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

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Top Apologetics Podcast Topics

In 2016, the Come Reason podcast site saw over 725,000 hits which is the largest year to date. iTunes listeners and RSS feed subscribers who get the podcast automatically accounted for over 42,000 downloads this year alone.  People are listening to the back-catalog, as we hit an average of 600 downloads per episode!

Some of the more attractive topics this year were a mix of social issues/current events as well as foundational arguments for the Christian faith.  Click on each title below to access all of the episodes in each series for these, the top five apologetics podcasts of 2016.

  1. Identifying Imposter Christianity
  2. Answering Atheist Arguments
  3. Are Christians Too Judgmental?
  4. Arguments against Same-Sex Marriage
  5. Dealing with Bible Contradictions

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Apologetics Articles of 2016

2016 continued to be a key news period, especially for matters of faith. While the culture wars provided a couple of entries, the most popular articles proved to be those that offered strong answers to basic objections to the faith, atheist claims, and ways of communicating with non-believers. Without further adieu, here are the top ten apologetics articles from 2016:

  1. Taking the Bible Literally is One Way of Abusing the Bible — 9/16/2016
  2. Another Sign It's the End of the World as We Know It, Christian — 5/4/2016
  3. Has Archaeology Proven the Gospel of John? — 2/8/2016
  4. Five Reasons Why God's Hiddenness is a Good Thing — 7/20/2016
  5. Jesus Ate with Criminals; Why Wouldn't He Bake a Cake for a Gay Person? — 4/18/2016
  6. When Does Cultural Insanity Hit the Breaking Point? — 5/31/2016
  7. What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer? — 5/23/2016
  8. Atheists Admit Their Disbelief Linked to Emotional Discomfort — 3/21/2016
  9. History is a Problem for Those Who Doubt Jesus Was Real — 2/9/2016
  10. Why Doesn't God Prove He Exists? Because It Wouldn't Help Disbelief — 2/29/2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Starting God Conversations: State it Back to Them

Certainly we've all heard the bromide that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite conversation. It's been around for quite some time. In Thomas E. Hill's 1884 book on how to communicate properly in social and business settings, under the section entitled "Etiquette of Conversation" he warns his readers against such exchanges because "to discuss those topics is to arouse feeling without any good result."1

Most people would be inclined to agree with this. Even evangelical Christians wince at sharing their faith. Many times they can remember striking up a conversation with a friend or family member, hopeful that they'll get to share the Gospel, only to have it degenerate into a tense, loud, back and forth where there's more heat than light exchanged.

But it doesn't have to be that way. With respect to Mr. Hill, conversations about faith don't have to be disagreeable even when the participants disagree. I've had many extended conversations with atheists who have actually thanked me for discussing those issues with them. Previously, I explained how Christians can easily and graciously start God conversations by taking the" class photo" approach. Today, I'd like to continue in that vein by discussing a second step that will help keep the level of discourse high and the hurt feelings at a minimum.

Making sure you understand

Atheist Peter Boghossian likes to tell Christians their faith is "belief without evidence" or "pretending to know something you don't know." 2 But this isn't what faith is and it isn't the faith the Bible describes. In telling Christians what they believe and misrepresenting their understanding of their own belief, Boghossian has created a caricature of the Christian understanding of faith. He's set up a straw man that is easy to knock down. Of course, being told that you are pretending to know something you don't know is actually insulting and it shows the other person isn't interested in really knowing what you believe or why you believe it.

But atheists aren't the only ones who are guilty of such moves. Christians can be equally as culpable. It's easy to dismiss atheists as people who only want to live without any rules or some similar charge. Unless they've told you, you don't really know what they believe about the point in question.

This means you need to ask them not only what they believe but why they believe it. In fact, asking probably isn't enough, since we tend to interpret what we hear through our own viewpoints and experiences. The best thing to do is repeat their beliefs back to them using different wording and perhaps even an example. Make their argument as if you held the same view they did use phrases like "Do you mean..." and "So you believe X because you think Y is true."

