Are People Who Believe in Minds Simply Ignorant of the Science?

As a Christian believer, I am a “dualist”; I identify the brain and mind (as well as the body and soul) as two distinct entities and realities. “Dualism” describes mind and matter as two separate categories of being; neither can be reduced to the other in any way. If non-material minds truly do exist, they are free to possess their own distinct characteristics, unshared by their physical counterparts (brains).

Materialists (those who reject non-material entities) typically reject such dualistic explanations. If dualism is true, the source for nonmaterial mind cannot come from “inside the room” of the material universe, and this, in and of itself, is objectionable to those committed to atheistic, material explanations. As a result, atheists have offered several objections to dualism. In this article, I’d like to examine just one of them to discover if it minimized the strength of the Christian explanation of reality:

Objection: Dualism Resists the Growing Acceptance of Physicalism

Philosophical naturalists deny the existence and influence of nonmaterial (or supernatural) entities, and many scientists are as committed to physicalism and physical evolutionary processes as they are opposed to dualism. The theory of evolution is a wholly physical enterprise; material processes engage matter using the laws of physics and chemistry, guided and shaped by physical, environmental influences. If materialistic, evolutionary processes produce humans such as ourselves, they must also produce human minds. If human minds are the result of purely physical processes of evolution, they must also be physical entities.

This objection may sound reasonable, but it begs the question. In the end, the explanation we embrace must account for the five distinct evidences differentiating minds from brains. We cannot begin this investigation committed to a presupposition of philosophical naturalism or physicalism when this is the very thing we are trying to investigate in the first place. (We are investigating the question: Is there a nonphysical entity called the mind?) There appear to be five distinct characteristics of mind distinguishing it from the brain (refer to God’s Crime Scene for these distinctions). Whatever explanation we finally embrace, it cannot be chosen (in advance) based purely on our prior philosophical commitments. Like detectives entering a murder scene (or jurors assessing the case in a courtroom), we cannot begin our investigation with a preconceived idea about who killed the victim. We must, instead, allow the evidence to guide our decision.

I’ve edited and excerpted this brief article from my expansive (and referenced) investigation in God’s Crime Scene. Any effort to deny the distinct differences between mental states and brain states simply ignores the evidence, errantly redefines the nature of the mind, or suffers from a logical inconsistency (three flaws common to false arguments in most criminal trials). Dualism remains the best explanation for our common experience of consciousness, in spite of the growing bias toward physicalism. The best explanation for the existence of non-material consciousness is the existence of a non-material mind who created us in his image:

An Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

Atheism simply cannot adequately explain our experience of mind. If, however, there is an all-powerful mind who created the universe and conscious creatures in His image, consciousness is not only reasonable but inevitable. For a much more robust account of the inadequacy of naturalism in this regard, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, and be sure to request our free teaching outlines so you can share the case with others.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Is It Reasonable to Believe in Minds Even If We Can’t Explain How They Interact with Brains?

As a Christian theist, I am a “dualist”; I identify the brain and mind (as well as the body and soul) as two distinct entities and realities. Dualism describes mind and matter as two separate categories of being; neither can be reduced to the other in any way. If nonmaterial minds truly do exist, they are free to possess their own distinct characteristics, unshared by their physical counterparts (brains).

Materialists (those who reject non-material entities) typically reject such dualistic explanations. If dualism is true, the source for nonmaterial mind cannot come from “inside the room” of the material universe, and this, in and of itself, is objectionable to those committed to atheistic, material explanations. As a result, atheists have offered several objections to dualism. In this article, I’d like to examine just one of them to discover if it minimized the strength of the Christian explanation of reality:

Objection: Dualistic Interaction Is Difficult to Understand, Therefore Dualism Is Untrue

The “interaction problem” is perhaps the largest obstacle for dualist explanations. Dualists believe the mind is completely distinct from the brain yet interacts with it in some way. But how precisely does this occur, especially given the nonmaterial nature of the mind? The laws of physics explain the causal interactions between physical objects, but how can a nonmaterial mind interact with a material brain? In response to this objection, philosophers have historically offered a variety of explanations, including “occasionalism,” “parallelism,” and “epiphenomenalism” (read God’s Crime Scene for more on these definitions).

But even without certainty related to the specific way in which the mind relates to the brain, this objection alone fails to exclude dualism from consideration. Our lack of understanding about how the mind interacts isn’t prohibitive evidence against this interaction. If dualism is true, we must look to a source external to the physical universe to explain the existence of the mind. This opens the door to the reasonable existence of God and, as a result, extra-natural explanations for the interaction between mind and brain.

However, even without pondering the Divine, there are several examples of causal interactions here in our universe for which we have less than complete understanding. Magnetic fields act on objects, as do gravitational forces. In both cases we have no doubt about the causal interaction between entities, yet we have less than complete understanding about the precise nature of these interactions. And in both cases, the nature of the causes and the character of the effects appear to be substantively different, just as the nature of the mind and the brain are fundamentally different.

I’ve edited and excerpted this brief summary from my expansive (and referenced) investigation in God’s Crime Scene. Any effort to deny the distinct differences between mental states and brain states simply ignores the evidence, errantly redefines the nature of the mind, or suffers from a logical inconsistency (three flaws common to false arguments in most criminal trials). Dualism remains the best explanation for our common experience of consciousness in spite of the “interaction problem.” The best explanation for the existence of non-material consciousness is the existence of a non-material mind who created us in his image:

An Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

Atheism simply cannot adequately explain our experience of mind. If, however, there is an all-powerful mind who created the universe and conscious creatures in His image, consciousness is not only reasonable but inevitable. For a much more robust account of the inadequacy of naturalism in this regard, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, and be sure to request our free teaching outlines so you can share the case with others.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Can We Investigate the Universe Like A Crime Scene?

When a dead body is discovered, detectives must investigate the evidence to determine the most reasonable explanation. Did the deceased die naturally? Did he suffer some kind of accident? Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? These are the four possible explanations at any death scene. Homicide detectives are concerned only with the last one. Of the four explanations, the first three do not require the involvement of anyone other than the victim. If his or her death was an accident, the result of some natural cause, or the result of a suicide, all the evidence we might find related to the victim’s passing will ultimately come from the very room where he or she died. Every death scene involves evidence of one kind or another, but intruders turn death scenes into crime scenes. For that reason, every death investigation begins as an intruder investigation. Without evidence of an intruder, deaths are likely to be the result of natural causes, an accident, or a suicide. One simple strategy in death cases, therefore, is to ask a foundational question: “Can I account for all the evidence in this room by staying in the room?”

Universe Crime Scene

During most of my early investigative career, I was a committed atheist and resolute naturalist. I rejected supernaturalism thoroughly, denying both the existence of a supernatural God and the possibility of the miraculous. I truly believed everything I observed in the universe could be explained and attributed to natural, physical causes and processes. Thinking of the universe as a “room,” I didn’t believe there was any evidence pointing to anyone outside. I certainly didn’t believe anything “extra-natural” or “supra-natural” entered this natural realm. But I hadn’t yet looked at the evidence carefully; I wasn’t an experienced investigator. Over the years, I learned how to evaluate and assemble evidential cases, and along the way—at the age of thirty-five—I was introduced to the New Testament.

I became interested in God’s existence only after investigating the gospels as eyewitness accounts. (I describe this investigation in detail in my book Cold-Case Christianity.) The New Testament accounts passed the same four-part test I apply to all my witnesses, yet I still rejected them on the basis of their miraculous stories. As a naturalist, I believed the accounts of miracles in the biblical narratives disqualified them as reliable history. But what if I was wrong in my anti-supernatural presuppositions? It was time for me to look carefully at the evidence for God’s existence. If a supernatural being did exist, the miracles in the Gospels would be possible and maybe even reasonable. The case for God’s existence was an integral part of the case for the reliability of the Gospels.

Like many of my death scene investigations, my examination of the natural universe required me to look at the characteristics of the “room” and determine if they could be explained fully by what already existed within the “four walls.” Was there any evidence inside the universe pointing to the existence or intervention of a supernatural being outside the universe? My most important question was, “Can I account for all the evidence in this room by staying in the room?

As I considered the natural “room” of the universe, I identified and listed four categories of evidence for consideration:

1. Cosmological Evidence
Our universe had a beginning.
Our universe appears to be fine-tuned for human life.

2. Biological Evidence
Life in our universe emerged from non-life.
Biological organisms appear to be designed.

3. Mental Evidence
Non-material consciousness emerged from unconscious matter.
As humans, we are “free agents” in our otherwise “cause and effect” universe.

4. Moral Evidence
Transcendent, objective moral truths exist in our universe.
Evil and injustice continue to persist, in spite of our best efforts.

