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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 quote. Show all posts
Showing posts with label quote. Show all posts

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Abortion and the S.L.E.D. Argument

Tomorrow is Sanctity of Life Sunday and I can think of no better post for today than to quote Scott Klusendorf's S.L.E.D. argument answering those who would promote abortion. Abortion is one of the greatest evils in our day and there is no justification for it. There is no greater definition of evil than when a human being is killed simply so other will not be inconvenienced. Here's how Klusendorf lays out his argument:
Philosophically, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. The simple acronym SLED can be used to illustrate these non-essential differences:

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more valuable than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and I. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that the immediate capacity for self-awareness and a desire to go on living makes one valuable. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Infants do not acquire distinct self-awareness and memory until several months after birth. (Best case scenario, infants acquire limited self-awareness three months after birth, when the synapse connections increase from 56 trillion to 1,000 trillion.) As abortion advocate and philosopher Dean Stretton writes, “Any plausible pro-choice theory will have to deny newborns a full right to life. That’s counterintuitive.”

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already valuable human beings, merely changing their location can’t make them so.

Degree of Dependency: If viability bestows human value, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal (and valuable) because they all have the same human nature.1
1.Klusendorf, Scott. "Five Bad Ways to Argue About Abortion." Life Training Institute. Life Training Institute, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.
Image courtesy lunar caustic - Embryo, CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Overcoming the Conspiracy Against Christianity

Ideas matter. They matter because they shape how we understand the world in which we live. They matter because they motivate us to want to change or why we desire to keep things the same.

Dallas Willard made his living in a world of ideas. As a Christian philosopher he would routinely think through different ideas and how they could impact the larger society. His book, The Divine Conspiracy, is a masterful work provoking Christians to live their lives consistently with Christian ideals.

In one section, Willard underscores how powerful ideas are b quoting economic John Maynard-Keyes. Keyes states:
"…the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

Willard then goes on to opine:
One could wish this were true only of economics and politics. But it is true of life in general. It is true of religion and education, of art and media. For life as a whole, Keynes's words apply: "I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas." Not immediately, as he acknowledges, but after a certain period of time. The ideas of people in current leadership positions are always those they took in during their youth. "But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."1

The power of mere ideas is a matter about which intellectuals commonly deceive themselves and, intentionally or not, also mislead the public. They constantly take in hand the most powerful factors in human life, ideas, and most importantly, ideas about what is good and right. And how they handle and live them thoroughly pervades our world in its every aspect.2
People love to believe in conspiracies. Whether it's the grassy knoll, a faked moon landing, or the CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, it's easy to think that evil acts can only be brought on by some powerful group hiding in a secret back room.

The truth of the matter is that the "conspirators" are those who teach in classrooms or make subtle claims in otherwise benign entertainment. They want to remake society into their particular view. That shouldn't surprise anyone. If a person believes their views are true, of course they would seek to persuade others to hold it as well. But it does mean that Christians should also be prepared to argue how those views are not true and have good reasons demonstrating the truth of Christianity.

If Christianity tells us the truth about good and evil, man and morality, and the nature of the world, then we must inject our ideas into the public sphere. It's the best way to thwart a culture of evil.


1. Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. 5. Kindle Edition.
2. Willard, 1998. 5-6.

Monday, December 21, 2015

How Can We be Sure Where Jesus Was Born?

Most childhood plays of the Christmas story show a young Mary and Joseph wandering from house to house in Bethlehem, knocking on doors only to be met with a head shaking "no" no the other side. While there is conjecture as to whether they were turned away from an inn or simply couldn't fit in the main living quarters, the story is clearly that Mary gave birth in the town of Bethlehem.

But how certain are we that Bethlehem would truly be the location? Is it more likely Jesus was born in Nazareth and Bethlehem became a later invention? Like all historical facts, nothing is impossible but why would someone believe that Bethlehem wasn't the birthplace of Christ? The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are both sources close to the time they record (within one generation), and they had direct access to Jesus's brothers and Jesus's mother. They could ask them directly, which Luke states he did (Luke 1:2).

Further, there are no competing accounts of Jesus's birthplace in any historical record. In fact, as Paul L. Maier notes, even Christian artwork depicting the Nativity shows a wide array of different scenarios that reflect the culture of the artist's day, but everyone seems to agree on some kind of stable or grotto or cave where the animals were kept, just as Luke reports.

The Church of the Nativity Adds Evidence

Interestingly, Maier also believes the Church of the Nativity that thousands of pilgrims visit every year offers good evidence for Bethlehem as the location of Jesus's birth. While the ostentatiousness of its current ornamentation may be off-putting to Western Protestants today, Maier explains that one must look past the modern adornments to the historical tradition of the location itself:
Did it all really happen here—at this spot? Though final proof is necessarily lacking, the surprising answer lurks closer to probably than possibly.

