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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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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why God Doesn't Create a World with Less Suffering



Probably one of the most difficult objections a Christian faces to his or her faith is how an all-powerful, all loving God can allow so much suffering in the world. I've talked at length about the Free Will Defense (see the short video here), which is the most common response to the problem of evil.

This means in order for human beings to be free, we must be free to do what is wrong as well as what is right. As I've explained, God cannot do what is logically impossible. That means he cannot make a square circle or a light-filled darkness. To have the ability to freely love God and obey him, an individual must also have the ability to reject God and disobey his laws. If I grant my son the freedom to drive my car while I lock him in his room to prevent him from crashing it, I've certainly not given him freedom. That means if God wants to create free creatures, they simply must be able to do evil acts as well as good ones.

Alvin Plantinga argues in a similar way, arguing if God wanted to create creatures that are significantly free, he must give them the ability to do things that are morally evil. Thus, Planting concludes "The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness."1

Why Can't an All Powerful God Make People Only Hurt Themselves?

While the Free Will Defense has convinced philosophers that there is no logical contradiction between an all loving, all powerful God and the fact that evil exists in the world, many atheists still object to what they perceive as too much evil or the wrong kinds of evil in the world today. Of course, explaining just how that would play out is a much more daunting task, one the atheist is usually incapable of so doing.

Richard Norman feels that God should have created a world where people are still free, yet if they do evil things, they will only inflict suffering upon themselves.2 In the abstract, this sounds reasonable, but it really isn't. It strikes me that in order for God to create a world where evil acts hurt only the perpetrator, one of three scenarios must exist. The first is that the perpetrator lives in a world where his or her actions have no significant consequence to any other being. Think of a person taking a sword and slicing another in two but when he does so the sword passes through the other person's body like an apparition. We have a good model for this kind of world in the video game area; you may lose your lives and lose the game, but you harm no one else.

But we know that any virtual world isn't as valuable as the real world. We are appalled by those who would shun actual relationships so as to only seek sexual gratification only through virtual reality apparatus. It is because video games don't provide real world consequences for one's actions that we understand them as an occasional pastime activity and not what should be driving and informing our humanity.

The second scenario is to reduce the choices people can make to those that are non-meaningful, save self-destruction. In this case, a person would have no choices available to him or her regarding others. We could not choose who we love, if we love, if we walk, if we work. Everything would be run off a program. The only choice we would have is a "harm thyself" button on our chests. That one we can push, knowing that if one did decide to blow himself up, the machine-maker would immediately replace him with another so no other cog in the wheel would fail. This obviously denies the significant portion of creating a significantly free being, which doesn't make it much of a choice.

We Need Suffering to Be Human

The last option available in order for no one to harm another is a world that I think God could actually construct. That is simply to create a world where every single human being is isolated from one another. If one has no relationship with others, it becomes impossible for any emotional attachments to develop and for one's actions to produce any suffering upon another. In such a world, we would perceive ourselves to be alone. God would basically be creating billions of worlds of single individuals. But again, this robs humanity of one of its distinguishing features—the ability to develop meaningful relationships, empathy, and love for one another.

The fact that people suffer in this world is difficult to understand. However, the fact that it bothers us is hugely valuable. Empathy is part of what makes us human and it is part of what it means to be made in God's image. To be human means to understand that suffering is a bad thing, which requires us to be relational beings who can make free choices. Take away our freedom to choose to do evil and you are left with beings who are less than human.

References

1. Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977. Print. 30.
2. Dr. Norman explained his position on the Unbelievable? radio program "Why does God allow Evil? Clay Jones vs Richard Norman." 21 June, 2014. https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Why-does-God-allow-Evil-Clay-Jones-vs-Richard-Norman
Image courtesy Tripwire Interactive - , CC BY 3.0

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCOTUS Ignoring the Constitution



It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions have been released. One of the biggest decisions getting press is the finding in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, where the Court overturned a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Because this is the first Supreme Court ruling on an abortion case in nearly 20 years, it has gotten a lot of press. However, the bigger story is the decision the Court made to not hear a case.

