Blog Archive


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.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label belief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label belief. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jesus as the Paradigm of Logic and Reason

The thought that faith is somehow divorced from reason or logic has become far too prevalent in our society today. In fact, as I have written before, the very opposite is true for Christianity. The Christian faith has led the way in reasoning since its very inception. Not only did it produce some of the greatest thinkers the world has known, but its very founder, Jesus of Nazareth, was the epitome of intellect.  Dallas Willard explains:
Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person.

He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example—but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?
Willard sums up Jesus'value of the intellect thusly:
There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.

We need to understand that Jesus is a thinker, that this is not a dirty word but an essential work, and that his other attributes do not preclude thought, but only insure that he is certainly the greatest thinker of the human race: "the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth." He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind. Quite certainly it also played a role in his own growth in "wisdom." (Luke 2:52)
Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the 'Atheist Invocation' Really Demonstrates

Isn't it interesting that offense can be used as a weapon by atheists in so many different ways. The push by college campuses in banning Christian clubs is supposedly based on being non-discriminatory so as not to offend a non-Christian who may want to be president of said club. (Huh?) Atheists are offended as seeing crosses on city property so they threaten lawsuits to have them removed. Atheists see this danger of offense as so great that peoples' freedom of assembly, freedom of beliefs, and freedom to their livelihood are considered fair game. But what if it's the atheist who is doing the offending?

Ridicule in the Guise of Prayer

According to the Sun-Sentinel, atheist Preston Smith petitioned to give the opening invocation at the Lake Worth City Commission Meeting in Florida. You may ask yourself how in the world can an atheist offer an invocation when they don't have anyone to pray to? The idea of petitioning a higher authority is absurd on atheist, which makes the request contradictory on its face. Yet, Smith felt that he had something to say and the City Commission obliged him and provided him with the time to open the proceedings.

You can watch Smith's speech here, however, a transcript of it appears below:
Our collective atheism — which is to say, loving empathy, scientific evidence, and critical thinking — leads us to believe that we can create a better, more equal community without religious divisions.

May we pray together.

Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things.

May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us?

And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness' sake.

And so we pray.

So what?

Not an Invocation

Some people were upset that several commissioners and the mayor walked out of the room before Smith delivered his diatribe. But what I'm not hearing is the fact that what Smith delivered was in no way an invocation; it was a mean-spirited attack. In the recent decision by the Supreme Court that invocations are constitutional, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief." Clearly, Smith's mess of a speech violated Kennedy's caution that access to invocations should not be used as disparagement. Smith didn't want to offer a prayer, he wanted to mock and offend as many people who believe in prayer as possible and he chose this as his soapbox from which to try.

Atheist Hemant Mehta (who bills himself as "the Friendly Atheist") said "To be sure, Smith's invocation is not the one I would've given, but that's not the point. The point is that if the commissioners aren't happy with this, there's a simple solution: Do away with invocations altogether. Stop wasting time with prayer and get down to business. Otherwise, they should expect more of these in the future." No, that isn't the point. Atheists don't get to claim offense at having to sit through prayers and then say offense is OK because they wielded it. But it does show that this movement of removing crosses, seeking to ban prayers, and even barring school children from trying to help the poor is not at the fringes of the atheists' value system.

In commenting on the unbelievers of his day, Charles Simmons put it best:
Ridicule - a fool's first and last argument.

The ridiculous is what fools remember longest. Deists in general attack Christianity by ridicule. This is their most powerful, and perhaps their most successful, weapon. All persons can laugh but all cannot reason. This mode of attacking Christianity answers purposes which can be effected no other way; for ridicule is unanswerable. Who can refute a sneer? It is independent of proof, reason, or argument; and as well be used against facts as against falsehood.

Ridicule is no argument but rather a proof of the want of it and the weakness of a cause.2
Smith's mockery and contempt for the privilege of solemnizing a civic meeting should be derided. If you don't believe in prayer then please don't petition to pray before a town meeting. To do what Smith did is offensive to the values of the Constitution and even other atheists should rebuke him for it.


1.Mayo, Michael. "Mayo: Lake Worth Commissioners Walk out on Atheist Invocation." Tribune Interactive, Inc, 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
Simmons, Charles. A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker Containing over a Thousand Subjects, Alphabetically and Systematically Arranged. Toronto: R. Dick, 1853. Print. 463.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Christian Faith Is an Objective Faith

The Christian faith is an objective faith; therefore, it must have an object. The Christian concept of "saving" faith is a faith that establishes one's relationship with Jesus Christ (the object), and is diametrically opposed to the average "philosophical" use of the term faith in the classroom today. One cliché that is to be rejected is, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it enough." 

Let me illustrate.
I had a debate with the head of the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. In answering a question, I happened to mention the importance of the resurrection. At this point, my Opponent interrupted and rather sarcastically said, "Come on, McDowell, the key issue is not whether the resurrection took place or not; it is 'do you believe it took place?'" What he was hinting at (actually boldly asserting) is that my believing was the most important thing. I retorted immediately, "Sir, it does matter what I as a Christian believe, because the value of Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the one who is believed in, its object." I continued that "if anyone can demonstrate to me that Christ was not raised from the dead, I would not have the right to my Christian faith" (I Corinthians 15: 14). 
The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed — not in the one trusting, but in the one trusted. 
—Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.San Bernardino, CA. Here;s Life Pub. 1979. Print. 4.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Modern Man is More Gullible than Christian Believers

Many times skeptics charge that people of previous ages believed in the bible and Jesus' resurrection because they were somehow more gullible than the "reasoned" minds of today. Malcolm Muggeridge, in a lecture entitled "The Bible Today" answers this charge with his own counter-charge: modern man is not more skeptical and reasonable. In fact, the opposite is true; as media projects a more authoritative voice, it makes more people willing to believe in anything at all.

