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

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When Does Cultural Insanity Hit the Breaking Point?


The Internet is ablaze with all kinds of opinions on about the shooting of Harambe, a seventeen-year-old gorilla zookeepers shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after the beast grabbed a three year old child who had fallen into his enclosure. Twitter showed the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe was trending over the weekend and a change.org petition entitle "Justice for Harambe" has garnered over 350,000 signatures urging that the parents of the toddler "be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life."1

Obviously, this only proves there are 350,000 people in the world who have never had to watch a toddler for an extended period of time.

Others are decrying the response of the zoo in shooting the ape. NBC News reported "Animal rights activists continued to protest Monday" over Harambe's death. But just what is there to protest? A child's life was in danger and the only way to guarantee his safety was to shoot the animal. This is a no-brainer, yet it has seen a significant amount of coverage and discussion across the various media outlets.

Detaching Desire from Reality

The gorilla protesters aren't a big thing by themselves. However, the event is indicative of a very scary trend that has been developing rather quickly in society. People have basically decoupled themselves from reality. We have seen it in the transgender issue where people not only wish to believe their desire is enough to change the reality of their biology; they demand that everyone else reinforce their desire. We've seen it in spoiled college kids who think if they only hear opinions and ideas about how they want the world to be, they won't be "triggered" and therefore bad things won't happen to them. We've seen it in every televised police pursuit where each felon seems to really believe that he or she can unilaterally escape an entire police squad wit radios, spike strips, and helicopters to track their every move. How do those always end?

While it's easy to point at each scenario and shake our heads, I'm wondering when will enough be enough? I understand and accept in any free society one will face competing belief systems. I think that's actually healthy. Everyone should be challenged to understand and produce reasons for the beliefs he or she holds. But that isn't what this is. We've moved from reasoning to reactionary, and from truth to tale. Just as those who use edited photos and posts to craft a non-real version of their lives on social media, there are those who now believe they can similarly shape their entire world experience.

The problem is that the real world doesn't play this game. People end up getting hurt. Zookeepers explained that tranquilizers don't work like you see in the movies. They can take up to 30 minutes to take effect. In the interim, you've just angered a 450 lb. gorilla who can crush that toddler like an empty soda can. Is that really a good plan? If it were your child, would you still advocate for it?

Reality can be hard. Ignore it and sooner or later it comes back at you like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, coldly asserting "I'm not going to be ignored!" If protesters were there to stand in front of the zoo marksmen, stopping them from shooting and the child died, then what? Who would be to blame then?

I applaud the zoo officials for making the right call in this instance. Human beings are more valuable than animals, full stop. If you must choose between one or the other, choose the human. That's what being civilized is.

References

1. Hurt, Sheila. "Cincinnati Zoo: Justice for Harambe." Change.org. Change.org., 29 May 2016. Web. 31 May 2016.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage (podcast)



Homosexual marriage has become more than simply a hot-button issue; Christians are losing their businesses and going to jail when they stand against it. Yet, we're the ones labeled as bigots. How can Christians properly present their views to nonbelievers without being viewed as "bigoted"? Learn how to argue that natural marriage is not only biblical, but essential for culture.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Morality Must be More than Increasing Happiness



Moral knowledge is something people take for granted. We understand that someone who inflicts pain and torture for recreational purposes is evil. That's why the rapist is so reviled. It shows morality as something objective, not merely a preference to be held. Moral values and duties must be anchored in God to be meaningful.

Yet, people don't like to admit an objective morality means they themselves may be morally culpable for acts they choose. So they try to escape the consequence of objective morality. Some do this by trying to claim that morality isn't objective but relative. This reduces them to state absurd conclusions like rape may be morally justified. Others try to ground objective morality in something other than God. I think those folks don't really have an appreciation for what true morality entails. Still, they offer ideas such as morality is a byproduct of evolutionary survival benefits.