Today, the Court's majority denied a hearing for the owners of a Washington State pharmacy who are resisting being compelled by state law to sell abortifacient drugs at their business. This is a terrifying decision, and not simply because it involves abortion. The case hung on the fact that compelling someone to engage in commerce against their convictions and religious beliefs is unconstitutional. That's what free exercise of religion means. That's why the Pilgrims left for America and it's why religious freedom was demanded as the first of the amendments guaranteed in the Constitution. To simply ignore that now is to gut the very freedom upon which our country is built.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating, I offer this quote from James Madison on the need for religious liberty separate from any state compulsion:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves (emphasis added).1
What makes Madison's arguments even more interesting is in this instance he was arguing against compulsion from the state to subsidize a particular form of Christianity, but he anchored his arguments in the understanding that personal conviction takes precedence over the state's desire. It is the guarantee that the people have the right of conscience to live out their beliefs to the Governor of the Universe first that is inalienable. In denying the hearing, the Court 's majority is denying that any such right exists.

Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito understood the problem rejecting the case poses for religious liberty. In their dissenting opinion, they call this “an ominous sign” and conclude “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” 2

I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned that judicial reinterpretation is erasing the very rights upon which this country was built and why it should exist. Madison thought it was a big deal, maybe our judiciary should, too.

References

1. Madison, James. "Amendment I (Religion): James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." The Founder's Constitution. The University of Chicago, 1987. Web. 28 June 2016. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html
2. Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman. Supreme Court of the United States. 28 June 2016. Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-862_2c8f.pdf.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are Christians Too Judgmental? (podcast)



The most well-known verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, but Matthew 7:1—"Judge not lest ye be judged." People quote it all the time when a Christian seeks to take a stand for biblical values. But what does it mean? Should Christians "force" their beliefs on others and is it right to take stand against an immoral practice by trying to pass laws affecting all citizens?In this four-part podcast, Lenny examines these charges, showing what Jesus actually meant and why Christians must identify sin to be loving.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How Can You Love God Fully If You Can't Show Jesus' Divinity?



Before the advent of instant communication, separated sweethearts would communicate via handwritten letters. Receiving a note from one's beloved from across the ocean was a source of great joy and comfort and the recipient would pour over the letters, treasuring them and reading them multiple times. Many times the couple actually became more familiar with each other as their thoughts and feelings were transferred to the written word. One could see how his or her beloved thought and which matters they deemed important by their continual exchange.

The New Testament offers the Christian a similar experience as we await the return of our bridegroom, Jesus. Even though we are temporarily separated from him, we are not left without a way to draw closer to him and to know him more intimately.

In their book, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Rob Bowman and Ed Komoszewski have given us a wonderful resource for not simply arguing for Jesus's deity with non-Trinitarians, but a way to more deeply experience who Jesus is:
It's easy to be tempted to focus our efforts on making Jesus "relevant" to today's cosmopolitan, postmodern tastes. Non-Christians are becoming increasingly guarded—if not hostile—toward traditional Christian beliefs. By emphasizing Jesus' humanity, some Christians are, indeed, bending over backward to make Christianity-and Christ himself-more "approachable" They may not deny the deity of Jesus, but in practical terms his humanity overwhelms his deity. In the end, though, a lack of appreciation of Jesus' identity as God makes him less approachable. As New Testament scholar Grant Osborne warns, some of us have lost the holy reverence and awe that we should have toward Jesus:
Christians are guilty of the syndrome "Your Jesus is too small." We have made Jesus our "big brother" and "friend" to such an extent that we have lost the sense that he is also our sovereign Lord. We must recapture capture the realization that he too is our God and worthy of worship at the deepest level."
If we are to experience a healthy relationship with God, we need to be intimately acquainted with the biblical teaching about the divine identity of Jesus. This involves more than merely knowing about, and agreeing with, the doctrine of the deity of Christ, though that is certainly essential. It must become come more to us than a line we say in a creed. We need to know what it means to say that Jesus is God and why it matters. We need to see Jesus as God. We need to think about Jesus and relate to him in the full light of the truth of his identity. We need to appreciate the significance of his divine identity for our relationships with God and others. 1
I've written before on Putting Jesus in His Place and the HANDS argument therein. This is an important book that you should pick up if you don't yet own it.

References

1. Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Kindle Locations 135-149). Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is Rejecting God a Sign of Rationality or Resentment?



