as you judge everyone else, do you think you would have no strikes against yourself? I know I would!

If God did nothing more than judge each person on their own standard of conduct they held for others, each one of us would be found completely guilty before him. So, how can anyone accuse God of not being fair? It certainly isn't in his judgment of them. Perhaps they are complaining that he hasn't made redemption sufficiently clear. We can address that topic in another post.

Image courtesy Andrew Mitchell and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License

Thursday, May 21, 2015

There Are No Blind Forces worth Speaking about in Nature



Sir Fred Hoyle was an amazing scientist, knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to theoretical astrophysics. Hoyle was not a theist, but he had grave doubts about life coming into existence on earth by itself. In his 1981 paper "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections" he laid out some of the evidence pointing to the fine-tuning of the universe and why he felt that the explanation of natural processes simply didn't work. Here are some excerpts from that paper:
The big problem in biology, as I see it, is to understand the origin of the information carried by the explicit structures of biomolecules. The issue isn't so much the rather crude fact that a protein consists of a chain of amino acids linked together in a certain way, but that the explicit ordering of the amino acids endows the chain with remarkable properties, which other orderings wouldn't give. The case of the enzymes is well known. Enzymes act as catalysts in speeding up chemical reactions that would otherwise go far too slowly, as in the breakdown, for example, of starch into sugar. If amino acids were linked at random, there would be a vast number of arrangements that would be useless in serving the purposes of a living cell. When you consider that a typical enzyme has a chain of perhaps 200 links and that there are 20 possibilities for each link, it's easy to see that the number of useless arrangements is enormous, more than the number of atoms in all the galaxies visible in the largest telescopes. This is for one enzyme, and there are upwards of 2000 of them, mainly serving very different purposes. So how did the situation get to where we find it to be? This is, as I see it, the biological problem - the information problem.

It's easy to frame a deceitful answer to it. Start with much simpler, much smaller enzymes, which are sufficiently elementary to be discoverable by chance; then let evolution in some chemical environment cause the simple enzymes to change gradually into the complex ones we have today. The deceit here comes from omitting to explain what is in the environment that causes such an evolution. The improbability of finding the appropriate orderings of amino acids is simply being concealed in the behavior of the environment if one uses that style of argument.



The potentiality of a cosmic system of life was so enormous compared to an earth-bound system that it was possible to rest content with the situation for awhile. But eventually I came to wonder if the potentiality of even a cosmic system was really big enough. In thinking about this question I was constantly plagued by the thought that the number of ways in which even a single enzyme could be wrongly constructed was greater than the number of all the atoms in the universe. So try as I would, I couldn't convince myself that even the whole universe would be sufficient to find life by random processes - by what are called the blind forces of nature. The thought occurred to me one day that the human chemical industry doesn't chance on its products by throwing chemicals at random into a stewpot. To suggest to the research department at DuPont that it should proceed in such a fashion would be thought ridiculous. Wasn't it even more ridiculous to suppose that the vastly more complicated systems of biology had been obtained by throwing chemicals at random into a wildly chaotic astronomical stewpot? By far the simplest way to arrive at the correct sequences of amino acids in the enzymes would be by thought, not by random processes. And given a knowledge of the appropriate ordering of amino acids, it would need only a slightly superhuman chemist to construct the enzymes with 100 percent accuracy. It would need a somewhat more superhuman scientist, again given the appropriate instructions, to assemble it himself, but not a level of scale outside our comprehension. Rather than accept the fantastically small probability of life having arisen through the blind forces of nature, it seemed better to suppose that the origin of life was a deliberate intellectual act. By "better" I mean less likely to be wrong.

