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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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Showing posts with label evidence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evidence. Show all posts

Monday, January 08, 2018

Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Interview with Sean McDowell

One of the first popular apologetics books released was Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict in 1972. But much has changed in the forty-five years since that initial publishing. Now, Sean McDowell has partnered with his father to release a completely updated and revised Evidence for the 21st century. In this interview, Lenny and Sean discuss how the new content and contributions from dozens of the latest scholars make this a new staple in apologetics reference books for years to come.
You may download the inteview ansd listen later by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Unhinging the Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence Mantra

As it is Easter season, skeptic Michael Shermer has an article in appearing in Scientific American entitled, "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Shermer writes that as a skeptic, there are propositions he can accept as true, such as the number of pages in a magazine, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the origin of the universe by a big bang. Unsurprisingly however, Shermer can think of nothing that would count as enough evidence for the resurrection for that particular proposition to be considered true. He claims this is due to the "principle of proportionality," something that "demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find." 1

So, Shermer has fallen back to the old canard that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But what does he mean "extraordinary evidence?" The phrase sounds good, but is truly fuzzy when one thinks about it. As I've stated before, evidence is either strong or weak; categories like extraordinary don't really fit here. But it isn't as though we have no evidence. Shermer himself brings up eyewitness testimony, quickly dismissing them as possibly being superstitious or seeing "what they wanted to see." But what evidence has Shermer offered for those motivations? He's offered nothing except the claims "The principle of proportionality also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over less probable ones, which these alternatives surely are."2

Extraordinary claims don't only deal with miracles

One problem with Shermer's use of the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" trope is he is inconsistent in using it himself. Remember I said that Shermer holds to the universe as having a beginning. But ask him who was ultimately responsible for that beginning, and Shermer dismisses the idea of God out of hand. In a previous article, he wrote, "For millennia humans simply said, ‘God did it': a creator existed before the universe and brought it into existence out of nothing. But this just begs the question of what created God—and if God does not need a creator, logic dictates that neither does the universe."3

Here Shermer makes an obvious category error, one that has been brought to his attention several times in debates with Christians. Yet, he persists in believing the universe (or possibly some kind of universe-generating machine) has come into existence from nothing. But isn't this an equally extraordinary claim? If his statement "Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find" is the criteria for an extraordinary claim, then the universe beginning from nothing is surely even more extraordinary. In all of human history, there has never even once been anyone who has observed something coming into existence from nothing at all. Not once. Even quantum fluctuation/quantum foam is not nothing, for it has specific attributes and potentials. None of those 100 billion people Shermer points to will bolster his claim for an uncaused universe. Yet, he isn't skeptical about that proposition. In fact, he prefers it.

If the principle of proportionality were to be applied consistently, Shermer would have to admit that the evidence for a personal cause for the origin of the universe is much more probable than an uncaused universe popping into existence out of nothing. Is Shermer guilty of what he claims about the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Is he only seeing what he wants to see or perhaps superstitious or credulous? I don't think he would admit to any of these. But if Shermer's principle of proportionality fails here, then perhaps it isn't the last word on how to discern the truth for events like the resurrection, either.


1. Shermer, Michael. "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Scientific American. Scientific American, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
2. Shermer, 2017.
3. Shermer, Michael. "Much Ado about Nothing." Michael Shermer. Michael Shermer, May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

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.


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.
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. .

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why Evidence for God Argues for Only One God

Does God exist? There are many different arguments apologists use to make the case for God's existence, such as why the universe exists at all, the fine tuning of the universe, the existence of moral values and duties, the existence of reason, and so on.

Each of these pieces of evidence for God has merit. However, assuming any one of them is a slam-dunk is a bit foolish. The real power in the arguments comes when we look at all of them together. This is known as making a cumulative case for God's existence. Taken together, the arguments form a very strong foundation, making the belief that God exists much more reasonable than its negation.

I've written previously on the strength of a cumulative case for God's existence. However, an interesting objection to the cumulative case argument was voiced by an atheist named Tyler on the podcast of the UK radio show Unbelievable? hosted by Justin Brierley.  Around the 1:09:10 mark, Tyler asked:
What does it mean to make a cumulative case for God? It seems to me the phrase is used to get around one of the oldest debates in recorded history: How many gods are there? I guess you wouldn't have to call them gods; you could just call them supernatural beings. Does the phrase "a cumulative case for God" really eliminate the possibility that the universe was created by one God and the morals by another? Couldn't all of the arguments for God point to a pantheon of supernatural beings that may not ever exist anymore?