It is natural to believe in God. The vast majority of people throughout most of history and across all cultures have had some kind of belief in the divine. Yet, atheism and agnosticism seem to be on the rise, especially in Western culture. What motivations are causing more and more people to dismiss God as a real option? Is it really a mark of rationality to dismiss the idea of God?

Many atheists I speak with will say that they've come to the conclusion there is no God simply from rational reflection. This is a possibility, but it begs the question as to why throughout the annals of history where we have the writings of so many highly rational people, there haven't been more atheists. It also doesn't explain all the rational people today who do believe in God. Finally, it sounds a bit pretentious to say that one can turn off one's experiences, feelings, and biases and use reason alone to come to such a profound conclusion.

In his book Faith of the Fatherless, Paul C. Vitz claims that people reject God for willful reasons as much as rational ones. Vitz sees their unbelief rooted in part or in whole on their will and attitudes of who God is and how they perceive him. He explains:
Some people reject God and religion because of the awful things that have sometimes been done in the name of God or religion. This unbelief has a basis in reality and can be quite rational. Believers have debated these criticisms, but these criticisms certainly cannot be rejected out of hand. Others reject God and religion because of experiences with pain and suffering or because all they know are very simple-minded teachings about Scripture. Such responses for the unbeliever in question are not irrational, but from the perspective of a serious believer such responses are unjustified by a deeper understanding of the issues.

But, sometimes the various arguments about bad religion disguise or cover up a deeper reason for rejecting God and religion. Some people have an intense hatred and fear of the Good, of the True, and of the Beautiful. All of these are attributed to God and are rather often found in holy, religious people. But why would anyone have such motives? How can this be? Such individuals resent goodness because by comparison they know they are not good, perhaps even quite bad; they resent truth because they prefer lies over the restrictions that follow accepting truth. Many even prefer their own ugliness to others who present or create beauty. They take pleasure in destroying or deconstructing what is good or beautiful or true out of envy and personal resentment.

Finally, there is a most important personal factor, which is perhaps best described as free will. After all, the individual, whatever the cultural and personal pressures favoring or opposing atheism, must ultimately decide which way to go. At any given moment, or at least at many times, every person can choose to move toward, away from, or against God.1
In my experience, factors of resentment and will powerfully motivate a lot of atheists in their unbelief. It explains so many visceral reactions I've encountered with unbelievers who don't simply disbelieve in a divinity, but seem to actually hate the Christian God.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is an atheist, succinctly summarizes the problem in discussing his own non-belief. After drawing distinctions about rejecting religious beliefs and institutions, Nagel confesses it isn't these things that alarm him about atheism:
I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.2
Nagel himself admits it isn't only rationality that undergirds his  atheism. He is honest enough to say he has some emotional motivation as well. He doesn't want there to be a God to whom he is answerable.

To be sure, Christians can believe in God for opposite but reflective motivations. It may not be rationally based reasons why they came to faith but a desire to satisfy an emotional relationship. The rational justification of belief may come afterward. But labeling non-believers as "free thinkers," "brights," or "rationalists" is disingenuous as it is clear non-belief can easily have its origins in emotion and bias.

References

1. Vitz, Paul C. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Dallas: Spence Pub., 1999. Kindle. (Kindle Locations 2351-2358).
2 Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print. 130.
Image courtesy Bradley Gordon and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Christian Response to the Tragedy in Orlando (video)



The recent slaughter at the gay nightclub in Orlando Florida has sparked a variety of reactions. The gunman was Muslim, even claiming to act in solidarity with ISIS and the victims were gay. But, some blame the motivation for the murderous rampage on the anti-homosexual stance taken by Christians.

It is true that Christians have been at odds with those who lobby for things like same sex marriage. Activists have sued Christian bakers, florists, photographers, innkeepers, and others forcing them to lose their livelihoods. So, how should Christians respond in this instance? The answer is that Christians should love the LGBT so much they are willing to lay down their lives.

In this short video, Lenny looks to the instructions Paul lays out in Romans 12:9-21 and says Christians should show love. We should be self-sacrificial, even when those who would persecute you are being threatened. See why Christians should be willing to step in front of a bullet meant for another, no matter what their political stance is.