One of the more popular ways to try and hold to an objective morality while dismissing God comes in the form of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that increasing happiness and diminishing suffering is the measure of what's good. There are many problems with utilitarianism, but one particular problem is its definition is too narrow to identify all questions generally agreed as moral questions as being truly questions about morality. Richard Swinburne makes this point well:
For some, a belief about moral worth is simply a belief about which actions are important to do. But that use would allow the narcissist, who thinks that is important that he promote his own happiness, to have a moral view, and so it would fail to bring out the distinction which most of us make among the considerations by which we judge the worth of actions, and which I argued to have such importance. For others, a belief about moral worth is a belief about the importance of actions in virtue of their universalizable properties of a certain kind—e.g. those concerned with sex or (more widely) those concerned with the promotion of happiness or unhappiness of other people. On the latter account it would be a moral view that men ought to feed the starving; but not a moral view that men ought to worship God, or that artists who can paint great pictures ought to do so even if those pictures will be seen only by themselves. If you use 'moral' in this limited sense, you can say without contradiction 'I think that religion is more important than morality'; but on my preferred use it would be self-contradictory to assert of anything describable in universal terms that it was more important than morality. A man's morality is (with the qualification that it be not centred on self or any other particular individual) what he believes most important. My grounds for preferring my use are that so many men's beliefs about which actions are important to do are supported or opposed both on grounds which concern the happiness and unhappiness of other people and also on other grounds (e.g. whether the action shows due loyalty, pays honour to whom honour is due, involves keeping a promise or telling the truth), that confining the term to the narrower use would obscure the overlap of grounds of the different kinds in leading to beliefs about overall worth.1
Swinburne is arguing for a view of morality that is objective and prescriptive; moral values and duties are real "oughts" to which all of humanity are beholden. If something like telling the truth is valuable in itself, then morality must be larger than simply adding to the happiness of an individual or individuals. If morality is only about increasing happiness, it begs the question of whether honor has any real meaning since one can bestow false honor on another to make him or her happy. But there is something not quite right with honoring a coward alongside a hero after the battle. And the weighing of the rightness or wrongness of an action identifies it as a moral question, one that defining morality as increasing happiness alone cannot solve.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 223-224.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer?



Remember that cliffhanger on Friends where Rachel sees Joey on one knee with a ring in his hand and tells him she would marry him? As fans of the show would know, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. Joey bent down to pick up an engagement ring that had fallen out of Ross's jacket. Even though Joey never actually asked her to marry him, it was because Rachel had it in her mind that she was going to be alone that she reacted so quickly to his posture.

Sitcoms have made a trope out of friends misunderstanding one another. The seventies sitcom Three's Company seemed to drive almost every episode on some kind of farcical misunderstanding. However, in the real world misunderstandings are usually not so funny nor so easily resolved. Yet, we live in an age where in-person conversations have given way to digital exchanges and misunderstanding someone else is easier than ever.

Real conversations between people allow the participants to see each other's body language, facial expressions, and their level of attentiveness. Their voice inflection, cadence, and speed help our understanding of the words they use and what they mean. But all of that is lost in the digital world of texts and social media comments.

How does this affect me and my witness?

Perhaps you've followed me to this point and are currently thinking, "Well, yeah. Everyone has had an experience when our text or comment was received differently than intended. But what's your point?" My point is simple, as Christians who engage with others both in person and on social media, we must be extra diligent to make sure we really understand the other person before we comment in any way.

Unfortunately, I see the opposite over and over again, especially on boards that focus on defending the faith. One particularly grievous pattern that I've observed is people commenting on the title of an article that has been shared or posted without actually bothering to read the article itself. Just like the distracted Rachel who's a bit wrapped up in her own needs, these folks are responding to something that many times hasn't been said. Yet we complain whenever an atheist or news report provides a caricature of a Christian position, many times without ever asking a Christian what it is he or she believes.

This can happen in face to face conversations when you're too busy thinking about what your next "killer comeback" is going to be instead of really listening to the other person. But I've shown that taking a vested interest in the other person and their beliefs can radically change the nature and direction of the conversation. Online, it happens even more frequently, and results in driving people apart more than helping them see the truth of the Gospel.

Did you answer this article's title before you got here?

Even in my own writings, I often title my articles in the form of a question (just as this one is). When I post them on Facebook, I receive several responses. The people don't interact with the article and its ideas, but they simply answer the question in the article's title! Sometimes they even get the topic the question raises wrong. This should never happen.

Christians need to care enough about those with whom we interact to find out what it is they're saying before we rush headlong into our "silver bullet" answer. We cannot allow ourselves to create straw men.  When the issues are important, proper communication and understanding become even more crucial. Don't rely on second hand accounts of what you think an expert said, read the expert yourself. You may be surprised to find a more nuanced view than you were lead to believe. Don't snap to a judgement on a post because the first sentence sounds like a common view. It may or may not be. Ask the author some questions and see if you can understand what is behind the comment. By asking questions, you may even be able to show the inconsistency of the other person's view.

