October 2010


I’m sure many of you have heard a preacher talk about how the high priest would tie a rope around his ankle before entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement so that if God struck him dead, his body could be removed without anyone else having to enter the forbidden chamber.  Apparently this is a myth.  There’s no historical evidence for this.  The first mention of the practice is in a 13th century A.D. text called the Zohar, and it claims it was a gold chain, not a rope.  An article by Ari Zivotofsky goes into more detail, providing evidence against such a claim.

That’s what AOL News claims based on an article in the journal Pediatrics.  Kevin DeYoung smelled something fishy about this surprising statistic, so did a little investigating and found out that the claim is based on a misreading of the journal article.  DeYoung writes:

AOL speaks of 1 in 10 teens; the original article concludes 9.3% of sexually active adolescents reported a same-sex partner. There’s a big difference. The survey analyzed data from 17,220 teenagers. Of those, 7,261 (or 42%) reported having had sex. So according this study 58% of teens are not having sex with anyone and 9.3% of those have, had same-sex partners, or 3.9% of the total sample.

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On the way to work this morning I was thinking about the question, “Who made God?”  Many people wonder about this question (answer here), but it is a favorite atheist objection to the cosmological argument which posits God as the best explanation for the origin of physical reality (the universe/multiverse).  They use this objection in one of two ways.  Either they argue, “If the universe needs a cause, then so does God,” or they argue, “If God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the universe.”  Both formulations are faulty, but my intent is not to evaluate the objection here.  I bring it up only to highlight that there is a difference between an explanation and a cause.  While everything that exists needs an explanation, not everything needs (or has) a cause.

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Have any of you ever been in the situation where your pastor called on you during his preaching to confirm something he said, but you didn’t agree with his statement? 

Given my theological education, every so often I’ve had pastors of mine call on me to affirm something they’ve said.  They’ll say something like “Would you agree with that Brother Dulle?” or “Is that right, Brother Dulle?”  Luckily, I haven’t been in the place where I could not affirm the statement in some sense, but I’m sure it will happen one day and I don’t know what to say.  Saying, “Actually, no” would cause a scene, and make both of us look bad.  And yet, I wouldn’t want to appear to agree with something I don’t agree with either.   

I’ve contemplated using the line Jesus used with Pilate, “You say so,” but I don’t think that’s going to cut it.  Perhaps the best one I’ve come up with is “Perhaps.”  That signals that I’m not necessarily on board with the statement, but I’m not declaring it wrong either.  Does anyone have a good one-line response that could allow me to wiggle out of the situation tactfully, honestly, and graciously?

Many proponents of same-sex marriage assume that opposition to same-sex marriage comes almost exclusively from religious citizens.  A simple math calculation exposes the error of this assumption: religious believers account for approximately 95% of the population, and yet only 48% oppose same-sex marriage (41% favor).  Clearly not all opposition to same-sex marriage is coming from religious believers.  Who, then, is it coming from?

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Speaking of the debate on abortion, check out the pictures of a 10 week fetus below, still in its amniotic sac.  The mother was diagnosed with carcinoma of the cervix, so her entire uterus had to be removed, including the baby that was developing in it.  Simply amazing.  And to think that these babies are aborted on a regular basis in the name of choice.  Sickening.  

Check out Scott Klusendorf’s summary of his debate with PA State Senator Daylin Leach on the issue of abortion.  The substance of his rebuttals to pro-choice assertions, as well as his tactics in delivering that substance, is unparalleled.  This is why Scott is the best pro-life debater bar-none!

In the latest edition of Philosophia Christi, the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s journal, philosopher Stephen C. Dilley wrote a really nice article titled “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” in which he argued that philosophical naturalists should dispense with the principle of methodological naturalism in science.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with these terms, philosophical naturalism (PN) is the view that only physical things exist, while methodological naturalism (MN) is the view that we must restrict our method of scientific inquiry to naturalistic processes.  MN does not require one to presuppose the truth of PN, but it does require that one investigate the natural world as if God does not exist, or if He does, as if He has no causal relationship to the natural world.  According to MN, for an explanation to be considered “scientific” it must be naturalistic; i.e. it must appeal to naturalistic entities and processes.

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For part 1 of this two-part series, go here.

From a psychological perspective, Spiegel argues that broken/absent father relationships can be a contributing factor in a persons’ rejection of God’s existence.  He bases this, in part, from Sigmund Freud’s own psychological analysis that belief in God is a projection of one’s desire for a cosmic version of their earthly father, and, in part, from the research of ex-atheist Paul C. Vitz published in Faith of the Fatherless.  Spiegel argues that just as a good relationship with one’s father may contribute to belief in a Cosmic Father, likewise, the lack of a relationship, or a bad relationship with one’s father may contribute to one’s disbelief in a Cosmic Father.  Spiegel cites David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus as examples of atheists who experienced the death of their father at a young age.  He also cites Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Ludwig Feuerback, Samuel Butler, Sigmund Freud, H. G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Albert Ellis as examples of atheist who had a weak or abusive father (abandonment, neglect, bitter relationship).  Contrast these individuals to well-known theists who had good relationships with their father: Blaise Pascal, George Berkeley, Joseph Butler, Thomas Reid, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Friedrich Schleiermacher, John Henry Newman, Alexis de Tocqueville, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Buber, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Abraham Heschel.

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National Public Radio has terminated the contract of longtime news analyst Juan Williams because he said the following on Bill O’Reilly’s show: “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

I can’t believe he would get fired over this comment.  He was simply expressing what virtually every American thinks and feels in such a circumstance.  We know not every Muslim or Arab is an extremist or terrorist, but we can’t forget that it was Muslims, not Buddhists or Hindus, that attacked us on 9/11 and want to carry out more attacks.