Personally, I find it on any showing quite ludicrous to suppose that, for nineteen of Christendom's twenty centuries, Christians were credulous idiots ready to believe any tomfoolery the Bible fostered, and that then, with the coming of Darwinism and all that followed therefrom, the scales fell from their eyes, and they realised that the Biblical truths they had been induced to accept were largely fraudulent and absurd. For one thing, it would seem to me that our twentieth century, far from being notable for scientific scepticism, is one of the most credulous eras in all history. It is not that people believe in nothing — which would be bad enough — but that they believe in anything — which is really terrible. Recoiling, as they do, from accepting the validity of miracles, and priding themselves on seeing the Incarnation as a transcendental con-trick, they will accept at its face value any proposition, however nonsensical, that is presented in scientific or sociological jargon — for instance, the existence of a population explosion, which has been so expertly and decisively demolished by Professor Colin Clark of Monash University. Could any mediaeval schoolman, I ask myself, sit through a universally applauded television series like Bronowski's Ascent of Man without a smile of derision at such infantile acceptance of unproven and unprovable assertions? Not to mention television advertisements, on a basis of which the most expensively educated populations in the western world alter their dietary and sartorial habits, puff happily at lethal cigarettes recommended as being conducive to romantic encounters by burbling waterfalls or on golden beaches washed by azure seas, and generally follow every whim and fancy wished upon them by the tellymasters.1


1. Muggeridge, Malcolm. "Is the Bible True?" The Gargoyle: The Journal of Malcom Muggeridge 10 (2006): 14. The Malcolm Muggeridge Society. The Malcolm Muggeridge Society, Apr. 2006. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Reason and Faith Are Not Opposites

I don't know how many times I've heard the claim that "religion is just a crutch for the weak-minded". Many of the popular atheists in print today like to try and say that belief in God is the opposite of being rational.1 Others I've had conversations with dismiss faith as being the opposite of knowledge. I remember having lunch one day with some mutual friends. The discussion turned to matters of belief and one girl immediately said that we couldn't really know truth at all, to which I objected, saying that there are a lot of things we can know. We know 2 + 2 = 4, the earth circles around the sun, and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. She immediately objected and said "that's not truth, those are facts!" I answered, "Well, are those facts true or not? What makes the statement 2 + 2 = 4 a fact and 2 + 2 = 5 not a fact? Isn't it an idea known as truth?"

As you can see, this girl was trying desperately to draw a line between matters of faith and things that fall in the category of math and science. She was trying to say that faith is merely a personal choice, like which ice cream flavor is best. But God either exists or He doesn't. Jesus of Nazareth either really lived, really was crucified, and really rose from the dead or He didn't. These statements aren't nearly the same as liking a particular ice cream. They are questions of history and of existence. That means they can be investigated and facts can be discovered. Reasons for their truth or falsehood can be offered. And if it's found that there are good reasons for believing in these claims, then we are only unreasonable if we refuse to believe them.

So reason and faith are not opposites. The Christian faith rests upon the reasons we have for believing in things like the resurrection. In our Proverbs passage, God says that we are to cling to "the words of the wise"; we are to cling to "excellent things of counsels and knowledge." Wise words, counsels, and knowledge are all objective terms; words are only wise or knowledgeable if they are true. And if something is true, then it must be rational to hold to such as belief. That's why God says we can know the certainty of the word of truth. To do anything else would be irrational!


1. The most prolific of those that would contrast faith to reason are the so-called "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins writes that belief in God is "a persistently false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence"(p.28) which is tantamount to shutting your eyes and denying what's in front of you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Will We Remember in Heaven?

One of the more well-known Christian answers to the problem of evil is found in the free will argument, which hinges on the fact that love can only be given by creatures who can freely choose to love or rebel against God. However, such a response raises some other questions, such as how could we then have free will in heaven and yet not sin? While I've answered that already, another problem people ask is about the ramifications of judged evil. Heaven is supposed to be a place of complete joy, with no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore" (Rev. 21:4). But, if among those judged are those people we care about, how can this be? How can one have eternal joy knowing a friend or family member is in hell?

Some have tried to answer the problem by holding that we would forget those people who are lost. The website Got quotes Isaiah 65:17 which reads, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered" then concludes that "There is no reason why we could not possess many memories from our earthly lives. The memories that will be cleansed are the ones that involve sin, pain, and sadness."1 This view seems to say that anything that may cause us any type of regret or despondence will be wiped from our minds. But, that strikes me as odd. If God is so careful to give us free will and not to impose His will upon us then why would He erase significant portions of our lives from our memories? Would God really erase the memory of a particularly traumatic event, even though it may have helped shape us to be God-fearing?

John Piper, in looking at the same verse, doesn't take quite that stark a view. He writes, "What we will forget and what we will remember is not a simple class of bad and good. Rather we will forget and remember things in accord with what will maximize our enjoyment of God. If remembering something enhances our worship, we will remember it. If it would hinder our worship we will forget it."2 Piper notes the difficulty one has with the cross itself. Certainly, the cross is the most glorious thing since it reconciles us with God, yet it is also the worst atrocity in history as the sinless Son of God was tortured and killed by sinful men.