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Why Eternal Punishment is not Nonsensical



Many people wrestle with the question of how an all-good and loving God could ever send someone to Hell. Some have claimed the two concepts don't make sense together; if God is good and loving, why of course he wouldn't send people to Hell for eternity. However, I have written before that to be separated from God means to be separated from his goodness and all that entails. Thus, the only thing left for a person where God's good gifts of peace, contentment, and rest are missing is torment.

For others, they may accept that God's justice would warrant him to allow a certain amount of suffering for those who rejected him. (For example, if one asks about what the fate for a cruel dictator or one who sells children into sexual slavery should be, most would understand simple annihilation as unfair. These people caused an undue amount of suffering and they shouldn't get off so easily by simply ceasing to be!) But why must such suffering be eternal? Isn't God unfair if the crime is finite but the punishment is infinite? Does the idea of an all-loving God and eternal punishment even make sense?

What Kind of Beings are Humans, Anyway?

To better understand God and his relationship with humanity, I think it's important to look at human beings the way God created them. In Genesis 1:27, the Bible states "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (ESV). The repetitive emphasis of being created in God's image (it is mentioned three times in verses 26 and 27) is meant to emphasize just how important this image bearing is.

As image-bearers, humans are endowed with the ability to weigh moral values and duties against our own actions. We are rational beings, capable of making meaningful choices. We can relate to the person of God, even though he is immaterial. These are all aspects that separate man from the other creatures of creation. If God were to change a person into someone who no longer was able to make meaningful choices, we would see that as demeaning the humanity of that individual. We lament those who fall victim to head injuries and are no longer able to function autonomously. We take pity on them because they cannot exercise their full humanity.

Secondly, God created humans to be immortal beings. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 draws attention to the fact that when God breathed his spirit into Adam (Gen. 2:7), that Adam became a living being. God's desire for humanity was and still is for us to fellowship with him for all eternity. Thus, another aspect of being human is that humans will endure eternally. And because we were made as embodied souls, our eternal state will also be as embodied souls. That's why there is a resurrection of the dead for both believers and unbelievers at the final judgment.

God Won't Make Humans into Non-Humans

In understanding that human beings are a very unique creation of God endowed with particular attributes, two of which are the ability to make meaningful choices and an ongoing immortality in some kind of state. That's how God created Adam and Eve. Sin introduced a corruption to humanity, but I argue that it didn't make humans into non-humans. It may have distorted the image of God in human beings, but it never cancelled it.

One point I must make is on the concept of death itself. Death in the Bible is used to talk about separation, not annihilation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body (Gen. 35:18, Ecc. 12:7) and spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God's spirit. That's why God told Adam that the very day he sinned he would die (Gen. 2:17). It is our separation from God that is labeled death. Paul consistently uses this kind of terminology, stating the Ephesians were dead in their trespasses and sins but still walking according to the world's standards.

So, humans by definition bear the imago Dei, the image of God. That is the differentiation between them and every other creature we see. Humans are therefore morally aware beings that can recognize sin and can make meaningful choices. Give this, how would an all-good God still be all good if he takes away the immortality aspect of the imago Dei? Does it make sense to say God is all good if he changes those who choose to reject him into something less than human? Or how could God remove the ability to make real choices from those who reject him? Does that sound like mercy or a replay of the lobotomy scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Humans are created to be immortal, thus their choices will have a very real effect on their immortal existence. Humans are beings that hold the ability to make meaningful choices. That means even after physical death, they can choose to continue in a state of sin and rebellion against God. Thus ongoing torment is a reflection of ongoing sin in the hearts of the rebellious. To me, this doesn't seem cruel or nonsensical at all, but the tragic result of free creatures who have been given the ability to make decisions for themselves.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Change our Message on Sex (video series)



We live in a sex-saturated culture, one which warps our and our children's understanding. Yet, the church hasn't done a very good job in expressing exactly what the Christian position on sex really is. We hear that sex is bad... unless it is confined to marriage. But that sends a confusing message to our kids. Instead, Christians should understand sex as a reflection of worship.

