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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 theism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theism. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eliminating Competing Concepts of God

Yesterday, I wrote about how Christians must understand the essential beliefs defining Christianity. Having a strong knowledge of what delineates a Christian versus an impostor is crucial. I pointed to the Nicene Creed as a good summary of the essential beliefs Christians must hold to guard against various heresies proffered by groups who claim to be Christians, such as The Way International, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons.1

Today, I'd like to begin unpacking just what some of those beliefs entail. The first sentence of the Creed reads:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.2
While the sentence is short, it packs within it an amazing amount of theology. It teaches that God must be singular, God must be creator, and God must be eternal and separate from his creation. These attributes of God are not only logically coherent, but they do a lot of work at eliminating may other faith systems.

God is One

The first foundational belief Christians hold is there is one God and only one God. I've explored this concept here, explaining that “for God to be Almighty God, He has to be a single being.”3 The fact that God cannot have an equal rules out Eastern faiths such as certain forms of Hinduism, Mithraism, and more modern faiths like Mormonism.

Not only must God be a single being, he is recognized as the creator of everything else. God cannot be God is he is merely a part of something bigger because just like polytheism above, it robs him of his supremacy. God can never be a part of a larger whole. Given this, we know God is therefore self-existent. He needs nothing or no one else.

God is Creator

Only God has this attribute. All other things are contingent. They rely on someone or something to create them or to empower them. The universe is running out of time and energy, therefore it must have been wound up a particular point in the past. The universe cannot exist for eternity because its energy would have been depleted an eternity ago. Further, the universe is inside time itself, and the existence of time needs explaining as much as the existence of matter.

God is Eternal

We describe the created universe as matter, energy, space, and time. We've said that those things that have a beginning, like our universe, need a creator to explain their existence. However, for God to be God, he cannot rely upon any kind of creator. Therefore, God must have never begun to exist. God is by definition uncreated and eternal. He has no beginning and no end.

God is Transcendent

Given each of the points above, we can know that God is transcendent. In other words, God is separate from his creation. He did not need to create the universe and could have existed just fine for eternity without creating it. The doctrine of God's transcendence is an important one and rules out most other Eastern faiths. Beliefs that hold to a concept that where God is either inside his creation (panentheistic faiths such as Buddhism, other forms of Hinduism, animistic faiths like those African tribes or Native Americans held) or faiths that believe all is God (pantheistic faiths such as Taoism and Vedanta Hinduism) fail here.

In understanding what God must be, one can effectively eliminate all belief systems that are not monotheistic as being logically inconsistent. The Nicene Creed gets the concept of God right in its very first sentence and screens out not only those belief systems mentioned above but other faiths like Mormonism with its unending generations of exalted beings or Christian Science which is ultimately pantheistic.4 If God is to be God, he must be almighty, maker of heaven and earth, eternal, and transcendent. Spaghetti monsters or flying teapots won't cut it. Anything less is not God.


1. Esposito, Lenny. "How to Spot Impostor Christianity." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 21 July 2015. Web. 22 July 2015.
2. "Nicene Creed." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. Web. 22 July 2015.
3. Esposito, Lenny. " A Christian Must Believe There is One God." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 15 May 2014. Web. 22 July 2015.
4. Mary Baker Eddy taught "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is his image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual," (Eddy, Mary Baker. Miscellaneous Writings. 1883-1896. Boston: Trustees under with Will of Mary Baker, G. Eddy, 1924. Print. 21.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

What to Think About the Atheist Church Movement?

The intriguing headline read "Atheist 'Mega-Churches' Take Root across Us, World." Following was an AP story describing how the Sunday Assembly, a weekly congregation of atheists that began in the UK, has just launched new congregations in several major cities across the United States. Their vision, according to their web site is to give the godless person a communal experience, allowing them to "celebrate life" and to "be a force for good" with the mutual support of other atheists. Their motto proclaimed clearly on their web site is to "live better, help often, wonder more."

