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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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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Why Recognizing Right and Wrong Points to God's Existence

Here's an interesting question that many people have asked: if you can't see, taste, hear, smell or touch something, then how do you know it exists? How can you logically know that a something is there when there's no way to test for it? Don't you have to just accept the existence of that something on blind faith?

Of course, in the context of religious discussion, this question is often asked by the skeptic regarding the existence of God. Can anyone really say that they know God exists by some means other than personal "feelings" or pure faith? Well, actually, the answer is yes. There are several different ways one can show God's existence is more probable than not,and you might be surprised from where these ideas came. One way is to look at how God must exist in order for people to be moral.

Ethics or morality is the idea that certain actions or motivations by people are good or right and other actions or motivations are evil or wrong. The idea of judging another's actions as right and wrong really only apply to people. Nature is not said to be "wrong" when a hurricane destroys property and causes death. Nor are animals judged as right or wrong when they hunt another beast for food. Even when they kill another in their own social group - such as two lions fighting to establish dominance -we don't categorize them as doing the "wrong" thing. So, why are people uniquely thought of in this way?

This question is at the basis of one of the arguments for the existence of God. Philosophers generally refer to this as "the Moral Argument."  the idea that if God doesn't exist, ideas of morality are nonsense and they are "non-binding". In other words, if God doesn't exist, morals are just made up laws by man and there is no logical reason to adhere to them.

In contrast to animals, when we look at the actions of people we understand that people have an ability to make decisions and understand the consequences of those actions. Further, we expect people to be accountable for their actions. But therein lies the rub. If God doesn't exist, to whom are people accountable? Who is going to judge those who break moral laws?

The only way right and wrong can exist at all is if a God who's nature is intrinsically moral created us to live in accordance with that nature and His laws, and this God holds each person accountable for his or her ethical decisions. In other words, morality stems from God's nature because it is who He is. We as humans are considered to do moral acts when we are acting in accord with his nature and we are immoral when we are acting outside of it.

Romans 2:14,15 says "[W]hen Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves [their] thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (NKJV) Now, Paul argues in this passage that all mankind has a kind of universal understanding of basic rights and wrongs in terms of actions and intents.

Everyone on earth understands that things like duplicity or torture for fun are just plain wrong. In other words, people understand ethics or morality. We are supposed to act ethically and upright, and not behave in a way that is morally repugnant. The question that I raise here is why should we act in such a way? Who says that being morally strong is better than being selfish and self-indulgent? And if society sets the rules, who says their rules are right?

Only if God exists can there be things such as right and wrong. And only if God exists does it make any sense at all to try to adhere to those distinctions. Otherwise, even asking the question doesn't make any sense.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Making Worldview More Relevant

"It works for me!"

That was the response I received when talking to an individual about her beliefs on God. The lady didn't see any need to examine her belief system as her life was pretty comfortable. The reality of whether her beliefs were true didn't seem as important as how she lived and affected others.

This is a common problem today. As I wrote yesterday, evangelism has become more difficult in a culture where truth is not valued. While humanity has traditionally understood that the things most worth considering are the foundational aspects of morality and worldview, more and more people today see them as esoteric topics that only eggheads or academics care about.

But as I said, we know that ideas have consequences. It can be tough to communicate the enormous effects that a faulty worldview generates, since they don't happen immediately.

Couple Your Concepts to Popular Films

How can Christians better communicate the real-world effects a false belief or contradictory worldview has? One way that I like is to use popular media, such as current films or television shows to show how decisions can lead to good or bad consequences. For example, in the film The Matrix, there's a scene where one of the characters would rather live in the artificial reality of steak and wealth than deal with the suffering and struggle of the real world. The man is cast as the villain and the audience implicitly knows that his choice is selfish, as it will lead to his friends being captured and likely killed. It is a very visual way to demonstrate how the well-being of the entire society can impinge upon one's personal comfort. I've used this point to show that holding onto a false belief isn't the better option even if your life isn't better off as a result.

The Leo DiCaprio thriller Inception offers another great springboard of conversation on the complicated nature of beliefs and how our experiences color our understanding of other people. It's an easy jump to then show that our perception of God is similarly influenced. Want a discussion on the sinful nature of man? The current hit Interstellar is a great place to start, and it may not be a surprise that the pivotal character carries the name Dr. Mann.

Demonstrate How Beliefs Change Behavior for the Better

The second way you can make beliefs more relevant is by using examples from history on how beliefs made a huge difference in our society. Slavery was a pernicious evil in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, Christianity taught that all men are equal because they all bear the image of God. That theological belief spurred William Wilberforce to work for more than two decades until the slave trade in Britain was abolished. It saved the lives of 265 Native Americans, it brought comfort to those who were abandoned with disease, and it established Mother Teresa's outreach to the "untouchable people" suffering in Calcutta.