… A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."1

References

1. Hoyle, Fred, "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections." Engineering and Science, November, 1981. 8–12. Web. http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/527/2/Hoyle.pdf

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Flipped: Same-Sex Couple Demands Christians NOT Provide Wedding Service


The reports are almost predictable by now: a same-sex couple walks into some kind of business that caters to wedding clientele but is owned by a Christian. The couple asks for services and if the business refuses on moral grounds, they are threatened with protests, lawsuits, or worse. The scenario has played out effectively for several years in the U.S, and has become so effective that activists will even troll for the storyline.1


Such tactics aren't limited to the United States. In Northern Ireland, the Christian-owned Asher's Baking Company was sued because they wouldn't bake a cake sporting pro-homosexual propaganda for a political event.2 The judge sided with the homosexual group and fined the bakery.

However, there's a story out of Canada that flips the whole narrative on its head. In northeast Canada, a lesbian couple were distraught that Today's Jewellers wanted to continue creating  the custom-designed wedding rings they had ordered even though the Christian owners do not believe in homosexual marriage. The couple had worked with one of the store's jewelers, ordering their rings and even placing a deposit, but after finding out the owners were vocal supporters of natural marriage, they said "the bands seem tainted."3

When Non-Discrimination is Somehow Discrimination

CBCNews reported the story of same-sex couple Nicole White and Pam Renouf, who walked into the Mount Pearl, NL jewelry store after searching nearby St. John's for wedding rings. Today's Jewellers was recommended to them because they craft custom designs. The store not only served them, but served them so well that White and Renouf recommended them to their friends. White said "They were great to work with. They seemed to have no issues. They knew the two of us were a same-sex couple."

The whole thing came unhinged when one of the couple's friends visited the store himself and saw a sign on the wall that read, "The Sanctity of Marriage is Under Attack." He sent a picture of the sign to White and Renouf, who then wanted their money back. White stated:
It was really upsetting. Really sad, because we already had money down on the rings, and they're displaying how much they are against gays, and how they think marriage should be between a man and a woman. …

I have no issues with them believing in what they believe in. I think everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But I don't think they should put their personal beliefs inside their business.

Arguing the Bakers' Case for Them

This story illustrates what Christians have been saying throughout the whole debate on serving homosexual unions; it has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with forcing others to accept a single point of view. According to the article:
White said the rings were meant to be a symbol of love, but now the bands seem tainted.

"I think every time I look at that ring, I'll probably think of what we just went through," White said.4
If custom made rings are compromised because of the views of the ringmaker, then how is the baker or photographer not also tainted because of the product which they are being forced to create? There's a reason why wedding photographers can take pictures of your wedding that you paid for yet still hold the copyright to the images themselves. You cannot reproduce those images unless the photographer gives you his or her permission because the photos are more than a product on a shelf; they contain they reflect the personality and the creativity of the artist.5 The other point is clear as well. Serving same-sex couples even if one doesn't agree with them is not enough. You cannot even hold to a contrary opinion.

One good thing from this story is it may show a way for other Christian-owned businesses to diffuse future "gotcha" attacks by activists who want to shut them down because of their beliefs. At The Federalist, Bruce Takawani recently posted his ideas on how Christian businesses can protect themselves from lawsuits by branding your business using scripture and scripture passages, plastering them on all your flyers, your delivery van, and even on company t-shirts. Given the reaction by White and Renouf above, such a suggestion just may work.

References

1. Soave, Robby. "Was Memories Pizza a Victim of Irresponsible Journalism? Yes." Reason.com. Reason Foundation., 02 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 May 2015. http://reason.com/blog/2015/04/02/was-memories-pizza-a-victim-of-irrespons.
2. McDonald, Henry. "Northern Ireland Bakers Guilty of Discrimination over Gay Marriage Cake." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 19 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/may/19/northern-ireland-ashers-baking-company-guilty-discrimination-gay-marriage-cake.
3. News, CBC. "Jewelry Store Sign Prompts Same-sex Couple to Ask for Refund." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 17 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/jewelry-store-sign-prompts-same-sex-couple-to-ask-for-refund-1.3077192.
4 CBCnews, 17 May, 2015.
5. Streissguth, Tom. "Who Owns the Copyright on Wedding Pictures?" LegalZoom: Legal Info. LegalZoom.com, Inc., n.d. Web. 20 May 2015. http://info.legalzoom.com/owns-copyright-wedding-pictures-20832.html.
Image source: https://scontent-lax1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/11230238_10155496136245034_5838615754670842879_n.jpg?oh=2978135687d836001211531e1df368ac&oe=56048063
Image courtesy Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team from Germany CC BY 2.0.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Danger in Abandoning Moral Principles


