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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.
Sunday, July 06, 2014
Friday, July 04, 2014
Today, Americans celebrate not simply the birth of our nation, but also the freedoms this nation offers. It is the freedoms that we cherish that make a difference. But, where do those freedoms come from? The Founders unanimously agreed that that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."1 But if God doesn't exist, would the Declaration make any sense? From where could we derive our rights if not from God alone?
In thinking about this question, it seems to me that one has only four options when arguing for the rights of persons: Our freedoms either derive from the inalienable rights granted to us by the government, the common consent of the governed, by nature, or by God alone. In the next couple of posts I intend to argue that none of the first three options make any sense. Only God can grant inalienable rights and thus it is only through God that we have any right to the freedoms we enjoy. Then, I'd like to look at a couple of those rights specifically in light of the liberal backlash against the recent Hobby Lobby court decision.
Rights don't come from governmentsThe first option one has in establishing our rights is the claim that they are bestowed upon us by the government. This seems problematic on its face, though, for if a government can bestow rights on an individual, then that same government can take them away. Such actions are no longer rights, but should be considered privileges that the government allows the governed. I had heard this often in high school when I was taking drivers education classes. "A driver's license is a privilege, not a right."2 The state may revoke the license if it deems you unfit to drive or if you are uncooperative by not submitting to an alcohol test, for example.
Rights are different than privileges. They are things that cannot be removed by fiat. While a government may trample on one's rights or ignore one's rights, the right itself remains. For those individuals, such as criminals who are incarcerated, they may have their rights curtailed, but that is only after a trial that shows others' rights were being infringed upon by their actions. However, no one is divorced from his or her rights.
This is what Jefferson meant when he invented the word "unalienable," it is impossible to erase rights or transfer them to another. All people have them, and that was precisely the argument the Founding Fathers were making. They were separating themselves from the government because their rights were being abused and their freedoms were being trampled. They felt it was necessary to dissolve the bonds with the government of England, so that their rights would be exercised freely. Therefore, rights cannot come from the government. Rights exist prior to governments.
Rights don't come from the governedBecause we understand that rights precede governments and that they must be unalienable, option two becomes fairly easy to dismiss. Rights cannot come from the common consent of the governed because if our rights are given by common consent, then they may be removed by common consent. The United States is a government as Lincoln put it "of the people, by the people and for the people," formed "by Authority of the good People of these Colonies" as the Declaration says. But it is not simply the agreement of the citizens of a country that bestows rights upon themselves. Such rights are again not unalienable. If they can be agreed upon my mutual consent, then they can be removed by mutual consent. Therefore, rights given by common consent are not inalienable. They are again not rights but simply agreed upon privileges.
Rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not the happiness one feels when receiving a birthday gift, but the more sublime pursuit of contentment in life) must be unalienable if they are to be rights at all. That means they must transcend any human authority, for human authorities can never bestow anything unalienable. It is God alone who can do so. The Framers knew this and they appealed to God repeatedly in the Declaration. They declared that it was necessary for them to assume "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." They said that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They even finished the Declaration with an appeal to God and His authority: "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States."
In my next post, I will look at the idea that rights are not derived from nature, but for now we should remember that to celebrate the freedoms that we cherish as Americans means to celebrate the rights we recognize as the basis for those freedoms. But for rights to be real, they must be grounded in Almighty God. So, say a prayer during your holiday celebrations, and thank your Creator for giving brave men the wisdom to recognize where your rights come from. Without God, there can be no freedom.
2 In the article "Law Talk: Who says driving is a privilege and not a right?" Barton Dieters cites the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in the case of Donald S. Miller v. the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where the court ruled that there simply is no "fundamental right to drive. See . http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/11/law_talk_who_says_driving_is_a.html for more.