The story attracted a lot of attention online; social media and the blogosphere were immediately inundated with links to variations of the story from the Huffington Post, CBS News, or other outlets. Of course, some of it was more hype than help. For example using the term 'mega-church' in both the lede and the story copy was terribly misleading. A mega-church is defined by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as a protestant congregation of 2000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship ." The kickoff Sunday Assembly meeting in Los Angeles attracted "several hundred" attendees according to the story. Given that Sunday Assembly founder Sanderson Jones was the special guest, it remains to be seen what the actual average weekly attendance will prove to be, but they were far from mega-church numbers.

Bigger questions than the AP's misleading hyperbole come to mind, though. One is just why those that ascribe to no higher authority could have any objective calling to "be a force for the good." Just what is "the good" when there is nothing to ground your moral understanding? What does it mean to "live better?" Does one live better by honestly acquiring wealth or by living in meager conditions so he can give more of his wealth away? Is one being a force for good if she helps advance the race by promoting the best and the brightest or by trying to give equal time to the unlearned so that all people have an equal chance to be heard? Perhaps being a force for good is following Richard Dawkins' concept that teaching children religious ideas is worse than sexual abuse. They should therefore seek to extract all children from those homes, as anyone would properly do with the children of a pedophile.

The fundamental problem with the Sunday Assembly is the fact that there is no grounding at all for such gatherings, other that the subjective feelings of the participants. Without a transcendent authority, that is without an objective God that provides meaning to life and morality, you are only left with a false shell of what church is all about. Such hollow actions may make the adherents feel good, but I think they're doomed to failure as any counterfeit would be. Los Angeles Sunday Assembly organizer Ian Dodd said it explicitly to Salon Magazine: "What we're trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus."

Yes, and anyone who thinks the bathwater is valuable when you've lost the baby has their priorities upside down.

Jones is not hiding the fact that he is trying to duplicate much of what he likes about the Christian church experience. In the AP article he says, "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"  Nothing, except the glue that holds the church together and allows all those incredibly different people to be one body is Jesus Himself. Christians are called to be conformed into Jesus' image. We have an objective idea of what love and what self-sacrifice is because He modeled it for us. And we, as followers of Christ, have a reason to love our enemies and forgive one another. Without Jesus, it would all be about who likes what, but with no compelling motivation to follow the teachings that you really don't like. It's doing those hard things that provide so much more meaning to life than simply singing catchy songs or hearing an interesting speaker.

When I was a kid, I used to take a piece of spearmint gum from the pack, carefully remove the stick from the aluminum wrapper, then refold the wrapper and slip it back into the paper sleeve and back into the pack. The whole point of this deception was to offer a stick of gum to my friends and watch the hilarity of them grabbing an empty package. It was silly and it was kid stuff that we laughed at because we were childish in our outlook. Atheist churches offer a promise of real satisfaction, but I fear the only thing they can deliver is a package that holds nothing more than an aroma of what living better actually means.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Worldview Definitions: The Problem with Postmodernism

Last time I discussed rationalism and naturalism, two worldviews that changed much of how we perceive our modern world. But naturalism is not the end of the story, even though there are many who hold those views today.

photo courtesy Ben Terrett

Out of the assumptions of naturalism, a new idea began to take hold in the late 19th century and early 20th century, known as the modernist movement. Modernists wanted to not only abandon belief in God, but felt that religious faith was just one of many traditional ideas that were slowing down the advancement of man.

The modernists held that if you don't break from the traditions of the past you will never grow beyond them. This made sense to them; if religion was hindering science, then all past traditions are suspect.  God was no longer a factor in the modernist's day-to-day thinking, so holding onto traditions were at best silly and at worst debilitating. They considered nothing as established or sacred. Social organization and daily life had become outdated and it was essential to sweep them aside and reinvent culture forever. The goal for modernists was to find that which was "holding back" progress, and replacing it with new, and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end.

Postmodernism – "It's all about me"

Modernism  failed to bring the next advancement in human evolution some of its adherents thought it would. Wars were still fought:World War II was the largest conflict in history and originated in Europe, the birthplace of modernism. People still took advantage of each other. Cruelty and crime continued to flourish no matter what advancements science and technology brought about.