What's the one question no Christian can answer? It the one they never bothered to hear in the first place.

Image courtesy Lourdes S. (Day 14: I Don't Know ANY of This!) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 20, 2016

Here's Why Target's Bathroom Policy Matters So Much



I get weary of the culture wars. It seems never-ending, doesn't it? There is always some new indignity to oppose or non-Christian position to resist. Things get worse when we look at the political support for-profit companies provide. There are so many that take a contrary stand to Christian ideals, if I were to boycott each one, it would be difficult to shop at all. Sometimes, I just want a pair of pants or cellular service or a hamburger. I don't want to have to figure out who's safe and who isn't.

That's why a recent blog post by Jaci Lambert caught my eye. Entitled "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife," Lambert argues Target has supported fairly liberal positions prior to implementing its transgender bathroom policy, the perverts and pedophiles won't care about Target's bathroom policies, it's therefore every parent's job to keep their kids safe in the bathroom, and transgender people are not the dangerous villains that they seem to be cast given these discussions, and such boycotts don't reflect Jesus to the outside world.1

Advocating for an Idea, not Just an Action

I appreciate Jaci's honesty and explanation. I think her points have validity, with the possible exception of the idea that pedophiles and perverts don't care. In the few months since this national conversation on bathrooms started there have already been reported problems of men inhabiting clothing store dressing rooms, in grocery store restrooms, and even in locker rooms where the activist tested Seattle's law by entering where underage girls were disrobing. Certainly it doesn't take much imagination to understand that such laws will embolden more perverts to attempt such entries if there's no threat of prosecution.

But, that's really beside the point. My concern with the blog post is it misses the bigger reason why this particular issue is so important. Yes, Christians will disagree with many stances Target takes. That shouldn't by itself be surprising or critical enough to yell "boycott!" Yes, parents must watch over their kids. Let's face it, many pedophiles are men looking to abuse young boys and holding to a traditional bathroom policy does absolutely nothing to address that danger. My concerns about safety are real, but they aren't the tipping point for me.

The biggest problem with the Target stance is it gives legitimacy to an idea that is both dangerous and abhorrent. That is, it legitimizes the idea that biology doesn't matter and every person's predilections are equally valid. It ignores the scientific data that gender dysphoria is a mental disorder that holds a high suicide rate, even after transitioning, and instead promotes the myth that gender can be whatever each individual wishes to define for him or herself. The policy ignores the discomfort of women who were raped or sexually assaulted that makes up 17.6% of the female population2 to accommodate 0.3% who identify as transgender3. In short, it says it's OK to ignore the truth for political correctness.

Some Ramifications So Far

It becomes easy to see how big the impact of the spread of these ideas is. Target's bathroom policy was announced on April 19, 2016. In less than one month from that announcement, President Obama's Department of Education issued what amounts to a threat to every public school in the country stating that all restrooms should be open to those who identify as whatever gender they please. I'm not saying that one caused the other, but the fact there was no immediate and overwhelming backlash to the Target policy made it easier on the DOE to do their dirty work.

Then there's the message such policies send to the larger culture. Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet believes that because homosexual marriage is now accepted in society, people should treat those who hold traditional views as they would Nazis:
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won…   For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That's mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line ("You lost, live with it") is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn't work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
This is what capitulation leads to. It changes the society and allows those who wish to bankrupt Christian businesses or jail government employees for exercising their right of conscience. Ultimately, it denies the intrinsic worth of the human body, upon which human dignity itself is based.

As I said, I'm not a big boycott guy, but ideas have consequences. When the ideas a corporation are promoting undermine the core of human dignity itself, I think those are values worth fighting for.

References

1. Lambert, Jaci. "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife." Ministry in the Mommyhood. Jaci Lambert, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 May 2016. http://www.ministryinthemommyhood.com/target-bathrooms-and-the-straight-conservative-preachers-wife/ .
2. Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. "Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey." PsycEXTRA Dataset. U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 2006. Web. 20 May 2016.
3. Gates, Gary J. "How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?" Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2011. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Can We be Equal without Christianity?