By repeating their argument back to them, you'll find out a few very positive things happen:
  • First, the other person will feel as though they're heard. They know you're listening to them.
  • Second, it shows you care about them. You aren't simply trying to "put another notch on your Bible" but are truly trying to understand where he or she is coming from.
  • Third, if you can accurately represent someone's views before you've made your case, it will removes a lot of his or her objections to your stance as being uninformed.
  • Lastly, it helps you know where you need to focus your attention in the discussion. I've previously written how asking questions of a Jehovah's Witness radically changed the direction of our conversation.
So, don't be afraid to ask about a person's beliefs and the reasons they hold them. Repeat them back. If you've misunderstood, then they will most likely correct you. But make sure you get their position right before you attempt to tell then why your position makes more sense. To do otherwise is simply insulting.


1. Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book, 1884. Print. 151.
2. Boghossian, Peter G. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2013. Print. 23-24.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Battling the Culture Wars (Podcast)

Popular media today has an incredible influence on thoughts and attitudes. From blockbuster movies to superstar pop divas, our minds are being shaped by the values that Hollywood deems important. How can Christians protect their families from such a powerful message? This podcast series looks at ways to provide a counterbalance to culture's corrupting influence.

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Does a Naturalist Justify His Reasoning?

Given my blog and public profile, I regularly get internet atheists who try to goad me into debate. My primary goal in ministry is to have honest discussions with people who are open to ideas, so I tend to ignore those who are trolling apologists looking for a debate. However, every once in a while I may engage someone if I think the exchange will be useful as a learning tool for my readers.

Last week, a Twitter user going only by the name Truth who objected to one of my tweets. He claimed "I am open to believe whatever is true." Looked on his Twitter profile and he only describes himself as "Naturalist." I've written previously on how naturalism cannot ground reason. You can see a short article here, or read my contribution to the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. So, I decided to see how someone who claims to be open to truth understands what truth is. I've reproduced the exchange below:

Started on Dec 18, 2016
Posts You May Have Missed: The Irrationality of Indifference to God comereason tweeted on Dec 18, 2016 06:47Reply
@comereason This is absurd. There is no good reason to believe in life after death. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:54Reply
@comereason I am open to believe whatever is true The supposed consequences of not believing a specific claim is not evidence for the claim. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:56Reply
@Gottisttot44 How do you know what's true? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:39Reply
@comereason Through the use of reason, evidence etc. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:40Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you ascribe to philosophical naturalism or did I read your profile wrongly? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@comereason methodological naturalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@Gottisttot44 Thanks for the clarification. So, how can you trust your reason then? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:44Reply
@comereason do you want to take this conversation to chat? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:45Reply
@comereason it's going to take more than a 140 characters to have a debate on presuppositionalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@Gottisttot44 But I'm not a presuppositionalist. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@comereason I think it is going to be a lot more difficult to debate in full like this but I will if you are not willing to move to chat. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:49Reply
@comereason didn't say you were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:50Reply
@Gottisttot44 Who's debating? I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does a methodological naturalist place trust in reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:56Reply
@comereason because it leads to effective results. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:57Reply
@Gottisttot44 But effective results doesn't mean it's true, right? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@comereason it will just boil down to that. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:51Reply
@comereason it means corresponding with reality. Which is how I define true. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@Gottisttot44 But beliefs can be effective and not true. Michael Ruse holds that morality is a useful fiction. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:00Reply
@comereason I didn't say that the belief was effective. I said the results were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:02Reply
@Gottisttot44 Right. But my original question was "How do you know what's true?" You answered reason and then proffered effective results. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:06Reply
@comereason your original question was why do you 'trust' reason and I said because it provides effective results:corresponding with reality gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:08Reply
@Gottisttot44 My question was based from our prior exchanges: Why do you trust reason to discover the truth. That includes true beliefs. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:13Reply
@comereason because when I use reason it leads to results that correspond with reality. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:14Reply
@Gottisttot44 Again, results that correspond with reality prove neither the truth of a belief nor that your reasoning is correct. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:16Reply
@comereason I disagree, if you make a claim and it corresponds with reality then the claim is true and belief is justified. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:17Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you see the mistake you made above? What we wish to discern is *whether* the claim corresponds to reality or not. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:29Reply
@Gottisttot44 You said the way you do this is through reason. I asked why do you trust reason and you said "b/c it corresponds / reality." comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:30Reply
@Gottisttot44 You find truth through reason and you trust reason b/c you say it's true. You've argued in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:31Reply
@comereason no. I 'trust' reason because it works. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:33Reply
@comereason there is an argument to be made here but not the way you are presenting it The bigger problem is your position doesn't help fix* gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:35Reply
@Gottisttot44 A man can reason that he must run 3 miles to keep the fat demons away. He tests his theory and it works! comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:18Reply
@comereason Oh ok... so we are done reasoning. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:45Reply
@Gottisttot44 All I'm saying is you have expressed no good basis to trust your reasoning will lead you to truth. So, how do we proceed? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:57Reply
@comereason I told you, the conclusions we get to using reasoning are matched and verified by empirical observation. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:03Reply
@Gottisttot44 And I've given you an example that contradicts that. What is the naturalist's explanation for why we should trust our reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:11Reply
@comereason What example? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:37Reply
@Gottisttot44 Belief in fat demons keep a mans weight away. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:41Reply
@comereason How is it reasonable to conclude there are fat demons? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:42Reply
@comereason by reason i mean using logic to come to a conclusion based on valid and sound premises. In this example the man did not do this. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:46Reply
@Gottisttot44 First of all, arguments are valid and sound, not premises. Premises are either true or not true. Again, arguing in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:07Reply
@comereason actually premises are sound or unsound. But yes the argument as a whole is either valid or invalid. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason I just ran out of space. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason and you still haven't explained how my reasoning is circular... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:12Reply
@Gottisttot44 Why wasn't it reason? Bc it wasn't using truth in the premises. Circular. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:19Reply
@comereason You are making no sense... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 12:08Reply

