In his excellent book, The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins predicts that due to the growth of Islam and Christianity on the African continent, armed conflict with religious overtones will continue to increase there. He also predicts that the United States will be drawn into such conflict due to its interests in the region and its continued Christian orientation. Hard to find headlines (at least in the US) are bearing out a portion of Prof. Jenkins predictions.
First, though, a little geographic and demographic background. North Africa, with nations such as Egypt, Algeria, and Libya, is predominantly if not overwhelmingly, Muslim. South Africa, with such nations as the Republic of South Africa, Botswania, and Namibia, is predominantly if not overwhelmingly, Christian. Central Africa is full of countries with mixed religious beliefs or predominant Christian and Muslim nations with significant religious minority groups present. With the growth of Islamic radicalism, tensions in Central Africa are increasing.
Somalia, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, has been a shambles for a long time now. Most Americans remember it for the events recounted in Black Hawk Down, where U.S. Rangers and Delta Force were drawn into a bloody battle in the streets of Mogadishu, the capital city. Although a Transitional Government was formed and recognized by many of Somalia's neighbors, the nation was coming more and more under the control of the Islamic Courts, an African version of the Taliban. In the past few months, the Islamic Courts pushed the Transitional Government out of Mogadishu and back to its last bases along the Ethiopian border.
Rather than see Somalia come under the rule of the Islamic Courts, Ethiopia decided to intervene. Although most Americans remember Ethiopia as a famine plagued land, it actually is a regional power with a relatively well-trained and funded military. Ethiopia is also predominantly a Christian nation, with a long-Christian history. In fact, Ethiopia was the second nation -- following Armenia -- to officially adopt the Christian faith (in the mid-300s). However, Ethiopia is home to a significant minority Islamic population and is concerned about how the Islamic Courts might interfere in its affairs.
In late December, Ethopia -- working with the Transitional Government there -- invaded Somlia, pushing the Islamic Courts back from the border and recently driving them out of Mogadishu. (Some good background to the conflict can be found, here). Rather than take the city itself, Ethopia cleared the way for the Transitional Government to reenter the city and assert control. Recently, the Prime Minister of Somalia returned to Mogadishu, receiving a warm reception by the population. While some Somalis welcome the stability the Islamic Courts appeared to impose, most did not appreciate the imposition of strict Islamic law.
As for the role of the United States, in addition to the training and probable funding for Ethiopia's military, the U.S. has provided satellite and aircraft intelligence. There are U.S. special forces in the region, but I have seen nothing to indicate they are actively involved in the operation.
This kind of intervention in Africa is likely to increase. As discussed above, some of the more stable regional powers, such as Ethiopia and South Africa, are predominantly Christian. Other significant African countries, like Nigeria, are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Also, many predominantly Muslim nations have significant Christian minority groups. With the growth of radical Islam, as exemplified by the Islamic Courts attempt to impose strict Islamic law, these Christian minority groups are likely to face increased persecution and, in some cases, genocide. The growth of radical Islam may also lead to increased intervention by Muslim nations in predominantly Christian nations that have Muslim populations. Due to all of these factors, the Christian nations of Africa may increasingly be faced with the kind of military intervention Ethiopia has undertaken. In most cases, given the U.S. War on Terror, the U.S. is going to find itself backing Christian nations against Muslim ones, or at least Muslim insurgencies.
Update: Two weeks from Ethopian intervention, Ethiopian and Somali government forces have cleared out the last Islamic Courts stronghold. Some Islamic Courts forces claim they will wage a guerilla conflict.
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In his excellent book, The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins predicts that due to the growth of Islam and Christianity on the African continent, armed conflict with religious overtones will continue to increase there. He also predicts that the United States will be drawn into such conflict due to its interests in the region and its continued Christian orientation. Hard to find headlines (at least in the US) are bearing out a portion of Prof. Jenkins predictions.
In light of the fact it is still only the 5th day of Christmas, I thought it appropriate to link to an article by Dr. Jack Kinneer, Adjunct Professor of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Dr. Kinneer has been lecturing about the evidence that supports the Biblical teaching of Christmas, and an article by Grant Van Leuven in the news section of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary website which summarizes his response to 14 popular myths about the Christmas account found in Matthew and Luke. Among the myths tackled are:
Popular Myth: The census in Luke’s Gospel implies that the birth took place in A.D. 6 because that’s when we know that Quirinius was governing Syria.
Kinneer's Reply: Luke’s own internal chronology indicates that Luke, like Matthew, placed the birth of Jesus in the period right before Herod’s death in 5-4 B.C. While we know from other sources that Quirinius was governing Syria in A.D. 6, it is clear from Luke’s own indications of time that he is referring to an earlier period around the death of Herod the Great (5-4 B.C.) as when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census registration. Luke does not conflict with Matthew on this. Luke has a dating scheme in chapter 3 rooted in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, and if Jesus was about 30 then, it computes that he was born right before the death of Herod – do the math. Thus, Luke and his readers know information we don’t about when Quirinius had some kind of authority in Syria in the closing years of Herod’s life.
The only bad thing about the article is that it leaves a little too much unanswered. For example, the next myth tackled by Dr. Kinneer leaves provides too little background evidence to be of much use in discussing the dating of Christmas.
Popular Myth: Matthew made up the story about the appearance of a star.
Kinneer’s Reply: No he didn’t. Modern astronomy calculations confirm extraordinary planetary phenomena during this exact time period.
I would personally have liked to have seen what astronomy calculations he is referencing specifically. But overall, it is a nice and interesting piece giving some of the quick answers to the questions about why we have reason to believe the Christmas accounts presented in Matthew and Luke. As the summary says:
"Popular culture suggests, but good scholarship demonstrates," says Kinneer. "Scripture is very precise on the particulars of the Christmas Story. It all fits with other known facts and is easy to see if you’ve done your homework."
The "controversial" video game Left Behind has arrived and claims of its violent, forced conversion, orientation seem proven flat. I responded here to some baseless charges that the game somehow trained young Christians to murder anyone who disagreed with their theology. I do not have any intention of getting the game myself. I am satisfied with getting Age of Empires III for Christmas. Nevertheless, here is the latest release from the folks at Left Behind:
A statement from Left Behind Games CEO Troy Lyndon:
Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Women of Faith, Outreach Magazine, National Network of Youth Ministers and Promise Keepers are just some of the organizations that support LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces, a PC game. Read below to find out why…
This is the world’s first high-quality inspirational game which intends to model positive behavior by discouraging physical warfare. Our game is the first game ever to encourage the use of prayer and worship as the most effective means to resolve conflict. Physical warfare is discouraged as the least effective means for resolving conflict…and a gamer loses points for using a gun.
In the past several days, numerous people have been and continue to spread misinformation about the game.
Our game does not encourage killing. Our game is not anti anything … it’s simply pro-Christian. The ultimate bad guy is the antichrist who wants to eliminate all faiths and all religions, except his. He is deceiving the entire world.
Our game does not teach the pre-tribulation theology of the book series, except that this worldview is utilized as a fictional backdrop of the game.
In an industry which creates so much gratuitous violence and gore, LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces presents a healthy alternative. We need your help to get the word out!
PLAY THE GAME and find out for yourself that this game is about the battle of good versus evil.
Here is what some are saying about the game:
The Anti-Defamation League, although they speak out against the book theology, says “Conversion to Christianity in the game is not depicted as forcible in nature, and violence is not rewarded in the game.”
AOL says it is a “Positive Moral Message.”
Focus on the Family says “The kind of game Mom and Dad can play with Junior.”
Concerned Women for America says “A game we can wholeheartedly recommend!”
Wired Magazine, “Few are as ambitious and polished as this PC title.”
ArsTechnica.com, “This is a game that Christian parents can buy their kids, and one that Christian kids can play themselves without any guilt about "questionable content."