Throughout the history of civilization, people have sought to understand themselves by seeking to understand their place in society. When that society was patriarchal, the most respect was given to the forefathers, especially the eldest and most direct ancestor. When societies grew into city-states, one found his place in the service to that polis. Plato divided the classes into the guardians, the warriors, and the commoners, each serving the state in a specific capacity.

This kind of understanding extended beyond Greece. Rome granted citizenship was highly valued because it gave the citizen an elevated place in the society with greater rights.1 We see cultures, such as those of Saudi Arabia or oriental nations who still adopt a hierarchical view of the individual. But the West is different. Here, we value all people as equal. In the United States, our nation was founded on the principle. What caused the nations that sprang from the Roman Empire to so drastically alter their understanding of the worth of the individual?

Changing the Measure of Worth

In his excellent book Inventing the Individual, Larry Siedentop answers that question by pointing to the rise of Christianity. Siedentop details how the teachings of Jesus and Paul caused a "moral revolution" in thought, moving the value of the individual from hierarchical to equal. Individual freedom becomes elevated. He explains:
Previously in antiquity, it was the patriarchal family that had been the agency of immortality. Now, through the story of Jesus, individual moral agency was raised up as providing a unique window into the nature of things, into the experience of grace rather than necessity, a glimpse of something transcending death. The individual replaced the family as the focus of immortality.2
Because the individual now holds the ability tom become immortal, one's understanding of morality is changed as well. Instead of Plato's justice being determined by how one is helpful to the Polis, morality becomes more about an individual's actions to other individuals. Siedentop argues that "the premise of moral equality requires a human will that is in a sense pre-social,"3 meaning independent of one's position within the societal structures. The only way people can do that is through faith in Christ. He continues, "Faith in the Christ requires seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, the point of view which truly moralizes humans as agents." 4

How Christianity Impacts More than Civic Status

Once the basis for moral equality is established through Christ, Siedentop then shows just how powerful those ideas become. For example, he points to Tertullian to show the radical new way of thinking Christianity offers the world:
If God created humans as equals, as rational agents with free will, then there ought to be an area within which they are free to choose responsible a free choices. Identifying such an area was at first meant to be self-defence by Christians. But soon it was also much more than that. Tertullian saw clear implications of Christian moral beliefs. "Here lies the perfection and distinctiveness of Christian goodness," he argued. "Ordinary goodness is different; for all men love their friends, but only Christians love their enemies."5
This is how true goodness comes from Christianity alone. The moral equality of all people rests in the Christian understanding of redemption. Realize, I don't know whether Siedentop is a Christian or not. His book is written from his position as a scholar of political history, serving at Oxford among other institutions. His book does not push Christian beliefs, but simply describes the paradigm shift Christianity brought upon the world. Without Christianity, moral equality cannot find its footing. Without Christianity, the value of the individual fades into how one services the state.

References

1. "civitas". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 17 May. 2016
http://www.britannica.com/topic/civitas.
2. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism. Penguin Books, 2014. Print. 58.
3. Siedentop, 2014. 64.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 65.
5. Siedentop, 2014.76.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bloodletting and the Modern Trans Movement



As I engage with atheists and skeptics, I hear so many of them state that religious beliefs are nothing more than outdated beliefs of a bygone era. They claim that as people of science in the 21st century we are so much more enlightened and rational than those of other eras. Level-headed people of the modern world who place their trust in science are not nearly as gullible as people in the past, they claim. Then they turn around and argue that gender has nothing to do with biology and a person's perceived identity is all that's required to change a male into a female.

I think this reminds me a lot of a sketch I saw in the early days of Saturday Night Live entitled "Theodoric of York; Medieval Barber." Host Steve Martin takes on the role of Theodoric and makes great fun of the idea that certain illnesses were treated by bloodletting. Part of the humor stems from Theodoric's modern-day rhetoric, whereby he ascribes knowledge and insight into his treatment:
You know, medicine is not an exact science but we're learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, we would've thought your daughter's illness was brought on by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabel is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors perhaps caused by a toad or small dwarf living in her stomach.1
Certainly, Martin is using great exaggeration to make a joke. Yet it is true that bloodletting was practiced widely for many centuries, ever since prominent Roman physician Galen of Pergamum described the theory that there were four primary liquids or "humours " affecting the body: phlegm, blood, black bile, and yellow bile.2 Galen had through both observation and inference come to the conclusion that when a person is sick, their humours are "out of balance" as Michael Boylan explains:
When imbalance occurred, then the physician might intervene by making a correction to bring the body back into balance. For example, if the individual were too full of phlegm (making her phlegmatic or lethargic), then the phlegm must be countered. Citrus fruit was thought to be a counter-acting agent. Thus, if one feels lethargic, increasing one's citrus intake will re-create balance. The treatment is, in fact, generally effective.3

