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Showing posts from April, 2005
Assessing the probability of miracle claims

This is the first part of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. For those interested in reading the remainder of the response to Martin, further installments will be published on this blog. The entire response is also available here.

In his introduction Mr. Martin outlines an argument which begins plausibly enough: that a miracle claim is initially improbable, and in light of this, miracle claims should be disbelieved unless the evidence is strong. I agree that miracles of that kind are not events we see every day and that miracle claims should be met with skepticism at first. But are all miracles equally unlikely? Mr. Martin acknowledges that miracle claims should be assessed relative to our background knowledge and to the probability of altern…
National Geographic Gives Fairer Review of Intelligent Design

A couple of months ago, National Geographic Magazine ran an article on Darwinian Evolution entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" (available on-line only in abstract) that basically took the position that Darwinian Evolution was a proven fact. In fact the first word of the article was answering the title with a large "No." At that time, I commented in a short essay entitled "Some Scientists Support Textbook Disclaimers" that the Natinoal Geographic article:

. . . proceeds to give the usual Darwinian evidence supporting evolution by natural selection, including conversations by the author, David Quammen, with a couple of scientists who are devotees of the present scientific paradigm.

Of course, there is no counter to this article. There is no article by scientists who disagree with the Darwinian paradigm. There is no discussion in the article itself of the views of these scientists or discussions with these…
Revealing Revelations

NBC's Revelations opened to strong ratings. I also gave a somewhat positive review of the first installment, here. Unfortunately, the last two episodes focused less on questions of faith and skepticism, and more on Satanists and the sexual tension between the Nun and the Skeptical Scientist. Frankly, I do not think that Satanists pose all that much threat to the civilized world. Nor do I think it is Satanists who will usher in the "end times." And when the Skeptical Scientist suggests that the Nun change into something less conspicuous to avoid their pursuers, does it have to be a "sexy" red dress? That's all that was available in all of Rome?

And the use of scripture by the Nun and other religous characters to prove we are in the end times is less than convincing. There is the old "war and rumors of war" bit. And the Skeptical Scientist meekly seems unable to point out that there have always been wars and rumors of…
Inspiration of Scripture: Christ as the Key

This post is a continuation of previous discussions of different views of inspiration.

What I look for in "inspiration" is that the text is a carrier of God's Spirit, capable of making us born again of the Spirit. As Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life." I know there are all kinds of things to be said about whether this or that part of any given text was original, and they're useful conversations in their ways. But we don't worship a book. There are several places where the Bible names its own main point. The point is never itself, but Christ. The information is useful, but it is also the means to conveying God's Spirit and new life. This conveying of new life only works because the content is Christ crucified and risen.

"He (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, this is what it says: The Christ will suffer and rise …
The Deciphering of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and their Impact on Christianity

National Geographic has an article out entitled "Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World" which details how some ancient papyri found in a dump in Egypt is being read thanks to new techonology.

Classical Greek and Roman literature is being read for the first time in 2,000 years thanks to new technology. The previously illegible texts are among a hoard of papyrus manuscripts. Scholars say the rediscovered writings will provide a fascinating new window into the ancient world.

Salvaged from an ancient garbage dump in Egypt, the collection is kept at Oxford University in England. Known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the collection includes writings by great classical Greek authors such as Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Using a technique called multi-spectral imaging, researchers have uncovered texts that include

• parts of a lost tragedy by Sophocles, the 5th-century B.C. Athenian playwright;

• sections of …
Many "Crimes" of Christianity Refuted

CADRE member Bede, a historian, has blogged on his site about the alleged crimes of Christianity. As many people know, Christianity is blamed for a number of the ills that have fallen humanity ranging from the dark ages to the repression of women to sponsoring or approving of slavery. In an essay by Kyle J. Gerkin entitled "Objection #7: Church History Is Littered with Oppression and Violence (2001)", he discusses these crimes beginning his essay stating: "This objection is a statement of fact, which cannot be avoided."

Well, Bede does a great job of "avoiding" the question by listing ten crimes and errors addressed by Mr. Gerkin and posting links to responses refuting each and every one. Bede's blog posts links to refutations for each of the following alleged "crimes" of Christianity:

1. Christianity has opposed the rise of science. Refuting article:"The Mythical Conflict between Science and…
Were These People Just Stupid or What?

James Taranto from The Best of the Web from the Wall Street Journal pointed out this little gem from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky:

More than 700 people joined religious leaders and Democratic politicians at two rallies yesterday to denounce Christian conservatives' use of a Louisville church as a platform to advocate prohibiting filibusters against judicial nominees.