These features of the universe must be explained, and they can be attributed either to something inside the natural realm or to something outside the natural realm. In many ways, our investigation of God’s existence is very similar to my death investigations:

Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

In both cases, several evidences in the “room” require explanation. Their origin must be identified before we can decide the correct nature of the scene. In my book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, I examine the evidence inside the natural, physical realm of the universe to determine if there is someone we need to look for outside the natural, physical realm. After investigating these eight important pieces of evidence (in four very different categories) I determined the most reasonable inference is a suspect with the following characteristics:

1. External to the universe
2. Non-spatial, atemporal, and non-material
3. Uncaused
4. Powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe
5. Specifically purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life
6. Intelligent and communicative
7. Creative and resourceful
8. A conscious Mind
9. Free to choose (and create) personally
10. The personal source of moral truth and obligation
11. The standard for good by which we define evil

This article was excerpted from my book. To learn more, please refer to God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, and be sure to request our free teaching outlines so you can share the case with others.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Necessary Existence of God

By Prayson Daniel

Judeo-Christians understand God as a being that is perfect in knowledge (Ps. 147:5), power (Job 42:2), presence (Ps. 139), acts (Ps. 18:30) and has none greater (Heb. 6:13) nor equal (Ps. 40:6).

Following Anselm’scredimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit“¹, God is understood to be a Being that exhibits maximal perfection. God is, borrowing Alvin Plantinga’s words, a being “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.” (Plantinga 2002: 102 emp. removed)

Necessary Existence of God

God is thus understood to be a being having maximal excellence with respect to power (omnipotence), knowledge (omniscience), presence (omnipresence), and is morally perfect (this is why, for example, God cannot lie or be unrighteous).

From S5 modal logic the existence of such a being(God) is either impossible or necessary. The concept of contingent existence of God is a contradictory idea since (i) necessarily, “a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world” and (ii) necessarily, “a being has maximal excellence in every world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.” (2002: 111)

Thus either the existence of God is impossible or necessary. The existence of God is not impossible. Therefore it is necessary. Therefore God, as understood by Judeo-Christians, exists.

Is this a persuasive case for existence of such a Being? I think it is not persuasive. Nevertheless it does show that Judeo-Christians’ understanding of God is rationally acceptable. Theists do have warrant in believing in a being with unsurpassed degree of greatness (God).

_____________________

¹ Anselmus Cantuariensis Prologion: Trans. [W]e believe that You[God] are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Plantinga, Alvin (2002) God, Freedom & Evil. First published by Harper and Row., 1974. Reprinted 2002.

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One Fewer God?

By Derrick Stokes

There’s a popular quote by atheist Steven F. Roberts that many nonbelievers cite or paraphrase when debating Christians that says, “I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer God than you do.”

The atheist is saying that since we Christians don’t believe in Baal, Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Quetzalcoatl, or any other god other than the God of the Bible, then we assume the same lack of belief system. They just take it one deity further.

One Fewer God

So what’s the difference?

Well it doesn’t take much to realize that this argument is constructed in a way to throw the believer off guard. Let’s look at the two members of the argument. An atheist and a theist. The word atheist comes from the Greek atheos.  The prefix a meaning “without” and theos meaning “god”. In other words atheism is the belief that there is no god or gods. No Supreme Ruler whatsoever. The atheist’s worldview is completely shrouded and perceived in the material realm. That anything outside it is pure speculation and unprovable (or not proven yet).

However, for the theist (Christian in our case) the material realm is just another dimension of reality. For us there is also the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is, in fact, the truest reality because it existed first. God is spirit (John 4:24) and He created all that exists (Genesis 1, John 1:3) in the spiritual and material world.

Now let me point out that Christians during the 1st century were called atheists because they rejected the pantheon of greco-roman gods of the surrounding culture. This was also because the Christians of the day had no temple, priest, or sacrifice, as Romans would have recognized. Yet, believers in Christ saw Jesus as the temple. He is the only way to the Holy of Holies. Believers in Christ saw Him as priest because He is the Ultimate High Priest. Believers in Christ saw Jesus as the sacrifice because of the work He accomplished on the cross. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God and no sacrifice is needed after Him. (John 1:29; Hebrews 4:14; 10:10-11, 19-20)

After the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church there was no “physical” representation of their God like the Romans had. The Romans had statues and Caesar.  If you didn’t worship as they worshipped and whom they worshipped then you worshipped nothing. Therefore, the term atheist was applied to early Christians out of ignorance and out of insult.

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Polycarp is brought before the Roman governor for trial. The governor has the intention of making Polycarp betray his Christian brethren. Polycarp must say, “Away with the atheists” or else be condemned. He looks around at “the crowd of lawless heathen”(the pagan Romans) and says “Away with the atheists” flipping the name on to his accusers. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:2)

But, let’s be reminded. Atheists reject all gods. They reject false gods and the true God, Yahweh. They don’t just reject one more god than Christians. They reject THE God. The only true and living God. Even though God has made Himself plainly evident through His creation, atheists won’t come to the knowledge of the truth. (Romans 19:21)

However…

Atheists might reject the notion of gods as supernatural, ethereal beings, but they still have gods. We all serve something or someone. We all worship something or someone. Whether it be ourselves, pleasure, fortune, fame, other people, hobbies, pets, nature, gods made of wood or gold, or the God of the Bible; something gets our worship whether we choose to accept the notion or not.

This brings us to the first two commandments:

1)You shall have no other gods before Me [Yahweh]
2)You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. (Exodus 20:3-4a)

If we have broken these commandments, and we all have if God is not who we worship, then we make ourselves idolaters. Anything other than God that gets our worship has become an idol. These are Paul’s words in Philippians 3:18-19

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

If this is true of you today, please understand that God wants to be the object of your worship. He knows that anything else that competes for your attention above Him is a false god. He knows that no other god can bring you true joy and fulfillment. Anything else is an imitation and will never come close to the perfect love, holiness, and eternality of God. Don’t be blinded by passion for the things of the world. Things will break. Trends will fade. This world and everything in it will pass away. God and His Word are forever. And don’t place any person above God. Human beings are imperfect and all have fallen far short of God’s glory. But, God is not man that He should lie or change His mind. Nor will He ever leave us or forsake us. So, give your worship to God and to God alone because He alone is worthy.

Derrick Stokes

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This post was originally published as “…ONE LESS GOD…”? at https://theologetics315.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/one-less-god/

Essential DNA Required for Life

By Philip Carlson

If one believes in evolution, it is important to know what is required for life. Not just what environmental conditions are needed, but also what biochemical conditions.

It is often quoted that there are 250 essential proteins required for basic life. To have life, you need 250 proteins so it was thought. While those were previous guesses it is now possible to determine what parts of DNA are essential for life. A study released in the journal Molecular Systems Biology provides a method of testing just that. Not only  do they give a method they also performed the test on a “simple” bacterium (Caulobacter crescentus). 

DNA Required Life

The complete genome of this bacterium was sequenced in 2001. Which helps tremendously with the task of determining which parts are essential for its survival. It is important to know that just because the genome was sequenced does not mean that the function of all the pieces is known, just that the nucleobase sequence that makes up the DNA is known.

With the bacteria in hand, these researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine took a close look at exactly what parts of DNA are required for this bacteria to live in the lab.

“This work addresses a fundamental question in biology: What is essential for life?” said Beat Christen, PhD, one of the co-first authors of the new paper and a postdoctoral scholar in developmental biology. “We came up with a method to identify all the parts of the genome required for life.”(1)

What is essential for life from a biochemical standpoint? They came up with some interesting conclusions which dwarf the previous estimates.

In total, the essential Caulobacter genome was 492,941 base pairs long and included 480 protein-coding genes that were clustered in two regions of the chromosome. The researchers also identified 402 essential promoter regions that increase or decrease the activity of those genes, and 130 segments of DNA that do not code for proteins but have other roles in modifying bacterial metabolism or reproduction. Of the individual DNA regions identified as essential, 91 were non-coding regions of unknown function and 49 were genes coding proteins whose function is unknown. (1)

We are told, “that 12 percent of the bacteria’s genetic material is essential for survival under laboratory conditions.” (1) Sounds like a small percentage overall, but keep in mind that this essential genome was 492,941 base pairs long. These are base pairs that are needed for life in this bacterium. This means that 985,882 amino acids were needed in the correct arrangement to allow life for this bacterium. The implications this has for the unaided formation of the first life are staggering. (While we could stop here and calculate the apparent overly absurd odds of this happening, such a calculation would serve little purpose. As a side note, creationist literature often attempts to calculate the absurd odds of things happening the way evolutions claim. Many set up straw men with these types of processes. I think that more often than not those types of calculations oversimplify the problems and ashamedly make a caricature of the opponents position. This type of “argumentation” is best left off the table if any real headway is to be made with this issue. While I do believe that such odds could be calculated at a rudimentary level, it could never be done to complete satisfaction without knowing all the factors involved. We do know, however, that the improbability is greatly increased because of the sheer number of correctly sequenced amino acids needed.) The researches did find 480 protein coding regions that are essential. This nearly doubles the previous estimates of how many proteins are needed for life. While is is a bit of an extrapolation to say that all of those 480 proteins are needed for life I think we can say that if that part of the DNA is needed it stands to reason that so are those proteins. They also found 91 essential coding regions and 49 coding regions that have unknown function.

