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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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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Why Responding "Show Me Some" Doesn't Work

"What about all the contradictions in the Bible?" If you share your faith or even if your vocal about believing the Bible to be true, sooner or later you will hear this response. "How can you believe something that has so many contradictions in it?" The objection is designed to be a smokescreen, a showstopper. However, it shouldn't worry the Christian too much. You see, the Bible is in all probability the most scrutinized book in history. I know of no other written work that has been subjected to the sheer volume of critical examination as the Bible from supporters and detractors alike. Yet, the Bible has endured. The various mistakes that people claim for it are usually easy to answer and have been answered for many years.

One thing, though.  One must know how to answer the objection. In books and sermons, I've heard preachers talk about how to face this challenge. Usually, the advice they give is something along the lines of "If someone claims that there are too many contradictions in the Bible, you should hand them your Bible and say 'OK, show me some.' That's usually enough to stop them."

Now, there is some truth that this may catch the objector off guard. As I mentioned above, many times a person throws out this question to simply stop the conversation. They don't know any Bible contradictions; they've simply heard other say the same thing and they're parroting the question to play what they think is a trump card. So, when you ask them to point some out, you're just calling their bluff.

However, what if they're not bluffing? What if a person is really asking you to reconcile biblically-stated facts that seem to be in tension with each other? Maybe the objector isn't sincere in his desire to see the supposed contradiction solved, but what if others are also listening? What if they actually point out a couple of examples to you and hand you your Bible back—what do you do then?

You see, bluffing is fine if you're playing poker, but not for Christians sharing the most important message of life. It's not what the Bible itself commands us to do. As1 Peter 3:15 tells us, we always need to be ready to give a defense for our faith. Jesus did so when he was questioned by the skeptics of his day, the Sadducees. Luke 20 offers some clear examples of him doing so. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were called noble because they didn't take Paul's claims at face value, but checked them out. So we had better check our Bibles honestly before we go off and offer a smug answer to someone else. If we're merely throwing out the "show me some" statement, then we're guilty of the exact same stall tactic as the skeptic. Neither of us knows what we're talking about, we're just trying to block the other person's parry. But if they are informed and you don't know the subject matter, then you endanger your witness as well as your own reputation.

I'll be looking at the idea of so called biblical contradictions in the next few posts and the larger principles of how to treat passages that appear in tension.  I hope you'll join me so you can honestly answer the contradiction claim when it shows up.

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.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What is Faith? A Proper Understanding

Photo courtesy Richard MacDonald.
What is faith? As I discuss issues like the existence of God I find that much of the time people have misunderstood the Christian concept of faith.  Bertrand Russell, the famous early 20th century atheist defined faith as, "the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith.' We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."1 Sam Harris defines it this way: "Religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern."2 Both of these definitions miss the mark, erecting a straw man instead of a robust understanding of what faith is.

This misunderstanding is not limited to unbelievers, though; many Christians are also confused on what biblical faith means. They have an underdeveloped view of faith, assuming that it is some kind of trust without evidence or they think that faith is exclusively defined by a single Bible verse, like Hebrews 11:1. That verse reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  While the writer to the Hebrews was trying to give one aspect of what faith means, this verse is no more an exhaustive definition of faith than the statement "God is a consuming fire"—which is found in the following chapter—defines all aspects of who God is.

The Biblical Understanding of Faith

When you look at all the different ways faith is mentioned and expressed in the Bible, you'll find that faith in God encompasses three components: a proper understanding of the object of our faith, an assent or agreement with the claim of faith, and an exercise of trust that is the outworking of that assent.

First, in order to have faith, you must properly understand what it is you're asked to have faith in. The Christian no more believes in a cruel, vindictive God than the atheist does.  This is not the kind of God a Christian could have faith in. True faith in God means that one must at least understand what we mean when we say "God."  God has certain attributes and qualities.  Christians believe in an eternal God, a God from whom all goodness stems. The Christian God is not capricious, but unchanging, gracious, long-suffering and holy. If one doesn't understand these concepts, then the faith that one has would rightly be suspect. This is where many atheists go wrong.  They hold to an image of God that is inaccurate and they then reject that type of a God.

Beyond the mere understanding of the object of faith, the believer must give intellectual assent or agreement to the claims of faith. So, in our example, once you understand what the concept of God entails, then it is necessary for you to hold that such a being either exists or doesn't exist. Thus, faith is tied to belief. To have faith in God is to believe that He exists. But belief is not enough, for James said that even the demons believe in God and tremble!3To have faith means we must go beyond mere assent and exercise a level of trust in Him.  Trust is a necessary feature of faith.

The Evidence for Faith

All these components, understanding, assent, and trust, don't happen in a vacuum. We take the propositions we know to be true, such as everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe shows evidence of design, for absolute moral values to exist they must originate from a moral lawgiver, and we use our reasoning ability to weigh them as evidence for the Christian God. We also have the internal witness of God and we have historical testimony such as the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Because we have all of this, we can more easily place our trust in God as not only being real, but as one who is trustworthy to guide our lives. As J.P. Moreland states, "Belief in rests on belief that."

Even in Hebrews 11, this pattern shows itself. To clarify his definition of faith, the writer to the Hebrews follows up verse one with over thirty verses of examples of how God actually worked in the lives of those who had trusted Him in the past. He recounts how those in the past trusted God and their faith was rewarded, as they  "conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."4He then says in the first verse of chapter twelve that these examples provide evidence for the faith that we should have. He exhorts the Christian, writing "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."5

Christian faith is not a leap in the dark.  The concept of "blind faith" is completely foreign to the Bible. Instead, when the Bible speaks of faith, it means a trust based on past history and evidence. Christianity has always grounded itself to a specific historical event, hanging the faith of its followers on the actuality of Christ's resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 Paul says that Christianity should be dismissed if the resurrection is not a reality. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Christian view of faith is more measured and rational that others may have you believe.


