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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Here's a great interview with Thomas Sowell making the same point, but from the perspective of societal decision-making. Sowell even brings up Noam Chomsky and Bertrand Russell in the beginning of his talk. This video is a half hour well spent. H/T @simonfoust
Saturday, July 30, 2011
The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the argument from design).He then goes on to show some of the foibles of each of the main contributors to the New Atheist movement. He notes, "One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence." In other words, Dennett keeps using language of purpose and design in trying to sell the argument that there is no designer and no ultimate purpose for life. In a parenthetical statement he writes:
And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to "reality in all its naked cruelty." But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?Dalrymple notes that Dawkins "quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him." Brilliant observation. He also looks at Harris and Hitchens with equal insight.
However, the most amazing part of the article is how Dalrymple compares the modern atheists to the writings of a forgotten seventeenth century Anglican bishop. He writes, "But looking, say, into the works of Joseph Hall, D.D., I found myself moved: much more moved, it goes without saying, than by any of the books of the new atheists." After quoting from some of Hall’s writings, Dalrymple goes on to observe:
This is the language not of rights and entitlements, but of something much deeper—a universal respect for the condition of being human… No doubt it helps that Hall lived at a time of sonorous prose, prose that merely because of its sonority resonates in our souls; prose of the kind that none of us, because of the time in which we live, could ever equal. But the style applies to the thought as well as the prose; and I prefer Hall’s charity to Harris’s intolerance.The article may be a bit long for some, but it is an excellent read, if for no other reason than to expose you to the writings of Hall! I thank Dr. Dalrymple for his care for the human condition and his honesty and clarity in one more problem with the New Atheist movement—for all their sound and fury, they fail at elevating the human spirit.
Monday, July 18, 2011
One destination on our trip is the Temple Square in Salt Lake. This is the focal point of the LDS faith, with the Temple being the most iconic element of Mormonism. When we arrived at Temple Square, we had the students break into groups of two or three and then disperse to discuss beliefs with the Mormon Missionaries who are all too eager to engage visitors. In my time, a friend and I were able to engage with two different sets of Mormon Sisters – women in their early twenties who are on their mission, representing the LDS faith. The Sisters showed us the various buildings (the Tabernacle, Joseph Smith memorial, Church History Museum, and such) and along the way we began talking about Mormonism.
Now, the main “proof” of the validity of Mormonism for the overwhelming majority of Mormons is what has commonly become known as the “burning in the bosom.” Taken from a passage at the end of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4), Moroni instructs the reader
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Time and time again, as we talked with Mormons, they ultimately retreated to this passage as the unshakable measure of proof that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and that Joseph Smith was His prophet. “The Holy Ghost has confirmed these facts to me, and how can you get a higher authority than the Holy Ghost?” was the questions I received. They would then ask, “Have you read the Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely for God to reveal whether it’s true?”
I responded, “Yes, I have read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed. However God revealed to me quite clearly that this was not His word. So, what do we do now?” At this, the missionaries were a bit taken aback. They suggested that I must not have prayed sincerely enough. I countered with an analogy.
“Look, suppose I was a house builder with 10 years of experience. I may look down on that two by four and say, ‘That’s a 92-1/4” stud. My experience gives me the ability to eyeball those and tell.’ You may come up and say, ‘Well, I have 10 years of experience, too! I can eyeball that board and tell you it’s a full eight feet long!’ We each have had an experience, and we each believe sincerely that we’re right. But out experiences are in contradiction to one another. How do we solve the issue?” The answer is obvious, of course. You measure the board! We appeal to an objective standard. You can place the board against an eight foot wall being framed and if it fits within the opening, it is 92-1/4” and if it is the same as the height of the entire wall, it’s a full 96”.
This appeal to an objective standard is common-sensical and is how Mormons would settle any other question – except the question of the Book of Mormon. The personal experience in proving it to be true trumps everything, including archaeological evidence (there are no traces of any of the civilizations that the Book of Mormonism mentions1), the factual evidence (The Book of Abraham has been proven to be the Egyptian book of the dead2), DNA evidence (the American Natives are not Semitic in origin3), and the contradictory nature of Joseph Smith’s teachings when compared to the Bible.
In my discussion, the missionaries simply refused to acknowledge my point. “But you must pray!” they told me. “The Holy Ghost is the ultimate authority!” So, they basically said that their personal experience trumps all, even the facts when they are presented. I again asked how we can reconcile this stand-off. They had no further answer and bit me good-bye.
This to me is sad. These girls have so much of themselves invested into their belief system, that they cannot even make room for admitting there is more than one way to find the truth! I’ll keep praying for them. I also hope that we as Christians don’t fall into that same trap. 1 Peter 3:15 says we’d better be able to give reasons for why we believe as we do. To do anything else would result in building a house of faith where the walls are eventually going to collapse.
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true. http://www.mrm.org/book-of-abraham
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at http://utlm.org/newsletters/no103.htm#DNA
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, June 30, 2011
One of the primary aspects of God revealing Himself to man is so that man can properly worship Him and begin to understand the glory that is due God. He accomplishes this through two primary means: general revelation in His creation and specific revelation in scripture. Scripture, though, continually points back to God's creation as evidence for why He is worthy of worship, so creation plays a unique role in our understanding of theology.
