CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Having lived in Houston and weathered some hurricanes in my day, including a direct hit by Alicia, I have watched closely the devastation caused by Katrina. And it is clear that the devastation is unlike anything the United States has experienced. This is not just a regional problem, it is a national tragedy.

Unlike what you might see depicted by Hollywood, the biggest threat of Category 4 Hurricanes can be the flooding. The wind is dangerous too and causes significant property damage and some loss of life. But the water is unstoppable and often inescapable. That appears to be the case along the Gulf Coast states of Missippi, Alabama, and Louisana. There are reports that due to breached levees in New Orleans, the city is still flooding. Many people have been rescued, but there are disturbing reports of dead bodies being brushed aside as rescuers focus on saving the living. The death toll is certain to rise and hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to be homeless for some time.

In a previous post, I defended Americans from the charge that they are uncharitable. I trust that we can prove ourselves again and the signs are encouraging. Ford is letting customers defer their payments for two months without penalty, Anheuser-Busch is sending three-hundred thousand cans of drinking water, Lowe's is sending trucks of supplies and matching contributions up to $1 million, Walmart has already donated $1 million to the Salvation Army's relief fund and is sending trucks of supplies to the area. Petco is even raising money for the care of pets that survive Katrina.

Please pray and contribute as you can. I suggest the Salvation Army, but there are many worthwhile charities.

Some scholars question whether 2 Thessalonians was written by Paul. Their arguments seem to be based on the belief that 2 Thessalonians is too similar to 1 Thessalonians while also suggesting that 2 Thessalonians is too different from 1 Thessalonians (and other Pauline epistles). Online, Dr. Daniel Wallace provides a perusasive argument for its authenticity. As his article makes clear, the external evidence for the autheniticity of 2 Thessalonians is very strong:

Not only is 2 Thessalonians found in Marcion’s canon and the Muratorian canon, but it is also quoted by name by Irenaeus, and was apparently known to Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Polycarp. Further, it is found in the most ancient MSS (including the old Latin, old Syriac, and p46), suggesting its full acceptance from a very early period. Although not as strong as the evidence for the Hauptbriefe (in terms of frequency of citation), 2 Thessalonians has nevertheless enjoyed universal acceptance. In fact, the external testimony for 2 Thessalonians is equally as strong as, if not stronger than, that of 1 Thessalonians.

Dr. Wallace also provides persuasive points responding to the arguments from the internal evidence. However, I recently finished reading the introduction to I. Howard Marshall's 1 and 2 Thessalonians, A Commentary, and wanted to bring it to the attention of those interested in this issue. Prof. Marshal provides an able but quite readable response to the usual arguments against autheniticity. See Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pages 28-45. It is relatively inexpensive as commentaries go, and has the added benefit of covering both books. Marshall brings welcome common sense to the issues of the literary structure, theoligical arguments, and the situation of the letter.

I spent a good deal of time over the weekend (especially with the wife and kids at the grandparents) revamping the Christian CADRE's own The Historical Jesus page. We introduce it with this description:

The theory that Jesus did not exist as a historical figure is often referred to as the Jesus Myth. Though dead as a serious academic position, the notion that Jesus did not exist is advanced by skeptics through their various publishing arms and on the internet. Others have argued that though some sort of founding historical figure is possible, the miracles attributed to him must be legendary developments. As a result, one the CADRE's priorities is to educate readers about the overwhelming evidence of Jesus' historicity. On this page are links to articles and books dealing with the question of the historicity of Jesus.

I have reorganized the topics, removed outdated links, cleaned up the formatting, and added a number of excellent articles on the issue. Here are the new topics:

* The Historicity of Jesus: Overviews and Defenses
* The Value of the Early Christian Sources
* Non-Christian References to Jesus
* Pagan Parallels: Answers to the Copy-Cat Savior Theory
* The Historicity of the Miracles of Jesus
* Books on the Historicity of Jesus

I also revamped the Scholarship page, which lists all of the websites, virtual offices, and blogs of CADRE Members, as well as the Resources page, which lists "some of the best and most useful sites to the person seeking to learn more about a reasonable view of Christianity, or to the person seeking information necessary to properly defend the faith in the public forum."

Check them out and let me know what you think. Or, if you have suggestions for new articles or formatting, please let me know.

A new blog may be of interest to some in the on-line Christian community:

Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength is a blog which I'll be writing, covering topics ranging from apologetics to Zen. Most of the content will be outside of the normal editorial content of this blog, hence the new blog. Drop by and give it a read. The site is still under construction; links to my favorite sites around the blogosphere will be coming shortly.

In my recent forays into religious chat-rooms, I have been contending that Christianity is true. What seems to be part of the collective wisdom of these rooms in response to this assertion is the claim that Christians believe that they have the only religion. Other people have their religions, too.

Now, this is a very interesting objection, but it obviously is irrelevant. Consider the syllogism:

Premise A: Christians have a religion.
Premise B: Other faiths have other religions.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, Christianity is not the only religion.

Ummmm . . . okay. That is an interesting argument, but it doesn't seem to get us anywhere. After all, Christians don't disagree that there are other religions, only that other religions are true. Obviously, the undisputed fact that other religions exist is not the true underlying objection that the skeptics on these chat-rooms are raising. Perhaps the real objection is the claim by Christianity to be the only "true" religion -- the idea of Christian exclusivism. Perhaps, the real argument is this:

Premise C: Christians claim to have the only true religion.
Premise D: Other faiths have other religions.
Conclusion: Therefore, Christianity is not the only true religion.

If you find this argument to not be particularly convincing, your instincts are correct. The problem is that Premise C talks about "true religion" and Premise D only talks about "religions." Again, no one doubts that there are other religions, so the claim of Premise B that there are other religions is not at all controversial. But equally important, just because other religions exist does nothing to disprove the claim that Christianity is the only true religion.

The Christian claim is that its belief system is true and the others are false. The mere fact that people believe otherwise, while interesting, is ultimately irrelevant. People's opinions would matter if this were an issue that was being put up to a vote. But reality is not decided by a vote. Reality is reality -- regardless of how we would otherwise like it to be. So the mere fact that people have other religions only shows that differing people hold differing views on the matter of religion, but it does nothing to show that Christianity is not true.

Getting to this point is not difficult. Most skeptics, when pressed, understand that the mere fact that there is more than one religion does not say anything about the claim by one to be the only true religion. The real problem arises because many people believe that the concept of "truth" is relative. I will discuss that more next time.

Tuesday night, Larry King's CNN television show Larry King Live hosted a panel to discuss the idea of teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom. The panel included Barbara Forrest, Ph.D., author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, and Dr. Jay Richards, vice president of the Discovery Institute, who were the only two who really addressed ID. The other panel members included people like Deepak Chopra who kept trying to infuse Eastern Mysticism into the debate, John MacArthur who lost all credibility with the majority of the viewership when he accepted Young Earth Creationism, Senator Sam Brownback who simply reiterated over and over that we should have a robust national debate on the subject, and Congressman Chris Shays who could not articulate a consistent position on the issue other than to express his disapproval that we should be discussing this issue at all when there are so many other problems in the world.

Dave Johnson, webmaster of the fine website Contend for the Faith recently alerted me that the transcript of the discussion by the panel is now available on the Internet here. I wanted to give a couple of thoughts on this discussion, and ask for your comments.

First, I found that the person who came across best in the discussion was Dr. Richards. He kept the discussion on focus on the issue of the evidence for intelligent design and refused to be dragged into the claims that ID is merely creationism -- the only claim really made by Dr. Forrest. At one point, Larry King asked Dr. Richards a question that was asked of me earlier: "Who designed the intelligent designer?" Dr. Richards answered the question in precisely the same fashion that I suggested an ID advocate would:

We can tell that Mt. Rushmore is sculpted, right? You can tell that there was an intelligence behind it. The fact that you can ask a follow-up question about the origin of the designer doesn't contradict the initial claim we can detect intelligence. That's all design theory does, it focuses on these clear indicators of intelligent agency, just like a detective does or anyone would do, in which you're detecting the activities of intelligent agents.

If I may reiterate one more time: ID is not some sort of "Christian science" that is in place to prove that God created the universe. ID merely looks at the evidence in nature and sees samples of highly complex systems which are organized only with the aid of the massive amounts of information found in DNA strands, and says that Darwinian evolution cannot account for this (not "has not" but "cannot" account for this). These complex systems show evidence of design, and science should not be bonded to a precommitment to philosophical naturalism in understanding these issues. It really is that straightforward.

