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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Friday, April 11, 2014
But because someone is brilliant, especially in their field of study, it doesn't always make them right. One of those ultimate questions (they really list three) is "Why is there something rather than nothing?"1 Hawking and Mlodinow's answer is simply, "Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing"2. They rely on the simple actions of gravity at a quantum level to balance the positive and negative energy of the universe and to create matter, time, and space.
I've written on some of the issues with quantum vacuums before, but there's a fundamental problem with this scenario, that may be easy to grasp. One cannot rely on a law to do anything by itself. The law of gravity cannot be the starting point because laws don't exist if there is nothing upon which the law governs. For a familiar comparison, let's look at traffic laws such as the speed limit.
Everyone who drives is familiar with a speed limit. The speed limit is a law set by a governing body in order to control the flow of traffic and keep the drivers safe in their vehicles. Some areas such as Germany's autobahn have no speed limit. But for a speed limit to mean anything, you have to have at least two other things: a vehicle and a road. If no road exists and there are no vehicles yet invented, limiting someone's driving to 65 miles per hour is not only foolish, it doesn't mean anything. How can you limit driving when no vehicles exist? And if there's no road to drive on, then there's no way to begin forward motion.
Imagine if you will creating laws as to how high and how fast the winged horse Pegasus can fly and you might see the problem. While your laws can be very specific and detailed, it doesn't matter because there is no wined horse for those laws to govern.
In The Grand Design, the authors use John Conway's Game of Life as their example of how a simple set of laws can lead to new patterns that weren't originally anticipated3. Hawking and Mlodinow extrapolates this into how all matter interacts and says we are the result of the same kind of new, surprising patterns. But the same problem applies. Conway's rules are just fine, but if there is no grid of squares and there are no lights to "live" or "die" as his rules define, then the game never gets off the ground. There's nothing to blink, so no new shapes appear. Of course, beyond even these problems, there's still one additional question that hasn't been answered. We know that Conway wrote the rules to his Game of Life, but who wrote the Law of Gravity?
It is unfortunate for the authors of The Grand Design that in their zeal to dismiss God from the creative process they assume that the Law of Gravity can answer all their problems. The question "why is there something rather than nothing" cannot be answered with gravity because gravity is a something. It's actually part of the question. Gravity and those objects that gravity affects are part of the something that needs explaining. Postulating gravity before the creation of anything else is simply trying to place a speed limit on a flying horse. The outcome produces no effect at all.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
One friend brought up a claim made by a Catholic on an Internet discussion board. He said that Protestants depend on tradition as well, at least in some sense, since they depend on the traditional selection of books that make up the Bible. Someone had to choose which books would be included, so doesn't this mean we're holding to tradition on at least one point? The answer is no and it is an important reasons why - especially since others will try to say our choices for which books were included in the Bible was somehow arbitrary. I've reproduced the letter below and provided my answer to help clarify our understanding of the origin of our Bible.
The Question of Scripture Alone< --- Original Message --- >
There is no such thing as a sola scripturist. For it is impossible to demonstrate that Scripture is Scripture by only using Scripture!
How do we know that the Table of Contents at the beginning of our Bibles is "accurate" (that is, that all the books contained within are divinely inspired)?
We have to rely upon the people who put the list together -- which means we have to rely upon church tradition being divinely inspired in the development of the canon.
The question for the Protestant CANNOT be: "Should I only accept the Scripture as divinely inspired?" but rather: "To what degree should I accept church tradition (along with Scripture) as divinely inspired?"
< --- End --- >
I think we need to be careful in our assessment of how we got our Bible. So much hinges on a proper grasp of why we view certain documents as inspired, since the Bible's authority hinges directly on whether or not the scriptures do indeed have their origin in God.
The first thing one must remember when discussing the inclusion of documents as scripture: no church or council ever appointed certain works as inspired and others as not inspired. This is so important, I want to repeat it. No church or council ever appointed certain works as inspired and others as not inspired. All the early church, beginning with the apostles, maintained that one does not declare a writing to be the word of God, but one recognizes that the word of God has been given and treats it appropriately. It's similar to the laws of nature. For example, one does not decide that gravity is a law of nature. It's not as though someone declared that the earth should exert a forced pulling us downward and that somehow made gravity came true. They simply observe its effects and state that the law exists.
