Worldview News


Friday, November 13, 2015

An Extra Chromosome And A Cause For Hope

Modern medicine has found many ways to test for problems with unborn children. This is a good thing. It allows for prenatal diagnosis, treatment, and even surgery to address medical issues for babies in the womb. But it also has some diabolical consequences -- like the fact that about 90% of unborn children who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.


If you happen to be among those who don't think that's a problem -- who don't think that's a sad and horrendous injustice -- I give you Karen Gaffney. Karen can speak for herself but, before you listen to what she has to say, let me give you a few facts about Ms. Gaffney:
  • Karen is 38 years old
  • Karen is president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation which is funded in part by honorariums she receives for her public speaking engagements (like the one below)
  • Karen has swum across Lake Tahoe, Boston Harbor, and 16 times across San Francisco Bay
  • Karen is a graduate of the University of Portland
  • Karen received and honorary doctorate in 2013
  • Karen advocates for people with Down Syndrome
  • Karen "rocks the extra chromosome"

I realize that Karen is unique because she represents a "high functioning" case of Down Syndrome and I am in no way attempting to represent her as the norm. And let me be clear that I don't tout Karen's success story and inspirational life as the reason to oppose abortion.

My point is simply that the pro-life cause has its foundation in the idea that all members of the human family are valuable, not because of what they do, but because of who they are -- human beings made in the image of God.

Karen is an exceptional human being and she would still be an exceptional human being if she didn't have Down Syndrome. She is proof that all human beings are valuable. Let's pray that her message reaches far and wide as an example of the value of every human life and that Karen's story becomes a cry that will awaken those who would have never given her the chance to prove it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Strong To Save

It's always been one of my favorite songs, and not just because it's the "Navy Hymn." The stanzas about about "every peril to the Corps," and "for those in peril in the air" especially hit home. The tone and heaviness of they hymn are poignant and powerful. But, until today, I had never known the story behind the song. Thanks to Eric Metaxas's Breakpoint column on Veteran's Day, 2015, that is no longer the case. Enjoy ...

Metaxas: On this Veterans Day, I want to tell you the back story to one of the great hymns—one that resonates particularly for many of our veterans. It’s one of the most famous hymns in Christendom: “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” It’s often called “the Navy hymn” because it’s sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. But how many of us know the story behind this moving hymn?

The hymn’s author was an Anglican churchman named William Whiting, who was born in England in 1825. As a child, Whiting dodged in and out of the waves as they crashed along England’s shoreline. But years later, on a journey by sea, Whiting learned the true and terrifying power of those waves. A powerful storm blew in, so violent that the crew lost control of the vessel. During these desperate hours, as the waves roared over the decks, Whiting’s faith in God helped him to stay calm. When the storm subsided, the ship, badly damaged, limped back to port. The experience had a galvanizing effect on Whiting. As one hymn historian put it, “Whiting was changed by this experience. He respected the power of the ocean nearly as much as he respected the God who made it and controls it.”

The memory of this voyage allowed Whiting to provide comfort to one of the boys he taught at a training school in Winchester. One day, a young man confided that he was about to embark on a journey to America—a voyage fraught with danger at that time. The boy was filled with dread at the thought of the ordeal to come. A sympathetic Whiting described his own frightening experience, and he and the other boys prayed for the terrified student. And then Whiting told him, “Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith.” Whiting, an experienced poet, put pen to paper, writing a poem reminding the boys of God’s power even over the mighty oceans. It begins:
"Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep, its own appointed limits keep.
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee For those in peril on the sea!"
Scholars believe Whiting was inspired in part by Psalm 107, which describes God’s deliverance from a great storm on the sea: In verses 28 and 29, we read: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble [and] he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” This thought is of course echoed in the New Testament, when Jesus and his disciples are caught in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee; Jesus “rebuked the wind and calmed the sea.” (Mark 4:39)

In 1861, Whiting’s poem was set to music by the Rev. John Dykes. The hymn became enormously popular; British, French, and American sailors all adopted it. Winston Churchill loved it, and the hymn was performed at the funerals of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.

Over the years, those who love the hymn and the men and women it honors have written additional stanzas—verses that ask for God’s protection over Marines, Seabees, submariners, flyers, the Coast Guard and Navy SEALS. They ask God to remember the needs of wounded warriors, asking: “By power of thy breath restore, the ill and those with wounds of war.” Touchingly, one newer stanza asks God’s protection for the families of those who serve, asking, “Oh Father, hear us when we pray, for those we love so far away.”

Veterans Day is a reminder that we should be praying regularly for those who put themselves in harm’s way for our sake, for their families, and for those who suffer the after effects of combat. And as we sing the Navy hymn, as many of us will on Sundays around Veterans’ Day, its words should also recall to our minds the fact that none of us will escape the storms and tempests of life. Its verses offer comfort and help us “anchor our faith,” as William Whiting put it, when the winds and waves of our own lives threaten to capsize us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On Pointy Hats And Politics

Last month the head of the worldwide Catholic Church visited America riding on a very public image as a champion of the poor and downtrodden whose calls for various forms of "social justice" have put him at odds with the conservative wing of his church, even as his refusal to capitulate on abortion has angered his more liberal members. That's all fine and dandy.

But one would hope that the man whose office and reputation very much make him the face of Christianity worldwide would also be willing to take a stand for the seemingly uncontroversial idea that members of the human family should not be abused or imprisoned simply because what they believe happens to disagree with the political class that happens to run their country.

One would hope.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis made a side trip to Cuba while he was here and:
... the Castros were ready for him. The dictatorship arrested between 250 and 300 dissidents, or potential dissidents, who might have caused a disturbance. They arrested them violently, too. Berta Soler, for example, was dragged away by the hair and neck when she tried to attend the papal Mass. Soler is the leader of the Ladies in White, a group of faithful Catholics who campaign for the release of political prisoners. Later, Pope Francis said he was not aware of any arrests. That was a little odd, since state security tackled a man, Zaqueo Baez, right in front of him and dragged him away violently. Baez is a dissident. The pope did not meet with any of them, though he had a happy meeting with Fidel Castro.

As one democracy group on the island put it, "The pope did not utter a phrase of solidarity with the victims of repression." [Where John Paul II had mentioned "freedom" and "justice" dozens of times during his visit] ... Francis did not say "freedom" or "justice" at all.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, another democracy leader, noted that, "The pope discussed 'the glory of God in heaven' but said 'nothing about the hell for us on Earth.'"*
By definition, there are many ways in which the poor and downtrodden cannot care for themselves. Even in an open and free society history has shown that a government's ability to do so is limited, corrupting, wasteful, and inept. So, if there is any hope to actually be effective in the mission the pope claims to pursue, it resides in the church. When the leader of a huge portion of that church is more enamored with playing politics with tyrannical thugs like the Castros than with proclaiming the fate of the Castro's political victims, a huge opportunity to achieve his stated goals gets flushed right out into the open sewer that is the Cuban regime's "vision" for society.

