December 2011


Scientists working in origin of life research are fairly candid that they do not know how life originated, but they are quick to point out that they are making progress and that science will eventually be able to provide an answer to this question.  I have always found this sort of faith in science a bit intriguing.  It is just assumed that there must be a naturalistic cause/explanation for the origin of life, and that we will eventually be able to discover it.  But why should we think this to be true?  Given what needs to be explained (the origin of biological information), and given our understanding of the causal powers of naturalistic processes, the origin of life does not appear to be the kind of thing for which natural causes are adequate to explain it even in principle (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9).

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I recently taught on the historical reliability of the Gospels and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  One of the areas I focused on was the apparent contradictions and errors in the Gospels, demonstrating how most of these are easily resolvable, and thus not contradictions/errors at all.  But not all Biblical difficulties are so easily resolved.  In fact, there are some for which I do not presently have a good answer.  If you are a careful reader of Scripture, I’d bet there are Biblical difficulties you have encountered for which you lack a good answer as well.  What are we to do with such difficulties given the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy?  What should our posture be toward the Christian faith once having discovered irresolvable difficulties in the text?

Some individuals respond by concluding that Christianity is not true.  Some go so far as to conclude that God does not even exist!  I submit to you that these responses are ill-founded; the result of elevating the doctrine of inerrancy to a status it should not be accorded in one’s theological taxonomy.  While the Bible is an indispensable aid to our faith and Christian growth, an inerrant Bible is not necessary for the truth of Christianity, and thus the doctrine of inerrancy—and Bibliology in general—should be subservient to more central doctrines such as the resurrection of Jesus in our theological taxonomy.  Let me explain.

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Many naturalists reject the Bible as veridical because it in contains reports of miracles, and yet many of these same individuals say they would be willing to believe the Bible if they ever experienced a miracle.  I’ve heard some Christians cry “Inconsistency!” at this point, noting that the atheist uses miracles as both his grounds for disbelieving as well as his grounds for believing.  If the miraculous is the reason for his disbelief, how could it serve as the basis for his belief?

I don’t think there is any inconsistency here at all.  While they reject the Bible because of their belief that miracles do not occur, they recognize that if they were to personally experience a miracle it would prove that miracles are possible after all, and thus the Biblical report of miracles would become plausible, and perhaps even credible. 

Atheists and naturalists will often argue against miracles as Hume did: by saying they violate the universal human experience; i.e. humans have no experience of miracles.  There are at least three problems with this.

First, there is the confirmation problem.  How could anyone possibly know this to be true?  It would require that every person alive today be interviewed, and each and every one confirms that they have never experienced a miracle.  If even a handful of people claimed to have experienced miracles, then it would not be accurate to say it is the universal human experience that miracles do not occur.

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Recently I listened to a dramatic, scripted dialogue between Peter Kreeft and a student on the topic of objective morality.  Using the Socratic method of inquiry, and posing as Socrates himself, Kreeft critically evaluates the arguments for moral relativism—and in so doing, argues for an objective moral standard of values.  In addition to the arguments often advanced against relativism and for objectivism, Kreeft had a few points worthy of sharing:

1.  When you argue that some moral value X ought to be followed and a relativist responds by saying, “You should not impose your morality on me,” they are assuming moral relativism is true (not to mention imposing their own moral point of view on you as if their moral point of view has a universal application independent of one’s personal preference, and thus they are guilty of committing the very “error” for which they accuse you).  Point out to them that if moral realism is true (as you claim), then X is not “my value” but “our value,” and you can no more impose them on the relativist than you can impose gravity on them.  Both are objective features of reality that impose themselves on us.  You are not imposing these moral values on others, but merely drawing their attention to what already exists.  Objective moral values impose themselves on us in the form of moral commands and obligations.

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A few weeks ago I finished Paul Copan’s book “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?”: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless. This is a very good lay-level approach to dealing with common challenges to the Christian worldview.  He presents solid arguments against skepticism, pragmatism, naturalism (arguing that immaterial realities exist), scientism/empiricism (beliefs must be backed up by science), and reductive materialism of the mind (with a whole chapter on the mind-brain interaction problem).

Copan also tackles a subject most apologists never touch on: animals and the charge of speciesism.  He addresses the Biblical view of animals, our responsibility to care for them, and yet concludes that ultimately the animal rights/liberation movement is wrong.