God is the one Doing the Forgetting

I don't agree with either answer above. As I study the scriptures, I don't believe God will tamper with our memories at all. The concept of "forgetting" in the Bible doesn't mean unable to recall, but simply that the events are too insignificant to pay attention to. We see this in Hebrews 10:17 where the Holy Spirit states "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." God obviously cannot be omniscient and forget anything. So the phrase about remembering no more means that he will never bring it up again as the penalty has been paid in full. Likewise, the verse prior to Isaiah 65:17 uses the same idiom when Isaiah writes, "Because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes." Note who is doing the forgetting here – it isn't the people of the new heavens and the new earth, it's God Himself! God is doing the talking; therefore the personal pronoun "my" is referring to the speaker. Then, in the very next verse, God reinforces the idea by saying "the former things shall not be remembered." So, Isaiah 65:17 really doesn't speak about wiping out any part of the believer's memories at all.

In the New Heavens, We Will See Clearly

So, how can we have our memories of our painful struggles while on earth and yet be promised no more pain in heaven? I believe this is where the ability to see God's plan clearly becomes key. Paul tells us that "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor 13:12). In other words, we will have a much fuller understanding of God's plan once we're in heaven. If God causes all things to work together for the good, as Romans 8:28 says, then God has made sure that any pain or sorrow we experienced was ultimately in His plan for our benefit. Paul also tells us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Once we are in heaven, the trials and tribulations we place so much emphasis on will seem to us as a bad dream did one day later. Dreams feel so real when we're dreaming, but once we wake up, we realize how silly and ethereal they really are.

In another example, John writes of the martyrs who are in heaven in Revelation 6:9-10. He records, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" It sure seems like the martyrs remember what happened to them! But note what they are asking. They are not calling to wipe away the memories of their martyrdom; they seek God's justice. They see the inherent sin of humanity (for the actual people who had martyred them are likewise dead by now) and they cry out for God to restore righteousness and out His creation back in order.

That is the key, I believe, to how one can be filled with joy in heaven even if ones friends or family are condemned to the judgment of hell. I think once glorified, we will see sin for what it is. Just as I answered in my article "How Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin?", sin will appear so repugnant to us, that we will cry out for God to punish it. Our relationship will change because our understanding will change. We will see the righteousness of God in judging sin and we will recognize it as the holy act it is.

The idea of God wiping out any bad memories really doesn't make sense. After all, the Bible records all kinds of evil acts; does that mean God's Word won't be with us in the new heavens and the new earth? We know that Jesus will carry the marks of crucifixion with Him forever (Rev. 5:6) as well. Instead, it makes much more sense that our understanding of holiness will increase and our tolerance for sin will decrease to such a degree that we would simply see things a lot more like the way God sees them now. I know I cannot love anyone more than he does and knowing that any punishment is in the hand of a holy and righteous God, I can take joy in that.


1 "Will we remember our earthly lives when we are in Heaven?" Web. Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

2 Piper, John. "What Will We Remember in Heaven?" Web. 20 Feb 2007. Accessed 25 Aug 2014.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Christians in the Middle Ages Did Not Believe in a Flat Earth

Many times when I'm discussing issues of faith and science, I hear the accusation that one cannot hold the Bible to be true and accept modern scientific findings. Usually, the person with whom I'm conversing will assert how backwards the beliefs of Christian society was during the Middle Ages and that we would still believe in a flat earth had it not been for the scientific revolution brought on by the Renaissance.

The idea that the medieval Church held to a flat earth has been around for some time. In his popular historical text The Discoveres, Daniel Boorstin exemplifies the position, as he devotes a full chapter of the book, ominously entitled "A Flat Earth Returns," to the proposition.He writes:
While Christian geographers feared the close calculations of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus and Ptolemy, they cheerfully embellished their pious Jerusalem-centered maps with the wildest ventures of pagan imagination. Julius Solinus (fl. A.D. 220)… provided the standard source of geographic myth during all the years of the Great Interruption, from the fourth till the fourteenth centuries… Saint Augustine himself drew upon Solinus, as did all the other leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages."1
Boorstin elsewhere describes the Middle Ages as "a far more remarkable act of retreat."2 However, the idea that all the leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages feared an idea of a spherical earth is simply wrong. For example, at the very beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas' 13th century Summa Theologica, this leading Christian thinker writes about the spherical character of the earth. "For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself."3

The interesting thing about Aquinas' use of the roundness of the earth is that he was using the fact as an example of something well known. Thomas said that the theologian should explore theology to find its clear truths the way the astronomer or the physicist will use their disciplines to show the roundness of the earth. In other words, Aquinas is using the fact of a round earth the way the atheist would, as something no one would doubt.

By any measure, Aquinas must be considered one of the "leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages." Yet, here is Aquinas clearly believing in a round earth! This made me curious to investigate what some other church fathers believed. Since Boorstein brought up Augustine, I looked there next. In City of God, Book XVI, chapter 9, Augustine discusses possible races of men who may have escaped the Flood of Noah. He writes:
And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other:  hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited.  But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.4
Note that the focus here is whether there were human survivors of the Flood. Augustine is commenting on the possibility of antipodes—people taking a boat to the opposite end of the earth, not sailing off of an edge. Augustine states that even if science does show a round earth, it doesn't follow that it has people on it.

In preaching on Psalm 61, Augustine also makes his belief known, when he comments that Christ will "showeth himself to be throughout all nations in the whole round world, in great glory, but in great tribulation."5 It seems Augustine believed, then, in a round earth. Even the fifth century father Gregory of Nyssa taught that the earth was spherical, stating "As, when the sun shines above the earth, the shadow is spread over its lower part, because its spherical shape makes it impossible for it to be clasped all round at one and the same time by the rays."6

Gregory of Nyssa lived in the fourth century, Augustine lived in the fifth century, and Aquinas lived in the thirteenth. All are "leading Christian thinkers" and all believed in a spherical earth, so Boorstin's charge itself falls flat. It simply isn't true that the vast majority of people prior to the Renaissance held to a flat earth, and to accuse modern Christians of doing the same is boorishness.