Rationalists and modernists hadn't realized the impact  factoring God out of the equation would have on society. In factoring out God, they also factored out the concept of sin. They thought human beings had it within themselves to make themselves better. But the Bible teaches that we are inescapably corrupted by a sin nature. We cannot live perfect lives, it's simply impossible. Since modernists had already excluded God from any explanation as to why their utopia was failing to materialize they had to come up with another way of looking at the world. Their proposed solution is Postmodernism.

Modernism held that in order to advance one must throw out past traditions. However, one thing that modernism did hold onto, like all previous worldviews, was the concept that there was a truth to be known. In other words, each worldview may have differed in their beliefs on how to find truth, but they all believed that truth was something separate from and independent of themselves. It could be known.

Advocates for post-modernism said that even these ideas needed to be jettisoned. They argued that all communication is colored and molded by the biases and beliefs of the communicator. This means that no one can discover a raw truth, since he or she will read into it those biases and then reinforce them when communicating to others. The problem, they believe, is these assumed grand stories were ignoring the fact that no raw truth could exist, when in reality they are discounting one bias and favoring another. Therefore, there really shouldn't be any grand stories but we should allow each person to experience truth in his or her own way and there is no real right or wrong to it at all.

Postmodernism, in losing the meta-narrative, caused man to lose his moorings and purpose for himself in the world. God had already been dismissed as non-existent. Rationalists and modernists felt that man had it within himself to find the meaning of life. But now, the postmodernist strips even that away and says there is no real meaning of life. You can make anything mean whatever you want.

Think About it

Postmodernism’s "Grand Story" is to reject all Grand Stories. But if that true, they must reject their own – which means that they should accept others. The position is hopelessly self-contradictory.
But think about the implications of this. Imagine if you lived in a country where they had no values printed on their money, only animals. You walk into a store and try to purchase something. The shopkeeper tells you that the bill with the eagle is worth ten of the bill with the bear, whereas another shopkeeper says the bear is worth twice as much as the eagle. You can quickly see how in such as system that money becomes valueless. I would not want to be paid in bills that have no set value accepted across all areas of the economy. I would want to be paid in tender that everyone agrees is valued the same. Similarly, when there is no real meaning to life, then any meaning you try to create is simply a fraud. Therefore, by trying to make meaning malleable, postmodernists really strip meaning of any value at all.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Worldview Definitions: Rationalism and Naturalism

The worldview of theism powered humanity for much of its existence.  Even in primitive cultures, people looked to their gods as well as the world around them and tried to make sense out of both. But without divine revelation, they often got things wrong (expecting rain after performing a certain dance or something of that sort.) Christianity, with its foundations in the Jewish faith, taught strongly that God revealed Himself in two ways: through His creation and through His Word.1

Something happened, though, as Christians began to investigate God's world.  They started to discover more and more things in nature they had assumed were a result of a divine agency were really responding to laws of nature and biology and by altering the circumstances or the variables they could change the outcome of those processes. At the same time, they made great advancements in mathematics and they reawakened to the philosophy of Plato and the Greeks, which emphasized logic being the ultimate guiding force of knowledge.

Because so many achievements were coming from men thinking hard about their world, philosophers began to conclude that the ability to reason was all they needed in order to know everything there is to know about the world. Many believed God existed, but they felt that God's revelation was unnecessary for discovering truth.  They assumed that given enough time and thought, man would figure it all out on his own.  God was removed from being the primary source of truth as people became convinced that they were smart enough to discover anything with enough thought and analysis.

Naturalism: "God Doesn't Count as Knowledge"

The removal of God as the primary source of truth was a huge shift in thinking for the world. If all people need to discover truth is to identify facts and reason through them with a good mind, then focusing on nature becomes more important and focusing on God less so. Thus the Grand Story in western society shifted from God to Nature itself, just as Romans 1:25 warned. Therefore, since God wasn't needed to understand the ways of the world, many educated people took the next step and denied Him altogether.  If God doesn't offer any explanations to the ways of the world, why assume one needs to worry about Him? The worldview adopted by those who think this way is called "naturalism". The world is seen in purely mechanistic terms: this causes that just because the laws of the universe work that way. 

Naturalists, because of their worldview, now seek to explain everything without pointing to God at all.  Even in big issues, such as the origin of life on the earth, God cannot be accepted as a cause, because it violates their notion of "really" explaining things. Therefore, Darwinian evolution becomes the capstone in the search for a purely mechanistic way to explain how the diversity of life arose on the planet.  In fact, to say "God did it" is seen as a cheat; naturalists would object to anyone claiming the involvement of a divine being saying the person hasn't thought hard enough about the problem. They define knowledge of God as false knowledge.

You can see how important it is to understand worldviews!  Since naturalists are committed to not accepting explanations that involve God, their minds are closed to the existence of God before you even give evidence. The bias of naturalism is plainly seen everywhere today, even in popular culture.  Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, held to this view, and one of Star Trek's recurring themes is the evolution of man to his betterment.2 No religious belief system is  ever in view for the show's protagonists. Roddenberry believed reason alone would catapult mankind into this new utopia and his popular franchise has continued to preach his message ever since.


1. This idea of dual revelation is taught explicitly in Scripture.  Psalm 19 and Romans 1 declare how God reveals Himself thorough His creation, an idea known as "general revelation". But since all of creation is warped by the fall of man (Genesis 3:16, Romans8:22), it is an imperfect revelation. Therefore, God provides us with the more clear word of Scripture "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)
2. See Bronislaus B. Kush' article "‘Star Trek' franchise an homage to humanist philosophy" in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wordview Definitions: Theism

Yesterday, I discussed the importance of understanding what a worldview is and the fact that everyone has one. There are many diverse worldviews that exist today, and we can see that even within the different ideas about how the world works, there are common threads that run through each.

All worldviews start with what philosophers call a "meta-narrative" or "Grand Story". These are beliefs or ideas about God and truth. Meta-narratives are the foundation and basis of what shapes one's worldview, they inform and color all our other beliefs. They deal with how we got here, why we're here, and how to discover truth about the world around us. I want to spend some time looking at four of the most widely accepted meta-narratives by people throughout history. To be sure, all of these worldviews exist today and studying them a bit will give us a better grasp of how others ground their concept of truth.

"We Need God to Understand His Creation"

Traditional theism is the position taken by most people historically. Theism holds that there is a God (or perhaps gods) who is responsible for creating the world. It further implies that the world was created with some type of order to it; there are laws that govern how the world works. Judaism and Christianity especially hold to the idea that God has created the universe with certain features or laws that are orderly and reliable. If one were to create the same set of circumstances today (such as dropping a cannon ball off the Tower of Pisa) that he had set up a year ago, he should be able to achieve the same result.

This idea of purpose shows up everywhere. A seed that is planted and watered should grow into a tree. Introduce a fungus or virus into that tree and it can die. The traditional view holds that God created the world in a rational, predictable way. It therefore means the world is predictable and laws of physics we discover today will allow us to predict outcomes tomorrow or millennia from now.

Theism and Human Exceptionalism

Of course, physical laws like gravity are not the only things that are predictable. When God created human beings, He created them with some unique differences from all other creatures on earth. For example, animals are aware of their environment, but only humans are aware of ourselves. No matter how smart a chip or a dolphin may be, they will never wonder when they will die, or what it would be like to be another species. They are not self-aware.

People have the capability to be aware of more than just themselves, though. We can take that awareness and apply it to others. We can sympathize with another person who's suffered a loss or tragedy. We can project what it would be like if we were in the same situation and perhaps try to prevent such a situation from occurring. We can also gain awareness of God and comprehend the concept of a divine being who would have us relate to Him and to others in particular ways.

All this means that we can have moral awareness. We have the ability to understand that there are certain things we should or shouldn't do. And if God creates with an order to things, then it follows that there is an order to the way beings with awareness of God and each other should act. Certain moral laws exist that are always true just as certain physical laws exist that are always true. If the circumstances are the same, then God expects us to behave in a specific way. Ultimately, it means that anyone who holds to traditional theism believes there are certain moral precepts that are absolutely true—true at all times for all people in all locations.

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