I am not a Catholic. I disagree with several of the Catholic Church's teachings. But forget the whole Catholic/Protestant thing. In fact, forget the whole Christianity thing. As a human being who is seen as a de facto leader to much of the free world, the fact that the pope intentionally ignored the dissidents and political prisoners of the brutal, barbarian Castro regime is disgusting.

The pope should be ashamed of himself.


* National Review, October 19, 2015, p. 10-11.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Abortion By The Numbers

As a follow-up to my last post, and thanks to an article that my fellow CIA agent (and classmate), John Ferrer, contributed in the latest issue of  Salvo Magazine ("The Big Kill," Salvo Issue 34, p. 10), I've found a new resource for showing people the impact of abortion.

In a format similar to the mind-boggling real-time numbers of the U.S. National Debt Clock, but with infinitely more moral impact, the website gives a continuously updated count of the number of abortions in the U.S. and worldwide. The numbers are staggering. Just a few examples (as of September 25, 2015 at 10:30 pm):

Abortions performed today: 2,806.1
(as a point of reference, 2,977 people were killed in the U. S. on September 11, 2001)

Abortions performed by Planned Parenthood since 1970: 6,877,845.2
Abortions performed in the U.S. since Roe-v-Wade (1973):  58,293,265

Abortions performed worldwide today: 103,043
Abortions performed worldwide this year: 29,754,477
Abortions performed worldwide since 1980: 1,349,402,839

Like most statistics, they can make your eyes glaze over. They are literally incomprehensible. But I have also found a unique way to make the overwhelming numbers a little more real. It is self-explanatory ... but that doesn't make it anymore understandable that many in our culture are happy to defend every bee-bee that hits the tin can:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

1000 Words

Several years ago, the local scientific apologetics group I belong to learned that I was involved in doing some pro-life teaching and speaking. As a result, they asked me to give a presentation about how the apologetic case for Christianity in general might relate to making the pro-life case as well. That was an easy one.

We at the Life Training Institute (LTI) deliberately construct our arguments against abortion in a way that they can't be dismissed by abortion proponents as "just a religious opinion." We do that by using science and philosophy to show what the unborn is, why it is valuable, and why that makes taking its life a grave moral wrong. Our argument is not in the least bit "religious"; it is a rational and reasoned case that points to the most basic of all human rights -- the right to life. The fact that the case we make is perfectly compatible and consistent with what the Bible says is just one more reason to believe the Bible is a reflection of the truth about ultimate reality.

But I digress...

As part of the presentation, and only after we give a reasoned argument for our case, we at LTI give ample warning that we are about to show a 60-second video showing the aftermath of abortion. We do this carefully and compassionately. We warn the audience that the video is graphic and give anyone who wants it a chance to leave the room or cover their eyes before we show it. And then we play this:

 The presentation I gave that day was no different, nor was the reaction to it. But several months later, one of my friends from the group told me a story about what happened afterward. He said that he had never seen the argument against abortion presented in quite that way. It had moved him to put up a Facebook post about it with a link to the video. No big deal. But there's more to the story.

The post drew some attention and discussion. Little did he know that some of that attention was from a European lady whom my friend had never met or spoken to -- they both just happened to be bird lovers and members of the same on-line group of folks who shared that interest. The lady was an abortion supporter and the images had horrified her. She was also an atheist.

Because the post had provoked her, she contacted my friend through the bird-lover group to challenge him about posting it. Their back-and-forth discussion lasted for weeks. Eventually, the bird-loving lady not only changed her view on abortion, she was compelled by my friend's reasoning to reconsider her case against Christianity. By the time my friend told me this story, the European lady had become a Christian and was soliciting my friend's advice about how to approach her "hard-core atheist" son to invite him to do the same.

All because she saw an image.

I was reminded of this story during the uproar about The Center for Medical Progress's release of a series of videos documenting the barbarity of Planned Parenthood. The impact of these videos is monumental; so monumental that they, like the videos seen by the European bird lover, have prompted someone like Ruben Navarette ("I Don't Know If I'm Pro-Choice Anymore" at The Daily Beast website), a 30-year supporter of abortion rights, to challenge himself about his stance on what abortion is and what it does.

Make no mistake, the methods and tactics of the abortion industry have not changed, and neither has the truth content in the arguments we wield against it. What has changed is that the public has been allowed to see exactly what is going on. Seeing injustice has a way of connecting our intellects to our our emotions ... and the power in that connection is what compels us to change our behavior.

I would never advocate shoving pictures of aborted children in the face of an unsuspecting bystander on the street. I understand the motivation to do that because of its shock value. But I also understand that the shock value can rebound as anger and dismissal. It is shocking because it's rude.

I don't want to be rude. I don't just want to shock people.

But I will keep showing images of abortion because my goal is bigger than that.

I want to make them understand, through reasoned argumentation, what abortion is and why it's wrong. And then I want them to see its reality. I want to appeal to their humanity. I want their heads to connect with their hearts to not only change their personal feelings about it, but to motivate them to change the behavior of our society.

I don't just want to talk about it and I don't just want to make people look at it.

I want to make it stop.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black And White Rainbows

Almost forty years ago I joined a youth group Bible study with a band of high school acquaintances who shared two things in common: life as military brats who all lived on the same base in Michigan, and a serious pursuit of the truth of our faith. We studied the Bible, went on retreats and, as a result, that group formed the core of our social life in high school. Many of us became close and lifelong friends. In fact, I met the girl who would later become my wife in that group in 1976.

Another girl in that group was a year younger than me, personable, athletic, outgoing, and deeply dedicated to knowing what was taught in The Book. She was a serious disciple. She went on to complete a distinguished and honorable career in the U.S. Army, entered seminary after she retired, and was ordained an Episcopal Minister. I haven't actually spoken to her in decades but from what I see on social media she doesn't seem to have changed much in those 39 years. She has a lot of friends who speak highly of her and love her dearly. She still sports a big smile. She seems to love her life and to serve God as fiercely as she ever did. I'm glad to see that but I really wish it was otherwise. If so, it would be much easier to say what I'm about to say and post it publicly. But that is not that case and as a result, it pains me to write this ... but I have to.

Last month my friend entered into a legalized, same-sex union with another woman.*

Now, I didn't know this because I heard it from her. Though I have only kept in touch with her tangentially and through social media, there was no public announcement of the event that I know of. No happy Facebook post or invitation to share her joy in what one would assume was the most cherished day of her life. The only information I saw about it came from other friends and family posting congratulations and pictures on her Facebook page. While she did comment regularly on the things others said about her, she never offered a single post or picture of her own. Not one. Doesn't that seem odd?

I don't think it is, and I say that because I think that, deep down, my friend knows that the union she entered is not a union that would be blessed by the God she serves.

I don't know if she will see this post or not. Honestly, it would be easier for me if she didn't. I don't want to hurt her feelings. No compassionate person would want to hurt a friend's feelings. At the same time, no honest person should shy away from seeking and defending the truth. When faced with the choice between hurting someone's feelings and acknowledging reality, I believe that all of us, whether we are devoted religious believers or hard-core secular atheists, must elevate the latter above the former.