1. Boorstin, Daniel J. The Discoverers. (New York: Vintage Books, 1983). 110.
2. Boorstin. 102.
3. Aquinas, Saint Thomas (2012-05-17). Summa Theologica, Part I (Prima Pars) From the Complete American Edition (Kindle Locations 94-95).  . Kindle Edition.
4. Schaff, Philip. St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrine. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 2.0 Web.
5. Schaff, Philip. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 8) Web.
6. St. Gregory of Nyssa." On the Soul and the Resurrection." New Advent. Web.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.

Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.


1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.]
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.  Accessed 4/8/2014.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013. Accessed 4/8/2014  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Belief in God is the Motor that Drove Science

Oxford Professor John Lennox on the relational dependence of Christianity and the development of the scientific enterprise:
Science as we know it exploded onto the world stage in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Why then and why there? Alfred North Whitehead's view, as summarised by C. S. Lewis, was that: "Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver." It is no accident that Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Clerk-Maxwell were believers in God.

Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, finds the origin of the conviction, basic to science, that nature is ordered in the basic notion: "that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science."

Far from belief in God hindering science, it was the motor that drove it. Isaac Newton, when he discovered the law of gravitation, did not make the common mistake of saying: "now I have a law of gravity, I don't need God." Instead, he wrote Principia Mathematica, the most famous book in the history of science, expressing the hope that it would persuade the thinking man to believe in a Creator.

Newton could see, what sadly many people nowadays seem unable to see, that God and science are not alternative explanations. God is the agent who designed and upholds the universe; science tells us about how the universe works and about the laws that govern its behaviour. God no more conflicts with science as an explanation for the universe than Sir Frank Whittle conflicts with the laws and mechanisms of jet propulsion as an explanation for the jet engine. The existence of mechanisms and laws is not an argument for the absence of an agent who set those laws and mechanisms in place. On the contrary, their very sophistication, down to the fine-tuning of the universe, is evidence for the Creator's genius. For Kepler: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics."

As I scientist then, I am not ashamed or embarrassed to be a Christian. After all, Christianity played a large part in giving me my subject.
Portion taken from Prof. John C. Lennox. "BBC Lent Talks 2012." Accesses 4/25/2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I'm A Christian - Part 1

I've been doing apologetics for nearly 20 years now. In that time, I've had the opportunity to engage in conversation with many who either don't believe in Christianity or don't believe in God at all. There have been a lot of conversations where we've traded various proofs for our point of view, but I cannot point to one extended conversation where someone has asked me, "So tell me, why are you a Christian?"

I've talked before about why it is important to ask people why they believe as they do. It helps you to understand the important things that motivate the person to believe as the do. It also keeps you from constructing straw men, something that everyone should avoid. I stress this because not arguing against a straw man shows that one is really interested in the truth, not merely "winning" some kind of debate contest. But I do find it interesting that in all my engagements with atheists, I simply don't get asked this question.

There was a recent Twitter exchange where I posted a link to the testimony of Matt Walsh. An atheist responded to my tweet and asked, "so why did you end up deciding to believe in the particular deity you did?" Given the way he phrased the question, I had a suspicion that he wasn't truly interested in my story (and the ensuing conversation, which you can read here, proved my suspicions true). My answer was that Christianity was the only faith I've found to be both internally and externally coherent, meaning that it doesn't contradict itself within its own tenets and it matches our experiences with the outside world. So let me now share with you, dear reader, why I am a Christian.

Why I am a Christian - Christianity Meets Natural Expectations

The first reason why I am a Christian is because it is natural to assume that God exists. Children really don't require much teaching to believe in God. They look at the design in nature and they intuitively know that something doesn't come from nothing and design requires a designer. These are usually my first two arguments when I speak to someone about the existence of God, but they only require that level of sophistication when someone is denying either of those points. Because there is something rather than nothing and because the something that we see (creation) shows balance and design, it makes sense to conclude that a mind created it. God fits.

While one may try to argue that there are a lot of gods who create (most religions have some kind of creation story), the fact that the Christian God created the universe out of nothing as opposed to the elements of the universe already existing. The fanciful nature of those myths, such as the Hindu and Chinese creation stories where God springs from an egg to form the universe or the Greek and Babylonian accounts of the elements of creation actually being the ancient gods don't offer an explanation of where these elements came from. They also have a diminished view of deity, as their gods can come into being and cease to be. They simply don't make sense.

Why I am a Christian - The Christian Faith is Rooted in History

Another reason why I am a Christian is because I found that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who really lived some 2,000 years ago. The historical evidence of Jesus' life and ministry is as strong as anything we could hope for from ancient sources. When one views the New Testament documents, it is clearly evident that those who wrote the New Testament lived in the time and place which they are describing. The Bible doesn't read as some far-off, third hand account. It reads like ancient history.  Jesus also had a great impact on not only his immediate followers but his teachings radically changed western society. The proof of Jesus' life is like the proof of a stone thrown into a pond: you may not see the stone, but you can look at the surface of the pond and see the stone's effect. You can know he was real.

