Blog Archive


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.

Powered by Blogger.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

WALL-E, Morality, and Men Without Chests

In the 2008 Pixar film WALL-E, humans are not the hero. The movie portrays people as very advanced technologically: they can create space ships that house the population of the planet. They can build robots that will function autonomously for hundreds of years. They have floating chairs and auto-changing clothes. Work seems to be passé.

Even with accomplishing the things that we toady dream about, the film doesn't want you to think humans are in a better position. It wants you to realize that they've traded an important part of their humanity for their comfort and convenience. They've lost the idea that work, exercise, struggle, and the natural order are part of the human condition. In the consumerist culture of WALL-E, humans' drive to satisfy every desire has made their bellies so fat they can no longer stand on their feet.

Our Growing Bellies and Shrinking Chests

It should be no surprise that the comment on humanity in WALL-E wasn't about the distant future, but about our culture today. We're the ones who are driven so much by our desires that we've grown fat and forsaken the richness that denial of pleasure offers human beings, and that fatness is not only physical. We've let out appetites overwhelm us on questions of morality, too.

The fatness of our bellies was famously noted by C.S. Lewis in his short book The Abolition of Man. Lewis, drawing from Plato, extends the idea. Human beings have two centers of motivation: his reasoning and his appetites. We can come to a decision that X is the right thing to do by weighing the pros and cons, and looking at the consequences of the outcome, not only for ourselves but for others and for society in general. This is reasoning, or being ruled by the head.

The other source of motivation is our appetites. Appetites and desires are universal, but they really don't require much thought. You feel them and seek to satisfy them. Appetites are pictured to be ruled by the belly, that is the stomach and genitals. They are not constrained to only sexual or gastronomic satisfaction, though. Desire to get the "next new thing" or the desire to avoid work, like in WALL-E would qualify.

If we were to be ruled by only our appetites, we are no better off than animals. It is our head, our ability to reason and curb appetites that make us civilized. But how do we do this, when our appetites are so powerful within us? Lewis says we have traditionally allowed the head to rule over the belly through the chest. He explains the chest is the center of magnanimity. It is:
emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment — these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.1

We are in the World of WALL-E Right Now

Our culture has given itself over completely to its appetites. Individuality has trumped reason. We are told that sex doesn't matter in marriage, the only institution recognized as the appropriate to rear children. We're told that biology has nothing to do with gender although it has everything to do with sexual orientation. We care more about finding self-fulfillment in whatever our desires may be than we do to upholding the time-tested pillars that uphold society for all. Owen Strachan believes the Obergefell ruling demonstrates this: "Our self-obsessed society has made good on its orientation. We now care more about personal feelings and rights we deemed are owed to us than we do about duties to God, family, country, and community."2

Because we no longer value magnanimity (does anyone even know what the word means today?), the belly has his way and becomes more and more engorged. We are, as Lewis claimed, Men without Chests. But it also makes us men without feet and men without a natural home. We are adrift on a craft built entirely of comfort and we've forgotten how to walk. The problem is, sooner or later we are going to fall out of our lounge chairs and we won't be able to get up again.


1. Lewis, C. S. "The Abolition of Man." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. Print. 704.
2. Strachan, Owen. "5 Implications of the Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision." ThoughtLife. Patheos, 26 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

How Not to Get Mad When Talking with Non-Believers

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to recognize same sex unions across the country has changed our nation. Corporations and government institutions that had previously provided an appearance of neutrality displayed their applause by adopting a rainbow colored version of their logos on social media and their web sites. The White House became the Rainbow House both virtually and in reality for an evening. Of course, many people followed suit and also cheered for the decision.

I believe that the Supreme Court decision will cause more discussions about the nature and definition of marriage, not less. Like many contentious issues of our day, this will cause emotions to rise, quickly devolving disagreements into exchanges that are more venomous and less Christianly. I was speaking with one online friend who told me how difficult it had been for him in such exchanges. He admitted, "I worked so hard to show [their] flawed thinking but they refused to see their error. I know I'm not ready for debate because I get too angry."

It is difficult to engage others when passions are high. It is harder when the other side has produced a rather consistent campaign of name-calling ("bigot, hater!") that slander you instead of wrestling with your arguments. But just as we are told homosexual practice is wrong, we are also commanded to love our enemies.

How do we do this? We must look at others and see them the way Jesus did. The Woman at the Well was a bit arrogant with Jesus. She was flippant in their exchange, even though she was the one who had a problem with morality and keeping a husband! Yet, Jesus didn't yell at her, he loved her but stood firm in his conviction.

Dallas Willard explains this approach:
We must see the soul and the person in its ruined condition, with its malformed and dysfunctional mind, feelings, body, and social relations, before we can understand that it must be delivered and reformed and how that can be done. One of the greatest obstacles to effective spiritual formation in Christ today is simple failure to understand and acknowledge the reality of the human situation as it affects Christians and nonChristians alike. We must start from where we really are. And here we recall that all people undergo a process of spiritual formation. Their spirit is formed, and with it their whole being. As I said earlier, spiritual formation is not something just for especially religious people. No one escapes. The most hardened criminal as well as the most devout of human beings have had a spiritual formation. They have become a certain kind of person. You have had a spiritual formation and I have had one, and it is still ongoing. It is like education: everyone gets one—a good one or a bad one. We reemphasize that those are fortunate or blessed who are able to find or are given a path of life that forms their spirit and inner world in a way that is good.1
Jesus saw the woman at the well as someone who didn't know about the things of God. In talking with her, Jesus was able to lead her to repentance. Whenever I engage others online or in person, I've found it better to see people as deceived. They're deceived by the world, by the Devil and by themselves. Like a young child, they are simply regurgitating a lie they want to believe. That's the beginning of compassion.


1. Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: Navpress. 2002. 45.
Image courtesy Jessica Flavin [CC BY 2.0].

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Debate Same-Sex Marriage After SCOTUS

This afternoon, I had a mini debate on Twitter with a gentleman about same-sex marriage. I wanted to reproduce it because it was a good and respectful dialogue; these are the kinds of conversations that help clarify Christian beliefs and positions to those who may not be familiar with all the reasons why so many are deeply concerned about the SCOTUS decision to redefine marriage.

To set up the conversation, I had tweeted an article entitled, Labeling peaceful proponents of traditional marriage “religious extremists” is as misleading as it is mean-spirited. That lead to Chip's first comment:
ChipSalonna: Labeling it "traditional marriage" is as funny as it is misleading.

Comereason: No. Marriage has been traditionally recognized as one thing for all of human civilization...
However, I use the term natural marriage because there a biological component involved as well.

ChipSalonna: Riiiight. Ever hear of Mormons? Or Muslims? Or Solomon?

Comereason: Yes, I have. So?
Can I ask you a question? How many wives did a Mormon or a Muslim or Solomon need to take before he was considered married?

ChipSalonna: After the first wife, how many more wives did a Mormon or Muslim have to take before they weren't considered married anymore?

Comereason: You make my point. The reference to traditional marriage is not a reference to NUMBER, but to the TYPE of union. 1 man, 1 woman..
2,000 years of western civilization is enough to claim something is tradition(al). Still, natural marriage a better descriptor.

