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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 30, 2015

The Problem of Accounting for Morality From Evolution

J.P. Moreland commenting on the problems with attempts to base morality on evolutionary principles:
One could argue that the evolutionary account of morality commits the genetic fallacy—it confuses how morality came about with what morality is and what justifies it. There is a point in this rejoinder. Taken by itself, the evolutionary account of morality is an example of the genetic fallacy. But there are some cases where the genetic fallacy is not really inappropriate. These are cases where the causal account of the origin of an idea serves to discredit that idea in some way. In a trial, if the testimony of a witness comes from someone with bad motives, then one can rule out his testimony because of where it came from. His testimony could still be true, but it is unlikely. In the case of the mirage, one can rule out the veridicality of this experience by citing what caused it (hot air waves), even though it could still be an accurate experience.

If evolutionary theory is all there is to the development of the cosmos from the big bang to man, then any view which postulates the brute existence of morals would seem to do so in an ad hoc way. The general background theory would count against the veridicality of the claim to know that morals exist, even though it would still be logically possible for them to exist. If theism is true, one's background theory explains the existence of human morality. But if one denies God and accepts evolution, then it would seem more reasonable to accept an evolutionary, subjectivist view of morality. The existence of objective values would still be possible, but it would be unlikely and ad hoc, given this background theory.


Moreland, James Porter. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print. 125.
Photo courtesy John LeMasney and licensed via the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?

Like most people, I grieve for the tremendous tragedy the Nepalese people are suffering after a violent 7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks devastated much of the nation on Saturday. According to the latest reports, over 4,800 people have dies and at least 9,200 have been injured in the disaster.1 Those numbers are staggering and help is desperately needed for the survivors.

Of course, when a tragedy like this happens, questions of why arise. I saw one meme that shows an image of a girl praying with the superimposed text:
 "Dear God, please help the victims of that terrible earthquake — wait, aren't you the one that created it? Why are we asking you for help? This makes no sense!" (Emphasis in the original.)

As with most memes, this is a dramatic oversimplification of an issue that seeks to sound good without thinking through its underlying assumptions.

I don't think there's any doubt that this meme is meant to argue against the existence of God. It seems to be implying at least two reasons to hold that belief in God is unreasonable. The broader question is "Why would a loving God create something as devastating as earthquakes?" But another question may be "Why would a loving God allow such a devastating earthquake strike such an impoverished nation like Nepal where the death toll would most certainly be high?" Let's look at each in turn.

Earthquakes and Life

The causes of earthquakes are studied by geologists in a rather new field of science named plate tectonics. As this LiveScience article explains, scientists believe the Earth's outer layer is like a hard shell broken into several plates that move over the earth's mantle. When the mantle pushes and pulls these plates, they rub against one another in certain ways, causing earthquakes. Sometimes plates are pulled apart, such as the process that forms the deep trenches in the oceans, sometimes they rub sideways like those like in Los Angeles's San Andreas fault, and sometimes one plate is pushed underneath another, like the plates that for the fault in Nepal.2 The plate movement in Nepal is much faster than most other plates on earth, and it is the reason why eight of the ten highest mountains on earth fall within the borders of the small nation.3

As we learn more about the earth's plates and their movements, astrobiologists and geologists are beginning to discover just how crucial plate tectonics is for life to exist. In their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, Drs. Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee note that of all the planets we observe in our solar system, only the earth has signs of shifting plates in the form of mountain ranges and ocean basins.4 Some of the key benefits they list concerning plate tectonics are:5
  • It promotes high levels of global biodiversity as species as they must adapt to different environments which ensures they don't fall extinct easily.
  • It manages the amount chemicals that form carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping to keep the earth's temperature stable, keeping liquid water abundant on the planet.
  • It creates ocean basins and lifts dry land out of the sea, allowing advanced life like humans to be land-dwelling animals.
  •  It also recirculates the minerals that erosion has deposited in the sea,
  • Finally, it creates earth's magnetic field, sheltering life from "potentially lethal influx of cosmic radiation, and solar wind "sputtering" (in which particles from the sun hit the upper atmosphere with high energy) might slowly eat away at the atmosphere, as it has on Mars."
Ward and Brownlee conclude that if there were no more earthquakes, the earths temperatures would quickly become unlivable and "planetary calamity for complex life would occur shortly after the cessation of plate movement."6 Earthquakes are necessary for you and me to exist on earth at all.

