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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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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Criticism of the Bible Demonstrates the Bible's Power

It is commonplace that those progressives who seek to reshape modern society into a vision of their own choosing will criticize biblical standards and even the Bible itself. Dismissed as out of date, backwards, and intolerant, they believe they can set a better standard. Yet, one must ask on what criteria will this panacea be based? With relativism the default position and hurt feelings an ideas measuring stick, the lines seem to be always moving.

In this excerpt for his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi aptly summarizes the problem with the modern critic's ideology and his ability to criticize at all:
Today, many people reject the Bible because they consider it to be irrational and irrelevant. Others believe it to be responsible for racial prejudices, sectarian bigotries, slavery, the oppression of women, the persecution of witches, opposition to science, the destruction of the environment, discrimination against homosexuals, and religious wars. However, this criticism itself reveals the powerful influence the Bible had during the last millennium. During that time, hardly any intellectual position or social practice could become mainstream in Christendom unless it could be defended on biblical grounds, real or mistaken; nor could beliefs and practices be challenged unless their opponents demonstrated that their call for reform was biblical.

Criticisms of the Bible are recognition of its unique cultural power. It has been the West's intellectual and moral compass, the "sacred canopy" (Peter Berger) that gave legitimacy to its values and institutions. The West's rejection of the Bible ushered in what historian Jacques Barzun called its "decadence." It brought an abrupt end to the Modern age just when Western civilization seemed set to win the world. Now, having amputated the Bible, the Western educational machinery is producing "strays," lost like [Nirvana's Kurt] Cobain. It can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man. The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one's home or nation.1


1. Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 22.
Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0].

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal Ordeal Shows Why Race, Like Biological Sex, is Sacred

The Internet is abuzz this morning on the breaking story of African Studies professor and Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, who is a white woman that has been identifying herself as black. Dolezal had claimed she was a target of racial profiling by police, but questions arose about the events as well as her background. It was then discovered that Dolezal has no African-American heritage, even though she had claimed such on an application to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.1 In fact, Dolezal's parents confirmed her heritage is Czech, Swedish and German.

The news about Dolezal broke just eleven days after Vanity Fair's unveiling of Olympian Bruce Jenner's sexual metamorphosis as a woman. That event brought many plaudits from those who push the idea that sex is somehow fungible; whatever sex one identifies with, one is. For a week, the Jenner story led many of the transgender support community to ride a wave of acclaim and public acceptance for that premise. Many of the same people don't accept Dolezal's identity as black, even though one's sex is much more clearly a description of biology than race can ever be.

The Sacredness of Race

The denunciation of racism is moral and proper for at least two reasons. Firstly, to ascribe a lesser value to a person because of their race means you are not taking the individual seriously, you are commoditizing them and doing so using a criterion that is inconsequential to do so. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, people should be judged on the basis of their character, not the color of his skin. Secondly, racism dismisses the history and heritage of an entire people group. With a hand-wave it denigrates any contributions a person's culture and traditions had in shaping the character of that individual. While certain traditions may be unhelpful or even evil (think female genital mutilation), one cannot dismiss an entire cultural heritage without dismissing every person who comes out of it. The values and traditions our parents passed onto us are formative and valuable. They are integral to who we are and they link us to our past. That's why, as Ravi Zacharias said, a person's race is sacred.2

That's why the Rachel Dolezal deception is galling. She was trading on a culture and history of which she had no part. She sought to change those very same superficial attributes to appear that she had a common history and culture. Her attempt again reduces the individual to inconsequential criteria. It's still racism, but played in the opposite direction.

The Sacredness of Biology

If Dolezal's act is galling, then how much more galling is the idea that one can change the outward appearance of one's hair, face, and genitals to appear as sex different from your biology. The transgender community would reduce the definition of a man or a woman to injectable hormones and plastic surgery. In fact, it's telling that Jenner wasn't featured in Vanity Fair as a 65 year old female, but closer to the idealized pin-up, a caricature of womanhood. Some of the very same publications who cheered Jenner's photos decried as demeaning similar images when they appeared in cartoon form on a scientist's shirt. The scientist's shirt is denigrating women while Jenner's poses are epitomizing womanhood. How is this consistent?

The fact is that reducing a person's worth based on their sex is offensive. If racism is wrong, then sexism is wrong and for the very same reason: using inconsequential aspects of a person to demean them. For instance, one's sex has absolutely no bearing on one's ability to function as a scholar, a chef, or a scientist. But just like one's culture, sex does have bearing on important aspects of shaping the family. Only women can give birth and only men can father a child. Those aspects of who we are so shape us and they do matter.