It’s a sad day in American when you can’t express what should be obvious to all without losing your job.  I can guarantee you that if he had said something similar about Christians his contract would not have been in danger.  Political correctness has caused us to lose our minds.

If you ask the typical atheist why s/he does not believe in God, you are likely to be provided with a list of intellectual objections to theism: the presence of evil is incompatible with a loving and powerful God, science demonstrates the irrelevancy of God, etc.  Others will cite a lack of evidence for God’s existence.  In either case, atheism is presented as, and perceived to be a purely intellectual conclusion.

James Spiegel begs to differ with this assessment and perception of atheism.  In his book, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, Spiegel argues that the root cause of atheism is immorality, not intellectual skepticism; disobedience, not evidence.  While atheists offer intellectual arguments in support of their position, Spiegel claims that such arguments are not the cause of their unbelief, but mere symptoms of their moral rebellion—the real cause of atheism.  As Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “People try to persuade us that the objections against Christianity spring from doubt.  The objections against Christianity spring from insubordination, the dislike of obedience, rebellion against all authority.  As a result people have hitherto been beating the air in the struggle against objections, because they have fought intellectually with doubt instead of fighting morally with rebellion.”[1]

Spiegel does not expect for atheists to agree with his assessment, but he is not attempting to persuade atheists; he is simply attempting develop a Christian account of atheism.  The Biblical data is his starting point, but he offers other supporting data as well.  In support of Spiegel’s contention that unbelief is caused by disobedience and moral rebellion, consider the following Scriptures:

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Sound like a spoof?  It isn’t.  An embryo was conceived via in vitro fertilization in 1990, and then frozen at the zygote stage (single cell).  After nearly 20 years, the embryo was donated to a woman who was infertile.  The embryo was implanted, resulting in a live birth to a 6 lb 15 oz baby boy in May 2010. 

How does one “date” a child like this?  Technically he is already 20 years old before he ever celebrates his first birthday.  Interesting.

The Bible begins with one of the most famous proclamations of all time: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Theologians have historically understood “in the beginning” to refer to the very beginning of time itself.  It was the boundary between timeless eternity and temporality. 

Fast forward to the first century A.D.  John opens his gospel about Jesus Christ with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  The resemblance to Genesis is unmistakable.  Both Moses and John begin their work with “in the beginning,” and both speak of the creative word of God. 

The question arises as to whether John is using “in the beginning” in the same way as Moses.  For Moses it referred to the beginning of time and creation, but that’s how John is using it, then to say the Word was “in the beginning” seems to imply that the Word was not eternal, but a created entity who began to exist concomitantly with the created realm.  Clearly this cannot be the correct interpretation because John 1:1 identifies the Word as being God (whom we know is eternal, and thus existed “prior to” the universe), and John 1:3 identifies the Word as the uncreated creator.  Why, then, would John say the Word was “in the beginning?”  Why not say Jesus was “before the beginning” or “before the ages?”  What is your take on the matter?

For the previous installment, click here.

So far I have provided what I consider to be reasonable responses to the HoG objection.  Now I want to discuss a couple of popular responses I find inadequate for the task.  The first is to assert that God has provided enough evidence to convince those who are willing to believe in and submit to a relationship with God, but not so much so as to compel the unwilling.  The idea here is that if God were to provide more evidence of His existence, people would be compelled to believe in Him, and thus be robbed of their free will.  But what exactly would they be compelled to do?  At best, they would be compelled to believe that God exists (a rational obligation); however, such knowledge does not coerce one into a relationship with God.  Rational obligations tell us what we ought to believe given the evidence; they do not coerce us into believing or doing anything in particular.  Our beliefs and actions continue to be free.

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Given the inadequacy of so many “old” philosophical arguments against God’s existence, atheists are increasingly turning to the “hiddenness of God” (HoG) to argue that God does not exist (or that His existence is highly improbable).  The essence of this argument is that God’s existence is not as obvious as it should be.  If God existed, we would expect to find more evidence of His existence than we in fact do.  Given the inadequacy of the evidence, rational persons should conclude that God (probably) does not exist.  Some HoG proponents go so far as to argue that if God existed He would prevent unbelief by making His existence obvious and undeniable.  He does not do so, therefore, He does not exist, or if He does exist, the fault of human unbelief is to be laid at His feet.

There are a number of ways to respond to the HoG argument.  One could agree with the HoG advocate that God’s existence is not as obvious as we might think it should be, but deny that the conclusion—“God (probably) does not exist”—follows from such an observation.  After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  Perhaps there is insufficient evidence on which to conclude that God exists, but God may exist nonetheless.  At best, an insufficient amount of evidence for God’s existence should result in agnosticism, not atheism.  To conclude that God does not exist one needs positive evidence against His existence, not a mere lack of evidence for it.

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Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

I have always heard this verse interpreted as a reference to praying in tongues.  This seems unlikely, however, since tongues can hardly be described as “groanings,” and tongues are “uttered.”  So what is Paul talking about?  I’ve heard people groaning before, but even those groans are uttered.  I can’t even make sense of an unutterable groan.

And who is doing the interceding?  It’s commonly understood that the Spirit is interceding through human beings, but as I read the text, the Spirit makes intercession “for” us, not “trough” us.  If so, what does it mean to say the Holy Spirit groans?

Does anyone have any insight on the meaning of this passage they would like to share?

A faster, safer, more productive method has been discovered for turning adult stem cells into an embryonic-like state (induced pluripotent stem cells).

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