I'll leave aside his confusion with soundness and validity for the moment. What you should pick up on is how he keeps switching his understanding of truth. He states that truth is "that which corresponds to reality, which is the definition of the Correspondence theory of truth. However, when asked why one should believe that reason is a trustworthy tool to arrive a truth, his response is "because it provides effective results," which is the Pragmatic theory of truth. This is the basis of his confusion.

I don't know if my interlocutor believes that all truth claims must have some kind of empirical point of verification. I do know that he cannot escape his circular justification for his beliefs, though. Not all naturalists would hold to his view; some would rightly believe that there are certain things one can know directly and immediately without even using reason (such as the laws of logic themselves!) But, even there, a naturalist is stuck in justifying such a belief.
Image courtesy Bart Everson and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Those Who Complain About Fake News Can't Reject Absolute Truth

Fake news has really been making the news. Both Facebook and Google have announced they will not advertising from websites pedaling fake news, according to the New York Times.1 Facebook has gone one step further and announced new features allowing end users to flag stories as "disputed." Such stories will then be displayed with a warning label if they are shared on users' timelines.

Given the terrible track record social media sites have of allowing end users to "dispute" the posts they dislike, I can see a huge problem with this policy. Just see how often YouTube blocks videos by Dennis Prager and Christina Hoff Summers, not because they're offensive or not factual, but because opponents disagree with their messages. Certainly, there will be many internet trolls who are going to abuse the system, trying to censor those sites they simply don't like. While Facebook has announced that all reports will first be run through "third-party fact checking organizations," there are major problems with the proposal, as Mollie Hemingway has deftly noted.

The Contradiction in Complaining About Fake News

I'm very concerned about how this newfound attempt to squash false information can stifle the free exchange of ideas. One of the more telling reasons to question the earnestness of the effort is the glaring inconsistency the leaders on the left have shown in their own beliefs. After her defeat in the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton recently spoke out against the "epidemic of fake news," which she characterized as "one threat in particular that should concern all Americans." President Obama had also decried misinformation being passed along as fact, stating:
If we are not serious about facts and what's true and what's not — and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in soundbites and snippets off their phones — if we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won't know what to protect. We won't know what to fight for.2
I agree with the president in this statement. I think he's right that we must take truth seriously; distinguishing propaganda from fact. But, to do so one must assume there is a truth out there to know. In other words, truth is something different than what people want it to be. Ostensibly, fake news is considered such because it doesn't match the truth that is discoverable by reasonable people. Using the philosopher's definition, truth is what corresponds to what really is the case.

So, in order to campaign against fake news, one must hold to some standard of absolute truth. If truth isn't absolute, then how can anyone identify news as fake or not? Yet, in his book, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama dismisses the concept of absolute truth:
It's not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or "ism," any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad.3
There is no idea, or ideology, or "ism" that is always true? That means theism isn't absolutely true, nor is atheism. Neither conservatism nor progressivism can claim any absolute truth. So, using Obama's own words, how, if everything seems to be the do we know what to protect? How do we know what to fight for?

If nothing's true, then what qualifies as Fake News?