Women of Faith says that in an industry that is full of destruction with no hope, the LEFT BEHIND game provides a healthy alternative.
Clint Thomas from Chaos Theory says, “For years we’ve been telling kids what to run from and not what to run to, until now!”
Should you have any concerns about this game, please go to the contact us page on our website at www.leftbehindgames.com and we’ll do our best to connect with you.
Left Behind Games Inc.
I checked out the ADL report on the game and found the usual objections to evangelical Christianity's exclusivity on issues of salvation, but it does indeed concede that the game does not glorify violence and does not depict conversion by force:
The game is designed to make force an option only used by players if necessary when their forces are attacked by those hunting them, and any characters that kill others in the game are penalized. Conversion to Christianity in the game is not depicted as forcible in nature, and violence is not rewarded in the game.
The game revolves around "spirit" - a low spirit leads a character to the side of the Antichrist, and players must continually watch their spirit levels to ensure they do not slide towards evil. Killing others in the game deeply affects the spirit levels, and players must have those characters pray to build themselves back up or risk turning evil.
One issue I had been curious about was how the "neutrals" in the game were described. The ADL report addresses that:
The neutral characters populating the game are often members of religions other than Christian or lapsed/not faithful Christians from various denominations. However, the particular religious and social backgrounds of characters in the game does not make them any more or less susceptible to conversion, nor is there any special benefit attributed to converting someone of a particular background (i.e. no “extra points” or “increased difficulties” when trying to convert a person from a specific group/belief).
The report ends by pinpointing "insidious" parts of the game, such as the promotion of evangelical belief, the playing and potential purchasing of Christian music, a link to a site that questions evolution, and -- the horror! -- "giving descriptions of historic Christian sites in Israel." Next thing you know, Christians might actually start taking tourist trips to Israel.
Overall, the ADL's response -- though critical -- is anemic in its criticism. There is no complaint about forced conversions of Jews or anyone else and the point -- highlighted from the beginning here and elsewhere -- that the game discourages violence is also conceded. If the best they can do is complain about insidious ploys to expose evangelical Christian youth to evanglical belief, music, and potential tourist destinations, there is not much to complain about.
Jesus, I celebrate your birth as I give presents to my friends and family. When I decorate my house, my yard, my mailbox, and anything that will stand still, Jesus, I celebrate your birth.
When my family gathers around the table and prays over the delicious Christmas food, we celebrate your birth. When I remember the sick and needy at Christmas, Jesus, I celebrate your birth. And now, Jesus, I celebrate your birth by giving you my life, what’s left of it. I’ve been running it myself so it’s not what it should be. Take me, clean me up from the inside out, and make me into the person you want me to be.
Thank you that your forgiveness, grace and love are free. I accept them now as your Christmas gifts to me. Thank you for coming into my life as my Saviour and Lord. I am saved, a child of God, and Jesus is my Lord.
Prayer courtesy of Trust in the Lord.
Documentary claims Jesus had 'secret' siblings makes a claim that surprises virtually no one in the church -- the Bible speaks of Jesus' brothers and sisters. According to the article:
Author Dan Brown caused an uproar when he suggested in 'The Da Vinci Code' that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had a family. However, a never seen before ancient portrait suggests that though Jesus may have had a family, it might not be the one Brown suggests.
The portrait, which was discovered deep in the wilderness of the Judean desert, in a remote part of the Holy Land in an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of St Gerasimos, has a highly unusual portrait of the Holy Family, for along with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, it also shows the presence of a fourth member - a young man.
And what makes this young man's presence even more interesting, is the fact that though simply clad in a dark robe and carrying his belongings on a stick, there is a golden halo which envelops his head.
According to a controversial Channel 4 documentary, the man's name is James, and reason why he is included in the picture, is because he happens to be Jesus' blood brother.
James' inclusion in this picture is a clue to a real-life church conspiracy to cover up the fact that Jesus did have a hidden family - his siblings: James, Joses, Simon, Jude (sometimes referred to as Judas), Salome and young Mary, reports the Daily Mail.
Now, of course, the Gospel of Matthew 13:55-56 says:
Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this [man] all these things?
So, exactly how is this a surprise that there is a belief in the church that Jesus had siblings? It seems that the Bible teaches on its face that Mary and Joseph had other children, and these children are identified by name.* Thus, the fact that an ancient painting has been found that depicts a single additional child who is thought to be James (who is also identified as the brother of the Lord in the Bible outside of Matthew) hardly is surprising, is it?
But the article isn't done. You see, everything has to be a conspiracy when it concerns the life of Jesus. So goes the article (and apparently, the documentary):
The documentary also suggests that not only did Jesus' siblings apparently play a crucial role in the founding of Christianity, but that their teachings were so much of a threat to the official church that it ruthlessly tried to eradicate them from history by rewriting Christ's life story, fabricating his place of birth, falsely crediting him with creating the Lord's Prayer and even inventing the idea that his mother Mary remained a virgin throughout her life.
It also implies that James, the man in the portrait, was the one chosen by Jesus to lead the church after his death, and not St Paul, as is commonly believed.
Well, I don't think that anyone who knows the history of Christianity believes that Jesus chose Paul to lead the church -- he was chosen as a missionary to the Gentiles. I also don't believe that the church had to rewrite the story of Christ and change history to eradicate the influence of Jesus' brothers. This is all quite a bedtime story since it appears to be based more on fantasy than fact. Of course, if you are one who likes to follow up on conspiracies, well, then this documentary may be for you. But I encourage you to view it with the same skepticism you would put on the idea of an alien spacecraft crash-landing in Roswell and Chupacabras killing cattle in Mexico. After all, absent some type of amazing factual support that has escaped the Christian church for 1,900 years, this is about as believable.
* Keep in mind, that I am aware of the teachings within the Roman Catholic Church that the people described as "brethern" in Matthew 13 are actually counsins, and while I believe that they were siblings -- half-siblings, that is -- I am certainly not taking the position that the Roman Catholic Church teaching is demonstrably false in this post.
On this blog, I have taken the position repeatedly that embryonic stem cells kill babies. Now, in an article from the BBC, it appears that the effort to obtain non-embryonic stem cells has taken the life of several children in the Ukraine.
Cranach, the blog of Gene Edward Veith has a link to a terrible article entitled Ukraine babies in stem cell probe which reports how stem cells are being harvested by killing innocent babies -- what everyone would agree is a baby because it has already been born -- in order to obtain the stem cells from these newborn infants for sale.
Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.
Disturbing video footage of post-mortem examinations on dismembered tiny bodies raises serious questions about what happened to them.
Ukraine has become the self-styled stem cell capital of the world.
There is a trade in stem cells from aborted foetuses, amid unproven claims they can help fight many diseases.
But now there are claims that stem cells are also being harvested from live babies.
Does anyone think that this is justifiable in the slightest? In my view, if true this is merely bringing to the forefront what is usually hidden by the non-human appearance of the embryo in the embryonic stem cell research -- taking stem cells from these babies kills them.
In doing a bit of reading, I came across an article in the American Chronicle by someone named Charles Sabillion. Now, Mr. Sabillion seems to have a solid educational background. His bio says he has "undergraduate degrees in Philosophy, Economics and Law as well as a masters and a doctorate in International Relations. After earning his PhD, he undertook post-doctoral research in the fields of History, Economics, and Ecology." Cool, so he appears to have a high level of education. So, why then does he make such a phenomenal error in thinking as he does in his on-line article Defending the Belief in God is Impossible?
In his article, he makes two separate arguments about defending the existence of God. First, he argues that it's erroneous for apologists for a religion to point to the "worse things" done in the name of secularism in order to discount the "terrible things" done in the name of their own religions. Second, he argues that when the increased world population is taken into account, the terrible things done by the seculars in today's world with its six billion person population pale in comparison to the terrible things done by religious people at a time that the world's population was much smaller. Needless to say, I find both of these arguments deeply flawed.