ChipSalonna: So, you're ok with polygamy/polyamory? I find it hard to imagine that's true but I can't wait to see where this goes.

Comereason: No, I'm not Ok with it. It is a deviant form of marriage, a distortion of the ideal. But it is a kind of marriage.

ChipSalonna: "Deviant". But "traditional". At least polygamy has THAT going for it.

Comereason: None of this is relevant to whether the union of two people of the same sex should be called a marriage.

ChipSalonna: See my other tweet w/link to Wikipedia.

Comereason: It's easy to Google things and Wikipedia is notoriously inept at being factual in hot button issues.
For example, Rome had marriage laws spelled out in the patria potestas, but those laws did not apply in same sex issues.
I agree that Greece, China, and even parts of India today have homosexual relationships. No one called it marriage, though.

ChipSalonna: As you wish. We call it "marriage" now.

Comereason: Do you have a Social Security number?

ChipSalonna: Rhetorical. What's your point?

Comereason: How many Social Security numbers should each person in the U.S. have?

ChipSalonna: [Waiting...]

Comereason: The IRS reports that there are many thousands of people who are issued multiple SS#'s. It doesn't make any of those NOT a SS#.
Further, you SHOULD only have ONE. But they are all real SS#s. What you are trying to argue is that because there have been...
...multiple SS#s in the past, its OK to call a driver's license a SS#. Both are identification, both issued by the govt.
There are so many similarities, who cares about the little differences?

ChipSalonna: I get the point with your analogy. And I've already accepted that you view 1MnW as "deviant" but "traditional". The *big*...
...difference is that we're talking people &their feelings & freedoms, not numbers or pieces of paper. I assume that...
...ultimately you view SSM as bad b/c God says so. So, here's a hypothetical for you. If God came to you and said "Hey,...
...Lenny, the Bible had a few mistakes with the homo stuff. It's really ok for them to get married." Would you continue to...
...make the "secular" arguments you're making now?

Comereason: You're absolutely right that this isn't about pieces of paper but about people. We can agree on that.
My argument isn't just procedural. I'm concerned about the people involved. Do you know why Govt got involved w/marriage at all?
Or (to be more specific) why they continue to be involved?

ChipSalonna: I'll come back to your question. But would you abandon your arguments given God's "retraction"?

Comereason: Actually, the Bible really doesn't say anything about same sex unions. If we were discussing a purely civil contract...
...such as CA's civil unions, I wouldn't be fighting it--and I didn't when it was passed. Marriage is different, though.

ChipSalonna: So, you consider your arguments to be *purely* secular? You don't trace any anti-SSM thoughts back to God? Truly curious here.

Comereason: No. I believe all truth is God's truth and he designed the world to run a certain way. We get a clearer picture from the Bible.
But I believe I have arguments that can be accepted even if one doesn't hold to the Bible as a moral principle....
... Marriage has a consistent basis across all cultures and all faiths. Thus I can offer secular arguments.

ChipSalonna: Ok, so in my hypothetical, if God "clarified" the issue, you'd have to say your secular arguments were somehow wrong. Yes?
(Not a trap. Just getting a clear picture.)

Comereason: I don't doubt your sincerity. I'm just trying to understand. I have a hard time seeing how that would be possible, though...
Human beings are created in a specific way. God would be saying something that argues against his created order.
The only institution that all of humanity has recognized as proper to creating and rearing children is the family. That's it.
The primary reason Govt gets involved is for the welfare of the child. That's why deadbeat dad laws are on the books....
The Govt recognizes marriages because it then knows who he responsible parents are for the child, unless otherwise stated.

ChipSalonna: Except that you said biblical teaching isn't clear on the marriage issue.

Comereason: I said God didn't explicitly say "no same sex unions." The Bible is clear on sexual activity between those of the same sex.

ChipSalonna: So, it seems to matter little (from a secular point of view) whether we're talking about civil unions, marriage or shacking up.

Comereason: I don't gamble and I don't drink but I'm not pressing for prohibition.
I don't condone shacking up, but there should be no law against it.
There's a difference between tolerating an action and changing the definition of an existing institution.

ChipSalonna: I meant civil unions, marriage or shacking up w.r.t SSC.

Comereason: Right. All of those are in a different category from marriage.
But it hurts kids. It takes two people to create them, yet they're denied the right to have even a chance at a mom & dad.

ChipSalonna: Gotta run. It's been fun. I'm sure we can have Round 2 later.

Comereason: I really appreciate the respectful tone, Chip! That's why I'm willing to converse. Thanks for that.

I want to again thank Chip Salonna for his respect and genuine sincerity in trying to at least understand my positon. he is to be complimented for being a gentleman.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What About Slavery in the Bible? (video)

"Why would a God of love allow the Israelites to won slaves, even giving them laws on ownership?" It seems to be a common objection by some who seek to demonstrate that the Bible is incoherent. However, as Lenny explains in this short video, the concept of slave in the Ancient Near East wasn't the same thing as it was in the pre-Civil War south. It was much broader, including serfdom and share-cropping type relationships.

Friday, June 26, 2015

C.S. Lewis on the Drive for Sexual Happiness

For today, in the wake of the expected but still tragic Supreme Court ruling regarding homosexual unions, I offer two C.S. Lewis quotes. The first, taken from God in the Dock, is Lewis’ expounding on our drive for the erotic concept of love above all else. He was concerned with the rise in divorce rates and the ever-present excuse that people "deserve to be happy." Yet, by reducing love to erotic passion, it paved the way for this morning’s decision by the Court. Lewis explains:
If we establish a "right to (sexual) happiness" which super­sedes all the ordinary rules of behaviour, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behaviour is real and works miser­ies and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behaviour turns out again and again to be illusory.1
Such a view coincides with the plans of the Devil, who seeks to corrupt and usurp the institution of marriage and the blessings it holds. In his famous The Screwtape Letters, Lewis in the voice of the demon Screwtape, explains to his young apprentice that the forces of evil cannot create pleasures in and of themselves. Thus it has always been the objective of the Evil One to twist and malign marriage until it becomes something unrecognizable:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfy­ing form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not OURS. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the plea­sures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any plea­sure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it's better style. To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father's heart.2
My country has now crossed a threshold where we have taken the natural good that is marriage and shaped into that in which it is least natural and least redolent of its Maker.


1. Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology. Cambridge: Eerdman’s, 1970. Print. 351.
2. Lewis, C. S. "The Screwtape Letters." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. Print. 210.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Do We Defend Christian Values to Non-Christian Audiences?

In anticipation of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, I've been posting and teaching on how to address the issue with friends and family. One example is the recent video series I taught and posted on Facebook (which you can see here.) Most people are interested in ways of approaching this subject in a thoughtful way while countering the narrative that being against same-sex marriage laws somehow means Christians are bigoted. They see examples such as this ways to open discussion with others.

However, I did receive a few responses from people who wrote something to the effect of "All we need is the Gospel. Share the Word with them." I've run into such thinking before, with those who question the necessity of rigorous training in logic and apologetics. They think such things are "of men." They admonish me and other believers to simply let loose the "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17) to fight our battles.