In their drive toward what they perceive as modern freedom, the cultural elites of today have hastened to jettison that smacks even remotely of traditional constraints upon society. While the most extreme form of such abandon is the postmodern believe that all truth is created by the individual, others simply hold that it is moral truths that, like the play-doh of their youth, can be shaped to their liking. Such abandon does not come without cost.

Os Guinness warns of one prevalent danger within the pages of his book Time for Truth. Guinness cautions that when objective truths are denied, we don’t become more civil, but less so. The New Guard that doesn't allow disagreeable views is not more free than the Old Guard; it is more savage, forcing others to kowtow to the people in power. Guinness writes:
What of those people who do not hold to traditional or biblical assumptions of truth but who care about society and their place in it? The response here might appear harder, and even in the view of some, impossible. But in fact there are two powerful arguments for the importance of a high view of truth, even for those who do not believe in it. The first of the two is negative in nature: Without truth we are all vulnerable to manipulation.

The promise of postmodernism at first sight is a brave new world of freedom. "Truth is dead; knowledge is power," the exuberant cheerleaders tell us. We must all therefore debunk the knowledge-claims confronting us and reach for the prize—freedom from the dominations constraining us. What could be simpler and more appealing?

There is only one snag. What happens when we succeed in cutting away truth-claims to expose the web of power games only to find we have less power than the players we face? If truth is dead, right and wrong are neither, and all that remains is the will to power, then the conclusion is simple: Might makes right. Logic is only a power conspiracy. Victory goes to the strong and the weak go to the wall.1
While Guinness has a fully developed postmodernism in view, I think his conclusions follow even for the more limited form of moral relativism. As Christian moral principles become more and more estranged from the popular view, we will see more people in power such as judges, bludgeon them to think correctly on issues such as homosexual marriage or abortion. To abandon our convictions on these is dangerous as we stand to lose far more than the traditional point of view, we may lose the ability to be civil at all.

References

1. Guinness, Oz. "Time for Truth – Chapters 4-5" Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint, Eds. Crossway. Kindle Edition. 641.
Image courtesy Quinn Dombrowski and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What Isn't Being Talked about in the Pew Study



The recent Pew Study showing the decline of Christians within the population of the U.S. has generated headlines across the country. Entitled "America's Changing Religious Landscape," the report reaffirms what had been known for years, young people are losing their faith at a faster rate than ever before.1 The reports cites a nearly 8% decrease in people who identify as Christians. It also notes "The percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular'—has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.)" 2 That's a significant increase, and the movement away from all faiths, including Christianity is most prevalent in young people, aged 18-35. The fact is alarming, and I have both written about it and interviewed experts on the trend, including offering suggestions on how to stem the tide.

Jehovah's Witnesses Rely on Christians to Survive

Yet, other facts emerge from the study to which we should also pay attention. One is the attraction and retention rates of other faiths. For example, the study shows that 65% of those who identify now as Jehovah's Witnesses were raised outside that tradition. That means two out of three Jehovah's Witnesses are converted to that faith. And a full 50% of those who are now JW came from either Protestantism or Catholicism.3

Because Jehovah's Witnesses hold to a strong belief in God's existence and the Bible being God's word, this sift is important to note. It isn't simply secularism or atheism that is drawing away people who were raised Christian, it is the search for definitive truth that is attractive, too. Imagine if Christians were so educated in theology that the heresies of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society would be completely unattractive to them. The organization would be crippled.