Speakers called both the assault on filibusters and the injection of religion into politics "un-American" threats to religious freedom and to constitutional checks and balances.

The larger of the two rallies, designed to counter a telecast from Highview Baptist Church last night, took place at Central Presbyterian Church near downtown Louisville. More than 600 people came to hear Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish and ecumenical leaders from around the country criticize what they described as an effort to paint dissidents as anti-religion.
Did it occur to any of these…
Ribbons and Bows

On the way to work this morning, I was listening to my copy of Mr. Buechner's Dream by Daniel Amos, when the song "Ribbons and Bows" came on. It has something to say to those who are actively engaged in apologetics -- especially those of us blogging:

Love is a question mark
Life's in a shadow box
God hides himself sometimes
Inside a paradox

And there may not ever be
Anything new here to say
But I'm fond of finding words
That say it in a different way

Chorus:
Does everybody want it nicely
Lined up in little neat rows?
Does anybody know precisely
Just where the wild wind blows?
I can hand it to you brightly
Wrapped up in ribbons and bows
In a sense, this is exactly what those of us who engage in the art of trying to present God in a logical way do on a regular basis. There is much about God that is hidden. We cannot fully grasp God and his ways, but we attempt to make sense of His truth based upon what He has chosen to reveal to us within the limits of our human re…
Is it Necessarily True that Mark 16:9-20 is an Interpolation?

Last night, I read a question from a friend concerning the relationship between the last few verses of Mark and the idea of inspiration. As any good study Bible will point out, the part of Mark that scholars are confident was in the original only extends to Mark 16:8. At that point, my Bible reports: "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient sources do not have Mark 16:9-20." My friend's question asked how the idea that Mark 16:9-20 may have been added fits into the idea of inerrancy. After all, if God was inspiring the Bible, how is it that any portion would need to be added? Couldn't God have simply inspired the later-added verses when He inspired the writing of the rest of the Gospel?

This is an excellent question. There are several ways to approach it, but I want to focus on one: the assumption that because the earliest manuscripts do not contain it, verses 9-20 were added later by another editor …
The Post-Resurrection Appearance to the Five Hundred

The Bible reports that following his resurrection, Jesus made appearances to many people. A non-exclusive list of post-resurrection appearances can be found in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8, which reads:

. . . He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Apologists make great capital of this statement in 1 Corinthians because of of the lack of dispute over the authenticy and the dating of the Epistle. The authorities, with the exception of a few on the fringes of historical Biblical scholarship who doubt everything in the Bible as having any authenticity whatsoever, acknowledge that the author of this Epistle was Paul and that it was written around 55 A.D. As noted by J.P. Moreland in his book Scalin…
The Inclusiveness of Christ

Many times I have read and heard people talk about the "inclusiveness of Christ," usually connected with an argument in favour of having Christians accept within the Church those that engage in activities that are often viewed as sinful. Specifically this argument is put forward especially in favour of accepting active homosexuals within the Church, and even for permitting the "blessing" of their unions, if not outright marriage, as well as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests and ministers. To quote one such advocate, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopalean Church in Los Angeles (when speaking in defence of the ordination of gay and lesbian priests):

"Jesus loved us unconditionally. He had an unconditional love of all humanity, allowing for no outcast in this community as he built the true religion, a religion of inclusion and wisdom."

Louie Crew, in an article called Changing the Church: Lessons Learned in the Str…
Historical Jesus: The Talmud on the Era Preceding the Fall of the Temple

The Temple Miracles

In Jesus’ day, the Temple in Jerusalem still stood. According to the Talmud, there were several signs and miracles that people had come to expect at the Temple. One miracle was that, on the Day of Atonement, a certain scarlet-colored thread or strap would turn white in signal that the peoples’ sins had been forgiven and that the sacrifice of atonement had been accepted. Other traditional signs of God’s favor, though perhaps not properly “miracles”, were still seen to indicate God’s favor or presence. One such sign was that, on the Day of Atonement, the lots cast for the sacrifices would come up so that the lot “For The Lord” was in the right hand – it was considered a good sign indicating God’s favor. Also, the western light at the Temple would remain lit (while the others would not) even though it was given the same amount of oil to remain burning. This was seen as a sign that showed that the S…
Empty Churches in Europe -- The Result of Relativistic Ideas?

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "'The Cube and the Cathedral': Why Europe's great churches are empty by Brian M. Carney. Here are a couple of excerpts:

At Mass last Sunday, Amiens's gothic cathedral, the largest in France, was virtually empty. Not just sparsely filled--it was, except for a handful of tourists, vacant. Mass was being conducted in a side chapel fit for the couple dozen worshipers who showed up for it (I among them).