The historical aspect of Christianity is not a secondary consideration, but a primary one. From its very beginning, Jesus' disciples pointed to the real events of the resurrection and their eyewitness testimony. Paul tells the Corinthian church that the resurrection must be historical or their faith is worthless and he points to eyewitnesses. History and multiple people attesting to the facts surrounding the origin of Christianity are crucial to its very existence. Therefore, Christianity isn't merely a "take it by faith" type of belief system, but one that is rooted in an historical event: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tomorrow, I will continue to offer my reasons as to why I am a Christian, but for now, I hope you'll consider these points. Any belief system needs to correspond to itself, that is it should be internally consistent, and it needs to clarify what we experience in life. I think Christianity does both.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Comparing The Matrix, Tolerance, and the Truth

Are you a Neo or a Cypher? If you recognize those names, then you are probably one of the many people who've seen the hit 1999 movie The Matrix or its hot sequel The Matrix: Reloaded. Rarely do popular films come out that spur conversation on such heady topics as the nature of reality, God, fate, and freedom the way these movies have. I'd like to explore one aspect of The Matrix scenario that you may use as a springboard with your colleagues at work or school.

Photo courtesy shaquenova

First, some background. Neo is a computer programmer/hacker living a life of quiet desperation in 1999. After a series of events, he discovers that his life isn't real. He, like all of humanity, has been enslaved by computers who feed his brain with electrical impulses that simulate sensory experience. Life is really a virtual reality program called the Matrix. Once Neo is set free from the Matrix, he seeks to free others.

Cypher, on the other hand, is one of the villains in the original movie. Escaping the Matrix years earlier, he now finds that life in the "real world" isn't pleasant. He's trapped underground in a world with no sun, only porridge to eat, and none of the comforts of life.

One pivotal scene is where Cypher reinserts himself into the Matrix to speak with one of its Agents. There he says:
"You know I know that this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. And after nine years do you know what I've realized?... Ignorance is bliss."

Does Experience Define Truth?

Cypher wants to be put back permanently. He doesn't care that his senses would be deceived. His only concern is to feel the pleasures of life - and to have his memory erased so he won't know the truth of his condition.

All of this raises an interesting question: is Cypher's choice unreasonable? Christopher Grau examines this choice. He writes:
"Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy? Is he right to want to get re-inserted into the Matrix? Many want to say no, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experiences will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience? Remember, once he's back in, living his fantasy life, he won't even know he made the deal. What he doesn't know can't hurt him, right?"(1)
Most people naturally recoil at the idea of living in an existence that's a lie. Even though Cypher will experience greater pleasures by being plugged into the Matrix, they won' be real events; they're merely sensory illusions. We find such an idea repugnant because humanity finds value in that which is objectively true. Truth has what we call intrinsic value, or value in itself, and believing something that's not true is looked upon as tragic.

All of this sets me to thinking about beliefs people hold about religion. We often hear that faith is a personal decision, a private matter between that person and God. The problem here is different religious beliefs contradict each other. Islam and Buddhism cannot both be true. Hinduism has radically different concepts of God from Christianity. And if beliefs are shown to be contradictory, then there are at least some good people holding to beliefs that are simply false.

The Value of Objective Truth

Although many people speak of things like tolerance for all beliefs, if I am holding to something that's not true, then my belief is ultimately tragic; I'm caught in the Matrix unaware. Even if my beliefs give me pleasure, stability of life, a strong morality, self-worth, or self-identity, it is still not enough to continue to hold them. Those are the exact things Cypher was seeking in his deal with the Agent.

No, reality holds an intrinsic value. That is, it has a value unto itself. If I believed in something that is false, I would want someone like a Neo to come and help escape that false system. Of course, I should be on my guard so that I wasn't deluded into abandoning one set of false beliefs for another. And there are good ways to do this. (2)

The idea that there is one true way to understand the world is a basic premise to the Christian worldview. Christianity is the only religion that challenges its adherents to check it out against competing belief systems. Paul says as much to the Thessalonian church: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess. 5:18) It's why Christians are commanded to preach the gospel and convert those who don't believe (ref. Matt 28:19).

If Christianity is true, that is if it really does correspond to reality, then it seems to me that Christians should do everything in their power to try and spread that message as much as they can. Isn't this more right to save someone from a system you believe is false than just letting him live with the status quo? Who is the nobler person? Neo seeks to free others while Cypher seeks his own contentment.

So who are you? Are you a Neo or a Cypher? The choice is yours to make.


1. Grau, Christopher. "The Value of Reality: Cypher and the Experience Machine." Philosophers Explore The Matrix. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 18. Print.
2. See Esposito, Lenny "Testing for Truth" 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Have We Lost the Christian Mind?

Many believers have absorbed the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting faith to the religious sphere while adopting whatever views are current in their professional or social circles. … The problem was phrased succinctly by Harry Blamires: "There is no longer a Christian mind."

...What did [Blamires] mean? To say that there is no Christian mind means that believers may be highly educated in terms of technical proficiency, and yet have no biblical worldview for interpreting the subject matter of their field. "We speak of the 'modern mind', and of the 'scientific mind', using that word 'mind' of a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes," Blamires explains. But we have lost the Christian mind. There is now no shared, biblically based set of assumptions on subjects like law, education, economics, politics, science, or the arts. As a moral being, the Christian follows the biblical ethic. As a spiritual being, he prays and attends worship services. But as a thinking Christian, he has succumbed to secularism.

—Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity,
(Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2004).33-34.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Brave New World: Why Science Cannot Replace Religion

Many times in popular articles commentators will state that old religious dogmas are being replaced by the new knowledge that comes from scientific discoveries. In fact, many people believe that science and religion cannot coexist - that fact and faith are contrary ways of understanding the world. Usually when this argument is asserted, it is to bolster the view that science is a better and truer way of seeing things; that humanity is in the process of abandoning its myths in order to come into a new enlightenment.

Unfortunately, those who advance such notions don't realize that they've made a fatal flaw in their thinking. They've not abandoned religion; they've simply substituted one belief system over another. What's more, to substitute science for religion is a proposition destined to fail. Let's look at the roles of both and see why.