Thursday, July 03, 2014
This stance of the Mormon Church has always bothered me. In The Pearl of Great Price, considered to be sacred scripture by the LDS church, Joseph Smith canonized his account of the "first vision" of two personages (identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ) that supposedly gave birth to the church.1 Smith explains:
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.Smith here clearly states that all the Christian denominations are "all wrong," "their creeds are an abomination," those that profess Christianity "were all corrupt," and they are denying the power of godliness. These are basically the harshest condemnations one could receive from God, and yet Mormons are steadfastly claiming "I'm a Christian, too!" If Mormons and the LDS church believe this vision is true and God really did day these things, then why on earth would they want their name associated with an apostate group whose beliefs are an abomination before the Lord?
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."2
To look at it another way, imagine that I was discussing my beliefs with a group of Wiccans. Further, imagine me stating, "I know that we disagree on the nature and character of God, but because I believe that God is responsible for creation and you do too, that makes me as pagan as you. I'm a pagan Christian!" The claim is not only nonsense, it would offensive to both the Wiccans and it would be offensive to Christianity. Paganism is the opposite of what Christianity teaches, just as the Mormon view that man may become God is the opposite of Christianity's transcendent Creator.
Christianity throughout its history has faced heresy and apostasy. Jesus warned his followers to ""Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15) and Paul cautions the church in Galatia that "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). Jesus and Paul were exclusivists; they held — and the early church codified — there are certain beliefs that identified someone as a Christian. If one rejects any of those essential beliefs, they must be excluded and considered not a Christian.
While the LDS church likes to use the line "we're Christians, too," it doesn't mean it's true. Perhaps they can gain some PR or a sympathetic listen from a potential convert, but Mormonism is as far from Christianity as I am from becoming a God myself. Why they would claim such is disingenuous and insulting to both their beliefs and to mine.
References1. There exist a lot of conflicting accounts about this first vision in documents written both before and after the one included in The Pearl of Great Price. This has caused many scholars to doubt that Joseph Smith repeated the story consistently. For a few of these, see Tanner, Sandra. "Evolution of the First Vision and Teaching on God in Early Mormonism" Utah Lighthouse Ministries. Web. 8 Nov 1998.http://utlm.org/onlineresources/firstvision.htm Accessed 3 July 2014.
2. Smith Jun., Joseph. "Joseph Smith—History." The Pearl of Great Price. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng Accessed 3 July 2014.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
In the article, Milloy paints a picture of a woman who has just given birth holding her infant when the doctor walks in and ominously announces that the newborn is due for its "treatment" which will give the child some social advantages, but also runs a risk of dangerous side effects. Milloy puts these in the mouth of the doctor:
"Oh, in 1 or 2 percent of cases, we see long-term negative reactions to this," he says with a hint of distaste. "It leads to depression, social ostracism, difficulty finding or keeping a job. Those with negative reactions often become subject to intense discrimination in society. Suicide is not uncommon."1Then, with a theatrical flourish, Milloy supposedly drops the bomb:
It seems unlikely that doctors, hospitals, parents, or society in general would tolerate a standard practice like this.Oh, please. You note the quick dismissal of sex as "nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals." That's what those who promote sexual fluidity would have us believe. The reality is that every cell of one's body defines one's sex. Even high school biology students know this; human beings have 23 pairs of genes and the last set is either XX or XY, which determines one's sex. Those chromosomes begin a process that change hormone development, brain development, muscle mass, and bone physiology. Basically, they change the entire person's anatomy.
Except they already do. The imaginary treatment I described above is real. Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents' consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It's called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals.2
Because a man's or woman's sex is coded into the very DNA of an individual, it's a bit more than disingenuous to claim that we don't have to identify a child's sex at birth. Even those who claim to be transsexuals cannot have any kind of surgery to remove the offending chromosome from their system. They simply wish to pretend it doesn't exist. However, as I've written before, surgery to make one appear physically as the other sex isn't the answer. Walt Heyer, a former transsexual himself, reports that Transgender suicide death rate is at 30% regardless of whether one has had transformative surgery or not:
One out of every 3 transgenders, even after undergoing a surgical gender change, will die from suicide. Gender surgery is no help in preventing or reducing transgender suicide deaths. More than 40% of transgenders will attempt suicide and 30% will not survive the attempts and die.3
This argues that the condition of not identifying with one's sex is a mental illness which can never be treated with a plastic surgeon's scalpel.