How's That Working for You?

I think such talk is sincere but misguided. First of all, we live in a post-Christian culture. The Bible is not taken to be the final answer on issues such as same-sex marriage. That's why if I quote the Bible to a person who supports homosexual unions, it really doesn't sway them at all. In fact, many times it solidifies their stance since they see themselves as more modern and progressive than some 2,000 year-old book.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the changes of belief about this issue can quickly see my point. We've been offering Biblical admonition against homosexuality and same-sex marriage for over 30 years. Which way did the culture shift? Which way did the Church shift? According to a newly released Pew study, over 60% of Catholic and mainline Protestants support same-sex marriage.1 Even among Evangelicals, the support for same-sex marriage has DOUBLED in the last ten years.2 All this even though the scriptural admonitions against homosexuality are clear and have been discussed repeatedly, especially in churches.

In the words of Dr. Phil, "How's that workin' for ya?" I can answer that: it isn't.

Scripture is Not a Spell

While I do believe that the Christians who think quoting scripture is the proper way to face these questions are sincere, they are trying to make scripture into something that it is not. They think scriptures are some kind of secret weapon that cannot be resisted. They see it as a sort of mystical summons of the Holy Spirit who will magically change those with whom they're engaging; a few phrases that one only needs to voice in order to change people's hearts and minds.

But "the Word" is not a magical incantation and it's wrong to think of it that way. Such is an unbiblical view of scripture itself. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms lives. It is he would is responsible for our understanding our sinfulness and our need for Christ. But that doesn't mean the Spirit will reshape every unregenerate idea, even among believers. That's why Paul didn't quote scripture to the Athenians in Acts 17 when he witnessed to them. Instead, he used popular poets and thinkers they were familiar with to make his point. When Paul was held prisoner in Jerusalem, he didn't quote scripture to his captors, but appealed to Roman law (Acts 22:25) in order to escape flogging.

As Christians, we are to follow Jesus's command to be salt and light on the earth. Part of being salt is to stem the decay and corruption from evil. That's why Christians need to engage this issue. We need to arm ourselves with ideas that can resonate both inside the church and with nonbelievers. In matters of political consequences, such as abortion, we must be able to show thoughtful nonbelievers why the Christian position is the right one. We can only do that by knowing and presenting the facts of the issue at hand.


1. "Changing Views of Same-Sex Marriage." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Pew Research Center, 08 June 2015. Web. 25 June 2015.
2. "Changing Views of Same-Sex Marriage," 2015.
Image courtesy Mike Haufe and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Events in Charleston Contradict the New Atheists

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a best-selling bromide against religion entitled God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In that book, he claimed "As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything."1

Richard Dawkins takes a similarly dismissive view of religion in general and Christianity in particular. In chapter six of his book The God Delusion. Dawkins seeks to lay out how an evolutionary paradigm can account not only for self-preservation ,but altruistic actions such as older relatives caring for younger ones or acts of altruism that result in mutual benefit of both parties.2

Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris and other atheists have all claimed that they base their beliefs on reason and evidence. They hold up evidence as the highest ideal. But the ruthless murders of black parishioners in Charleston have provided evidence contradicting the position that religion is detrimental to humanity. It is proving that Christianity has the power to transform a story into something very different than the expected narrative.

Different than expected

We have watched in horror as cities like Ferguson or Baltimore erupt into violent protests and citizens riot after the death of a single black man. In each of those cases, there was some considerable gray area as to the actions of the officers involved: Michael Brown had just stolen from a convenience store and wouldn’t comply with the officer’s requests. Freddy Gray was under arrest and was being transported when he died from injuries that may or may not have been inflicted accidentally.

In Charleston we have nine people attending a Bible study who were mercilessly shot by Dylann Roof with the intent, according to investigators, "to start a race war."3 Outrage over these events should have been more acute than the others, yet there have been no riots. What was the difference?

AME Elder and interim pastor Rev. Norvel Goff, Sr, explained, "A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. They just don't know us because we are a people of faith, and we believe that when we put our forces and our heads together, working for a common good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together in the name of Jesus."4

While the lack of looting and rioting is in itself noteworthy, that wasn’t the most amazing thing to happen in Charleston. Just 36 hours after Roof slaughtered them, the victims’ family members stood in court, stared directly at roof and they forgave him. CNN quotes victim Ethel Lance’s daughter as she said to Roof , "I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you."5 

Felicia Sanders was in the church during Roof’s rampage. She saw her son Tywanza die while trying to reason with him. She and her daughter only survived by playing dead. Yet, Sanders looked at Roof and asked God for mercy for him. "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you."

These Christians were doing something that was the opposite of poisonous, something that in the natural order would make no sense at all. They were following the example of Jesus, who taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus forgave his murderers from the Cross and his followers at the Emmanuel AME Church would seek to do the same.

The power of their actions was noticed by those both inside and outside the faith. Jewish columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote in his column, "Not being a Christian, I can only marvel at the dignity and courage of the victims' relatives who forgave the shooter. If I could ever manage such a thing, it would probably take me decades. It took them little more than a day."6 Charles C.S. Cooke tweeted the video of the families offering forgiveness and commented:
Did the fact that Christians who followed their Lord’s command poison things in South Carolina or is this evidence that directly contradicts that claim? There is no way for Dawkins, Harris, or the other New Atheists to spin this as some kind of evolutionarily advantageous action. It isn’t. In fact, forgiving a threat instead of destroying it would be evolutionary deleterious. It makes no sense given a naturalist accounting, but it makes all the sense in the world given a supernaturalist accounting.

For those atheists who say they’re all about reason and evidence, here it is. Anyone issuing a retraction yet?


1. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve Books, 2007. 23.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. 217-218.
3. Ellis, Ralph, Greg Botelho, and Ed Payne. "Charleston Church Shooting: Questions Swirl around Suspect Dylann Roof." CNN. Cable News Network, 19 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.
4. Rodriguez, Vanessa. "Peace, Not Rioting at Charleston Church." Christian Examiner. Christian Examiner Newspapers, 22 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.
5. Ellis, 2015.
6. Goldberg, Jonah. "In the South, Grace and Dignity after Charleston Church Shootings." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Do Miracles Count as Evidence for God's Existence?

Are miracles evidence for God's existence? Ever since Hume, atheists have argued that miracle claims should not be considered evidence for God. While Hume focused on the rarity of miracles to propose that it is more rational to offer some other explanation, more modern arguments have claimed that arguing from miracles to God's existence is circular. After all, one must assume God exists in order to call an event a miracle. Then, the person points to the miracle to claim "only God could have done such a thing!" Is this question-begging?

Dr. Robert Larmer fleshes out the objection and shows why pointing to miracles is not as circular as one may think:
...To call an event a miracle, therefore, is to affirm the existence of God. It seems, then, that miraculous events cannot function as evidence for God, since this would involve a vicious circularity of presupposing that God exists in order to call such events miracles, but then arguing that God's existence can be confirmed on the basis of the occurrence of miracles.