“There were many surprises in the analysis of the essential regions of Caulobacter’s genome,” said Lucy Shapiro, PhD, the paper’s senior author. “For instance, we found 91 essential DNA segments where we have no idea what they do. These may provide clues to lead us to new and completely unknown bacterial functions.” Shapiro is a professor of developmental biology and the director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford. (1)

These 91 essential DNA segments that are of unknown function were still found to be essential to life! This reminds me of the old vestigial organs argument often used in support of evolution. That is right, just because we don’t know the function does not means there isn’t one. See the previous discussion on pseudogenes for another example of that type of thinking.

This new research helps to contribute to our (mis)understanding of an evolutionary origin of life, and, I think, push us toward accepting that the transcendent creator did not use evolution to bring about life.

1. Digitale, E. “New method reveals parts of bacterium genome essential to life”. Stanford School of Medicine news release, August 30, 2011, http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2011/august/shapiro.html

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Convince Me There’s A God: Fine-Tuning

By Mark McGee

I was comfortable as an atheist. I could do anything I wanted to do (or could get away with) and laugh at the masses of people stuck in the merry-go-round of belief in a “higher power.” I laughed at them privately, with friends, and publicly on my radio talk show. So, it came as quite a surprise when I heard that science might support creation of the heavens and the earth by “God.” That was stuff of my childhood, certainly nothing to concern myself as an informed adult, but there it was staring me in the face – creation science.

Fine Tuning

In the early 1970s people like Dr. John Meyer of the University of Louisville (Physiology and Biophysics), Dr. Malcolm Cutchins of Auburn University (Aerospace Engineering), Dr. Kenneth Cummings with the U.S. Consultants Fisheries Service in LaCrosse, Wisconsin (Research Biologist), Dr. Thomas Barnes of the University of Texas, El Paso (Physics), Dr. David Boylan of Iowa State University (Dean, College of Engineering), Dr. Arthur Wilder-Smith of the University of Illinois Medical School Center, University of Geneva School of Medicine, and University of Bergen School of Medicine (Doctorates in Physical Organic Chemistry and Pharmacological Sciences), and Dr. Edward Blick of the University of Oklahoma (Aerospace, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering) were supporting creationism using science as evidence. I found that very interesting since my observation of Christians at the time was they were not educated nor informed in the “sciences.”

The man who introduced me to the fact that many scientists believed in creation had been a professor of Civil Engineering at Rice University in the 1940s and had received his Ph.D. in Hydraulic Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Henry Morris taught at several universities during the 1950s and 60s and helped start the Creation Research Society in the early 60s. He co-wrote The Genesis Flood with Dr. John Whitcomb, which included his belief in the literal interpretation of the world-wide cataclysmic flood that killed all life on earth except for those who rode out the flood in the Ark built by Noah and his sons. Thus, the reason for Dr. Morris’ visit to Florida as he prepared to search for the Ark on Mt. Ararat. All of this seemed ridiculous to me, so I invited Dr. Morris to appear on my radio show in a special two-hour edition where we would dig into the claims of a creator God who destroyed most life on the planet with water.

One of Dr. Morris’ evidences about creationism was the “fine-tuning” of the universe. By that he meant the earth was the only physical place in the universe capable of sustaining higher forms of life. Dr. Morris pointed to the earth’s unique hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere as some of the evidence for that, along with the position of the earth in its distance from the sun and how the earth’s moon and other planets and moons in our solar system orbited the sun in a way that benefited life on earth and served as a protective shield to most of the damaging elements hurtling through space.

Fine-Tuning of the Universe

One of the evidences presented by scientists who believe in creation is known as “fine-tuning.” Dr. Lawrence Henderson of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School wrote about the concept of fine-tuning a century ago in his book The Fitness of the Environment (1913). Other scientists who made scientific discoveries used in the development of the theory of fine-tuning (prior to 1971) included Dr. Hermann Weyl of ETH Zurich (where he was a colleague of Albert Einstein) and Princeton University (Mathematical Physics), Sir Arthur Eddington of the University of Cambridge (Astrophysics), Nobel Prize winner (Physics) Dr. Paul Dirac of the University of Cambridge, University of Miami, and Florida State University, Dr. Carl Brans of Princeton University and Loyola University (Mathematical Physics), and Dr. Robert Dicke of Princeton University (Physics, Astrophysics, Atomic Physics).

The idea of fine-tuning, as was explained to me, is that of the universe being fine-tuned for “life”. Could the universe be so highly tuned for life that the earth was the only place in the universe that could support it? What had we learned from our exploration of the universe through powerful telescopes straining to see as far as many miles and light years as possible? Did we see other planets supporting life? NASA had launched many rockets into space by 1971 looking for signs of life. Did we have “proof of life” in another part of our galaxy or the universe? Not to say that space exploration wouldn’t find life out there somewhere, someday, but it seemed at the time as if we were alone in the universe.

Some of the “large number coincidences” (also known as large numbers hypothesis) were extraordinary in the study of the universe. I traced it back to the early part of the 20th century to something Dr. Hermann Weyl wrote – “the ratio of the electron radius to the electron’s gravitational radius is of the order of 1040. The ratio of the electron radius to the world radius may be of similar proportions”  (H. Weyl. 1919. Ann. der Physik S9129). Eddington, Dirac, and Dicke built on Weyl’s idea of coincidences between extremely large numbers from different origins. Were those coincidences because of the slow change of evolution or something more purposeful?

As an atheist who gladly accepted evolution as the “truth,” I did not believe there was any purpose to life. Why would there be any purpose to billions of years of evolution with its slow process of “natural” selection? There wasn’t. I had no purpose. People I knew had no purpose. The world I lived in had no purpose. I was the product of a more highly evolved life form and could use lower life forms to my advantage. I could also take advantage of similar life forms, but at a certain risk of other life forms taking advantage of me. It was a bit tricky, but I was figuring it out as I went along.

But what if there was a life form that was much higher than humans? What if that higher life form existed in another dimension than the one we experienced? What if that higher life form made demands on humans even as humans made demands on lower life forms?  What if that higher life form had created lower life forms for a purpose? If so, what was the purpose? Was it to take advantage of us in the same way we took advantage of other life forms? Or something else?

I had never looked at life in that way before. Things were so simple in my world. Eat, grow, dominate, reproduce, lose strength and ability to dominate, die. Things only became difficult if something or someone tried to keep me from eating, growing, dominating, and reproducing. Get in my way and I’ll shut you down. That was my basic belief about life at the time. The possibility of something greater than the human race making demands on us got my attention in a big way.

The process of researching something in 1971 was different than today. There was no publicly-accessible Internet, no cable TV with hundreds of channels filled with information, no smart phones and tablets with apps, no personal computers with quick and easy access to the vast online libraries of the world, and no email. If you wanted to research something you spent hours at a library, or purchased books and other materials at bookstores or ordered them through catalogs. I spent a lot of time at libraries.

The more I read, the more I wondered if I had missed something – something big. What if I was wrong? What if the universe was so finely tuned that evolution could not have done it? What if a “higher life form” had designed and created the universe with a purpose? If so, how could I know the purpose? It was an important time in my life. I sensed I was at a crossroads. I didn’t know what it would mean for my life, but I needed to know the truth. Something was pulling me to figure it out.

Would the argument of a finely-tuned universe be enough to change my mind about the existence of God? If that was the only evidence for the existence of God, it might not have been enough. However, there were many more arguments to come. More about those next time.

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5 Common Objections to the Moral Argument

By Paul Rezkalla

The Moral Argument for the existence of God has been graced with a long tradition of defense from theistic (and atheistic!) philosophers and thinkers throughout the history of Western thought…and a long tradition of misunderstandings and objections by even some of the most brilliant minds. To be fair, the argument is not always as intuitive as theists like to think it is. Essentially, the moral argument seeks to infer God as the best explanation for the objective moral facts about the universe. One of the most popular formulations is as follows:

1. Objective morality cannot exist unless God exists.

2. Objective morality exists.

3. Therefore, God exists.

There are a host of common objections that are usually blown in the direction of this argument, but for the sake of brevity, I will only deal with five. 

Moral Argument Objections

1. “But I’m a moral person and I don’t believe in God. Are you saying that atheists can’t be moral?”

The moral argument has nothing to do with belief in God. No proponent of the moral argument has ever argued that an individual cannot be moral unless they hold belief in God. Rather, the argument deals with grounding, or substantiating, objective morality. If God does not exist, then there can be no basis for objective morality. Sure, atheists can be moral. In fact, I know several atheists who are more moral than some theists! The issue of belief is not pertinent to the argument. The argument simply highlights the fact that there must be a basis– some kind of standard–that is outside of ourselves, in order for there to be objective morality. This objection makes a category error of confusing a question of moral ontology (Is there a moral reality?) with moral epistemology (How do we come to know or believe in the moral reality?).

2. “But what if you needed to lie in order to save someone’s life? It seems that morality is not absolute as you say it is.”

We’re not talking about absolute morality here. There is an important difference between absolute and objective. Absolutism requires that something will, or must, always be the case. Objectivity simply means ‘mind-independent’ or ‘judgement-independent’. When I argue for objective morality, I’m not arguing that it is always the case that lying or killing are wrong; the moral argument does not defend absolute morality. Rather, it contends that there is a standard of morality that transcends human opinions, judgments, biases, and proclivities. Let’s suppose that some nation today decreed that everyone of its homosexual citizens would be tortured to death simply for being homosexual; it would still be the case that, ‘It is wrong to torture homosexuals to death simply for being homosexual’.