Apparently, Dr. Forrest, who I found to be engaging in a smear campaign throughout her answers, was not convinced. Her main and only point was that ID was not science but was creationism. What evidence did she provide for that assertion in this discussion? Not much. Here was her best shot:

Number one, this isn't about science. Dr. Richards' adviser at the Discovery Institute, Philip Johnson stated that this is about religion and philosophy. It's not really about science. There really isn't a scientific controversy to debate. I'd also like to point out that Dr. Richards' associate at the Discovery Institute, Dr. William Demski has said that intelligent design is the logos of John's gospel restated in the idiom information theory. This is just as biblically based as the earlier traditional type of creationism.

And one more thing. Another of Dr. Richards' associates, Paul Nelson pointed out in an interview just one years ago that they don't have a theory of biological design at the Discovery Institute. They simply don't have a theory, and in order to have a theory -- in order to do research, they would have to have a theory. He admitted very candidly that they don't have any, and there is not one iota of scientific data that the Discovery Institute creationists have produced to support what they say. This is not about science. This is about religion, and political power.

That's it? You are given roughly three minutes of fame on Larry King Live and that's the best you can do? Let me respond briefly to each of these points.

The Johnson quote: While I don't know for certain that he said this, I certainly believe he probably said this (or something like this) because it is true. Part of the larger debate between ID and the reigning paradigm of Darwinian evolution is philosophical. Is science limited by philosophical naturalism, or should we allow the evidence to lead us where it may, even if it has religious implications? As Dr. Richards pointed out:

Arguments in evidence from science have theological implications on all sides, the probably world's best known Darwinist Richard Dawkins said Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. So he was arguing a theological point based on a scientific theory.

That doesn't mean Darwinism shouldn't be discussed in public schools, the same way intelligence design obviously has theological implications. A lot of people like to talk about the supposed motivations of design theorists. But whether somebody is a Christian or Theist, or a Hindu or an Atheist, the evidence and the arguments are what matters. And that's what we're hoping people start talking about, and not the supposed religious motivations that Dr. Forrest talked about or this discussion as if the debate over intelligent design is simply a debate between science and religion. It's a debate about the evidence of science and its proper interpretation and that's a legitimately public debate.

Regarding the Dembski quote: Again, I don't know where he said this, but I have no reason to believe he didn't. Dembski, if I read him right, does believe that the designer behind the design we see in the universe is God (the Christian God, that is), but the fact that he believes such a thing does not mean that ID advocates that God is the designer. ID merely says that there is evidence for design and does not specify or identify the creator. It could be God, it could be Brahma, it could be intelligent chemical beings that live in the cells and shepherd the constituent parts to their places. ID doesn't know, and does not make any assertions on that issue.

Regarding the Nelson quote: I don't know that he said this, but if he did, then it is not inconsistent with this being a science. ID is very limited in what it does. It focuses on those things that show evidence of design and tries to identify them. No, it doesn't have a broad theory of biological design. Neither does it have a theory of economics. So what? And there is no evidence? She really needs to read up more on ID because they point to very specific things that we can see (such as the flagellum and the incredible complexity of the nano-techonology apparent in the cell) as evidence for design.

Dr. Richards did a great job on Larry King Live, and the mere fact that this is being discussed on such a forum is further evidence that ID is making an impact and changing the way people are seeing this issue. Dr. Forrest, I call on you and all other Darwinian advocates to stop trying to stop the debate. Let's examine this closely and put aside your efforts to paint this whole things as creationism in disguise. That is a rhetorical war you are losing and are going to lose.

Any comments?

Category: Intelligent Design

People who are active in apologetics often hear or read the opinions of various skeptics about how this or that skeptic was formerly Christian, but then they "wised up" or "learned better." This is consistent with the idea held by many people that a belief in God (or a god) is irrational because there is no evidence that such a god exists. Ignoring for a moment that a claim that "no evidence exists" stems from a failure to recognize the distinction between "evidence" and "proof", this position implies that it is possible to rationally infer the true state of affairs, i.e., that there is no God and that the universe is the end result of purely physical processes acting in a closed system. This view fails to recognize within itself a deep logical problem hidden beneath the surface. If the speaker is correct that there is no god and Materialism constitutes the explanation for the universe as we know it, then they are irrational to think so.

This past week, I was reading Victor Reppert’s fine book, C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, wherein he adopts and defends C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason. In the course of the book, he proposes a syllogism that argues that a belief in materialism ought to be rejected because it negates its own belief. While reading his arguments, it occurred to me that even if materialism is true, the belief "materialism is true" appears to be necessarily irrational.

A. Understanding Materialism

First, let me clarify the meaning of "Materialism." Materialism begins with the worldview that the universe is all that exists, and nothing exists beyond the universe. In other words, the universe is a closed causal system. This belief that the universe is everything leads to the view that everything that exists in the universe results from the application of physical processes on the basic materials in the universe, and those materials were themselves formed by the physical processes of the universe. For example, stars come together and act the way they act due to a combination of physical laws, chemistry, electromagnetism, etc. acting upon the star’s constituent elements (which themselves arose as the result of purely physical processes). When the star kicks off a solar flare, such a flare is the result of the combination of these physical processes acting on the star’s constituent elements.

Materialism, as a worldview, is akin to a religion. It is a belief that cannot be positively affirmed through scientific testing, but which serves as the basis for the entire understanding of the universe and how it works. While there are differing sects of Materialism, Victor Reppert identifies three traits that all sects of materialism share:

a. "The physical level is to be understood mechanistically."
b. "The physical order is causally closed."
c. "Given the state of the physical, there is only one way the mental can be."

B. Materialism and Rational Inference.

With this understanding of the basic traits of Materialism, we can reason that if Materialism is true, then the universe has no outside intelligence which imbued humanity with the ability to reason. Reason, or what we understand as reason (or more accurately, rational inference) arises solely from physical forces acting on our brains. Thinking is no more than (and cannot be more than) the end result of our brain cells interacting with and reacting to the electro-chemical occurrences in our brain. While the creation of a thought is much more complex than the creation of a solar flare, both can traced their genesis to purely physical processes.

If physical processes are all there is and explain the existence of all matter and how it acts, and if human beings are no more than evolved gatherings of physical cells that act as they do because of these physical processes, then everything about human beings, including their ability to engage in rational inference, is the end result of these natural processes and only these natural processes.

C. Two Syllogisms and a Hobson’s Choice

If it is true that human beings are merely the end result of a series of physical processes and that our perceived ability to engage in rational inference is the end result of those processes, then it leads to a Hobson’s choice for Materialists. The choice is shown by the following two Syllogisms.

Syllogism 1:

Premise A: If Materialism is true then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.

Premise B: If all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes then no belief can be rationally inferred.

Conclusion 1: Therefore, if Materialism is true then no belief can be rationally inferred.

Premise D: “Materialism is true” is a belief.

Conclusion 2: Therefore, if Materialism is true then “Materialism is true” cannot be rationally inferred.

Premise F: If a person claims to have a rationally inferred belief that cannot be rationally inferred then such a belief is necessarily irrational.

Conclusion 3: If materialism is true, the belief that “Materialism is true” is necessarily irrational.

Syllogism 2:

Premise G: If materialism is false, then beliefs are not necessarily explainable solely in terms of non-rational causes.

Premise H: If all beliefs are not necessarily explainable solely in terms of non-rational causes, then there is a possibility that a belief can be rationally inferred.

Premise I: “Materialism is true” is a belief.

Conclusion 4: If materialism is false, then there is a possibility that “Materialism is true” can be rationally inferred.

Both arguments (each of which is merely the converse of the second) depend on the truth of the statement “If Materialism is true then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.” Is this true? It seems to follow from the fact that Materialism posits that we are in a closed universe. If there is no outside intelligence that has imbued us with the ability to engage in rational inference, then what we call “rational inference” must be the result of the physical processes acting on our brain cells. In such circumstances, is there really such a thing as rationality, or is it more appropriate to say that the reason that a person has “rationally inferred” proposition X is because their in their present brain state they could not believe otherwise? I think that the argument that it must be the latter is very strong.

This raises the interesting question for Materialists: if Materialism is true then you may be right, but you could not arrive at that conclusion through rational inference and you have decided this issue irrationally. If Materialism is untrue, then you can at least rationally arrive at that conclusion even though you are wrong. Which is preferable?

This morning's breaking news articles state that Pat Robertson, on air on the 700 Club on CBN, called for the assassination of the Venezuelan president.

The Bible opposes murder, and makes no distinction between assassination and murder.

I'd encourage Christians to raise a loud outcry against Robertson and demand that he retract his statement. I'd also encouarge Christians who have anything to do with Robertson to have nothing further to do with him while he calls for murder.