Amiens is hardly the exception. Europe's largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire. And there is a reason for this neglect. In "The Cube and the Cathedral," George Weigel describes a European culture that has become not only increasingly secular but in many cases downright hostile to Christianity. The cathedral in his title is Notre Dame, now overshadowed in cultural importance by the Arc de la …
Faith is not "blind faith" or "wishful thinking"

In a previous comment by Nomad, he discussed the need for Christians to be careful in their use of language when discussing Christianity with skeptics. As part of his paragraph, he noted:

'Faith' always means 'blind faith' to the skeptic, and it never means simply 'belief,' or lesser still, 'trust.'
Nomad is absolutely right. In my view, this is one of the biggest problems in discussing Christianity not only with skeptics but within the Christian church itself. "Faith" is seen as closing your eyes and hoping for the best despite what the evidence may tell you. To those outside of the church (and to many within the church) if you have "faith" in something, it means that you will believe it regardless of the evidence.

You have probably seen this idea of "faith" played out in movies or in books. Perhaps the plot has the hero/heroine accused of a crime and it lo…
Thinking about C.S. Lewis

The recent posts from Layman (God in the Dock: Great Stuff from C.S. Lewis) and Metacrock (A Very Respectful Little Essay...) got me reading my C.S. Lewis again. As is the case with many Christians, Lewis was one of the influential thinkers who helped bring me to Christianity, and though I do not read him much any longer, I own (and have read multiple times), most of his books. My personal favourites, should I be forced to choose, would have to be The Great Divorce and Screwtape Letters (the latter being the first of Lewis' books I ever read, the former was the last, and theologically most influential to me personally, though that story will have to wait, I suppose, for another post).

But what linked Layman's and Meta's posts, in my mind, was the title essay Lewis wrote in God in the Dock. Two points were especially compelling to me (because I have experienced it many times myself). The first was how Lewis noted the difficulty one has in communi…
Did the Author of Acts Use Sources? If So, What Kind and From Where?

In an earlier post I noted that Luke’s tendency to make his sources linguistically in his own impairs our search for his use of sources in the Acts of the Apostles. For unlike his gospel, we do not have any “synoptic” traditions with which to compare Acts. Nevertheless, one obvious use of a source in Acts is the we passages, which I take to represent the author’s own involvement in his narrative. Indeed, the sheer amount of detail and accurate references to Paul’s ministry in the we passages adds weight to the argument for authorial participation:
The we-sections are disproportionately lengthy and detailed, in comparison with the rest of Acts, which, in narrative, is usually brisk and succinct. The fact that the we-sections have not been cut to a suitable length strongly suggests that they are extended personal reminiscence in which eyewitnesses sometimes indulge.
J.M. Gilchrist, “The Historicity of Paul’s Ship…
God is Omniscient -- but then He already knew that

Three of God's characteristics are described with "omni" words: omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (present everywhere) and omniscient (all-knowing). Of these three, it seems to me that the idea that God would be omniscient is the most easy to defend. Of course, About.com's atheism page disagrees (". . . the concept of omniscience is so badly flawed that it casts serious doubt upon the validity of traditional god-concepts which have made use of it as a characteristic"), but then the About.com page rarely gets anything right.

In tonight's episode of Faith Under Fire (Saturday nights on PAX TV at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time and 9:00 Central and Mountain Times in the United States) the question of God's omniscience is going to be discussed together with segments which have questions about gay clergy and whether gay people can become straight. While each of the segments are important issues i…
NBC's New Show "Revelations"

Always interested in how Hollywood views Christianity, I made a point of watching NBC's new miniseries, Revelations, last night. The show stars Bill Pullman as a skeptical scientist whose daughter was murdered by satanists and Natascha McElhone (from Solaris), as a Nun searching for (and finding) evidence that the world is heading into the "Last Days." This is no Left Behind. It is not a "Christian" show, but it is a show about Christianity. Or, at least, about a hollywoodish spin on the Book of Revelation.

And what does Christianity mean to hollywood? Catholicism, apparently. It's kind of odd that although the "end times" fervor in American Christianity is located mostly in Protestant sects, the only Christians in the show seem to be Catholics (certainly the only clergy that matters are Catholic). Maybe Hal Lindsey will make a guest experience later.

I thought the first episode was pretty good. …
The Ultimate Intelligent Design Blog

For those readers who cannot get enough Intelligent Design, here is the mother of all ID blogs. Starting just this month, contributors include William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells. Quite a line up. Looks well done, too.