The statement, ‘It is wrong to torture homosexuals to death simply for being homosexual’ is true, regardless of whether or not anyone believes it to be true. This is what is meant by objective.

3. ‘Where’s your evidence for objective morality? I won’t believe in anything unless I have evidence for it.’

Well, in that case, you shouldn’t believe that I exist. You shouldn’t believe that your parents gave birth to you. You shouldn’t believe that your closest loved ones are real, actual persons who matter and have feelings. You shouldn’t believe that the external world around you is actually there. After all, how do you know that you are not a brain in a vat being electrically stimulated by a crazy scientist who wants you to think that all of this is real? You could be in the matrix, for all you know (take the blue pill)! How do you know that you weren’t created a couple minutes ago and implanted with memories of your entire past life? How could you possibly prove otherwise?

See where this is going? Denying the existence of something on the basis of, ‘I will not believe unless I have evidence for it’ leaves you with solipsism. We believe in the reality of the external world on the basis of our experience of the external world, and we are justified in believing that the external world is real unless we had good evidence to think otherwise. There is no way to prove (empirically or otherwise) that the external world is real, or that the past wasn’t created 2 minutes ago with the appearance of age, and yet we all believe these to be true and are justified in doing so. In the absence of defeating evidence, we are justified in trusting our experience of the external world. In the same way, I think we can know that objective morality exists on the basis of our moral experience. We have access to moral facts about the universe through our moral intuition. Unless we have good reason to distrust our moral experience, we are justified in accepting the reality of the objective moral framework that it presents us with.

4. ‘If morality is objective, then why do some cultures practice female genital mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and other atrocities which we, in the West, deem unacceptable?’

There can be two responses given here:

The first response is that even though not all cultures share the exact same moral facts, most embrace the same, underlying moral values. For example, there are certain tribes that practice senicide (authorized killing of the elderly) due to their belief that everyone in the afterlife will continue living on in the same body that they died with. Thus, in order to ensure that those in the afterlife are capable of hunting, swimming, building houses, etc., the elderly are killed before they become too old to take care of themselves. This act is done with the well-being of the elderly in mind. The moral value that we hold in the West- ”The elderly are valuable and must be taken care of”- is also accepted by these tribes, even though their facts are slightly (well, maybe more than slightly) off.

The second response is that some cultures do, in fact, practice certain things that are straight up morally abominable. Cultures that practice infanticide, female circumcision, widow burning, child prostitution, etc. are practicing acts that are repulsive and morally abhorrent. When a man decides to have his 6-year old daughter circumcised or sold into prostitution, that is not a cultural or traditional difference that we should respect and uphold, rather these are atrocities that need to be advocated against and ended. The existence of  multiple moral codes does not negate the existence of objective morality. Are we to condone slavery and segregation since they were once allowed under our country’s moral code? Of course not. We condemn those actions, and rightly so.

Take the example of Nazi Germany: the Nazi ideology consented to the slaughter of millions, but their actions were wrong despite them thinking that they were right. Tim Keller summarizes this point succinctly:

The Nazis who exterminated Jews may have claimed that they didn’t feel it was immoral at all. We don’t care. We don’t care if they sincerely felt they were doing a service to humanity. They ought not to have done it. We do not only have moral feelings, but we also have an ineradicable belief that moral standards exist, outside of us, by which our internal moral feelings are evaluated.

Simply because a society practices acts that are contrary to what is moral does not mean that all moral codes are equal. Moral disagreements do not nullify moral truths.

5. ‘But God carried out many atrocities in the Old Testament. He ordered the genocide of the Canaanites.’

For starters, this isn’t really an objection to the moral argument. It does not attack either premise of the argument. It is irrelevant, but let’s entertain this objection for a second. By making a judgment on God’s actions and deeming them immoral, the objector is appealing to a standard of morality that holds true outside of him/herself and transcends barriers of culture, context, time period, and social norms. By doing this, he/she affirms the existence of objective morality! But if the skeptic wants to affirm objective morality after throwing God out the window, then there needs to be an alternate explanation for its basis. If not God, then what is it? The burden is now on the skeptic to provide a naturalistic explanation for the objective moral framework.

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Is the Universe Full of “Wasted” Space?

Why did God make the universe so big? Why so much extra space if it’s just us? This is a question that both skeptics and believers have often asked, including myself. After all, why does there need to be a universe with some fifty billion trillion stars, which comprise merely one percent of the total mass?

Stephen Hawking raised this question years ago in his book A Brief History of Time. He suggested the vast size of our universe seems a waste. And Carl Sagan famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Sagan suggested its size is good reason to believe there are other life forms in the universe.

Universe Wasted Space

Whether or not life exists in other parts of the universe, it turns out that the size of the universe is carefully calibrated and necessary for life’s existence on planet Earth. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross explains this phenomenon in his recent book Improbable Planet. He writes:

However, ongoing research has given us good reasons—all relevant to life’s existence—for the massiveness of the cosmos. We need it for essential construction materials.

The initial mass density of matter’s building blocks—protons and neutrons (called baryons. collectively)—critically impacted what happened the first few minutes of the universe’s existence. That’s when hydrogen, the lightest element, fused into the next heavier elements, helium and lithium. The amount of helium and lithium produced at the time then determined how much planet-and life-building material (the elements essential for life) could be produced later on within the nuclear furnace of stars.

If the universe contained a slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then stars burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.[1]

Simply put, given the laws of physics in our universe, we need a universe as massive as it is for the construction of the materials that make life possible on our planet. If the universe were much smaller or bigger, we would not exist.

It turns out the universe is not full of wasted space. In fact, if the universe were not this massive, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and the rest of us could never even have been here to reflect upon it. Thank God we live in such a big universe.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


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[1] Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 24.

Does It Matter Whether God Exists?

By Eric Chabot

After talking to hundreds of college students for several years about spiritual beliefs, one thing that comes up from time to time is whether the existence of God is even relevant. In other words, the discussion kind of goes like this: “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” As a matter of fact, at this moment, we are in the midst of promoting an event at a large college campus called Stealing From God: What Makes Sense of Reality: Theism or Atheism? You can see our clip here:

Anyway, the comment “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” displays a very pragmatic view of truth. I have discussed the problem with this elsewhere. But when a student says God’s existence isn’t really relevant, my first response is to try to get them back to the issue of truth. After all, if there is a God and He does exist and it turns out Jesus is His Son, that is an objective reality. It has zero to do with how I feel about it. And the truthfulness of it isn’t determined whether the person stays busy and says “I don’t care if God exists.” Another issue that comes up is the following worldview questions:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• The Human Condition: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality/Human Rights, Human Dignity: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong? What is the basis for human rights, moral values, moral duties, human dignity, and equality?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world

God Exists

Now after looking at these worldview issues, I think the one that is the question that is the most pressing one is the morality, human rights, and human dignity issue. This issue is directly related  to the origins question. They can’t be separated. Just recently in the recent presidential debate, the abortion topic came up. That is directly related to one’s view of humans and what makes them valuable. Of course, on a theistic worldview, human aren’t valuable based on their function. They are valuable based on their nature or essence. It is quite obvious we live at a time where people are obsessed with human rights, justice, and equality. I discuss why theism lays the foundation for these features of reality here. 

So in the end, when I run into college students that are apathetic about the existence of God, I now ask them if they think humans are valuable and whether they believe in justice, equality, and human rights. Every single time, the student says “Yes!” So now the door is open to discuss the origins question and how that relates to the human dignity and equality issue. Robert Spizter helps us understand the importance of this topic. He says:

“The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data. The general principle is this: opinions that explain the most data and are verified by the most evidence are better than those that do not. The vast majority of people consider this principle to be self-evident because if greater explanatory power and more evidence is not better, then additional evidence and explanatory power add nothing, which means that all evidence and explanatory power are essentially worthless. This leaves us with only our subjective assertions, which most people do not consider to be good enough. For example, as suggested previously, Einstein’s theory about the universe is better than Newton’s theory because it explains more data. (Newton was unaware of most of the data that the special and general theories of relativity account for.) Again, calculus has more explanatory power than algebra and trigonometry because it can account for curves through derivative and integral functions, which algebra and trigonometry cannot do on their own. This applies to virtually every science and social science. The more data a theory or hypothesis explains, the better it is. With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”.
If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 

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Approaching the Existence of God

By Eric Chabot

How do we know God exists?  In the past when I was asked this question  I used to automatically  jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I ask the person “How should we approach the existence of God?” or “ What method should we use?”  Now, I know that when you ask a Christian, Jewish person, Muslim, or Mormon how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. So in this post I want to discuss some of the various ways we can approach the existence of God. I am well aware that there are other methods as well.

Existence of God

#1: The Revelatory Approach

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.

Christianity stresses that  the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is this- since God is free and personal, he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and his actions include already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things that are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.