In this three part series, Lenny explains some of the subtle and not so subtle ways we've come to think about sex and why the standard Christian message of sex as "good when married, but bad any other time" is flawed. He then shows how the most consistent parallel the Bible draw to sex is not something that's dirty, but something that's holy. Finally, Lenny explores how changing our focus of sex from fun to holy changes the dynamic in relationships for husbands, for wives and elevates the calling for those who remain single.

Check out this provocative idea in the videos below:

Part 1 - Sending the Wrong Message



Part 2 - Sex as a Reflection of Worship



Part 3 - How Re-Messaging Sex Changes Relationships


Monday, June 06, 2016

For the Naturalist, Why Die for an Idea?



I'm writing this blog post on June 6, which is 72 years to the day that the Allied forces, led by the United States, invaded the beaches of Normandy, France. By all accounts, the Allied invasion proved to be the decisive turning point in the war, giving the Allies the upper hand. It also proved to be one of the costliest in terms of casualties with 2,500 Americans dying in the initial invasion, and most of those at Omaha beach. The British and Canadian troops saw about 1900 fatalities.1

It was no surprise that the invasion of a German stronghold would inflict heavy casualties. That's one reason why the invasion force was so large; the Allies knew they would lose a lot of men. But, why would those men—most of whom were less than 20 years old and had their entire lives ahead of them—assent to participate in something with such a high chance of death? How does this benefit them? Wouldn't being alive be better, even if it was alive with a dishonorable discharge or perhaps spending a few years in a military prison?

Freedom is the most common response given for the sacrifice made by these brave men. Both the veterans who survived the invasion and those who remember their deeds say they sacrificed their lives to allow others to live freely. Denis van den Brink, communications officer of the city of Carentan, France, a city that was an immediate beneficiary of the Allied efforts, put it well:
The allied army, more specifically, the American Army, they came to liberate, not to conquer. That's what it says in the Coleville cemetery, where 10,000 Americans are resting forever. That says it all, for the very first time in the history of mankind, they came to fight, die, win, victory, and then go home. That's the one and only example in the history of mankind and we had all these foreign Soldiers coming and dying and to fight for our land and then to free our land and then instead of staying they just went away. 2

How Does a Naturalist View of Life Make Sense of This?

The heroism of the soldiers at Normandy is beyond doubt. It is recognized by the theist and the atheist alike and I don't doubt the sincerity of either. However, how does a worldview such as naturalism make sense of fighting and dying for someone else for the sake of an idea? How does upholding the value of liberty, especially for a people you don't even know, become more valuable than life itself on a purely evolutionary paradigm? Why would freedom be so important?

I've heard some atheists try to explain away this difficulty by saying it is simply the law of reciprocity in action. You wouldn't want to be enslaved, so you act as you would have others act if you were the subjugated. I've shown why this claim fails before. If we evolved a sense of reciprocity, it may not benefit our survivability but it may in fact increase the number of individuals who die because they place themselves in life-threatening situations just because they see another person in a life-threatening situation. It would be very easy to see how such an instinct would lower then subsequent populations instead of bolstering them. And on a side note, it sure seems like such an instinct is pretty repressed especially when one considers experiments where witnesses do nothing other than watch when a person is being victimized.

Of course, the second question one must ask is by what criteria does one measure whether ideas such as freedom and liberty are truly valuable at all? As I said above, wouldn't survival be better? If the primary driving force for the advancement of human beings is their evolutionary growth, then they must be able to survive and reproduce. That would means survivability would be the highest moral calling, not massive self-sacrifice for an abstract concept like liberty. But we place ideas like freedom, liberty, and self-sacrifice above survival. Why? Who says these should be valued more highly? Where did that idea come from and how does it integrate within a naturalist worldview?

The sacrifices of D-Day can teach us much. It provides a stark contrast between human beings as rational, moral beings, and all other animals, whose highest motivation is only to survive. It shows that humans are different in kind and not simply by degree. And it shows there are values that naturalism cannot explain. I for one thank God for those who provided that sacrifice, and it makes me more confident that there is a God to thank.

References

1. Phipps, John. "Cost of the Battle." D-Day Revisited. D-Day Revisited, 2012. Web. 06 June 2016.
2. Mack, Christa. "72nd D-Day Liberation of Normandy Observed." www.army.mil. United States Army, 6 June 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.

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