First, his first argument that seems to be a case of arbitrary line-drawing. He says:
These apologists argue that the twentieth century was a period of secular regimes and those regimes were terribly murderous. That period was indeed characterized by the ascent of not just secular but even atheist systems, such as Communism and Nazism, and those regimes ended up being extremely brutal. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot were effectively responsible for an inordinate number of deaths. The lawyers of religion thus sustain that those secularists killed more people than the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the inter-confessional conflicts of Europe.
That argument is at first glance a strong one because it points at the vast amount of people that were slaughtered by secular regimes, putting the figure at more than 200 million while the religious wars of the past were not so costly in human lives.
The problem with that argument is that it has a biased Western scope and thus focuses just on the crimes committed by the Christian religion. The amount of people that were murdered by Mohammed and his armies as he forcefully imposed his new religion on the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century and the many more that his followers slaughtered in the coming centuries, is huge. The same goes with the other large religions. War was regularly undertaken to convert people into Hinduism, Buddhism, and other creeds. One must not leave aside the thousands of religions that existed prior to the apparition of the large ones of today, for those were just as murderous in their efforts to convert those who did not believe in their ideas.
Let me say that I agree with him that many terrible things have been done in the name of religion. Even Christianity has had terrible things done in its name -- even though such things are really contrary to what Christianity teaches. But when I discuss Christianity, I don't find any reason to take ownership of the terrible things done in the name of other religions. After all, there appears to be no reason for me, as a person discussing Christianity, to have to defend the actions taken by the followers of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other non-Christian religions. I'm in agreement that they are not the word of God, and so I don't see any reason that I should be forced into defending other religions simply because the skeptic wants to group all religions together under the same banner. After all, they are separate belief systems that have nothing to do with Christianity.
The problem with the argument is that the line drawing by Mr. Sabillion is arbitrary. He wants to group all religions together because then he can claim their "terrible things" as part of an overarching generic thing called religion. But it's wrong to group all religions together in that way because they are not variations of each other. They are as different from each other as atheism is from any one of them. So, why draw the line between religion and non-religion?
In other words, simply because terrible things have been done either in the name of Islam and Buddhism or from a twisting of those beliefs (as is what happens in virtually every one of the "terrible things" of Christianity) were done by people who claimed that they were acting consistent with their religious beliefs doesn't mean that some generic "religious" belief is responsible for them. There's no solid foundational reason to gather them all together in a single class simply because they were all committed by "religious" people or in the name of "religion".
Suppose that I were to make the same comparison, but were to make the claim that the appropriate dividing line is between terrible things committed in the name of Christianity or as allegedly consistent with Christian teaching and the terrible things committed by any other religions or a-religious belief. Obviously, using Mr. Sabillion's own admission, it is only because our "Western scope" doesn't include all the truly evil acts committed in the name of religion that Christians can claim that their religious belief is somehow less bloody than the secular killings of the twentieth century. So, if we draw the line for classification purposes between Christian terrible things and non-Christian terrible things, it seems clear that Mr. Sabillion would have to acknowledge that their have been many fewer terrible things committed in the name of Christianity than otherwise. In fact, I'd have to say that that is a much better dividing line for determining which is more likely to lead to terrible acts because Christianity teaches us to love our neighbors while many of the others don't have a philosophical or religious basis for such a teaching.
Thinking about it for a moment, is there a strong reason to divide the world into two camps of religious and non-religious when discussing which is more likely to lead to terrible things? After all, since there is so much diversity of belief within the two camps, it seems rather silly to make this gross generalization of assuming that all religions should be grouped under the same banner. The better place to draw the line is between those religions and philosophies that advocate violence and those that advocate peace. Christianity, while it has been used to justify violence in the past by people who have twisted its meaning, is a religion that advocates peace. If the religion (like Christianity) advocates peace, then it seems rather inappropriate to group it together with religions or secular philosophies that either advocate violence or have no ethical base to oppose violence.
But then Mr. Sabillion goes father and tries to say that if the terrible things committed in the name of religion are worse than the crimes committed in the twentieth century by seculars because the world's population was smaller in the past than it is today. Now, I have to sit in amazement over this argument because of what it is really saying. In other words, Mr. Sabillion is arguing that the killing 10,000 people when the world population was 100 million is much worse than killing 10,000 people when the world population is six billion. Does he really believe that? If he does, I have two words: get counseling. Isn't he saying that if I murder a person today, that I shouldn't get the same sentence as a person murding a person at in 1000 A.D. because I'm only killing one-six billionth of the world's people instead of one-three hundred millionth of the population? Does that make sense?
Oh, and as far as Christianity goes, it has its roots in Judaism, and depending on how you date the Old Testament, it has a history going back only about 8,000 years. Thus, since Mr. Sabillion points out that mankind has been around for 100,000 years (according to his figures) that means that whatever killing went on before that point was all done in the name of non-Christian philosophies, and from 8,000 B.C. to around the Third Century A.D. (when Christianity finally came into some semblance of global authority) whatever "terrible things" were committed in the names of either Judaism or Christianity were limited in scope to a very small strip of land known as Israel. Throughout the rest of the world, all of the terrible things were committed in the name of other non-Christian philosophies. And even after Christianity took over in Western Europe, all other terrible things through most of the rest of the world have been done in the name of non-Christian philosophies and religions. Thus, I think it's probable that in a fair comparison -- even looking back over time and acknowleding that some pretty terrible and bloody things have been done by those who twisted the Christian message -- Christianity has had a much better track record than most of the rest of the philosophies and religions of the world.
Sorry Mr. Sabillion, I think that you have drawn an arbitrary line to try to make your a-religious beliefs appear less sullied. Moreover, your argument that it is somehow worse to kill 10,000 people in the past because of the increased population shows how a person can get so tied-up in trying to make a case for their religious views that they miss the obvious.
The manger in which Jesus was laid has colored our imagery of Christmas. A manger, "[i]s a feeding-trough, crib, or open box in a stable designed to hold fodder for livestock.” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, page 674. Usually, we associate the manger with the animals in the story of Christmas or with Jesus’ perceived poverty. I have several nativity sets which include the manger, along with barn animals. Although I am a nativity set enthusiast, there is a much deeper meaning in the manger.
The manger is mentioned three times in Luke 2. Mary lays Jesus in the manger, the angels tell the shepherds that they will find the Savior by seeking the baby lying in a manger, and then the shepherds in fact find Jesus lying in a manger. Obviously, the repetitive references to the manger are indicative of its significance in Luke’s narrative. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright comments:
[I]t was the feeding-trough, appropriately enough, which was the sign to the shepherds. It told them which baby they were looking for. And it showed them that the angel knew what he was talking about. To be sure, it’s another wonderful human touch in the story, to think of the young mother finding an animal’s feeding-trough ready to hand as a cot for her newborn one. No doubt there are many sermons waiting to be preached here about God coming down into the mess and muddle of real life. But the reason Luke has mentioned it is because it’s important in giving the shepherds their news and their instructions.
Why is this significant? Because it was the shepherds who were told who this child was. This child is the savior, the Messiah, the Lord. The manger isn’t important in itself. It’s a signpost, a pointing finger, to the identity and task of the baby boy who’s lying in it. The shepherds, summoned in from the fields (like David, the shepherd boy, brought in from the fields to be anointed as king), are made privy to the news, so that Mary and Joseph, hearing it from this unexpected source, will have extra confirmation of what up until now has been their own secret.
Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 22.