The mediums God uses in the Bible are General Revelation (The Created Order/Conscience; Rom. 1&2); Special Revelation: Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), The Bible (2 Tim. 3:16); Miracles, Prophecy, Theophanies, Missionaries/Messengers, and other means as well.

But why the need for revelation?  First, we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil/the Fall. In other words, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we would not know our destiny.

Also, people often lament that God should just give them direct evidence of Himself in a way that will cause people to follow Him (e.g, write his name in the sky or have a resurrected Jesus appear to everyone today). The problem with this desire is most people don’t know what they are asking for.  Biblically speaking, people can’t see God and live (see Exodus 33:20). Therefore, that is why God picks a specific medium to reveal Himself to humanity. Furthermore, even if people had direct evidence, it does not mean they will love God and follow Him.

Challenges to the Revelation Argument

There is no doubt going to be challenges to the revelation argument. After all, the Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are also to considered to be The Word of God. Who has it right? The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one. [1]

That is why the revelation argument will generally lead us to utilize historical apologetics (see next point).

#2: Historical Arguments/Prophecy

When it comes to historical arguments, we ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity. Also, see here. Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics.

Let me first expand on the miracles/prophecy issue a little bit: There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).

3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

  1. The word “sign”  is reserved for what we would call a miracle.
  2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the  resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
  3. Jesus  repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign(Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).
  4. Nicodemus  said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
  5. “Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you  yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).

To see more, see our post “Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus

Also, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Also, to see more on the prophecy issues, See our post: “Who is the one true God: A Look at Prophecy as a Verification Test and The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

#3 God as an Explanatory Hypothesis?

Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20)  since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer
there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there  are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts  (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional  accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). (2)  Generally speaking, there is mass confusion over the difference between Agency and mechanisms.

Agents have goals and plan ahead. Mind or intelligence is the only known condition that can remove the improbabilities against life’s emergence. It is hard to see how a blind, naturalistic, undirected process could anticipate the universe that is required for our life to get started on our present earth and then go on to create life from non-life as well as the genetic code, etc.

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis said, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. An example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

To see a short example of this approach online, see  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

Also, using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue.

#4: Pragmatic Arguments?

Many people might ask why I would bring this one up. The reason I mention it is because about 70% of people I talk to about Christianity object to it by saying “I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?” This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested  in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”

This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues, and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Furthermore, the Gospel is not “What Can Jesus Do For Me?” but instead a call to die to ourselves and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23).

It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship, or they are living in sin.  So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.

Conclusion:

I can say from experience that people  have come to know the Christian faith is true for a variety of reasons.  There are several other approaches to the existence of God. I hope that has caused you to go further in the question of God’s existence.

Sources:

1. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.

2. Charles Taliaferro, Philosophy of Religion: A Beginners Guide (Oxford: Oxford Publications, 2009), 70.

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Three Evidences That Point to Intelligent Interaction

When examining a death scene to determine if it was the result of accidental (or natural) causes or the malicious consequence of a killer, I begin by looking for evidence of intelligent interaction (I describe this process in great detail in God’s Crime Scene). Is there evidence at the scene that indicates another intelligent being (the killer) was present? In a similar way, when examining biological structures to determine if they are the result of accidental or natural causes, or the conscious consequence of an intelligent designer, I begin by looking for evidence of intelligent interaction. What are the features of design that all of us recognize intuitively every day, and are these features present in biological organisms? In God’s Crime Scene, I describe eight common characteristics of design and intelligent interaction, and although I think the cumulative case is overwhelming and persuasive when presented in it’s totality, there are a few features of design that are even easier to communicate when making a brief case for an intelligent Creator:

Evidence of Improbability Rather Than Probability
Could the forces of natural law alone account for what I am seeing in biology, and if so, is there enough time in the history of this organism for such laws to cause this result? Given nothing but matter, time and the unguided forces of nature, could simply proteins arise from amino acids? Could amino acids arise in the first place? Has enough time passed in the history of the planet for such unguided processes to account for the complexity we see in even the “simplest” organisms? How probable is such a hypothesis? As evidence for biological complexity mounts, naturalistic, unguided processes seem less and less probable.

Evidence of Irreducibility Rather Than Reducibility
If “natural selection” is true, each organism retains beneficial (unguided) mutations if, and only if, they benefit the organism’s ability to survive. Structures within each organism are therefore built through a process of addition, moving from simplicity to complexity if, and only if, the additions result in something beneficial:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive slight modifications, my theory would break down.” (Charles Darwin in Origin of Species)

If we find structures within an organism (such as Michael Behe’s observation of the Bacterial Flagellum) that cannot have been formed slowly over time through a succession of slight modifications, there is good reason to believe the structure must have been designed. Examples of irreducible complexity in which a large number of proteins must come into existence in precise relationship with one another all at once, are highly improbable unless the assembly was facilitated by an intelligent agent who assembled the required pieces simultaneously. There are several examples of irreducible complexity in biology.

Evidence of Specificity Rather Than Randomness
When something is “specific”, it is “special, distinct, unique, particularly fitted to a use or purpose”. Information demonstrates specificity in its capacity to communicate specific ideas and concepts. As Stephen C. Meyer describes in Signature in the Cell, there isn’t a single example anywhere in the history of the universe in which information came from anything other than an intelligent source. Information is coded by the writer and decoded by the reader; when we see specific information, we can trust that an intelligent writer is involved. When we see information in DNA, guiding the formation of proteins and molecular machines within organisms, the most reasonable inference is the existence of an intelligent writer.

There seems to be plenty of evidence that an intelligent agent has interacted with the biological world with which we are so familiar. The most reasonable inference from the evidence of improbability, irreducibility and specificity is that our world is the product of intelligent design.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions

Sean McDowell, Ph.D.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings—or it is the most remarkable fact of history.” My father has often shared these words to me in person, and he’s written them in his books. The older I get, the more I realize they’re unmistakably true. There’s no middle ground with the resurrection of Jesus. Either it is a colossal fabrication or the most important event in history.

With Good Friday coming soon, many people are thinking about the resurrection. Is it true? What does it mean? Why should I care? In this short post, I have a modest goal: to persuade you of the monumental importance of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, I consider three massive questions that the resurrection, if it is true, answers.

 

  1. Does God Exist?

If Jesus has risen from the grave, and truly conquered death 2,000 years ago, then this seems to be powerful evidence for the existence of God. After all, a resurrection would require an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of knowledge. Nature does not have the resources to account for a resurrection any more than a feather can account for a dent in a car (unless it’s a Chevy). There must be a supernatural explanation.

 

Commenting on Jesus’ claims to deity, Gary Habermas observes, “But were these claims true? To verify them, the Gospels assert that Jesus performed miracles as signs of his credibility. We are even told that he identified his resurrection and predicted in advance that this event would be the ultimate vindication of his message and his own claim to deity. The sum of these teachings comprised Jesus’s personal belief in Christian theism. It makes sense that Jesus was in the best position to interpret the meaning of this event. And he claimed that God’s action in his resurrection would verify his teachings. We need to entertain at least the possibility that Jesus was correct: that this unique historical event combined with Jesus’s unique claims might indicate that his theistic worldview was corroborated.[1]

 

If Jesus rose from the grave, then it seems to provide a positive answer to one of the most pressing issues humans ask—does God exist?

 

  1. Which Religion Is True?

If the resurrection actually took place in historical space-time, then all other religions and philosophies for coping with life fall short. This doesn’t mean other religions are entirely false in everything they teach. Many religions offer profound insights about life. But it does mean that on core issues—the nature of God, salvation and the afterlife—Christianity is uniquely true. And on the flip side, as Paul observes, if the resurrection is not true, then Christianity is utterly false (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

 

Jesus encouraged people to believe in him because of both his teachings and his miracles (e.g. John 5:36-40; Luke 10:13-15). He seemed to view miracles as providing a divine seal on his own ministry. For instance, Jesus reportedly told the Jewish leaders that his miracles were proof that he was the Son of God (John 10:36-38). On another occasion, Jesus pointed to his resurrection as the greatest sign that would confirm his identity (Matthew 16:1-4). Again, Gary Habermas observes:

 

In what the Book of Acts presents as its initial sermon, Peter reportedly declared that Jesus’s miracles, and especially the resurrection, were the chief indication that God had approved Jesus’s teachings (Acts 2:23-32)…By citing an early creed that utilizes at least three Christological titles, Paul proclaimed that the resurrection was God’s confirmation of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:3-4)…the resurrection would have been taken as God’s approval of Jesus’s message.”[2]

 

  1. Is There Life After Death

How could we really know if there is life after death? In the 1990 science-fiction thriller Flatliners, some medical students want to know if there is life after death. Instead of studying religion or philosophy, they decide to flatline one another’s hearts, resuscitate themselves back to life, and then give a report on what happens in the afterlife. While morbid, their thinking does make sense—if we want to know what’s on the other side of life, we should ask someone who has been there and come back.

 

If the resurrection is true, then Jesus has actually returned from the dead and can confirm that there is life after death. In John 14:3, Jesus says to his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (ESV). In other words, Jesus can testify about life after death because he has died, and then returned to life as a witness. Thus, if the resurrection is true, then life continues after death, just as Jesus taught.

