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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Let My People Think!

Whenever I take kids on one of our Apologetics Missions Trips to Berkeley, I invite some of the most well-spoken atheists I can find to present their views before the students. This shocks some parents initially, but I explain that when high school kids hit college, they will be hearing such arguments anyway. In this controlled setting, we can hear some of the best arguments atheism has to offer, allow the students to then question the presenters, and ultimately show how the truth of Christianity is so much more convincing than the arguments against God.

Thus I was extremely concerned when I heard a news report about a local school district near my home that has come under fire for assigning a critical thinking research project to its eight grade students. The assignment reads, "When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence," according to the LA Daily News web site.1 The assignment goes on to say that there are those who deny the holocaust as an actual historical event, and the students were to gather evidence and write a paper arguing why they believe the holocaust was either real or propaganda.2

The Los Angeles Anti-Defamation League has objected to the assignment and complained to district officials.3 Spokesman Matthew Friedman stated, "To have students try and determine whether or not it happened, they're gonna go online and they're going to Google the Holocaust and come across sites that look very slick and very persuasive, but are really bad history and propaganda for anti-Semites, and that's not what we want them to be doing."

I must say that Friedman's and the ADL's objection falls flat. Do I think there is any doubt that the Holocaust happened? Of course not. Do I think such a research project is dangerous for eighth-graders? On the contrary, I think NOT teaching them how to weed good arguments from bad ones is. In the Internet age, we're awash in faulty arguments and bad logic. Kids today need to learn how to separate what is written from what is true. Friedman's concern that kids will come across sites "that look very slick and very persuasive, but are really bad history and propaganda" is moot. They are seeing them now, and not just with the issue of the holocaust. Isn't it better to show why "slick and persuasive" doesn't make a view true than to forbid exposure to any opinion deemed unworthy by… who exactly? Don't we want our kids to know that other views exist, even if those views are foolhardy?

There are many examples of the ruling power only presenting a single point of view and dismissing all others as "foolish" or "not worth considering." That's the first step to establishing a culture of propaganda. Even if the position is as ridiculous as denying the holocaust, it is important to show that we don't need to hide certain views, but expose them to the light of scrutiny. Thomas Jefferson is claimed to have said "The man who fears no truth has nothing to fear from lies."4 Any fool with a modem and an opinion can post online; how are our children supposed to learn how to weed through the junk so they can find the truth, especially if that truth may not be held by the majority? It is restricting thought rather than investigating it that I fear more.


1 Yarbrough, Beau. "Rialto Unified defends writing assignment on confirming or denying Holocaust." Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Accessed 5/5/2014.

2 The assignment text reads, "For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page."

3 Powell, Amy. "Rialto Unified School District under fire over Holocaust assignment." KABC 7 Eyewitness News Report. Accessed 5/5/2014.

4 Boller,Jr. Paul F. Presidential Campaigns from George Washington to George W. Bush. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).19.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Why does Lehi disobey direct commandments of God?

All Jeremiah references are taken from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints King James Version (LDS KJV).

Lehi is the first distinct LDS prophet and Nephi is his son, who takes the spiritual lead after Lehi's death. Nephi records his father's revelations in the first chapters of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi: Lehi and Nephi's Commands

The heading just prefacing 1 Nephi 1:1 reads, "[Lehi] is persecuted by the Jews."  The events of the book begin "in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah." (1 Nephi 1:4).  Nephi's father, Lehi, begins in joining other prophets (initially, just Jeremiah; Jeremiah 25) that preach repentance in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon references Jeremiah 26:18-20 in its footnotes and there, Jeremiah, Micah, and Uriah are all despised for prophesying destruction of Jerusalem because of its evil ways (also, 1 Nephi 1: 18-20). Shortly thereafter, Lehi is given a very comprehensive revelation, one so great that his son, Nephi, is unable to make a full record thereof: "And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written, many things which he saw in visions and dreams…" (1 Nephi 1:16). Lehi later receives many words from God in visions and dreams (1 Nephi 2:1-2, 11; 3:2; 5:4). Such words include commandments such as: God's call to the wilderness then short return to Jerusalem to collect bronze plates (containing secular and Jewish history, even up to contemporaneous history and Jewish genealogy), then back to the wilderness. Later, Nephi is in charge of his fleeing people and is commanded to build a ship that will later lead him to a promised land (1 Nephi 17:8, 49, 51). Nephi loads himself and his family to the Promised Land and they arrive in 589 B.C. (1Nephi 18:8, 23)