Who God is versus arguments for his existence

 Tyler's question is an important one, not only because it shows a misunderstanding of what the cumulative case is, but also a misunderstanding for the arguments referenced therein. Argument for God's existence, like those listed above, are focused on the idea of necessity. For instance, the Kalam cosmological argument argues for why there is something rather than nothing at all. Such an argument is not limited to only the natural world. If supernatural beings exist, one must account for their existence, too. Those beings are either contingent, meaning they rely upon something else for their existence, or they are necessary--they have always existed, that is they are eternal. Christianity holds that God is an always-existing being that anchors all other existences.

To posit only other supernatural entities that may not even exist anymore runs into a host of problems. First, one must ask "Where do such beings come from? Why do they exist?" I imagine one retort would be "They are all eternally existent!" but this won't do the job. If these beings no longer exist now, it proves they are not eternal.

"Fine," one might say, "They continue to exist as well right now." But we still have some problems. First, there cannot be more than one eternal, all-powerful being. Think about this for a moment. If there are even two beings who claim to have all power, the one thing each absolutely couldn't have is power over the other. If they are equal in power, it means their power is limited by the simple fact the other being exists. So they couldn't be all powerful. Two all-powerful beings is a contradiction in terms. And if they are not all powerful, they are in some way contingent for their power is mitigated. One of the two simply doesn't need to exist since the other can do his job for him.

The moral argument plays out the same way. How can one being be creator and another be the foundation of morals? Does this mean the creator-being is obligated to follow the dictates of the morals-establishing being? Along this line of reasoning, one runs smack-dab into the Euthyphro dilemma Plato spelled out. It again makes these beings contingent, reliant upon something or someone outside of themselves.

Why only monotheism is logically coherent

The Christian who offers a cumulative case for God is doing so in part to explain the existence of contingent things. To suppose multiple supernatural beings then forces the question about their existence, given they are contingent themselves. One must either hold to a contradiction or stumble into an infinite regress, wither of which is a reasonable position to take. Only a single necessary being works consistently given all the evidence presented.

One reason understanding the difference between necessity and contingency is so important is it helps the truth seeker save a vast amount of time exploring different religious faith claims. It shows any faith that posits multiple gods as an explanation for the origin of the cosmos is probably incorrect and monotheistic faiths should be investigated first.

Understanding a Cumulative Case

It isn't the phrase "a cumulative case" that eliminates the possibility of multiple supernatural beings; it is the type of case the Christian seeks to explain. Prosecutors offer cumulative cases in court all the time as they mount many, many pieces of evidence against a defendant stating the best explanation that makes sense of all this evidence is the defendant committed the crime. But the type of case we are making for God's existence is one of ultimate origins. What grounds morality as objective? Why is there something rather than nothing? It is in this way cumulative case arguments are powerful. They make the case for why the best explanation for the existence of all things is a single all-powerful, all-good God who is personal, one who chooses to create with intention.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Was Jesus' Tomb Really Empty?

The empty tomb is a huge part of the evidence arguing for the resurrection of Jesus. We know that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, from the very liberal to the very conservative, hold that Jesus's followers believed they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. "It is an indisputable historical datum that sometime, somehow, the disciples came to believe they had seen the risen Jesus,"1 claims New Testament scholar Alexander J. M. Wedderburn, cited by Michael Licona in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

Licona points to other scholars as well and highlights the work of Dr Gary Habermas who "cataloged the opinions of hundreds of scholars writing on the subject of Jesus' resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. His database divides the opinions into more than one hundred categories pertaining to the questions and subquestions related to the resurrection of Jesus. He comments 'As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus' death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord.'" 2

Dismissing Hallucinations and Groupthink

Because it's clear that Jesus' followers had some kind of experience they believed was seeing him after he rose from the dead, one must ascribe some kind of cause for their experience. Skeptics have tried to dismiss these as sincere but mistaken experiences. They've offered some kind of hallucination theory, cases of mistaken identity, a kind of "groupthink" (e.g. "I can see him, can't you see him, too?"), or dismissing these as spiritual visions instead of physical ones.

Any of the above scenarios must have happened rather quickly after the crucifixion. The gospels and Acts place Jesus' appearances no later than forty days after Easter Sunday excluding Paul's Damascus road experience. Thus, Jesus' corpse could have been produced by Jesus' foes to defeat any such claims. Yet, the corpse seems to not be available to them. In fact, it is the Jewish Sanhedrin who were worried about that very issue and asked Pilate if the tomb could be secured, a request that was granted. Even then, though, they could not counter the resurrection charge. Their claim was "the disciples came and stole the body."

There is only one reason why that story persisted and Jesus' disciples became more confident instead of less so: there was no body in the tomb. As historian Michael Grant states:
Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition [of the angelic messenger in Mark] as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.3
Grant concludes that there must have been someone who had taken the body, though he doesn't know who. Still, Grant is right to say if the criteria one employ's for ancient history is leveraged, then we are left with the real historical fact that the tomb was indeed empty.