 

Can you see how important the resurrection is? Again, either it is a colossal fabrication, or it is the most important event in history. There’s no middle ground.

 

If you haven’t really considered the evidence, then today should be the day. Maybe start by checking out this short piece I wrote with William Lane Craig: “Can I get a Witness?

Leave us a comment about: The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions


 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 66-67.

[2] Ibid., 91.

Do Your Kids Know Why They Need God?

By Natasha Crain

A few months ago, my 6-year-old daughter asked a question that has had me thinking ever since:

Mommy, why does God matter so much?

It was the most fundamental of questions, really. Yet I was embarrassingly uncertain of how to answer it in a way that meaningfully encapsulates the full answer for her. I’ve thought about the question many times since she first asked it, and it’s always bothered me that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on how best to reply.

Meanwhile, in the last several months, I happen to have read a lot of “deconversion” stories online (testimonies from ex-Christians of why they lost their faith). It hit me just recently that there’s a theme at the end of many such stories which ultimately points back to the answer to my daughter’s question (I’ll come back to that at the end of this post):

After people recount how they lost their faith, they often conclude their story with a glib comment of how they moved on because they “didn’t need God anymore.”

This is a strange conclusion that I think betrays a lack of deeper insight.

Here’s the deal:

If God exists, we need Him. All things were created through and for Him; He is the Source and sustainer of everything by definition. Therefore, if God exists, it’s not a choice to need Him, it’s simply a fact that we do.

If God doesn’t exist, we don’t need Him. We cannot need Him. We cannot need something that doesn’t exist.

In other words, saying that you don’t need God anymore is a nonsensical conclusion. Of course you don’t need God if He doesn’t exist. And if He does exist, you can’t choose to not need Him.

What their statement betrays, therefore, is that they had come to believe in God based on felt needs (desires) rather than on the conviction that God truly exists.

When they realized they didn’t need to believe in God to satisfy those felt needs, they simply eliminated Him from the picture and met those needs in other ways. It looks like this:

 

Desire and Conviction

 

Are Your Kids Building a Faith on Desires or Conviction?

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to inadvertently lead our kids in the dangerous direction of building a faith on felt needs rather than conviction.

I’ve noticed that deconversion stories commonly reference one of three felt needs that ex-Christians claim they don’t require God to satisfy anymore. These are instructive for us as parents, as we can see what is frequently being substituted for genuine conviction in God’s existence as the basis for belief.

 

Felt Need 1To be happy (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be happy!”)

For some strange reason, many people subconsciously believe that in order to be happy, they need to believe in God. I say “strange,” because the Bible clearly doesn’t suggest that Jesus was in the business of making people happy or comfortable. Rather, Christians are called to a life of self-sacrifice and to follow Jesus at any cost. Responding to that call results in a Christ-centered joy, but is no promise of circumstance-centered happiness.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

Let’s face it. The picture of Christianity that’s presented to kids in many churches is as rosy as punch. Lots of simple, happy songs and lessons about God’s love with an overarching tone that we all live happily ever after once we’re saved. When we fail to arm our kids with a more complete understanding of God’s nature (loving and just), the problem of evil and suffering in the world around us, and the sacrificial life we are called to live, we set them up to think being a Christian is about being happy. If the desire for happiness becomes the foundation of their belief, it’s a short step toward atheism when they realize they really can be circumstantially happy without God.

 

Felt Need 2: To be a good person (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be a good person!”)

Ex-Christians often recount their deconversion with a summary line to the effect of, “I realized I didn’t need a cosmic policeman to be a good person.” This is usually followed by some kind of pronouncement of freedom, as if the person had felt personally shackled to the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments their whole lives.

But atheists can behave as morally or more morally than Christians. The Bible says that God has given everyone a moral conscience, not just those who believe in Him (Romans 2:15). It should be no surprise that atheists can be nice people who make morally good decisions.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

It’s simple. We focus on our kids’ behavior by default. It’s 5000 percent easier to work on our kids’ behavior than it is to work on our kids’ faith development, which requires a lot of proactive effort. When parents make faith about what happens on Sunday and don’t regularly integrate faith at home, kids can easily begin to believe that being a Christian is about being nice. If kids start building their faith on the thought that Christianity is about being a good person, it’s easy to leave Jesus behind when they realize they don’t “need” God to do that.

 

Felt Need 3: To find some kind of meaning in life (Eventual revelation: “I don’t need God to live a meaningful life!”)

Earlier this year, former pastor-turned-atheist Ryan Bell commented, “Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful. Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives.”

To this I say, Mr. Bell, your meaning doesn’t mean much. But that aside, atheists like Mr. Bell can find some kind of personal meaning in life without believing in God.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

When we’re passionate about our Christian parenting, we can fall into the trap of beating our kids over the head with the idea that our lives are “all about God.” Our lives are all about God, but if we just emphasize this summary idea repeatedly without consciously addressing the why, our kids may ultimately conclude they can craft an alternative life meaning and leave God out of the picture. Building a faith on the idea that it’s the only way you can have meaning is a dangerous path. As Christians, our lives have meaning because we believe God exists; we shouldn’t believe in God because we want to have meaning.

 

So Why Do We Need God?

This comes full circle to my daughter’s question: Why does God matter so much?

Because He exists.

And if He exists, we need Him. We are dependent on Him for everything.

He is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are here to fulfill His purposes. If we live as though He doesn’t exist and we don’t need Him, our lives are like a key we keep putting in the wrong lock. We may put the key in a lock that “sort of” fits and can “sort of” move the lock around, but ultimately it won’t unlock the door to our soul’s eternal purpose.

It’s critical that we make sure our kids are building a faith based on the conviction of God’s existence and not felt needs. In my next post, I’ll be telling you about a fantastic new book coming out that will help you and your kids learn more about the evidence for God. Stay tuned!

Here’s a little experiment. Ask your kids tonight, “Why does God matter so much?” or, “Why do we need God?” Seeing how they respond can give you much insight into how they’re thinking about God at this point in their lives. I’d love it if you would come back and share their responses!

Visit Natasha’s Blog: ChristianMomThoughts.com

If Your Kids Are Someday Shocked by the Claims of Skeptics, You Didn’t Do Your Job

By Natasha Crain

Popular Christian rapper Jahaziel made the news when he released a statement renouncing his faith (you can read the full message here). As I read his statement, I was really struck by something…the utter predictability of every claim he made against Christianity.

His deconversion statement reads like a play-by-play from the “2015 Internet Guide to Why Christianity Isn’t True.” I have to admit that after I read it, my jaded side initially reacted with a mental shoulder shrug: “Nothing new here. Same tired set of claims.”

But then I realized that’s the same mental shoulder shrug I make at about 95% of blog comments I receive from skeptics of Christianity these days. That’s not because I’m somehow better than those comments, or because those comments aren’t raising important questions that should be answered.

It’s simply because I’ve spent the last few years making myself aware of the challenges to Christianity, reading what both Christians and skeptics say about those challenges, and concluding repeatedly that the case for the truth of Christianity is powerfully strong.

It occurred to me when reading Jahaziel’s statement that this is precisely the position we want our kids to be in by the time they leave home—where the challenges they hear from the world are nothing new, nothing shocking, nothing they haven’t heard some version of before…and nothing they haven’t had the opportunity to investigate with you.

That’s not as hard to accomplish as you might think.

The fact that these claims are so predictable means our job is both well-defined and achievable.

 

Jahaziel’s Predictable “Case Against Christianity”

A lot of parents are overwhelmed at the thought of helping their kids learn the case for Christianity and how to defend their faith against the seemingly ubiquitous challenges today.

Where do you start? Where do you end? How can you cover it all? How can kids ever really be sufficiently prepared? How can we even be prepared ourselves?

But here’s what you need to know: Helping your kids develop a faith that’s prepared for today’s challenges is not a nebulous, impossible task.

Rather, skeptics are making a predictable set of claims, so we have a pretty specific agenda we should be covering with our kids over time. Think of it like helping them study for a test. You might not be able to anticipate every conceivable question they’ll get, but you can make sure they know what major subject areas they’ll encounter and how to think through the most important questions in those areas. They’re not venturing out into a completely wild blue yonder. This test can be studied for.

To demonstrate what I mean, I want to walk you through the key parts of Jahaziel’s statement. There are all kinds of claims against Christianity embedded here. But they are so common—so predictable—that I can literally point to where I answered each one in my book. I don’t say that to suggest I’m particularly insightful or to advertise the book; I say it to show that Jahaziel’s many and varied claims are all common enough to have been addressed in a single book about today’s key faith challenges.

Let’s take a look.

 

“I have met some great people in church and learned some great principles from Christianity/the Bible. These principles, however, are not exclusive to any religion.”

Underlying this statement is the implied assertion that all religions are essentially the same because they boil down to “great principles.” Do all religions really point to the same truth? Absolutely not. A lot of people try to claim that (including Oprah, as one example), but it’s simply illogical. I explain why in chapter 10. Nothing surprising here.