Wright’s comments are insightful. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and found their Savior just as the angel said – confirmed by the discovery of the baby in the manger. Because of this confirmation, they began telling others that the Savior had come. But Wright’s point that I had not reflected on before, was how this must have been powerful confirmation to Mary and Joseph. As verse 19 states, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” It is revealing that God – on this momentous day – was concerned with providing confirmation that Mary would be able to “treasure.”
But it seems to me that there is yet more significance to the manger than its confirming role. Why did God choose to use the manger as a “sign” of the Savior? Signs are often chosen for a reason. For example, the “blood” of Jesus wiping away our sins alludes to the blood of animal sacrifices in earlier Judaism. So, the question remains, why the manger? The answer, I believe, is found later in Luke (as well as in Mark, Matthew, and 1 Corinthians) at the Last Supper:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
From the day of His birth, Jesus was meant to die on our behalf. He came to offer his own body, his own blood, to accomplish his work as Savior. Jesus offered his body and blood as a sacrifice for us to consume and by consuming that sacrifice we find salvation. As John wrote, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” Thus, it is fitting that the Savior, at the start of his life, would be placed in a feeding-trough as a sign not only of who He is, but of how He will fulfill His purpose and effect our salvation.
To me, that is the meaning of the manger.
Every Bible student and Sunday School participant knows that Peter and Cephas are one and the same. He is more commonly referred to as Peter, but he was sometimes called Cephas. This is not only the conventional wisdom of church goers, but of New Testament scholars. Some online skeptics, however, backed by the occasional outlier scholar, argue that that Peter and Cephas were two different people that came to be merged into one figure somewhere along the way.
The two-people theory rests largely on the fact that a few second and third century sources affirmed it and the vagueness with which the two names are used by Paul. As to the former, the fact that a few post-canonical sources interpreted these passages in a particular way should not be dismissed out of hand, but also is far from the end of the inquiry. It seems likely that the few early sources who accepted a distinction between Peter and Cephas were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to “clear” Peter of the unflattering depiction of him in Galatians 2, where he backslides and refuses to eat with the Gentile Christians. Moreover, earlier sources – from the first century in fact -- equate Peter with Cephas. First there is John 1:42, “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” Second, at 1 Clement 5.4 and 47.3, the author(s) of 1 Clement equate Peter with Cephas. Thus, the sources affirming Peter as Cephas are much earlier and more likely to have had information on the issue at hand, than the few second and third century sources to the contrary.
As for the vagueness of Paul’s references, the supposed indications that Paul viewed Peter and Cephas as two different people are unconvincing. The most prominent passage that uses the names Peter and Cephas is from Galatians 2, where Paul is making his case to the pillars of the Jerusalem Church. It is just after this passage were Cephas travels to Antioch and behaves – in Paul’s opinion – hypocritically towards the Gentile Christians.
But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor-- the very thing I also was eager to do.
A fair question presents itself: If Peter and Cephas are the same, why does Paul refer to them by different names in the same passage?
The answer is that New Testament authors – along with their non-Christian peers – often changed up the names of the people about whom they were writing. In an article on this issue, Dale Allison provided a number of examples of such a practice:
Ancient writers, who in this were no different from modern writers, frequently used synonyms to avoid certain types of repetition, including the repetition of proper names. In the Testament of Jacob, the hero is sometimes “Jacob,” sometimes “Israel,” sometimes “Jacob-Israel,” even in the same paragraph. In Jos. Asen 22:2, the narrator informs us: “And Jacob heard about Joseph his son, and Israel went to Egypt….” … So too Mark 14:37: He [Jesus] came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep?” Compare Luke 22:31-34: “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you…” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison, and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you Peter, the cock will not crow ….” Note also that in Acts, Peter is sometimes called “Peter,” other times “Simon Peter,” sometimes “Simon,” and once “Simeon,” while John Mark is usually “John Mark,” but once just “Mark” and another time just “John.”
Allison, Peter and Cephas, One and the Same, JBL, Vol. 111, No. 3 (Autumn 1992), 491-92.
The same phenomenon of avoiding repetition is the likely explanation for Paul’s varied use of “Christ,” “Jesus,” and “Jesus Christ” in Romans 8:9-11. Oher passages and Paul show the same tendency.
While this does not necessarily prove that Paul refers to the same man when he uses Peter and Cephas, but it does mean that the opposite inference is equally unnecessary. Paul may indeed mean the same person even though he shifts from using “Peter” to using “Cephas.”
At this point in our inquiry, we have established that the two earliest sources that use both Peter and Cephas are referring to the same person. We have also established that Paul’s shift from Peter to Cephas in the same passage does not establish that he is discussing two different men. In my opinion, this would be enough for the reasonable historian to conclude that Peter is sometimes referred to as Cephas. But there is more.
First, going back to John 1:42, we see that there is a linguistic relationship between the names Peter and Cephas. Both are translated, “stone” or “rock.” Peter (petros) is Greek for “stone” or “boulder.” Cephas (cheoas) is a Greek rendering of the Aramaic word for “stone” or “rock.” Peter could have been known as Peter among more Hellenized circles and Cephas among more Hebrew circles.
Second, Paul reports that Jesus appeared to Cephas before the other apostles. 1 Cor. 15:5. This correlates with Luke’s report that Jesus appeared to “Simon” before the other apostles. Luke 24:34.
Third, Acts provides varied evidence supporting the view that Peter and Cephas are the same man. Though Acts describes the early Church and its leaders at various stages, he makes no mention of a Cephas. Perhaps more important is that Paul’s reference to Cephas as a joint “pillar” along with James and John appears to correlate with Acts’ depiction of Peter’s close relationship with John. All three are depicted as the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.
Fourth, Paul describes Peter and Cephas as “apostles” with a ministry to the circumcision.
When combined, the correlation in the descriptions of Peter and Cephas from the New Testament is powerful confirmation that we are correct in concluding that they are one and the same. Allison provides this helpful list (which I paraphrase):
- His name means rock.
- The Lord appeared to him first among the apostles.
- He was a Jew prominent in the Jerusalem Church.
- He was associated with John and James.
- He participated in the Gentile mission, though called to the circumcision.
- He was married.
- He was of “fickle” character.
- He knew Paul personally.
- He was an itenary
In my article, Jesus’ Divinity Within Jewish Monotheism, I discussed the many New Testament scriptures which indicated the early Christian belief that Jesus was divine. While reading I. Howard Marshall’s fine commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, I became aware of more such evidence. The relevant passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6:
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
According to Marshall,
“[T]he day of the Lord is an OT phrase which, whatever its origins, had come to be used to signify that future date on which God would act in power to establish his will. It is above all the day of his judgment; but it also brings salvation. It was taken over in NT use to refer broadly to the time of the End.... The early church naturally understood the "Lord" in the OT phrase to be Jesus.”
Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, A Commentary, page 133.
Examples of such Old Testament references to the "day of the Lord" are:
Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man's heart will melt. They will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labor, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the Lord is coming… And the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts In the day of His burning anger.
Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty. Has not food been cut off before our eyes, gladness and joy from the house of our God?
See also Obadiah 1:15-21 and Zephaniah 1:14-16.
From these Old Testament passages, we can see that the reference to the “day of the Lord” is a time of Judgment from God. There is no ambiguity about the identity of “the Lord”; it is God. The Day of the Lord is the Judgment Time of God.
As Marshall discusses above, this OT usage was adopted in the New Testament. It still refers to the time of judgement, but identifies the Lord of that Day with Jesus. Beyond the terminology, Jesus is seen as filling the role of God on that day. This puts Jesus in a place of very high Christology.
Probably the most explicit text from the Gospels is Luke 17:24:
"For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.”
From Matthew, there are passages identifying Jesus with the time of judgment (Matthew 24:37 and Matthew 24:39).
And in Paul’s letters, in addition to the verses from Thessalonians discussed above, the connection is repeated in 1 Corinthians and Philippians;
“[W]ho will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 1:8.
