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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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Showing posts with label atheists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheists. Show all posts

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Dialogue with an Atheist (video)

A couple of years ago I was invited onto a local television show entitled "That's so Chratheist!" The host, Truman Ardent Smith, is an atheist but wanted to show how Christians and atheists can discuss their differences in an amicable spirit. In this discussion/debate we covered a lot of ground, discussing evolution, morality, and some of the arguments for God's existence. I think you'll enjoy the exchange.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design

One of the proofs of God has been how the universe has been incredibly finely-tuned for the existence of life. I've written on this in several different posts, and highlighted Robin Collins' argument that given the extremely improbability of a single universe coming into existence without a God, it is irrational to believe in a such an atheistic universe.

Most atheists have responded to this problem in one of two ways. The first is to claim that while the values of several dozen parameters are indeed uniquely positioned for life, this isn't a problem because there are an infinite number of universes that exist—all with different parameters—and we just happened to live in the one that will sustain life. I've already shown why this claim fails. But it's the second response that I've been hearing more often lately. Many atheists to day simply claim that our universe just isn't designed for life. Many Internet atheists have made such arguments, but I will use the one Richard Carrier presented in our debate as typical of them:
With regard to the nature of the universe and it supposedly being finely tuned for life, it really isn't. I want you think about the cosmology in astrophysics for a moment.  99.9999 percent (a large percentage) is filled with a lethal radiation-filled vacuum. Life can't exist in it. That means that a vast quantity of the universe is inhospitable or lethal for life. That aside, if you look at the other material in the universe, 99.9999 percent consists of stars and black holes in which life cannot live. So, a vast amount of the material in the universe is inhospitable for life. And even if you look at the remaining stuff, most of that also is inhospitable for life. In fact, if you were to put the entire observable universe into a house and do the math, the amount of volume in that house that would be hospitable for life would be smaller than a proton. Now, if you walked into a house and there was only one proton in there that was hospitable for life, you would not conclude that the house was designed for life. The universe is clearly not designed for life.1

Missing the Point

First off, objections like this miss the point of a universe designed for life. The claim of not only theologians but scientists such as John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, Paul Davies, and Martin Rees2 is not that the majority of the universe is set up so that life could thrive, but that the parameters that govern all aspects of the universe are set precisely with life permitting values. Robin Collins breaks this down into three areas: The fine-tuning of the laws of nature, of the constants of nature, and of the initial conditions of the universe.3 Collins goes on to use the gravitational force as one example, explaining that if there were no force attracting bodies at long ranges, no stars would ever be able to form, there would be no heat for life, there would be no way for a planet to hold water or an atmosphere, and thus life would be absolutely impossible no matter where you are in the universe. It isn't the ratio of inhabitable verses uninhabitable space is great or small, the fine-tuning question centers on a binary answer: Can life exist anywhere at all ever? With just one or two minor changes to any of 20 or more constants or laws, the universe becomes unable to put forth any life at all.

Large, Uninhabitable Areas Don't Disprove Design

While Atheists like Carrier are misunderstanding the argument, their responses may still provoke another question. After all, if the universe is designed for life, then wouldn't one expect God to create more than a minuscule area able to support life? However, this objection also draws the wrong conclusion. One cannot argue that simply because there are vast areas that are lethal for life that therefore the universe was not designed with life in mind. That doesn't follow. In my debate, I answered Carrier with this example:
Now Richard asks, “Why make the universe so lethal in so many parts? This obviously argues against God.” Well that doesn't follow at all. Picture a rancher in Texas—a man who lives alone and has 5,000 acres of land and a 100,000 head of cattle. Why would one man need so much land that's arid, desolate, and one where he can't survive in? How can you imagine that there is a 5,000 acre ranch only dedicated for one man? Well maybe it's there because that's what he desired. That serves his purposes. So just because the universe is vast, it is not an argument against God. People will move great mounds of earth to get to one diamond. You see, it's the value of the thing that matters and not how much space is taken around it.4 
Thus, the conclusion is shown to be false from the premises. Simply because the majority of the universe is not life supporting doesn't mean that supporting any life wasn't the original purpose for the universe. It could be that God wanted to support life, but He also wanted to give us the beauty of the stars for our enjoyment. Of course scientists like Stephen Hawking have argued that the rate our universe expanded is actually just right for life, thus implicating that vast uninhabitable areas are part of what it takes to allow life to exist.5  Or God could have had another purpose for the expanse of space. But no matter. It's clear that the expanse of life-prohibiting space is not an argument against the universe's design. It only shows that we are rare and therefore highly valuable.