The Role of Religion In The Life of Man

Throughout history, humanity has sought the highest meaning of life through religion. Christian scholars set out to try and understand the ultimate reality of our existence and to establish a cohesive worldview. People would turn to the cleric as a trusted source of knowledge in their search for the truth.

Christianity specifically has always held the view that the world can be knowable. The Christian worldview teaches that God created the material universe. Since the universe is designed by a rational being, it should behave in a predictable way. In other words, the world as we know it should act in accordance with certain observable physical laws and that would allow us to predict how objects will react in specific circumstances. This is the origin of modern science.1

Today, however, the understanding of religion has changed. Come up to a person today and say you want to talk about religion and you'll usually get an interesting reaction. Many people get uncomfortable discussing religious topics; they feel that religion is a personal matter and that spiritual matters should be a private affair.

The New Role of Science

Science, on the other hand, is treated much differently. New scientific breakthroughs are trumpeted in newspapers and discussed at the water coolers the next morning. Scientists are now looked upon as the ultimate arbitrator of truth. If science says something is true, it receives widespread public acceptance. Even corporate America has discovered that the credibility of a product will rise dramatically when a man in a white coat advertises its benefits.

It is because of the amazing achievements we've seen through science that many people have jumped to the conclusion that science is capable of explaining everything. However, science by itself is useless. It cannot answer the most important questions of morality and ethical actions. Science is primarily a way of understanding the material world. Science can tell us what is the case, but it cannot tell us what should be the case or what we ought to do about it.

Where Science Falls Short

A recent meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology highlights this difference with frightening clarity. Several shocking announcements were made in the name of advancing the science of human reproduction. Robin Marantz Henig of the Washington Post reports "An American scientist, Norbert Gleicher, announced that he and his colleagues had successfully inserted cells from a male embryo into an early-stage female embryo, creating a mixed-gender chimera that some journalists called a 'she-male.'"2 Gleicher allowed the embryo's cells to duplicate and grow for three days before killing the embryo.

In another announcement at the same conference, a group of scientists from Israel and Holland extracted egg from aborted female fetuses and kept them alive in the hope that the "aborted foetuses could one day be used to obtain eggs for fertility treatment, leading to the possibility of babies being born from mothers who were themselves unborn."3

Both these examples are pure science - those involved followed the scientific method in their experiments. And the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK agency responsible for licensing such research said there was no law that expressly forbade such experiments.4 So why do people recoil in horror at the thought of such experiments? Because it is our understanding of morality that tells us life shouldn't be used like tinker toys. Denying a fetus life and then using its remains as spare parts strikes us as repugnant. Fertilizing a human embryo to only experiment on it and destroy it is obscene.

Science without ethical guidelines is not a boon to mankind, but an unwieldy power capable of evil. It has no way of determining good. There is no scientific test for the moral. It is religion that tells us not only what is, but what's right. It is only when we practice our science with an overriding goal of pursuing the good that science can serve man at all.

The Category Problem

The problem is really one of misunderstanding. Those who try to exalt science to the ultimate arbitrator of truth are committing a fallacy that is known as a category error. Science serves only to explain a small subset of the human experience - the way the material world behaves. Religion is an entirely different category - one that seeks to answer to what our purpose in life should be.

Now, the scientific progress that's been made in the last 100 years is astounding. It's allowed us to travel great distances with ease, given us the ability to communicate instantaneously, and overcome disease more easily than ever before. Neither are most scientists like those we've seen above. However Christians need to be aware that good science does not fly in the face of Christianity, but Christianity is its source. It is only when we grasp that science gets its worth from theology—the appreciation of God and his relation to the world—that we can use this tool to benefit mankind.


1. - Hodgson, Peter "The Origin of Modern Science"
Video lecture accessed at
2. - Henig, Robin Marantz "Think Baby Louise, And Don't Be Afraid"
Washington Post Sunday, July 13, 2003; Page B01
3. - Ibid
4. - Sinclair, Keith and Collins, Vicky "Science creates she-male human hybrid"
The Herald July 3, 2003

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can Religion Offer a Better Answer than Science?

Internet memes, those single images overlaid with a quote or quip, are all popping up all over social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter. Some are funny, some make one reflect, but those hoping to prove a point can often be inadequate to the task.

One such meme that's becoming more frequent is the challenge New Atheist Sam Harris offered theists during his 2007 debate against Rabbi David Wolpe. Harris asked, "I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one."1

Many people have read the challenge and chat boards are filled with comments from people who simply cannot think of a single question that qualifies. Some atheists have crowed about the inability of theists to do so.  Has history only gone from the religious to the scientific? Is there no question that can meet Sam Harris' charge?

Astronomer Robert Jastrow thought of one. Science had assumed that the universe had always existed. It was infinite and eternal. This was so ingrained into the scientific thinking of the day that Einstein adjusted the calculation of his General Theory of Relativity to only show a steady state universe.2After the Big Bang model was proposed, vehement arguments ensued about the whether the universe had a beginning. After its beginning was confirmed, Jastrow told Christianity Today "Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact."3

There you go.  Sam Harris' challenge is met. However, some may object to this answer, saying that it was actually science and not religion that proved the universe had a beginning. I would argue that point, but let's lay it aside for a moment. Is there another question that relies only on religiously-obtained knowledge to provide a better answer than science?

Let's try this one: "Can we clone a human being?"