Update 08/25/2005

In a welcome move, Pat Robertson apologized for having called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela. Roberton's apology mentioned respecting the opinions of those who disagree with him, a review of the positive defenses of assassination, and positive comments about the volume of publicity generated by the controversy. While some of those comments tend to undermine the strength of the apology overall, it is at least a step in the right direction.

Steve Wagner wrote an excellent post yesterday commenting on Mary Ann Glendon's "The Women of Roe v. Wade" article. Gledon writes:

“But it took some time before growing numbers of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews stepped forward to point out that when people advance their moral viewpoints in the public square, they are not imposing anything on anyone. They are proposing. That’s what citizens do in a democracy—we propose, we give reasons, we vote. It’s a very strange doctrine that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints. And it’s very unhealthy for democracy when the courts—without clear constitutional warrant—deprive citizens of the opportunity to have a say in setting the conditions under which we live, work, and raise our children.”

After revealing the precise quote from Glendon, Steve applies her teaching by playing it out in a hypothetical context of a conversation"

"When I express a moral view in the public square, I’m not imposing my view, I’m proposing a view for your consideration. If you think I’ve forced my view just because I think I’m right, you’ve misunderstood. I’m offering an opinion you don’t have to accept. Sure, I think you’d be foolish to reject my view, for this reason and this reason and that one over there, but there’s no force involved."

Scott Klusendorf adds his wealthy two-cents by proposing it this way:

“Look, I’m not imposing my view. I’m making a proposal. That’s what citizens do in a constitutional republic like ours. Are you saying that I shouldn’t be allowed a voice or a vote in our democratic process? If so, who are you to impose that view on me?”

Cross-Blogged at Apologia Christi

One of the big arguments against ID is that so few scientists have adopted it. One of the reason that scientists have been reluctant to adopt ID is the fear of being subjected to the new Inquisition. This Inquisition, like the last, is an ill-informed effort on the part of advocates of a particular worldview (this time, Darwinian Evolution) to convert everyone to their way of thinking not through reasoning and logic, but through threat and intimidation. If a scientist does not fall into line by agreeing to the truth of Darwinian evolution and dares to give ID a fair shake, they are blackballed, abused and maybe even fired.

Not true, you say? Consider the following article from the August 19, 2005 edition of the Washington Post entitled Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article by Michael Powell:

Evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg made a fateful decision a year ago.

As editor of the hitherto obscure Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg decided to publish a paper making the case for "intelligent design," a controversial theory that holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand -- subtle or not -- of an intelligent creator.

Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution -- which has helped fund and run the journal -- lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.

"They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists," said Steinberg, 42 , who is a Smithsonian research associate. "I was basically run out of there."

An independent agency has come to the same conclusion, accusing top scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History of retaliating against Sternberg by investigating his religion and smearing him as a "creationist."

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which was established to protect federal employees from reprisals, examined e-mail traffic from these scientists and noted that "retaliation came in many forms . . . misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian Institution and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false."

"The rumor mill became so infected," James McVay, the principal legal adviser in the Office of Special Counsel, wrote to Sternberg, "that one of your colleagues had to circulate [your résumé] simply to dispel the rumor that you were not a scientist."

(Emphasis added.)

Keep in mind that 400 scientists have, despite the backlash that comes upon them for daring to question the reigning evolutionary paradigm, signed a "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism." As I said in the conclusion of my own essay on why scientists were not adopting ID:

In light of the misrepresentations of the pro-evolution community about the nature of the claims of intelligent design, and given the repercussions that could befall these scientists, the fact that 100 scientists [now 400 scientists] were willing to sign their names to this document forcefully establishes the depth of thir concerns. While the numbers of scientists questioning Darwinism does not establish that Darwinian Evolution is wrong, clearly, the most relevant number is not the large number of scientists who accept the status quo, but the number of scientists willing to stand up to potential ridicule to question one of the central dogmas of 21st Century science.

The example of Richard Sternberg is just another example of the ongoing Inquisition by Darwinists. Recognize it for what it is.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.

Addendum: Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea and of the blog dangerous idea, noted that the letter to Mr. Sternberg from the Office of Special Counsel has been posted on the Internet here. The letter is very revealing. Consider the following story spelled out in the letter, the second paragraph of which is amazing:

An e-mail by a NMNH scientist that was sent to your supervisor sums up the sentiment of the e-mails, as it relates to this issue. It reads, "The whole situation sounds like a pain in the... neck. Hopefully, the ID folks will get distracted with something else soon. After spending 4.5 years in the Bible Belt, I have learned how to carefully phrase things in order to avoid the least amount of negative repercussions for the kids. And I have heard many amazing things!! The most fun we had by far was when my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the 'under dog' part..." The e-mail concludes by lamenting that the school teacher was "religious" and it was unfortunate that there was "anti-evolution education" in the schools.

Of great import is the fact that these same SI and NMNH employees immediately aligned themselves with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Our investigation shows that NCSE is a political advocacy organization dedicated to defeating any introduction of ID, creationism or religion into the American education system. In fact, members of NCSE worked closely with SI and NMNH members in outlining a strategy to have you investigated and discredited within the SI. Members of NCSE, furthermore, e-mailed detailed statements of repudiation of the Meyer article to high level NMNH officials. In turn they sent them to the Society. There are e-mails that are several pages in length that map out their strategy. NCSE recommendations were circulated within the SI and eventually became part of the official public response of the SI to the Meyer article. OSC is not making a statement on whether the SI or NMNH was wrong or right in aligning with the NCSE, although OSC questions the use of appropriated funds to work with an outside advocacy group for this purpose. This is only discussed to show that the actions taken on the part of SI employees clearly had a political and religious component. Therefore, it may lend credence to your allegations that your religious and political affiliations were investigated and made a part of the actions taken against you.

You allege in your complaint that SI managers questioned people that they thought to be your friends at the SI, regarding your religion and your political affiliations. According to your complaint, this occurred on at least two occasions. You learned this through direct statements made to you by the individuals that were questioned. As stated above, our investigation has not been allowed to proceed through the interview process. We have not been able to question the individuals involved in the alleged conversations to determine if the facts would support a specified legal conclusion.

Nevertheless, the current investigative file reflects support for your allegations. First, the e-mail traffic does show that there were meetings between the individuals in question during the time frame that you allege in the complaint. For some reason there was no official record kept by the SI of what was stated in the meetings, at least based on what has been provided to OSC to date. Further, a second e-mail drafted by this same manager several months later admits that one of these meetings to place and, more importantly, these issues were discussed. To put this in context, at the same time many other actions were taken during the uproar over the Meyer article your supervisor was questioning your friends about your personal political and religious background.

C'mon, someone . . . anyone, make the case that this isn't Inquisitorial. Go ahead. I'm waiting.

It’s an ongoing question in Christian circles how far back Genesis is to be taken as historical. Here I will briefly cover some points that weigh on the historicity of Abraham in particular.

First, there's the Hebrew account of Abraham from the Bible. Where the Hebrew accounts bear on Hebrew history, most of the record have been kept by the Hebrews (understandably enough). But the Hebrew records do also record things of interest to other surrounding nations particularly Arabia. Some of these points are as follows:

  • Abraham was son of Terah (son of Nahor, son of Serug, etc., Genesis 11);
  • His firstborn son Ishmael was by his Egyptian maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16).
  • While Ishmael was still very young; Abraham’s wife Sarai mistreated Hagar and she fled into the wilderness. Hagar was distressed; God (or an angel of God) showed her water. (Similar accounts in Genesis 16 while Hagar was pregnant with Ishmael and Genesis 21 after Ishmael was weaned have led people to speculate whether these are the same account recorded twice, or two different instances of seeking water in the wilderness.)
  • When Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael buried him beside Isaac’s mother Sarah (Genesis 25).
  • Ishmael had 12 sons: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jedur, Naphish, and Kedemah (Genesis 25).

Different camps of scholars give different dates for the Torah, but it is written at soonest several centuries after the events recorded for Abraham’s life. Is there anything to corroborate the Torah’s record? On this point the Arab traditions bear mentioning. According to the Arab traditions:

  • Ibrahim was the son of Tarih (son of Nahur, son of Sarugh, etc.)
  • Ibrahim’s son Ismail was born of a woman named Hagar, who was an Egyptian.
  • Mecca was founded at the place where Ismail drank water shown to him by an angel of God when he was a small child accompanied by his mother. (This well is considered sacred to this day and is visited by Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.)
  • Ismail had 12 sons: Nabit, Qaydhar, Adhbul, Mabsha, Misma, Mashi, Dimma, Adhr, Tayma, Yatur, Nabish, and Qaydhuma. The Arab tribes trace their descent from these sons of Ismail.
  • Ismail was buried beside his mother Hagar in what is now Mecca.
  • The Arabs recognize the same site in Israel as do the Hebrews as the final resting place of Ibrahim/Abraham.