“I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. “
1 Corinthians 5:5.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“[H]olding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
To this point, I have written several blog entries which seek to expose why Richard Dawkins is wrong (in many ways) in his bombastic attack on Christianity. But I have not yet spent any time on why Dawkins is wrong on his attack on Intelligent Design. Fortunatly, I don't have to put too much work into the topic because The Asian Tribune (which agrees that Dawkins position vis-a-vis religion is misguided) has presented an interesting case as to why Dawkins is wrong in his attacks on Intelligent Design in an essay entitled The problem with Dawkins’ anti-God crusade by Vasantha Raja.
In discussing Dawkins' approach to ID, Raja makes the following statement:
[H]is arguments seem to fail to refute the powerful insights ID theorists continue to develop – which in my view will eventually prove to be positively fruitful for the scientific method itself.
The crux of his arguments, above all, seems to reveal his empiricist prejudices that inhibit development of a heuristically rich model as a methodological guide for all branches of science. In other words, Dawkins’ approach amounts to a dogmatic defence of a world outlook (model) that is clearly being brought into question by the latest discoveries of science, particularly in the field of biology.
The question is whether his line of argument prevents science from transcending the methodological strictures it inherited from post-renaissance empiricism.
Now, Raja takes a position that I have not heard before, so let me try to summarize it (encouraging readers to read the article for themselves in order to determine my accuracy for themselves). He begins by noting that "[a] DNA, for instance, is impregnated with the full potential to determine the general form of the final product." In other words, if you plant a lemon seed you will eventually get a lemon tree. The particulars of the lemon tree that you get depends upon factors in the lemon seed itself and the environment acting on it. However, the lemon tree will remain true to the information contained in the lemon seed.
Now, suppose that the entire history of life (what most people see as the story of evolution) is of a similar ilk. Suppose that within all existence is the information that is necessary to lead to the entire universe as we know it right from the start. In such a situation, it isn't the case that natural selection is the deciding course for development. Rather, environmental obstacles allow the inherent features that have alwasys been there to come to the forefront.
Thus, environmental hurdles must have been just part of the mechanism that periodically brought out the inherent potential of evolving genes. Whether these seemingly separate parameters – the evolving genes and the environmental hurdles - have been parts of a well-coordinated grand design is another interesting aspect related to cosmological evolution.
And, one day, if the 'original seed' that blew up in the Big Bang is found to be brimming with 'information' to guide the evolution of the universe as a whole -- of which phylogenesis and ontogenesis are mere parts -- then the starting point of our universe will turn out to be far more complex than any part of subsequent developments - not a simple beginning as Dawkins would like to have.
If we substitute the 'seed-product' model demonstrated in Biology to the evolution of our universe with the backing of the anthropic principle -- the 'simple' unit that exploded some fifteen (perhaps, thirteen and a half) billion years ago must have contained all the necessary ingredients to determine the subsequent processes.
Thus, Dawkins will not be able to dodge the 'statistical improbability' argument in relation to the 'seed' either. We will be once again trapped in the 'egg-chicken dilemma' – an 'Intelligent Designer' to cause the 'Big Bang Egg', and a 'Big Bang Egg' to cause the 'Designer', and so on ad infinitum.
To break this vicious circle we may have to resort to a ‘higher order’ that transcends space-time concepts . . . .
This is, in my view, an interesting reconception of the theistic evolution argument. The article goes on and gives more arguments and building the case. I found it very interesting and haven't quite made up my mind about my own feelings about it. I would be interested in any insights anyone cares to post.
Over at the always interesting The Thinking Christian, he also (apparently independently) undertook a discussion of the relationship between science and religion in a couple of posts entitled Is Christianity Opposed to the Pursuit of Science? Part I and Part II. In Part II, he notes the following:
Let's start with where this whole idea began. Surprisingly to many, it wasn't with Galileo or Copernicus. It wasn't even with the Enlightenment. Two highly regarded historians, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, reveal that the supposed war between science and Christianity was a 19th-century invention. This "war" had a lot to do with the personal agendas of two men, Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper. Lindberg and Numbers concentrate primarily on White:
"Some of the bloodiest battles, White believed, had been fought during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the period of the so-called Scientific Revolution, when powerful church leaders repeatedly tried to silence the pioneers of modern science. Nicolaus Copernicus, who dared to locate the sun at the center of the planetary system, risked his very life to publish his heretical views and escaped 'persecution only by death.' Many of his disciples met a less happy fate: Bruno was 'burned alive as a monster of impiety; Galileo tortured and humiliated as the worst of unbelievers; Kepler hunted alike by Protestants and Catholics.' Andreas Vesalius, the sixteenth-century physician who laid the foundations of modern anatomy by insisting on careful first-hand dissection of the human body, paid for his temerity by being 'hunted to death.' The latest victim in the protracted war on science, said White in an obvious reference to his own experience, was a certain American university, denounced from pulpit and press as 'godless' merely because it defended scientific freedom and resisted sectarian control. White no doubt felt that [as] its president, [he] too deserved to be ranked among the martyrs of science for the persecution that he had endured."
. . .
"Such judgments, however appealing they may be to foes of 'scientific creationism' and other contemporary threats to established science, fly in the face of mounting evidence that White read the past through battle-scarred glasses, and that he and his imitators have distorted history to serve ideological ends of their own. Although it is not difficult to find instances of conflict and controversy in the annals of Christianity and science, recent scholarship has shown that the warfare metaphor to be neither useful or tenable in describing the relationship between science and religion."
To be more specific,
"If Copernicus had any genuine fear of publication, it was the reaction of scientists, not clerics, that worried him. Other churchmen before him- Nicole Oresme (a bishop) in the fourteenth century and Nicholas of Cusa (a cardinal) in the fifteenth - had freely discussed the possible motion of the earth, and there was no reason to suppose that the reappearance of this idea in the sixteenth century would cause a religious stir."
I encourage everyone who expressed interest in this topic to read what Mr. Gilson wrote in his blog. Very interesting.
An audio discussion between Boston College philosophy professor Dr. Peter Kreeft and atheist (who says he shouldn't be called an atheist because there shouldn't be such a word) Sam Harris is available at K2. In my opinion, they are much too complimentary to Sam Harris, and Harris (as he did when he appeared on Laura Ingraham) talks so much that he leaves little time for Dr. Kreeft to respond. I personally think that the hosts did a poor job of moderating the discussion to allow both people to have a fair amount of time to put their points into the discussion.
One part that amuses me is that Harris tries to make the case that the Bible supports slavery. That idea was already decided decisively against his position in the 1800's. Personally, I find that when a person feels they need to play the slavery card, that's comparable to arguing that the earth is flat. To hold that position in light of history deserves not only to be dismissed, it needs to be held up for derision.
A few years ago, my daughter participated in a talent show, and she and some other girls danced to "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. I thought they did a good job, and generally I enjoy the songs by Destiny's Child. Certainly, I never thought about objecting to the song as having a viewpoint that may be antithetical to the Christian view. (I don't know if it does, since I have never listened to the words.) I was there to enjoy the show, and I don't think I would have cared what song they danced to (as long as it wasn't "The Stripper" -- now there's a bad message).
But in our mixed up world, a school decided that it would be inappropriate for a 3rd grader to sing a song that she probably hears regularly in Church and which very well have deep meaning to her. Yes, another school has overreacted and discriminated against a young woman by failing to allow her to be able to sing a song simply because it has a Christian message. According to "Christian song 'Awesome God' OK in after-school talent show, judge rules":
A New Jersey school district violated the constitutional rights of a second grade student last year when it prevented her from performing the song "Awesome God" at a talent show, a federal district judge ruled Dec. 11.