 

“I have met many sincere Christians, both church goers and church leaders, and although I have not seen every one of the 40,000 Christian denominations currently in existence I think I have seen enough to personally make a general conclusion regarding Christianity in the broadest sense.”

Ah, yes, the 40,000 denomination claim. I can’t tell you how many times skeptics have commented on my blog about that number. That’s why my chapter 14 exists: “If Christianity is true, why are there so many denominations?” Nothing surprising here.

 

“Now, after 20 years of being vocal about the positives of Christian faith, I would like to take some time to be equally vocal about the negatives I have found, i.e., Christianity and its controlling dictatorship, its historic blood trail, its plagiarized Bible stories, characters and concepts, the many human errors of the Bible and its contradictions, the brutal nature of its God, its involvement in the slave trade, the crusades, the inquisition, the witch hunts…you get the drift.”

I’m not sure what he’s talking about specifically with “controlling dictatorship,” but the rest of this is, once again, standard fare.

  • Historic blood trail? Crusades? Inquisition? Witch Hunts? This is all part of the common claim that Christianity is responsible for millions of deaths in history… therefore Christianity is both false and evil. I address this in chapter 15. Nothing surprising here.

 

  • Plagiarized Bible stories, characters and concepts? This could refer to a lot of things, but he’s likely referring to the common claim that Christianity was borrowed from pagan myths. I address this in chapter 22, where I talk about various theories of the resurrection. Nothing surprising here.

 

  • The many human errors of the Bible and its contradictions? This is one of the most common blanket statements you hear today and it includes multiple layers of questions/challenges: How were the books of the Bible selected? Why were books left out of the Bible? How do we know we can trust the Bible’s authors? How do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote? These aren’t shocking questions…once again, they’re par for the course and are the titles to chapters 25-29 in my book. Nothing surprising here.

 

  • The brutal nature of God? Involvement in the slave trade? No list of claims against Christianity would be complete without this one, targeted at the difficulties in parts of the Old Testament. I discuss the “genocide” of the Canaanites in chapter 3, and claims that the Bible supports slavery, rape, and human sacrifice in chapters 30, 31, and 32. Nothing surprising here.

 

It’s Not Just Jahaziel

I used Jahaziel’s statement as a “case study” to make the point of this post, but lest you think this is a one-off example, I want to leave you with one other quick and poignant (true) story.

A young Christian I know who’s an undergraduate student posted on Facebook recently about a humanities class he’s taking. He said that, so far in the semester, he’s “learned” the following: Jesus never claimed to be God in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Christianity borrowed ideas from earlier pagan myths, and the church arbitrarily picked which books to include in the Bible according to its own biases.

He noted, “The reactions of other students are of shock and disbelief. Yesterday the professor asked a student how these facts made her feel. She said she was mad and couldn’t wait to go yell at her pastor and parents. The professor egged her on. It was like watching a commander rally up his troops to tear down his enemy.”

The girl in the class was presumably ready to throw out years of Christian upbringing after a couple of months in a single college class. All because she heard some standard claims against Christianity for the first time…

Jesus never claimed to be God? I cover that in chapter 18. Nothing surprising there.

Christianity borrowed ideas from earlier pagan myths? That was in Jahaziel’s list too. Again, I discuss that in chapter 22. Nothing surprising there.

The church arbitrarily picked books for the Bible? See chapters 25 and 26. Nothing surprising there.

This girl’s faith crisis was entirely unnecessary…if only her parents had taken the time to prepare her for this highly predictable “test.”

If our kids are eventually shocked by the claims of skeptics, we have failed to do our job.

As you consider your goals for 2016, I encourage you to ask yourself this: What specific subjects will I get equipped to cover with my kids this year, and how will I share that knowledge with them?

In my next post, I’ll provide a master list of my recommended resources to help you achieve those goals!

Click here to see the source site of this article.

Is Belief In God A Rational Position?

By Ryan Pauly

Is it a rational position to believe that there is an all-powerful God who created the world and gives us purpose? This question has become the topic of many debates over the years. One of the reasons is because its answer has eternal significance. “The existence of a personal, moral God is fundamental to all that Christians believe.”[1]Without a foundation in God, Christianity would crumble to the ground. Without God, man would just be an accident; a result of matter coming together and changing over time. This would create random accidental beings, and there would be no meaning, value or purpose.[2] However, with God, we have meaning, value, purpose, and answers to many questions. But is this a rational position?

Rather than looking at personal likes and dislikes, we need objective arguments based in logic to help us understand if belief in God is rational. To just say, “I feel” or “I think” is not enough. There have been four basic arguments that have been used over the years to prove God’s existence, three of which will be covered here. These are arguments from creation (cosmological), design (teleological), and moral law (axiological). With these arguments we should be able to give a logical and objective approach to see if God’s existence is rational.

1. The Argument Based On Creation

The first argument comes from creation and is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It states that whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause. The first premise shows to be true because it is clear that whatever begins to exist has a cause. We don’t see things coming into existence every day. Are you able to give an example of anything that came into existence from nothing and without a cause? The second premise stating that the universe had a beginning is supported by philosophy and science. Science and philosophy give us strong evidence that the universe cannot be eternal and has to have a starting point. One scientific example is the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It states that the universe is running out of usable energy. “If the universe is running out of energy, and it has been here infinitely long, it would have run out of its energy infinitely long ago.”[3] Based on the first two premises, the conclusion follows that the universe has a cause. Whatever this first cause was had to be spaceless, timeless, uncaused, all powerful and immaterial. That sounds a lot like God.

2. The Argument Based On Design

The cosmological argument open the door for a rational belief in God, and when added, the second argument strengthens our case for a rational belief in God. The second argument is based on design and is the teleological argument. The design argument deals with the presence of order in the universe. This order can be explained by either scientific laws or personal explanations.[4] Scientific laws explain things like the law of gravity or the laws of motion. Personal explanations describe things like ability, intention, or order. For example, there is no scientific law explaining why your phone is lying next to your computer. It is only the person who put the phone there that can explain why he/she did that.

One thing that all of these scientific laws and personal explanations show us is that there is order in the universe. The universe has been so finely tuned that the slightest change would create a disaster. Science has discovered this delicate balance over the last 25-30 years.[5] For example, if the mass of a proton changed in the slightest, there would be no possibility for life. These numbers are so finely tuned that there has to be an intelligent designer. In the same way that a building has an architect, a painting has a painter, a computer program has a programmer, and a code has an encoder, the universe has to have an intelligent designer to explain its order and intricacy.

One scientific finding that has caused problems for many atheists is the information stored in DNA. “Even atheist Richard Dawkins, in his book Blind Watchmaker, admits that the DNA information in a single-cell animal equals that in a thousand sets of an encyclopedia!”[6] It is hard to believe that someone would stumble across a thousand sets of an encyclopedia and think that they just randomly appeared out of pure chance. One scientist figured that the odds for this type of a single-cell organism to form by chance are 1 in 10 to the 40,000th power, and it is infinitely more complex for a human being to emerge by chance.[7] All of this shows that science does not disprove the existence of God but that the rational explanation is that there has to be an intelligent being that created and designed our highly ordered DNA.

3. The Argument Based On Moral Values

We have seen the need for a cause and an intelligent designer, so now let’s see if we need a moral law giver. The first thing to realize is that there really is right and wrong and everyone expects others to follow that moral code. These objective moral laws don’t show us what is, but what ought to be.[8] Unless you are in a position of authority, you cannot tell someone they ought to do something. You could possibly say you think they should or you think it would be better, but this turns into subjective morality. In order for there to be objective moral values for all people at all times, we need someone in an objective position of authority. Even governments can’t be this authority because then each government would create its own morality and everything would return back to being subjective. The only way to explain objective moral laws is to have an objective moral law giver, God.

It is also interesting that in order to deny moral absolutes; you have to make an absolute denial.[9] It is very hard and sometimes even impossible to hold to the point that there are no objective morals. As soon as someone does something you don’t like and you tell them that they shouldn’t do it, you are making a moral statement. You are claiming that there are objective morals and we ought to obey them. Any time someone claims there is evil in the world or that the world is unjust, they are affirming objective morality. So in fact, the attempt to deny the existence of God by using evil in the world actually confirms his existence. Without God there would be no right or wrong, just different decisions. It is easy to claim relativism and say there are no objective moral laws, but it is nearly impossible to live it. “A moral atheist is like someone sitting down to dinner who doesn’t believe in farmers, ranchers, fishermen, or cooks. She believes the food just appears, with no explanation and no sufficient cause.”[10]

These three arguments combined show us the need we have for a cause, an intelligent designer, and a moral law giver. There is no possible way that our universe could begin to exist, be intricately designed, and have objective moral laws without God. These scientific and philosophical arguments make a very strong case that belief in God is a rational position. The odds of having what we have without God would be too large to count. Even if life could be possible, without God it would be meaningless. The best explanation for all of the evidence that we have is that there really is a God and therefore it is a rational position to believe that God exists.

 

Ryan Pauly is a CrossExamined Instructor Academy Graduate.

Original Source For This Article: Is Belief In God A Rational Position?