The fact that creation is key to our understanding of God has become increasingly evident in the escalating attacks against the doctrine by skeptics and secularists. Simply put, if God exists, then we are obligated to obey Him. Creation argues for the existence of God (see here); therefore those seeking to be under no obligation to God will seek to undermine the fact of His creation. This should be the point where Christians need to focus their dialogue, since it is the claim most easily demonstrated as false.
Because the stakes are high, the discussion of these topics can quickly switch from a reasoned attempt to understand the positions to one of pigeon-holing, name-calling and general ill-will. Unfortunately, this even happens between Christian brothers. As James said, we shouldn't seek to quarrel in such a way with our brothers (James 4:1 ff), but we should seek God's wisdom; a wisdom which is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18).
On the Doctrine of Creation, Distinctions MatterThere are many different ways Christians understand the creation story, but there seems to be a lot of confusion in this area on all sides. People begin to conflate (that is mix up or assume the same meaning) between very distinct aspects of creation. They will assume that if you hold to intelligent design you must believe in a young earth, or if you think that there was a Big Bang you reject the biblical creation account. It is vital in the study of the doctrine of creation to keep this in mind – we need to distinguish between the cause of creation, the method of creation and the timeline of creation. In other words, creation ex nihilo, the Big Bang, the age of the universe and evolution are all different things and believing in one doesn't mean you believe in another.
The Cause of CreationThe cause of creation deals with the ultimate starting point of what we see in the universe. Causes answer the questions of "why does this exists rather than not?" Some examples are:
- "Why did the Big Bang bang?"
- "Why are humans fundamentally different from animals?"
- "Why is it that the laws of the universe just happen to be so delicately balanced for life?"
- "Where would the information necessary for DNA to work come from?"
The Method of CreationThe method of creation deals with the development of the world and us as we see it today. It may be that God creates something (such as the nation of Israel), but He chooses a certain method in developing that creation, like the leading of Moses, Aaron, the wandering in the wilderness, etc. Methods answer the questions of "how did this get to be the way it is?" Some examples are:
- The diversity of languages may be traced back to just a few common tongues.
- "When God spoke, did the world just pop into place fully formed or did it coalesce?"
- "Did God create man uniquely or did He use some natural processes?"
The Timeline of CreationThe timeline of creation deals with the duration of the creation event or events. Was it instantaneous or was there a becoming over a period of time? Obviously both Adam and Eve were not created instantaneously. Adam was created first and Eve at some later point in time. Duration answers the questions of "How long would method X take to be accomplished according to God's working?" Some examples are:
- How long was Genesis 1:3?
- "Did God take one hour, ten hours, or many millennia to create all the fish and the fowl?"
- "What is meant by the word 'day' in Genesis 1?"
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
I returned last week from a 10 day trip to Israel and it was amazing. I joined Dr. William Lane Craig for his Reasonable Faith tour of the Holy land, which was guided by Sar-El Tours, whom I recommend. The days were jam-packed and we went everywhere – from Megiddo to Mount Carmel, from Galilee to the Dead Sea, from Joppa to Jerusalem. Each day was crammed full of sites, history and biblical insights. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Cesarea MaritimaThis was one of our first stops on the tour. The seaside palace was built by Herod the Great as one of his living quarters. He created an artificial port where ships could dock and take on cargo for Rome and western destinations, and built up an entertainment infrastructure to make it enticing (it isn’t only in modern times that government supports the local sports complex). The thing that moved me first, though, is seeing that it was here where the Pilate inscription was found. Until 1961, there had been no archaeological evidence that a Roman procurator named Pilate ever existed. We had the Biblical account and a few second-hand mentions. But, that all changed when this stone slab, which was inscribed with his name, was found here.
2. Sea of GalileeStaying at Tiberius, we awoke on day 2 and jumped on a boat to head out to the Sea of Galilee. This was the first place where we could know that Jesus had been here. On the quiet lake, even with a bunch of other people, it was deeply moving. We went on to Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations and even saw what is most likely Peter’s house, where he stayed. A great time of reflection.
3. Spring of GideonIn our trek from the northern region to Jerusalem, we made a pit stop at the spring of Gideon. Talked about in Judges 7, this is the spring where Gideon pared down his fighting force to a mere 300 men. The passage reads "'Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.' And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water." I had always pictured the spring as having space around all sides, but it actually comes from a northern-facing cliff in the hill. Judges 7:1 says the Midianite’s army was to the north, so if you knelt all the way down and put your mouth to the water, you would basically have your back to the enemy, but if you scooped up the water with your hand, you could keep an eye on the northern hillside and the enemy camp.
This incident – one that would have occurred in about the 12th century BC- makes much more sense once you see the actual spring. You get it. You can see that the descriptions in the Bible do not read like the accounts of the gods on Olympus or some such mythology. These are real places and we have real evidence. The inconsequential details, like how people drank, are reinforced by the topography. Even history from over two and a half millennia ago rings true. It is truly an amazing land and was a remarkable trip.
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