Adding the empty tomb to the knowledge that the disciples had real, sincere experiences they identified as seeing the risen Jesus, we have a much stronger case for Jesus' resurrection. The claims of hallucinations, groupthink, or spiritual visions become much less plausible since none of those can explain where Jesus' body actually went. The evidence leads to a resurrection.


1. Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove,Il.: InterVarsity, 2010. 373. Print.
2. Licona, 2010.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Scribner, 1977. 176. Print.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy

When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:

In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.


1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Belief without Evidence is Crucial for Knowledge

Being a reasonable person is a great goal; no one wants to be thought of as foolish or gullible. But does being reasonable mean one needs to have reasons for all of one's beliefs? I've run onto many people who would answer "Yes" to that question. I mean, even the word "reasonable" contains the root of "reason!" How could one be reasonable without having reasons for one's beliefs?

This kind of thinking is prevalent in the online conversations I have with atheists. I recently offers one in this example. But not only is my interlocutor unreasonable in asking for evidence for what would be rather benign claims (like a person's academic achievements in casual conversation), he is wrong about what constitutes reasonable belief at all.

Principle of Credulity

In the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose thigs are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2
This is the key point in when debating with a person who will only accept something based on evidence or that evidence only counts if it is scientifically testable.

What Counts as Evidence?

Take a claim like the one Paul made in 1 Cor. 15:5-7 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, then all of the apostles, then to James, and then to five hundred people, and lastly to Paul himself. Paul is offering evidence in the form of eyewitness testimony, both his own and of others. If one discounts that as evidence, by what criteria are they doing so? If it is because eyewitnesses can get things wrong, then why ever allow them in courts? What about scientist who base all of their research on visual observation of events or instruments. Doesn't it follow that their eyes could deceive them as well?

The objector might claim, "My problem with that testimony is we simply don't observe people rising from the dead!" But that objection really begs the question, as Swinburne notes. If observation cannot be trusted, why should we trust the observation that people don't rise from the dead?  Maybe they have in the past and we missed it!

If you press for evidence before you believe anything, you will never reach a starting point. There is always the question of "What is the evidence that backs up the evidence you're presenting? Why should I believe that to be true?" It becomes as Swinburne said an infinite regress, where one can never justify anything at all.

In the next post, I highlight another of these principles, one that states why in the absence of any evidence to the contrary testimony specifically should be believed. Stay tuned.


1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 11.
2. Swinburne, 1986. 12.
Image courtesy jon crel and licensed via the Cretive Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Atheists, Evidence, and Unreasonable Demands

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to my article "Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?" The point of that article was that faith and reason are not contradictory. One reply to that was a tweet by The_Apistevist, who identifies himself as an atheist on Twitter. He asked: "how can belief without evidence be considered rational?" Now, I had never claimed Christianity had no evidence, nor did I argue that one should never seek evidence in matters of faith.  Belief without evidence was his assumption.

Because I've engaged in these kinds of conversations before, I didn't want to retread the evidence for Christianity.  It's well-documented on both the web site as well as this blog. Most of the time, atheists will simply reject the evidence I offer, stating it doesn't count for some arbitrary reason or another. For example, testimony is evidence, but such is usually dismissed out of hand because the content of that testimony is "religious."

So, I decided to take another route. Is it true that no one should believe anything without evidence other than a person's word? Could such a standard work in the real world? Below is the full conversation with The_Apistevist . You can see how his own criteria quickly devolve into an unworkable position.
Of course, at this point, The_Apistevist is caught in an intractable position. I am both demanding evidence AND I'm the one who rules whether or not whatever he offers me counts as evidence. This is exactly the game many Internet atheists play regarding the existence of God. He has no way of satisfying my criteria, so according to his own rules I am justified in stopping the conversation because I cannot believe him when he tells me he is honest.

How would the world worked if everyone took up this position? How could you drive if you couldn't trust other drivers to obey the traffic laws without first demanding evidence? How would commerce work?

I don't believe his claim that he demands evidence for every statement another makes. He simply couldn't function this way. However, he would rather be relegated to an unreasonable position than admit he holds beliefs where he has no evidence other than the word of the person to whom he's speaking. That truly is unreasonable.

Image courtesy and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should an Atheist Sit on a Jury?

Should an atheist suit on a jury? The question seems bigoted; why should anyone want to exclude atheists simply because of their denial of the belief in God? I wouldn't disqualify someone simply because he or she identified as an atheist. Atheists as much as anyone else should be able to do the things jurors are called upon to do: weigh testimony, weigh evidence, and deliberate with other jurors to seek a just and impartial decision for the case at hand.

