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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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Monday, January 01, 2018

Two Jan 1 Law Changes Show How Jesus Changed Everything

January 1 marks the beginning of a new year and with it the promise of new opportunities to better ourselves. Of course the beginning of the New Year means many new laws begin to take effect. This has been true ever since Julius Caesar changed the calendars back in 45 B.C. when January 1 first marked the beginning of the year. Just three years later following Caesar's assassination, it was on January 1 that he was posthumously proclaimed divine by the Roman Senate.

The move to make Caesar divine was a political one. Caesar's grand-nephew and heir Octavian wanted to capitalize on Caesar's popularity with the common people and leverage it in his favor as he engage in a power struggle for the empire against Caesar's enemies. After his success, Octavian became known as Caesar Augustus ("the venerable") which "had a religious significance as designating one worthy of reverence, and marked him as more than man."1

The act of declaring Caesar a god was a key moment in the history of Rome. The Romans, unlike the Greeks, Egyptians, and other eastern cultures didn't have a tradition that a ruler would be a descendant of the gods.2 They held Romans to be superior to all other groups, and like all other cultures of their day, believed the aristocracy was superior to the underclass. But they didn't see the Roman leadership as direct descendants of the Roman pantheon.3 It was Octavian's political maneuver that established the Roman Imperial Cult where the emperor would be worshiped as divine. Later Caesars actually began to believe their own propaganda, and grew even bolder in their proclamation of being from the gods.

Another January 1 Wathershed Law

January 1 marks the anniversary of another watershed law, this one more recent in history. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln gave an executive order affecting more than three million people in the Civil War-torn United States south. The Emancipation Proclamation as it is known officially declared "all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons." While the Civil War wouldn't be settled for another two years, Lincoln's executive order legally marked the end of slavery in the United States of America.

The contrast between these two acts is interesting. Both of these laws affected the history of civilization. One sought to elevate a man above other men. The other sought to recognize the equality of all men. While both gave their proponents certain political advantages, one ultimately resulted in more human suffering and enslavement of other cultures while the other brought freedom and dignity to a previously repressed group. What changed? Why is there such a difference in the basic view of human beings?

The unifying force between these two is Jesus. The true God-man came into the world of one who claimed himself to be divine and leveraged it to spread His message that all men are equally valuable. Instead of demanding worship from others, He humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross so that all men of every race would be set free from the slavery of sin and death.

As we jump into a new year, you will certainly see many new laws take effect. Some of them are selfish in nature, seeking to bolster our personal pleasures without regard for the wider effects on society. Others are more magnanimous. But don't forget about Christmas just yet. Without the Emmanuel, without the God with Us, it might be that New Year's would only mark the beginning of another period of forced worship to one more of the various despots human nature has always produced. And that is nothing with celebrating.


1. Henry Fairfield Burton. "The Worship of the Roman Emperors." The Biblical World, vol. 40, no. 2, 1912, pp. 80–91., doi:10.1086/474622.
2. Burton, Ibid.
3. Burton, Ibid.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Why a Scientific Consensus isn't What it's Cracked Up to Be

A couple of years ago, the Internet blew up over a huge debate—one that captured the attention of popular culture and caused fierce disagreements between friends and family members. I am, of course, talking about the infamous "What color is the dress?" meme portrayed in the accompanying image. One can perceive the dress colors to be either blue and black or white and gold, and it seems for most people once you see the colors a certain way, you simply can't see them from the other perspective.

Now, imagine you want to buy a gift for your mother's birthday and your father had sent you that same picture with the recommendation that since he's buying her a dress, you should purchase the accessories. Would your purchases make sense? We don't know. It all depends on what you see and whether your perception matches reality. Even if the one buying the accessories had the most exquisite fashion sense and was gifted in picking out the most tasteful and appropriate accoutrements, it matters what their perception of the dress colors were.

Scientific Consensus is Founded on Paradigms

I offer the thought experiment because it helps us to better understand how paradigms influence people. We all make choices based on a specific way of seeing things, and this is true in the fields of science as much as it is in any other discipline. In fact, the terms "paradigm" and "paradigm shift" were coined by Thomas Kuhn in his earthshaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn there demonstrates how scientific knowledge hasn't been acquired in a slow, steady, progressive line. That's a myth.

Kuhn states that what really happens is young scientists accept certain assumptions about how the world works because they've been taught that from those already in the field. He writes that the student studying in whatever scientific discipline he will eventually practice,
joins men who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models, his subsequent practice will seldom evoke overt disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.1(emphasis added).
What this means is that scientists within a particular field of study all start with some basic assumptions and then they rely upon those assumptions to solve problems on details within that model. So, if one were to start with the paradigm that the dress is white and gold, then the answer to the problem of what kind of accessories would complement the dress will come out differently than if one were to hold the paradigm that the dress is blue and black.

The Consensus Can be Influenced by Outside Factors

If you are basing your accessory choices on the paradigm of a white and gold dress, and you find that the majority of those who you learn from and those you work with have also accepted this paradigm, you no longer ask about the color of the dress or whether whiter is a better color for a handbag than back. When someone comes into your fold and suggests black for a handbag, your reaction would be one of incredulity. Certainly any fool can see that black is the wrong color choice! You might even make fun of them and dismiss them as not doing good science. But what they've questioned is the paradigm you have assumed, not the reasoning to the color if the paradigm were true.