Denying certain truths can be politically expedient. One can garner the support of progressives by denying that a person who has XY chromosomes is male and XX is female. One can deny that people have good reasons for not wanting to pay for abortifacients as a matter of conscience. One can even deny that the Founding Fathers absolutely believed in absolute truth. But in each case, what you're pedaling is something fake. The denials are not serious arguments; they're propaganda.

Is fake news a problem? I would say all false beliefs are problematic, though some rise to a higher level than others. The more important the issue, the more important it is one holds to true beliefs. That's why more discussion is the cure, not blanket bans or labeling. The only way to rid us of the darkness of ignorance is to flood it with the light of knowledge. But when I see those who reject the concept of absolute truth all of a sudden become deeply concerned about "fake news," I become deeply concerned about their agenda. One cannot believe hold to both and be consistent.


1. Wingfield, Nick, Mike Isaac, and Katie Benner. "Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
2. Korte, Gregory. "Fake News Threatens Democracy, Obama Says." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
3. Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Crown, 2006. Print. 93
Photo courtesy Jdmrhd and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Intellectual Cowardice behind 'Agnostic Atheists'

For certain questions, the answer seems so obvious they feel ridiculous to ask. Questions like: "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" Or (usually asked after you've rammed into something and are doubled over in pain) did that hurt? The answers for each are pretty evident.

What about the question "How Just how much meat do vegetarians eat?" This question strikes one to be much like the others, with the answer being "None, of course!" But in reality that isn't the case. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that two thirds of those who self-identified as vegetarians ate meat, fish, or poultry on at least one of the two specific days they were polled on.1A Daily Beast article cites other studies with similar findings.2

It may seem bizarre those who eat meat on a semi-regular basis would identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, but as the author of the Daily Beast article, himself a vegan , states: "some vegetarians like the taste of meat, and we sometimes do things we want to do even when we know we shouldn't."3

This is all nonsense. As I've explained before, the term agnostic atheist is self-contradictory. The theist believes in some type of God, the atheist does not believe in some type of God, and the agnostic makes no claim either way; he neither believes nor denies God's existence. His answer is a simple "I don't know." The so-called agnostic atheists try to claim that while the term atheist describes the beliefs of a person, the term agnostic describes the knowledge claim of the person. They do this by abusing the term agnostic by breaking it down to its Greek gnosis which translates into the English knowledge. I've explained all of this in my article.

I bring this up to prove a point; sometimes people will use labels for themselves that are not true to reality but as a way of expressing what they would like the facts to be. That's what I'm finding with a relatively recent movement with the atheist community. Within the last five years or so there has been a growing number of people who define themselves as "agnostic atheists." They claim to be agnostic in that they don't know if a God exists but an atheist because they don't believe a God exists. They even use cute little drawings to demonstrate their point.

Dodging the Need to Support a Belief

So, why would atheists begin to try and change the meaning of agnosticism and atheism to be somehow compatible? What is the advantage? Simply put, the so-called agnostic atheists don't want to bear the burden of proving what they believe. By claiming that they believe in no God but they don't know whether or not He exists, they think they have removed themselves from having to justify their non-belief. "I can lack a belief in God, but I don't claim to have any knowledge of a god or Gods' existence" is the way many would frame it.

Such statements are intellectually cowardly. If anyone claims any kind of believe and also claims he or she has no basis for that belief is to say the belief is entirely ungrounded and may be disregarded. The so-called agnostic atheist will quickly respond "I didn't claim a belief, I said I lacked belief." Ah, but that's a poor attempt at dodging the question. As I argue here, any reasonable aware person understands the concept of God, the concept of ultimate beginnings, and the fact that effects have causes. By claiming to be an atheist, they are negating the claim that God does exist. They aren't neutral but they are saying "I have heard of this concept of God and my belief holds it isn't true." Thus they are making a claim of their own and they need to provide evidence for why they disbelieve the theist's claim.

An intellectually honest person who has no knowledge of something would say he doesn't believe one way or another. For example, I don't follow baseball, so if two baseball fans who disagreed asked me who I think was going to win the World Series next season, I would be agnostic on the question; I have no belief on the subject. But if they both provided me with relevant information and their reasoning, I can make a decision based on that knowledge. It may not be a great decision due to my lack of experience, but I can at least tell them which in my mind is the more likely conclusion based on what I now know. At that point, I am no longer agnostic. I have reasons upon which to base my belief. This is all explained in my article "If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe."