Biased Assertions Lead to Bad Diagnoses

Of course today we see such an inference as silly and worthy of ridicule in an SNL sketch. Galen had an incorrect assumption of what blood was and how the body used it.4 It was his errant assumptions that are at the root of those crazy treatment methods. To be certain, bloodletting sometimes worked, but they probably caused far more harm than good overall.

Today's rush by the left –including the intelligentsia—to validate anyone who even hints at gender dysphoria should be disconcerting to any rational populous. I've pointed out before how we have fifty years of data under our collective medical belts on gender reassignment surgery and we know that the suicide rate for those suffering from gender dysphoria is as high after sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) as it is prior to transitioning. Dr. Paul McHugh, who helped pioneer the procedure at Johns Hopkins University has written extensively on the failure of SRS as an effective treatment and explained that Johns Hopkins stopped doing the procedure as a result.5

Now, the powerful agencies like the Obama Administration have gone even farther off the deep end and demanded that anyone who simply claims to be a different gender should be allowed to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their stated sex. The demand comes with no accountability and no requirement of proof that the claimant actually does wish to consistently live and be seen as whatever their stated gender preference is.6


Fluid Gendered Identity is the Bloodletting of Today

Just claiming it makes it so? Surely, this cannot be! Certainly, we are in a more rational time than that of the medieval barber. Certainly we don't approach a treatment based only on whatever our initial biases are, do we? It seems we do.

The biases that those who are pushing these laws in direct disregard for the safety and wellbeing of millions of women and young girls in our nation are sheer willed to have their version of life playout, regardless of the facts. We are not any more rational than people of other eras. Every culture can fall victim to what we want to be true and ignore those inconvenient facts when they get in the way of those desires.

I wonder if in a century or two we will look back on the insanity of the gender identity movement today and shake our heads with the same incredulousness that we do concerning the practice of bloodletting. If not, there will be untold thousands who are seriously harmed by such medical quackery guised as treatment.


References

1. Martin, Steve. "Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber." Saturday Night Live. Prod. Loren Michaels. NBC. New Yrok, NY, 22 Apr. 1978. NBC. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/theodoric-of-york/n8661.
2. Boylan, Michael. "Galen (130—200 C.E.)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/galen/.
3. Boylan, Michael. "Hippocrates (c. 450—c. 380 B.C.E.)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/hippocra/#SH1a.
4. "Galen." Medical Discoveries. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.discoveriesinmedicine.com/General-Information-and-Biographies/Galen.html.
5. McHugh, Paul. "Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution." Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 12 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-mchugh-transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-1402615120.
6. Davis, Julie Hirschfield, and Matt Apuzzo. "U.S. Directs Public Schools to Allow Transgender Access to Restrooms." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 May 2016. Web. 16 May 2016. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/us/politics/obama-administration-to-issue-decree-on-transgender-access-to-school-restrooms.html.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Does "The Father is Greater than I" Undercut the Trinity?



One of the benefits of moving to a new home is my new address isn't "marked" by Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons and I get to engage with those who would knock on my front door. Today, I received my first call from two ladies representing the Jehovah's Witnesses. They began by asking if I believed people could live forever on earth. I replied that in a sense I did believe that, but I followed it up with one of my own, asking just who those are that qualify for such a blessing. The older lady responded by reading John 17:3, which is a standard verse the Witnesses use: "This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (NWT).

The verse led us to the nature of who Jesus is. If one is to know Jesus, then one must properly understand how the Bible portrays Him. It is very clear that over and over again, the Bible equates the person of Jesus of Nazareth with Jehovah God. One can clearly see this in how Jesus forgives sins in Mark 2:10, how the Father commands even the angels to worship him in Hebrews 1:6, and how he even ascribes the very names of God to himself in Revelation 22:13 – basically an outline of the HANDS argument. I also had them read John 1:3, and explained how Jesus cannot be a created being, but must be the eternal God.