Why would such a poor country be hit by such a big earthquake?

At this point the atheist may narrow his claim and simply ask "OK, but why would God allow such devastation in an area where there are so many people?" AS I explained above, there are many areas such as the sea floor where these kinds of earthquakes occur and they hurt no one. But land-based earthquakes are necessary to do some of the things I mentioned above. It is no surprise that Nepal is prone to devastating earthquakes. The Himalayas attest to the fault's activity. In fact, the last devastating quake happened in 1934, killing about 10,000 people. Geologist Hongfeng Yang said that geology of that part of the world is "generally consistent and homogenous" and the region should expect a severe earthquake every four to five decades.7

I live in Southern California, with my house very close to the San Andreas Fault. We know that the San Andreas is overdue for a very large earthquake. While we don't know when it will come, it is a recognized danger. Both private citizens and the government have made preparations for when "the big one" hits. In Nepal, the warnings of the 1990's were ignored, as Samrat Upadhyay explained in his recent article in the Los Angeles Times.8 My survival may depend on having emergency supplies in my home if an earthquake hits. But in other areas of the world, planning and infrastructure buttressing may be thwarted not by God but by the corruption or greed of those responsible for such safeguards. While no one can assume there would be no loss of life in any natural disaster, the loss of lives can be significantly mitigated by those who live in the area.

 The meme seeks to blame God for creating earthquakes.  Yet, without them, our world may be a sterile as Mars or as lifeless as Venus. People have the capability to prevent a significant amount of damage and loss of life from the quakes. Perhaps we should begin by investigating why no one acted on the warnings instead of trying to point an uninformed finger at God.


1. Watson, Ivan, Jethro Mullen, and Laura Smith-Spark. "Nepal Earthquake: Death Toll Climbs above 4,600." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
2. Oskin, Becky. "What Is Plate Tectonics?" LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
3. McClain, Sean, and Shirley S. Wang. "How the Nepal Earthquake Happened Like Clockwork." WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
4. Ward, Peter D., and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. New York: Copernicus, 2000. Kindle Edition. 194.
5. Ward and Brownlee, 194.
6. Ward and Brownlee, 206.
7. McClain and Wang, 2015.
8. Upadhyay, Samrat. "Nepal Earthquake: We Had Been Warned." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rioting, Race, and the Root of Hardship

I watched in horror with much of the country yesterday as groups of young, violent men rioted in the streets, destroyed and looted property, and threw debris at the police. I listened to the residents who were interviewed and who were angry, not only at the violence, but at what they perceive as a system that is opposed to their success.

Over and over again, the common theme in the protesters and the residents' comments was that these people wanted to be heard. I believe that. While professional protesters and the media elevate tensions, one cannot ignore the real feelings of frustration, entrapment, and profiling those that come from the inner city experience throughout their lives. These people scream in the only way they know, with the violence that has surrounded them.

Are the Right People Listening?

I don't condone riots. This kind of lashing out is childish in its makeup. Those that want a better civilization may protest, but they can protest in a more civilized manner, a fact that Martin Luther King, Jr proved during his life. Besides, screaming frustration doesn't fix anything. You have to get the right message to the right listeners in order for it to be effective.

What is the real message? Who are those that should be listening? If I had to identify the primary disadvantage young blacks face today, I would immediately say it's the lack of fathers in black families. While stats like high school graduation rates for young blacks have risen to historic highs, according to the Pew Center,1 the number of black children being raised in an intact household has dropped enormously. NewsOne reports that 72 percent of black children are born into a single parent household.2 That means while one out of four people in the U.S. start their lives in a single-parent household, nearly three out of four black families do. That's a huge discrepancy.