To be a true vegan and shun the consumption of all animal products is really tough. It requires dedication and sacrifice. You can't honestly call yourself a vegan if once a week you indulge in a juicy In-n-Out Double Double. Similarly, the person who uses the term "agnostic atheist" is trying to have it both ways. He or she wants to deny God's existence, but doesn't want to bear any burden for the justification of that disbelief. The so-called agnostic atheist is hoping push all of the work onto the theist. But that isn't reasonable. Any moderately intelligent person understands the concept of God and at least some of the reasons for why people believe he exists. They should have the intellectual honesty to at least stand up for their own non-belief.


1. And, Ella H Haddad. " What Do Vegetarians in the United States Eat?" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
2. Chituc, Vlad. "Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
3. Chituc, Vlad. 2015.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How to Use Questions to Help Defend Your Faith

In our post-Christian culture, it's becoming more and more common for believers to have their faith questioned. I have many students come up to me and ask how they can better defend their beliefs when challenged. You may have had such an experience. Or, perhaps you don't have a lot of people who challenge your faith specifically, but they hold to a particular belief that runs contrary to traditional mores and you'd like to be more effective at communicating your views to them. Here are two steps to help you do just that.

I've previously explained how when engaging in "God conversations", one should take up what I call the second grade class photo approach. Let's suppose you've done so and the person with whom you're speaking says something to the effect that he or she only believes in what can be tested. Science is really all we can know. You may ask "What brought you to such a conclusion?" and received a response of "It has a proven track record!" Do you stop there? What's next?

The person above gave an answer to your question, but it was pretty broad. In fact, when you think about it, it doesn't make much sense at all. First science is a pretty big category. Still, "science" is wrong all the time. A fifty year old textbook on any field in the sciences will be filled with errors that were assumed to be true. Add to this the fact that there are a whole range of things we can know that science cannot begin to explain, such as if a person is in love or what experiencing the color yellow is like. Lastly, saying something like "science is the only thing we can know to be true" is itself a claim about the truth. Yet, it isn't based on any science, so if the statement is true, it's false.

Of course, this is only one illustration. The conversation could go many different ways, but it does serve to underscore a point. You will find many times people do not have a well-developed reason for a lot of the things they hold. They've come to believe things because they've heard it from others, they take positions that are advantageous to themselves without thinking through all the ramifications, or they are simply comfortable and don't like change.

Asking pertinent questions helps to challenge their views

That's why asking specific questions in response is a great technique to use. You want to think about questions or conditions that they would hold but would also show the problem in their current beliefs themselves. In our example above, one could say "Boy, science is a big area. Which branch of science are you talking about? Do all branches of science have the same track record for being right?" You could also ask "How do you know that science is the only thing we can know to be true? What did you do to find out that piece of truth?"

Here's another tack: ask "How does science prove that all people considered equal? When I use scientific methods to test for intelligence, strength, stamina, or even biological functions, I see great disparities between individuals. Some people are physically disabled and some are mentally handicapped. How then does science tell us they're equal?" Or how about this one: "If evolution is about survival of the fittest, then shouldn't we sterilize the most stupid and lazy among us?" That isn't a far-fetched question; scientists came to this same conclusion in the early 20th century in the U.S. and Britain, spawning the eugenics movement. The last forced sterilization in the U.S. occurred in 1981.And even the U.S. Supreme Court upheld forced sterilizations on the grounds that some people may produce "degenerate offspring."

So, ask questions and try to get details for the beliefs your challenger holds. Identify the fuzzy points in their argument. it will help you as the conversation advances and helps them to see they may not have any good reasons for the things they believe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teaching the Three Rs of Being Human

Every parent wants his or her child to grow into a fully capable, knowledgeable human being. One way we seek to accomplish this is to make sure our children have a proper education, beginning with what has colloquially become known as the three "Rs": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic. These three Rs are not simply basic skills. Reading allows children to take in knowledge, writing allows them to communicate and distribute knowledge, and arithmetic provides the basis for not simply mathematics, but logical comparison and a host of other concepts. Together, the three Rs have become a shorthand way to reference a complete foundational knowledge all children need to build upon for a successful education.