Let's look at a few points that show how we can observe the inspirational nature of Scripture:
Identifying Scriptural AuthorityThe claim was "There is no such thing as a sola scripturist. For it is impossible to demonstrate that Scripture is scripture by only using Scripture!"
This claim isn't true. Remember, the Bible isn't a single writing, but 66 separate documents written by different authors over 1500 years. Therefore it is not circular to argue that when the New Testament authors refer to the Old Testament as Scripture it is supportable.
The two main identifying characteristics of scripture are 1) they derive from authoritative sources (God's prophet, apostolic authority, etc.) and 2) they hold predictive prophecy (ref Deut. 18:22).
Divine Authority in the Old TestamentBoth in the Old Testament and the New Testament, claims of divine inspiration are made directly. The Old Testament prophets say over and over again "Thus saith the Lord" claiming to speak God's message to the people. They supported this claim with various prophetic predictions. This is why Peter writes "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."
Jesus also directly authenticates the Old Testament in its entirety. In Luke 24:44 Jesus says, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." Thus Jesus is saying that the Old Testament is the prophetic Word of God. He also references "The blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah" encapsulating the first and last martyr of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Ultimately, we can form the argument this way:
- Jesus claimed to have divine authority to speak on behalf of God
- Jesus said that his resurrection from the dead would authenticate his authority
- We have good historic evidence that Jesus rose from the dead
- Therefore, Jesus' statements on the inspiration of Scripture have authority
We've gone rather quickly through the main points in discussing the initial claim of Scriptural authority. If you'd like a more detailed study of the concept of Biblical inspiration, get a copy of our audio teaching "How We Can Know the Bible is REALLY from God".
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Sometimes abstract ideas are hard to communicate. The moral grounding problem, for instance, can be easily misunderstood. When arguing for God's existence, many Christians will point out that God is necessary for objective morals and duties to exist. Since morals and duties are real (torturing babies for the fun of it is truly wrong always), one can therefore conclude that God exists. This argument turns on the concept of moral grounding, that is that in order for values and duties to be considered moral, they must be objective and therefore be anchored in something higher than humanity.
Whenever I have discussed this point, atheists usually misunderstand my position. They will normally respond with "How can you say that atheists are immoral because they don't believe in God? I'm a very moral person and I know all my atheist friends are moral, too." However, I've not claimed that atheists are immoral. I know several atheists who are indeed very moral individuals. So, in order to help clarify the idea of moral grounding, I'd like to use an analogy.
After the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Confederacy was eager to show themselves as an independent government. That means they had to have an elected leader (Jefferson Davis), a representative congress, and they needed to have some form of currency so that the government and its citizens could do business. Thus, they began to print Confederate currency in the same month as the start of the Civil War: April 1861. The Confederacy printed about $1.7 billion in paper bills.1 However, in that time currency was normally understood to be redeemable for some hard asset, like gold or silver.2 Since precious metals were hard to come by, the Confederacy's currency wasn't backed by any hard asset. The notes were basically a promise to pay after the war was completed. Because there was no hard asset to back the currency, it devalued rapidly and by 1864 was considered practically worthless, even though the Confederacy was still in existence.3
Now, I'm sure the Confederate States had some very good economists in their colleges and businesses. They understood finance, trade, and supply and demand. However, their skill as economists mean nothing if they are plying their trade with Confederate bills. It isn't that they cannot recognize value it's that they basis of their currency is not grounded in anything outside their own system. Confederate money wasn't based on gold, which offered an objective and definitive value. It was based on whatever number the Confederate society chose to print on the bill. Because there was no objective standard, the currency became worthless.
Moral principles work the same way. A person can have a very skilled and nuanced understanding of morality and truly be a good moral person, just like our skilled economist or businessman. But if you are trying to say that moral values themselves should be followed, then there must be something beyond the agreement of men saying so. If not, morality collapses into relativism. And as we saw with the Confederate dollar, it can quickly become completely worthless.
2. Bordo, Michael D. "Gold Standard." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/GoldStandard.html Accessed 4/9/2014
3. "Confederate States of America dollar." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_of_America_currency Accessed 4/9/2014
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
I think this exchange is helpful to read for two reasons. First, it highlights a common misconception of many atheists that religious beliefs are so shallow that we can simply choose them. As I've written before, one's religious beliefs form the foundation on one's worldview and worldview is our foundation for how we understand everything else. Everyone has a worldview and even if atheists want to deny they are making any claim that needs defending, they certainly are doing so.