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Materialists believe that material entities exhaust the nature of reality.  This commits them to believing there is a material/physical cause for every physical effect.  Indeed, on a materialistic worldview physical causes determine a physical effect.  If material cause X is present, material effect Y must occur.  Just like falling dominos, when one domino falls on another, the second domino must fall.  There are many things, however, that cannot be explained in terms of material causes.  Consider communication.  When your friend speaks to you, you will respond in kind.  How can this be explained in terms of deterministic, material causation?  How can his words cause you to respond—yea, even determine your response?  Did his words produce molecular changes in the space between you, which in turn caused physical changes in your body that ultimately determined that you say X (as opposed to Y or Z) in response?  While this seems incredulous on its face, let’s grant that it is possible for the sake of argument since there are other forms of communication that are even more difficult to explain from a materialist perspective.

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When someone says to you, “You shouldn’t impose your morality on other people,” proceed as follows:

YOU:  “So you think it is wrong to impose one’s moral point of view on other people?”
THEM:  “Yes.”
YOU:  “Then why are you imposing your moral point of view on me?
THEM:  “What?”
YOU:  “To say it is wrong to impose one’s moral point of view on other people is itself a moral point of view, and you are imposing that moral point of view one me by morally condemning me for morally condemning the actions of other people.  You are guilty of doing the very thing you say should not be done.”

The fact of the matter is that we all have a moral point of view, and all of us apply that moral standard to others and judge them accordingly.  The question is not whether we have moral standards, or whether we will apply them to other people, but rather whether or not our moral standards are true.

Mk 1:10  And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart [schidzo] and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (NET)

Mk 15:37-38  But Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last. 38 And the temple curtain was torn [schidzo] in two, from top to bottom. (NET)

Mark seems to be making a connection between the response of heaven at Jesus’ baptism and the response of heaven at Jesus’ death through his use of the Greek term schidzo (meaning split, divide, or tear) — a connection that is obscured by most translations because they translate the word differently in each of the two verses.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the heavens were opened to Him and He was personally anointed by the Holy Spirit from the Father.  At the end of His ministry, however, it was not the heavens that were opened, but the Holy of Holies itself, signifying that the presence of God is no longer confined to a specific locale, or available solely to the high priest. Now all have access to the presence of God because of Jesus.

I just finished Christmas, Celebrating the Christian History of Classic Symbols, Songs and Stories, by Angie Mosteller. This book takes a semi-academic look at the history of American Christmas traditions, symbols, songs, and stories.  It had some really good information regarding the origin of Christmas trees, candy canes, wreathes, etc.

What Mosteller chose to write on, she wrote on well.  What I was disappointed in was what she failed to include.  For example, there was no treatment on the origin of the modern version of Santa Clause.  And most of the Christmas songs she chose to explore I had never heard of.  They may have been American classics, but they are virtually unknown on a popular level today.  And absent from the list were all of the non-religious Christmas songs like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and the like.  I would have loved to have known the history of those songs as well.  She was writing from a Christian perspective, so I’m assuming she chose to focus on the Christian elements of Christmas rather than the non-religious aspects of the holiday.  But overall this book was a good treatment of the origin of Christmas traditions in America.

There’s been a lot of buzz in both theistic and atheistic camps regarding Stephen Law’s evil-god argument, and many think it poses a serious challenge to the theism. Edward Feser sums up the essence of the argument nicely when he writes:

Law claims that the evidence for the existence of a good God is no better than the evidence for the existence of an evil god, and that any theodicy a theist might put forward as a way of reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a good God has a parallel in a reverse-theodicy a believer in an evil god could put forward to reconcile the presence of good in the world with the existence of an evil god.  Now, no one actually believes in an evil god.  Therefore, Law concludes, since (he claims) the evidence for a good God is no better than that for an evil God, no one should believe in a good God either.  That’s the “evil god challenge.”[1]

Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t think the evil-God “argument” is actually an argument against God’s existence at all, yet alone a good argument. Consider the following three points:

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J.P. Moreland rightly asks, Why is it that if you want to be a chemist or teach literature you have to have training, but if you want to be a minister all you need is to feel a call on your life? Where is the need for knowledge?

Think about it this way. Would you seek the services of a physician who only had a master’s degree in medicine? Would you allow a physician who had no training at all in medicine, but merely felt the “call” to be a doctor, to operate on you? No, because your health is too important to entrust to someone who lacks the knowledge necessary to fix your body. Why then, do we think it is acceptable for ministers of the gospel to “operate” on people’s eternal souls—which is much more important than operating on temporal bodies—with just a call to ministry? Jesus’ disciples sat at His feet for 3+ years before they entered into full-time ministry. Theological education (whether formal or not) should be viewed as a precondition for ministry. Too much is at stake for anything less. Attempting spiritual surgery without sufficient knowledge can lead to others’ spiritual death rather than life. Let’s get educated!

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