However, there is another set of three Rs that are at least as foundational to the development of successful human beings as those with which we're all familiar, and I've noticed that not only are these three Rs not taught to children today, but young adults who are deficient in understanding them are causing major repercussions in our university system. These aren't three Rs of education. These are three Rs that distinguish us from animals. They are the three traits that make us civilized human beings and if the next generation doesn't learn them, society will regress as it has already begun to do.

The three Rs of being human are Reason, Regard, and Reverence. Let me briefly explain each of them below:


Reason is an incredibly important skill human beings are capable of developing, and it is one that makes us uniquely human. Animals operate off of their appetites, desires, and drives. Bonobos are very sexually active and much more socially open, so much so they are called the "hippie apes."1 But bonobos also cannibalize their young.2 They operate off their drives and instincts. Humans use their reason to overcome their drives. This is what being civilized means. But left-leaning political movements today have been pushing to return to basing our decisions on our desires. We have become men without chests, flabby, and looking more like animals and less like rational beings.


Another concept that is being lost on the next generation is the Golden Rule. Many people give lip service to the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, but it seems that a whole lot of college kids think the rule comes with an asterisk, acting as if it only applies when that other person agrees with your position. But Jesus put it in context, declaring "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:39-41, ESV).

The concept of recognizing and extending honor to people because they are also human beings is uniquely Christian.. It recognizes that people are flawed and no one is beyond redemption. It is a practical way to show humility as opposed to arrogance. Given the protest culture we increasingly find ourselves in today, humility has become a rare commodity.


Lastly, we need to teach our children the crucial aspect of reverence toward God. No one should believe he or she is the center of the universe. By recognizing there is a higher moral law to which we all are accountable, it further serves to help us realize both our fragility and dependence.

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologiae, recognized that human beings alone weigh their actions through reason, seeking to attain "the good" or the highest level of happiness. As Shawn Floyd summarizes, Aquinas believes "human actions are those over which one has voluntary control (ST IaIIae 1.1). Unlike non-rational animals, human beings choose their actions according to a reasoned account of what they think is good."3 Aquinas argues that each of us seeking happiness can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate good, which is God. Without recognizing God, we are doomed to seek only immediate and imperfect pleasures, diminishing our capacity to be truly human by finding the ultimate good.

Losing Our Humanity

It's become popular to bash the medieval as people who were stuck in the Dark Ages and ignorant. However, Aquinas understood what it meant to be human rather than an animal and he strove to live out that difference. Today, our society is regressing, operating more on feeling than facts and comfort over truth. They would rather have us behave more like the bonobos, indulging our sexual passions whatever they may be.

If we don't start teaching the three Rs of humanity, we are in real danger of our culture becoming truly debased, one not fit for real humans to live in.


1. Angier, Natalie. "In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
2. Callaway, Ewen. "Hippy Apes Caught Cannibalising Their Young." New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
3. Floyd, Shawn. "Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Why Virtue Matters in Politics

Today, as Americans across the country select the next Commander in Chief, many go to the polls with trepidation at the choices set before us. Does character matter in a candidate? In surveying the charges against character, it seems a lot of political supporters believe character only matters if your opponent shows a deficiency. If it is the candidate you support, then poor character may be excused.

I'm not pointing to a specific candidate in my remarks today. Neither presidential contender could be described as virtuous in any sense of the word. But this cavalier attitude towards character is disturbing. I believe our Founding Fathers were smart men who understood some of the dangers that could befall our freedoms and created a system of checks and balances so that should one branch of government become corrupt, it would be restrained by the other two.

However, one thing the Fathers could never guard against is if the American people as a whole became unprincipled and selfish. That would be the grains of sand that would bring the whole engine to a stop. John Adams, when writing to the Massachusetts Militia made this abundantly clear:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, … while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.#1
Is there another way than "assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance" to describe a people who bludgeon those seeking to live out long-established religious beliefs in the name of tolerance while accepting those who have proven themselves to disregard law or common decency in their arrogance? Virtue does matter. Without it our government will no longer function to secure the freedom of people but will crumble to an oligarchy serving only a privileged few.


Adams, John. "From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, 2 Feb. 1999. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
Image courtesy Erik (HASH) Hersman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Starting God-Conversations: Take the "Class-Photo" Approach

AS the holidays are approaching, families will be reunited and seldom seen relatives will have the opportunity to share with one another. Burt when the topic of faith comes up, the conversation can quickly turn contentious. How can you get "God conversations" started where others are interested in engaging instead of arguing with you? How do you set the stage so others won't be put off before the conversation has begun?