Secondly, the exchange will hopefully show how online interactions can be conducted in a respectful way while still making a point. I think I got my point across, even though South Humanist didn't choose to accept it. That's fine. The objection is diffused and I've shown that one can hold to a belief without having to check every option available. Such a position is a form of the genetic fallacy and should be rejected.
Here is the Twitter exchange:
Monday, April 07, 2014
But as the issues become more contentious and as the modern culture moves farther and farther away from its Christian underpinnings, my commentary has become more critical, and this is where the problem comes in. I had recently posted about the reaction of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to the forced exit of Brendan Eich from Mozilla, who in 2008 supported California's Prop. 8. GLAAD issued as statement, stating "Mozilla's strong statement in favor of equality today reflects where corporate America is: inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all." My response was that it is neither inclusive, safe, nor welcoming to anyone holding a viewpoint that differs from GLAAD's. For that I'm charged with not being loving and not being Christ-like. In part, I was told "Your original comment about GLAAD not being inclusive, safe, and welcoming to those who disagree--- As if Christians don't do that all the time---so why even make this comment? It's hypocritical. If you are going to point out others' flaws, why not do it to Christians instead?" This was followed by "My point is that it's time to maybe take a break from pointing fingers. Lenny, as a church leader, does not reflect what the church is supposed to look like (like Jesus) when he makes those kind of comments, publicly. It fosters an us-vs-them attitude."
So, as I understand it, I am a hypocrite because 1)I criticize those outside the church instead of keeping my criticism directed toward Christians and 2)by offering criticisms at all I am somehow not reflecting Jesus. Both charges require a response.
Shouldn't Christians Clean Up Their Own Act First?As I explained above, part of my job as a teacher and minister is to filter the milieu of daily events and help others try to make sense of them from a Christian perspective. Perhaps I don't do that well, but I do try through these blog posts, writing, podcasts, YouTube and social media. Because our society is now post-Christian, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Christians are increasingly faced with positions contrary to their beliefs. Jesus warned of such contrary positions when He would warn his disciples to "beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt 16:6) or "When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues…" (Matt 6:5). Implicit in His instruction is a criticism of those who are outside the faith. Jesus is pointing out others' flaws while cautioning His followers not to do the same.
This doesn't mean that I shy away from criticizing those in the church, as the objection I'm answering here is lobbied more by Christians than non-Christians. But to assume that Christians should be perfect before we can ever examine the clearly immoral positions of others is ridiculous. Obviously my objector isn't perfect, yet he seems to feel completely within his rights to criticize me! So, that charge of hypocrisy cuts both ways.
Would Jesus Be So Unloving as to Criticize Others?But perhaps it isn't using nonbelievers as a comparison that's the problem. Perhaps it's unChrist-like to criticize the lost directly. I mean, they're lost, right? Why should we expect them t do the right thing? But, I would turn this question around and ask "Why should we expect anyone to repent unless we show them that they are falling short of God's standards?"
Jesus did this all the time, too. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus asking for eternal life, Jesus criticized his love of wealth. "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor" was His command. When He was face to face with those Pharisees whom He used as a comparison above, He used the strongest language possible to tell them of their evil. When He says that they are of their father the Devil in John 8:44, we may miss the impact of this; in that culture it is like using curse words to them.
We see similar actions by John the Baptist against Herod, Jesus telling the woman at the well that she did not know the Good she claimed to worship, and the Apostle Paul telling the Athenians that they needed to repent. further, Paul continues to warn the church that "neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Of course, in all things we must balance our criticism in love. The command for defense is always "with gentleness and respect" and any Christian who doesn't treat people as people first and foremost is sinning. But criticism of wrongdoing is not unChrist-like. In fact, it is doing the very thing that Jesus did.
Any parent will know that they tell their child "no" far more than they affirm them. If you don't, the child becomes spoiled, thinking that anything they wish is permissible. For me not to shout an alarm to the Christian who may be damaged by a view popular in culture today would be as neglectful as uncritical parent. It isn't hypocritical for me to call out to others when there's danger in society today. It's what Jesus did to protect His sheep.
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