The consequences of fatherless homes are well known. Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor3, twice as likely to be abused, and suffer from higher rates of school failure, behavioral problems, drug use, and loneliness.4 They are 5 times more likely to commit suicide, 32 times more likely to run away, 14 times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.5

To me, the protests resemble a tantrum. In poorer communities, a single mother must work to provide an income since a father isn't there to do so. This not only puts incredible pressure on her, but forces the kids to raise themselves. Without a father, there is no anchor to propel the family upward economically or to model what it means to be an adult male in society. All of this was clearly laid out in 1965 in the Moynihan Report, diagnosing the problem of black stagnant economic mobility.6

As I write this, the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments from those who seek to redefine marriage in the United States. Yet, for those who grew up in a culture where marriage was considered optional, where children are brought up without both biological parents committed to rearing them, the results are devastating.

There is no easy answer to the problems in places like Baltimore, or Ferguson, or South-Central Los Angeles. That's because there are no fathers to hear the screams of these children. It's easy to condemn the rioters, and their actions need to be condemned, but the problem cannot be solved by a different police force or a different educational system. To nurture civilly, one must nurture the building blocks of civilization itself, and all civilizations are built upon the family.


1. Fry, Richard. "U.S. High School Dropout Rate Reaches Record Low, Driven by Improvements among Hispanics, Blacks." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
2. NewsOneStaff. “72 Percent Of Black Kids Raised By Single Parent, 25% Overall In U.S.” NewsOne. Interactive Media, 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.
3. “Statistics and Data on the Consequences of Father Absence and the Benefits of Father Involvement.” National Fatherhood Initiative. National Fatherhood Initiative, 2014. Web.
4. Wilcox, Brad. “Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences.” National Marriage Project. National Marriage Project, 16 Aug. 2011. Web.
5. O'Block, Robert. “Roots of Uncertainty.” Annals of Psychotherapy and Investigative Health, Spring 2008. American Psychotherapy Association. Web.
6. Moynihan, Daniel P. The Negro Family: The Case For National Action. Rep. Washington, DC: Office of Policy Planning and Research United States Department of Labor, 1965. Print.
Image courtesy Telefonkiosk - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy (podcast)

A surprising trend among a segment of young Evangelicals is their conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is probably one of the most misunderstood divisions within Christianity. This class will compare and contrast the beliefs of Christian Evangelicalism with Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as provide you with ways to defend your Evangelical convictions when discussing the Bible with an Orthodox friend.
If you haven't yet subscribed to the podcast, you can do so via iTunes or by RSS.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scholars Agree: Luke and Acts are History

Among skeptics there's a rather vocal contingent that wishes to classify Jesus as mythical and the events of the Apostles as charades. However, those whose profession it is to understand the documents like the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts hold a much different view.

In his monumental commentary on the book of Acts, Dr. Craig Keener looked at proposals for the book of Acts to be considered within the genre of novel (as a fictional story), of epic (like Homer's Iliad), as a travel narrative, and as a pure biography. Keener then explains that the best understanding of Acts is as a book narrating history. He is not alone in this conclusion, as he writes:
The dominant view today, earlier argued by such Lukan scholars as Martin Dibelius and Henry Cadbury, is that Acts is a work of ancient historiography. As Johnson notes in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious and, to most scholars, compelling: One sampling of recent proposals concerning Acts genre is instructive: two proponents for Acts as a novel, two for epic, four for biography, and ten for various kinds of history. More examples could be listed in each category, but the sampling is nevertheless helpful for getting a sense of proportion: even in a list emphasizing the diversity of proposals, history appears five times as often as the novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel. A similar sampling finds history the most common proposal, with eight examples, and biography the second most common, with two examples, and lists five examples of all other genre proposals put together. Many scholars most conversant in ancient historiography would also concur with Hengel and Schwemer that those who deny Acts as acceptable first-century historiography need to read more ancient historiography "and less hypercritical and scholastic secondary literature."1
In the footnote to that last quote, he explains that Hengel and Schwemer complain "most NT scholars cannot handle the primary sources well enough to discern accurate from inaccurate scholarship and that 'it is easier to keep hawking around scholastic clichés and old prejudices pseudo-critically and without closer examination, than to occupy oneself with the varied ancient sources which are often difficult to interpret and remote.'"

The Jesus-myth crowd is actually in worse shape than those that Hengel and Schwemer complain against, since they are hawking around populist, not scholastic, clichés fueled only by their bias and not by the examination of the evidence.


Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.81-82, footnote 10.
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