In order to do those things a juror must be have some kind of criteria for what counts as evidence and what doesn't. But upon what standards do they rely in order to accomplish this? What is the juror's understanding of evidence and is it important? Of course it is, which is why our legal system has a practice of voir dire in selecting the jury. Voir dire is a French term for the preliminary portion of the trial when potential jurors are called to the courtroom and the attorneys for both sides ask them questions to see whether they may be biased or somehow otherwise disqualified from serving on that particular case. If a potential juror would say something like "I won't accept a verdict of guilty through eyewitness testimony; I must have physical evidence or see the crime committed myself!" you can expect that person to be eliminated from the jury.

A Strained Epistemology

I bring this up because I recently had a conversation with an atheist that led me to question his understanding of what is reasonable evidence for belief in anything. He claimed that while he was an atheist, "I can think of lots of things that would make me believe - nothing too difficult would be needed." When asked for an example, he replied that saying "hello" would do and a chat with him and his wife would be better. I then asked if God appearing only to his wife and having her relay the appearance to him would be sufficient. "No I don't think that would do. I'd want more than second-hand evidence." I pressed and asked what if his wife's claim was corroborated by multiple others. He replied, "I can't really tell, but I doubt if the claims of the other people would really make any difference. Lots of people think they know when someone is lying. But they can't. It's why evidence is essential." He defined his term , too. "I meant corroborating evidence. E.g. photos, DNA, records."

This is where I would ask the gentleman to be excused from the jury. There is nothing appropriate about holding to criteria where knowledge on big questions can only be gained from direct, first-hand experience. The criterion isn't even consistent within itself. First, how do you know the evidence wasn't faked? Must one follow the chain of custody personally to prove it was gathered, stored, and analyzed without tampering or is he going to accept the testimony of the witness presenting the evidence that this is so? Even if one grants the evidence is factual, how do we know that it actually points towards the defendant? Is my atheist friend an expert in DNA and genetics or is he taking the word of someone else? Why does he know that DNA analysis cannot provide a false positive? How does he even know which genetic markers were tested and how unique they are? All of this is trusting in the testimony of another person!

A Faulty Deliberation

Another issue arises once the trial is concluded and the jury is sent to deliberate the case. Now, you have to listen to the opinions and thoughts of eleven other jurors who are also weighing the evidence and the testimony. Will he discount their views on what makes up convincing evidence if they believe in God? Is that appropriate to do? The skeptical stance of rejecting testimony because "people can lie" is unreasonable. Worse is characterizing those who believe in God as "believ[ing]in magic," and dismissing their testimony or opinion in the jury room. This is in no way a reasonable foundation upon which to weigh truth claims.

 Now I want to be fair and note that he did later qualify his answer. He said, ""[It] depends on the claim being made. If someone says they had toast for breakfast I believe them." That's fine. By what criteria does one judge where testimony is no longer sufficient? Unfortunately, we had to end our conversations before I could ask that question. But the problem doesn't go away. My guess, given the "belief in magic" comment, is only discussions about the supernatural rise to that level of incredulity. But such a distinction is arbitrary; there's no reason to exclude the supernatural from being evidenced by testimony. It simply shows bias on the part of the atheist, and as a biased party he cannot be relied upon to provide an unbiased verdict on the question of God. The juror is excused.

Photo courtesy CALI - Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Christian Faith is Based on Fact (video)

Faith for the Christian is anything but blind. In this short clip, Lenny answers a question from a student, explaining how Christianity has always been a belief system based on evidence and reason and why the modern mischaracterization of faith as something opposed to reason is completely wrong.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Events in Charleston Contradict the New Atheists

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

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

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

Different than expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Does the Resurrection Require Extraordinary Evidence?

I recently was invited to a meeting where several Christians were discussing the existence of God and the reasons they hold to Christianity with a group of atheists and agnostics. Eventually, the point about Jesus' resurrection was raised. When this issue was brought up, one of the skeptics said, "this is an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence."

Now, I'm not sure how it follows that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In fact, when you think about it, most extraordinary advances in human knowledge came without extraordinary evidence, but merely the supporting testimony of others who were eyewitnesses to the achievement. When Admiral Peary was the first to cross the North Pole or Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mt. Everest, these were reported in newspapers all around the globe, but what was the evidence offered? Eyewitness testimony.

Now, granted, these kinds of achievements are somewhat different from the claim of the resurrection because they're repeatable - others have gone on to duplicate them. But my point is that when they were accomplished the first time, no one asked for evidence above and beyond the testimony of those who accompanied these men. That type of evidence was sufficient.