Milloy, if you hadn't guessed already, identifies as a transsexual and is an activist for transsexual issues, and the bias is evident in every paragraph of the article, except one. In his opening sentence he writes, "Imagine you are in recovery from labor, lying in bed, holding your infant. In your arms you cradle a stunningly beautiful, perfect little being." There is simply no way a person born with an XY set of chromosomes is in view here. He is addressing a mother who has just given birth, and no amount of fear-mongering can spin that role to something else. He later writes:
We tell our children, "You can be anything you want to be." We say, "A girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse," but why in the first place must this person be a boy and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant... The world is full of possibilities that every person deserves to be able to explore freely, receiving equal respect and human dignity while maximizing happiness through individual expression.The problem is that a boy cannot be a mother and a girl cannot be a father, no matter how much they want to be. Such roles are not up for grabs. They are too important. The survival of the human race relies on infants having XX or XY chromosomes. Without both, we can never produce another generation. To flippantly dismiss those very real differences as meaningless shows that Milloy would damn the necessary in order to maximize his own happiness. Now that I think about it, it doesn't strike me as funny.
2. Milloy. Ibid.
3. Heyer, Walt. "Transgenders suicide death rate at 30%." Sex Change Info. Web. 29 Dec 2012. http://waltheyer.typepad.com/blog/2012/12/transgenders-suicide-death-rate-at-30.html Accessed 2 July 2014.
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
One scene in the film shows an excited Ralphie receiving his Orphan Annie secret decoder pin. After transcribing the radio code, he locks himself in the bathroom, working feverishly to crack Annie's urgent communiqué. Ralphie wonders, "What could this important code from Annie be?" The message finally translates to "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine" and Ralphie is crushed that he placed all his faith in a "crummy commercial".
That's the way it is for many folks in Hollywood. They want to sell you the illusion, and make money off it in the process. Even if there is no real danger or real secret, they'll make it up just so they can market something to an unsuspecting public. As an example, let's look at the Discovery Channel's special from a few years ago, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Produced by James Cameron of Terminator and Titanic fame, and directed and narrated by Simcha Jacobovici, the show tries to claim that "the 2,000-year-old ‘Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries' belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth."1
They further try to press the point that this somehow deals a fatal blow to the New Testament. James Cameron states in an interview that "Faith and forensics make very uneasy bedfellows.. Faith implies essentially the lack of a need for evidence… The scientific method is in direct opposition to that. You have to investigate, you have to find the proof."2 Jacobovici tantalizes us with lines such as "The New Testament doesn't say that Jesus had a son, but perhaps in this instance, archaeology forces us to throw a different light on the New Testament".3
What We Know About the TombIs there reasonable evidence to believe that a Jewish burial tomb containing Jewish burial boxes from the first century held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family? When we look at the evidence, what we find is that Cameron and Jacobovici are more interested in selling the idea that what they found is new evidence than producing actual evidence for a find. We have a two-hour television special that is nothing more than hype with no substance. First, let's strip away the hyperbole and see exactly what was found.
Facts from the Special:
- A tomb was found in 1980 in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem, hewn out of rock
- The tomb contained ten ossuaries to hold the remains of the dead buried there.
- Six of the ossuaries bore names inscribed on them including Jesus, son of Joseph; a form of Joseph (Jose), Matthias (Matthew) and Judah son of Jesus
- Two ossuaries bear female names: a Latin version of the name Mary using Aramaic letters (Mariah); and another with a version of the name Mary (Mariamne) and a full title supposedly reading "Mary known as the master".
- Some residual DNA shows that several of the people who were buried in the tomb were related in some way.
- The DNA also shows that the occupant of the Jesus ossuary was not related to the occupant of the Mariamne ossuary.