The superficial attractiveness of this argument is belied by the fact that if one asks convinced sceptics what it would take to convince them of God's existence the frequent answer is the occurrence of a miracle. It seems strange to suggest that such an answer must be dismissed as irrational, the supposition being that its speaker would fail Critical Thinking 101. Perhaps a more charitable interpretation of the answer deserves a hearing.

Such an interpretation is not far from hand. What the sceptic is to be construed as requesting is good reason to believe in the occurrence of an event, the best explanation of which is that God, or perhaps a supernatural agent understood as acting in accordance with God's purposes, caused it. It is the event, not the subsequent description of it as a miracle, which functions as evidence for God. All that the sceptic need do is to entertain the hypothesis that God exists and ask whether that hypothesis provides the best explanation of the occurrence of the event, as compared to other hypotheses.

Thus, while it is true that once the event is described as a miracle one commits oneself to the existence of God, this in no way prevents the event from functioning as evidence for God, since it is on the basis that theism provides the best explanation of the event that one is prepared to call it a miracle. To claim otherwise, is analogous to claiming that a corpse, the existence of which is best explained on the hypothesis of a murderer, cannot function as evidence for the existence of a murderer. Once the corpse is described as a homicide victim one commits to the existence of a murderer, but this scarcely implies that the corpse cannot function as evidence of a murderer. Analogously, the fact that an event is described as a miracle scarcely implies that it cannot function as evidence for God. It is not, therefore, question-begging to claim that events best explained as acts of supernatural intervention by God can be taken as providing evidence for God.
Larmer has done a lot of incredible work on the subject, which he's published in his recent book The Legitimacy of Miracle. He has also published as series of supplemental papers extending the concepts in his book on the Evangelical Philosophical Society web site. You can find all seven of them here.


Larmer, Robert A. "Miracles as Evidence for God." Evangelical Philosophical Society. Evangelical Philosophical Society. 2015.Web.
Image courtesy Patrick Down and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is God an Egomaniac for Desiring Worship?

There's a famous episode of I Love Lucy where the always star-struck Lucy Ricardo visits Hollywood and wants to see some real movie stars. She decides to dine at the Brown Derby, a Hollywood restaurant famous in the 1950's for its movie studio clientele. She didn't wait long; soon, the maître d' seats 50's icon William Holden in the booth behind her.

Of course, Lucy must turn around and stare at Holden, which understandably annoys the star who simply wants to eat his lunch in peace. After a few uncomfortable moments, Holden decides to flip the tables on Lucy. He begins to stare and sigh at her! This completely unnerves her, who ultimately can't take it. She rushes out of the restaurant, accidentally dumping a plate of spaghetti on the star in her hurry to get away.

I bring up the episode because it plays into a common objection I hear from atheists: "Imagine what an egomaniac God must be if He commanded everyone to worship him!" In fact, a friend wrote me last week and said he was in a conversation where someone asked "Why does God demand to be worshipped?" Is the worship of God similar to Lucy's fawning over Holden? Do only egomaniacs seek out such devotion while well-adjusted individuals would be bothered as Lucy was?

Ignoring Who God Is

In looking at the claim that any god who seeks out worship is egotistical, one should immediately notice that it errs in making a specific assumption. It assumes that God is something on par with you and me. When humans accept worship from other humans, I can see how that is ugly and uncomfortable. That's because all men are equally subject to both the forces of nature as well as their own fallibilities. While the ancient Romans declared Caesar to be divine, he could neither stop Vesuvius from erupting nor stem his own death. It makes no sense to worship a man who has no power that any other man could not also assume in the right circumstances.

God, however, doesn't fit into this category. In fact, it is a function of worship to draw attention to the differences between God and us. Through worship we recognize that God created the universe and its rules are subject to Him. It is through worship that we acknowledge God as the author of life, we are his creation and as such we are subject to him. We also recognize God's goodness and holiness. Worship helps us to remember that we are not God. That's something Caesar forgot.

Showing Proper Deference

A general and a private are both human beings. We would expect any doctor in the emergency room to try and save both lives with equal effort. Yet a general would demand a salute from a private. Is this arrogance? A father would demand obedience and respect from his son. Would that be considered arrogant on the part of the father?

In both cases, the show of deference and respect by the younger person is considered right and appropriate. Worship shows the proper deference to God. The Father is He who gives us every good and perfect gift and in him we exist moment by moment. Thus it is good and right to show deference to God for his provision and sustenance. How other than worship could such deference be recognized?

The Objection Points to the Necessity of Worship

Lastly, worship is necessary for humanity. In raising the charge of egotism, the atheist is actually demonstrating why proper worship is necessary for human beings. Worship is necessary to humble ourselves. By objecting to even the concept of worship, atheists demonstrate subjecting oneself to another is not a task to take lightly. It raises all the flags to uncover our desire to be subjected to no one and nothing. But certainly the atheist, like Caesar, has no control over either his own mortality or the forces of nature. Sure, scientific advancements allow us to cool our homes but they can't stop a volcano. They may prolong life a couple of years, but they cannot grant immortality. Worship humbles us and reminds us to not become egotists ourselves.

Worship shows proper respect to God, it differentiates God from us, and it humbles us by reminding us just how limited we are. It isn't God who is egotistical because he commands us to worship; it is our egotism that worship of God guards against.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sean McDowell on Proof of a Messiah

My friend Sean McDowell has just launched a brand new web site with a lot of great articles and video clips on apologetics. Sean's become one of the core go-to guys in equipping young people to better defend their faith and this site is a great resource for anyone who seeks to know more about apologetics.

Below is an excerpt from just one of Sean's articles, entitled "Is there Proof for Jesus as Messiah?" Sean writes:
Of course Jesus did claim to be the "Anointed One." But do the prophesies of the Old Testament confirm that he was actually the Messiah? The answer is yes. It’s as if God gave us a specific way to recognize who the "Anointed One" would be, through what has been called Messianic prophesies.

It seems impossible, but because of these prophecies, out of billions of people born over thousands of years we are able to pinpoint one person in history as the Messiah. It is as if God had an answer waiting for us when we asked, "How will we know who the Messiah is?" Imagine we are having a conversation with God as he uses these prophecies to pinpoint who this Messiah would be.

God begins by saying, "You will know he is the Messiah because I will cause him to be born as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham" (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16).

"But God," we protest, "Abraham’s descendants will be many!"

"Then I will narrow it down to only half of Abraham’s lineage and make him a descendant of Isaac, not Ishmael" (Genesis 21:12; Luke 3:23-34).

"That will help, but isn’t that still an awful lot of people?"

"Let him be born from Jacob’s line, then, eliminating half of Isaac’s lineage" (Numbers 24:17; Luke 3:23-34).


"I will be more specific. Jacob will have 12 sons; I will bring forth the Messiah from the tribe of Judah" (Genesis 49:10; Luke 3:23-33).
Sean goes on to list about three dozen very specific prophecies from the Old Testament concerning Jesus, He concludes with this:
He will enter Jerusalem as a king 483 years after the declaration of Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple (444 BC) (Daniel 9:24).

"As a final testimony, on the third day after his death, he will be raised from the dead" (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31), "ascend to heaven" (Psalm 68:18; Acts 1:9), "and be seated at my right hand in full majesty and authority" (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:3).