The girl, known only as "O.T." in the lawsuit, was prevented from singing the popular contemporary Christian song at the Frenchtown (N.J.) Elementary School after-school program when the district attorney and school superintendent said the song's religious content was inappropriate for the event. Previous talent shows had included students singing songs by Nirvana, Bon Jovi and Stevie Nicks.
Allowing "Awesome God" into the program -- known as "Frenchtown Idol" -- would have violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion, the attorney asserted. But U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson disagreed, saying the school's action amounted to viewpoint discrimination and violated the girl's First Amendment rights.
"Frenchtown Idol was not part of the school curriculum, but was, instead, a voluntary after-school event in which students were invited -- not required -- to participate," Wolfson, a nominee of President George W. Bush, wrote. "Frenchtown Idol participants were obligated to select their own pieces for the performance, and to develop and rehearse them at home.... [T]he speech at issue here -– a song selected and performed by an individual student -– was the private speech of a student and not a message conveyed by the school itself."
* * *
Wolfson, though, said Brennan's action "amounted to unlawful viewpoint discrimination." Wolfson asserted there indeed are "numerous" examples of "proselytizing" speech the school would have allowed.
"For example, the school would have permitted Frenchtown Idol performers to encourage audience members to: espouse a belief that it is important to take care of the earth, espouse a belief that it is important to help poor and impoverished people, and to lean on friends when they experience hardships," Wolfson wrote.
In a press release, the ACLU of New Jersey said, "[S]ince the school left the choice of songs up to the students (as long as they were G-rated), no reasonable observer (even a reasonable second grader) would have believed that the school endorsed the religious message behind the students' selections."
It's nice that the ACLU piped in since it is there propensity to bring suits for violations of the Establishment Clause (where none truly exists in a proper understanding of the clause) that makes school administrators nervous to the point that they overeact in the first place. That is the case here. The judge made the right decision even if he didn't go far enough (in my view, it was appropriate at any talent show the school held regardless of whether it was during school hours or attendance was mandatory) because the school allowed other messages and it was the girl's choice to sing which obviously is not an endorsement of religion.
At least it ended up right. Too bad it took a lawsuit to get it there.
Today, I received a comment to the CADRE blog entry I wrote on the outlandish "Beyond Belief" conference that I thought was so misguided and so typical that I thought I would highlight it here. What the writer wrote is this:
It's very interesting that Christian must downplay science. They always have. They always will. Sad, really.
I don't know how to say this without insulting the writer (hence, my not using his name directly in this post), but that really is a foolish and ill-informed statement. The idea that somehow Christianity has been the roadblock to scientific endeavor is the biggest myth that has been handed down over the past 500 years. You see, it isn't just wrong, it's so completly out of sinc with the truth as to be Twilight Zone material. Here's the truth -- in all of the cultures in the world, science became a legitimate field of inquiry only in Western Europe because Western Europe was Christian.
Christianity isn't just in favor of science -- it was only in Christian society that science could advance beyond the speculations of the ancient Greeks.
Rodney Stark, Ph.D., is University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. Among his Academic honors is a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book The Rise of Christianity. In 2003, while still Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion, University of Washington, Dr. Stark wrote an article for The American Enterprise entitled "False Conflict: Christianity Is Not Only Compatible with Science—It Created It," which has been published on the Internet in a truncated version as Catholicism and Science. Here's what Dr. Stark says:
Popular lore, movies, and children’s stories hold that in 1492 Christopher Columbus proved the world is round and in the process defeated years of dogged opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which insisted that the earth is flat. These tales are rooted in books like A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, an influential reference by Andrew Dickson White, founder and first president of Cornell University. White claimed that even after Columbus’ return "the Church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray."
The trouble is, almost every word of White’s account of the Columbus story is a lie. All educated persons of Columbus’ day, very much including the Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) taught that the world was round, as did Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg (c. 720-784), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-74). All four ended up saints. Sphere was the title of the most popular medieval textbook on astronomy, written by the English scholastic John of Sacrobosco (c. 1200-1256). It informed that not only the earth but all heavenly bodies are spherical.
So, why does the fable of the Catholic Church’s ignorance and opposition to the truth persist? Because the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith. The truth is, there is no inherent conflict between religion and science. Indeed, the fundamental reality is that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science—a fact little appreciated outside the ranks of academic specialists.
The article goes on to explain how it was only in Western Europe where Christianity was the dominant religion that alchemy became chemistry and astrology became astronomy. This wasn't mere coincidence. Rather, it was the result of the Christian mindset that the commentor (and the hatred-blind New Atheists) apparently don't recognize or don't understand.
. . . Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being, and the universe as his personal creation. The natural world was thus understood to have a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting (indeed, inviting) human comprehension.
Christians developed science because they believed it could—and should—be done. Alfred North Whitehead, the great philosopher and mathematician, co-author with Bertrand Russell of the landmark Principia Mathematica, credited "medieval theology" for the rise of science. He pointed to the "insistence on the rationality of God," which produced the belief that "the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith."
Whitehead ended with the remark that the images of God found in other religions, especially in Asia, are too impersonal or too irrational to have sustained science. A God who is capricious or unknowable gives no incentive for humans to dig deeply into his essence. Moreover, most non-Christian religions don’t posit a creation. If the universe is without beginning or purpose, has no Creator, is an inconsistent, unpredictable, and arbitrary mystery, there is little reason to explore it. Under those religious premises, the path to wisdom is through meditation and mystical insights, and there is no occasion to celebrate reason.
Dr. Stark's view is not unique. Consider the following from a talk entitled "Science and Christianity" by Hieronymus on Bede's Library (Bede's Library often has trained and practicing historians author articles under psudonyms so as to protect them from the fear of repercussions in the heavily secular universities):
Christians believe in "God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth", whom, they assert, brought all things into being out of nothingness.
This means, then, that for Christians the universe is readable. It may be terrifyingly vast. It may be incredibly complex. It may even be subject to a large degree of chance and random circumstance. It will however, be intelligible, and rational minds, given enough time and information, will be able to discern its patterns. These patterns will not be figments of the perceiving minds. These are present in the universe itself, because it is the creation of a rational intelligence, and because it has existence independent of perceiving minds. (If a tree falls in the forest and there's no-one around, does it make a sound? Yes.) Further, God (Christians assert) is not the universe. The universe is not God. While God's sustaining power is necessary for its existence, it is distinct and separate from Him.
These beliefs constitute one of Christianity's great intellectual strengths - its cosmology and philosophy of nature. Modern science was born and raised primarily in Western Christendom precisely because of these ideas. Other cultures and systems of thought certainly contributed to the emergence of science, and had their own discoveries in mathematics or astronomy, but it was only in the intellectual matrix of Christianity that empirical and experimental science as we know it was established.
Despite the widespread belief (based on polemics of the "pro-scientism" crowd) that Christianity has stood in the way of scientific progress, it is just the opposite. Without Christianity, science would not have come into being -- or at least, we don't know for certain that it would have come into being. After all, while science admittedly was birthed in Classical Greek, there is some question as to what would have motivated the Greeks to continue to do science. Some have speculated that the Greeks, while great at philosophy, lacked the motivation and the worldview (see, some details in the ealier mentioned Hieronymus article) to engage in in-depth scientific research. If this is true, then it was only in the context of Christianity that science could advance as it did.
Am I saying that small minded people under the guise of Christianity have never stood in the way of scientific advancement? Of course I'm not saying anything like that. As Hiernymous points out: "sometimes Christians are massively, bone headedly, and dogmatically wrong in their claims to have absolute knowledge of the world." Certainly, some people find anything that opposes their overly-literalistic view of the Bible to be offensive. But we are looking to broader issues here. And the broader worldview of Christianity not only supports science, it openly invites scientific investigation. Christianity properly understood encourages people to enter the sciences and study God's creation. The results of such study, when not dragged down by the materialisitic presuppositions of those who believe not in science but scientism (such as the New Atheists and the participants in the Beyond Belief conference), gives insights into the Creator Himself.