First, listen more than you speak

One of the bigger problem in witnessing today is Christians equate it with preaching or dumping our information onto someone else. Some think "as long as I say 'Jesus died for you' and share a couple of scriptures, my witnessing obligations have been met!" That's a complete misconception of what sharing the Gospel is. Jesus never did this. Jesus actually cared enough about each person he engaged to ask them about their lives and he tailored his conversation to their interests. With the religious leaders (Nicodemus/Pharisees) He discussed theology and with the common people (woman at the well, the blind man) he engaged them in the tasks they were doing or the needs they had.

With Zaccheus, Jesus went further. Zaccheus was a tax collector; this meant his attention to the Jewish laws and requirements were not strictly observed "because someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about tithing his foodstuffs."1 But Jesus wanted to build a relationship with Zaccheus, not just preach at him, so he invited himself over for dinner. It was the building of intimacy and the care that Jesus showed towards Zaccheus the individual that prove3d effective in the sinner's repentance.

People's favorite subject is themselves

So, my first point in starting God conversations is to make sure you listen more than you talk. Take what I call the second grade class photo approach. Do you remember those pictures you would take in elementary school with your class in three rows and the teachers standing at each end? When the class pictures were distributed, what was the first thing everyone did? They looked for themselves! I'm sure you were interested in your friends and what kind of faces they may have been making, but you first wanted to see how you looked in the picture. That's because no matter the person, everyone's favorite subject is themselves.

Given this, the Christian can be very effective in beginning conversations not proclaiming pronouncements but by asking questions and trying to understand the person with whom they're conversing. Ask, "What's the thing you're passionate about these days?" Most people's passions have a moral component that leads into conversations on good and evil. Even sports or hobbies have broader implications, as the Colin Kapernick controversy has shown. Make sure you follow up their answer with another, such as "Why did you get involved in that specifically?" or "What is it about that that you find satisfying?"

Paul used this technique to great effect in Acts 17 when he was asked to present before the Greeks at Mars Hill. He first starts with a compliment (Men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious in all respects.."), then quotes some popular poets, then ties hose interests to his message. Paul made sure he knew the interests and ideas that motivated the Athenians before he brought up Jesus.
By seeking to understand the drives and motivations of an individual, you'll be in a much better position to discuss things like what makes life meaningful.  You may also find the conversation you planned would not be effective at all, as I did here.

People will tell me they've had the greatest conversations when they feel they were heard – not when they were talked at. That means you must listen first.


1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. Print. 229.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Cold Case Christianity for Kids: an Apologetics Book Review

It has become more and more obvious that Christians need to be able to answer questions about their beliefs. Students face challenges to the faith everywhere. Apologetics ministries like Come Reason have been busy training students and congregations on just how to answer objections to Christianity in a smart yet understandable way, leading to an explosion of apologetics content for the believer. It's one reason why Lee Strobel characterized today as a "golden era of apologetics."

Not only are apologetics materials increasing, so is their level of sophistication. This means most are targeted for adult or young adult audiences. But it isn't only the adults that need to defend their faith! I've received many requests from parents looking to find quality apologetics materials for their younger children. That's why I'm excited at the release of J. Warner Wallace's new book Cold Case Christianity for Kids: Investigate Jesus with a Real Detective.

In Wallace's first book, Cold Case Christianity, he drew upon his many years as a detective to demonstrate why believing in the resurrection is the most reasonable position one can take when looking at the evidence. The combination of personal anecdotes on past crime scenes with a clear argument for the truth of the resurrection made that book a best seller. This version has the basics of that book rewritten in a form young people can better understand. This includes simplifying the arguments a bit and creating a "mystery" the main characters in the book work on solving. I would place the reading level at 7th or 8th grade level, though with a bit of help, younger audiences would enjoy it, too.

There are many things to like about the book. The writing is clear and simple. The addition of characters and the puzzle of the skateboard offer continuity from chapter to chapter. There are more illustrations, definitions, and assignments so the book can be used as a homeschool text or in a family study. Further, Wallace has additional materials, including worksheets and videos for each chapter at the book's accompanying web site.