Where there is no direct archaeological evidence—and there could be none in the case of the birth of Jesus—nothing is more important in establishing the authenticity of an ancient site than antiquity: the place must have been regarded as such from earliest times. If the Church of the Nativity had been built here in 600 A.D., for example, its claims to mark the authentic site of the birth of Jesus would be almost worthless. But

Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome, erected the original Church of the Nativity at this place in 326 A.D., over the very grotto that had been identified as the true site by the early church father Origen and, before him, Justin Martyr, writing in 150 A.D. Justin stated that Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a stable-not the typical stone or wooden stable so familiar in Christmas art. Earlier still, in the 130's the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian tried to desecrate the Jewish and Christian holy places in Palestine, but, ironically, thereby preserved identity!

After he had put down an insurrection by the Jewish nationalist and would-be Messiah, Bar-Kokhba, in 135 A.D., Hadrian expelled the Jews Jerusalem and paganized all known holy places of Jews and Christians, erecting a temple to Venus at the site of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a grove dedicated to Adonis over the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

After visiting the latter in the early 200s, Origen later wrote: "In Bethlehem the grotto was shown where Jesus was born .... What was shown to me is familiar to everyone in the area. The heathen themselves tell anyone willing to listen that in the said grotto a certain Jesus was born whom the Christians revere" (Contra Celsum, i, 51).1

What Other Accounts Count?

For the Bethlehem location to have been venerated in such a noticeable way that Hadrian would intentionally destroy them in 135 means it had been recognized as such for years or even decades prior. That puts the Bethlehem grotto, like the location of Jesus's crucifixion at what is now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on very good historical grounds. While the tomb is much more likely to be specifically known by the disciples than his birthplace, there is still both archaeological and written support for these locations.

Give the tradition of Jesus's birthplace goes back to the early second century in respect to the grotto, and back to the first century in the Gospel accounts, holding that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as opposed to elsewhere is the most reasonable belief. Dr. Maier concludes similarly, noting "Some critics doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and argue instead for Nazareth or elsewhere. Such opinions, however, are based only on scholarly conjecture, and no source has been discovered to date that disproves Jesus' birth in Bethlehem."2

Maier's point is interesting and one that happens often with those who wish to dismiss the accounts as given in the ancient sources. They offer a competing conjecture, but without a shred of evidence. Just as those who try to deny Jesus was buried in a tomb have no historical evidence for their claim, neither do those who doubt Jesus's birth at Bethlehem. It's all a lot of hand-waiving by people who wish to deny the fact that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Michah 5:2. But history argues against them.


1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print. 38-40.
2. Maier, 1991. 32.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Irrationality of Indifference to God

In my time on college campuses, I've had the opportunity to engage with people who are passionate about their particular faith, and I've been able to engage with those atheists who are passionate about their particular lack of faith. However, many of the students I engage are those who identify themselves as not really religious and not really interested in exploring the concept of God. They perhaps have some preconceptions, usually formed in the elementary or middle school years, and they reinforce those beliefs by pointing to selective evidence. For them, to actually put forth effort to examine the question of God, his revelation, and his attributes is simply too much work.

But this is certainly an irrational position to take. The question of God—does he exist, how can we know about him, and what does a living God mean for our own existence—should be of primary concern to everyone. If the Christian God is real, how we can know him and what he requires of us is of eternal significance.

Blasé Pascal argues much the same way in his Pensées. He explains:
Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.

Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts them of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to confound them by the first glimmerings of common sense and by natural feelings.

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.

There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they do not take another course.

On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.

Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it and threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.

This is a doubt of terrible consequence. They are in peril of eternal woe and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they neglect to inquire whether this is one of those opinions which people receive with too credulous a facility, or one of those which, obscure in themselves, have a very firm, though hidden, foundation. Thus they know not whether there be truth or falsity in the matter, nor whether there be strength or weakness in the proofs. They have them before their eyes; they refuse to look at them; and in that ignorance they choose all that is necessary to fall into this misfortune if it exists, to await death to make trial of it, yet to be very content in this state, to make profession of it, and indeed to boast of it. Can we think seriously of the importance of this subject without being horrified at conduct so extravagant?

This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in such ignorance of what they are and without seeking enlightenment. "I know not," they say…1
We chastise people for not having car insurance to guard against the expenses that would accompany an accident that might not happen. We shake our heads at those who would spend their paycheck on video games instead of paying their bills. Such behaviors are properly denounced as childish. Yet, death is not an uncertain end to our earthly existence. The statistics on death are pretty solid: every one out of one person dies. To dismiss the question of God and eternity then is to be even more foolish.


1. Pascal, Blasé. "Pensées (Fragments 195- 285)." Christian Apologetics Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2: From 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 178-79. Kindle Edition.

Image courtesy Sander van der Wel. Licensed by [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, August 30, 2015

One Quote for Naturalist Professors

Most naturalists prefer a more subtle approach. Instead of openly insulting Christianity, they patronize it, paying it the kind of compliments one pays to children and the simple-minded. Or they use "as-we-now-know" statements: "As we now know, there is no life after death." These are often introduced by "it-was-once-thought" statements: "It was once thought that moral laws were given to us by a God or gods, but as we now know, mankind gives moral laws to himself." Whenever a teacher makes an "as-we-now-know" statement, ask "Who do you mean by 'we,' and how do we 'know'?" If you aren't yet ready for public debate, ask the questions inwardly. If you do ask them aloud, be respectful. Your goal isn't to show that your teacher is wrong but merely that he isn't taking seriously the legitimate arguments on the other side.