As you can see, God has gone to extraordinary lengths to identify his Son Jesus as the Christ—the Messiah who would give his life for us. And one day, "when he has conquered all things, the Son will present himself to God, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere" (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Make sure you check out Sean's new site and see all he has to offer there.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Talk with Mormons (podcast)

Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this new podcast series, Lenny teaches you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why the "Evil God" Objection Fails

Traffic lights across the world use red and green to signify stop and go. 1 From that, the concept of red communication stop or lack of progress while green means continued movement have spread well beyond the automobile. For example, they're used in machinery power switches to signify whether a machine is operating. They're also used in financial reports to show whether a stock is falling (red) or rising (green).

But why these colors? Why couldn't it be blue and orange? There's no objective need for choosing red and green instead of blue and orange to represent stop and go. The Chinese traditionally associate the color red with fortune and luck. Given this, on mainland China, rising stocks are displayed with a red arrow on a graph, while green means the stock is sinking.2

What if some of our other assumptions about what we believe to be up and down are wrong? What about our assumption that God is inherently good? Every once in a while I hear atheists offer a counter-argument to the all-good God concept by asking "what if God isn't good, but malevolent? How do you know that god is good at all?" One example of this is a post by John Loftus on his blog Debunking Christianity:
But what if Satan is the good guy? What if he rebelled against God because he was aware of God's evil plan to create this kind of world and with it condemn human beings to hell forever? What if Satan told Adam the truth in the garden and wanted him to have a true knowledge about God that was forbidden him? What if God was the one who revealed a lie, that Satan was the bad guy even though he isn't?

… What if this so-called cosmic war is being won by the wrong guy? What if in response Satan is sending prophets (i.e. intellectuals), to tell believers the truth, that God is a liar, an evil egomaniac, a moral monster? What evidence is there to deny my scenario? Evidence. That's what I'm asking for in any scenario. Probabilities are all that matter. For if any of these scenarios are to be taken seriously then people are within their epistemic rights to believe the Scientology tale too.3

What Makes Good Good?

Loftus asks for evidence, and I think we can offer some. The problem in Loftus' proposal is that if we were to grant it, it runs smack into another favorite objection offered by atheists: the Euthyphro dilemma. In his Euthyphro dialogue, Plato asks if God is considered good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good? In Loftus's scenario, we have an objective good that sits outside of God, one that he should obey, but doesn't. But how does this work? If God is understood to be pre-existent and it was he who created all things including Satan, the concept of a moral law sitting outside of God is nonsensical. There is no good and evil per se. There is only the universe as it was created to operate and it functions as it functions.

As the Moral Argument concludes, the very notions of good and evil, right and wrong require God to exist. An all-good God is the foundation for our moral values and duties. He is neither beholden to some external principle nor does he create moral values arbitrarily. The good is found within God himself and moral values simply reflect his nature. But with a supposed evil God, there's no way to know what good actually is; thus there's no way to understand what the term God means. An evil God really becomes an oxymoron at that point, given that part of what we mean by God is he who grounds moral obligations.


1. Scott. "The Origin of the Green, Yellow, and Red Color Scheme for Traffic Lights." Today I Found Out. Vacca Foeda Media, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.
2. Jiang, Feng, Su Lu, Xiang Yao, Xiaodong Yue, and Wing Tung Au. "Up or Down? How Culture and Color Affect Judgments." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making J. Behav. Dec. Making 27.3 (2013): 226-34. Web.
3. Loftus, John W. "What If Satan Is the Good Guy?" Debunking Christianity. John W. Loftus, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Responding to Atheist Critiques of Christian Hypocrisy

In his paper "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique", Dr. Gary Habermas notes that some atheist criticisms of cultural Christianity should be addressed and not dismissed. One that he points to specifically is the charge that modern-day Christians like to cherry pick the causes they support. He explains how New Atheist Sam Harris "asks why Christians expend so much energy opposing abortion, stem cell research, and extramarital sex resulting in AIDS, while ignoring much of the greater amount of suffering in the world (p. 26). Or, he asks why Christians sometimes resist a vaccina­tion program for papillomavirus (HPV) on the grounds that this disease is an impediment to premarital sex, instead of being more concerned about the 200,000 people who die of this virus every year (pp. 26-27)."1

Later, Habermas answers Harris’ questions, explaining:
Even Christians sometimes resonate with atheists when it comes to complaints about the behavior of religious persons, all the worse when it is Christian behavior, and when the result is the unjustified taking of lives down through history. Therefore, whether it is the Crusades, religious inquisition, witch trials, or other opposition such as the fighting that afflicted Ireland in recent years, I think Christians agree generally that such actions are despicable. They would certainly agree with atheists that there is no place in the world, either, for Muslim suicide bombers and other unjust attacking of Christians and Jews, as well as other Muslims. Sure, the issues are complicated, but the bottom line is roughly the same. There is no need to belabor this point.

I have also indicated above that I think Sam Harris raises particularly good questions regarding Christians who pick and choose which pro-life issues should be supported and which should be ignored. I have for many years asked my students why widespread famine throughout the world often has been largely ignored by Christians until just recently, and still by far too few believers. Incredibly, these are often the ones that claim far more lives!

I hasten to add here that, in my opinion, the proper evangelical response is not to jettison current pro-life stances, but to get radically involved with the ones that we have ignored for far too long, such as worldwide hunger. Thankfully, evangelicals do a much better job with worldwide relief efforts after natural disasters, whether it was hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or tsunamis on the other side of the world. Still, I think that, generally, Western Christians are still far too materialistic and far too unwilling to share more than a pittance with those in need. Radical teachings such as those by Jesus (such as Luke 10:25-37; 12:33-34; 14:33) and others (such as 1 Tim 6:8-10, 17-18; 1 John 3:16-18) need to be heeded and taken in all their literalness.2
I think Habermas is onto something. As Christians we cannot simply talk about things like our objection to same-sex marriage without also discussion the problems such as no-fault divorce, which has caused infinitely more damage to the sanctity of marriage than the former. We must look at our worldview as just that and get involved in every level. Then, excuses like Harris’ objection will lose all potency and the world will be a better place.


1. Habermas, Gary R. "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51.4 (2008): 817. Web. 16 June 2015.
2. Habermas, 2008, 819-820.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What Should We Think About Genetic Engineering?

What does it mean to give your children the best chance at success? Would it include changing their DNA so they would never get sick? Could it include genetically changing them to make them stronger, smarter, and faster than others? Is that even moral?

These questions used to be relegated to the realm of science fiction, but as genetic technologies advance, they have become more and more real. There are already instances of people using genetic screening during in vitro fertilization.1 While this process is currently used to only identify the correct number of chromosomes in an embryo, the Guardian article states, "If doctors had a readout of an embryo's whole genome, they could judge the chances of the child developing certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's."2

While genetic screening itself opens a host of moral questions, even more provocative is the concept of genetic engineering: changing the gene itself to either rid the embryo of a trait or to enhance natural traits such as strength or intelligence. This morning I read two articles from Christians (J.W. Wartick and ElijiahT) who outlined the issue and offered their views. They've done a good job in laying out most of the arguments, both pro and con, that you find see in the debate, so I won't rehash them here. Both are worthy of your time. But there is an aspect that neither touched on which I think is fundamental to the discussion.