A question like this really asks two things: it asks if humanity is capability of performing the task and it questions the prudence in performing it. For the first part, the cloning of large mammals from adult cells was not possible prior to the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1996. Through the discovery of somatic-cell nuclear transfer it became possible to clone sheep, monkeys, and even human beings. We didn't have the science, so the answer to "Can we clone a human being?" was "No, it's not scientifically possible." But now that it is possible4, we must turn to the second implication of the question, whether it is prudent to do so.

To answer to this part of the question, we find that science is woefully inadequate to the task. This is because science deals with the what, the why, and the how of natural processes. In other words, it only worries about function. It cannot deal with the questions that focus on the ought, the good, or the right. Science can tell us the best way to transplant a kidney is by using a living donor. However, it is totally impotent to tell us whether the living donor should be restricted to volunteers or enlarged to include, say, convicted murders who haven't given consent. This is a moral question, and such questions surround our scientific advances routinely.

Similarly, science says we can clone a human being. The possibility is there for science to use cloning as way to create spare parts for people, allowing for transplants that wouldn't be rejected.5But most nations have outlawed people even attempting to do so. The ability to clone humans is now not limited by the procedure, but by its moral implications and the concept of human worth and dignity. The answer to "Can I clone a human being?" is still "no" but the reasons for that answer are informed by religious values and not by scientific ones.

To decide to clone people on only the scientific response to this question would be barbaric. As Baruch Cohen explains, the Nazi experimented by freezing holocaust victims and the data they obtained is the only controlled scientific data we have on hypothermia.6But because it gives us scientific answers surely doesn't mean we should duplicate it.

It should be evident that science alone cannot answer all the questions humanity has.  It cannot even answer all the questions it raises though its own discoveries. Questions about God, the purpose of man, the ethics of cloning or transplantation, and even how we gather our scientific data must come from somewhere other than science. Religious and moral beliefs are necessary, not only because they can answer these questions, but because without them science can become a monster acting on whatever capability it discovers.

It isn't sceince but virtue that measures the enlightenment of a society.


1.Padilla, Steve. "Rabbi, atheist debate with passion, humor". Los Angeles Times. 12/29/2007.
<> Accessed 4/10/2013.
2.Dr. Sean M. Carroll writes that the Constant's "original role, to allow static homogeneous solutions to Einstein's equations in the presence of matter, turned out to be unnecessary when the expansion of the universe was discovered." See "The Cosmological Constant" by Sean M. Carroll  Living Reviews in Relativity.  Vol 4.(2001) 1. Accessed online at 4/10/2013.
3."A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths: Interview With Robert Jastrow," Christianity Today. August 6, 1982. Cited in Wikipedia. Accessed 4/10/2013.
4."In November 2001, scientists from Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT), a biotechnology company in Massachusetts, announced that they had cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of advancing therapeutic research."
"Cloning Fact Sheet". Human Genome Project Information. Last modified 5/11/2009. Accessed 4/10/2013.
5."Scientists hope that one day therapeutic cloning can be used to generate tissues and organs for transplants. To do this, DNA would be extracted from the person in need of a transplant and inserted into an enucleated egg. After the egg containing the patient's DNA starts to divide, embryonic stem cells that can be transformed into any type of tissue would be harvested. " (Cloning Fact Sheet, 2009).
6.Cohen, Baruch C. "The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments". Jewish Law Articles.
<> Accessed 4/10/2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

G.K. Chesterton on Materialist Beliefs

"For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves. A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist. But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies. But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel. 
"The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts."
Taken from Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy (New York: Image Books | Doubleday, 2001) .18-19.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The "God Particle": Does the Higgs Boson replace God?

The physicists at CERN have announced today that they are nearly certain that they have identified the elementary particle that gives mass to all matter, the so-called "God particle" otherwise known as the Higgs boson. Almost immediately, I've seen atheists crowing about how science has once again displaced God and I've seen Christians troubled at the discovery that's supposed to somehow rock their faith. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The real facts are that we've known about the twelve elementary particles (six quarks and six leptons, see image) as well as the four forces for about 40 years now. The Higgs boson was an anticipated missing piece to the puzzle. However, when writing a book on the search for the Higgs, physicist Leon D. Lederman decided to have a bit of fun and nickname the particle "the God particle."  After the book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" was published, its title has caused confusion for both reporters and the general public ever since.

In seeing so much confusion about the implications of the Higgs boson discovery, I interviewed Dr. Barry Ritchie, Professor of Nuclear Physics at Arizona State University, which is a cutting edge institution in this field.  Here's Dr. Ritchie commenting on the Higgs and its implications to theology:
"Lederman's choice of that name, that moniker, was first of all whimsical. It certainly wasn't something that indicated a theological perspective of any kind.  He's offered up a number, well at least a couple anyway, explanations as to why he chose it: one of them had to do with profanity, the other was talking about how difficult it would be… how difficult it was to find and so forth. 

"But again, the important thing to realize is it was meant to be whimsical, it wasn't meant to be something that has anything to do with theology. What the Higgs boson does is it tells us again the origins of mass; it tells us that we think we do understand how the particles of the universe interact with each other and things like that. All those things are independent of any understanding of God. This may be the way God works. If the standard model is correct, then this must be the way that the universe that God's made comes together in terms of these subatomic particles. But it's, it's…   The applicability of the Higgs boson to learning about the existence of God is about as relevant as being able to balance a checkbook is to the existence of God. There's not a theological angle on this."
The entire interview is great, as Dr. Ritchie also discusses the current understanding of our universe's makeup, recent attempts to explain the origin of the universe by appealing to quantum vacuums, and how the man of faith can also be a man of science. To hear the entire interview, click here.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Holding to a Rational Belief

Photo By *christopher* 
Has someone ever told you that you should never try to tell someone else their faith is misplaced? They claim faith requires no proof; believing is the opposite of using facts and evidence, and since faith is a personal choice the underlying theology really doesn't matter much. Faith brings comfort to a person, but his comfort could be different than yours, so his faith is legitimate for him as much as yours is for you. This kind of thinking is why many people feel that everyone is entitled to believe as they choose.