Jeremiah and the Commands to Israel

Now continue on to Jeremiah 27. It has a small forward in the LDS KJV: "The Lord sends word to many nations that they are to serve Babylon—the vessels of the Lord's house will go into Babylon." The later verses follow in 8-10:
"And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: For they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish."
This message continues on through the rest of the chapter. The Israelites are not the only things of God commanded to go to Babylon, but the vessels of the Lord's house are also. Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah would die because he falsely prophesied that God would break Babylon's rule and return the vessels of the Lord back to Jerusalem and Hananiah dies later that year. Further doom is given to those that prophesy against Jeremiah's words, which are to go to Babylon and take up roots there (Shemaiah in Jeremiah 29:24-32).

Promised Return

Lastly, God promises that he will return everyone that was scattered and captured by Babylon, back to the place from where they were dispersed, "And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive." (Jeremiah 29:14) So even if Nephi did receive a commandment to go to a promised land, he and the other Jews there would be gathered back from their original land.


Contrary to the previous instructions, God previously directed Lehi to take the bronze tablets out of Jerusalem and away from Babylon. This takes them out of the category of the "vessels of the Lord's house." To resolve the issue there are at least two options:
  1. Either the bronze tablets are not vessels of the Lord's house, or
  2. Lehi disobeys a direct commandment of God.
What if the event dates are all off? That presents multiple concerns.
  1. Since there is a serious degree of evidence surrounding the accuracy of the traditional dates of the captivity, that undermines the historical authority of what Joseph Smith labeled the "…most correct of any book on earth…" 
  2. Why would Nephi, "having been taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father," have been taught a different calendar or dating system?
  3. Even still, this still does not change that both of these refer to the exact same event, exile to Babylon, with the exact same consequences for not going, judgment. Even Nephi acknowledges that it was good Lehi did not stay long in Jerusalem while getting the bronze plates, lest he face destruction (1 Nephi 3:18). This aligns with the similar warnings Jeremiah gives to anyone in Jerusalem.
  4. If Lehi and/or Nephi was/were given different instructions than Jeremiah and other contemporary prophets, then why does he never speak with any of them to verify his visions? Even Paul does this in the New Testament. He not only receives direct revelation from Christ, but also validates this message with the other apostles on at least two different occasions.

What Then?

If we are to accept any words of Lehi, the first in the line of distinctly Mormon prophets, then we need to resolve why his behaviors and the behavior of his son Nephi (who was fully taught by Lehi in all spiritual matters) acted contrary to God's directives for all members of Israel. But, if no such resolution exists for Lehi and/or Nephi, then is it unreasonable to reject their prophecy?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Sam Harris' Wrongheaded View of Christian Faith

Photo courtesy Auren Hoffman.
If I ask Christians for a biblical definition of faith, many times I have Hebrews 11:1 quoted to me: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." But, is that the end of the story? Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, takes Hebrews 11:1 as an example of how Christians are not reasoning, how faith is diametrically opposed to reason. He writes, "Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass ( 'things hoped for') or for which one has not evidence ('things not seen') constitutes evidence for its actuality ('assurance')."1

Obviously, Sam Harris is not a Greek scholar, nor is he a biblical scholar. He knows nothing about exegesis and he's just flat wrong on this, but he wants to prove his point. The assurance of things hoped for does mean the assurance of future things. Faith does deal with those things that we don't necessarily know, or that we don't have 100% confidence in. By the way reason deals with things we don't necessarily have 100% confidence in. You can reasonably believe something or you can claim you know something with less than 100% confidence.

As an example, think about a man dating a women he is considering marrying. He talks with his friends and says, "I think it's time to ask her to marry me." His friends may reply, "Well do you think she will say yes?" A reasonable response would be, "I have faith that she's going to say yes so I'm going to ask the question. If I had no faith that she would say yes, then I wouldn't ask at all."  Is such a faith a blind faith? Or is it based nio years of involvement and growing to know one another? I had faith that my wife and I would be compatible together as husband and wife. How can I know that? The only way to know how compatible we are is to become husband and wife. We cannot know that beforehand.