Genetic Therapy and Genetic Enhancement

First, I do wish to distinguish between the two goals of genetic engineering. There is a distinction between genetic therapy, which is basically correcting a genetic defect such as Sickle-cell disease that Wartick offers, and genetic enhancement, which takes a function that would fall within the normal range and improve it. 3 Yet, even here the standard isn't so easily discernable. For example, the deaf community even today has significant disagreement whether deaf children born to deaf parents should receive cochlear implants.4 In fact, one lesbian couple sought out a sperm donor who had five generations of deafness in his family to ensure their IVF child would be deaf.5

I have some problems with the couple's approach, but it does illustrate that defining disability versus difference isn't always so clear. However, with most cases, I think a case can be made that genetic therapies fall within a Christian construct. God has given us the ability to learn about His creation and to try and alleviate some of the suffering brought on by the Fall. Treatments for maladies are currently invasive (they require surgery), artificial (stints, mechanics, etc.) and even happen in utero as with fetal surgeries. Delivering treatments at the genetic level seems to me to be only a difference in degree, not in kind.

We are More than Our Genes

I have a different concern with genetic enhancements however. In his article, ElijiahT quoted Kurt Baier writing, "The best course of action is… the course of action which is supported by the best reasons. And the best reasons may require us to abandon the aim we actually have set our heart on."6 This is a fair standard and one that I think I can use to expand the debate.

The piece missing in both articles above is that every human being is not simply a product of his or her genetics. Human beings are also living souls and God is extremely concerned with the development of the soul as well as the ability of the body. Theologians have understood that while eliminating suffering is important and Christians should help those who they can, God's providential ordering of things is also important. That's why the Psalmist writes "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."7

Part of our fearful and wonderful makeup is our specific limitations in certain areas. These shape us into who we are as much as our ability to excel. While I personally didn't struggle academically, I wasn't a natural athlete growing up. I was very small as a teenager and didn't have much experience with a ball. However, I found sports that stressed endurance such as cross country and wrestling and I was able to do very well in both. Striving there taught me perseverance and discipline that I may not have otherwise experienced. If my strength and height were genetically enhanced in utero, I wouldn't have the soul-shaping experienced I had, which helped form my spiritual makeup and attitude.

In his post, Wartick opines, "It is unclear, though, whether genetic enhancement would undermine the good of accomplishment and human achievement. Indeed, one could argue that genetic enhancement, in fact, bolsters human achievement by widening the scope of possibility for humans."8 Physically, that may be true, but I am not sure that it would be true spiritually. While our culture overburdens the concept of diversity, there are things one can learn from those who have varied obstacles they had to overcome. Sometimes, those experiences inform the rest of us in new way. We can learn from Helen Keller.

No Genetic Lottery

So are we to leave our children to what has been deemed the "genetic lottery"? And, to extend the argument, is seeking a child's excellence through genetic enhancement techniques any different from some of the advantages certain children currently enjoy? Outlining this aspect of the pro-enhancement position, ElijiahT writes:
Parents make choices regarding the life and welfare of their children all the time, yet no one claims the autonomy of the child is being violated. Expectant mothers will regularly take vitamins (to enhance the prenatal environment), read or play music to the developing child and alter her diet, all in an attempt to give the child the best environment possible. After birth, parents deliberately choose the child's nutrition, education, entertainment and health. In fact, to neglect these things is often seen as inappropriate parenting.9
I agree. Yet, the difference is qualitative; it's one of nature versus nurture. One need look no farther than the recent Lance Armstrong scandal. No one would bat an eye if Armstrong was reported taking the best vitamins, using the best trainers, and following the best exercise and diet regimen. It was the artificial input of what should be a natural (e.g. "God-given") function of his body. If we are created fearfully and wonderfully by a holy God, it simply may be that our limitations are there to build our character and our spirit.

Escaping the Playing God Dodge

ElijiahT counters with the argument that "playing God "with another's life may be a fallback excuse: "The actions associated with ‘playing God' are usually new technologies that alter something about the human condition. In this case, genetic engineering is seen as playing God, but couldn't the same argument be used as a ‘catch-all' for anything that makes us uncomfortable?"10

Of course he's right. The objection has been used as a conversation-stopper many times. But that doesn't mean that it is always fallacious. A doctor who indiscriminately euthanizes his patients is playing God; he's taken upon himself the mantle of choosing which people are worthy of life—the province of God alone. Similarly, if God is interested in shaping us into mature souls, he may limit certain physical attributes that we would otherwise wish for ourselves or our children. These differences are not defects caused by the fall, but truly differences that God allows for our good. One shouldn't assume to modify them because we believe they are not as worthy as other characteristics.

There's an interesting scene in the 1999 hit move The Matrix, where Agent Smith tells Morpheus that human beings don't thrive in paradise. The character explains:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.11
That's an oversimplification, but it does bring up a point. Struggle and hardship may be uncomfortable, but they are not always to be avoided. They can and often do serve to benefit believers. Holding to a "genetic lottery" assumes at the very least a deistic worldview. While we mitigate the defects brought on by sin, including Original sin, we shouldn't be so bold as to assume we can improve physical characteristics that are not defective. The Nazis sought to do that with race, but race isn't a defect. Neither are our lesser or grater physical abilities.

Without a discussion of the soul-shaping nature of bodily limitations, the questions raised regarding genetic modification is incomplete.


1. Sample, Ian. "IVF Baby Born Using Revolutionary Genetic-screening Process." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 7 July 2013. Web. 15 June 2015.
2. Sample, 2013.
3. There is also a distinction between treating someone genetically where the modified genes are localized versus recoding the person's entire DNA, as would happen at the first stages of life. Biologists differentiate the two by referring to the first as somatic genetic treatments, where the gene therapy would not be passed on to succeeding generations. Germ-line genetic treatments, however, are passed from parent to child.
4. Ringo, Allegra. "Understanding Deafness: Not Everyone Wants to Be 'Fixed'" The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 09 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 June 2015.
5. Spriggs, M. "Lesbian Couple Create a Child Who Is Deaf like Them." Journal of Medical Ethics 28.5 (2002): 283. Web.
6. ElijiahT. "Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children." ElijiahT. ElijiahT, 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 June 2015.
7. Psalm 139: 13-14, ESV
8. Wartick, J. W. "Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?" Always Have a Reason. J.W. Wartick, 15 June 2015. Web. 15 June 2015.
9. ElijiahT, 2014.
10. ElijiahT, 2014.
11. The Matrix. Prod. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. By Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. 1999.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why Did the Culture Shift on Same-Sex Marriage? (video)

The Pew Research Center reports "in 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57% to 35% margin. Since then, support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown. Today, a majority of Americans (57%) support same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who oppose it."1

What changed?