That's not downplaying science. That's elevating science. It just doesn't buy into the stifled view of reality that scientism demands and which atheists see as the only way to properly do science. That's what's truly sad.
I want to add my thoughts to BK's observations about the Beyond Belief conference.
I actually think today's militant style atheists do us a service by formally declaring their atheism to be a full fledged worldview. Like any worldview, it must explain all of reality including morality, meaning and destiny. The explanation must pass the two main tests of truth. First, it must correspond with reality. Second, it must cohere with itself ... that is, the presuppositions of the worldview cannot contradict one another. If you think like me, you cannot help but feel this is a good thing. As a Christian, I like to hear materialists attempt to defend the origin of morality or the meaning of life. As one commenter wryly noted on BK's Beyond Belief post, in one breath the atheist praises the beauty and majesty of the world ... and in another breath, displays a slide show if missshapen children with birth defects. So which is it? The more the materialist tries to make sense of reality, the greater the case for Christianity becomes.
Secondly, the mere name of the conference belies an important point. Beyond "belief". Christianity is lumped into the category of "belief". Science gets lumped into the category of knowledge. Supporters of naturalism love to divide the world into things we can know versus things we merely believe. This epistemological tactic is quite effective and defenders of classic Christianity need to expose it as a fraud.
Christianity is a knowledge tradition. Knowledge is true beliefs with logos (justification). Read Peter's sermon in Acts 2. "36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." [ESV] Catch the words there? Know. For. Certain. Does that sound like mere belief to you? In one sense, Christianity is "beyond [mere] belief" as well ... not in the sense of being incredulous, but in the sense that we are called to know God and know for certain that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah.
This past November, a group of atheists -- who happen to work in the field of science -- got together for a conference entitled "Beyond Belief" in La Jolla, California. The conference was apparently sponsored by the Salk Institute, and featured atheists who work in various scientific disciplines. Details about the conference can be found on the website of a group called the Edge which seems to fashion itself as some type of gathering of the intellectual elite who really understands what's going on. The conference had to be cutting edge because they brought in such luminaries as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to excite the crowd with their over-the-top viewpoints. But apparently, Mrrs. Harris and Dawkins weren't alone in sharing the view that religion is dangerous. According to the New York Times article about the event proudly displayed on the website:
Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that "the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief," or when a Nobelist in chemistry, Sir Harold Kroto, called for the John Templeton Foundation to give its next $1.5 million prize for "progress in spiritual discoveries" to an atheist — Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist whose book "The God Delusion" is a national best-seller.
Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.
Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.
Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.
She was not entirely kidding. "We should let the success of the religious formula guide us," Dr. Porco said. "Let's teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know."
She displayed a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn and its glowing rings eclipsing the Sun, revealing in the shadow a barely noticeable speck called Earth.
For those of you who want to witness what I'm sure must be tiresome talks for yourself, you can find four of the speeches available on the Beyone Belief webpage and others speeches from the talk available on the afore-mentioned webpage for the Edge. For those of you who are somehow inexplicably sorry you missed this intellectual misfire, you can make your plans to attend Beyond Belief II.
New Scientist magazine has published several letters to the editor from readers in response to an article it published about the gathering. The readers make several excellent points about the absurdity that these scientists should make such a claim.
The first letter notes that science is what it is because of religious belief. It notes . . .
. . . the scientific enterprise in the form we know it today, with journals, scientific societies, empiricism and specialised techniques, was started largely by people of deep religious faith in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the writings of Newton and Descartes, the very notion of scientific law was derived from the Christian idea of God's laws. Atheists might wish to reflect a bit more on the fact that their scientific disciplines wouldn't even exist without the impact of such ideas.
Reader Benjamin Beccari notes that science is a discipline and not a dogmatic assertion about the existence of God.
Creation science is nothing more than Christian belief dressed up as science. It is ironic, then, that a symposium entitled "Beyond belief" is atheistic belief dressed up as science.
Reader David ODell seems to be responding to the claims by Dr. Carolyn Porco when he notes that science cannot match religion when it comes to giving meaning. After all, when a scientist looks at the heavens and notes how small and insignificant the planet earth is in relation to those heavens (and hence, how very small and insignificant each human being is), the sceitnist really has no choice but to admit his own small and insignificant nature of her existence. But a religious person can look at those same heavens in awe and see the glory and love of God which gives true meaning to life. And then he adds:
Many scientific discoveries only make people more awed by their God. Why do scientists want to get rid of religion, when religion has driven scientists for hundreds of years?
But by far and away, my favorite letter comes from Maya King of Burntisland, Fife, UK, who says:
For scientists to declare unequivocally that God does not exist is to deny the possibility that, one day, technological advance may bring the capabilities to detect the presence of a spiritual being after all. If any kind of god were to exist, its presence would have to influence the Earth in a way that leaves some signature.
If that god - as religion suggests - regularly interacted with humans through answering prayers and giving guidance, then those effects should be both measurable and repeatable. How can scientists declare God does not exist without rigorous hypothesis testing?
Exactly. The last question is so entirely on point that I can't think of how to say it better. Scientists reach their conclusions based upon the scientific method. Exactly what test have these atheist/scientists developed that follows that method and which establishes that God doesn't exist? The best that they can do is try to develop naturalistic explanations for things (and even there, they haven't come close to covering the field). For a scientist to say that there is no God is simply proof that they are not speaking as scientists but as atheists in white lab coats. In that way, Dr. Porco is right: they really should declare themselves a religion and make Dr. Tyson the first minister. It would, at least, reveal the true nature of their pronounements.
In light of today being the 65th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, it seems apparent that many of the veterans who fought so hard for the world's freedom in the Second World War are nearing the end. In the past three years, both my own father and my wife's father who both served in the Pacific arena have gone to meet Jesus (and we miss them terribly). But for those who are still around, I want to express my own heartfelt thanks for the great sacrifices you and your comrades made in helping to preserve freedom of the world during those dark times.
In looking for words to express my feelings, I came across a musical tribute to World War II veterans entitled "Before You Go". According to the website where it's available,
"Before You Go" is offered as an expression of heartfelt gratitude to those who fought and won the Second World War - for their bravery, gallantry and sacrifices that assure the continued enjoyment of freedoms unprecedented in the history of mankind.
As we lose those who gave us so much to age and time, it is our hope that the wondrous technology of the age of Internet will help us to deliver this tribute and message of thanks to every surviving veteran of the Second World War, their families and descendants.
With our profound thanks to those who we can never adequately thank, and in the hope that you will help us spread our message, we offer "Before You Go".
Though dedicated to the veterans of the Second World War, we view "Before You Go" to be equally applicable to all of the veterans of subsequent wars and current conflicts who have responded to the call of their country and placed their lives on the line on our behalf when asked to do so We wish to thank all of those who have contributed their photographic services to this project without charge in order to add their thanks to the veterans who have given us so much.
You can watch it by going to the website and clicking on the link, or by clicking here (available for purchase through the website). It really is a very nice tribute, and I want to say that it expresses my own heartfelt gratitude for those who have stood in the gap of freedom around the world. God bless you all.
Apologetics takes a lot of time and is not for the faint of heart. One of my favorite Cadre / BK posts is called The Job Of the Apologist. BK offers insights from his own experience in apologetic engagments. I appreciate those like BK who do the yeoman work of apologetics.
Another good model is Regis Nicoll. Regis is a friend whom I met in the Wilberforce Centurions program.
This past August Regis wrote an essay about the atheist movement known as "the Brights." The essay was called Putting On A Bright Face. Members of the Brights were not pleased with Nicoll's essay and responded. Thus began an email exchange that spanned a month.