The Watchtower relies on converting Christians to survive; if that well were to dry up, the organization could not continue. Because the JWs have not increased in adherents, its new converts—those that make up two thirds of the sect—are replacing those who have walked away from the Watchtower. They can't retain their followers, yet they are still attracting new adherents. Churches need to do a better job here.

The LGBT in Your Pew

Important insights on the religious beliefs of those who identify as homosexual or bisexual also should be noted. While the Pew survey shows that 4 out of 10 people who identify as unaffiliated, 48% identify as Christians. Even more importantly, a full 13% of those who stated they were either gay or bisexual identified themselves as not merely Christian but Evangelical Christian!4 So, how many churches have any type of ministry to these people? How many self-described LGBT have anyone they know that they can talk with about their struggles? How is the church lovingly evangelizing the person in the pew who is wrestling with their feelings?

These are just two of the interesting insights that paint a bigger picture of how crucial a new kind of evangelism and apologetics will become for the church. As kingdom-builders, we need to make sure we are not ignoring them. Apologetics and theology classes can keep Christians from believing the Watchtower's errors or the atheist's assertions. Offering ministry to those struggling with all kinds of sexual purity issues will play a more important role as the church faces an increasingly salacious society. Both can have the added benefit of stemming the loss of Millennials, who increasingly see the church as out of touch or irrelevant to today's problems. Let's not dwell on the one issue to the exclusion of others.

References

1. "America's Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow." Rep. Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., 15 May 2015. Web. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
2. Pew Research Center, 3.
3. Pew Research Center, 43-44.
4. Pew Research Center, 87.
Image courtesy Achim Hering (Own work) CC BY 3.0

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Christianity and Super-Hero Movies (podcast)



They're smashing box office records and have become one of Hollywood's most bankable formats. But why are movies like The Avengers, Captain America, and The Dark Knight so popular? And do they hold a secret to sharing the Gospel? Listen to this exciting podcast series to find out how super heroes derive their power from the Christian tradition.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How Modern Desire for Virtue Corrupts Virtue

One of the conceits of our society is the assumption culture has become more caring and compassionate than was the case in previous eras. Those who advocate for a secular viewpoint of live and let live believe that it is the restrictions Christianity imposed upon actions that caused people to be less kind and caring and our more detached approach is better.



While I understand that many people really believe promoting things like same-sex marriages and single-mother IVF are being more kind and compassionate, the reality is such actions have serious consequences to the institution of marriage, to children, and to society as a whole. In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton nails the dilemma, writing:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive.1
The recent Pew Survey shows this exact trend. Young people think they can be virtuous independent of a holistic belief system. This is one place we need to begin in our apologetic to a new generation.

References

1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Image, 1959. Print. 26.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Christianity and the Disappearing Millennials: Exclusive Interview with Barna's David Kinnaman


Just this week, The Pew Research Group released the latest statistics on the state of faith in America from its massive study. Many interesting trends emerged. While fewer Americans identified as Christian than did so seven years ago, those who consider themselves evangelical held steady. Yet even here, the make-up of this segment is older, and the largest exodus from faith came from Millennials - young people born after 1980.

In this exclusive interview, I speak with the President of the Barna Research Group, David Kinnaman. In both this interview and in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith he distills the findings from years of study on the Millennial exodus, and he talks about how we can reach a generation raised in Digital Babylon with the timeless truth of the Gospel message.



To download this audio file, click here.

To access some of the resources and materials mentioned in the interview, follow the links below:;

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How Society is Regressing: Pushing Equality over Excellence

Are people smarter today than in centuries prior? That's the assumption of many today, including those atheists who assert that the modern era of science and technology proves our society has progressed to a higher position than previous eras. I'm not so sure. While we have greater control over our environment, we have been intellectually stunted by emphasizing feelings over reason. We live in the Age of Feeling, and that has caused society to regress, not progress.