When we talk about "the assurance of things hoped for," it is not merely something which does has not come to pass. When we talk about "the conviction of things not seen," it is the writer using a Hebrew idiom where if they wanted to stress a point or add emphasis they would repeat it. That's what the writer of Hebrews is doing here. The lines "The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" is the same phrase said differently. It's a linguistic device.

Both Sam Harris and Christians need to realize that the Bible isn't meant to be taken so superficially. Hebrews 11:1 it is a good definition of one aspect of faith. It is not the sum total of what faith means, just as saying God is love is not the sum total of all that God is. God is also defined as a Spirit. God is also defined as a consuming fire. We are told many things that God is in the Bible and love is one aspect of God's character, but it's not the sum total of God's character. God has more depth to Him than merely love. Similarly, Hebrews 11:1 does not provide a complete definition of faith. One must take the passage for what the author intended, and not limit the whole concept of faith to that one verse. If you'd like to read a fuller definition of the biblical meaning of faith, see this post. But there is one thing you can actually know, and that is that Sam Harris' version of Hebrews 11:1 is nothing but a straw man.


1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Beware the Thought Police Against Religion!

Although I'm considered an early-adopter on the technology front, I still subscribe to the newspaper and read it every day at breakfast. A story in this morning's Los Angeles Times almost made me spill my cereal. The Public Health Director for the city of Pasadena, Eric Walsh, was placed on administrative leave by city officials because the officials learned of "controversial statements" Walsh had made about evolution and homosexuality online.

It seems that Walsh, who also serves as a minister in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, has some prior sermons that speak against homosexuality as a sin and evolution "the religion of Satan" that are available to watch on YouTube. That was supposedly too much for a city official to believe and the city said they needed "to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city's Public Health Department." Forget the fact that Walsh has been effective at leading the department, even providing needed services to those in the community diagnosed with AIDS.

Of course, Walsh is only the latest in an increasingly long line of people who either have or are in danger of losing their jobs because their beliefs were not considered politically correct. Mozilla Corporation fired its CEO Brendan Eich not for anything he said, but simply because he gave money to support a proposition that the majority of California voters favored—and he did so six years before the dismissal. Frank Turek's consulting contracts with both Bank of America and Cisco Systems were terminated because of his pro-natural marriage views. And of course the whole Phil Robertson fiasco had A&E networks firing then backstepping quickly as they were threatened by the Robertson family with losing their cash cow entirely.

When did the First Amendment Require an Asterisk?

This whole idea deeply concerns me. Even the NBA's actions against Donald Sterling are troubling. Lest this be taken out of context, let me say that I find Sterling's comments repugnant. Most who knew the movers and shakers in L.A. will tell you that Sterling's racism was no secret. He's a pig. But, should a pig be denied their business when his comments were made in the privacy of his own home? Should those who disagree with the politically correct view of homosexuality or evolution when their track record shows they are more than capable of executing their positions effectively? When did the First Amendment require an asterisk linked to a disclaimer?

The concept of freedom of speech has been misunderstood by people today, partly because people are ignorant of the historical roots of the concept and partly because our society has been so awash in free speech that no one knows what the alternative looks like. In the united States, our Constitutional protection of freedom of speech is an outgrowth of John Locke's philosophy. His book On Liberty makes a great argument for even why opinions that are considered wrong need to be open and accessible:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism (emphasis added).[1]
Locke is right in this. Free speech means more than "protection against the tyranny of the magistrate." It also means keeping ideas other than the politically correct ones available without the threat of loss on wages. It means weighing the ideas and views of diverse opinions in a thoughtful manner, but always with a goal of finding truth, not silencing dissent.

Perhaps the most poignant comment came from @naughtnorris on Twitter. "Maybe Dr. Eric Walsh shouldn't preach personal beliefs on his own time. Maybe he shouldn't even have his own beliefs & he should have yours."

This is to what our culture has sunk.


