November 2011


Frank Beckwith has made the observation that when people cannot refute your argument, they often trump it with spirituality. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about. You state your reasons for believing P rather than Q, and your Christian brother responds by saying, “I know that’s not true because God told me Q is true.”  Or your Christian sister responds, “You only believe that because you are carnal.” Don’t fall for this cheap tactic.

You could respond by saying to your brother, “Actually, God told me P is true, so I know you didn’t hear from God.” And to your sister you can respond, “Ok, I’m carnal. So can you tell this carnal brother of yours why my argument is wrong, and why I should believe your position/interpretation?”

How do we know God is good rather than evil?  After all, there is a mix of both good and evil in the world.  Which one is God responsible for?  As Christians, we look to the Bible to tell us about God’s moral nature, but what if we didn’t have Scripture?  Could we discern that God is good from natural theology alone?  Yes, and here’s how.

Most people would agree that the concept of God is best described as “the greatest conceivable being.”  If we posited a being, Q, as God, and yet we could conceive of another being, X, who is greater than being Q, then being X—not being Q—must be the true God since nothing can be greater than God.  If God qua God is the greatest conceivable being, then He must be omnibenevolent (OB) because it is greater to be good than it is to be evil, and it is greater to be all-good than it is to be partially good.  So if there is a God, He must be OB.[1]

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Greg Koukl recently made a great observation about “Christians” who are dismissive of the Bible in favor of their own ideas and revelations. Such individuals have a low view of the Bible’s authority because it was written by man, and man can get things wrong. Not only does this fail to take the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration seriously, but it fails to recognize that since they are also human, their thoughts and revelations may be mistaken as well! Other than personal bias, what reasons do they have for thinking previous holy men of God couldn’t get it right, but they can?

I just finished reading an article in the Irish Times by Michael Nugent, chairman of Atheist Ireland.  Titled “Atheists and religious alike seek to identify foundation of morality,” Nugent argues that the question of God’s existence is really just a distraction from the social need to determine what is right and wrong.  If there is no God, we must determine what we think is right and wrong.  And if God does exist, we still have to determine what it is that he/they thinks is right and wrong.  Either way, it is a human responsibility to determine right and wrong.

While one might expect for Nugent to go on to discuss how we should determine right and wrong irrespective of what we believe the foundation of morality to be, instead he goes on to critique moral theories that are based on the existence of God or gods!  Apparently he does think it makes a difference as to whether or not you believe morality is real or imagined, and based on God or in human will.  Through one side of his mouth Nugent claims the question of God’s existence is irrelevant to our quest for moral knowledge, but through the other side he says belief in God/gods will interfere with that quest.  How’s that for a self-contradiction!

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During one of his recent radio shows, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason made an important observation about the debate over same-sex marriage (SSM) that virtually all advocates of SSM miss: the debate over SSM has virtually nothing to do with what same-sex couples (SSCs) do, and everything to do with what we (society) do.

No one is regulating the behavior, love, living situation, or commitments of SSCs.  SSCs are free to live with one another, have sex with one another, create legal contracts with one another, and even engage in public ceremonies to celebrate their love and commitment to one another.  Being granted access to the institution of marriage would not give SSCs any additional freedoms.  What it would give them is a new social standing.  Why?  Because marriage is society’s way of putting their stamp of approval on a particular kind of relationship.  It’s society’s way of declaring what a family is.  To say SSCs can participate in the institution of marriage would be a social declaration that there is no difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions.  Whether society should make such a declaration stands at the heart of the debate over SSM.  Do we, as a society, want to declare same-sex relationships to be socially equivalent to heterosexual relationships?

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I have a theory about racism.  While I know racism is real, I think a lot of what passes for racism is actually a misdiagnosis of ethnocentrism (the idea that one’s culture is superior to others).

Each culture has its own unique worldview, values, and practices.  Humans tend to be suspicious of worldviews/values/practices that differ from their own.  In some cases, we can even despise all or some aspect of certain cultures (often for illegitimate reasons such as “I had an experience in which a person of X race did me wrong, therefore I don’t like people of X race”).  Many times, the skin color of the people in the culture we despise differs from our own as well.  But is the color of their skin the cause of the animosity?  No, I don’t think so.  The person from culture A with skin color B despises people from culture X with skin color Y, not because he hates skin color Y, but because skin color Y serves to identify the people who belong to the culture who thinks/acts in ways he despises.  In other words, race is incidental to the animosity, not the source.