Another difference, though, may be in the fact that one could argue that while those achievements are remarkable, it is nonetheless conceivable that someone could accomplish them. All the facets for so doing (the strength, planning, etc.) already exist within humanity. Something like the resurrection, however, is on a vastly different plane: it's something never before seen in history. Well, let's look at another investigation that would also be on a vastly different plane, the search for intelligent life in outer space.

Searching for Extraterrestrial Life

The existence of life on other planets is a very controversial topic. There exists good research by scientists who have looked at the number of factors required for any life to exist have noted how incredibly balanced all things must be for living things to survive.1 Therefore, they highly doubt that intelligent life could exist elsewhere in the universe. However, there are other real scientists who are right now engaged in the search of extraterrestrial life. The project is called SETI and is funded largely by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

If you ever saw the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster, you would be familiar with the SETI project. SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, and these scientists aren't just looking for life, but intelligent life - aliens who can communicate with us. If they were to claim that they've found intelligent alien life, it would be an extraordinary claim.

So, how do they hope to prove that such life exists? Do they seek some extraordinary evidence, such as a flying saucer or to display the creature in front of the world? No, they simply point giant radio dishes to the heavens and listen for signals. In the movie Contact, the signal was something as banal as a set of blips in the sequence of prime numbers. This is not "extraordinary evidence". The scientists are simply looking for a signal that cannot be considered random - signals that hold information and therefore imply an intelligent mind. This is very standard evidence; the same type archaeologists look for when trying to understand ancient cultures.

Evidence that Explains the Observable Phenomena 

The reason the SETI scientists are looking for information-bearing signals in outer space is because the explanation for the existence of that signal can only be intelligent life. I guess one may surmise that a group of natural events could happen simultaneously to generate a signal that produces the first ten prime numbers or something like that, but that does not strike me as a reasonable explanation. For one thing, it's too ad hoc. In other words, it's so unlikely and contrived that it seems to be forced and not the way we see the world really work.

When trying to understand the historic claim that the resurrection of Jesus really happened, we must look to see if we have good evidence for it. Much like the SETI project, if the only workable explanation for that evidence points to a resurrection, then we are reasonable in believing that the resurrection did occur. It's not required for us to have "extraordinary evidence", but reliable evidence where the resurrection fits all the facts better than any other. If a competing theory is offered that also fits all the facts, then it should also be considered and both explanations should be weighed to see which is more likely.

I believe that we have such facts in the historical accounts of Jesus' resurrection. We have strong reasons to believe Jesus was crucified and was buried, that His tomb was empty, skeptics James and Paul  were converted, and the unwavering belief of the Apostles that they were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ. According to Dr. Gary Habermas, these are well-established historical facts accepted nearly universally by both liberal and conservative scholars.2 The question then becomes, what is the best explanation to fit these facts? Perhaps Jesus really did not rise from the dead - but then how do you explain the empty tomb? How do you explain the conversion of Paul from a zealous Jew and church persecutor to the biggest proselytizer the Christian church had?

Just as SETI, these evidence we have is not extraordinary in itself, but it is extraordinary in the fact that it leads to only one conclusion - that a man really did rise from the dead 2000 years ago and proved it by showing himself not only to His followers, but to His persecutors as well. There is no other explanation that fits the facts.


1. See John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. (New York: Oxford University Press,1988 ).
2. Habermas, Gary R.  and Michael R. Lincona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Pub, 2004.)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Why doesn't God Provide a Sign to Prove He Exists?

Noted philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked how he might answer for his staunch atheism if after his death he did indeed face God. Russell famously replied, "I probably would ask, 'Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?"1 Such claims are fairly common among atheists. Some have said to me that God would need to do a miracle in front of them. Others have asked why God wouldn’t write "I exist" across the surface of the moon if He wanted all people to believe in Him. There’s even a web site that believes their question is "the most important question we can ask about God."

What about this? Why doesn't God provide some kind of sign to prove that He exists? Wouldn't it be more effective than what we have now? The short answer is no, it wouldn't make real belief any easier, and that is simply because any type of evidence can be rejected. For example, the Apollo 11 moon landing was a highly documented event that was reported in real time. The astronauts took video and photos of themselves on the moon, yet there are some who believe the moon landing was faked on a Hollywood soundstage and they even use the photo to argue their case. 2

The Bible gives us another example of such a situation. Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as Passion Week, He had raised Lazarus from the dead. John reports that "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’" (John 11:45-48, ESV).3 Even though Jesus performed many signs, the leaders’ hearts were hardened and they were more concerned about their power being taken away.