While there is no silver bullet method for communicating the necessity of true beliefs to other people, using examples from movies or how beliefs affected people to reduce pain and suffering can help quite a bit. Modern culture values entertainment tremendously. Movies give us a common point of reference to talk about complex issues in a shorthand way.  If you are interested in learning more about what films may help in your evangelism efforts, look to these ten as a start.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Truth Versus Relevance in Today's Culture

When standing before Pilate, Jesus claimed he had come to testify to the truth. Pilate famously replied, "What is truth?" While Pilate's response may seem a little dismissive, Christians shouldn't be too quick to ignore it, especially in our modern culture. Most young people today would side with Pilate here. On issues like absolute morality, whether God exists, or if Jesus rose from the dead, young people think either the truth cannot be found or if it can be discovered, it really doesn't matter much in their lives. It is an abstraction to them; a fuzzy concept where they would argue about the concept without seeing any practical implications.

I've spent countless hours on college campuses engaging in many conversations with young adults about their lives, their concept of morality, good and evil, and religion. I've already written about the girl who told me that she couldn't tell a rapist he was wrong even if he was attacking her sister. The fact that she said this with her sister standing next to her demonstrated that she wasn't taking the question seriously; she was simply trying to win an argument. She viewed the concept of right and wrong as something surreal. Over and over I see this same pattern of confusion in kids who are attending some of the most prestigious and academically powerful universities in the country. They simply dismiss the search for truth as something unnecessary.

Young people are motivated by things that are "relevant"; things that matter to them and are more concrete. They value ideas such as fairness, the well-being of others, or the future of the planet. Christians must be able to demonstrate that the truth is relevant and that what one believes has real-world effects if our evangelism and apologetics are to be effective.

The trend to dismiss truth as irrelevant especially troubling because I know the reverse is true: truth does matter. It is more important than ever to now show how the abstract concepts of truth really matters in the everyday lives of these students and how it affects the things they care about. Here are three ways you can do just that.

Prove that Ideas have Consequences

False beliefs are dangerous to oneself and to others. But that isn't well understood today. It is assumed in popular culture that religious faith as merely a preference to give a person comfort or inspiration; one can find solace in a quote from Colossians or a quart of ice cream. Isaiah or Instagram serve equally well to inspire.

Yet, the real world again and again shows how ideas have consequences here and now. Therefore, the first step is to find out what the person you're talking with cares about. Are they passionate about injustice? Perhaps you mention that Martin Luther King's fight for justice was anchored in his Christian faith. Inequality? Ask them what makes us equal in their worldview. Equality of all people isn't possible in an evolutionary framework.

It isn't any type of religious belief that can produce real world benefits, but it is Christian beliefs that do so. ISIS' motivation is not some generalized view of religion but a wrong one that cannot survive in a Christian theology. Poverty is a serious issue across the globe. While Christianity has not only been on the forefront of aiding the poor through such organizations as The Salvation Army, it's been conclusively demonstrated that in countries where Christian missionaries made a significant impact enjoy better health, greater literacy, lower corruption, lower infant mortality, and better educational opportunities, especially for women. In the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia, some women must humiliate themselves just so they can travel within their own country. Even with the Ebola outbreak, the faithfulness of one man following his Christian beliefs made it possible to save strangers in Dallas who were infected accidentally. Comforting the hurting is what Christianity has always done.

To become more effective in our evangelism, we need to demonstrate why beliefs matter and why truth matters. False beliefs about morality can be just as dangerous as false beliefs about medicine. Christians should prepare themselves to show why. Tomorrow, I'll provide some ways to do just that

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Modern Heresies and the Christian Response

Heresies — those deviations from essential Christian doctrine — were painstakingly refuted in the early years of the church. But today, some of those same heresies have reappeared, only using new labels or a different forms. Join us in this new podcast series where Lenny outlines how many of the "new religious movements" that crop up are actually regurgitations of old, deadly errors.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (video)

The Trinity and the Atonement are the doctrines that most differentiate Christianity from all other faiths. It's no surprise then that it's also one of the most attacked doctrines from those of other faiths. What makes the Trinity so unique and why is it such a crucial concept? How should Christians understand the doctrine of the Trinity and how should we best defend it against skeptics and objectors?

In this video class, Lenny helps believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that it is logically contradictory, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand. Plus we look at common objections to the Trinity from Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.

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