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Showing posts from August, 2005

A Gulf of Despair: Katrina

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 so…

The Authenticity of 2 Thessalonians

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…

Revamped "Historical Jesus" Page

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 topic…

New blog

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.

Other People Have Their Religions!

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 i…

Comments on the ID Panel on Larry King Live

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 fin…

Belief in Materialism is Irrational

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 s…

Note to Pat Robertson: the Bible opposes murder

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.

"Don't Impose Your Morality On Me"

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, …

The Darwinian Inquisition

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, Sternb…

Is Abraham Historical?

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 whet…

Searching for holiness

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 …

A Different Approach to the Testimonium Flavianum

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 Jos…

This week's Christian Carnival

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

“Who Designed the Designer?” and other ID Questions

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 “D…

Is Wikipedia Trustworthy on Topics Religious?

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.

Food Fight at the Banquet of Life

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 ourselv…

Seeing the Architect Behind the House Part II

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 …

Seeing the Architect Behind the House

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 sc…

The Qur'an Beauty Argues for Divine Authorship?

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 f…

When Twelve Equals Eleven: The Appearance to the Disciples in 1 Corinthians 15

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…

Has Intelligent Design Reached The Tipping Point?

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 ther…

Can an omnipotent God go jump in a lake?

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.…

Has a part of King David's Palace been Found?

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 D…

U.K. Violence against Muslim Community

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 beli…

Mysterious Ways -- How do Christians explain a tsunami?

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 alt…