To support my position, I've already offered two points of evidence that this society holds feelings above facts. The first was we are relinquishing our rights instead of offending and the second is in our current political climate, sympathy trumps science. Today I would like to offer a third proof: modern culture pushes for equality over excellence.

Destroying Opportunity

Bigotry is wrong. I think most people would agree with that statement, especially if they fall victim to bigotry themselves. But just what do we mean by bigotry? What do we mean by discrimination? Today, the term bigot is usually associated with a person who is racist or prejudiced because of inconsequential factors. The OED states that a bigot is "A person considered to adhere unreasonably or obstinately to a particular religious belief, practice, etc."1The key in this definition is the concept or unreasonableness or obstinacy. One may be charged with an act of unfair discrimination if they exclude one person from an employment position because they pre-judged a person based on nothing more than their ethnic heritage or the amount of melanin contained in their skin.

People all have an equal inherent worth because they are made in God's image. If one person is better able to perform a task than another, he or she should be allowed the opportunity to perform it, all else being equal. Today, though, people have distorted the idea that all people have equal worth to try and say that anything but equal outcomes is discriminatory. For example, the United States congress passed the Title IX act in 1972 to try and make any discriminatory exclusion of girls from participating in things like school sports. But the legislation has had terribly unintended consequences. Instead of merely opening the door of opportunity for women's sports program to flourish, it had the opposite effect of destroying many men's sports teams, especially in college. Men's teams were cut simply to achieve parity; the in the number of men participating in college sports must equal the number of women participating in sports at the same institution.2 Forget the fact that far fewer women in college desire to participate in sports, if the counts are off, sports teams for men are eliminated.

Equalizing Mediocrity

One of the clearest and most egregious examples of how the drive for equality actually destroys excellence is how philosopher Adam Swift began studying the questions of social justice, equality, and opportunity for children. In an ABC interview he states:
I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families…

What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn't need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people's children. 3
Basically, what Smith is asserting is parents who try to provide the best opportunities for their children by doing thing as like reading to them at night, engaging with their schooling and possibly even sending them to private schools or hiring tutors are giving those children an unfair advantage over children whose parents don't provide such attention. The article goes on to record Smith saying:
Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods. It's just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.4
This kind of thinking is insanity. We should cripple all children's education because some don't have parents who can give them the same learning tools as others? Why should we limit the minds of all kids? Shouldn't we encourage excellence and reward hard work no matter how the person was able to achieve it? Do you care whether your doctor went to a prep school in order to be an excellent surgeon or do you want all doctors to be equally but only moderately skilled? Why quash excellence for equality?

In his satiric response to Swift's arguments, Hans Fiene says that we might encourage additional ways of leveling the playing field for children by not bathing them or not feeding them fruits and vegetables when junk food will do. Personally, I thought Adam Swift's suggestions were so ludicrous to be satire themselves. I had to check twice to make sure his name was Adam Swift, not Jonathan Swift. He truly wants us to consume our children's opportunities for the sake of making the least common denominator the standard.

I realize that Adam Swift's modest proposal will not go anywhere. However, the fact that Swift can even offer it seriously in our culture says volumes about just how warped our culture has become on issues of equality and discrimination. We feel for the disadvantaged, but such solutions prove that we aren't thinking about the damage done in following those feelings. Society is truly regressing and when every child must receive a medal for their accomplishments, the medals become as worthless as the accomplishments they were awarded for.