1. The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Dir. Come Reason Ministries. Perf. Lenny Esposito and Richard Carrier. Come Reason Ministries, 2012. DVD. Available at
2. For books on this subject by these authors see The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986) by Barrow and Tipler, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (London: Allen Lane, 2006) by Paul Davies, and Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic, 2000) by Rees.
3. Collins, Robin. "The Teleological Argument." The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. By William Lane. Craig and J.P. Moreland. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 211. Print.
4. The Great God Debate, ibid.
5. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Toronto: Bantam, 1988. 128. Print.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Taking a Chance that There is No God

A few years ago, I was invited to address several hundred college students at the University of Northern Colorado. It was a great time. I had invited Dr. Paul Copan to join me and the two of us were able to meet with the Christian clubs on campus first and give them instruction on how to argue convincingly for the Christian faith.

The main event was held in the evening, where Paul first gave an address to the student body as a whole, comparing the Christian worldview to the naturalist's worldview and demonstrating how Christianity is the more coherent belief system. I then joined Paul for about an hour of Q & A with the students.

The questions were powerful and interesting. Many students were very intrigued with the idea of Jesus providing an atoning sacrifice for us. The concept that there were moral absolutes and individuals would be held accountable for violating those moral standards seemed to spur on a lot of activity.

One student who we talked with classified herself as an "agnostic humanist". She had several objections to the Christian concept of eternal punishment from a God who hasn't given us enough proof to believe in Him. This is a classic objection – one that Bertrand Russell used. However, Paul and I repeatedly discussed the real evidence that's available to demonstrate the existence of God. If one chooses to ignore that evidence, you cannot blame God for not providing it.

One point we talked on repeatedly was the creation of the universe and the creation of life. We discussed the English scientist Sir Fred Hoyle's calculations about the improbability of life being formed spontaneously. In his 1981 book Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe), he calculated that the chance of forming the required set of enzymes in sequence for even the simplest living cell was one in 10 to the 40,000th power. Since mathematicians generally agree that anything above one in 10 to the 50th power is classified as impossible, that's a pretty powerful number. However, she kept holding onto her doubt, saying "but there's still that one chance."

I found such a statement silly. It's like saying if you're broke, you shouldn't look for a job but buy lottery tickets instead since there's still a chance you may win the lottery and never have to work again. That's not thinking rationally, that's just being childish. It's saying "I'm not going to believe this no matter what you say!" Now, you can hold that position. However, you cannot still maintain that there isn't enough evidence to believe in God or that God would be cruel for punishing you for your false beliefs.

I will say that everyone there was very polite and appreciative that we didn't talk down to them or preach at them, but we were treating them as thinking individuals who could be reasoned with. They enjoyed the exchange and as we answered questions; we had the opportunity to lay out the Christian plan of salvation clearly for all to hear. The most exciting time came when one questioner asked, "O.K., so suppose I believe what you said, that the resurrection is true. What do I do next?"

Once the Q & A time ended, Paul and I spent the next two hours answering questions with a group of about fifteen kids who followed us down to the Starbucks cafe that was set up downstairs from the meeting hall. It just reinforced to me how hungry these kids are for real interaction, for being treated as adults and for real answers to be provided for their questions.

I have been very blessed to be a part of this opportunity and I pray God will continue to open the doors for Come Reason to reach more kids for Christ. I ask that you can help us as well, by praying for outreaches such as these and by supporting our ministry financially. For those who wish to contact me about an event for their church, youth group, or school, click here. And for all my friends in the U.S., have a happy Labor Day holiday.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
—Galatians 6:9-10


Image courtesy Robert S. Donovan and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Were Early Christians Encouraged to Become Martyrs?