Now, I agree that all have the right to their beliefs. But defining faith in this way misconstrues what the concept of faith is all about. The claim that "all faiths are simply a choice and are equally valid" really translates to "all faiths have an equal claim to truth and there's no way to discern whether any of them are true or not." That's just not the case. For example, I don't think anyone today would give Greek mythology serious consideration as a true belief. But how do we know that Greek mythology isn't a viable religion? Because we use reason and evidence to see that its claims about how the world works are unsupportable. They are internally inconsistent and externally incoherent with what we know about the world.

Similarly, we can look at today's different faith systems and see that they cannot all be true since they make competing claims about how the world works. As an example, the monotheistic faiths such as classical Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim that there is a God who is distinct and separate from His creation, while pantheistic faiths such as Vedanta Hinduism or the New Age hold to the idea that all is God. Now, one or the other may be true, but they certainly cannot both be true at the same time. Therefore, any faith that teaches all ways to God are equally valid, such as the Bah'ai faith, holds to a logical contradiction and can be dismissed simply as being illogical. It simply doesn't match the way the world works.

Now, I'm not saying that faith is unnecessary or that reason can do all the work. I am saying, though, that any faith that forces you to deny reason is a faith not worth holding. Christianity is a faith built on evidence: historical evidence of a real event. Of course it requires faith, but we can investigate its claims on the basis of history to see whether they stand up. Mormonism, for example, also makes claims about historical events, but they are unsupportable. If the things claimed in the Book of Mormons are demonstrably false, then it follows that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God and we have good reason for not believing Mormonism to be true.

I think it's a mistake to lump anything with a "religion" or "faith" tag into a category marked untestable. There certainly are ways we can make informed judgments about what we believe. That's why Paul tells us "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."

Being reasonable or rational means holding on to true beliefs. So, if someone questions of whether it's rational to be a Christian, that means we need to talk about whether Christian beliefs are true—which requires honest inquiry. To not check out the claims of Christianity when they very well may be true would be a very irrational thing to do.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Salad-Bar Truth: When the Critic Commits the Crime

The LA Times recently ran an op-ed piece by Barry Goldman taking Americans to task for mixing and matching various belief systems. However, Goldman makes the same basic mistake that is at the root of his rebuke towards the public.

Goldman opens his op-ed piece by quoting from a recent Pew study that states:
Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.
Goldman then sums up the findings by writing "What is striking about the Pew study is not the prevalence of superstition and hocus-pocus, alarming as that is. It is the feeling that we are free to choose from a broad, cafeteria-style menu of superstitious hocus-pocus. Charles Blow in the New York Times called it the construction of 'Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities.'"

It's true that Americans DO take a cafeteria-style approach to beliefs – often holding contradictory beliefs as both being true. This has been a big problem in our culture, primarily because people just don't think through the implications of their belief system. However, Goldman completely crumbles in his analysis. He tries to make a distinction that facts are not things based on preference by referring to the story of elementary class that couldn't tell whether their pet rabbit was a male or female, so they decided to vote about the rabbit's sex. He then opines:
We no longer trust the guys in the seminaries to determine which ideas are inside and outside the community of faith. We feel entitled to make our own decisions. Fair enough; the facts with respect to spiritual matters have always been somewhat elusive. But now many of us feel entitled to decide which scientific ideas to accept. Scientists have their ideas about, say, the age of the Earth or evolution by natural selection, and other people have other ideas. According to this new view, neither has any more claim to legitimacy than the other. There is no fact of the matter."
Goldman concludes his article by saying "We used to be a nation with a broad consensus. If you had a religious question, you asked a religious leader. If you had a scientific question, you asked a scientist. Today, if you have a question (about your enthusiasm for a belief) you ask another enthusiast." Here's where Goldman shows that he doesn't know what he's talking about. He seems to think that expert consensus is the determining factor whether or not we should believe something. That position is ridiculous. If an individual holding to a belief doesn't make the thing true or not, then an expert consensus doesn't make it true either.

There have been many times where "asking a scientist" has given a wrong answer just as asking a religious leader did. Two examples I can think of right away are the science of genetics – where Gregor Mendel's findings didn't achieve widespread acceptance for some 40 years, since Mendel's theory collided with the Darwinian view of blending inheritable traits from parents – and the age of the universe, where the desire for an infinitely old universe was so strong, it caused Einstein to add a fudge factor to his equations.

Goldman really stumbles here. What he should have said was that we hold to certain ideas because we believe them to be true. We have knowledge because we have justification for a certain belief. If a belief that we hold is contradictory – either internally (such as a Christian believing in reincarnation) or externally (such as calling a male rabbit a female), then that cannot be true – we must rethink our position. Experts can help, but that presupposes that they have also critically examined their field of study. However, it may very well be that the experts are wrong. It's quite possible the public could see this and choose to reject the belief.

Rational examination and holding to a belief because its true are the golden standard. Goldman may dismiss matters of faith as "the facts with respect to spiritual matters have always been somewhat elusive." This shows that Goldman has never investigated faith matters seriously. If there is a God, then dismissing the hard work of finding Him out is like the class who would rather choose the rabbit's sex than work to find the answer. Goldman is committing the same crime he's accused us of – choosing which beliefs fit his worldview and then running with them while he sanctimoniously rebukes everyone else.

Image courtesy "RELIGIONES" by ReligijneSymbole. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X