Let me be clear in saying that it is a wonderful thing to see joy and happiness in another person; to see friends and family describe their ceremony as the most "moving and beautiful" thing they have ever witnessed. There is no doubt that the world needs to know that "love wins." There is no basis for questioning the devotion of two people to one another or to their professed religious convictions. I have no reason to doubt that their love is real or that their devotion is genuine.

I have absolutely no reason to disparage or belittle my friend or her partner (whom I've never met). In fact, if she is anything like she was when we were last in contact, my friend is a more knowledgeable and committed follower of Christ, and a more loving human being, than I am or ever will be. She has dedicated her life to serving the God we share our belief in, and has lived out and demonstrated those convictions in ways I never will. I have no reason to question any of that, and I wouldn't dare do such a thing.

But there are clear facts about what it means to be a human being made in the image of God that defy any biblical warrant for the acceptability of homosexual practice. That leads me to a perfectly logical question that I want to ask my friend:
Knowing that we both share a commitment to trust in the veracity of the Bible and to live out the precepts contained within it, on what basis would you defend either a shred of biblical support for the practice of homosexuality in general, or a defense of pseudogamy** in particular, from a straightforward reading of the text?
I have to say that I have never heard anyone who takes the Bible seriously give a legitimate answer to that question. The best response I have heard comes from Matthew Vines, who acknowledges that the Bible holds a clearly negative view of homosexual practice but claims that the homosexual practice that is addressed therein is an abusive, degrading form of homosexuality that existed at the time it was written, not the committed, monogamous relationships we see today. Vines' interpretation is just a little bit newer than the cell phone.

As I said, Vines' response is the best I have heard -- but that doesn't make it reasonable or acceptable. Notice that his defense of same-sex activity does not rely on anything the Bible says. Instead, it is fully dependent on something that Vines himself admits the Bible does not say.

When the best way to defend your position is to invoke a "new interpretation" of the biblical text that Christians have somehow missed for two millennia, doesn't it seem reasonable to pause to reconsider that view, no matter what the subject matter?

I think that is a reasonable expectation ... unless one is trying to rationalize the Bible with their own behavior instead of evaluating their behavior against what the Bible teaches. I think my friend knows this. She has studied her faith too extensively to not know it.

However, even if one rejects the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, the reality of human nature and purpose -- even when seen in a purely materialistic, godless universe -- tells us that homosexuality leads to a Darwinian dead end. Same-sex behavior defies human nature's purpose and design.

Pick your poison. For both biblical and natural law reasons, I believe there is a legitimate reason to hold to a negative view of the practice of homosexuality even if one admires the devotion and commitment of homosexuals. I also believe we can love someone who is homosexual but refuse to celebrate their same-sex union with another homosexual, whether the Supreme Court of the United States tells us it's legal or not. In other words, I believe we can simultaneously share a fondness and respect for our homosexual friends, but disapprove of their actions. Real friends do that. They value their friends so much, they feel compelled to tell them the truth. Sometimes, the greatest way to love someone is to do just that.

Unfortunately though, we live in a culture where that kind of view is not allowed. It's a culture in which saying anything negative about homosexuality is seen as uncalled for and mean-spirited. Our culture tells us that if you do what I'm doing right now you are a hate-filled, judgmental bigot. All I can say about that is that it is false. You can try to play that card if you want to but doing so is simply disingenuous. It's a dodge that demands a black-and-white choice between acknowledging the clear truths revealed in nature and in Scripture, or condoning -- yes, celebrating -- all homosexual activity up to and including the public redefinition of marriage itself.

I don't know if my friend would condemn me for disagreeing with her about the nature and purpose of marriage. It's been a long time, but I can't bring myself to believe she could have become a nasty, aggressive promoter of the idea that someone like me could never still be her friend. I hope that's not the case. I may never know and we certainly may never have a conversation about it. But if we did, I would remind her of our days studying the Bible by Lake St. Clair in Michigan, and I would ask her to answer my question.

I would hope that if we ever did have that conversation, it wouldn't turn ugly. I would hope that my friend would not approve of the way our culture in general addresses this debate. Because, even if she is an exception, the irony of this is that those who promote and celebrate the homosexual lifestyle use the rainbow as a symbol to demonstrate how they embrace a full spectrum of love and fellowship with everyone. But nothing could be further from the truth. Their rainbow is not really multi-colored. It has no hue that allows for a view like mine. It's a black-and-white rainbow -- a rainbow that demands adherence and celebration from all of us or promises retaliation and vilification against those who don't.

It's not a pretty rainbow at all. And the pot at the end of it is full of retribution for those who aren't singing the right song.


* I use the term "legalized, same-sex union" because I don't know what else to call it. What I won't call it is a "marriage." For reasons I will not get into here, the term "marriage" is not applicable to same-sex unions. Marriage is a specific thing. It is something we describe, not something we define. For those who may be interested in reading a full treatment of the case for marriage, I recommend the following:
What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, by Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. [This is a detailed treatment of the issue by philosophically sophisticated authors. If you want to engage a serious study of the case for marriage, this is your book.]

Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage, by John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell. [This book is an easier read and exactly what it says -- a thoughtful approach by two excellent communicators. Great for lay readers who want to familiarize themselves with the issue and be able to discuss it winsomely but effectively.]

What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?, by Kevin DeYoung [I have not read this book yet but Greg Koukl has called it the single best book on the topic that he knows of and I have never known Koukl's recommendations to be anything other than spot on.]
** As far as I know, pseudogamy is a term coined by Anthony Esolen, a writer for Touchstone Magazine and one of the most insightful, unapologetic, and powerful defenders of Christianity that I have ever read.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Empty Nest, Full Hearts

Jon comes home from the hospital
Our youngest son, Jon, starts college today. His brothers will say he has gotten away with gross transgressions of The Rules they all had to follow. Sorry guys, but it just ain't true. Actually, he has probably been more scrutinized -- and many times, rightfully so -- because he has been tail-end Charlie, the unfortunate victim of us knowing all the ways the other four found to get in trouble. But, whatever the case, the nest gets emptied today. This is supposed to be a time to do one of two things: Rejoice at our new found "freedom," or slide into a depressed funk about the sadness of it all.

We choose neither.

Our goal has never been to raise good kids. Our goal has always been to raise grounded, responsible adults. Like their parents, our boys have all made plenty of bad decisions. Like our parents, we have done our best to make them suffer the consequences of those decisions. So, while we are not thrilled about some of the things they have done, we could not be more proud of the young men they have become. Jon is no different from the other four in that respect. So, it is with bittersweet anticipation of the future that we watch him leave the nest. Maybe the departure of the previous four has dulled the sense sadness that comes with this day. We are hardened veteran parents now so the trauma of it all just rolls right off our backs.

No, that's not it.

We will still shed tears.
2010 Caribbean Cruise

But we will also be happy. Not in the way the culture likes to portray it -- leaping for joy because they're finally gone -- but with a sense of anticipation about seeing the fruits of our parenting labor. We look forward to celebrating their successes with them from the back of the room, watching them from behind their own future families and friends. We look forward to consoling them in their disappointments, knowing that those disappointments will make them stronger, even if they won't want to hear it from us. We look forward to offering our advice, but only if they ask for it.