Seeing the TruthI think even a cursory look at the actual evidence and the conclusions that the show tries to draw demonstrate just how much the filmmakers are straining to make a connection. Let's take the names as an example. Dr. Darrel Bock pulled data from Richard Baukham of St. Andrews, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He gives us a breakdown of name frequencies in first century Palestine:
"Out of a total number of 2625 males, these are the figures for the ten most popular male names among Palestinian Jews. The first figure is the total number of occurrences (from this number, with 2625 as the total for all names, you could calculate percentages), while the second is the number of occurrences specifically on ossuaries.You can see at once that all the names you're interested were extremely popular. 21% of Jewish women were called Mariamne (Mary). The chances of the people in the ossuaries being the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the New Testament must be very small indeed."5
1 Simon/Simeon 243 - 59
2 Joseph 218 - 45
3 Eleazar 166 - 29
4 Judah 164 - 44
5 John/Yohanan 122 - 25
6 Jesus 99 - 22
7 Hananiah 82 - 18
8 Jonathan 71 - 14
9 Matthew 62 - 17
10 Manaen - Menahem 42 - 4
For women, we have a total of 328 occurrences (women's names are much less often recorded than men's), and figures for the 4 most popular names are thus:
Mary/Mariamne 70 - 42
Salome 58 - 41
Shelamzion 24 - 19
Martha 20 - 17 4
Of course, you never hear that 122 tombs have been found with the name of Jesus and that Joseph is the second most popular name discovered on ossuaries. Or, the show doesn't report that an ossuary in 1926 was found with the same "Jesus, son of Joseph" inscription.
The authors next try to impress us with the facts that another other ossuaries bear names identical to Jesus' brother, Joses (Joseph). While this may be true, we saw that Joseph is the second most common name in first century Palestine. But what about Jesus' other brothers? If this is a family crypt, where are James, and Simon, and Judas? The Judas we have in the tomb is the son of Jesus, not his brother. And who is the Matthew? We have no history of a Matthew as being a living blood relative during Jesus' time.
Of course the fact that there's a tomb at all causes all sorts of problems. First, Jesus' family was too poor to afford a rock -;hewn tomb which was quite expensive in that day. Even if they could afford one, though, the family resided in Nazareth, not Jerusalem. Why wouldn't the entire family have a crypt there?
Next, you come to the problem of the reports of the empty tomb itself. Bodies take about a year to decompose before they are ready to be placed into an ossuary. If Jesus' family had a tomb in Jerusalem, do you think that the leaders of the Sanhedrin would have gone to find it and squash the Christian young Christian movement before it started? And why would all the apostles, including Jesus' brothers James and Jude, die martyrs' deaths without even one of them recanting and confessing that they made the resurrection story up.
Finally, we have DNA evidence that proves, well, nothing at all. So Mariamne wasn't related to Jesus. So what? This doesn't make her his wife. She could have been Matthew's wife, or Judah son of Jesus' wife. It's a huge stretch to try and connect two people in a civil union just because they aren't blood relatives.
An Attempt to SellThere are more problems, but space prohibits me from going into any further detail. In fact, there are so many more problems with this "lost tomb" that Professor Amos Kloner, the respected Israeli archeologist who was in charge of the initial examination of the tomb and its contents says that the special is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Kloner remarks, "The claim that the burial site [of Jesus] has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell. I refute all their claims and efforts to waken a renewed interest in the findings. With all due respect, they are not archeologists."6
Like Ralphie in the Christmas movie, I hope that folks take a skeptical look at specials like this and see them for what they really are: empty messages that are nothing more than people hoping to make money off controversy. Perhaps the Discovery Channel needs to get some cross-play between their shows. I'm sure that someone with the skepticism of the MythBusters would be able to see the flaws in this special and take it for what it really is: a two-hour "crummy commercial".
2. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Cameron Interview - Part 2"
3. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" as seen on the Discovery Channel March 4, 2007 9:00 PM
4. "Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus' Family Tomb, What Do They Share?" Darrell Bock, Bible.org
http://dev.bible.org/bock/node/106 accessed online 3/5/2007
5. "Excerpt: 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James D. Tabor" ABCNews.com
http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/story?id=1746724&page=3 Accessed online 3/5/2007
6. "Jesus' burial site discovery is just PR spin" YnetNews.com
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3369346,00.html Accessed online 3/5/2007
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