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.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dear Mr. President: Holding to Exclusive Belief is not Arrogant

Is it humble to say that no one should claim to have the truth? I've heard such assertions before. I've had discussions with others about religious beliefs and many of them have responded that to claim any kind of concept of God that excludes other beliefs systems is arrogant. But I think the opposite may actually be true.

As an example, I would like to look at part of the speech Barack Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. While the president, unlike his predecessors, is the first to not hold any observances for the National Day of Prayer during his presidency, he has attended the prayer breakfast each year. The event is put on by The Fellowship Foundation, an organization that blurs all faiths and is described as "assertively non-doctrinal and non-ecclesiastical."1

It isn't surprising, then, that Obama's remarks would take on a non-committal tone. Yet, he made some statements that go beyond non-commitment. In admonishing the audience to "counteract intolerance," he advised:
I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe. And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn't speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn't care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.2

Searching For the True Truth

This is the kind of claim that sounds very good until you think about it a little more deeply. First, I agree with the president that God cares for all people. But where did he get such an idea? Certainly, it didn't come from the Eastern faiths like Buddhism or Hinduism. In these, the universe runs according to the law of karma. You must repay debts you acquired in a previous life. Karma is impersonal and always exacting; no one escapes it.

The Bible clearly teaches God cares for everyone. Verses like John 3:16 that read "For God so loved the world" and 2 Peter 3:9 that says the Lord is "not willing that any should perish"( ESV) enforce this point. Yet, the concluding portions of both those verses are very exclusive in nature. God so loved the world that he gave his son and it is whosoever that believes on him is saved. God doesn't want us to perish, but instead come to repentance. These are exclusive claims and you must accept them as true or as false, but you cannot do both.

You cannot pull the Christian teaching of God caring about all people out of the way he demonstrated that care—through Jesus' death—and say that you must then doubt that exclusive tent of the faith. It makes no sense. This is true of ANY faith system. All of them make truth claims about God, about the way the universe works, and about how an individual can find salvation. If you embrace a religion, then you are agreeing that its teachings are true and therefore any teaching that contradicts it is false.

The Arrogant Anthropologist

Here's the thing. Those who claim that all faiths have some form of the truth are themselves making a faith claim they want you to accept as true. Leaving aside the contradictory nature of the various belief systems, the person making the statement is saying that believers in an exclusive faith have been duped, while he himself has come to a higher understanding.

I once saw a television show where an anthropologist came to live with a native tribe in the Amazon rain forest. Still using Stone Age tools and grass huts, he proclaimed glowingly how the tribe was "closer to the earth" and had so much less impact on their natural environment. The show showed that the chieftain would seek to cure children born with deformities or illness by sacrificing a chicken and leaving them exposed to the elements. Some would, of course, die. He then said something like, "We may feel that such acts are cruel. They're not, for the tribe cannot afford to take on the burden of caring for such offspring when they won't be able to help the tribe survive. It could be a death sentence for them. While their value on children may be different from our own, neither is wrong. Both are the way we survive in the tribes in which we're raised."

That's hogwash.

The anthropologist was saying that he is smarter than both the tribesmen in their belief that a chicken could cure their child AND in you, the person of the modern society who engages in your rituals because you were raised in them. The anthropologist is claiming to have some kind of privileged knowledge that stands above both points of view. However, if he were to be bitten by a poisonous snake or contract malaria in the jungle, do you think he would accept the sacrificed chicken as his only treatment? If his daughter were diagnosed with cancer, would he seek out the chieftain or would he look for the best oncologist he could find?

Belief systems make truth claims and truth by its very nature is exclusive. For the president to lecture us to "not be so full of yourself" to think that "somehow we alone are in possession of the truth" is disingenuous. He certainly seems to be very confident that he is right. I wonder how he reconciles that with his own advice.


1. Boyer, Peter J. "Frat House for Jesus." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

2. Nazworth, Napp. "Obama National Prayer Breakfast 2015 Text Transcript and Full Video; 'The Starting Point of Faith Is Some Doubt'" Christian Post. The Christian Post, Inc. 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How Would Stephen Fry Answer His Own Challenge to God?