Arab culture has historically depended heavily on oral tradition. The earliest written record for which I have an English translation is far after the date of the events: Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, from after the days of Mohammed, which preserves traditions of early Arab history and of the genealogy of Mohammed and of Arab tribes. It must be mentioned that this book was written millennia after the fact and claims, for this part of the record, to be reporting ancient traditions. The date gap should not be dismissed without consideration. Is there any reason to accept either record as authentic?

The foremost reason to accept the accounts would be the fact that they agree so largely with each other.

If someone were to argue that the Arabs borrowed from the Hebrews, it would mean that the genealogy-conscious Arab society forgot or replaced their own ancestry with an adopted Hebrew version of their ancestry. As unlikely as that seems, it would also raise the question of why they would have ancient burial sites of Ismail and Hagar in Mecca if they had not had their own traditions about Ismail and Hagar, and why they would “borrow” or even recognize the Hebrew records that Hagar was not buried with Abraham, which is less than flattering to their own culture. More historical dating and older records may become available as translation efforts continue, but for now it seems unlikely that the Arabs copied the Hebrews.

On the other hand, if someone were to argue that the Hebrews borrowed from the Arabs, the same types of issues can be raised as to why a genealogy-conscious culture would adopt someone else’s version of their ancestry. It also becomes difficult to explain why the Arabs recognize the tomb of Abraham and Sarah in the ancient homeland land of the Hebrews, as opposed to locating it in Arabia next to the burial places of Hagar and Ishmael, without the most obvious solution, that the tomb is authentic.

Is any of that conclusive? “Conclusive” is too strong a word for many peoples’ inclinations, especially with the translation work that remains to be done. But the history of the people involved, the available records and traditions and historical sites, all make more sense if the history is genuine.

A few days ago I searched on Google for “holiness” – and got about 2.14 million results. I had no idea the web was such a hallowed place. But on closer look the results weren’t very encouraging. First hit: “International Pentecostal Holiness Church – Official site includes ministry information, history and theology, polity and institutions, church directory, and events calendar.” The description seemed self-important bureaucracy, not holiness. (Mental note: How often do people approach religion looking for holiness and leave without a second look because they saw people who were full of themselves instead of God?)

Other search results in the Top 10 … Legacy of John Wesley … a very earnest plea to stop sinning … historical Mennonite movements … the Dalai Lama’s biography, bibliography, and awards (faring only slightly better than the Pentecostals for a summary like that) … and an assortment of Calvinist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic sites (“Holiness or sanctity is the outcome of sanctification, that Divine act by which God freely justifies us, and by which He has claimed us for His own …”).

I expect that each Christian I know could tell me where to find at least one stronghold of actual holiness. But none of those search results was the kind of “holiness” I would hope to find. What is holy inspires awe and reverence. It lacks self-importance, having instead a powerful humility. It lacks dryness and dullness, being an outlet of the Fountain, the source of all things. Frequently beautiful and quiet, often overwhelming, those who chance upon it are overcome with reverence and sometimes fear mixed with joy. What is holy lacks self-conscious mere-prettiness that seeks to copy something lesser and becomes a failure by succeeding. It evokes memories and images of the Eternal, the Living, the Powerful, the Good. It is the Object of our Quest; it makes us realize we are on a quest and that we always have been looking for this. When we see it, we know that this is what we have always sought, always desired, and never could rest til we’d found. We recognize it as the Threshhold beyond which is the Holy One, the most profound object of desire. The holy makes the rest of life seem trivial and undesirable in comparison.

And as for ourselves? Holiness is the transformation that allows us to step onto holy ground without being out of place. It washes us clean, truly pure, and fills us again. The transformation is brought about by that kind of holy encounter that leads us to fall down and worship, to accept and even desire whatever might befall someone who dared to stay. It’s brought about also by the stabbing regret of knowing that we are out of place there until we are transformed.

What about the web search – did I look through any of the rest of the 2.14 million hits? No, the Top 10 convinced me that there aren’t 2.14 million web pages where I could hope to find “holiness”. The Top 10 all sounded as if they’d forgotten the vision of holiness, if in fact they had ever glimpsed it. And if there were really 2.14 million places to find holiness on the internet, we’d all have noticed it by now.

A common claim by skeptics of Christianity is that Jesus never existed, and they claim that there are no concurrent objective histories that prove it. Of course, the claim that Jesus never existed was called "insane" by liberal Biblical scholar Rudolph Bultmann, who said:

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.

Rudolf Bultman, Jesus and the Word, at 13 quoted from Scholarly opinions on the Jesus Myth by Christopher Price.

Still, the claim that no objective historian mentions Jesus is countered by the fact that Josephus, who was not a Christian, and who lived from 37 AD to around 93 AD, mentions Jesus in the famous Testimonium Flavianum (TF). If you are unfamiliar with the TF, it is a description of Jesus found in the extant copies of Josephus' Antiquities where Josephus not only mentions Jesus, but describes him in very glowing terms. The traditional translation of the TF reads as follows:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not cease. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life. For the prophets of God had prophesied these and myriads of other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still up to now, not disappeared.

The problem with mentioning the TF is that it certainly does not seem as if a Jew would make these broad claims about Jesus being the Messiah. Instead, it would seem (and most scholars agree) that the TF has been subject to some tampering by well-meaning, but obviously misguided, Christians.

This tampering has led many skeptics to discount the TF in its entirety and claim that Jesus is not mentioned at all in Josephus. Again, most scholars reject this approach, and there have been efforts to reconstruct the text. (For a treatment of efforts to reconstruct the the original text, see Did Josephus Refer to Jesus? -- A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum by Christopher Price.)

But rather than try to walk a skeptics through the reconstruction process, it may be more productive to point out that a version of the TF survived not only in the West, but in Arab documents. Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title," 10th c.) has an Arabic summary of Josephus' Antiquities 18.63 which includes the major portions of the Western version of the TF without the most obvious Christian interpolations. This Arabic version reads as follows:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to themafter his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

This version, with the possible exception of the final clause seems to be free of any Christian tampering. It seems to me that the final clause can be explained easily by the fact that the Arabian scholar was commenting on what Josephus had written.

The simple fact that this version of the TF survived in Arab writings free of any apparent justifiable claim that it has been added by Christians (given the much lower-key description of Jesus) gives great credibility to the claim that the TF was not created by Christians after Josephus' death. In fact, its apparent freedom from taint has been argued by some scholars as making it closer to what Josephus originally wrote. Thus, it seems as if the apperance of this Arab version, while not finally and fully resolving the issue, puts the onus on the skeptic to explain how the Arab version came into existence if it was not originally part of Josephus' work but was in Arab hands before the Christian interpolations.

Addendum 8/19/2005: One of the problems of being a generalist in the area of apologetics is that I may miss some subtle point that a person who focuses on a particular area may have picked up. So it is with this post. Layman, who has done a lot of work in the area of Josephus and evidence for the historical Jesus (as evidenced by the two links to essays he has written in the essay above) has written me a private note telling me that the author of the Arabic writing reference above was Agapius, a Christian Arab and Melkite bishop of Hierapolis.

I certainly acknowledge that this weakens my argument because I thought, being in the Arab community, that the writing was preserved by Muslim scholars who, of course, would have no reason for elevating Jesus or his ministry in Josephus' writings. The fact that Agapius was a Christian reduces the power of the argument, but it does not entirely remove it.

Even though Agapius was a Christian, he apparently still retains a verion of Josephus' work that does not have the overblown description of Jesus and his ministry contained in the Western Text, and the fact that there is no embellishing of the claims about Jesus strongly (in my opinion) argues for the fact that Agapius did not attempt to change the text in any significant manner (other than the mention about Jesus being "perhaps the Messiah" which is explained by some as an effort by Agapius to respond to Muslim claims about Jesus in and around Hierapolis.)

But even though my argument is weaker because Agapius was a Christian, the point remains: here is a verions of the TF which is free from the overt interpolations of the Western Texts (which can be traced to much earlier dates) which argues that it comes from an earlier pre-interpolated version of what Josephus actually wrote. It seems to me that the onus remains on the skeptics to do more than backhandedly dismiss it on the basis that the last sentence is suspect.

This week's Christian Carnival is up at All Kinds of Time.