A few weeks ago, I had responded to a meme (here and here) posted by atheist Michael Sherlock that claimed, "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Sherlock has attempted to reply to one of my arguments, but I think he falls short in numerous ways. Two primary areas where he gets both history and the argument wrong are 1) the concept that Christians somehow solicited people for martyrdom in order to attract followers and 2) the argument that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. I will deal with the first today and tackle the second tomorrow.

Sherlock makes the claim,  "We have records that testify to early Christian Church officials and fathers, encouraging many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities and submit themselves to the violence of voluntary martyrdom, in the oft times realized hope that they might be martyred in public spectacles and thereby increase the popularity of the early Church."1That's a huge claim. Sherlock ascribes very specific and sinister motivations to the early church fathers; however he fails to produce a single document from antiquity that spells out such a plan or goal. His first stab at evidence is to quote Chapter II from The Martyrdom of Polycarp where the church fathers of Smyrna (Sherlock incorrectly attributes the passage to Polycarp himself) recount the pattern of prior martyrs for the faith and concludes:
And so like lambs, a number of the more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions, with the hope that the fires would be cool to them and that they, as willing martyrs for their unfounded and credulous faith, acting 'imitatio Christi,' would be afforded an opportunity to commune with Christ himself and attain a free-ticket into a non-existent heaven.2

Christians Did Not Solicit Martyrs

Sherlock's dogged misunderstanding of the text shows in many ways (you may read the passage here in context). First, this wasn't written as an appeal to action. The letter is entitled "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and was written to explain just that. It seeks to place martyrdom in its proper Christian context and labels martyrs of that past as heroes of the faith. This is as natural as any nation reporting stories of those who laid down their lives for an ideal. But if Sherlock would have read just a bit further, he would have seen that the letter explicitly argues against promoting martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom. Just 115 words later in chapter four it recounts that a Phrygian man named Quintus who sought voluntarily martyrdom, but when he saw the fate awaiting him he apostatized instead. The letter then admonishes the Christians, "Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do."3 This statement is of course in direct contradiction to Sherlock's thesis.

Secondly, it wasn't "more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions." Polycarp was the one martyred! He was the leader of the church of Smyrna and therefore it would be hard pressed for his martyrdom tom result in his own ambitions somehow being met. The charge is wholly without merit and Sherlock offers not a scrap of evidence to corroborate his conjecture. It is fabricated out of whole cloth, and I do think using the epithets "gullible," "leader's ambitions," and "credulous" is simply Sherlock exercising the fallacy of poisoning the well.

Lastly, Sherlock seems to conflate his religions. Christianity in no way teaches that martyrdom provides any such favored status as a "free-ticket to a non-existent heaven." In fact, by Polycarp's own writings we see that he endorsed Paul's view of salvation as having already been received by the believer when he endorses Paul's epistle to the Philippians. In Chapter three, Paul spells out how no work of the flesh can gain one access to heaven, but only "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Sherlock seems to think that Christian theology teaches something akin to Muslim beliefs, a position that is demonstrably false.

Sherlock's Own Sources Prove Christians Eschewed Voluntary Martyrdom

In hoping to justify his broader claim that Christians were trying to coax people to become martyrs in order to attract new followers, Sherlock quotes a few other sources, including the following passage from Henry Chadwick:
Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction.4
I believe that Sherlock is hoping one would read the first sentence and ignore the rest. Sherlock himself ignored the sentences just before his quote which places that paragraph in context:
Ignatius was writing in haste under difficult circumstances, and his language did not always convey precisely what he wanted to say. The language used would be surprising at any decade of the second century. The confrontation with imminent martyrdom profoundly affected him, and the impression can be given that a proper willingness to die in union with Christ has passed into a neurotic will to die.

Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction (emphasis added.)5
So here we have Chadwick explaining how Ignatius' letter may be misunderstood because of his duress and that he would disapprove of voluntary martyrs because other Christian leaders such as Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage had also explicitly disapproved of such, too! Add that to the admonition in The Martyrdom of Polycarp cited above and we have a consensus in the sources that Christian teachers disdained unprovoked voluntary martyrdom. These are Sherlock's own sources, and they argue specifically against his point.