The British actor and comedian Stephen Fry has lit the Internet ablaze. During a taping for the show The Meaning of Life, interviewer Gay Byrne asked the atheist Fry the question that was previously posed to Bertrand Russell: "Suppose it's all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?" (You may watch the full clip below.) Fry fired off a very emotional response, beginning with:
I'd say, "Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault! It's not right; it's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain." That's what I'd say.1

He goes on to object to God creating the parasites that cause river blindness, detailing the symptoms of some of the more horrific cases. When asked by Byrne "And you think you are going to get in, like that?" Fry responded "No, but I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to get in on his terms. They are wrong."

Fry's response is not unfamiliar. It is standard New Atheist fare, a recapitulation of Dawkins and others. He has such arrogance in his answer, though, it seems to take even the interviewer's breath away. Fry is confident that God cannot exist because of the horrible natural evil he sees in the world. Or if God does exist, he has a lot of explaining to do to Stephen Fry as well as to those poor bone cancer victims.

The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

While Fry is railing against God, I wonder how he would answer the same charge using his own worldview. How would Fry offer comfort to the mother of a child with bone cancer within his understanding of atheism? Would he tell her, "Well, I'm sorry. Evolution is driven by natural selection of advantageous genetic mutation. Your child has a mutation, but it wasn't an advantageous one for her. She has to die, but that's OK. The more fit will leave more offspring." Given Fry's view, how can he say contracting bone cancer is unjust? It is the process of mutation in practice.2

Is Fry's answer better? If bone cancer is part of the evolutionary process, how can he label its existence wrong? Where does he get this definition of right and wrong from? If he wants no mutations of DNA at all, then he wants humans to evolve no further. Otherwise, things like pain, suffering, and parasites eating out the eyes of African children is just how the world works; right and wrong don't enter into it at all.

Devils and Angels

Interestingly, before this portion of the interview, Fry was commenting on his bipolar disorder. Byrne asks, "You say for all the pain that depression causes you, you wouldn't want rid of it because of the places it takes you, in terms of creative highs." Fry agrees and quotes W.O. Jordan who said, "Don't take away my devils because you'll take away my angels, too." He then tells Byrne how he can lead a high functioning, successful life that is fulfilling even with a mental illness.

So why is it that Fry can see good come from debilitation within his own life and he would resist the removal of the defect of bipolarism and yet he cannot open his mind at all to the possibility that God allows the evil we see in the world for greater purposes? Surely, Fry doesn't know so much that he can say with certainty how a world of free, fallen creatures would behave in a world where they never need to rely upon God for their safety, to ease their pain, or to appeal to a hope for the future.

The Luxury of Atheism for the Affluent

Andy Walton makes the same point concerning Fry and folks like the British Humanist Association. You may remember that Richard Dawkins and the BHA created an advertising campaign declaring "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."3 Walton comments such thinking is "aimed at a small, privileged elite of Western people in the 21st century." He continues:
Stop worrying, says Fry. Forget about God and life after death and finally you'll be free to enjoy life. Well, sorry Stephen, but if you take away God and the hope of a life to come, then the majority of believers you'll be ‘setting free' aren't privileged, Western people who'll be released into a life of self-gratifying loveliness. In fact, they are mostly poor, the majority are women and they are clinging onto their hope and faith for all that they're worth. Think of Christians in Syria, DR Congo or North Korea. Think of the hell on earth some them are experiencing. How dare Stephen Fry tell them that life would be so much better if they gave up on their silly faith.4
I think that's right. It's far too easy to assume the moral high ground and judge God when it suits you, but to provide answers from one's own beliefs, that's tough. If Fry wants to really make a convincing argument against God, he needs to come up with his own answer to the problem of evil, one that's better than the hope offered to those wounded children trough Christ.