I recently noted that a visitor named Brian raised a number of challenges to the idea of intelligent design. Because of the large number of questions that he asked, I felt it better to respond by means of this new blog rather than add to the comments section of an older post.

Before beginning, however, I think it is important to note the general rule that it always easier to ask the hard question than to give even a simplified answer to it. Thus, when he asks his first question, it is a very complex question in and of itself which will require a great deal more time to answer fully than I have in a blog format. Thus, if some of the answers seem incomplete, it is because they are only intended to give rough answers to his inquiries.

Brian’s first question:

If the universe was created by an intelligent designer, where did the intelligent designer come from?

This is not an uncommon objection to both Intelligent Design (“ID”) and to the Argument from Design for the Existence of God (the “Design Argument”) generally. However, since Brian is asking this question in the context of ID, then that is the context to which I will limit my answer. The answer is: we don’t know, nor does ID seek to answer that question. You see, Brian is mixing up ID with the Design Argument. Whereas the Design Argument says that there must be a god who designed the universe, ID merely looks at nature and points out evidence of design. ID does not take a position on who or what designed or the designer’s nature (beyond noting that he/she/it must have an advanced intellect to be able to design what we see in nature).

Brian’s second question is more of an observation than a question:

You are right, intelligent design does not stipulate one or many gods... after all, as the Raelians point out, life on earth could have been created by extraterrestials. The point is meaningless.

I guess it is meaningless only if you are taking the position that the Christian God is the creator and that the only purpose of Intelligent Design is to lead people to a belief in the Christian God. Again, this exposes a misunderstanding of the nature of ID. ID is not about leading people to Christianity. It is about looking at nature and noting that the appearance of design that is recognized by many scientists may not simply be an appearance, but may actually be designed. The identity and nature of the designer is not directly knowable from science. It could be extraterrestials, but ID itself does not speculate on the issue of “who” so much as “there is evidence of design.”

Brian describes his third question as the “more important question.”

If a supreme being (beings) created the universe, how did they (he/she/it) do it? What processes did they use? Maybe we could use SCIENCE, the study of NATURE, as a way of determining how the universe was created? Oh wait, we are... evolution and the big bang!

Because of his obviously flippant attitude, Brian doesn’t see that he is very close to being right. Let me make this clear: ID does not stand in the way of science. For centuries, scientists have studied nature not to prove how nature worked absent a god, but to find out how God used the processes of nature in the creation of the world around us. So, to the extent Brian is trying to set up a false conflict between Christianity and science, he is missing the point that they are not seen by most Christian philosophers as actually being in conflict.

But again, Brian is reading Christianity into ID, and it isn’t there. ID is science based. ID starts with the scientific study of nature but merely refuses to unnecessarily expand natural processes beyond their natural boundaries in order to support a naturalistic world view. If the evidence shows that something evolved, then it evolved! But if the evidence leads a scientist to infer that evolution or other natural processes cannot account for a thing, should a scientist merely accept the reigning paradigm or should he argue that the evidence points in another direction? ID says no. Many scientists apparently think that these theorists should keep their mouths shut and support the reigning paradigm which the scientist is questioning.

This is about integrity in science. This is about looking at the evidence without unwarranted presuppositions. This is about not restricting scientific research to purely naturalistic answers if the evidence points in that direction.

Oh, and by the way, the present scientific viewpoint that there was a Big Bang actually supports the idea of an outside designer because one must ask what caused the Big Bang to bang, where the singularity which banged came from, and why the bang ended up banging in a way that made a universe that supports life (when it didn’t need to).

After a side comment, Brian continues:

It is ridiculous to use your argument that no atheist has disproven the existence of a god! How many times do logicians need to make the statement,

"You CANNOT prove a negative!"

You can't prove that God doesn't exist. Likewise, you cannot prove that vampires, wumpuses, or mermaids do not exist!

Okay, I agree. So why are there so many atheists? If it is impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist, then the best that they should say is that they are strongly agnostic. But that is not what they say, and I take them at their word. If you think that they are being ridiculous, then I accept your word without further comment.

Brian continues:

How do you prove that a god exists? How do you separate a god from naturally occurring forces?

For the answer to the first question, I cannot “prove” that God exists because I cannot “prove” anything to someone who doesn’t want to believe it. If you don’t want to believe I exist, I cannot prove it to you. But if you want evidence, I can point you to much evidence for the existence of God. Try looking over our website which links to many many sources that will provide both arguments and evidence for the existence of God. I encourage you to have an open mind on this subject.

With respect to the question of how to determine God from a naturally occurring force, I urge you to read some of the literature of the ID movement which spends a great deal of time explaining what criteria is used to try to make that distinction. You can agree or disagree, but if you read it carefully and fairly, you will admit that it isn’t pseudo-science.

Brian closes:

If a god materialized in front of you, how do you prove that it is a god and not a highly intelligent extraterrestial (or time-traveler) pulling your leg?

Good question. Answering from a Christian perspective, I suggest that since God has said he will not make a second coming to earth until the second coming referenced in Revelations, I would be inclined to seriously doubt anyone suddenly appearing and claiming to be God. Of course, this is not the least bit relevant to ID which would simply say that the extraterrestrial may be the designer. I suspect ID would say that if it claims to be a god, it is your call as to whether you treat him that way or whether you treat him as simply a rather advanced fellow being.

Category: Intelligent Design

The Venerable Bede cautions against relying on Wikipedia, especially on matters related to Christianity. Given his personal experience on that site regarding the myth of Christian responsibility for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, it is worth taking note of his opinion.

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13

How you understand Christianity makes a big difference in how you proclaim it.

Is the Word of God a set of intellectual propositions to be defended? Well, it can certainly be approached on that level. We can analyze the truth of propositions -- very much like analyzing the nutritional content of our food. But if we always analyze our food and never eat it, we starve. As a group, we Christians often analyze our spirituality, compare analytical models amongst groups, and even have "food fights" amongst ourselves -- all this while many are spiritually starving.

This is a very intellectual time in history, and that is in general a good thing. In my trade as a programmer, I'm glad that information and logic skills are in high demand. But when we think that's all there is, we've done ourselves a disservice. Undeserving ideas like "are we brains in a vat?" actually gain a faddish currency in a climate in which many of us live our lives almost as if we were brains on legs instead of whole persons. Our spirituality can become mere intellectualism.

The problem is not that people are simply uneducated about the things of God, it's that we're spiritually starving. Neither does propositional knowledge, even truly and properly understood, satisfy that hunger. Our souls feed on joy, mystery, beauty, power, holiness, hope, and -- as "unintellectual" as it is to say so -- especially on love. Our soul's proper food is not knowledge about God, but is God Himself. Our greatest command is not to analyze God but to love him with heart, mind, soul, and strength. The analytical person quickly seizes on "loving with our minds" -- but it is doubtful how often our pursuits in analyzing God satisfy what it means to "love with our minds" if the pursuit is dry and tiresome and therefore plainly far from the Spirit of God. Analyzing the things of God is useful in its place, but it amounts to just playing with our food if we never go beyond analyzing, if we never go to the next step of taking and eating.

In the Scriptures, "He teaches me" is offset by "He restores my soul." "Do you understand?" is offset by "Come to me and rest".

Propositional knowledge of God is a dry fountain. God does not present himself to us as a treatise or a syllogism, but as a Person. He does not ask that we define him or analyze him, but that we love him and make him our food, our drink, our Father.

"Knowledge becomes love", said St. Gregory of Nyssa -- and that is the knowledge that honors God. That is the kind of "knowledge of God" that brings people to eternal life.

"The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13

Category: Miscellaneous

In my last post, I noted that God’s relationship to the universe could be analogized to an architect’s relationship to a building he designs. Just as the study of a house cannot give direct evidence of the architect, we can infer the existence of the architect from the design in the building even if we have no direct evidence that the architect exists. We are able to make this inference because by examining the building we can see where it is unlikely that all of the parts of the building could come together naturally without some intelligent design. While it may be possible to explain the existence of individual pieces of the building as the result of natural processes, it is difficult to imagine how they could all converge naturally in such a way as to present the finished product that we see.

Following that post, I felt it necessary to warn about the limits of analogizing in this way. Merely be examining the building, it is not possible to know much about the architect himself. An examination would reveal that the architect had knowledge about architecture and construction, about human needs, and about electrical, plumbing and heating/ventilation systems. There are other things that could be deduced about the architect from examining the building, but such an examination would not reveal much else about the architect as a person. It would not reveal his likes or dislikes. It would not reveal much about his background. It would not reveal anything about his hobbies or his personal life.