In this video, Lenny looks at the rise of the homosexual rights movement. He traces the coordinated effort to de-vilify homosexuality by masking it in popular media and how the Church didn't offer any good arguments against the push by activists. He also tells why it isn't too late to reclaim the high ground in the same-sex marriage debate. This video is the first in a three part series on building the case against same-sex marriage.


1.Pew Research. "Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project. Pew Research Center, 07 June 2015. Web. 14 June 2015.
Images courtesy Håkan Dahlström and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Criticism of the Bible Demonstrates the Bible's Power

It is commonplace that those progressives who seek to reshape modern society into a vision of their own choosing will criticize biblical standards and even the Bible itself. Dismissed as out of date, backwards, and intolerant, they believe they can set a better standard. Yet, one must ask on what criteria will this panacea be based? With relativism the default position and hurt feelings an ideas measuring stick, the lines seem to be always moving.

In this excerpt for his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi aptly summarizes the problem with the modern critic's ideology and his ability to criticize at all:
Today, many people reject the Bible because they consider it to be irrational and irrelevant. Others believe it to be responsible for racial prejudices, sectarian bigotries, slavery, the oppression of women, the persecution of witches, opposition to science, the destruction of the environment, discrimination against homosexuals, and religious wars. However, this criticism itself reveals the powerful influence the Bible had during the last millennium. During that time, hardly any intellectual position or social practice could become mainstream in Christendom unless it could be defended on biblical grounds, real or mistaken; nor could beliefs and practices be challenged unless their opponents demonstrated that their call for reform was biblical.

Criticisms of the Bible are recognition of its unique cultural power. It has been the West's intellectual and moral compass, the "sacred canopy" (Peter Berger) that gave legitimacy to its values and institutions. The West's rejection of the Bible ushered in what historian Jacques Barzun called its "decadence." It brought an abrupt end to the Modern age just when Western civilization seemed set to win the world. Now, having amputated the Bible, the Western educational machinery is producing "strays," lost like [Nirvana's Kurt] Cobain. It can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man. The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one's home or nation.1


1. Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 22.
Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0].

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal Ordeal Shows Why Race, Like Biological Sex, is Sacred

The Internet is abuzz this morning on the breaking story of African Studies professor and Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, who is a white woman that has been identifying herself as black. Dolezal had claimed she was a target of racial profiling by police, but questions arose about the events as well as her background. It was then discovered that Dolezal has no African-American heritage, even though she had claimed such on an application to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.1 In fact, Dolezal's parents confirmed her heritage is Czech, Swedish and German.

The news about Dolezal broke just eleven days after Vanity Fair's unveiling of Olympian Bruce Jenner's sexual metamorphosis as a woman. That event brought many plaudits from those who push the idea that sex is somehow fungible; whatever sex one identifies with, one is. For a week, the Jenner story led many of the transgender support community to ride a wave of acclaim and public acceptance for that premise. Many of the same people don't accept Dolezal's identity as black, even though one's sex is much more clearly a description of biology than race can ever be.

The Sacredness of Race

The denunciation of racism is moral and proper for at least two reasons. Firstly, to ascribe a lesser value to a person because of their race means you are not taking the individual seriously, you are commoditizing them and doing so using a criterion that is inconsequential to do so. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, people should be judged on the basis of their character, not the color of his skin. Secondly, racism dismisses the history and heritage of an entire people group. With a hand-wave it denigrates any contributions a person's culture and traditions had in shaping the character of that individual. While certain traditions may be unhelpful or even evil (think female genital mutilation), one cannot dismiss an entire cultural heritage without dismissing every person who comes out of it. The values and traditions our parents passed onto us are formative and valuable. They are integral to who we are and they link us to our past. That's why, as Ravi Zacharias said, a person's race is sacred.2

That's why the Rachel Dolezal deception is galling. She was trading on a culture and history of which she had no part. She sought to change those very same superficial attributes to appear that she had a common history and culture. Her attempt again reduces the individual to inconsequential criteria. It's still racism, but played in the opposite direction.

The Sacredness of Biology

If Dolezal's act is galling, then how much more galling is the idea that one can change the outward appearance of one's hair, face, and genitals to appear as sex different from your biology. The transgender community would reduce the definition of a man or a woman to injectable hormones and plastic surgery. In fact, it's telling that Jenner wasn't featured in Vanity Fair as a 65 year old female, but closer to the idealized pin-up, a caricature of womanhood. Some of the very same publications who cheered Jenner's photos decried as demeaning similar images when they appeared in cartoon form on a scientist's shirt. The scientist's shirt is denigrating women while Jenner's poses are epitomizing womanhood. How is this consistent?

The fact is that reducing a person's worth based on their sex is offensive. If racism is wrong, then sexism is wrong and for the very same reason: using inconsequential aspects of a person to demean them. For instance, one's sex has absolutely no bearing on one's ability to function as a scholar, a chef, or a scientist. But just like one's culture, sex does have bearing on important aspects of shaping the family. Only women can give birth and only men can father a child. Those aspects of who we are so shape us and they do matter.

When my family was on vacation a few years ago, our travels took us through Tonopah, Nevada, a town literally in the middle of nowhere. At a gas station, I found myself in line behind Dennis Avner, the man who sought to change himself into a cat. I had seen images of Avner on one of those filler cable TV shows, but he was here in real life standing before me and paying for gas. No one mentioned to Avner that cats cannot pay for gasoline or drive a motor vehicle and he didn't seem to mind taking advantage of the benefits of being human as this point.

The reality is, no matter how much surgery Avner underwent, he would never be a cat. (Perhaps he would have benefitted if he would have read some Thomas Nagel.) He would be a man pretending to be a cat. Human beings have intrinsic worth because they bear the image of God. All races bear that image and therefore they all share that worth. God also created human beings male and female, and therefore both sexes share that worth. Dolezal's charade attempts to move the value of people to something superficial, but it is only different in degree and not kind from the transgender lobby. If race is sacred, so is sex and we need to recognize both.


1. "Credibility of Local NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Questioned." The Spokesman-Review, 11 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2015. .
2. Nix, Luke. "Ravi Zacharias on Race and Homosexuality." Faithful Thinkers. Faithful Thinkers, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Can God Use Natural Evil to Reduce Suffering?

Hurricane Ivan was an intense category V hurricane that battered the Caribbean and the United States in 2004. The hurricane was especially devastating because it didn't quickly disperse after coming on land. Instead, it became a cyclone that spawned tornadoes inflicting damage from Alabama to Maryland. It was a highly unusual and very destructive hurricane that took dozens of lives.1

In my recent series on the problem of evil, I set out to distinguish the difference between moral evil, that evil that comes about as a result of man's moral failings and natural evil. Natural evil could include the catastrophic events such as the deaths resulting from Hurricane Ivan. After all, no violation of God's law caused Ivan's existence; hurricanes are simply a part of the weather cycle. Atheists have argued that if there is a God who created this world, then God is responsible for the evil and suffering that events like Ivan produce. They then seek to challenge the very notion of an all-good God because He not only allows natural evil to exist; he basically built it into the world we see. How should a Christian answer such an objection?