As for criticisms, the first is the material moves fast—really fast. If one were to give this to a seventh grader and asked him or her to simply read it, the student would be faced with terms such as "naturalism", "inference," and "abductive reasoning." Each term is defined in a side bar, but the student must understand the concepts behind the terms well for the arguments to be effective. I'm sure some of this was to keep the book short for modern attention spans while still offering the same solid reasoning that gives the adult's version its power. I think it's laudable to not dumb down the arguments, but a few of them may be difficult for kids to grasp without some help. It may be a quibble since I don't believe talking down to kids is the right way to go. Just know up front that your child may have some questions for you as she reads it!

In all, we need more works like this. There are very few resources Christian parents can draw upon to help build their children's faith and show the reasons for why we believe what we believe. Cold Case Christianity for Kids is an important addition to the Christian parents' arsenal. Clear, well-written, and smart, with a detective story to boot, it does an excellent job presenting Christianity as an intelligent belief.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Bible Critics and Demands for Archaeological Proof

Christianity is a literate faith. By that I mean it is written accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that are at the center of Christian belief. The Gospel accounts and Paul's writings offer specific testimony to historical events that if proven false would mean Christianity is a sham.

Because written testimony sits at the crux of Christian faith, it should come as no surprise that skeptics and critics call those written accounts into question. Many times, the doubt the critics voice is accompanied by a complaint of the lack of archaeological data. Take Resa Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In chapter three, he writes, "Despite the stories in the gospels about Jesus preaching in his hometown's synagogue, no archaeological evidence has been unearthed to indicate the presence of a synagogue in ancient Nazareth, though there could have been a small structure that served as such."1 Aslan also points out there have been no inscriptions found to show the general population of Nazareth as literate.

It seems Aslan chooses to offer these points in some attempt to undermine the story of Jesus announcing his Messiahship in Luke 4:16-30. Other critics have made similar moves, asking "where's the archaeology? to this or that biblical account. But lack of accepted archaeological data isn't as clear as the critics would have you believe. Craig Keener, in his massive historical assessment of the book of Acts, makes a pertinent observation:
Archaeology is, in some ways, more concrete than extant manuscripts copied and recopied from ancient originals; it provides physical evidence and sometimes (especially through burial inscriptions) the "underside" of society less apt to be preserved in literary sources. Nevertheless, it too has its limitations, not least the "muteness" of stones apart from interpretive grids often provided, at least in part, by literary sources... We further possess only a sample of even the possible physical remains, merely a portion of which have been excavated and only some of the excavations published, thus we sometimes have chance finds confirming literary records that previously were unconfirmed by such data. Some of the archaeological data and the interpretations of them for particular sites noted in this commentary will therefore undoubtedly require revision because archaeological information is always partial and open to reinterpretation when new evidence is found.2
Keener is right on target here. First, the fact is we don't have archaeological evidence for much of ancient history. Very few things can last buried in the dirt for two thousand years and the things that seem significant in our day may not be significant in that day. How do we know just how literate the people of Nazareth are in the Hebrew Scriptures when the common language was koine Greek? Most writing was placed on perishable materials.

Second, even the archaeological finds that have been investigated are not clear cut. A wall or a cup is just that. It requires the archeologist to infer things about where it was fond and why it was left there. One famous example is the supposed burial mask of Agamemnon. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found a golden mask in Mycenae, Greece and claimed he found the remains of King Agamemnon spoken of in Homer's Iliad. But Schliemann's whole life was dedicated to proving the Iliad historically true and the mask dates to centuries earlier than the Trojan War. Thus, a great controversy has ensued about the mask, with modern archaeologists even questioning whether it is a fraud or not.3

Ancient Texts Count as Ancient Evidence

Archaeology is a great tool to help investigate events of the past. The Bible has been shown to be true in many details through archaeological evidence, such as the existence of the pool of Siloam, the existence of Pontius Pilate, the existence of Belshazzar and why he is the second king,  and even Hezekiah's defiling of the pagan temples in Jerusalem. But archaeology is no more full proof that any other method of historical investigation as it needs to be interpreted and properly understood. The ancient written accounts we have help us make sense of the archaeology, just as the archaeology may help us make sense of the written accounts. But to try and call the story of Jesus into question simply because "no archaeological evidence has been unearthed" is disingenuous.


1. Aslan, Reza. ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Random House, 2013. Location 3511. Kindle.
2. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.32. Print.
3. Harrington, Spenser PM. "Behind the Mask of Agamemnon." Archaeology Magazine. Archaeological Institute of America, Aug. 1999. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
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