This big house will seem even bigger now. The quiet will probably be deafening. But in our hearts, we will still hear the patter of tiny feet and the concussive thud of hands (and heads) bursting through the basement walls. We will look to a rusting backyard trampoline and long for the squeak of its springs. We will watch the trees grow bigger and the grocery bill get smaller. We will relish the productive, successful men they are, no matter how much money they earn or what kind of social status they achieve. We will take quiet pride in the courage and honor with which all of them have volunteered to serve.

The Band Perry
These are not reasons to be sad. They are reasons to rejoice in the life they've given us just by being our boys. We will cry because we miss them, not because we're glad they're gone. And we will use our new-found "freedom" to travel all over creation to see them wherever they end up. There are five of them for God's sake. We'll have plenty of traveling to do.

Our lives may never be the same after today but we wouldn't exchange it for anything. No one should ever question the gifts they get from God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mind Boggling Silence

There are two basic views (and some sub-categories of each) about how to understand the relationship between the brain and the mind. The first, physicalism, says that the mind is nothing more than an extension of the brain. The second, dualism, says that the mind and brain are different things altogether.

Physicalism insists that there is no difference between the mind and the brain -- that the "mind" is simply a way to refer to the results of chemical processes that go on in the neural network controlled by the gray matter between your ears.
"According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties and events ... The physical substance called the brain has physical properties such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition and so forth ... when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events -- events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system."*
Since thoughts and feelings are nothing but physical events that result from electrical impulses between neural cells, we can actually connect electrodes to the brain, stimulate it in different ways, and observe which area of the brain "lights up." We can manipulate that area of the brain with surgery or chemicals and thereby alter behavior, or at least understand what made you act the way you did when you felt sad, or angry, or happy, or attracted to a mate.

Once we know where our different behaviors and inclinations reside, we are well on our way to solving all the mysteries of the origin and operation of imagination, concepts, thoughts, instincts, and morality. Since these are nothing but different kinds of chemical reactions, and "free will" is really nothing but an illusion about the responses the chemicals in your brain have to various inputs from physical events that preceded the actions you take, neuroscientists like will soon be able to explain and control each of them.

You are your brain and your brain is a computer made of meat.

With that in mind, meet Dr. Patricia Churchland. Churchland is one of the leading philosophers of neuroscience in the world. This means that her work focuses on philosophical questions about how consciousness relates to brain function. Listen to Dr. Churchland explain some exciting new discoveries and implications of neuroscience:

Very interesting stuff.

However, it's one thing to go on The Colbert Report and cite scientific research about oxytocin to a comedian and his audience. It's quite another thing to have to answer philosophical questions about your research to someone who actually knows how to ask them. You see, each of the phenomena Dr. Churchland talked about here are examples of correlation -- that certain actions and/or traits that we observe "correlate" to neurons firing in a specific location in the brain. No argument there.

The problem is that, as any scientists knows, correlation does not equal causation.

Just because we can correlate these things does not mean that one of them caused the other. To put it another way, smoke correlates to fire quite nicely, but that does not in any way mean that the smoke caused the fire.

The problem with physicalism is that there doesn't seem to be a way to reconcile the physical stuff we can observe going on in our brains with things like the thoughts, desires, plans, and intentions that make those things occur. In fact, when scientists perform the studies that correlate brain activity in certain areas of the brain with the thinking that correlates to that activity, they have absolutely no way to know what the subject of the study is thinking when the neural networks are firing -- unless, of course, they ask. In other words, neuroscientists can hook electrodes up to your brain all day long, but they can never know what you are thinking ... unless you tell them.

You, it seems, are something different than your brain.

So what about Dualism? This is a view of the relationship between mind and brain which holds that the brain is actually a different "substance" (philosophically speaking) that is not physical but that somehow interacts with the physical brain. This view would be compatible with the idea of the soul (the mind being some kind of subset of the soul) and offers a way to make sense of several phenomena we observe about human beings that, frankly, make no sense otherwise. Without getting into details (I will do that in a follow-on post), some of these things include: continuity of self, free will, agent causation, breakthroughs in the study and treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, and near death experiences.

To be fair, no one is claiming to be able to explain exactly how this interaction takes place but it does seem to offer a way to make sense of several different phenomena that we observe and to also be perfectly consistent with the existence of the non-physical reality of the "self."

So, back to Dr. Churchland. What happens when she is forced to defend her physicalist view of the mind/brain problem against someone who not only knows the flaws in that view, but who can cite reliably qualified sources that completely contradict what Dr. Churchland can get away with saying on The Colbert Report? What happens when those sources include blatant misrepresentations of the work of others which have been made by Dr. Churchland herself? Watch and see ...

Maybe the fact that we can hear background noise from Dr. Churchland's end of the line while she claims the connection isn't working is the result of some kind of out-of-body experience that can only be understood by doctors of neuroscience. And maybe "the dog ate my internet connection" is an acceptable way to defend the physicalist view of the mind/brain interface to those who dare not question it. But, for those with minds that are open to whatever the truth happens to be true regarding the existence of non-physical realities like the soul, the mind, and God himself, this interview is truly something to behold.

Sometimes silence really is golden.


* J. P. Moreland, The Soul: How We Know It's Real And Why It Matters, p. 25

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ant That Somethin'?

If someone were to ask you what land dwelling creature possessed the greatest total mass on Earth today, I'm betting the word "ant" would not come to mind. According to Hugh Ross, "the ubiquitous ant comprises 15-25% of the total mass of living animal tissue on the continents ... [not only that but] both the ants' population size and behaviors have helped compensate for the Sun's increasing luminosity over the 3.5 billion years since life originated on the Earth."
Here's how.
The Sun, like any other star, is basically a nuclear furnace that emits heat and light from the continuous fusion of hydrogen into helium at its core. As this process becomes more efficient over the life of the star, it brightens. In fact, astronomers have calculated that our Sun burns 25% brighter today than it did 3.5 billion years ago.
"So what?"
Scientists also calculate that a mere 1-2% increase in the brightness of the Sun is enough to burn the Earth and render it uninhabitable for life. Yet, here we are.

Enter, ants.
It turns out that one of the many curious design features of our "Privileged Planet" is the delicate balance that has been maintained in the Earth's atmosphere as the Sun has progressively brightened. The Earth's ecosystem has simultaneously managed, through the combined efforts of organismal and geological processes, to compensate for the Sun's increased luminosity by removing heat-retaining gases from the atmosphere to maintain a livable temperature on the surface of the Earth.
According to Ross:
"weathering of silicates (silicon compounds) is the most effective way living creatures remove greenhouse gases. In this process, atmospheric carbon dioxide reacts with rainwater to make carbonic acid that, in turn, reacts with continental silicates to yield sand and carbonates. Depending on the life-forms involved, more or fewer continental silicates are exposed to rainwater and more or less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. Recently, a geologist discovered that ants may well be the latest major contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction.
During the Paleogene Era (66-23 million years ago), many new ant species emerged, greatly expanding their total biomass. Field studies establish that the weathering of calcium and magnesium silicates is enhanced by a factor of 50-300 times in the vicinity of ant colonies. Thus ants indirectly played a significant role in making it possible for life to persist [Yon the Earth]."*
I'm not trying to make a mountain out of an ant hill, but this is just one of many such design features that we find in the interwoven characteristics of our Solar System -- as well as in the delicate design of the Sun-Earth-Moon system that holds eerie "coincidences" that have to be just the way they are for life to be possible on the Earth. You can read more about these kinds of things in several of Hugh Ross's writings, as well as in "Privileged Planet ," by Jay Richards and Guillermo González (also available in video form at
It seems to me that it ought to make even the most serious skeptic pause to consider how it could be possible to establish and discover such a connection between the physics of nuclear fusion at the core of the Sun and the compensatory design features of plants ... and ants ... on the Earth.
I would never go so far as to say that the ant connection is a serious "proof" for the existence of God, but it is certainly consistent with the Design Argument for God ... especially when you consider that it is just one among many, many similar "coincidences."