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Dallas Willard on the ministry of Christian philosopher, theologian, and apologist William Lane Craig: “He speaks to people who don’t want to know [the truth], and he makes them wish they did.” (spoken during his plenary address at the Evangelical Philosophical Society Apologetics Conference in Berkeley, 11/17/11)

Love it!

Ben Witherington has written a short series of blog posts (part 1, 2, and 3) on the question of literacy in first-century Israel.  He makes an important point that is often overlooked in these discussions: There is a difference between being able to converse in a language, read a language, and write a language.  By today’s standards, literacy in a language refers to the ability to both read and write a language.  But if we apply this standard to antiquity—particularly to the Jewish people— we will minimize the number of people who were truly literate since many could read, but few could write.

Could Jesus read?  Yes.  The Jewish literacy rates were higher than the Greco-Roman world because of the Jews’ strong emphasis on male education for purposes of Torah-reading.  Furthermore, Jesus was not a peasant.  His family were artisans, and they owned land.   Evidence that Jesus could read is as follows:

In the August 2011 edition of Scientific American, famed cosmologist, George Ellis, wrote an article titled “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?”  Here are some great excerpts from that article:

“Similar claims [about a multiverse] have been made since antiquity by many cultures.  What is new is the assertion that the multiverse is a scientific theory, with all that implies about being mathematically rigorous and experimentally testable.  I am skeptical about this claim.  I do not believe the existence of those other universes has been proved—or ever could be.  Proponents of the multiverse, as well as greatly enlarging our conception of physical reality, are implicitly redefining what is meant by ‘science.’”—pg 39

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What is the difference between a skeptic and someone who questions everything?  Barnabas Piper provides a nice distinction: “There’s a fine line…between being someone who questions things and being a skeptic. In fact, many people would call someone who questions everything a skeptic.  Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything. They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving. To truly question something is to pose questions to it and about it for the sake of understanding. This may lead to disproving or rejecting, but the heart behind it is in learning.”[1]

I think we could break down the differences between a questioner and a skeptic as follows:

Questioner: Desire to learn
Skeptic: Desire to reject/disprove accepted truth claims

Questioner: Primarily interested in maximizing true beliefs
Skeptic
: Primarily interested in avoiding false beliefs

Questioner: Engage thinking
Skeptic: Avoid thinking

HT: STR


[1]Barnabas Piper, “The Unskeptical Questioner”; available from http://www.barnabaspiper.com/2011/11/unskeptical-questioner.html; Internet; accessed 10 November 2011.

Mobile DNA has published an article by Georgia Tech Professor of Biology John McDonald, who led a team investigating why chimps and humans are so different seeing that our genes are nearly identical.  What they discovered is that the regions adjacent to the genes often differ greatly in their DNA sequences (retrotransposons).  Previously retrotransposons have been considered leftover junk from the evolutionary process, but now it is believed that such regions serve as regulators of gene expression, and it is differences in gene expression that determines the differences between chimps and humans.

This is just one more finding in a long list of findings that show supposed junk DNA (which makes up 98% of our genome) actually has a biological function.  This is something Intelligent Design theory predicted, but is quite surprising from a Darwinian evolutionary point of view.

The Barna Research Group has released a report containing six reasons young people leave church after age 15.  This report is a summary of a book by David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church is based on eight national studies of teens who disengage from the Christian church/faith.  Kinnaman discovered that the six major reasons teens leave church can be summarized under the following umbrellas (3 out of 5 teens disengage from the Christian church/faith for one or more of these reasons):

  • “Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
  • Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.”

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If Christians firebombed every publisher that printed publications speaking ill of Jesus and Christianity, there would be few publishers and publications left.  But alas, we don’t resort to violence to defend our faith.  Islam is a peaceful religion, remember?  It’s those fundamentalist Christians that we have to watch out for.

The latest Census data indicates that 131,729 same-sex couples “claim” to be married.  I say “claim” because this number exceeds the number of legal same-sex marriages in the United States (where currently only 5 states and D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage).  Indeed, it exceeds the number of same-sex marriages and same-sex civil unions combined (which is closer to 100,000).  Apparently many of these couples are basing their marital status on the way they feel about each other rather than on an actual legal status.  The Census also revealed that there are 646,464 same-sex households in the United States, which constitutes slightly more than ½ of 1% of the population.  Taking the 131,729 same-sex marriages at face-value, this would mean 20.2% of same-sex households are married.  If we look only at the number of legally recognized same-sex relationships (including both marriages and civil unions), then only 15.5% of same-sex couples have a legally recognized relationship.  Given the fact that there are more same-sex relationships than there are same-sex households, the percentage of same-sex marriages among same-sex couples would be even lower.

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