God May Use Evil to Restrain Greater Suffering

I've previously written that natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, are necessary for life to exist on earth. That's also true for hurricanes. Tropical storms like Ivan help to regulate the heat of the ocean, preventing even more devastating storms from being created.2 They also are responsible for the needed rainfall in many areas that allows people to grow food.3 But, my goal of this post is not to justify specific weather anomalies. Childhood maladies that result from natural evil won't be dismissed so easily.

God may allow a certain amount of suffering caused from nature to stem even greater suffering from moral evil. Humanity, without a threat of punishment for wrongdoing, becomes more violent and more destructive. If one looks back to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, you can see a similar trend. In the 1970s gay bathhouses were booming as a way for homosexual men to hook up for casual sex. The Associated Press estimates there were over 200 such businesses across most major metropolitan areas of the United States. By 1990, their numbers had shrunk to 90.4 What caused the huge decline? It wasn't that the patrons became more moral. It was the fact that they were scared of contracting a deadly disease. Thus, the suffering of those with AIDS was enough to not only stem the promiscuity in the homosexual community, but it actually reversed the trend for a while.

Hurricane Ivan Stops Untold Suffering

Going back to Hurricane Ivan, the tale of Robert L. Medvee shows one way how such natural disasters can lead to less suffering. Medvee lived in a Maryland neighborhood that was struck by one of Ivan's tornadoes. He hired a repair crew to patch the damage caused by the twister while he stayed with friends. While working on the structure, the crew discovered a huge trove of child pornography, including many photos that Medvee himself took of children engaging in various sex acts. Maryland State's Attorney Scott Rolle said, "Some of them appeared to be as young as 6 or 7. They were engaged in sex acts with each other and adults."5 The pain and suffering these children endured because of Medvee's evil acts was hideous enough. Who knows how many more children would have been tortured by being forced into sex acts had Ivan not struck and Medvee be uncovered? In this one act alone, Ivan may have saved more lives than it took, but we will never know for sure. The point, though, is that God can order certain events that seem evil to actually deliver less pain and suffering than if they didn't occur at all.


1. University of Rhode Island. "2004- Hurricane Ivan." Hurricanes: Science and Society. University of Rhode Island, 2010. Web. 11 June 2015.
2. National Weather Service. "Tropical Cyclone Introduction." JetStream - Online School for Weather. National Weather Service, 29 May 2012. Web. 11 June 2015.
3. Sugg, Arnold L. "Beneficial Aspects of the Tropical Cyclone." J. Appl. Meteor. Journal of Applied Meteorology 7.1 (1968): 39-45. Web
4. Associated Press in Los Angeles. "Gay Bathhouses across US Face an Uncertain Future." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 June 2015.
5. Leckie, Kate. "Man Arrested for Child Pornography: Workers Hired to Repair Tornado Damage Discover Large Cache." The Frederick News-Post. The Frederick News-Post, 4 Oct. 2004. Web. 11 June 2015.
Photo courtesy Roger and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ministry Spotlight: The Poached Egg

turn on your brain
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offered a rather famous reply to the skeptics of his day who tried to marginalize Jesus by saying he could never be divine. Lewis explained:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I offer the quote because it is the the genesis of Greg West's apologetics site The Poached Egg, which is today celebrating its five year anniversary. The site is one of the top aggregators of apologetics content on the Internet; Greg  scours the web for some of the best content to help you defend the faith and gathers it together in a single location so you don't have to do the hard work of sifting through hundreds of blogs, articles, and ministry sites yourself.

The Poached Egg features content from apologetics luminaries such as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and many others. it is updated several times a day, so there's always something fresh to read. Greg has graciously features quite a few articles from this blog as well.

Make sure to check out The Poached Egg and wish Greg a very happy five year anniversary!

What Counts as Natural Evil?

The problem of evil is one of the most difficult issues Christians must deal with when defending their faith. While I've spent a few columns discussing how to answer the problem of evil generally, these responses focus primarily on what philosophers would call moral evil. Moral evils are evils perpetrated because people are sinful and do sinful things. God would be required to stamp out the freedom of man in order to stop the evil for which he is responsible.

That's all well and good, but what about those evils that man has no control over? What about the child born with cancer or natural disasters and earthquakes? Stopping those things doesn't take away free will, so why doesn't God at least do something about them?

Separating Natural Evil from Moral Evil

In addressing this question, one must think carefully about exactly what is to be included in the category of natural evil. For example, not all medical ailments fall into this category. Heart attacks are bad, but if an individual is obese and smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, it isn't surprising. If that person were to have a heart attack, blaming God for it is disingenuous. He or she had abused their body and reaped the consequences of his or her actions.

Other medical issues may be due to moral evil even though they aren't immediately visible. For example, the Hooker Chemical Company used a small portion of its land holdings near Niagara Falls to bury some21,800 tons of toxic waste in the 1940s and early 50s, all with the knowledge and approval of the federal government.1 In fact, a Reason investigation reports that various federal agencies used the land themselves to dump their own toxic wastes.2 Hooker Chemical was pressured into selling the land by the Niagara Falls Board of Education, who sought a cheap way to meet their need for large empty lots to accommodate new schools. Schools were then built on some of the property, sewer lines were constructed, perforating the waste area and allowing the chemicals to be carried by rainwater residential sections of the city. The School Board then sold the rest of the land in 1960 to another developer who had no knowledge of its toxic past.3

Of course, the results of what came to be known as the Love Canal Disaster wouldn't be evident for decades. It wasn't until the late 1970's that a reporter for the Niagara Gazette began an investigation as to why there were an inordinate number of y birth defects reported in their community.4 Until a severe storm that surfaced some of the chemical containers and the subsequent investigation, people did not attribute the birth defects, epilepsy or other various medical maladies to the moral failings of people.

What Can't We See?

It's quite clear that the Love Canal disaster was a result of moral evil. I don't know if Hooker Chemical took all of the proper steps when first disposing of their waste. I do know reading the transcripts of the School Board's minutes, the Board itself got greedy and improperly resold the land to subsequent developers, setting up a series of tragedies that ultimately caused people pain and grief. Yet, this is one example of which we know the facts; how many other supposed natural evils are really caused by the immoral actions of humans? We don't know but many natural evils may actually be a result of some chain of events that began with the choice of free moral agents.

Of course, not all free moral agents are human. If Satan is a real being as Christianity holds, then he can also be responsible for pains and ills that we would otherwise assume have no moral origin. We read in Job that Satan was able to summon great winds that would collapse houses or inflict Job with a severe illness causing sores all over his body. Satan and his demons are the source of Job's suffering; their actions would also be categorized as resulting from oral evil, and not natural evil.

Not all evil can be dismissed as moral evil, though. As the recent earthquake in Nepal shows, God did fashion the world to work in a certain way. I take up that portion of the response in this post. For now, simply realize that the evil men can do may have consequences beyond what we immediately see. Moral failings have far-reaching implications and it isn't fair to blame God for the evil that men do.


1. Zuesse, Eric. "Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out." Reason Foundation. 01 Feb. 1981. Web. 10 June 2015.
2. Zuesse, 1981.
3. Zuesse, 1981.
4. "Love Canal Timeline." Niagara Gazette. Niagara Gazette, 26 July 2006. Web. 10 June 2015.

Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X