So it is with God and His relationship to the universe. By examining the nature of the universe with an understanding that a being that we call "God" is the creator of the universe, it is possible to see that God is extremely creative and powerful. It becomes apparent that he must be timeless (or so incredibly ancient that time has no real restrictions on him) and live beyond the four corners of the universe (else he could not have created it). Beyond these inferences, there is very little that we can discover about this god from merely studying the universe.

This is one of the weaknesses of arguing for the existence of God from the need for a creator of the universe. It seems as if many of the scientists who accept the idea that design is part of the nature of the universe are deists because studying the universe alone and relying solely upon that information for knowledge of God does not necessarily lead to the God of the Bible. Aristotle, for instance, looked at the universe and saw a creator, but his "unmoved mover" was an impersonal god. Atheist Antony Flew wisely saw that the evidence of design is strong using present scientific evidence, but adopted deism instead of Christianity because in his view all the evidence from design requires is a distant, uninvolved designer and not necessarily the God of Christianity.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis also noted that the information that was available about God from a study of the universe was, by the limited nature of the disclosure, not going to lead someone to the cross.

We have two bits of evidence about the [creator behind the universe]. One is the universe He has made. If we used that as our only clue, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place).

Beyond these bits of information, Lewis is apparently of the opinion that not much more can be learned about God from the information gleaned from studying the universe.

Despite its limitation, making the case for a creator behind the universe is a useful tool to an evangelist. The goal of apologetics is to attack barriers to a proper belief in God. In that vein, I don’t view apologetics as the end of the evangelism process, but merely knocking down a wall which may be preventing a non-believer from responding to the Holy Spirit. To paraphrase Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl, the goal of an apologist in speaking to a non-believer is to put a pebble in their shoe which will bother them about their belief systems. In the case of intelligent design, the recognition of the evidence for a designer in nature may lead someone to abandon atheism in favor of some form of deism. If they do this, they have not gone far enough for salvation, but they have taken a step closer to where they need to be.

Is it easier for an evangelist to approach a non-Christian theist or an atheist? I think it is undoubtedly true that the atheist is the more difficult to evangelize. At least the non-Christian theist has a sense of God (even if it is a mistaken belief) and probably is willing to acknowledge his feelings of guilt (for which the Gospel becomes "good news" since it grants complete forgiveness for the sins which generate the guilt). The atheist is a step behind the non-Christian theist on the road to Christ, and so the more difficult to evangelize.

However, if you are trying to rationally explain God to a skeptic, remember that the best way to lead them straight to Christianity (avoiding a sidestep into deism or other non-Christian theististic beliefs) is not the necessarily to lead them through the argument from design. Rather, the best way is to lead them through God’s self-disclosure about himself both in the moral law written in our hearts and in the revelation through the prophets and ultimately the person of the man/God Jesus Christ. In my quote of Lewis, above, he notes that there are two bits of evidence about the creator, only the first being what we can discover through nature. What is the second? According to Lewis:

The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law that He has put into our minds. And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.

I would only add to this thought that the moral law does tell you more about God than the study of the universe, but the moral law written on our heart has also been corrupted to a certain extent, and so the best place to learn information about God is not studying the universe or studying the moral law, but rather studying the Bible. And it is this same Bible that should be the ultimate goal of any Christian to share with their skeptical neighbors.

C.S. Lewis, possibly the best of the popular apologists to ever grace the planet, made the point that it is not possible to directly discover God through science. In Mere Christianity he uses an illustration of a house and an architect to demonstrate the limits of science.

We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. * * * If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts of the universe – no more than the architect of a house could be a wall or a staircase or fireplace in that house.

While Lewis used this illustration to point out that it is within ourselves that we find evidence for God (using the moral argument for God’s existence), it is equally applicable in the area of whether science is the be-all, end-all of knowledge in the area of origins. Using the analogy of the architect and the building, it is most certainly true that (unless you ascribe to some form of pantheism or panentheism that is heavily pantheistic) the designer of a building does not build himself into the building itself. Thus, we would not expect to find direct evidence of the designer by studying the building. However, if there is a designer, there is a probability that we would be able to look at the building and see evidence of an architect behind the building from the way things in the building work together.

For example, looking at the walls of the building alone, it certainly would not lead someone to conclude that a designer exists merely because the walls exist. One could argue that walls of various sorts are common in nature and even suggest processes by which the walls may have arisen naturally. But the fact that it is possible for walls to come into place naturally leaves us far short of understanding how the walls came into place in just the right configuration to form a box shape with a roof on top and windows and doors. Moreover, how are we going to account for the wiring and the plumbing that are also built into the building?

By the same token, it is certainly true that we can explain some diversity in the population based upon evolutionary processes. We are able to see where animals have become better adapted to their particular environmental demands through minor adjustments by survival of the fittest. But pointing out that a seagull's beak may have become more suited to catching and eating fish does not come close to explaining the existence of the seagull and the various biological aids that help it survive in its particular environment. Birds, as a whole, show high evidence of design in their feathers, bones, circulatory systems, and other features. Now even if one or more of these features can be explained in terms of evolutionary processes, how did they all come together? (For more on the evidence of design in birds, see, e.g., The Design in Nature: CHAPTER 2 -- Flawless Flying Machines: Birds. While I certainly don't subscribe to the entire viewpoint held on the site which is more creationist in nature, I do find this discussion about the specialization of birds to be fascinating.)

ID, which is not creationism in a white lab coat, simply studies these types of questions and points out that various processes were so remotely unlikely to come together as the result of natural processes that we have a high confidence that it could not have happened. Keep in mind that all science is similar to this approach -– we don’t know for certain that any scientific theory is "true," all we can say is that evidence is such that we are confident that it is true to a certain degrees of strength. In the case of ID, the scientists who are studying various aspects of origins believe as the result of their studies that standard evolutionary theories cannot explain the universe that we see.

Looking at the universe and biological systems and deducing that the architect exists is, contrary to claims of Darwinian evolutionists, a growing enterprise. Recently, the Discovery Institute has published an updated "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" where scientists from many major universities sign in agreement with the following statement:

"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian evolution ought to be encouraged."

While this statement is not a direct endorsement of ID, it does suggest that there must be more to our diversity and complexity than can be explained in the standard, reigning Darwinian paradigm. And this doubt about the explanatory power of Darwinian evolution is growing. The last such "Statement" published by the Discovery Institute had only 100 signatures. That number has increased four-fold, and I suggest that it will continue to grow stronger as more and more scientists are disabused of the notion being advocated by the Darwinianism believers that ID is merely "creationism in a white lab coat." These scientists have seen the evidence first-hand and understand the arguments and think that there may be something to ID.

In other words, they are able to see that there may be an architect behind the house.

In tracking back a couple of articles, I came across a blog called "From the Front Lines" published by the Apologetics Resource Center with contributions by Dr. Steve Cowan and Jason Dollar. The blog seems to be a fine example of practical application of Christian apologetics in today's society. I looks to be a fine, developing resource.

Following up on Weekend Fisher's fine post on evangelizing Muslims, "From the Front Lines" has a post entitled "Why the Bible and not the Qur'an?", which tackles the claim by followers of Islam that the Qur'an must be true because of its literary beauty. The post reads:

The most popular argument given for the Qur'an's inspiration is its supposed literary elegance. One Muslim apologist, Yusuf Ali, says, “No human composition could contain the beauty, power, and spiritual insight of the Qur'an.” Muhammad himself said, “This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than God” (Sura 10:37). In fact, the Qur’an lays down a challenge which Muslims believe has never been met: “And if you are in doubt as to what we have revealed from time to time to our servant, then produce a sura like unto it” (Sura 2:23). The challenge is for someone to produce a literary work of equal quality to the Qur’an. Supposedly, if this could be done, the Qur’an would be shown to be a merely human work. But, the Muslim is confident that it cannot be done.

This is a very entertaining argument because I agree that all things beautiful are inspired by God. God as the source of all light, must, in my opinion, be the inspiration for anything that man can devise that is beautiful.

Of course, Dr. Cowan takes on the premise that the Qur'an is exceedingly beautful by pointing out that some Muslim scholars argue that it is not in any way superior to other Muslim writings. He also points out that there is a very subjective element in determining whether the Qur'an is the most beautiful of all books. But I don't think you even have to go that far in analyzing this argument. Accepting the premise for the sake of argument that the Qur'an is the most beautiful book ever written, it does not seem to follow that it must be from God.

I am not the least bit inclined to believe that simply because God is the inspiration, that all things beautiful are Godly or inspired in and of themselves. There are many beautiful sonnets that have nothing to do with God, even though the beauty that comes only from God is used as a tool for the transmission of the text. Some beautiful artwork are not odes to God but odes to paganism -- simply look at much of the tremendous art that was uncovered in the tomb of the Egyptian boy-king King Tutankhamun. It does not seem to me to follow at all that simply because something is beautifully written that it must be a direct message from God.