I offer it for what it's worth ...


* This quote and the general idea of the post are based on the article, "Ants: Amazing Agents of Change," by Hugh Ross, Reasons To Believe Newsletter, January/February 2015.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Filling God-Shaped Holes

On December 2, 2014 at the Lake Worth, Florida City Commission Meeting, self-proclaimed "activist,” Preston Smith, offered the following invocation:
Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things. May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. 
May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us? 
And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness’ sake. 
And so we pray ... So, what?!

Now I don't know if this was simply a not-so-clever attempt to mock religious believers who pray before public meetings or a demonstration of Smith's own deeply held personal beliefs but, either way, here's the question ... So what?!

Maybe Smith doesn't actually believe his "prayer." If so, he is apparently trying to demonstrate the equally ludicrous nature of all religious belief through sarcasm. There are two ways to respond to this possibility. First, we could push back on the notion that all religious beliefs are equally absurd as an assertion that is easily tested by comparing the claims of the different religious systems Smith is mocking to see what evidence there is to support them. This would be a little time-consuming, but would easily show his relativistic view of religious belief to be false. Just about every aspect of every religion Smith cites in his "prayer" is contradictory and/or mutually exclusive. But Smith, and those who support his nonsense, never take the time to actually evaluate the claims. They think their clever mockery does it for them because they are so intellectually dishonest they don't even realize that their position is itself a religious opinion that they have given no one any reason to take seriously.

Second, we could ask why the good people of Lake Worth, Florida would allow some random jackass to waste their time at a publicly funded meeting just to show how hilariously sarcastic he can be? Can anyone show up at a Lake Worth City Council meeting and be given the floor to do a comedy act? Why did the City Council put up with such a thing? The answer is simple -- intellectually dishonest cowards hide behind the threat of lawsuits and political correctness that dare people to try to stop them. They are bullies who know the current politically correct climate will allow them to get away with it wherever and whenever they please.

Shame on the Lake Worth City Council for letting it be so.

There is also the possibility that Smith does believe his "prayer," and this I find this to be a fascinating possibility. I'm afraid these "new atheist humanists" who keep mocking "religion" are not quite sure what that word means or how their attempts at mockery actually lend full support to the basic claims of theism.

Apparently, it's the new thing among those who claim to have no beliefs to engage in behavior like Smith and to attend Godless Church Services that are popping up all over the place and growing exponentially among those who claim to "believe in nothing." As Sanderson Jones puts it about his London "congregation" (his term):
"The thing that we’ve got is that we’re the only non-religious service that works. Rationality is part of it, but we also have the emotional connection," Jones said. "We are speaking to the whole human." Sunday Assembly is already talking to an awful lot of humans. Jones wonders if they might manage to start 2015 congregations by 2015. "It might just be a little bit historical if it goes on like this. We could have a profound impact," he said. "Throughout history there’s been these moments when an idea takes off: the Great Awakenings. We could suddenly create a great moment."
Or take this comment from an atheist blogger I have interacted with who is one of the nastiest, most profane, closed-minded individuals you could ever imagine.
"I’ve taken [my humanism] to the next level so to speak. I’ve actively sought out and joined a local humanist group. We’ve got a following of about 300ish on Facebook but only about 1-2% of them show up for any kind of meeting or get together. But hey, better than nothing I guess, eh?"
Why do those who mock the idea of religion or the reality of God simultaneously engage in projects that parallel those who do believe in Him? What would motivate them to go to such great lengths to replicate the actions of the faithful? After all, if they really believe their own proclamations, there is no standard by which their actions could be judged and no reasonable explanation for the need they seem to be filling.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has formalized an explanation in his Argument From Desire:
Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. 
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy. 
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
Or, as C. S. Lewis so aptly put it, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists ... If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." [Mere Christianity]

It turns out that what these "humanists" are actually doing is offering a sad demonstration of the reality of what has come to be known as Blaise Pascal's "God-shaped hole" in our hearts:
"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself." [Pensées, Section I, X, 148]
Though most (like me) are more prone to get angry about stunts pulled by the likes of Preston Smith, anger should be the last emotion we feel. Instead, we should feel compassion for those whose sense of emptiness is so deep that they are compelled to respond with navel-gazing mockery toward the only reasonable way they could fill the God-shaped hole in their own hearts.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take Christ Out Of Christmas

One of the favorite Christmas decorations in our house has always been a small statue of Santa kneeling at the side of the manger. His hat is off and his head is bowed in reverence. We place the figurine in a position of prominence in our family room, hoping to remind each of us to Whom our thoughts should be directed at this time of year. Unfortunately, I think the reminder is falling on deaf ears.

The music starts in October now. In November my company puts out a memo reminding us that we are allowed to wear "Holiday Ties" with our uniforms beginning December 1st. The mayhem starts in earnest on Black Friday, and now extends to Cyber Monday and then into the following week for on-line orders, and on, and on, and on ...

Recently, I dug through my file drawer and found a piece I wrote back in 1998 (before I had ever heard of blogging). The article was about a local Cincinnati story that went national when an atheist lawyer sued the federal government for violating the establishment of religion clause of the Constitution. Richard Ganulin was troubled about the "separation of church and state." Though this concept is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, Ganulin and his like-minded atheists were upset that Christmas had become a national holiday.

Said Ganulin: "Christmas is a religious holiday and the Congress of the United States is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or aid any religion, purposefully or otherwise, or [promote] entanglement between our government and religious beliefs." He sued to have it stopped and he lost his battle. But don't jingle your bells in celebration just yet.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott did rule against Ganulin. According to Religion Today (December 8, 1999), Judge Dlott decided "that Christmas can be observed as a federal holiday because non-Christians also mark the holiday by celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus. Since non-religious people also observe the holiday, giving federal workers a day off for Christmas does not elevate one religion over another." In her ruling, Judge Dlott invoked a cool, witty, original verse to show that the Christmas holiday does not amount to government establishment of religion:
"Christmas is about joy and giving and sharing.
It is about the child within us; it is mostly about caring.
There is room in this country and in all our hearts, too,
for different convictions and a day off, too."
Now ain't that sweet.

When Judge Dlott dismissed the case the local paper reported that "Santa Claus has at least temporarily saved Christmas, both for Christians and for others."