References

1. "bigot, n. and adj." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 14 May 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18890?redirectedFrom=bigot&
2. "NCAA Men's Athletic Programs Cut To Comply With Title IX." College Sports Scholarships. College Sports Scholarships, 2012. Web. 14 May 2015. http://www.collegesportsscholarships.com/ncaa-mens-sports-cut-title-ix.htm.
3. Gelonesi, Joe. "Is Having a Loving Family an Unfair Advantage?" Radio National. Australian Broadcasting Company, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 May 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/new-family-values/6437058.
4. Gelonesi, 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Something Stinks in the Media's Reporting of the Pew Survey


Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the state of religion in the United States. They noted in the report that those who describe themselves as Christians had decreased by eight percentage points in the last seven years. This prompted many different news outlets to run stories proclaiming that Christianity is slipping as a religion and the rise of secularism is upon us. CNN declared, "Millennials leaving church in droves."1 Today's Los Angeles Times carried the headline "US has become notably less Christian."2 The Times story reports:
The erosion in traditional religious ranks seems likely to continue. Among Americans aged 18 to 33, slightly more than half identify as Christian, compared with roughly 8 in 10 in the baby boom generation and older age groups, the new data show…

Almost 1 in 5 American adults was raised in a religious tradition but is now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4% have moved in the other direction.3
In the fact that less Americans are identifying as Christian, the times gets the Pew Report correct. However, the story also claims "The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse."4 Notice the shift between the quotes, though. The first excerpts talk about "traditional religious ranks" and adults being "unaffiliated" with a specific religious tradition. That isn't the same thing as declining religious beliefs.

Is the Church Dying?

When analyzing the numbers, there are certain trends that immediately stick out. First is that the declines in Christianity come from the more liberal mainline denominations. Those who identify as Evangelicals are statistically level with prior years, even though the population has grown while mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations show a 3% to 4% decrease. This is no surprise as we have seen these denominations lose members for years.

Further, while the group identifying as Unaffiliated grew to 22.8% of the population, those who claim to specifically be atheist or agnostic were 7.1% of the population. That means there are a lot of folks who don't identify with a Christian denomination, but they may still hold to the existence of God and the importance of specific beliefs.

The Barna Research organization last month published findings on specific beliefs people held concerning Jesus. They found that 95% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person, 56% believe Jesus was/is God incarnate, and 62% say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. Barna says "roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as ‘born again Christians')." Interestingly, Barna notes "Fewer than half of Millennials say they have made such a commitment (46%), compared to six in 10 Gen-Xers (59%), two-thirds of Boomers (65%) and seven in 10 Elders (71%)."5

Christianity is No Longer the Default Position

I think some of the shakeup in the polling statistics is due to the way generations have historically identified themselves. Older generations would call themselves "Methodist" or "Episcopal" even when they held errant views and hadn't darkened the doorway of a church for decades. If they were baptized into a specific denomination or were taken as a child with their parents, they saw themselves with that identification.

Millennials don't do that. If we compare the Barna and the Pew statistics together, we can see that more Millennials are defining themselves by their current beliefs. the Pew Report says about 56% of Millennials define themselves as Christian while Barna says 46% of Millennials claim to have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ. What this means is those who identify as Christians are taking the beliefs of Christianity seriously. Those who marginally believe are leaving Christianity altogether.

One thing the Pew survey does show is that people are increasingly uncomfortable being labeled Christian if they don't hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. In some ways, that's a good thing. It's honest and makes evangelism efforts more clear. However, the poll also shows that the Church more than ever needs to reach out to the younger generation and provide evidence of why Christianity is true, using reasons and evidence. The Millennials are not simply going to follow in Mom and Dad's footsteps because they've always done it this way. They are going to want to believe things for good reasons. Therefore, it is increasingly crucial Christians are able to provide an answer to those who ask about the hope within you. Are you ready?

References

1. Burke, Daniel. "Millennials Leaving Church in Droves, Study Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/.
2. Lauter, David, and Hailey Branson-Potts. "U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-us-religion-20150512-story.html#page=1.
3. Lauter, 2015.
4. Lauter, 2015
5. "What Do Americans Believe About Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs." Barna Group. Barna Group, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/714-what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs.
Image courtesy Emma (abandoned church) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Sympathy Trumps Science

Yesterday I began a series looking at how our society has come to value feeling over both faith and reason. The Middle Ages can be described as the Age of Faith, which transitioned to the Age of Reason during the enlightenment period. Today, though, we are definitely living in the Age of Feeling, where our values and laws are being shaped by how people are emotionally affected.