Here's the thing, though. These paradigms themselves are frequently caused by factors beyond dispassionate science. Kuhn himself discovered this when investigating the Ptolemaic and Copernican ideas of the solar system. Ptolemy's paradigm was first formed by Aristotle, who held to a couple of very Greek ideas, one of which was that some bodies are naturally inclined to move in a circular pattern. In other words, planets by their nature would move circularly because that's what they do. Aristotle's assumption set the paradigm that worked for many centuries and allowed the scientists for those days to come up with accurate predictions.

It's much like another image that takes on conflicting perceptions. Look at the drawing of the animal I have here. Is this a drawing of a rabbit or a duck? Normally, you will perceive one or the other first. Interestingly, outside factors make a difference in what you see. The Independent reports "At different times during the year, the result of the test seem to change. During the Easter period, people are more likely to see a rabbit first but in October, seeing the duck first is more common."2

Aristotle's assumption on the nature of bodies moving in a circular pattern was based on Greek philosophy. Thus it was a philosophical commitment that shaped the science of planetary orbits and of our understanding the nature of our solar system for centuries. It was only when instruments became more sophisticated that flaw could be seen in the model. These flaws grew to the point of crisis until those within the community had to abandon their paradigm and adopt a new one. This is what Kuhn labels a paradigm shift.

The Consensus Can Be Wrong

Before a paradigm shift occurs, there is a scientific consensus about whatever point one is discussing. But even though a consensus exists, that doesn't mean those who oppose the consensus are wrong. They may in fact be right, but they are simply offering a different paradigm.

When you read about the contentious scientific issues of our day like the origin of life, man-caused climate change, and neo-Darwinian evolution, it won't be long before someone makes the claim that given a scientific consensus exists on topic X, anyone who holds a contrary view is anti-science. That's simply wrong. It may be that those who hold to the contrary position see the flaws and wish to question the paradigm itself. The bigger question thinking people need to ask is "what are the assumptions implicit in this position and have they been tested?" The question of the color of the dress can be answered, if one enlarges the frame to see more of the picture. Doing this isn't anti-science but what Kun calls extraordinary science.

So let's not point to the idea of a scientific consensus as the final card in a debate. The consensus may be the very thing that needs to be questioned.


1. Thomas Samuel Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition., University of Chicago Press, 1970. 11.
2. Chloe Farand. "Duck or Rabbit? The 100-Year-Old Optical Illusion That Could Tell You How Creative You Are." The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 14 Feb. 2016,

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Default in Disagreement for Climate Change/Abortion Advocacy

As informed citizens, we utilize the available tools around us to help make wise decisions on public policy. And public policy, of course, codifies how people are to interact with one another, the environment, and the government. Many issues wind up being a scientific/ethical/legal debate because Americans hold to different understandings of law, conceptions of ethics, and the relevant science. This article will not examine or critique our various conceptions of ethics, though it will assume ethics are employed in our decision-making process in general. The article will, however, examine the approach to science we take in responding to issues.

It is commonplace for voters to take cues from popular science and advocate accordingly. It is just as commonplace to find a strategy like this:
  • identify data (commonly as an appeal to science), and then
  • leverage that data to make an ethical decision (commonly via voting or advocacy).
But… this strategy is often used inconsistently and, particularly so, amid disagreement on an issue. Take abortion and climate change:

The current default in society is to affirm policies that:
  1. Give choice to voters:
    • For abortion, this means denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood, while
  2. Denying choice to voters:
    • For climate change, this means championing policies that prioritize nature.
On the issue of abortion, regardless of whichever camp one sits on or however nuanced one’s position is, there are clear questions that science can answer in the discussion. We can look at human embryology, anatomy, physiology, gynecology, obstetrics, (i.e. entire scientific sub-disciplines that can speak authoritatively on the debate in significant ways). We can enlist the existing science there to affirm a defensible position on public policy.

On the issue of climate change, there is an appeal to climate science to justify public policies for conservation, environmental restrictions, pollution controls, et cetera. Now, given the science and regardless of wherever one stands on the issue, it is easy to find contention and disagreement in the public sphere over climate change. This disagreement, however, does not stop climate-change-conscious citizens from advocating climate-change-conscious policies. I have yet to see such an advocate (and I can bet he or she would consider it absurd) to propose: “The public disagrees on whether or not humans are influencing the climate. Therefore, the default position should be to NOT advocate or attempt to pass climate-change-conscious policies at all.”

Now, if he or she were being consistent, then he or she would consider it similarly absurd to propose: “The public disagrees on whether or not the unborn are persons. Therefore, the default position should be to NOT advocate personhood for the unborn.” That is to say, it would not at all make sense to stop trying to make laws in favor of guarding unborn human life solely because there is disagreement.