But, it gets worse! In John 12:9-11, we read that the religious leaders of the Jews were not only plotting to kill Jesus, but they realized they had to kill Lazarus as well. "When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus." Now, just think about this for a moment. Jesus had raised Lazarus after being dead four days! Jesus had proven that death was something he could overcome. Yet, the leaders were so set against believing in Jesus that they not only didn’t believe in Him, but they decided that they should kill a living breathing piece of miraculous evidence that existed right in front of them. Given that level of rejection, does anyone really think that the healing of an amputee would convince someone who simply doesn’t want to be convinced?

I understand that some may counter my claim by arguing that this is an extreme circumstance. "Sure, a few nut jobs wouldn't believe in the moon landing, but most people would, so why doesn’t God do a miracle for the majority?" I’ll look at that claim next time. My point, though, is that it isn’t incumbent upon God to provide fool-proof evidence for His existence. There is no such thing. People will believe whatever they want, regardless of the nature of the evidence. To a hardened heart, no evidence will ever be good enough. So, in your conversations, make sure you ask, "Just what evidence would it take to change your mind? Just what would be the thing that would make you believe?" I’ve had people who, after being pressed, honestly answer that no evidence would ever be good enough. And that is really where the problem lies.


1 Rosten, Leo. "Bertrand Russell and God: A Memoir." The Saturday Review. Feb 23, 1974. 25.

2 "Conspiracy Theories." Time Magazine. Nov. 20, 2008,28804,1860871_1860876_1860992,00.html

3 The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009) Web. 2 Jun. 2014.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Contempt Prior to Examination is an Intellectual Vice

William Paley on how intellectuals can be biased against evidence:
Contempt prior to examination is an intellectual vice from which the greatest faculties of mind are not free. I know not indeed whether men of the greatest faculties of mind are not the subject to it. Such men feel themselves seated upon an eminence. Looking down from their height upon the follies of mankind, they behold contending tenets wasting their idle strength upon one another, with the common disdain of the absurdity of them all. This habit of thought, however comfortable to the mind which entertains it, or however natural to great parts, is extremely dangerous; and more apt, than almost any other disposition, to produce hasty and contemptuous, and, by consequence, erroneous judgments both of persons and opinions.
Paley, William. The Works of William Paley: With a Life of the Author, Volume 4
(London: G. and J. Robinson, etc. 1825.) 395.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Separating What's Possible from What's Reasonable

Man: Oh look, this isn't an argument.

Mr. Vibrating: Yes it is.

Man: No it isn't. It's just contradiction.

Mr. Vibrating: No it isn't.

Man: It is!

Mr. Vibrating: It is not.

Man: Look, you just contradicted me.

Mr. Vibrating: I did not.

Man: Oh you did!!

Mr. Vibrating: No, no, no.

Man: You did just then.

Mr. Vibrating: Nonsense!

Man: Oh, this is futile!
I've always been a big Monty Python fan. The Pythons' ability to mix thoughtful, intelligent subjects with all-out silliness has never been matched. One of their most famous sketches is "The Argument Clinic" where a man pays for the service of having an argument. Unfortunately, his results are not what he expected. If you're unfamiliar with the sketch, you can watch it below.

The discipline of apologetics is all about giving reasons for your faith. I've engaged with many people, both in person and online, who are skeptical about the claims of Christianity or the Bible. They demand evidence for things like God's existence or the resurrection of Jesus. They say that "blind faith" should be avoided and reason should hold sway over our beliefs.

In such conversations, I usually agree. Christianity has never promoted a blind faith, but one based on certain evidence. Then, depending on the objection raised, I demonstrate this by explaining the evidence I have for my view. If we're discussing God's existence, for example, I talk about the fact that something cannot come from nothing, that we see clear signs of design in the conditions of the universe, and so on.

Like the man in the Argument Clinic, my reasons have been sometimes met with "but it isn't impossible that the initial conditions of the universe just happened to be set that way" or "it may be the case that the universe came from something else that we don't know" or "it could be possible that certain chemicals came together to form a living organism." Others will respond with claims that although science offers no answers for us now, it will someday; we just need to give it more time.

The problem with such replies is that they are not seeking to answer the question the skeptic originally raised. The person has asked you to defend the reasonableness of your belief. If you can show that your belief is built upon evidence, then you have at least met the initial query. The question now becomes is there any counter-evidence to rebut the evidence you have provided. This is a crucial step. It isn't good enough to say "Well, we don't know what happened so there could be other possibilities." Of course there could, but the burden of proof has just shifted to the one who is dismissing your evidence. He or she must do more than posit "just-so" scenarios.

Just-so scenarios are just that: ideas without any evidence behind them. As such, they put the objector in the very same category as that to which they are objecting: offering a case with nothing to support it. Part of being a rational person is to draw a distinction between what is possible and what is reasonable to believe.