The actual goal in this case was to remove the religious nature of Christmas from our culture. Fifteen years later, I think the plaintiff's motives have been wholly met and then some. Judge Dlott justified her ruling with the spine-tingling claim that no reasonable person would see the federal holiday as an endorsement of Christianity in particular or religion in general. Did you get that? No reasonable person would see Christmas as an endorsement of Christianity. Ganulin may have lost his battle in 1998, but in 2014 his side has the war completely in hand.

Santa has crawled into the crib.

So that's why I say we let him have it. I say we take the Christ out of Christmas.

Let them have the pepper spray at Walmart and the stampedes through Toys 'R Us. Let them have the latest iWhatever. Let them have the little lights that work when you test them but not when you plug them in. Let them have the frustration and the dramatically higher suicide rate. Let them have their "celebrity advent calendars." Let them have the pressure to get "the right gift." Let them have the stress. Let them have the the unprecedented level of debt that skyrockets during the "holiday season." Let them have the marketing mayhem. Let them have their "Happy Holidays."

I don't want Christ to win this battle.

Christmas is about the miracle of a God so big, He chose to shrink Himself to save us. It's not about "Peace on Earth;" it's about an infinite sacrifice to make peace with earthlings. It's not about us being "happy;" it's about us being treated unfairly -- it's about deserving wrath but getting forgiveness. Christmas is not about "the child within us;" it's about rebel that is us. Christmas is not about us being cheerful givers of gifts; it's about the God of the Universe descending to dwell among us and choosing to die on a splintered cross.

Christmas doesn't want Christ because a God who demands repentance and obedience isn't marketable.

The thing we've made Christmas doesn't deserve Him ... and I don't want Christ in what Christmas has become.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Star Power

I don't know about you, but ever since I was a kid, I have always looked a little skeptically at some aspects of the Christmas story we are all familiar with. In particular, I have always wondered how it was that a star could just pop into the sky and lead the "wise men" to find the baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. It always seemed a little suspicious to me. Now, I know God can work miraculously and do anything He wants to do but come on, the star seemed to be a bit much. Surely the story of the Star had all the qualities of a man-made fairy tale.

Not anymore.

For anyone who has any interest in the interconnectedness of history, science and Biblical truth, I highly recommend you check out a booklet and DVD presentation that makes a fascinating case for the reality of the Star of Bethlehem.

The The Star of Bethlehem (produced by Frederick A. Larson) is an amazing piece of work that is built on the following premise:
" ... the Bible [makes] a surprising number of references to signs in the heavens. Both Old and New Testaments assume that what happens up there matters. If we are interested in following the counsel of the Bible, we must hold a distinction in mind. Astrology assumes that stars are causes of earthly events. The Bible assumes that they can be messages about earthly events. It may be useful to think of this as a thermometer distinction. A thermometer can tell you if it's hot or cold, but it can't make you hot or cold. There is a big difference between a sign and an active agent. This is the difference between "astrology" and what the Bible holds forth."
Larson proceeds to go into breathtaking detail about the facts of history, combined with the technological capability we have to reproduce the place of objects on any date in history, to show that the Star of Bethlehem need not be thought of as a fairy tale anymore. In fact, Larson connects astronomy, not just to the Star of Bethlehem, but to the Cross of Calvary.

I won't spoil it here but I highly recommend this as a way for your family to approach the Christmas season with an inspiring look at another reason to hold confidence not only in the words of the Bible, but in the reality and Truth of the Christian view of the world.

You can check out a synopsis of the production at the link above and you can order it here.

Enjoy ...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Peace With The Bedlamites

I'm not sure when they started calling it "Black Friday" but the day after Thanksgiving lives up to its name every year. There are the folks who camp out for days to buy a TV; there are fights, riots and people who even get killed by crazed shoppers, all for the sake of being the first to nab the sale priced items for which they had waited in line for hours.

Happy Holidays!

Welcome to the season formerly known as Christmas. How did we get here? Has our society lost its mind? It seems that with regard to the celebration of Christmas the answer is clearly, "yes." As a point of interest ...

In 1247 the sheriff of London, a man named Simon FitzMary founded a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem just outside the city walls. It was used, as one of its special purposes, for the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St. Mary of Bethlehem, its mother church, and thereby became known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

By 1330, records show that the priory had become a hospital and that by 1403 some of its patients began to remain there permanently. When King Henry VIII later dissolved the Catholic monasteries in Britain, the priory was given to the city of London and, in 1547, officially sanctioned as an insane asylum which soon became infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane and the clamor, commotion, and pandemonium that could be heard emanating from within it. Because the local residents spoke in a dialect that didn't quite live up to the King's English, their cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem came out as "bedlam."

So, in a way that only human beings could contrive, the word we now use to describe lunacy and chaos actually has its source in the name of the city of Jesus' birth: Bethlehem.

Today's news stories simply reflect the sad link we have created for ourselves in turning the birth of Christ into a consumerist marketing frenzy. The lunatics are not only running the asylum, we created it.

The irony in the linguistic morphing of Bethlehem into Bedlam goes beyond the modern parallel between a British insane asylum and the month of December in an American shopping mall. We have not just got a problem with our perspective -- we have a problem with our theology.

In the songs we sing, the cards we send, and the seasonal movies we watch, we have come to see Christmas as a season of joy, of giving, of love, and of family. Nothing is wrong with any of these, of course. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that these are the heart of Christmas. Each descends from a more central fact about Christmas that is closely related to another of our favorite Christmas phrases but misunderstood just the same. Linus made it famous in the Charlie Brown Christmas. You can watch it here for old times' sake if you wish, but here is what Linus is quoting:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [Messiah] the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
The phrase I'm talking about is right there at the end: "Peace On Earth." Do you see it? I hope not -- because it's not there.

Though it's the title of many a Christmas card and the advertising on many a holiday shopping bag, you might notice that is also not what the text actually says. It's not even what Linus says. You may also notice that the entire passage is not about our joy, or our giving, or our love, or our families -- it is focused on God himself.

It is not unusual (in fact, it is human nature) to turn things that are supposed to be about God into things about us. It is also not unusual for us to twist the meaning of things just a tad when we do so. And that's where the "Peace on Earth" thing comes in. It makes us feel good to say that Christmas is our hope for "peace on earth" but first we have to recognize that, once again, the peace is not a promise for us in our worldly relations -- God knows that hasn't proved true over the 2000 years since Jesus' birth -- instead, Biblical translators point out that ...
"The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Savior God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure."
Do you see the difference?

It is not that world peace broke out on that cold winter morning in Bethlehem; it is that God came down in human covering to offer the only possible way of reconciliation between His perfect moral goodness and the bedlam that has broken out since we staged our human rebellion against Him.

We've been at war. The peace we're offered is between us and God.

The joy comes in realizing that to be true. The giving and love come in mimicking the selflessness we witnessed in the gift He gave that cost us nothing. Our families are the means by which we replicate and disseminate that love "for all the people." The difference is subtle but imperative; each of these things is impossible to celebrate fully, or practice appropriately, unless we first make peace with our Creator and Messiah.

Though I don't know that I've ever seen it used as a Christmas card, I can't imagine a better representation of what we Bedlamites have made Christmas into than the fresco on the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo titled, "The Creation of Adam." In the most gracious act in human history, the Creator himself reached down to touch us in human form, while we appear only vaguely interested. Look at the way God is stretching His arm down to man -- and at the way the first Bedlamite halfheartedly reaches back.

May we all celebrate this Christmas with the intention of divorcing ourselves from the accuracy of Michelangelo's artful depiction of our state. May we all replace "Peace on Earth" with "Peace with God" and recognize the power in the subtle difference.


I want to give credit to Greg Koukl who, on his 12/7/2008 Stand To Reason podcast, articulated the core meaning of the Luke 2 passage cited above as I've addressed it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why David Wood Is A Christian

If you walk in Christian circles, it is common to hear people talk about "giving their testimony." To be honest, I've always felt uncomfortable with the idea and never been one to engage in the practice. But maybe that's because I've never heard a testimony quite like this one.

David Wood is a philosopher of religion and a Christian apologist who I've simply known as a go-to guy on the subject of Islam. But there is way more to him than that. He is pursuing his PhD in Philosophy of Religion with a concentration on "the problem of evil." As it turns out, David Wood is also an expert in that subject.

Do yourself a favor, and listen to a testimony unlike any you have probably ever heard before ...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

God Is Good. Period.

Every year, as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I see plenty of people I know and respect making lists of things they are thankful for. I understand their thinking and I share their gratefulness for all our "first world" blessings. No doubt about the fact that all of us owe some thanks for those things we mostly take for granted.

Because of the religious origins of Thanksgiving in this country, I also understand why our thankfulness is many times tied to God. Within the greater Christian community, being grateful seems to come with the parallel understanding that the blessings we get are a part of the healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and happy life that God truly wants for us. Our "best life now," you might say. When things go our way, we are quick to add-on the heartfelt announcement that "God is so good!"

Being one that has his antennae up to detect cultural assumptions that find their way into the church, it occurred to me that this might just be one of them. After all, we are called to have "the mind of Christ," and it was Christ who said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

So, if Jesus promised us we would have trouble:
  • I'm wondering why would expect the Christian life to be without it ...
  • I’m wondering why we think we deserve "our best life now" ...
  • I'm wondering why we would think the words we speak have the power to make things turn out the way we desire them to be, when He never said any such thing ...
  • I'm wondering why we're always trying to figure out "God's will for our lives" when He has already told us very clearly and very simply that "[His] will is that we be sanctified."
To be sanctified ... or to be healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and happy? That is the question.

In light of these reflections, I decided to make a Thanksgiving list of my own. Here it is:
  • I'm thankful for separation from family and friends because it makes me cherish the time they're with me even more ...
  • I'm thankful for suffering because it challenges those who witness it to show compassion ...
  • I'm thankful for poverty because it pleads with us to be charitable ...
  • I'm thankful for fear because it teaches us courage ...
  • I'm thankful for unanswered prayer because it requires us to be patient ...
  • I'm thankful for sickness because it exposes how helpless we really are ...
  • I'm thankful for loneliness because it forces us to realize that we are not the center of the universe ...
  • I'm thankful for evil because it gives us a way to recognize the perfect Goodness of a Perfect God ...
This may seem like a weird list but I made it because I believe her when Joni Eareckson Tada says that the accident that broke her neck and has left her a quadriplegic since she was a teenager "was the best thing that ever happened to her" because it forced her to seek and find God.

I believe it when C. S. Lewis says that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

I believe that if James, the brother of Jesus can be beaten, taken to the top of the Jerusalem Temple and thrown off, then stoned to death because he survived the fall; if Peter can endure the sufferings we learn of in his epistles and then die crucified upside down; if Paul can be beaten, tortured and left for dead in a ditch outside Lystra, stoned, imprisoned and beheaded on a Roman street, I believe him when he writes that, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ..." (Romans 5:3-4)

If suffering was good enough for the apostles, I'm not sure why it isn't good enough for me.

Of course, this is all easy to say sitting here in my oversized, first-world office and it may be that sooner or later I will be forced to practice what it is so very easy for me to preach. But I consider these ideas now so that if/when the suffering starts, I won't be trying to wrestle with its purpose from inside the storm.

Jesus Christ sweated blood, was flogged and beaten mercilessly and then nailed to a cross to hang there until he died. If being sanctified means being made more like Christ, I think we should stop thinking that suffering is not for us, and start thinking about what it really means to be sanctified.

No one likes pain but I am thankful for it because I have to trust that God's purpose in this life has Him at the center of it, not me. His purpose for this creation is to annihilate suffering, and evil, and pain ... forever. Part of that purpose is that I need to develop the eternal virtues of charity, compassion, patience, courage and humility (among others).

So this Thanksgiving, I say we start telling the truth. Instead of just expecting the pleasure, let's start anticipating the pain with full knowledge of the reason we are called to endure it -- our sanctification. Our transformation to be like Christ. And then let us remember that regardless of our circumstances, we know they have an eternal purpose, that we are a part of it, that it is bigger than us, and that God is good whether we're personally doing well at the moment or not.

And let's be thankful for that too.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

CCS SLEW -- "Is The Bible Reliable?"

If we, as Christians, claim to base our view of reality on the Biblical account, we have to also be able to trust that that account is true. What the Bible says, and what we believe about it, have to match reality (the definition of truth as we discussed in the seminar you attended). So, how could we know that? What good reasons do we have to trust that the Bible we have is an accurate account of the story and that it is reliable as the inspired word of God?

One of the easiest to understand, clear, and convincing books I have ever read on this subject is Cold Case Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace. Jim is a (now retired) cold-case homicide detective from Los Angeles who has been on Dateline NBC several times in stories about murder cases he has helped solve that had been "cold" for as long as 35 years. Wallace used to be an in-your-face skeptical atheist who mocked Christianity. But when he was challenged to put his cold-case methods and analysis on the case for Christianity, he was shocked and upended by the evidence he uncovered. Here is a short intro video from J. Warner Wallace, who has become one of the most compelling contemporary case-makers for the Christian view:

Obviously there is a lot to look at on this topic. But let me summarize why we should in fact be comfortable in trusting that the New Testament (NT), and therefore the entire Bible, is reliable:

  • Most (if not all) of the New Testament was written before 70 A.D.
  • It was attested by non-Christian sources that confirm it's most important details
  • We have thousands of copies of it -- more than any other ancient document
  • With just the quotes of early church fathers, we can reconstruct the entire NT
  • It is obviously a collection of eyewitness accounts
  • It is written by multiple, independent sources
  • It has been corroborated by numerous historical and archeological evidences
  • It fulfills ancient prophecy in ways that cannot be coincidental
  • It contains embarrassing details that no fraudulent writer would include
  • It leaves in demanding and difficult sayings of Jesus
  • We have thousands of manuscripts from different geographic locations that match
  • It contains "undesigned coincidences" that verify its truthfulness (see below)
  • There is a solid "chain of custody" that confirms we have accurate manuscripts

There are plenty of details about each of these that allow for further discussion, but we can be very confident that the Bible we have in our hands is an accurate, well-preserved transmission of the originally inspired writings God meant us to have.