The ladies directly asked if I believed in the Trinity, and one explained how she simply could not. She said passages like John 14:28 where Jesus states "The Father is greater than I"(ESV) show that Jesus could not be God. Other passages seem to reinforce this idea. 1 Corinthians 11:3 declares, "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (ESV). These verses show Jesus's subordination to the Father.

My Witness friend offered this analogy:
You have a father, right? You may see your father as a really great man. Imagine if he is a really great man. You would listen to your father. You wouldn't consider yourself to be your father. You would follow your father's rules and would recognize his authority over you.
I agreed that such a picture of authority properly reflects the passages. But I said that isn't the whole story:
Let's continue with your analogy. Imagine all is as you said and a thief broke into our house one evening to rob us. While inside, either my father or myself woke up and went to investigate. The thief shot and killed the investigator but was later apprehended. Now, let me ask you a question. Is the crime more severe if the man the thief shoots is my father and not me? Wouldn't the homicide be equally wrong no matter if it was my father or myself who was murdered? I think we can agree it would be. That's because the authority one recognizes is different than the inherent worth of the person. While I may choose to place myself under my father's authority, it doesn't make his humanity more human than mine. A general and a private are both equally valuable human beings, the only difference is one where a person chooses to recognize the authority of another.
The ladies agreed that this was reasonable. I continued:
The Bible tells us that Jesus who was in the form of God did not see equality with God a thing to be grasped, but placed himself in submission to the Father (Phil. 2:6-8). So, passages where Jesus says the Father is greater are simply reflecting his submission to the Father's authority, not to some difference in their essence.
Their first reply was "So, you believe in the Trinity," which I saw immediately closed them off to exploring the topic further. In their minds, the word Trinity was forbidden and they began immediately writing off whatever else I said on the topic, ultimately dismissing themselves. This was a shame, as they agreed with all I said up to that point.

I pray that our conversation will give these ladies more to think about. But they shouldn't have to think that because Jesus submits to the authority of the Father means Jesus is not fully God as well as fully man. His essence is divine, as it has been from all eternity. His relation to the Father is as the Son, which means he submits himself to the Father. The two concepts are different.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Demanding Evidence for God While Denying Evidence for God



"Not enough evidence!" That's the claim I hear over and over when asking atheists why they don't believe in God. Even when famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if he were to come face to face with God after his death, Russell famously replied, "I probably would ask, 'Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?"1

The demand for evidence can seem like reasonable request, but it can also serve as a smokescreen for those who are unwilling to believe. For example, developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert stated he rejected God fairly early in his life because he could find no evidence for God at all. In a radio show where he debated intelligent design with William Dembski, Wolpert said over and over again there is nothing he could see by studying the molecular machinery required for living cells to function that could serve as evidence for any kind of intelligence. Dembski asked "Is there nothing that biological systems can exhibit that would point you to a designer?" Wolpert emphatically replied, "Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing." 2 This corresponded with his previous statement that "What we know about biology can all be explained in terms of the behaviors of cells."3

Intelligent Messages Hidden in DNA

Is Wolpert's claim true? Is anything one finds in the cell able to be explained by cellular behavior? Earlier in their conversation Dembski alluded to the work of cellular biologist J. Craig Venter. Venter and his team made the headlines at that same time by assembling the DNA for a replicating synthetic bacteria (M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0) one base pair at a time using computers. Singularity University reported, "To verify that they had synthesized a new organism and not assembled the DNA from another natural bacteria, scientists encoded a series of 'watermarks' into the genes" of Venter's bacterial DNA. He coded his own name, a URL address, and other messages.4

Let's now imagine a scenario where in 50 or 100 years, people are catching a strange new disease. Scientists have narrowed the illness to a foreign bacteria that doesn't behave like anything they've ever seen before. Wolpert's students isolate the bacteria in the lab and map its DNA structure to try and find a way to figure out where it came from. There, they find Venter's name encoded in the nucleotide, but because they have adopted Wolpert's standard that nothing inside the cell can count as evidence, they cannot assume there was an initial intelligence behind the origin of this bacteria. Venter's work cannot be counted as evidence because it appears inside the cell, and appealing to an intelligence as the origin of this new bacterial strain is supposedly the science-stopper.