There are three ways we show that feelings are the trump card in the current culture. The first is that we relinquish our rights for the sake of not offending anyone. Last time, I discussed how we are losing our free speech rights. (Make sure you read that column here.) But it isn't only the right to speak against another's point of view that is being lost. We are also abandoning our right to live according to the values we hold dear. Today, if someone holds a conscientious objection to a certain position, they may be targeted if another person claims to feel condemned. Such a scenario has played out many times in the media, usually entangling certain service providers to weddings. Bakers, photographers, and others are being sued not for insulting or disrupting a homosexual wedding ceremony, nor for refusing homosexuals as customers, but for simply refusing to provide services for that specific event. Psychology students are expelled for wishing to refer a lesbian student to another counselor.

The most recent travesty played out in Indiana, where one of the owners of Memories Pizza was asked a hypothetical question of whether the store would cater a homosexual ceremony if asked to do so. No one had asked and no customers had ever been refused, yet the owner's answer on camera sparked enough protest to shutter the shop and have them receive death threats and threats of burning down the store. We are losing the right to conscientiously object to anything simply because it may hurt another's feelings.

We Ignore Biology Rather than Recognize Our Differences

Abandoning our rights for the sake of feelings is bad enough, but that is only one way we are regressing as a society. The second piece of evidence is that we would rather ignore biology rather than realize it is biology that restricts us in certain ways. For example, there has been a continued push to achieve numeric parity across all position in all fields, regardless of whether women possess the physical strength to accomplish the tasks necessary for that position. The New York Post reports that Rebecca Wax "is set to graduate Tuesday from the Fire Academy without passing the Functional Skills Training test, a grueling obstacle course of job-related tasks performed in full gear with a limited air supply, an insider has revealed."1 The Pentagon, under pressure from women's rights groups, released a plan in 2013 to integrate women in to high profile Special Forces role like the Navy SEALS or Army Rangers. 2 However, all nineteen women who began training for the Rangers in April have washed out within the first month. 3 None of this should be a surprise given that men have 30% more muscle mass than women and are more capable of passing the various physical tests required by these positions.

Culture is also ignoring the natural fact that it takes men and women to produce children. As I've mentioned in other posts, the very concept of marriage is rooted in natural law as the joining of a man and a woman in a committed relationship for life. Governments cannot define marriage; they may only recognize marriage and confer certain privileges or responsibilities to married couples. That's because the only institution that has ever existed for the proper creation and upbringing of children is marriage. Humanity has no other organization or institution that fits this description. Again, because biology dictates that child-bearing requires two individuals, a man and a woman, marriage reflects that biological fact. It doesn't matter that not every marriage will produce children. What matters is that every child must be the product of a man and a woman, therefore some kind of institution must exist to bind that child to his or her biological parents. Yet, we push to call homosexual relationships marriage when it is impossible for homosexual unions to ever produce offspring. We ignore science for the sake of the feelings of homosexual couples. In so doing, we lose the grounding for what is the basic building block of society itself.

References

1. Edelman, Susan. "Woman to Become NY Firefighter despite failing Crucial Fitness Test." New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 3 May 2015. Web. 12 May 2015. http://nypost.com/2015/05/03/woman-to-become-ny-firefighter-despite-failing-crucial-fitness-test/.
2. Carroll, Chris. "DOD Readies Service-by-service Plan for Women in Combat." Stars and Stripes. Stars and Stripes, 18 June 2013. Web. 12 May 2015. http://www.stripes.com/news/dod-readies-service-by-service-plan-for-women-in-combat-1.226319.
3. Klimas, Jacqueline. "All 19 Women Have Washed out of Army Ranger School — in the First Phase." Washington Times. The Washington Times, 8 May 2015. Web. 12 May 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/8/women-wash-out-army-ranger-school/.

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