1. Bertrand Russell as quoted in Introducing Philosophy of Religion by Chad Meister.
(New York: Routledge, 2009). 158.
2. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.
3. James 2:19. ESV.
4. Hebrews 11:34-35. ESV.
5. Hebfrrews 12:1.ESV.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why the Christian Church is Marginalized

I've talked before about the problems in the Christian church, namely that too many churches don't stand up for the truth. They feel that hey must not make waves with the culture at large, lest they be deemed 'intolerant "and repel even more followers. Some have said that this is especially true if we want to keep our young people engaged.

I don't believe a word of this. In our relativistic age, young people desire meaning and truth much more than they want complacency. This has bee true even in times of greatest generational change.  Rather than quote from some evangelical pastor or bloggers who have written on this point, I would like to draw your attention to an excerpt from Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." As I wrote previously, King was hoping that the white Christian Church would have enough of the Spirit to stand up to the immorality of the popular opinion of his day. In these paragraphs, King almost prophetically decries the contemporary church and sees its future marginalization.
"There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."
For a more thorough look at how much the world has gotten into the church, see this five part YouTube presentation.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Thank God it's Friday - Really!

T.G.I.F. everybody! Today is Friday and you're likely to see those four letters popping up on coworkers' lips and Facebook status posts throughout the day.  We've heard the expression so often it requires no translation anymore. Thank God it's Friday! I get the sentiment.  The pressures of the workplace and our obligations to an employer (or to the customer if you are the employer) are suspended and our time is now our own.  Usually, this means we have leisure time, time for fun.

Courtesy Jatayou
Because we are so accustomed to the modern construct of a five day work week, it's easy to forget that humanity hasn't enjoyed such luxury for most of its history. Even the concept of dividing time into seven days is a unique concept.  It doesn't really fit neatly into the 30/31 day month nor the 365 day year.

The real origin of the seven day week along with the cycle of work and rest is found in the Bible. In Exodus, God uses the six days of creation and seventh day of rest as a model for the Jews to follow. Because the Jewish Sabbath occurred every seven days, it became natural for the Jews to mark their calendars in this fashion. Eviatar Zerubave  dubbed it "a distinctively Jewish contribution to civilization."1 While the 24 hour day, the month, and the year all have their beginnings in astrological markings of time, the seven day week doesn't seem to fit.  It is roughly equivalent to the lunar cycle, (the moon will become full every 29-1/2 days or so), but its origins lie outside of astrological observance. Zerubave writes, "One of the most distinctive features of the week is the fact that it is entirely disassociated from the lunar cycle. It is defined as a precise multiple of the day, quite independently of the lunar month." 2

This concept of scheduling a regular time of rest during the week was unique in the ancient world. Most other societies thought it strange that the Jews required a day of no work. The Romans even said the Jews were simply being lazy. Augustine notes that the Roman philosopher Seneca would complain that the Jews "lose through idleness about the seventh part of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged."3 It seems that the 21st century always-on-call mentality isn't as new as we may think!

Because the pattern of a day of rest was set by the Jews, it became customary for the Christians to gather on Sunday in remembrance of the Lord's resurrection, the day after their Sabbath observances. Sunday became the primary day of rest after Constantine issued a proclamation in 321 AD that solidified it as such for the Christian and pagan alike. Because Constantine was a politician, he avoided tying the rest day to the celebration of the resurrection. His motive to have a regular weekly day of rest and the choice of Sunday for that day were no doubt a result of his Christian conversion.4
In his article on the origin and meaning of the weekend, Witold Rybczynski writes that the word "weekend" first appeared in an 1879 issue of the English magazine Notes and Queries. Quoting the Oxford English Dictionary,  he writes, "'In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week's work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance,' the magazine citation goes, 'he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.' This is obviously a definition, which suggests that the word had only recently come into use."5

Rybczynski goes on to report that in the U.S. "the first factory to adopt a five-day week was a New England spinning mill, in 1908, expressly to accommodate its Jewish workers. The six-day week had always made it hard for Jews to observe the Sabbath, for if they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday, they risked offending the Christian majority. Moreover, as work patterns became increasingly formalized through union agreements, many Jews did not even have a choice, a state of affairs that threatened the Sabbath tradition. The five-day week—in which both Sunday and Saturday were holidays—offered a convenient way out, and it came to be supported by Jewish workers, rabbis, and community leaders, and some Jewish employers."6 While few industries followed this lead initially, it was ultimately adopted throughout the country when the Great Depression hit, simply as a way of reducing the number of work hours (and thus reducing the amount of pay) for a company's employees.7

So our two glorious days free from work to fill with our leisure time. Or perhaps we should also take a moment and use that time to thank God for the model of work and rest that He gave us. Maybe we should really thank God it's Friday, because without the Biblical tradition, the weekend would look a whole lot less appealing.


1. Zerubave, Eviatar. The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week.
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985.) 9.
2. Zerubave,Ibid.
3. Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book 6, chapter 11. Accessed online at <>
4. See Philip Schaff's explanation in History of the Christian Church, Vol II: From Constantine the Great to Gregory the Great, A.D. 311-600. (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1867). 379-380.   

5. Rybczynski, Witold. "Waiting for the Weekend". The Atlantic Monthly. August 1991. Accessed online at <> 4/5/2013.
6. Rybczynski, Ibid.
7. Rybczynski, Ibid.
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