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!

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!

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