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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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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Without God, How Can One Explain the Origin of Life?

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk on the origin of life and how it is providing incredibly serious problems for naturalists who seek to eliminate God from the scene. Modern biology has discovered quite a bit about the cell and its complexity, but in so discovering, they have also created quite a conundrum for themselves. How do you get any kind of life, with its requisite DNA code that carries the instructions for how things work operating together with the proteins that carry out the work? David Berlinski, who classifies himself as an agnostic, puts the problem in clear terms. He first identifies the different functions that go into creating proteins in the cell.1:
Replication duplicates the genetic message in DNA.
Transcription copies the genetic message from DNA to RNA.
Translation conveys the genetic message from RNA to the amino acids—whereupon in a fourth and final step, the amino acids are assembled into proteins.
None of the above is controversial. Biologists know that proteins are the things that do all the work of life. The description of DNA to RNA to amino acids to proteins is simple and directional. But Berlinski then notes that when we are talking about the origin of life, the description is reversed. In order to get a replication process, one must have proteins already. In fact, the famous Miller-Urey experiment sought to show that amino acids, not DNA chains, could be produced using natural processes. They were assuming that with amino acids, one can begin the replication process. Berlinski then makes an astute observation:
If nucleic acids are the cell's administrators, the proteins are its chemical executives: both the staff and stuff of life. The molecular arrow goes one way with respect to information, but it goes the other way with respect to chemistry.

Replication, transcription, and translation represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it proceeds in one direction. The chemical activities initiated by the enzymes represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it goes in the other. Within the cell, the two halves of the central dogma combine to reveal a system of coded chemistry, an exquisitely intricate but remarkably coherent temporal tableau suggesting a great army in action.

From these considerations a familiar figure now emerges: the figure of a chicken and its egg. Replication, transcription, and translation are all under the control of various enzymes, but enzymes are proteins, and these particular proteins are specified by the cell s nucleic acids, DNA requires the enzymes in order to undertake the work of replication, transcription, and translation and the enzymes require DNA in order to initiate it. The nucleic acids and the proteins are thus profoundly coordinated, each depending upon the other. Without amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase, there is no translation from RNA; but without DNA, there is no amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase.

On the level of intuition and experience, these facts suggest nothing more mysterious than the longstanding truism that life comes only from life. Omnia viva ex vivo, as Latin writers said. It is only when they are embedded in various theories about the origins of life that the facts engender a paradox, or at least a question: in the receding molecular spiral, which came first—the chicken in the form of DNA, or its egg in the form of various proteins? And if neither came first, how could life have begun?2 (Emphases in the original.)


1. Berlinski, David. “on the Origin of Life.” The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, Eds. (Wilmington DE: ISI Books, 2012). 280.
2. Ibid. 281.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Want a Democracy? Send A Christian Missionary!

I've spent the last couple of posts debunking the idea that "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." You can read why this idea isn't true historically here and here. Today, I'd like to focus on a point that isn't immediately considered by such a screed. It turns out that in the 21st century, in the era of advanced science and instant information, the fasted growing religion in the world is: Christianity! That's right. Even today, Christianity is gaining more new adherents than any other faith system, according to Baylor University's Phillip Jenkins.1

Photo courtesy GPcardenas

Jenkins notes that while Islam has increased faster than Christianity in proportion to the total population of the earth (growing from about 12% of the population to approximately 22% today) while Christianity has maintained its 33% status, the real difference comes in the way that new adherents were added.2 Islam has expanded in its traditional countries simply through rising fertility rates. Christianity continues to expand in historically non-Christian countries, such as those on the African continent, where missionaries have been doing the work of spreading the Christian message.

Let me be clear that the truth value of any belief system is not determined by how many people believe in it. Simply holding to the majority position proves nothing. It is easy, though, to show that Christianity is not growing either by compulsion or by fertility. The Christian strongholds of Europe and other western countries are in a famously rapid population decline. In the last century, Europe went from comprising 66% of the world's Christians to making up only 25% today.3 The African continent has seen a boom, though. According to Jenkins, Christianity has exploded an astounding 4,930%.4

The Effects of Evangelization: Stable Democracies

Why does this matter? It turns out, it matters quite a bit. A very meticulous study by Robert Woodberry shows convincingly that those Christian missionaries that sought to evangelize Africa had an incredibly positive effect for the nations where they flourished.5 Woodberry's data clearly shows that nations who had conversionary Protestant missionaries do their work set those nations on a road to literacy and stable democracy.

A recent article in Christianity Today highlights some of the advantages:
"Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary."6
The Christian worldview has proven itself time and again as the single best way to ease suffering and raise the standard of living for its adherents. This as it continues to spread even today through the same means it did for the past 19 centuries. No violence necessary.

So, to claim that Christianity spread through violence is demonstrably false. As to the claim about the truth value of Christianity, I've provided many arguments as to why Christianity is a faith based on evidence. No one threatened me to believe or else! I am convinced by the truth of Christianity's arguments and I'm not alone. I know of many atheists who looked at the evidence and converted to Christianity because of its truth value. And we have the real world effects of Christian missionaries spreading the Christian worldview to countries where the measurable effects are the betterment of lives.