There are a lot of things that may be possible in the world, but are highly unlikely: such as dealing oneself a royal flush in poker two times in a row. Of course mathematics shows that such an event is possible, but it isn't reasonable to believe that such a thing happened without deliberate intervention. If I'm playing poker and I see you dealt two royal flushes, I'm going to accuse you of cheating. That would be the reasonable thing to do. Similarly, seeing the strong evidences for a creator from the natural world, one is reasonable to infer deliberate intervention.

The man in the Argument Clinic sketch recognizes that he is not getting what he paid for. He complains:
Man: An argument isn't just contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: It can be.

Man: No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

Mr Vibrating: No it isn't.

Man: Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Man: Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'

Mr Vibrating: Yes it is!

Man: No it isn't!

Man: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
"Just-so" responses are really a form of gainsaying. The person is simply dismissing the evidence that you have just presented.  As the man in the sketch said, it isn't an argument, but a childish way to escape the evidence that you may present.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What is Faith? A Proper Understanding

Photo courtesy Richard MacDonald.
What is faith? As I discuss issues like the existence of God I find that much of the time people have misunderstood the Christian concept of faith.  Bertrand Russell, the famous early 20th century atheist defined faith as, "the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith.' We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."1 Sam Harris defines it this way: "Religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern."2 Both of these definitions miss the mark, erecting a straw man instead of a robust understanding of what faith is.

This misunderstanding is not limited to unbelievers, though; many Christians are also confused on what biblical faith means. They have an underdeveloped view of faith, assuming that it is some kind of trust without evidence or they think that faith is exclusively defined by a single Bible verse, like Hebrews 11:1. That verse reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  While the writer to the Hebrews was trying to give one aspect of what faith means, this verse is no more an exhaustive definition of faith than the statement "God is a consuming fire"—which is found in the following chapter—defines all aspects of who God is.

The Biblical Understanding of Faith

When you look at all the different ways faith is mentioned and expressed in the Bible, you'll find that faith in God encompasses three components: a proper understanding of the object of our faith, an assent or agreement with the claim of faith, and an exercise of trust that is the outworking of that assent.

First, in order to have faith, you must properly understand what it is you're asked to have faith in. The Christian no more believes in a cruel, vindictive God than the atheist does.  This is not the kind of God a Christian could have faith in. True faith in God means that one must at least understand what we mean when we say "God."  God has certain attributes and qualities.  Christians believe in an eternal God, a God from whom all goodness stems. The Christian God is not capricious, but unchanging, gracious, long-suffering and holy. If one doesn't understand these concepts, then the faith that one has would rightly be suspect. This is where many atheists go wrong.  They hold to an image of God that is inaccurate and they then reject that type of a God.

Beyond the mere understanding of the object of faith, the believer must give intellectual assent or agreement to the claims of faith. So, in our example, once you understand what the concept of God entails, then it is necessary for you to hold that such a being either exists or doesn't exist. Thus, faith is tied to belief. To have faith in God is to believe that He exists. But belief is not enough, for James said that even the demons believe in God and tremble!3To have faith means we must go beyond mere assent and exercise a level of trust in Him.  Trust is a necessary feature of faith.

The Evidence for Faith

All these components, understanding, assent, and trust, don't happen in a vacuum. We take the propositions we know to be true, such as everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe shows evidence of design, for absolute moral values to exist they must originate from a moral lawgiver, and we use our reasoning ability to weigh them as evidence for the Christian God. We also have the internal witness of God and we have historical testimony such as the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Because we have all of this, we can more easily place our trust in God as not only being real, but as one who is trustworthy to guide our lives. As J.P. Moreland states, "Belief in rests on belief that."

Even in Hebrews 11, this pattern shows itself. To clarify his definition of faith, the writer to the Hebrews follows up verse one with over thirty verses of examples of how God actually worked in the lives of those who had trusted Him in the past. He recounts how those in the past trusted God and their faith was rewarded, as they  "conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."4He then says in the first verse of chapter twelve that these examples provide evidence for the faith that we should have. He exhorts the Christian, writing "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."5

Christian faith is not a leap in the dark.  The concept of "blind faith" is completely foreign to the Bible. Instead, when the Bible speaks of faith, it means a trust based on past history and evidence. Christianity has always grounded itself to a specific historical event, hanging the faith of its followers on the actuality of Christ's resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 Paul says that Christianity should be dismissed if the resurrection is not a reality. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Christian view of faith is more measured and rational that others may have you believe.