When my family was on vacation a few years ago, our travels took us through Tonopah, Nevada, a town literally in the middle of nowhere. At a gas station, I found myself in line behind Dennis Avner, the man who sought to change himself into a cat. I had seen images of Avner on one of those filler cable TV shows, but he was here in real life standing before me and paying for gas. No one mentioned to Avner that cats cannot pay for gasoline or drive a motor vehicle and he didn't seem to mind taking advantage of the benefits of being human as this point.

The reality is, no matter how much surgery Avner underwent, he would never be a cat. (Perhaps he would have benefitted if he would have read some Thomas Nagel.) He would be a man pretending to be a cat. Human beings have intrinsic worth because they bear the image of God. All races bear that image and therefore they all share that worth. God also created human beings male and female, and therefore both sexes share that worth. Dolezal's charade attempts to move the value of people to something superficial, but it is only different in degree and not kind from the transgender lobby. If race is sacred, so is sex and we need to recognize both.


1. "Credibility of Local NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Questioned." The Spokesman-Review, 11 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2015. .
2. Nix, Luke. "Ravi Zacharias on Race and Homosexuality." Faithful Thinkers. Faithful Thinkers, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Can God Use Natural Evil to Reduce Suffering?

Hurricane Ivan was an intense category V hurricane that battered the Caribbean and the United States in 2004. The hurricane was especially devastating because it didn't quickly disperse after coming on land. Instead, it became a cyclone that spawned tornadoes inflicting damage from Alabama to Maryland. It was a highly unusual and very destructive hurricane that took dozens of lives.1

In my recent series on the problem of evil, I set out to distinguish the difference between moral evil, that evil that comes about as a result of man's moral failings and natural evil. Natural evil could include the catastrophic events such as the deaths resulting from Hurricane Ivan. After all, no violation of God's law caused Ivan's existence; hurricanes are simply a part of the weather cycle. Atheists have argued that if there is a God who created this world, then God is responsible for the evil and suffering that events like Ivan produce. They then seek to challenge the very notion of an all-good God because He not only allows natural evil to exist; he basically built it into the world we see. How should a Christian answer such an objection?

God May Use Evil to Restrain Greater Suffering

I've previously written that natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, are necessary for life to exist on earth. That's also true for hurricanes. Tropical storms like Ivan help to regulate the heat of the ocean, preventing even more devastating storms from being created.2 They also are responsible for the needed rainfall in many areas that allows people to grow food.3 But, my goal of this post is not to justify specific weather anomalies. Childhood maladies that result from natural evil won't be dismissed so easily.

God may allow a certain amount of suffering caused from nature to stem even greater suffering from moral evil. Humanity, without a threat of punishment for wrongdoing, becomes more violent and more destructive. If one looks back to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, you can see a similar trend. In the 1970s gay bathhouses were booming as a way for homosexual men to hook up for casual sex. The Associated Press estimates there were over 200 such businesses across most major metropolitan areas of the United States. By 1990, their numbers had shrunk to 90.4 What caused the huge decline? It wasn't that the patrons became more moral. It was the fact that they were scared of contracting a deadly disease. Thus, the suffering of those with AIDS was enough to not only stem the promiscuity in the homosexual community, but it actually reversed the trend for a while.

Hurricane Ivan Stops Untold Suffering

Going back to Hurricane Ivan, the tale of Robert L. Medvee shows one way how such natural disasters can lead to less suffering. Medvee lived in a Maryland neighborhood that was struck by one of Ivan's tornadoes. He hired a repair crew to patch the damage caused by the twister while he stayed with friends. While working on the structure, the crew discovered a huge trove of child pornography, including many photos that Medvee himself took of children engaging in various sex acts. Maryland State's Attorney Scott Rolle said, "Some of them appeared to be as young as 6 or 7. They were engaged in sex acts with each other and adults."5 The pain and suffering these children endured because of Medvee's evil acts was hideous enough. Who knows how many more children would have been tortured by being forced into sex acts had Ivan not struck and Medvee be uncovered? In this one act alone, Ivan may have saved more lives than it took, but we will never know for sure. The point, though, is that God can order certain events that seem evil to actually deliver less pain and suffering than if they didn't occur at all.