1. "Stephen Fry." The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. RTE One. Dublin, Ireland, 01 Feb. 2015. The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Bone Cancer - Causes." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
3. "Atheist Bus Campaign." British Humanist Association. British Humanist Association, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
4. Walton, Andy. "Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry." Threads. Andy Walton, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Taking Advice from an Atheist

I recently ran across an article entitled "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist "on the WikiHow website, offering fifteen steps atheists should follow if they wish to "deconvert" their friends or simply put up a proper argument for their atheism. The article is interesting and a bit controversial given some of the comments in its discussion section. I think some of the points are forced, some are wrong, and some show a bit of bias. Yet there are some pieces of advice here that I actually agree with and would encourage people to follow.

Become an Educated Objector

One of the first pieces of advice the article offers is that atheists seeking to defend their view is to:
Educate yourself. The key to reasoning with someone is to understand their position as well as your own. Read everything you can about atheism, Christian apologetics and religious history. A number of Christians, for example, don't know the origins of their religion outside of a biblical context so having an understanding of the history can be beneficial.1
I think this is actually a good piece of advice. I have too many times run across people who object to my beliefs but hold to a caricature of both Christianity’s history and what the Christian faith teaches. Historic claims such as religion is the cause of most wars, Christianity expanded through violence, Christians in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, and the supposed pagan origins of Christmas and Easter can all be dismissed if one were to dig into the historical sources.

Asking people to read about not just atheism but also Christian apologetics and religious history is proper and important. I would add, though, that in order for this task to be effective one shouldn’t limit themselves to atheist authors and what they have said regarding those subjects. Read about Christian apologetics by reading the articles of Christian apologists. Find religious history articles by religious historians. Go to the sources. I have read popular atheists like Carrier, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Peter Boghossian, but I’ve also read sophisticated works by David Hume, Michael Ruse, and others.

Reading from the "horse’s mouth" if you will can cut down on misunderstandings. One can see the argument in its larger context. By educating yourself on the arguments of views contrary to your own, you are in a better position to argue for or against that point. Both Christians and atheists should follow this rule. It’s interesting that in the very next step the article advises, "Learn common arguments leveled by theists and the best rebuttals" yet links to only Wikipedia articles and Internet Infidels responses. Such reading may reinforce one’s view, but you won’t really learn much about the beliefs of others.

Guard Against Bias

In offering steps #4 and #5, I think the author tips his hand a bit. Step #4 reads "Examine your own myths, urban legends, and superstitions and learn why people believe stories backed by anecdotal evidence. Understanding something about belief as it pertains to psychology will better prepare you for the challenges ahead."2 Notice that he or she is attempting to bias the reader into grouping beliefs with "myths, urban legends, and superstitions." But belief isn’t as simple as a psychological response. People will believe things based on facts, too. In fact, most beliefs are not psychological responses but rationally based. Christianity is a belief system that roots itself in history, not psychology.

A better suggestion would be to "Examine your own biases." Since everyone has biases, perhaps recognizing what those are would give you a clearer picture of others’ beliefs and why they can reasonably hold to a certain view. It would also help clear up problems that may arise from step #5: "Read and understand their holy book cover to cover. The Bible contains not only contradictions, but also stories that have historical people, places and events that are still up for debate as to their authenticity. For example, the story of Tyre and how the city was destroyed."3

I’m not certain what kind of debate there is over Tyre being destroyed (it was), but reading the Bible would be a good start. Cover to cover may be ambitious initially. How about reading the New Testament to get a better understanding of Christian theology? The claims of Jesus, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, the command to pray for those who persecute you all can help the non-believer understand the heart of Christianity and who Jesus really is. But one shouldn’t read with the sole intent of seeking out contradictions. That mindset will lead you to many misunderstandings, not only within the biblical text, but in most historical or literary works.

There are ten mores steps listed in the article; some are short-sighted and others I disagree with. I'm still not sure why #13 advises atheistrs to "stay away from love." Why is love so scary? But those that focus on building relationship and understanding are appropriate if they are taken in an honest spirit. Both Christians and atheists need to see one another as real people and not simply adversaries or opportunities to show off your argument skills. By sincerely seeking to understand the other's position, both sides will go a long way to better interaction, better comprehension, and being better people.