While I think it is important to understand the main teachings of the Islamic faith as taught to through the Qur'an to most effectively counter Muslim arguments for its truth, I think this is one area where common sense and real world experience points out the fallacious nature of the argument.

In a previous post I argued against the notion, advocated by a fringe New Testaments scholar and assorted internet skeptics, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation. Therein, one argument I made was that although a later Christian interpolation would have post-dated the gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances, 15:3-11 appears to be independent of them. One example I mentioned was that 15:5 refers to Jesus' appearance to "the twelve," whereas the gospels clearly record that Judas was dead at the time of Jesus' appearances. More to the point is that the synoptic Gospels all specifically refer to Jesus appearing to "the eleven" despite the fact that they earlier refer to the inner circle of disciples as "the twelve." (Matt. 28:16 Mark 16:4; Luke 24:33). Acts also has "the eleven" deciding how to pick a new member to bring their number back up to twelve. (Acts 1:26). Accordingly, it is unlikely that the author of 15:5 was written by someone who was familiar with the synoptic Gospels and Acts, and to a lesser extent the Gospel of John.

In response to this argument, I have been accused of advocating a "conflict" between Paul and the Gospels. Was Paul ignorant of Judas' betrayal? Was Judas himself simply a later fabrication invented by the gospel authors? I reject such conclusions on other grounds, including Paul's mention of betrayal in 1 Corinthians 12. But for now it is enough to demonstrate that Paul's reference to "the twelve" cannot be used as evidence that he is ignorant of Judas' betrayal and death.

My typical response to this charge of disagreement has been to offer two possible explanations for the discrepancy. First, it is possible that Paul is being anachronistic. He knows Judas betrayed Jesus and had killed himself by the time of the resurrection appearances, but he also knew that Matthias had been added to "the twelve" and had been present for Jesus' appearances. After all, to be a member of "the twelve" Matthias had to have participated in Jesus' ministry up to His ascension. (Acts 1:22). Thus, when Paul says "the twelve" he is counting Matthias among them. Second, "the twelve" is obviously a group of symbolic importance (the Twelve Tribes of Israel) and may not have had a fixed membership. If one disciple was sent out or left the group, a number was added to it so as to keep the group's symbolic significance. This finds support in the fact that "the eleven" were quick to bring their number up to "the twelve" shortly after Jesus' ascension. Thus, when Paul refers to "the twelve" he is referring to the group irrespective of how many members were in it at any specific point in time.

It is possible that Paul was prompted by both considerations. In any event, I ran across some evidence adding support to the second explanation in a fine commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians by Craig S. Keener. Therein he notes:

The "twelve" was a title for Jesus's closest followers, which Jesus as leader of a renewal movement undoubtedly chose to evoke the biblical tribes of Israel (cf. 1QS 8.1-2). Despite the number, one would hardly expect the Gospel writers to have invented apostasy by one of the twelve (betrayal from an inner circle constituted an embarrassment in ancient society); numerical group titles were common, and often remained even when numbers fluctuated.

Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, page 124.

Keener provides a number of examples in a footnote, including Athen's "eleven" (Xenephon Hell. 1.7.10; 2.3.54); "thirty" (Xenephon Mem. 4.4.3); and "5000" really controlled by "400" (Plutarch Alcib. 26.2; 27.1); or Rome's "ten" (Suetonius Aug. 36) and "fifteen" (Julius 79.2); and especially the "one hundred," with fluctuating numbers (Cicero Agr. 2.17.44; Statius Silvae 1.4.24). Keener, op. cit., page 124 n. 272.

None of this proves, of course, that Paul knew that there was fluctuation in the numbers of "the twelve." But it does indicate that we cannot infer from the mention of "the twelve" that Paul was ignorant of the fluction of the numbers in that group.

Everywhere you look you see intelligent design (ID). The lefty blogs, the righty blogs, the MSM ... now the cover of TIME magazine.

Friends, we are watching what happens when an idea reaches the tipping point.

Regardless of where you stand on the debate about whether it should be taught in schools or not, times such as these present a wonderful window of opportunity for Christian apologists. The mind share of the nation is tuning into this discussion.

While most want to spar about whether ID should be taught or not, I want to suggest a different tactic.

Turn the discussion towards the underlying worldview question -- "where do we come from?". Use the Columbo tactic and ask artful questions designed to take the conversation into deeper waters. Here is one way to do that. Ask your friend if they have seen all the coverage in the news about intelligent design. Your friend may want to talk about the controversy surrounding the teaching of ID in the classroom. You can go there a little, but look for an opportunity to ask a more interesting question. Ask something like,

"I am curious. Just suppose for the sake of argument that scientists did empirically discover that life was designed and not random -- how do you think that would affect people's thinking?" This gets to the heart of the worldview issue. Most have not connected the dots at this level. I suspect most will not be able to answer and reply with "I don't know."

If they answer with "I don't know", I would suggest a follow-up question.

"How would it change your thinking if tomorrow's headline was, 'scientists now agree life was designed'?"

They may not be able to answer. Don't sweat it. That is okay. You have dropped a pebble in their shoe for them to hobble around on. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to use that pebble to open opportunities for more discussion.

Cross posted at : The Dawn Treader.

Atheist activist Michael Martin's recent article alleging the absurdity of Christianity contains a number of attacks on whether the idea of God is coherent.

Mr. Martin dwells at length on a series of arguments that are basically different forms of the old question, “Can God make a rock that he cannot lift?” Included in Martin’s grab-bag are: “Can a disembodied being have experiential knowledge of swimming? Lacking this is he omniscient?” “Can an omnipotent being have experiential knowledge of fear, frustration, and despair? Lacking these is he omniscient?” “Can a holy being have experiential knowledge of lust and envy? Lacking these is he omniscient?”

The basic approach of the “rock that God can’t lift” genre of argument is this: “God cannot experience imperfection, therefore he is NOT everything he should be as God.” But the intuitive argument goes very much the other way: that he is everything he should be as God precisely because he does not experience this imperfection. We’ll look at the logical form behind this next. But the first impression of the argument proves correct: that this is a word game, a smoke-and-mirrors trick to confuse people into thinking that imperfection and limitation would be a desirable trait in God, or even a necessary one.

There are basic logical definitions where, on the simplest level, we say that A = A (A equals A), which means that something is itself (obviously). That is generally regarded as unquestionably true and fundamentally coherent. The opposite proposition, A = ~A (that A is not A, or that something is precisely what it cannot be by its own nature) is generally considered the height of what is impossible, incoherent, and illogical. On standard lines of logic, the assertion that A = ~A (in this case, God = not-God) is self-contradictory and therefore nonsense. However, this genre of atheistic argument tries to turn it around and make it so that if God cannot be not-God, God isn’t really God. Let’s look at some examples:

Behind the question, “Can God make a rock he cannot lift?” is an assumption that any mere rock could possibly be beyond God’s power to lift. That is to say, the creation (the rock) should exceed the power of the creator, or the result should be greater than the power of its own cause. When you look at it from the standpoint of the creation exceeding the power that created it, or the result being greater than the cause, it becomes plain that the thing itself is self-contradictory and impossible. “Omnnipotent” is generally defined as being able to do things which are not self-contradictory, since self-contradictory things are inherently impossible. So "the rock that God cannot lift" is inherently impossible, ultimately going against the law of non-contradiction. Martin's series of arguments are on the same pattern. Martin would fault God for being holy and therefore unable to experience unholiness, powerful and therefore unable to experience fear, frustration, and despair, and – er, yes, and incorporeal and physically limitless and therefore unable to experience swimming.

None of these are relevant objections to the coherence of the idea of God. As we’ve already noted, a logical statement in the form A = ~A is usually (and rightly) seen as self-contradictory. It is not the concept of God that is absurd, it’s the objection that "God must be not-God in order to be God" that is fundamentally illogical. This whole type of attack on the concept God is based on an argument of the form if A is A, then A must be ~A (when A = God). In what other field besides attack on God would someone advance an argument of this form? In normal logic, we would hold that if A were ever to become ~A, it would cease to be A. But in the case of Martin's objections against God, the attempt is then made to transfer the illogic from the self-contradictory argument (A = ~A) onto the concept of God.