1. Phillip Jenkins. "The World's Fastest Growing Religion." Real Clear Religion. 11/13/2012. Accessed 6/9/2014.
2. "The Numbers." Accessed 6/9/2014.
3. "Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population." Pew Center of Religion and Public Life. 12/19/2011.  Accessed 6/9/2014.
4. Jenkins, Ibid.
5. Andrea Palpant Dilley. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014. Accessed 6/9/2014.
6. Dilley, Ibid.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Did Christianity Dominate Through Violence?

Yesterday, I began to examine a particular charge made by an atheist that "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." This charge is not new; claims of Christian domination are common, with some offering the Crusades and others pointing to colonialism as examples of how Christianity sought to dominate the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, neither of those examples are evidence for spreading Christianity through violence.

Missionary Christianity — The Spread of Love

When Christianity first began as a persecuted faith in the Roman period, the thing that attracted pagans to Christianity is their selflessness and their love. An anonymous second century letter exists, addressed to Diognetus, where the writer gives a clear description of how Christians are seen:
Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens…They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed… They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.  They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.1
This unwavering dedication in the face of the persecution that I wrote about in my last post is the evidence that the Christians' "quality of truth" was lived out.

Colonization and the Crusades

The spread of Christianity through missionary efforts providing the love of Christ did not end when Constantine converted. Augustine of Hippo, one of the smartest men in history, converted to Christianity because he was seeking wisdom.2 Other leaders of western thought, such as Tertullian, Origen, and Justin Martyr also converted on the strength of Christianity's truth claims.

The living out of Christian love had a huge impact as well. The Eastern churches began monasteries to what are now Russia and the Slavic states, where the people converted not by sword, but by their embracing of the local peoples. In the west, saints like Patrick, who was enslaved by the pagan Irish for six years, came back and showed his love to them, leading to the nation's conversion.

Of course there are examples of attempts at forced conversions by rulers such as Charlemagne or the Spanish Inquisition. But these are political power plays that sought to co-opt Christianity for their own ends. Christianity had a mandate from its founder to "make disciples of all nations," but Jesus forbade the use of the sword as the means to accomplish that task. These are the exceptions in the history of Christendom and they only occur after Christianity has become dominant within the culture, not before.

The Crusades are a unique matter. While they did contain a lot of heinous actions on both sides, one must remember they were never an attempt to conquer or convert anyone. Paul F. Crawford I his excellent "Four Myths About the Crusades" shows clearly that the Crusades were launched as a response to Islamic attacks on Christians in the Middle East. Christians were protecting their lands against invaders, not invading themselves.

The fact that Christianity grew through the missionary's sweat and not the soldier's boot is a well-known fact of history. By asserting that violence spread the Christian faith, Michael Sherlock hopes to with a wave of his hand erase some 2000 years of history. It's a claim that defies credulity. But there's one more piece of evidence that Sherlock fails to consider: the fact that even today the fastest growing religion in the world is Christianity and I know of no armies conquering ion the sign of the cross. We'll look more at that next time.


1. "An Anonymous Brief for Christianity Presented To Diognetus." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed 4/6/2014.
2. In his Confessions, Book III, Chapter IV, Augustine writes, "In the ordinary course of study I came upon a certain book of Cicero's, whose language almost all admire, though not his heart. This particular book of his contains an exhortation to philosophy and was called Hortensius. Now it was this book which quite definitely changed my whole attitude and turned my prayers toward thee, O Lord, and gave me new hope and new desires." See "Augustine: Account of His Own Conversion" from the Medieval Sourcebook web site.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Answering Memes: Christianity Spread Through Violence (to Christians!)

Every once in a while I see an Internet meme that begs for comment. Memes are those individual images with a quip or slogan that supposedly provides amazing insight in a single thought. (For past posts, see here, here, and here.) Atheists believe these memes offer devastating blows against Christianity, but most are flat out wrong when it comes to the facts. They rely on shock value and an audience predisposed to agree with them without ever really thinking about the claim the meme makes. Still, some will capture misconceptions held by a wider group of people, so I like to address them from time to time to dispel the myths.

The latest shrill to emerge is a meme from atheist Michael Sherlock and makes the claim "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Really? I mean, really?? Is Sherlock such a poor detective of history that he can do no investigating at all? There are three areas where this meme goes horribly wrong, each of which is actually a feather in the cap of Christianity. Therefore I'd like to look at all three. I'll begin with the first, Christianity's growth during its first centuries.