1. "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist." WikiHow. WikiHow, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
2. WikiHow, 2015.
3. WikiHow, 2015.
Image courtesy and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Was the Bible Changed to Make it Look Like Jesus was Worshiped?

There's a silly claim made by Kurt Eichenwald in his Newsweek article that sounds like it came out of a page fron the Jehovah's Witnesses playbook. Eichenwald claims that our modern Bibles get the word worship wrong in the New Testament. He writes that the Greek word προσκυνέω (proskyneo) is intentionally mistranslated by modern biblical texts. He writes:
Throughout the King James Bible, people "worship" many things. A slave worships his owner, the assembled of Satan worship an angel, and Roman soldiers mocking Jesus worship him. In each of these instances, the word does not mean "praise God's glory" or anything like that; instead, it means to bow or prostrate oneself. But English Bibles adopted later—the New International Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Living Bible and so on—dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.1
He then claims that the change was intentionally misleading to support a view of Jesus' deity that would otherwise be absent for the scripture. He concludes, "In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse." 2

Playing Fast and Loose with Language

Eichenwald is wrong on several counts. First, the fact that there is a single Greek word that can have more than one meaning doesn't meant the translators wouldn't be able to know when to translate it worship and when to translate it bow down. That's like saying one cannot tell if someone tells you "Sam is blue today" you couldn't tell if he was referring to his feelings or his color. Context is king and reading the context of the passage will give you the appropriate English word.

Secondly, it simply isn't true that translations like the NASB "dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus." In Matthew 4:9, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms in the world if he would just "fall down and worship" Satan. In Acts 10:25, it reads that "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him" and in Revelation 13:15, the people are commanded to worship the image of the beast or be killed.

Similarly, there are people who fall down before Jesus where the word proskyneo is explicitly not translated worship. Matthew 8:2 reads, "And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.'" Matthew 15:25, in the story of the Canaanite woman who sought help for her daughter, reads that she "came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'" The phrase "began to bow down" shows action and it's thus translated that way, even though the action is directed towards Jesus.

So, Eichenwald's claim that the word is somehow intentionally manipulated to get a result holds no water.

The Jehovah's Witnesses resistance to the word worship

I've had conversations with Jehovah's Witnesses who try to argue a similar point to Eichenwald's. They hold that the word proskyneo shouldn't be translated worship when applied to Jesus. But that argument actually begs the question. We know that the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that God alone deserves worship. They would agree with us that Jesus even says so in Matthew 4:10 when he rebukes Satan's offer and quotes from "it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Even a created angel should not be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10, John was so overwhelmed by the visions that he saw that he "fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.'"

Here, we can see the context of the word implies worship, even when it is referring to an angel. We also see that in both instances, the command it to worship God alone. Hebrews 1:5- is therefore especially vexing because God the Father commands the angels worship the Son:
For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him."
The word proskyneo is translated in Hebrews 1:6 as worship and it is clear, unlike Eichenwald's claim, that it isn't the word worship that implies Jesus is divine. It is verse 8 where we read, "But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'" The Father calls the son God. We have a clear claim to Jesus' deity and a command that every created angel should proskyneo him. Given that context, the word worship is appropriate.

Both Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the New Testament translations are biased, yet neither of them offers the proper context for the word worship, acknowledges that the word's two meanings may be differentiates appropriately given the context of the passage, nor recognizes that there are clear texts that make the claim of Jesus's divinity elsewhere in the New Testament. The fact is that John 1:1 to 1:3 explicitly defines Jesus as Creator God. It seems to me that the charge of disingenuity doesn't fall on the translators of our bibles but on Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves.


1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. Eichenwald, 2014.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Questions to Ask Skeptics: Why Are You So Intolerant? (video)

Those critical of Christianity seem to always have a lot of objections they throw at Christians. They ask question after question, seeing if the believer can answer what they believe are seemingly intractable problems.

Well, the reason-giving game goes both ways. In this short video clip, Lenny offers one of five questions the Christian should ask of the skeptic: Why are you so intolerant? These questions are designed to show how many of the critic's own beliefs can be contradictory and why Christianity makes sense.

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