Suffice it to say two short things in summary: 1) that God having experiential knowledge of being not-God isn’t what Christian theologians generally mean by God’s being omniscient; for God to have propositional and vicarious knowledge of imperfection suffices for true knowledge; 2) the basic form of the argument, that A must equal not-A in order to be A (that God must be not-God in order to be God), is rightly dismissed as just a game which has a logical form but which has a fundamentally illogical content.

From King David's fabled palace: Is this it? by Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, as published in the International Herald Tribune:

An Israeli archaeologist says she has uncovered in East Jerusalem what she believes may be the fabled palace of the biblical King David. Her work has been sponsored by the Shalem Center, a neoconservative think tank in Jerusalem, and funded by an American Jewish investment banker who would like to help provide scientific support for the Bible as a reflection of Jewish history.

Other scholars who have toured the site are skeptical that the foundation walls Eilat Mazar has discovered are David's palace. But they acknowledge that what she has uncovered is rare and important - a major public building from around the 10th century B.C. with pottery shards that date from the time of David and Solomon and a government seal of an official mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

For nearly 10 years, Mazar thought she knew where the fabled palace built for King David, as described in the Bible, might be - just outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Now she thinks she has found it, and if she has right, her discovery will be a new salvo in a major dispute in biblical archaeology - whether or not the kingdom of David was of historical importance.

For that theory, the Bible is a relatively accurate guide, but some question whether David was more like a small tribal chieftain, reigning over another dusty hilltop.

Her discovery is also bound to be used in the other major battle over Jerusalem. That is the disagreement about whether the Jews have their deepest origins there and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians believe, the notion of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a religious myth used to justify occupation and colonialism. Among those who subscribed to the latter view was the late Yasser Arafat.

Hani Nur el-Din, a professor of archaeology at Al Quds University, says that Palestinian archaeologists consider biblical archaeology as an effort by Israeli archaeologists "to fit historical evidence into a biblical context," he said. "The link between the historical evidence and the biblical narration, written much later, is largely missing," he said. "There's a kind of fiction about the 10th century. They try to link whatever they find to the biblical narration. They have a button and they want to make a suit out of it."

Other Israeli archaeologists are not so sure that Mazar has found the palace - the house that Hiram, king of Tyre, built for the victorious king, at least as Samuel II, Chapter 5, describes it. It may also be the Fortress of Zion that David conquered from the Jebusites, who ruled Jerusalem before him, or some other structure about which the Bible is silent.

But Mazar's colleagues know that she has found something extraordinary - the partial foundations of a sizable public building, constructed in the Phoenician style, dating from the 10th to 9th centuries B.C., the time of the united kingdom of David and Solomon.

"This is a very significant discovery, given that Jerusalem as the capital of the united kingdom is very much unknown," said Gabriel Barkay, a renowned archaeologist of Jerusalem from Bar-Ilan University. "Very carefully we can say that this is one of the first greetings we have from the Jerusalem of David and Solomon, a period which has played a kind of hide-and-seek with archaeologists for the last century."

My only issue is the sentence: "The link between the historical evidence and the biblical narration, written much later, is largely missing." That is a conclusion that is held by some scholars, but certainly not all. But putting aside that sentence, the article has further interesting facts about the find that those who are interested in archeology and the Bible should most definitely read.

Today's International Herald Tribune is running a piece from the New York Times entitled "Faith-hate on rise in U.K." According to the article,

The London bombing attacks in July and the identification of the main suspects as Muslim descendants of immigrants have sharpened Britain's long-simmering debate over its ethnic minorities even as the police report a startling surge in crime related to religious hatred.

Figures published by Scotland Yard on Tuesday showed a 600 percent increase in faith-hate crimes since the first attack on July 7 compared with the same period one year ago. At the same time there have been increasing complaints from young Asian men that they are being singled out for police searches.

I am certain that this will type of report will begin a regular avalanche of accusations against those of us in the Christian community saying: “See, religion leads to violence.” This is a common theme among the less adroit skeptics on the web who consistently believe that if it weren’t for religion in the world, the world would be a much better place. (I sometimes think that they think that wars would never take place if there were no religion.) Of course, in holding this position, they choose to look only at the negative side of religious belief, forgoing any recognition that religion has influenced society for the better.

I do not want to rehash the benefits the world has received as the result of the positive benefits of religion, nor am I going to use today’s blog entry to justify the fact that some evil has been done in the name of religion (including Christianity). That is old hat. What I want to point out about this article about the rising violence against Muslims is two fold.

First, before anyone in the Christian community accepts some sort of blame for this activity, I have not seen anything in the article that reflects that Christians are committing any of these acts. Note the information provided by the article:

In statistics released late on Tuesday, moreover, the London police said crimes motivated by religious hatred had increased to 269 incidents reported since July 7 compared with 40 in the same period one year ago.

"There is no doubt that incidents impacting on the Muslim community have increased," said the Scotland Yard assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur. He said most of the incidents reported as motivated by religious hatred involved verbal abuse, physical attacks or damage to buildings, including mosques, such as smashed windows and graffiti sprays.

The increased violence is not by a religious community, but against a religious community. While it is certainly true that some extremists in that religious community are planting bombs which have killed and injured people, there is no showing (and it cannot be even reasonably inferred) that the entire Muslim community in Great Britain supports these attacks. Thus, while you could say that a very small, extremist faction in this community started the violence, a 600% increase in crimes against the more moderate elements in this community is a backlash that is unjustified.

But please, please note that nowhere in this article are any Christian groups being said to advocate this violence. This is not violence caused by Christians, but against Christian principles. This is violence by a crowd of angry people indiscriminately attacking the entire Muslim community for the crimes of a very, very few. Christ, who told us to “love our enemeies” would not advocate this and the church does not advocate this.

This is, in part, my second point. If there are any people who claim to be Christian who are engaging in this type of activity, I urge them to stop immediately. While Christians have disagreements with the religious faith of the Muslim community, and while Christians can hate and condemn the actions of the few militant extremists in the Muslim camp, there is no cause or justification for anyone in the Christian community to attack innocent people simply because of their ethnic background or religion. This is unchristian, and if there are any Christians engaging in this activity (and, once again, it needs to be pointed out that the articles says nothing to that effect), I call on them as a fellow Christian to stop this very unchristian behavior, now!

Today's editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has an article by Paul J. Griffiths, holder of the Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago entitled Mysterious Ways -- How do Christians explain a tsunami?. The article is a review and overview of a new book by David Bentley Hart entitled The Doors of the Sea which Mr. Hart wrote in response to the catastrophic loss of life in 2004's tsunami in Southeast Asia. In this book, Mr. Hart apparently does not propose any new ground, but merely restates the Christian position on why natural catastrophes exist if there is a omnipotent, good God. According to Mr. Griffiths,

From a Christian point of view, Mr. Hart notes, such events are quite easy to explain, if difficult to accept. They are dramatic instances of the fact that the world is profoundly out of joint, damaged in deep ways by the fall of Adam and Eve and the rebellion of man. This fall, brought about by the exercise of human freedom, has altered the very physical order of the cosmos so that what God had intended to be a world of harmony and peace, free from suffering and death, is now a world running red with blood.

Much of this blood is shed by human ingenuity, in holocausts and genocides and gulags. But much of it is shed by earthquakes and storms and tidal waves and plagues, catastrophes independent of human will. This was the case for the quarter-million people who died in December but of course it is the case as well every time, for instance, a stray pathogen robs a single child of life.

Indeed, such tragedies are common. For Christians, they are horrors, evils opposed in every way to God's loving intentions.

For those interested in defending the historic and philosophical truth of Christianity, a later paragraph is quite interesting:

Thus to the claim that the tsunami provides evidence against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God Mr. Hart responds: The disordered world in which we live isn't as God intended and created it. God did order the world in such a way that natural disasters don't happen. The only disaster he permitted was the one that we ourselves succeeded in bringing about, the one that disordered the world in the direction of chaos. God will finally overcome even this, Christian faith teaches. But until that victory is complete the damage wrought by chaos provides no evidence against God. Or, as Mr. Hart likes to put it: The God against whom natural disasters might provide evidence isn't the one in whom Christians believe.

He is absolutely right. The question of "how could a good and powerful God allow natural disasters?" is a good and fair one. It is a question to which we need to be prepared to provide an answer. But when the question becomes an accusation that God could not exist because a good and powerful God would not have created a world in which such things happen, then the skeptic is raising a straw man. Christianity teaches that God did not create the world with such things being part of it. It is through the fall of man that nature fell, too, which is the real cause of evil we see.

I am raising a fine line distinction here between God "created a world" with evil, and God "created a world with the potential" for evil. God did not do the first, but God did the second. The potential was realized through our fall which, like it or not, puts the responsibility for the evil on our heads, not God's head.

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