I'm certain that Christians being covered in pitch and lit on fire for to provide light to Nero's garden were not congratulating themselves. I'm certain that when Diocletian ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests, along with the confiscation or destruction of all church assets that these leaders did not benefit. Sherlock has taken small slivers of historical text and filled them with a 21st century new atheist viewpoint. There is real violence demonstrated in Sherlock's post; unfortunately, it is to history and to the texts themselves. Tomorrow, I will show how even if we grant Sherlock's first premise, it doesn't save his meme.


1. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity – Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.
2.Sherlock, Ibid.
3."The Martyrdom of Polycarp."  Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Web. Accessed 7-8-2014.
4. Sherlock, Ibid.
5. Chadwick, Henry. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).67.

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.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Why doesn't God Provide a Sign to Prove He Exists?

Noted philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked how he might answer for his staunch atheism if after his death he did indeed face God. Russell famously replied, "I probably would ask, 'Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?"1 Such claims are fairly common among atheists. Some have said to me that God would need to do a miracle in front of them. Others have asked why God wouldn’t write "I exist" across the surface of the moon if He wanted all people to believe in Him. There’s even a web site that believes their question is "the most important question we can ask about God."

What about this? Why doesn't God provide some kind of sign to prove that He exists? Wouldn't it be more effective than what we have now? The short answer is no, it wouldn't make real belief any easier, and that is simply because any type of evidence can be rejected. For example, the Apollo 11 moon landing was a highly documented event that was reported in real time. The astronauts took video and photos of themselves on the moon, yet there are some who believe the moon landing was faked on a Hollywood soundstage and they even use the photo to argue their case. 2

The Bible gives us another example of such a situation. Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as Passion Week, He had raised Lazarus from the dead. John reports that "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’" (John 11:45-48, ESV).3 Even though Jesus performed many signs, the leaders’ hearts were hardened and they were more concerned about their power being taken away.

But, it gets worse! In John 12:9-11, we read that the religious leaders of the Jews were not only plotting to kill Jesus, but they realized they had to kill Lazarus as well. "When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus." Now, just think about this for a moment. Jesus had raised Lazarus after being dead four days! Jesus had proven that death was something he could overcome. Yet, the leaders were so set against believing in Jesus that they not only didn’t believe in Him, but they decided that they should kill a living breathing piece of miraculous evidence that existed right in front of them. Given that level of rejection, does anyone really think that the healing of an amputee would convince someone who simply doesn’t want to be convinced?

I understand that some may counter my claim by arguing that this is an extreme circumstance. "Sure, a few nut jobs wouldn't believe in the moon landing, but most people would, so why doesn’t God do a miracle for the majority?" I’ll look at that claim next time. My point, though, is that it isn’t incumbent upon God to provide fool-proof evidence for His existence. There is no such thing. People will believe whatever they want, regardless of the nature of the evidence. To a hardened heart, no evidence will ever be good enough. So, in your conversations, make sure you ask, "Just what evidence would it take to change your mind? Just what would be the thing that would make you believe?" I’ve had people who, after being pressed, honestly answer that no evidence would ever be good enough. And that is really where the problem lies.


1 Rosten, Leo. "Bertrand Russell and God: A Memoir." The Saturday Review. Feb 23, 1974. 25.

2 "Conspiracy Theories." Time Magazine. Nov. 20, 2008,28804,1860871_1860876_1860992,00.html

3 The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009) Web. 2 Jun. 2014.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Answering Atheist Arguments Against God

Atheism has been taking center stage lately. Both the New Atheists and a cohort of Internet skeptics continue to raise objections that have caught the public's fancy. Are they right? How should we answer? In this recent podcast series, Lenny highlighted some of the more popular arguments against God's existence and demonstrated the poverty of atheist objections. Listen to all four parts in the series below:

Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 1)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 2)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 3)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 4)

To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apologetics Missions Trip - Videos

In preparation for our upcoming Apologetics Missions Trip to U.C. Berkeley, we had Brett Kunkle come out and pretend to be an atheist at our last Come Reason class.  Brett did a great job, as always and demonstrated how necessary it is to be prepared to defend your faith with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

This is why we're taking a group of people on the trip--to train them and help them be better equipped to do just that. Here are some videos to show you what you can expect on the trip. If you would like to go, there are still some spots left.  Download this flyer and turn it in!

The Berkeley Mission: Conversational Surveys

The Berkeley Mission: Atheist Dialogs

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