1. Bertrand Russell as quoted in Introducing Philosophy of Religion by Chad Meister.
(New York: Routledge, 2009). 158.
2. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.
3. James 2:19. ESV.
4. Hebrews 11:34-35. ESV.
5. Hebfrrews 12:1.ESV.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why God Exists: Minds Come From Minds

Many people who hold to a naturalistic explanation of the world believe that who we are—our thoughts, our feelings, even our falling in love—is merely the product of electrical and chemical reactions happening in a single organ of our bodies: our brains.[1] But as philosopher J.P. Moreland has noted, it is virtually self-evident to most people that they are different from their bodies.[2] We see that in the way we treat people with physical defects. A person who was born with no legs is not considered 80% of a person because he only has 80% of his body. Rather, we understand intuitively that feelings of pleasure and pain, the concept of knowing (such as knowing that 2+2=4), and relationships we experience with others are things that happen to us, not to our bodies.

There's something fundamentally different about conscious experiences and physical effects. Physical effects, such as the effect of gravity on any mass, are governed by natural laws and are simply brute facts of cause and effect — if you let go of a ball, it will fall to the ground. The ball doesn't have the "idea" to fall to the ground, nor does the earth have the idea of pulling the ball down. Laws of nature are by their very definition fixed and do not contemplate whether or not to act. However, conscious decisions are not mere cause and effect. They are more than that. Take the act of raising my hand. I can choose whether to raise my hand or not in normal circumstances. If I decide to raise my hand, I can do so, but it's not inevitable that my hand will raise until I've chosen to rise it, unlike the inevitability of a ball falling when it is not supported by anything.

We see that our minds can affect our bodies in other ways, too. Some people have a medical condition where they cannot feel pain, while other people feel pain in limbs that they no longer have. Certainly the experience of feeling pain is different from the physical process of pain receptors receiving stimuli and transmitting electrical signals to the brain. And the concept of what it means to be in pain is something that cannot be explained by physical interactions. The ability to cognitively understand you are experiencing pleasantness or unpleasantness is independent of simple cause and effect laws.

Most naturalists (that is, people who believe that everything can be explained by using only physical explanations) will say that there really is no such thing as a mind[3] or they will believe the mind somehow shows up, but is only a result of physical states[4]. Basically, naturalists believe that we somehow evolved our minds from more primitive chemical interactions that happen to occur within one organ of our bodies — the brain. But there are huge problems with this view and the general understanding of what it means to be a person.

Evolution cannot account for the existence of minds

Is it possible that evolution can account for the emergence of a conscious mind from all those chemical interactions? Since chemical interactions are responding to the laws of nature, like the ball above, I can see no way how this independent decision-making capability will "pop" into existence. In fact, if such a possibility were to exist, it would undermine all of our scientific principles. We count on the laws of nature to be consistent. Imagine if a plastics manufacturer mixed his chemical ingredients together and the carbon decided not to bond with the hydrogen! It would be tough to get that new iPhone this way![5] As J.P. Moreland noted, the emergence of consciousness from a physical organ "seems to be a case of getting something from nothing."[6]

Computer simulation programs and artificial intelligence are sometimes claimed as showing how intelligence may emerge from the mechanistic antecedents, but this is the stuff of science fiction, not science. Even a computer program that has the capacity to "learn" has been programmed to write the results of a precedent condition and pass that back through only a predefined series of options. Thus an AI program may generate new sentences if programmed to do so, but it can never decide to not run its own program.

So, how in a universe that starts with only natural laws, these brute facts of cause and effect, can consciousness come into existence? How do you evolve consciousness from non-conscious materials that only interact mechanistically? In all that we observe, we note that minds only have their origin in other minds. Plants don't produce thinking plants, but thinking people can produce new thinking people. If you think about it, you will soon see that matter and the laws of nature are simply powerless to create intelligence. And the fact that you can think about it argues that there must be a mind who produced man.


1. As an example,see Karen Fisher's article "The Drive to Love: The neural mechanism for mate choice." The New Psychology of Love, 2nd Edition. RJ Sternberg and K Weis (Eds.) New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 87ff.

2. Moreland, J.P. & William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 228.

3. The idea that there is no mind and all that we experience is simply a result of chemical processes is known as physicalism. See Geoffrey Paul Hellman and Frank Wilson Thompson's paper "Physicalism: Ontology, Determination, and Reduction" in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 72, No. 17, Seventy-Second Annual Meeting of theAmerican Philosophical Association Eastern Division (Oct. 2, 1975), 551-564.

4. This view is known as epiphenoninalism. For a more detailed explanation of all these views and the reasons they fail, see J.P Moreland. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM Press, 2009.

5. Granted, this is a simple illustration, but it really doesn't matter how big or complex the reactions are. The more complex the interaction, the more difficult it may be for us to predict all the results, but it doesn't mean the results won't follow directly from their precedent conditions.

6. Moreland, J.P. "Argument from Consciousness" JP Moreland's Amazon Blog. 12 June 2008.

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