1. University of Rhode Island. "2004- Hurricane Ivan." Hurricanes: Science and Society. University of Rhode Island, 2010. Web. 11 June 2015.
2. National Weather Service. "Tropical Cyclone Introduction." JetStream - Online School for Weather. National Weather Service, 29 May 2012. Web. 11 June 2015.
3. Sugg, Arnold L. "Beneficial Aspects of the Tropical Cyclone." J. Appl. Meteor. Journal of Applied Meteorology 7.1 (1968): 39-45. Web
4. Associated Press in Los Angeles. "Gay Bathhouses across US Face an Uncertain Future." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 June 2015.
5. Leckie, Kate. "Man Arrested for Child Pornography: Workers Hired to Repair Tornado Damage Discover Large Cache." The Frederick News-Post. The Frederick News-Post, 4 Oct. 2004. Web. 11 June 2015.
Photo courtesy Roger and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ministry Spotlight: The Poached Egg

turn on your brain
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offered a rather famous reply to the skeptics of his day who tried to marginalize Jesus by saying he could never be divine. Lewis explained:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I offer the quote because it is the the genesis of Greg West's apologetics site The Poached Egg, which is today celebrating its five year anniversary. The site is one of the top aggregators of apologetics content on the Internet; Greg  scours the web for some of the best content to help you defend the faith and gathers it together in a single location so you don't have to do the hard work of sifting through hundreds of blogs, articles, and ministry sites yourself.

The Poached Egg features content from apologetics luminaries such as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and many others. it is updated several times a day, so there's always something fresh to read. Greg has graciously features quite a few articles from this blog as well.

Make sure to check out The Poached Egg and wish Greg a very happy five year anniversary!

What Counts as Natural Evil?

The problem of evil is one of the most difficult issues Christians must deal with when defending their faith. While I've spent a few columns discussing how to answer the problem of evil generally, these responses focus primarily on what philosophers would call moral evil. Moral evils are evils perpetrated because people are sinful and do sinful things. God would be required to stamp out the freedom of man in order to stop the evil for which he is responsible.

That's all well and good, but what about those evils that man has no control over? What about the child born with cancer or natural disasters and earthquakes? Stopping those things doesn't take away free will, so why doesn't God at least do something about them?

Separating Natural Evil from Moral Evil

In addressing this question, one must think carefully about exactly what is to be included in the category of natural evil. For example, not all medical ailments fall into this category. Heart attacks are bad, but if an individual is obese and smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, it isn't surprising. If that person were to have a heart attack, blaming God for it is disingenuous. He or she had abused their body and reaped the consequences of his or her actions.

Other medical issues may be due to moral evil even though they aren't immediately visible. For example, the Hooker Chemical Company used a small portion of its land holdings near Niagara Falls to bury some21,800 tons of toxic waste in the 1940s and early 50s, all with the knowledge and approval of the federal government.1 In fact, a Reason investigation reports that various federal agencies used the land themselves to dump their own toxic wastes.2 Hooker Chemical was pressured into selling the land by the Niagara Falls Board of Education, who sought a cheap way to meet their need for large empty lots to accommodate new schools. Schools were then built on some of the property, sewer lines were constructed, perforating the waste area and allowing the chemicals to be carried by rainwater residential sections of the city. The School Board then sold the rest of the land in 1960 to another developer who had no knowledge of its toxic past.3

Of course, the results of what came to be known as the Love Canal Disaster wouldn't be evident for decades. It wasn't until the late 1970's that a reporter for the Niagara Gazette began an investigation as to why there were an inordinate number of y birth defects reported in their community.4 Until a severe storm that surfaced some of the chemical containers and the subsequent investigation, people did not attribute the birth defects, epilepsy or other various medical maladies to the moral failings of people.

What Can't We See?

It's quite clear that the Love Canal disaster was a result of moral evil. I don't know if Hooker Chemical took all of the proper steps when first disposing of their waste. I do know reading the transcripts of the School Board's minutes, the Board itself got greedy and improperly resold the land to subsequent developers, setting up a series of tragedies that ultimately caused people pain and grief. Yet, this is one example of which we know the facts; how many other supposed natural evils are really caused by the immoral actions of humans? We don't know but many natural evils may actually be a result of some chain of events that began with the choice of free moral agents.

Of course, not all free moral agents are human. If Satan is a real being as Christianity holds, then he can also be responsible for pains and ills that we would otherwise assume have no moral origin. We read in Job that Satan was able to summon great winds that would collapse houses or inflict Job with a severe illness causing sores all over his body. Satan and his demons are the source of Job's suffering; their actions would also be categorized as resulting from oral evil, and not natural evil.

Not all evil can be dismissed as moral evil, though. As the recent earthquake in Nepal shows, God did fashion the world to work in a certain way. I take up that portion of the response in this post. For now, simply realize that the evil men can do may have consequences beyond what we immediately see. Moral failings have far-reaching implications and it isn't fair to blame God for the evil that men do.


1. Zuesse, Eric. "Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out." Reason Foundation. 01 Feb. 1981. Web. 10 June 2015.
2. Zuesse, 1981.
3. Zuesse, 1981.
4. "Love Canal Timeline." Niagara Gazette. Niagara Gazette, 26 July 2006. Web. 10 June 2015.

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