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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, August 26, 2011

How to Answer the Evolution Question

There's been an interesting turn in how the origins debate has affected the upcoming presidential race. For the first time, candidates' views on evolution are being made center stage in debate forums and interviews. Tim Pawlenty was asked by NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw about his position on teaching intelligent design and whether "creationism has the same weight as evolution." Likewise, during the South Carolina debate, Juan Williams asked Pawlenty if he equated "the teaching of creationism with the teaching of evolution, as the basis for what should be taught in our nation's schools?" Michelle Bachmann's comments at the Republican Leadership Conference stating that she supports intelligent design in the classroom were quickly highlighted in CNN as a stand-alone issue.

It seems that some in the media are really trying to make the evolution question a driving issue of the election. This is interesting, and quite a departure from previous presidential campaigns. As Jay Richards and David Klinghoffer noted "Evolution is the speed trap of presidential campaigns. Though a president doesn't have much influence over state and local science education policy, reporters lie in wait for the unwary candidate, ready to pounce with a question he's poorly prepared to answer yet that is important to millions of voters ." They're right, and I've been intrigued to see how this plays out on a national stage.

Of course, political reporters have been showing their ignorance on the issue. First, the word "evolution" has always proven to be wiggly. As this article shows, there are at least eight different meaning poured into the word, which makes it very hard to discuss with specificity. Also, reporters seem to think that intelligent design and creationism are synonymous. They aren't. There are many in the ID movement who even believe in some form of common descent. Lastly, as I've talked about here before, there's a huge amount of creation conflation going on - mixing the age of the universe with its cause.

Now, I don't usually give advice to political candidates of any stripe. However, it strikes me that there are many people that may be questioned or pressured by local educational organizations as to why they rebel against teaching evolution alone in the classroom. Here I believe is an intelligent, reasonable and completely supportable answer that I would offer if asked:
It is my understanding that the scientific method requires not only that one come up with a hypothesis to explain the cause and effect relationship of any set of events, but an effort should be made to falsify that hypothesis by testing or research of some kind. 
Falsification is key to the method. Hypotheses that cannot be falsified are not considered science.

Therefore, if the 'blind watchmaker' hypothesis of all life developing from a single source is a scientific one, then it too should be held up to falsification. In order to do science as science, we must teach what the falsification of the hypothesis would look like. The only way this particular hypothesis can be falsified is if we can find evidence that life exhibits intricacies that could not have developed via random mutations perpetuated through natural selection. In other words, we should see if the diversity of living systems show themselves to be too complex to stem from only unintelligent processes.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What's an Apologetics Missions Trip?

This month, I had the privilege of leading a group of 34 people, ranging from junior high to post-college, on an Apologetics Missions Trip. What kind of trip is an Apologetics Missions Trip, you ask? It's a trip where we not only train people how to defend their faith and share it with others, we go out and do it in real world settings. We meet with people on the street, we ask the staunchest defenders of those who hold different beliefs to tell us their views, and we discuss them in an intelligent and loving way.

For this trip, we caravanned to Salt Lake City, Utah so we could interact with members of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) church. We chose Salt Lake because it is explicitly immersed in Mormon culture and thought. In some suburbs, there are populations of over 60,000 people and only two Christian churches to serve the cities! This is a non-Christian environment.

After some extensive training, we took the students to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake where they were able to strike up discussions with Mormon missionaries and ask them about their beliefs. Students visited a splinter LDS group in southern Utah that still practices polygamy and attended one of their services. We also visited the campus of Brigham Young University and were able to interact with the students attending there. In between, we had opportunities to hear from some ex-Mormons and those with ministries that reach out to Mormon communities.

For most of our students, the experience was life-changing. Here are a few of their comments:
  • "I went on this trip expecting God to use me to minister to Mormons in any way He willed, but God in all His wisdom and beauty ministered to my heart as well through the most unassuming circumstances! What a rich experience this trip was. I came back with more passion and fervor to communicate the truth of the Word to the unsaved who enter and surround my daily life."
  • "The Lord broke my heart for the lost and gave me a new passion for His Word. But it also made me appreciate my salvation, the truth, and freedom that are God’s grace to me, so much more."
  • "My heart absolutely broke for the Mormons who were so lost in a lie. It felt like there was no freedom of religion in Utah and that the Christians were forced to be underground or hidden from society."
  • "Truly God is faithful to not only do a mighty work in the heart of those whom we had the opportunity to talk to, but to do a mighty work in my own heart as well!"
  • "This trip has given me a greater confidence and ability to articulate and defend orthodox biblical Christianity in the marketplace of religious and philosophical ideas."
  • "Before I went on the Utah Apologetics trip, some of my friends had jokingly said to me ‘if you want to talk to Mormons, why do you need to go all the way to Utah? You can find plenty right across the street!' And I kind of understood what they meant. But going to Utah and being in the middle of the Mormon culture opened my eyes to what a need they have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. One Christian Pastor who is an ex-Mormon, Russ East, mentioned at the beginning of our trip that when we talk with the Mormons, we need to speak the truth to them and show them where the Book of Mormon falls short, but that it's also very, very important to show the love of God to them by being good listeners and not being in "attack mode". And he also mentioned inviting them to church with us so that they can hear good worship music. I think he said this because the death of Jesus for the sins of the world is so downplayed in the Mormon faith, that the freedom and joy of the Lord is lacking. So, although they are pre-occupied with other ‘good things' like works, family, etc., the importance of Jesus' death and salvation for our sins is easily neglected. It's so important to remember that the Lord looks on our heart."
Apologetics Missions trips are unique experiences where students get to study theology, apologetics, and evangelism and then use it right away with real people. Even as I continue to hear from those who attended the trip, they are continuing to talk with the Mormons they met in salt Lake. Some have even asked local Mormon missionaries to come over for dinner so they can discuss faith in greater detail. Above all, God is working in the hearts of all those who went, strengthening their walk and teaching them to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 NKJV).

Next spring, we are hoping to have another Apologetics Missions Trip, targeting a hub of atheistic culture, U.C. Berkeley. I hope you can join us. If you'd like to read more about some specific encounters we had with the Mormon missionaries, read this recent blog post. And if you'd like to attend one of the apologetics classes held monthly, look at our calendar for upcoming classes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Just Because You're Smart Doesn't Mean We Should Listen to You

William Lane Craig has repeatedly commented that when very smart people like Lawrence Krauss or Stephen Hawking begin to comment on areas outside their realm of study, such as the philosophy of religion or the existence of God, their opinions hold no more authority than any other layman.  In fact, they often get things drastically wrong.

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 Most Penetrating Critique of New Atheism - Written by an Atheist

A lot of people have taken to critiquing the New Atheists. Some of the most eminent apologists (Craig, Copan, and Lennox among others) have written books cataloging the errors of their screeds. However, the most poignant review of the movement I've seen comes from an older article written by a fellow atheist. Physician Theodore Dalrymple provided this article for the City Journal wherein he examined the posturing and pronouncements of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. His observations are keenly insightful.

Dalrymple writes:
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.

Image courtesy Richard001 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Burning in the Bosom Might Require a Tape Measure

Last week, I had the privilege to lead a group of 34 students to Salt Lake City, Utah for an Apologetics Missions Trip. These trips are designed to help students interact with those who don’t hold to their religious views, to ground them in the theological truths of the Bible, and to teach them how to witness more effectively. It’s one thing to read a book or listen to a lecture on witnessing to the cults; it’s a far different thing to take it out of the classroom and actually do it.

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.


1. See “The Lost Book of Mormon Geography” at
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true.
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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