Early Christianity—The Blood of the Martyrs

The first substantial growth of Christianity comes in the first three centuries after Jesus' crucifixion. From a band of a few dozen disciples on the day of Pentecost to the Diocletian persecution ending in AD 311, Christianity grew exponentially. Much of this growth was in spite of heavy persecution of Christians by the Jews and later the Romans as Christians expanded across the Roman Empire. Roman historian Tacitus writes that Nero is famous for having Christians covered in animal skins and set before wild beasts or rolled in pitch and set aflame to light his evening chariot rides.1

During the Diocletian persecution, Eusebius reports upside down crucifixion, being burned alive, Christians having each limb fastened to bent branches and then releasing the branches and tearing the Christians to pieces.2 In between, Christians faced many difficulties throughout the empire and martyrdom was commonplace, yet the believers continued to add to their ranks. This dichotomy was so evident it caused the church father Tertullian to famously state:
Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God suffers that we thus suffer; for but very lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno rather than to the leo3 you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.4
Christianity had grown so much during its times of pain and death that just two years after the Diocletian persecution, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan and gave Christianity protected status and the right to worship God as they saw fit.5

So, Christianity in its formative years did grow during violent times. Unlike what the meme implies, though, the violence was against the Christians themselves. But perhaps such an elementary deduction has eluded Sherlock. Perhaps he had only trained his spyglass on the time after Christianity was established as a world religion. Tomorrow, I'll look at the spread of Christianity from the fifth through the 19th centuries.


1. Tacitus. Annals, Book XV. The Internet Classics Archive. Accessed 6/5/2014.

2. Eusebius. Church History (Book VIII, Chapters 7 and 8). New Advent Web site. Accessed 6/5/2014.

3. This is a pun in Latin. Leno would be a pimp. Tertullian is saying the Romans testify to Christian virtuousness because they inflict a greater punishment in forcing Christians to be prostitutes rather than feeding them to lions.

4. Tertullian. Apology. Chapter 50. New Advent Web site. Accessed 6/5/2014.

5. Wright, David F."313 The Edict of Milan." Christianity Today. Issue 28, 1990. Accessed 6/5/2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

What Must God Do to Prove His Existence?

Yesterday, I said that many atheists claim they would believe in God if he would only provide better proof for His existence; however the reality is that they probably wouldn't. There is always a way of dismissing any type of evidence; one may claim that the evidence could be doctored ("photoshopped" is the convenient claim today) or dismissed in any number of ways. I'm pretty confident of my assertion, because of what I didn't talk about in that post, the fact that God has already provided some very good evidence of His existence which continues to be rejected by the atheists.

This blog has looked at different evidences for God in the past. We've discussed the beginning of the universe, its fine-tuning, how God is a necessary being, the existence of minds, and other evidences. However, what if God was to present us with a miracle like Jesus did when raising Lazarus? Or what if God was to appear to the skeptic directly and immediately and say, "Look! I exist!" Would the skeptic believe? Let us assume for the sake of argument that this skeptic does believe. He or she says, "The evidence is now incontrovertible; God exists." Ok, but what happens next? One would expect that the witness to such a revelation would not only change one's mind but also motivate that person to tell someone else about such a remarkable experience. In fact, I can't see how such a belief-changing experience could be kept to oneself. That former skeptic would be grabbing everyone who would listen and proclaim that, finally after all these millennia, God has indeed shown Himself to be real.

But when our skeptic relays this experience to friends and family, then what? Should they say, "Well, that may be what you have seen, but since I didn't have the same experience I won't believe until God reveals Himself to me directly, too!" According to such a criterion of proof, God would need to reveal Himself to all those our skeptic tried to convince, regardless of whether they may believe or not. What about the next day or a week later when life returns to normal and the skeptic begins to doubt whether the whole thing was real or perhaps the result of too many nerves, too little sleep, or an overindulgence of alcohol? Is God obligated to do it again and again?

One can quickly see that demanding God to provide incontrovertible evidence quickly devolves God from the ruler of the universe to someone who must constantly answer to the demands for proof by His creation. It not only makes no sense, but no God worthy of worship would stoop to such demands. It assaults His dignity. The fact is that God did provide real evidence to skeptics; Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus who at the time had a singular goal of wiping out anyone who extolled the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Saul testified over and over of Jesus' direct appearance and His rising from the dead. The Jews rejected his testimony when he told them and skeptics today continue to reject his testimony. Yet, his conversion is compelling and the historical evidence supports Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Whether Paul was talking with you face to face or you're reading his direct testimony contained in his correspondence (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 especially), it becomes too easy to be skeptical for skepticism's sake.

Think of it another way. God sacrificed His only Son for the sake of man's salvation. This is the greatest sacrifice and act of love anyone could ever perform. Jesus was then raised from the dead, testifying that He really was the Son of God and He did have the power over death and hell. To respond like Bertrand Russell did and say "Sir, why did you not give me better evidence" is insulting beyond measure. God does not exist to appease the whim of man. God's hiddenness is a sign of His holiness and transcendence.

We do have plenty of evidence for God's existence and not just Paul's testimony. We have multiple accounts from antiquity of Jesus' resurrection. We have the testimony of nature. We have the prophecies of the Bible fulfilled. For those who choose to reject it, I doubt that any evidence would ever be enough.
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