Take human embryology: the relevant claims in science here are non-controversial and uncontested regarding the unborn. We can make statements like:
  • “The organism has unique and human DNA” or
  • “All things being equal, the unborn will continue its human development as the rest of us did and do.”
Furthermore, there are far less controversial and far more modest statements that even non-experts can make, like:
  • “The only differences between the unborn and the born are size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency” or
  • “No combination of those differences have ever been sufficient to say that someone is or is not a person.”
Appealing to science here does no favors for a pro-choice position.
So, to maintain logical consistency, a pro-choice/climate-change advocate ought to suppose that disagreement on an issue with scientific connections means either of these defaults:

A) Affirm policies that give choice to voters:
  • for abortion, this means denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood
  • for climate change, this means denouncing policies that prioritize nature, or
B) Affirm policies that deny choice to voters:
  • for abortion, this means championing policies that prioritize unborn personhood
  • for climate change, this means championing policies that prioritize nature.
Given these options, this means a pro-choice/climate-change advocate would have to modify their position by doing either of these:
  • stop denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood, or
  • stop championing policies that prioritize nature
Neither of which is presumably desirable for such an advocate.

What shall it be, then? Do not look to science? Do not make ethical policies that account for the science? Do not be logically consistent? The answer, of course, is: “None of the above.” So then, why be inconsistent with the strategy? Why not let science influence our ethical considerations? If the science affirms that humans are being bad stewards of the environment, then why not uphold policies that address responsible stewardship? If the science affirms that humans begin to exist at conception, then why not uphold policies that address the inalienable value of human life?

Let us be consistent. If it is a principle of ours to appeal to the science in addressing a science-related policy, then let us not deny the corresponding ethical position it would entail or affirm, even if it means we might have to abandon or revise our prior collection of ethical postures.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Reformation: A Great Schism or Necessary Change?

In this special edition of the Come Let Us Reason Together podcast, Lenny sits down with Reasons to Believe Senior Research Scholar Ken Samples to discuss the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. That act launched one of the most significant changes to western civilization humanity has ever seen.   

In this extended podcast, Ken and Lenny discuss the reasons for Luther’s grievances, why the Reformation made the impact it did, how the sharing of the Gospel was affected through the  Reformers, as well as some of the criticisms and problems that emerged from dividing the church.

Listen to the discussion below or download by clicking here. To subscribe to Come Reason's podcast, click on the buttons below:

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pro-Abortion Argument of Saving Children vs. Saving Embryos

Is a fertilized egg a new human being at its very first stages of life? The answer, of course, is yes. Left to its natural course, a fertilized egg will grow and mature into a fetus, an infant, a child, and ultimately an adult. Each stage adds complexity and capabilities, but they are all stages in the development of the same referent—a human being.

However, pro-abortion folks don't like the idea that a fetus is a human being. They want to deny that the developing baby in utero is really a baby. This morning I saw a series of tweets from New York Times Op-Ed writer Patrick S. Tomlinson posting what he thinks is the ultimate defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception. There, he offers what he thinks is a knock-down argument against the position that a fertilized egg is a human being. The original thread begins here, but I've reproduced it below to make it easier for you:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. 1/

It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. 2/

Here it is. You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. 3/

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 4/

Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die.

In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. 5/

They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. 6/

This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true.

No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. 7/

They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency.

No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. 8/

Don't let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don't, slap that big ol' Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them.

The end. 9/9

Choices Don't Determine Essence

Is Tomlinson right? Is his thought experiment the death-knell for the concept that life begins at conception?

Spoiler alert: no.

Tomlinson has made a big mistake in his thinking as he believes choosing to save the five year old somehow denies the humanity of the embryos. How does that follow? How does one's choice determine the essence of the thing that is not chosen? It is a classic non-sequitor.

Now, I agree that almost all people would grab the child first, but that doesn't prove the point that the embryos are not humans who hold intrinsic worth, too. To demonstrate this, let me offer a counter-scenario:

The set-up is basically the same as Tomlinson's, except you're in a hospital not a fertility clinic. On one side you have the five year old child. On the other, a series of ten beds, each with a geriatric patient in a vegetative state. Because the hospital had built safety precautions into their building for evacuations,hazards, the comatose group are positioned on top of an elevator platform. You can either A) save the screaming child or B) you can run to the other side of the room and pull the lever, lowering yourself and the ten comatose patients to safety. There is no C. Which do you choose?

Again, I think most people would choose A. Some may choose B and let the child experience the agony of burning alive. But for most of us, it is as Tomlinson said: instinctively we go for the child. This in no way means the others have somehow lost their humanity. It only means that rational people weigh various criteria, including consciousness and the ability to feel pain when making such decisions.

Like the comatose patients, embryos in test tubes are handicapped. Their ability to naturally grow and develop has been artificially halted, and they have been denied the womb. Just because they have yet developed cognition or the capability to feel pain doesn't make them any less human than my patients in comas. If it were true that those patients were no longer human, then we wouldn't mind at all harvesting their organs as we desire for transplants. (If you shudder at that, then maybe destroying embryos for scientific research should give you pause.)

Ultimately, Tomlinson's thought experiment fails to prove his point. I've answered his scenario honestly. Should I "call him out" and "demand he answer" and admit this doesn't prove what he's hoping it will?
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