The posts are a lengthy read, so I don't expect you to slog through them. I merely point them out because they demonstrate what good apologetics looks like. You will find the tone is positive.
One commenter left an interesting comment on one of the email posts.
I have truly been swayed by Mr. Nicholl’s writings. There is a to think about in his reply. Somehow I think I’ve always known we were not a cosmic accident. And Bob, you are a brilliant man. Am I to believe great minds are a product of evolution. It’s not adding up any more. I’m not saying Christianity is right but I do now believe in a God. There, I said it. I’m on record. My curiosity is stoked for further responses from Mr. Nicholl. Bob, thanks for having this blog. I have some heavy things to think about now from both sides. BrettBrett's comment demonstrates what I call the "ricochet effect." Often our apologetic efforts have seemingly little effect on the person we are engaging. However, others are listening and lurking in the background. You never know how God will use your discussion to change their thinking.
I am encouraged by Regis and BK and others who do the tireless work of contending for faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
In response to a recent blog entry about Richard Dawkins, blogger Frank Walton alerted me to an interesting story about the aforementioned Mr. Dawkins entitled Anti-Religion Extremist Dawkins Advocates Eugenics. Ordinarily, I ignore these type of over-the-top articles, but then a couple of thoughts occurred to me:
1. Dawkins doesn't have any trouble being very over-the-top in what he says about Christians or God, and so I feel less restrained by the bounds of common decency to speak about this type of thing in his case.
2. Reading through the article, it appears that Dawkins did, in fact, make the statements that led to the headline in the LifeSite article.
3. CT Direct just ran an article by Chuck Colson and Anne Morse entitled War on the Weak: Eugenics has made a lethal comeback warning about a return of eugenics as an acceptable practice in the eyes of many in the secular world.
4. In light of what I have just completed writing about Dawkins and his non-credible beliefs about Christianity being a "mind virus" coupled with his apparent elevation of knowledge obtained by scientirfic investigation as not only superior to other types of knowledge but as the only knowledge upon which rationality can legitimately be based, raised a very chilling thought that I wanted to bounce around.
Here is what Dawkins said, according to the LifeSite article:
In a letter to the editor of Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Dawkins argues that the time has come to lay this spectre to rest. Dawkins writes that though no one wants to be seen to be in agreement with Hitler on any particular, "if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?"
* * *
"I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them," Dawkins wrote Sunday.
(See footnote.) Now, let's make no mistake about it -- the question of genetic engineering is one which apparently is making a comeback among some in the scientific community. According to the CT Direct article:
Seventy years later, eugenic ideas are surfacing again, masquerading as humanitarian progress—as in research labs where scientists destroy "leftover" human embryos to find cures for diseases, or in sperm banks where women select their baby's father from hundreds of donors on the basis of intelligence or gifts, or in doctors' offices where parents feel subtle pressure to abort imperfect fetuses, or in hospitals when futile-care policies allow doctors to decide who lives and who dies. Today, some ethicists, like Princeton's Peter Singer, brazenly argue that it's permissible to kill disabled children after they're born—children like my autistic grandson, Max—all in the seductive guise of maximizing human happiness.
This utilitarian logic is being applied not only to taking life but also to creating it in the image of man. English scientists are attempting to create "designer babies" by transplanting the nucleus from the cell of a woman with defective mitochondria into the healthy egg of another woman. The resulting child would have three genetic parents. It's the first step toward genetic engineering of human beings.
The argument in favor of eugenics is pretty much as simple as Dawkins puts it. Human beings are not special creations of God but are merely another type of animal. We have already genetically engineered many different creatures to make them better. Plants have been engineered through selective breeding to be more drought resistant and more productive. Horses have been genetically engineered through the process of selective breeding to be stronger and faster. Few argue that there's anything wrong with such efforts, and if they do, then they stand in the way of that most holy of grails, "scientific progress." Since human beings are no more than another type of animal, what's wrong with engineering them? Consider the following quote from James Watson, the Nobel Prize winning discoverer of DNA and the first director of the Human Genome Project, in the LifeSite article:
Watson, though not as outspokenly anti-religious as Dawkins, has ridiculed the notion of an overarching value to human beings. Speaking at a conference at UCLA in 1998, he said, "I think it's complete nonsense ... saying we're sacred and should not be changed…to say we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity? I'd like to know where that idea comes from because it's utter silliness"
"If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we do it? What's wrong with it? Who is telling us not to [do] it?"
So, at least one geneticist and one scientism-ist believe that it is appropriate to selectively breed human beings. Never mind that such a practice was universally and rightfully decried a mere 60 years ago. Never mind that the Chinese have engaged in a similar program under a law named the "Maternal and Infant Health Law" which allows them to genetically screen human beings wanting to get married to determine whether they are genetically fit enough to have children; if not they are sterilized. This type of action by the government is rightfully seen as a violation of human rights -- the rights that have been inalienably endowed by us by our Creator. And who is it who will decide which traits will be secured to future generations and which will end? The article doesn't reveal Dawkins' and Watson's views on that question.
Yet, taking what Dawkins has written, I think I have a suspicion what he would breed out of humanity. To connect the dots, consider what history teaches about the eugenics movement as described in the CT Direct article:
The opening shot in this war was fired when the modern eugenics movement came into fashion some 80 years ago. The first targets were the "feebleminded" and people of the "wrong" race. Leading scientists in the early decades of the 20th century, enamored with Darwin's theories, became eugenics advocates. Historian Richard Weikart, in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, writes that while Darwin wasn't the first to argue that the strong and healthy have higher value than the weak and sick, or that some races are inferior, he provided a scientific foundation for those beliefs.
Some scientists actually compared the mentally ill to apes. Textbooks reported allegedly scientific findings that Africans, Native Americans, and Australian aborigines were subhuman. The eugenics movement brought about the sterilization of thousands of supposedly "inferior" people.
Now, consider what Dawkins says about religious people (among whom Christians are the primary focus of his bile) in Memes, the New Replicators:
Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.
You see, using his own words it's apparent that in Dawkins' eyes religious people are mentally ill. The history of the eugenics movement is to seek to eliminate those whom society has labeled as mentally ill. In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews and the Gypsies. Today, is it the Christians? Is that what Dawkins would like?
I don't know what Dawkins really thinks. I certainly don't think he is suggesting rounding up Christians for the gas chambers, but his arguments seem to lead to the idea that it would be better if we bred that annoying little thing called religious belief (which is a form of mental deficiency) out of the human genome. Yet, I can only read his words and draw inferences from them. I hope he doesn't think the way that I am suggesting. However, even if he didn't intend to suggest that religious people should be eliminated through the application of eugenics, there is no question that such a position falls within the possible interpretation of his words when his various positions are read together with only rationality divorced from all valuation of human beings as having some unique worth.
If you think I'm blowing smoke, I welcome you to tell me why. But if you do so, remember that you cannot appeal to any higher value for human beings as the result of their nature to argue that he wouldn't favor selecting religious belief out of the human genetic code (which he seems to argue is possible). You also can't argue that he doesn't think religious people are really mentally ill -- his position on that point is clear and has been repeated when he says he won't debate Christians ("I won't debate mentally ill people," he's reported to have said). If religious people really are mentally ill as he proposes and they are dragging down the advance of the non-special human species that can be genetically altered in the same way that we genetically alter corn or rice, what rational basis can you give me to not selectively remove religious belief by removing religious people from the gene pool?
Please, I'd be interested.
footnote -- I have attempted to track down a copy of the original letter by Mr. Dawkins from Scotland's Sunday Herald, but have not been able to do so. It is, of course, possible that the quotes are fabricated or taken out of context, but given what else Mr. Dawkins has written I tend to seriously doubt it.
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.
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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi