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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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Friday, February 06, 2009

Don't Let Your Eyes Deceive You!

In my devotion this morning I found myself in Ezekiel 12 - a prophecy about Israel and Judah going into captivity. In this prophecy, the Lord tells Ezekiel:
"The prince who is among them will load his baggage on his shoulder in the dark and go out. They will dig a hole through the wall to bring it out. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land with his eyes. I will also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare And I will bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there." (vv. 12-13)
This prophecy was fulfilled during King Zedekiah’s reign. After trying to form a revolt against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had previously put him in power, the Babylonians came into Judah, besieged Jerusalem and leveled the city. Capturing Zedekiah, they slaughtered his sons before his eyes and then put his eyes out – making that the last thing he would ever see. Once blinded, they carried him in chains to Babylon.

This story got me thinking about how the Bible treats the eye symbolically.
  • In Genesis 3, Eve saw the fruit of the tree was good for food, so she took it and gave some to her husband to eat.
  • Sampson had eye trouble - he saw a daughter of the Philistines and wanted to marry her (Judges 14:1) and he saw a harlot in Gaza (Judges 16:1) which led to his fate with Delilah. The Philistines put out Samson’s eyes. Only after this did God use him again.
  • Jesus once taught "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matt 5:39).
One of Israel and Judah's problems prior to the exile is they trusted too much in what they saw – their temple, their walls, their chariots and their alliances – instead of their relationship with the Lord. Symbolically, God is showing the entire rebellious nation that their eyes are deceiving them and leading them away from Him. So he allows them to be "put out" the king's eyes are put out, the temple is destroyed and the nation is put out of the land so they can no longer trust in their surroundings.

The interesting thing in all this is how we can be reconciled through Jesus. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind by making clay or mud from the ground and putting it on his eyes. I've always read that with a nod to Genesis 2 - since God created us out of the dust of the ground, could it be that this man's condition was he was born without his entire eye? Perhaps Jesus is creating that part of him that the man lacked in the same way that God made Adam.

Whatever the case, Jesus has the ability to heal us of our deepest sin issues. The eye is the source for all kinds of sin. If we voluntarily admit our sins and give them to Him, He can restore us to a proper state. If we continue in rebellion, God just may have to deal with us more strongly in order to keep us from sinning so we can again make the main thing the main thing.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Shell Game on Stem Cells

One of the campaign pledges Barak Obama ran on was to reverse the Bush administration's ban of federal funding for new lines of embryonic stem cell research. Given Obama's now in office, some news publications are spinning the stem cell debate pretty strongly. Time magazine's cover story on stem cell research trumpets "How the Coming Revolution in Stem Cells Could Save your Life" while the article is filled with ridiculous statements like "during the dark days of the Bush administration's stem cell restrictions", "federally backed scientists like Melton were forced to adopt a byzantine system of labeling and cataloging their cell cultures and equipment". Even the article's subheading contains more commentary than fact when it states "After eight years of political ostracism, stem-cell scientists like Harvard's Douglas Melton are coming back into the light - and making discoveries that may soon bring lifesaving breakthroughs."

My question is - aren't we getting tired of being lied to yet? The hype in the Time article is ridiculous, meant only to sway people to a political point of view. Let's separate all this rhetoric from what we actually know.
  1. There was no ban on stem cell research. Even though articles carried headlines of the "federal stem cell research ban", there was never a ban on this type of research. The Bush administration disallowed any federal funding for creating new lies of embryonic stem cells - in other words destroying more embryos just to get stem cells from them. Federal money was available to do research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells. And private investment in embryonic development was always allowable, but not as readily found for reasons we will see.
  2. Embryos don't need to be destroyed for this research to continue. Just last year, UCLA scientists announced that they were able to create pluripotent stem cells - cells with all the same potential as embryonic cells - from human skin, thus confirming earlier successes by other scientists. Katherine Plath, one of the lead scientists on the project said "Our reprogrammed human skin cells were virtually indistinguishable from human embryonic stem cells." If this is true, then why are we so up in arms over the federal restrictions? Look what it helped accomplish - scientists looked for other ways to get to the same cell types without an ethical quandary and were successful. Everybody wins.
  3. Embryonic stem cell research is not the only game in town. Over and over again, articles like the one in Time fail to differentiate the types of stem cell research that are being investigated. Embryonic stem cells, those which come from human embryos, are only one type of research being performed - and that type isn't even the most successful research happening. Adults create stem cells naturally as well and in this field of research we're seeing real advances all the time.
The latest example is how a stem cell treatment can reverse multiple sclerosis symptoms by using the patient's own stem cells. This is a major breakthrough and has no ethical problems whatsoever, yet articles like that in Time never differentiate the success and ethical issues dividing adult stem cells and Let me emphasis this point - there are no successful clinical trials of any treatment using embryonic stems cells anywhere in the world. None . According to the Susan Martinuk of the Calgary Herald, "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved a clinical trial for an ESC treatment for spinal cord injuries, thereby making the U. S. the first in the world to conduct a human ESC clinical trial." She then goes on to offer a very candid assessment of the field:
But many private companies have been reluctant to fund embryo research because it involves morally controversial techniques and, so far, has shown few signs of success. Most preliminary research indicates that adult stem cells are the key to new cures and treatments, so they're jumping on that bandwagon. This is the real reason government funding is so essential to ESC research—few private investors view it as a future success.
In contrast, adult stem cells from bone marrow and stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood are already curing diseases. While scientists are heralding the success of their FDA approval for the world's first clinical trial using ESCs, more than 1,000 clinical trials are underway or have been completed using ASCs. Dozens of cures have been seen in trials and the FDA has already approved ASC treatments for nine different conditions. Other ASC treatments have been approved for use in other countries, but are still in the process of gaining FDA approval.
Duke University is using umbilical cord blood to treat children with brain injuries and cerebral palsy. The Texas Heart Institute is treating patients with heart disease by injecting their own ASCs directly into the heart to stimulate healing and blood flow. Most recently, a woman's bone marrow cells were used to grow the new windpipe she so badly needed.
The first step to enlightenment isn't Barack Obama. It's acknowledging the only thing holding back embryonic stem cell research is that it might not work. In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Estrich claimed that those against destroying embryos for research purposes were playing "selfish politics mandated by those who don't give a damn". Really? Where's the track record here? Who's obfuscating the issues? Why don't private investors see the same rich potential in embryonic stem cells as adult cells? And if it's because they don't want to get caught in an ethical quandary, then why not advance the creation of pluripotent cells from human skin instead of embryos. It seems to me that Estrich and Time are the ones playing politics. If you're really worried about the kids, then follow success, not your agenda.

Image courtesy ZioDave - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ravi Zacharias Speaking on the Need for God

This Friday, Ravi Zacharias will be at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa speaking on the topic "Need God? What if I don't?" The RZIM web site states that Ravi will

...explain why God is more than a psychological crutch for the weak minded and why success and independent living fade in comparison to knowing the eternal Truth found in God.

The event is free, but tickets are required to get into the main sanctuary.It looks like those are gone, but Calvary Chapel offers an overflow in their gym with a video feed.

The event is this Friday, january 16 at 7:00 PM pacific time. If you're not in the area, you can watch the web cast of the event live by clicking on this link:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Can a Football Game Change Lives? Maybe - If You Cheer for the Other Side

I must admit that I've never been a big football fan. With a name like Esposito, maybe I was destined to like hockey instead. However, I recently read an incredible story of how fans at a high school football game were encouraged to cheer for the other side. As ESPN reporter Rick Reilly writes:
They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.
It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.
Did you hear that? The other team's fans?
They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, "Go Tornadoes!" Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.
It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on- by name.
Why would someone go to their child's football game and cheer the other side? Well, because they wanted to be like Christ. You see, the Gainesville State School is a maximum security correctional facility and these boys have never had a home game or anyone cheer for them.

Faith's web site states that "The purpose of the athletic program at Faith Christian School is to develop and graduate authentic Christian leaders." That's what they were doing. They took Matthew 25:36 seriously where Jesus exhorts us to visit those who are in prison.

Reilly also reports, "As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home-a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player."

What impact could a selfless act like this have on tough kids? Actually, quite a lot. Reilly concludes:
After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that's when (Gainesville QB) Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. "We had no idea what the kid was going to say," remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: "Lord, I don't know how this happened, so I don't know how to say thank You, but I never would've known there was so many people in the world that cared about us."
Christopher Hitchens says religion poisons everything. I think 14 football players and their coach can easily show how that statement isn't true.

If you'd like to read the entire article by Reilly, visit the link below.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Books I'm Currently Reading - January 2009

As we start the New Year, many people are looking to improve themselves in some way or another. Perhaps settling down with a good book would be one option. I generally find myself reading about four or five books simultaneously. Maybe it's ADD, but usually I pick up a title on a subject that interests me and I want to research some more, or I have proclivity toward a certain author. In any case, I thought I'd give you some lists of books that I am currently reading. In later posts, I'll probably go back and note some books I've recently read and would recommend.

As you'll soon notice, most of the books on my list are nonfiction and generally deal with philosophy, Christianity, or apologetics in some way. This is merely out of necessity, given that I teach a class every month on a different subject and I simply need to do proper research on it. But don't be undaunted, as I'll try to include some "fun" titles along the way. Of course, you can always check out many different books at the Come Reason Resources page.

The Erosion of Inerrancy by G.K. Beale (Crossway, 2008) Many times evangelicals expect liberal theologians to doubt or water down the inerrancy of Scripture, but we hardly expect to engage in debate with fellow evangelicals. However, this assumption is unfounded as G.K. Beale, professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School, demonstrates. The origin of the book was an article published in JETS, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, where Beale responded to Peter Enns' book Incarnation and Inspiration. Here, he more fully develops the different arguments that we run across by scholars, both liberal and evangelical who seek a more "progressive" view of Biblical Authority. Kind of technical reading, but interesting.

Heretics for Armchair Theologians
by Justo Gonzalez and Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez (Westminister John Knox Press, 2008) I asked for this book for Christmas. It looked like an easy read (160 pages), and knowing that most Christian theological creeds were developed as a response to heresies creeping into the church, I thought it would be interesting the see how the Gonzalezes cover things. In fact the best way to understand just what the essential tenants of Christianity are and why we hold them is to study the controversies that the church wrestled with. I'm just into the second chapter and so far so good. This might be good starter book for those who want to jump into theology or apologetics.

Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic by Francis J. Beckwith (Brazos Press, 2008) At my last trip to the ETS/EPS meeting I saw this for sale and quickly picked it up. For those of you who don't know, Dr. Beckwith is an apologist and philosopher who was the president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society until he resigned when returned to Roman Catholicism. Frank's a friend of mine (he's participated in a previous Dare to Defend conference that we put on) and careful thinker, and while I've heard him speak about some of his motivations to leave Protestantism for Roman Catholicism, so I was really interested in reading about his thoughts in more detail. So far, he's outlined much of his personal history and his understanding of what salvation is. I haven't gotten o the "juicy" parts yet, so we'll see.

Philosophia Christi (The Journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society)Volume 10, Number2 - Responding to New Resurrection Challenges The EPS always puts out a great journal and this issue is no different. With over 200 pages of articles, reviews and scholarly debate, this will keep you up to date on the latest issues pertaining to philosophy of religion. It's targeted toward the scholar, so it's definitely not an easy read, but I found the focus topic interesting. Stephen Davis, William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas all responded to arguments brought forth by Dale Allison in his book Resurrecting Jesus. Great stuff to make you think.

Understanding Intelligent Design by William Dembski and Sean McDowell (Harvest House Publishers, 2008) This book was sent to me by the publishers and I'm glad they did so. Aimed at a high school audience it lays out the basic issues within the intelligent design debate in an easy to understand format; a great general primer. Can you read this book and argue all the nuances of ID? No - of course not. But it will give you a broad outline of the arguments and places to jump off to find out more.
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