Tim Mcgrew's Undesigned Coincidences Blog Series

  • Follow the link provided to Dr. McGrew's series. It contains links to other resources on the absolutely fascinating topic.

Other Resources from J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace's website: Cold Case Chrisianity
J. Warner Wallace's book: Cold Case Christianity


Walter C. Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant?
F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust The Gospels?

CCS SLEW -- "How Should We See The Relationship Between Science And Theology?"

The generally accepted view among those scientists who reject belief in God is that science and faith are "at war." Science gives us empirical (measurable by the five senses) data about the world, while theology is simply a collection of the musings of deluded believers about their "imaginary friend." These two realms of study cannot, and should not, ever overlap.

This is an interesting position ... considering the fact that the scientific method itself was developed by Christian scientists who thought the world was logical, consistent, and understandable precisely because it had been created by an intelligent, logical, orderly God. These scientists believed that studying cause and effect relationships in the world would help us understand how it operated and make predictions about how it would operate in the future. It also meant that we could learn things about God's character and creation by studying both the natural world and theology. This sentiment was reflected in Article 2 of the church's Belgic Confession of 1561:
We know God by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse. 
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.
This view is also reflected in Psalm 19 ["The heavens declare the glory of God ..."] and in several other places in Scripture. The point is that it is not some new invention meant to entice Christians to capitulate to the dictates of modern science. It is a view solidly founded in Scripture itself.

Considering the diagram above, this notion of "Dual Revelation" means that we have two books -- the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. Both are "inspired" by God and both reveal truth about His character and creation. Nature is a General Revelation about the workings of the creation. Scripture is Special Revelation about the details of who God is and what his moral nature entails. The ultimate example of Special Revelation is Jesus Christ himself.

The key to the diagram above is the horizontal, yellow, dotted line. Above that line we have truth revealed from God himself. Because it comes directly from God, it is not corrupted or in error. It is true truth. Everything above the yellow dotted line is devoid of error.

However, below the dotted line is man's attempt to interpret the received revelation. Science is man's attempt to interpret nature. Theology is man's attempt to interpret Scripture. This means that everything below the line always has the possibility of being in error.


If we uncover what appear to be disagreements between science and theology, or apparent contradictions between them, the source of the discrepancy is always a problem with our interpretation. We could be interpreting nature incorrectly or we could be interpreting Scripture incorrectly. In either case, the error is ours and we have to be willing to understand that we may have to rethink either interpretation.

Obviously (or maybe not?) this view only applies to areas where the two revelations overlap. You will never find the "plan of salvation" in nature. Likewise, you will never find a correct expression of the speed of light in Scripture. But, in the areas like: the origin of the universe, the design of the universe, the origin of life, the variety of life, our understanding of human nature, the reality of the soul, or the destiny of humanity as it relates to the creation; it does seem that we can compare notes from both sources of revelation in our attempt to understand them.

This view of Dual Revelation gives us freedom to trust that the practice of science (as long as it avoids improper presuppositions) can help lead us to truths about God. We should never be "afraid" that science will somehow undermine our pursuit of Him or view of Him. Science was developed by Christians and will always reflect how and why God created the world we live in. It is just another way He has given us to see Him.

Other Resources

Ken Samples, Historic Christianity's "Two Books" of Revelation (essay)

Hugh Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is (book)

Dual Revelation (trailer) from Windjammer Entertainment on Vimeo.

Friday, November 21, 2014

CCS SLEW -- "Can I Believe The Resurrection Actually Happened?"

The truth of the resurrection is a key -- if not the key -- central issue of the Christian faith. If it's not true, Jesus is a fraud, the New Testament is a fiction, and Christianity is a false religion that we would all be fools to believe in.

This isn't my opinion. It's Paul's:
[1 Corinthians 15:12-19] -- But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Sounds like it might be a pretty important point, doesn't it? No one wants to be a fool, and none of us should ever claim to be a follower of a false religion.

Here is a short summary of some important facts about the resurrection. Take a listen but know there is more to it than this:

The Minimal Facts Approach

First, understand that no contemporary civilization at that time believed in the idea that a single person could die and be resurrected in time. None of them. This point is made in a very powerful (and long) analysis done by theologian N.T. Wright in his massive volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

So, in that kind of environment, defenders of Christianity refer to a way to understand the truth and historical reality of the resurrection as "The Minimal Facts Approach" and it is this. There are five central facts about the historicity of the resurrection that even opponents of Christianity admit are true:

1.  Jesus died by crucifixion on a Roman cross
2.  Jesus disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
  • They claimed it (Paul, oral tradition, written tradition)
  • They believed it (7 ancient sources attest to their willingness to suffer and die for it)
3.  The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed
4.  The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed and became the leader of the church in Jerusalem
5.  The Empty tomb

There is plenty of evidence to support each one of these facts. Something happened to cause each of them to occur and that something has to explain all of them, not just some. The only plausible explanation that fits all five is that Jesus really did resurrect bodily exactly as the Bible says He did.

This is a very powerful argument and you can read more about it in this very accessible book:
The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona

CCS SLEW -- "Does The Existence of Evil Disprove God?"

The number one objection to the existence of God, by far, is the reality of evil. But there are two points to remember when you are confronted with this question.

1) It assumes that there is actual evil in the world.
2) Both those who believe in God, and those who don't, have to be able to offer an explanation for it.

Considering 1): for those who believe in Christianity, there is an explanation that fits both what we see in the actual world and what the Bible tells us about it. As it turns out, these match up very consistently and reasonably. Watch this video and give it some thought ...

As it turns out, Christianity has a very unique outlook regarding evil and suffering because the God who allows us free will is also a God who has shared in our experience of suffering. But, at the same time, He also loves us in spite of our rebellion and offers Himself as a rescuer from its consequences.

No other God does such a thing.

Keeping these in mind, we understand that for us to claim something is evil requires that there must be some kind of standard that exists outside of us by which evil is measured. That Standard is God's character. Good is a reflection of Him. Evil is the absence of His character.

Considering 2), any worldview that denies the existence of God has no basis for claiming anything as "evil." There may be things that people don't like -- personal preferences they think are bad -- but without a standard to measure those things by, there is no way to claim they are evil.

As it turns out, atheism has no basis for saying anything is wrong, or bad, or evil beyond the fact that atheists don't like it. Christianity has a perfectly reasonable explanation for evil.

Evil ends up being proof that God exists.

Please understand that this does not mean atheists can't be moral, nice, kind people. It just means that their worldview has no explanation for why they should be moral, nice, kind people.

Other Resources
Why is a good God more plausible than an evil God? 

Other Blog Posts
"The Cries That Bind": An essay on the common human tendency to wonder where God is when we see or experience suffering, and how asking that question puts us in the company of faithful giants.
"Biblical Glass Houses": Are we hypocritical in saying that there is a difference between the violence we see perpetrated by Israel in the Bible and the jihad we see being perpetrated by Islamic terrorists today?