Wolpert's dogmatic stance shows his incredible bias and demonstrates why complaints like his demand for evidence are structured to never succeed. It's a shell game. If the complexity of something like a researcher's name or a URL is sufficient enough to show intelligence behind the genome, then why wouldn't other complex, specific coding sequences also serve as evidence for a designer? Certainly other factors must be considered. However, Wolpert rules out the possibility of finding evidence for design at all within biological systems. To me, that sounds to be the much more unreasonable position to take.

References

1. Rosten, Leo. "Bertrand Russell and God: A Memoir." The Saturday Review. Feb 23, 1974. 25.
2. Brierley, Justiin, William Dembski, and Lewis Wolpert. "2 Jan 2010 - Intelligent Design - William Dembski Debates Lewis Wolpert: Saturday 02 January 2010." Unbelievable? Premier Christian Radio, 2 Jan. 2010. Web. 09 May 2016. At about the 19:30 minute mark. http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/2-Jan-2010-Intelligent-Design-William-Dembski-debates-Lewis-Wolpert.
3. Brierley, Justin. 2010.
4. "Secret Messages Coded Into DNA Of Venter Synthetic Bacteria." Singularity HUB. Singularity Education Group, 25 May 2010. Web. 09 May 2016. .

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Finding Christian Hope in This Election Cycle



Today is the National Day of Prayer and I know a lot of Christians who are praying for this country more than ever before. Principled people are faced with two choices for leading our country, each of whom has acted in ways demonstrating a complete lack of moral grounding. As one young evangelical mom told Senator Ben Sasse, "I want to cry. I disagree with Hillary Clinton on almost every single thing – but I will vote for her before Trump. I could never tell my kids later that I voted for that man."1 As I said yesterday, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift where the abandonment of truth and community standards for individual desires is coming home to roost.

Like the lady above, a lot of people I talk with are feeling more and more hopeless. They don't want their daughters sharing a bathroom with a grown man, yet even the courts are demanding we ignore the reality of biology over something that is not yet defined or testable. They worry about their kids and the kind of world they will inherit. For people of faith, it will definitely get harder. What's a Christian to do?

There is hope to be found in the events we see today. It's a very specific kind of hope, one that comes about as the result of hard times. Paul explained to the Romans how hope is developed in the Christian:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is the hope of the New Testament. It isn't a hope of changing circumstances. Because of our great blessings, we've mixed up the hope spoken of by the apostles with hoping that easy times are ahead. But that isn't the way the Bible uses the word.The Bible teaches that this world is corrupt and needs to be judged. It isn't a hope in a political figure who will move things in a particular direction. We know that no one is good but God alone. The hope we have is that even as the world gets darker and our struggles more difficult, God will use those to develop our reliance upon him alone.

As the world gets darker, I do have more hope. I can see how the lines are being more clearly drawn than before. I can see how it may soon cost every Christian something to claim the name of Christ. That won't be easy and I don't wish pain upon anyone, but it will make people take their beliefs more seriously than it has in the past.

The hope we have is a hope that God will at one point put everything right again. In the meantime, I cling to the fact that God will be working in me to produce the endurance and good character he desires me to have. I trust in him and my hope drives my ministry. Not simply hope for a future event but faith in his providence leading each of us today and every day, even when it looks crazy out there.

So rejoice today, Christian. If God is real then there is hope to be found.

References

1. Sasse, Ben. "An Open Letter to Majority America." Ben Sasse Facebook Page. Facebook, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 May 2016. https://www.facebook.com/sassefornebraska/posts/593031420862025

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Another Sign It's the End of the World as We Know It, Christian



You've just heard the news. That announcement about the thing that you would never imagine would have happened but did. That decision from the judge or the store or the selection of that candidate. The nation is seemingly crumbling before your eyes. How should the church respond?

It is now cliché to note the world is changing. That's a testament to just how quickly and how radically the world is changing. No matter with which group you may identify, the shifts that have taken place in the last decade are staggering, and for the most part they haven't been for the better.

Yesterday, we dismissed procreation as the nucleus for the institution of marriage. Today, we claim anyone can simply speak his/her/zer sexual identity (or non-identity) into existence. With religious liberty in the sights of activists, who knows how long it will be before people are not simply fined for holding to their religious convictions, but jailed for them. That very well may be our tomorrow.