1. Locke, John. On Liberty. The University of Adelaide Library.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The HANDS Argument for the Deity of Jesus

Is Jesus God? That is one of the most popularly searched questions about Jesus on Google. People can get confused by the idea of God being both three and one. However, the early church recognized that Jesus made specific claims to divinity, and they honored His divinity. This was so apparent, that even the critics of the early church took note of it. Celsus, a Greek philosopher writing around a hundred years of Jesus' death, couldn't figure out why the early Christians revered Jesus as they did. Historian Robert Wilken writes:
Celsus' criticism of the elevation of Jesus to divine status , however, had another dimension. By offering such adoration to Jesus, Christians make him a rival of the one high God, the God above the heeavens, as Celsus calls him. If Christians taught that "God is father of all and that we really ought to worship him alone" there would be no quarrel. But Christians make Jesus almost equal to God, "not because they are paying very great reverence to God but because they are exalting Jesus excessively" (c. Cels. 8.14)1
So from its formative days, Christianity revered Jesus as divine. In their book, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Rob Bowman and Ed Komoszewski lay out a very tight case for why Jesus is properly recognized as God from the evidence of scripture. Using the mnemonic acronym of HANDS, they take you step by step through five different points recorded in the Bible:2

1. Jesus shares the HONORS due only to God.

There are many honors due to dignitaries, but there are certain honors that are reserved for certain positions. The salutation "your Majesty" is reserved for a royal head of state, with princes or lesser positions of royalty being addressed as "your highness." Worship is an honor that is only reserved for God, yet Jesus received worship. Jesus even reinforced this idea when He said refused to worship Satan and instead quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him" (Matt. 4:10). Yet Jesus received worship Himself from Thomas (John 20:28) and the rest of the disciples prior to His Ascension ( Matt. 28:17). Thus, the early church was simply continuing to do that which Jesus allowed when He was with them.

Beyond worship Bowman and Komoszewski explain that the scripture documents people praying to Jesus, singing praise songs to Jesus, honoring and serving Him as God. Thus, Jesus holds all the honor of the Father.

2. Jesus shares the ATTRIBUTES of God

One can identify a thing by its attributes. The attributes of a dog are different from the attributes of a pig, which allows us to distinguish between the two. One reason we can recognize Jesus as God is because He shares the very attributes of God. First, the Bible claims that Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. Jesus claimed to have existed even before His birth in Bethlehem (John 8:56) and other passages reinforce this (Col. 1:15, Rom.8:3). Jesus is, in fact eternal, without beginning or end, and an uncreated being (John 1:3, Col. 1:15, Rev. 22:13). Jesus doesn't change, but He "is the same yesterday, to day, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). He's also shown to be omniscient, omnipotent, and in comprehensible.

3. Jesus shares the NAMES that are used of God

Names in ancient cultures were key. People took on certain monikers because it reflected some aspect of their position or character. Thus, Alexander of Macedon was called "the Great" after his whirlwind conquering of the known world. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called God, Lord, Savior, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, Mighty God and more. Also, the early church was taught to baptize people in Jesus' name, pray in Jesus' name, and even find salvation in Jesus' name.

4. Jesus shares in the DEEDS that only God can do.

The deeds of Jesus also match those deeds only attributable to God. Jesus is the creator of the world (John 1:3, Col. 1:16-17) and will judge all humanity (John 5:22-23). When Jesus forgave the paralytic's sins in Luke 5:20, the Pharisees rightly complained saying, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus answered their question by performing a miracle in order to prove that he had the power to forgive sins against God. Lastly, Jesus holds the power over life and death, including His own (John 10:18), a power reserved for only God alone (Ecc. 12:7).

5. Jesus shares the SEAT of God—that is Jesus sits on God's throne.

In a courtroom, one can always expect to see the judge's bench raised higher than any other seat. That is to communicate the judge as the presiding authority in the courtroom. Seats and thrones are important symbols that communicate the respective authority of the holder and we will refer to them interchangeably. So when we speak of Jesus' seat or Jesus' throne, it also connotes the authority bestowed on Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus is exalted above even the heavenly creatures (Phil. 2:10, Heb. 1:6, Eph. 1:21). Jesus sits on the throne reserved for God alone (rev. 22:1, Matt. 25:31) and He shares ruling authority with the Father by sitting at His right hand (Heb. 8:1, Heb. 12:2).

While this is a very quick synopsis of their argument, I think Bowman and Komoszewski have done a great job in this book showing why Jehovah's Witnesses and others who claim that Jesus was something less than the creator God fail. The Christians have recognized Jesus as God from the time that He walked the earth; the scriptures leave us no other alternative.


[1] Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 105-106.

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