To get this point across, ask your teacher to read the following words of Harvard paleontologist Richard Lewontin. Like every naturalist, Lewontin believes that the material world of nature is all there is, but he also confesses to something many of his fellow naturalists would rather deny. The confession is that they all believe in naturalism in spite of the evidence, not because of it. For example, even though the evidence strongly suggests that living things are the result of intelligent design, naturalists are desperate to prove they can't be.' Most of us would call the urge to ignore evidence "prejudice." Strangely, Lewontin calls it "taking the side of science"! See for yourself:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, ... in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
This amazing confession is important because it shows that what naturalists call "science" isn't really science—at least not if science means following the evidence! Naturalists like to think of themselves as brave defenders of clear reasoning itself is the superstition. It isn't supported by reasoning but by blind hostility to the evidence of God. Pray that your professors will finally get tired of their games. As Blaise Pascal wrote long ago, "it is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."
— J. Budziszewski
 J. Budziszewski. How to Stay Christian in College (Kindle Locations 417-419). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Naturalism and the Problem of Living a Good Life

Scott Rae, in the introduction to his book Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, lays out some of the reasons the study of ethics is important and why the modern assumption of naturalism endangers the concept of even a good life:
Most people, when they are genuinely being honest with themselves, associate doing well in life with being a good person. Having moral character is still essential to most people's conceptions of what makes a person flourish in his or her life. For example, it is difficult to imagine a person being considered a success in life if he has gained his wealth dishonestly. It is equally difficult to call a person a success who is at the top of his profession but cheats on his wife, abuses his children, and drinks too much. On the other hand, we rightly hold up a person like Mother Teresa as a model of living a good life, even though she lacked most material goods that society values. One of the principal reasons for being moral is that it is central to most concepts of human fulfillment. For the Christian, being moral is critical to a life that seeks to honor God. We could say that being moral is inherently good because it is foundational to a person's flourishing in life, since doing well in life and being a good person still go together for most people.

These reasons for the importance of studying ethics all presume that there is as genuine moral knowledge. But that notion is being increasingly called into question in philosophy today as a result of the cultural dominance of the worldview of naturalism. Among other things, the naturalist holds that all reality is reducible to that which can be perceived with one's senses—that is, there is nothing that is real or counts for knowledge that is not verifiable by the senses. As a result, moral knowledge has been reduced to the realm of belief and is considered parallel to religious beliefs, which the culture widely holds are not verifiable. The theist maintains that moral knowledge is genuine knowledge in the same way that scientific knowledge is real—that the notion that "murder is wrong" can be known .as true and cannot be reduced to subjective opinion or belief without the risk of all morality being subjective. The theist argues that no one lives consistently, as though morality were entirely subjective, and that moral truths do exist and can be known as such.1


1. Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000. Print. 11,13

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Importance of Learning Church History

If I were to ask most Americans questions about the history of their country, like who was it that crossed the Delaware or why was the Civil War fought, they could answer with ease. If I were to ask a European what the French Revolution meant to Europe or when was the Renaissance they could certainly tell me. However, most Christians are woefully ignorant  when it comes to questions such as who crossed the Milvian Bridge or what caused the Great Schism.

We do ourselves a disservice by ignoring our Christian history. It makes us poorer both historically and doctrinally. In the introduction to his book The Story of Christianity, Justo González explains just how much the past impacts our present understanding of the Bible:
Without understanding that past, we are unable to understand ourselves, for in a sense the past still lives in us and influences who we are and how we understand the Christian message. When we read, for instance, that "the just shall live by faith," Martin Luther is whispering at our ear how we are to interpret those words—and this is true even for those of us who have never even heard of Martin Luther. When we hear that "Christ died for our sins," Anselm of Canterbury sits in the pew with us, even though we may not have the slightest idea who Anselm was. When we stand, sit, or kneel in church; when we sing a hymn, recite a creed (or refuse to recite one); when we build a church or preach a sermon, a past of which we may not be aware is one of the factors influencing our actions. The notion that we read the New Testament exactly as the early Christians did, without any weight of tradition coloring our interpretation, is an illusion. It is also a dangerous illusion, for it tends to absolutize our interpre­tation, confusing it with the Word of God.

One way we can avoid this danger is to know the past that colors our vision. A person wearing tinted glasses can avoid the conclusion that the entire world is tinted only by being conscious of the glasses themselves. Likewise, if we are to break free from an undue bondage to tradition, we must begin by understanding what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular elements in our past color our view of the present. It is then that we are free to choose which elements in the past—and in the present—we wish to reject, and which we will affirm.1


1. González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print. 3.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Responding to Atheist Critiques of Christian Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Criticism of the Bible Demonstrates the Bible's Power

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

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

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


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