Christians that I speak with are confused and bewildered. The culture has mutated around them so quickly that they really don't know what to make of things or how to react anymore. I don't pretend to have all the answers. However, I do want to take a moment and point out two observations I see that may serve as guidelines for Christians to take new steps forward.

1. Christian beliefs fall increasingly outside the mainstream

I tread carefully on this first point, but it is one that is important. It is very easy to claim victimhood today in the West. We live in the freest, most prosperous time of human existence where lifespans are longer, waistbands are wider, and gadgets are smarter than ever before. It may even be because things have become so easy for people, they interpret any resistance to their wants as victimization or persecution. That simply isn't true.

That being said, Christian beliefs are not being accepted as they once were. The Barna Group recently reported the number of people who are skeptical about the Bible is equal to the number of those who engage with it regularly.1 As the huge resistance to RFRA laws demonstrate, matters of conscience and faithfulness to one's God have been dismissed as of secondary importance. The grounding on the equality of all men no longer rests in our bearing the image of God, but rather in human beings being able to make choices.2 Further, Barna reports that “nearly half of non-religious adults perceive Christianity to be extremist,”3 and that category is growing.

All this means Christians should not expect any of their moral values or understanding of the human condition to be shared by the larger public. Nor should anyone think that just because people attend the same church as you they therefore share all your values. Most folks don't think about the messaging they receive from pop culture. They don't take the time to think through key issues. People base truth on their feelings today4, which explains the moral vacuum that exists in the most popular 2016 presidential candidates.

2. Churches need to engage minds as well as feelings

In its first few centuries, one of the things that set Christianity apart from the pagan world was its ideas. Christians thought very differently about quite a lot of things. They held women in much higher esteem, they saw the Roman practice of infanticide as deplorable,5 and they shunned loose sexual mores of their day6. That means pagan converts were converted in their moral understanding as much as their belief in God and salvation. Once they held to new convictions, they would then live by them.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today don't hold to Christian convictions. The Barna group reported in 2002 that only 32% of born again adults and 9% of born again teens believed in moral absolutes, a number that has surely dwindled in the last decade and a half.7 This is a failure of discipleship. The Church isn't transforming minds as Romans 12 commands. We've been so steeped in the vernacular of asking Jesus into one's heart that we've forgotten to ask him into our minds as well.8 That's why so many professed Christians can support a candidate who stated he would kill even the family members of those who commit terrorist acts.9  The church needs to return to making fully-formed disciples and that means teaching Christians how to think properly.

Ideas have consequences. The consequences of an overly-individualistic, morally relative, and senate and materialistic culture are showing in the complete collapse of Christian values in our culture. The church doesn't look that different from the secular culture in this regard. But the early church changed their world because they changed people's minds as much as they offered compassion and the love of Jesus. In fact, it was their renewed minds that allowed them to put their beliefs into practice. If the Church doesn't do a better job in discipling minds, I cannot see how it will be able to withstand the resistance it will soon face. 

References

1. "Year-in-Review: Barna's Top 10 Findings from 2014." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/701-year-in-review-barna-s-top-10-findings-from-2014
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/11/losing-human-dignity-through-culture.html
3. "Five Ways Christianity Is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist." Barna Group. Barna Group Inc., 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 May 2016. https://barna.org/research/faith-christianity/research-release/five-ways-christianity-increasingly-viewed-extremist
4. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 11 Feb. 2002. Web. 04 May 2016. https://barna.org/component/content/article/5-barna-update/45-barna-update-sp-657/67-americans-are-most-likely-to-base-truth-on-feelings.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "How Will Children Be Valued If Christianity Is Lost?" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 12 June 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/06/how-will-children-be-valued-if.html.
6. Esposito, Lenny. "Http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/07/how-did-early-christians-influence.html." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 2 July 2015. Web. 4 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/07/how-did-early-christians-influence.html.
7. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." 2002.
8. Esposito, Lenny. "Why Our Culture's Value of Feelings Will Be Its Downfall." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/09/why-our-cultures-value-of-feelings-will.html.
9. LoBianco, Tom. "Donald Trump on Terrorists: 'Take out Their Families'" CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Evil of Scientology (podcast)


You've probably seen the commercials for Dianetics or walked past some folks offering a free personality test. Both are ways to entice you into the Church of Scientology. But the sheen of the commercials hides a deadly secret that we must warn our friends and family against. Join us as we expose the darkness of Scientology.

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