 

[1] Norman Geisler, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013) 9

[2] William Lane Craig. “The Absurdity of Life Without God.” Lecture

[3] J.P. Moreland, “Arguments for the existence of God.” Lecture

[4] J.P. Moreland, “Arguments for the Existence of God.” Lecture

[5] J.P. Moreland, “Arguments for the Existence of God.” Lecture

[6] Geisler 15

[7] Geisler 16

[8] Geisler 16

[9] Geisler 287

[10] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 168

Was Belief in God a Science-Stopper? Not for Newton

I’d like to call attention to a couple of excellent blogs by Luke Barnes correcting some historical blunders that Neil deGrasse Tyson made. Tyson argued that Newton failed to discover the stability of the solar system due to blinders that resulted from his belief in God. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the blogs by Barnes, a cosmologist from Australia.

I had recognized historical misrepresentations by Tyson in the Cosmos series such as that Giordano Bruno was a martyr for science and that Galileo went to jail for his scientific beliefs[1] but I wasn’t aware of the broader story behind this famous interaction between Laplace and Napolean. You really need to read Barnes’s blogs for the details but, in a nutshell, the story is that Napolean upon reading physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace’s writings about the physics of the solar system asked why they never mentioned a Creator. Laplace replied that “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” Also, as Barnes summarizes: “Tyson claims that Newton (1642-1727) should have discovered what Laplace (1749-1827) did – that the combined pull of the planets on each other do not destabilize their orbits – but was hamstrung by his theism.” Tyson wonders why Newton didn’t discover the stability of the solar system but inserted God as a means of intervening to keep things stable:

What concerns me is, even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God, and then your discovery stops. It just stops. You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier. You’re waiting for someone to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says “that’s a really cool problem, I want to solve it.” And they come in and solve it.”

Barnes points out several problems with Tyson’s claims:

  • This story may have never actually happened – the case for its historicity is somewhat weak as Laplace himself denied it and the earliest reports about the meeting are relatively late.
  • It is simply false that Newton ceased from scientific exploration into this problem – he did develop a theory of perturbations. He failed to develop the proper theory primarily because he had the wrong tools – as one historian summarizes “success came for Newton’s successors only with a new approach, different from any he had envisaged: algorithmic and global.”
  • Laplace had lots of help – as Barnes explains: “note the mathematicians who worked on the problem of perturbations to planetary orbits before Laplace: Clairaut, Euler, d’Alembert, and Lagrange. These are the greatest mathematicians of their age; Leonard Euler is arguably the greatest mathematician of all time: “Read Euler, read Euler, he is the master of us all.” That quote, incidentally, is from Laplace. Euler was a devout Christian and a Lutheran Saint. Apparently, having “God on the brain” didn’t prevent him – as it didn’t prevent Newton – from working on this scientific problem.” “Newton, of course, was a mathematical genius. But we can hardly blame him for not being smarter than Clairaut, Euler, d’Alembert, Lagrange and Laplace combined.”
  • Laplace’s theory is not quite accurate either – “orbits of the Solar System are chaotic over timescales of a few billion years.”

I personally think it’s important to correct this type of misleading historical account because it is often used to argue against interpreting something like fine-tuning as evidence for a Creator – anyone that sees evidence for God is said to be a science-stopper.

Why does Tyson feel the need to inject historical misrepresentations at all into his otherwise excellent public lectures on the beauty majesty of nature and the scientific endeavor? I assume that Tyson didn’t know the broader story but we should expect more thorough research from a scientist and public spokesperson.

Here are some resources you might find helpful that discuss the relationship between science and religion historically:

https://ischristianitytrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/science-series-the-myth-that-the-church-hindered-the-development-of-science/

The Mythical Conflict Between Science and Religion” James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)
_____________________________

[1] Both of these myths are debunked in Galileo Goes to Jail: and Other Myths About Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Harvard UP, 2009)

 

Do Objective Moral Truths Exist in Reality?

The moral argument for God’s existence is often presented as follows:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

As with any valid syllogism, the moral argument can be defeated by proving one of the supporting premises to be false. In many conversations with atheists, I’ve encountered several who agree with premise 1, but deny the truth of premise 2. Is this a rational position, or do we have good reason to believe that objective moral values and duties do in fact exist?

Before we look at the evidence, let’s define clearly the boundaries of the premise. The claim is that our universe contains moral categories of values (good and evil) and duties (right and wrong actions) that exist independently of the opinion of anyone and that apply to the actions and motivations of all persons. Therefore, the topic at hand is a question of ontology—whether these categories actually exist, and not epistemology—how we know these categories. How we come to knowledge of morality is irrelevant to the question; whether we know the speed limit on the streets of our city has no effect on the existence of such a limit. In my hometown, you will still be cited for speeding, even if the road is not posted with speed limit signs!

Secondly, the claim is not interested in whether one believes in objective morality. Belief in, or lack of belief in a truth claim does not make the claim true or false. You may not believe that our town has a speed limit; you can still be given a citation in spite of your lack of belief. What the claim addresses is whether these moral categories exist in reality, not in someone’s belief system.

So the question on the table presents us with two different types of realities; a moral universe in which objective moral categories exist, and an amoral universe that contains only subjective moral categories (where each person’s standard of right, wrong, good, and evil is defined by themselves and applies only to themselves). In order to determine which of these descriptions applies to our own universe, let’s take a look at what both of these realities would be like, and then see which most closely describes the features of our own universe.

In an Amoral Universe, objective moral categories do not exist. No action can be called objectively evil; while one might dislike another’s action, no external standard exists by which any action can be called good or evil. In the overall scheme of things, feeding your child is no better or worse than beheading your child, and any feelings one has to the contrary is simply opinion. In this universe, these moral opinions have no basis in reality; that is to say, nothing objective exists on which to base such a concept.

In a Moral Universe, objective moral categories do exist. Any action can fall into one of three categories:

  • Moral actions — actions that conform to the objective moral standard
  • Immoral actions — actions that violate the objective moral standard
  • Amoral actions — actions which are not addressed by the objective moral standard

While legality is not a synonym for morality, the two are somewhat analogous. It is legal in the United States to peacefully and publicly speak against an policy implemented by our government. It is illegal to murder the government official who is responsible for creating this policy. It is a-legal to read the public information related to the policy. Freedom of speech is expressly permitted by the law, murder is expressly forbidden by the law, and reading public documents is simply not addressed by the law.

As an objective feature of the universe, and not of an individual human, these categories apply to all humans, just as the law of gravity applies to all humans. Just as there’s no escaping the laws of physics for physical creatures, the laws of morality are just as binding on moral creatures. However, the moral categories are necessarily different from other laws of the universe in that they are prescriptive (describing how things ought to be) and not descriptive (describing how things are).

Having described these two universes, let us now consider our own. Which of these two descriptions best describes what we see in our own actual universe? I offer here two reasons why I contend that the description of the moral universe more accurately describes our universe.

The idea of an amoral universe is existentially self-refuting.

The concept of an amoral universe, thought not logically self-refuting, is existentially self-refuting. There is no logical incoherence in the statement “No objective moral values and duties exist.” The problem arises when one attempts to describe how one should live in such a universe… for the instant one makes such an attempt, they have invalidate the concept. In an amoral universe, “how one should live” is meaningless… no standard exists to describe how one should live.

Without considering the implications of such a universe deeply, it’s easy to claim, “Objective moral truths do not exist; I have the right to do as I please!” Yet, this statement makes a moral claim to a “right” while denying moral reality. If you believe that others ought to allow you to live according to the dictates of your own will and your own conscience, then you are appealing to objective morality to justify what others “ought” to do.

The logically correct view in an amoral universe is that everyone will do as they do with no moral implications at all. Yet, atheists commonly make moral demands; for example, that theists “stop imposing their morality”. This demand certainly assumes that theists “ought” to act in a particular way.  Yet, without objective morality, no such “ought” can exist.

Or think of it this way; we are beings who can conceive and consider many different possible courses of action. Does any course of action exist that should always happen, if possible? Does any course of action exist that ought never to happen? Ought theists to never torture atheists for fun? Ought atheists to rebut theists who claim that objective moral categories exist?

If one single course of action ought never to happen, then objective morality must exist. But let’s not get ahead of the evidence; whether it is immoral to torture atheists for fun (a question of epistemology) is irrelevant to the point—the only way that such a statement can logically be true is if there is an applicable objective standard by which we can judge the action in question.

The idea of moral categories would be unintelligible in an amoral universe.

In an amoral universe, one is hard-pressed to determine how the idea of moral categories would come to be. While in such a universe, any moral standard is necessarily subjective, such a subjective morality could have absolutely no basis in reality.

While we certainly conceive of ideas that are fictional, most, if not all of these fictional concepts have their roots in reality; unicorns are an extension of horses; werewolves are a blending of human and animal, a cyclops is an oversized human with a single eye. None of these concepts are completely manufactured out of nothingness.

Yet for the concept of subjective morality to appear in an amoral universe is similar to the idea of blue and green appearing in a colorless universe. It is impossible to convey the richness and experience of color to a man blind from birth, because such a man has no basis on which to relate to such a description. While you might explain that blue is a certain wavelength of light, that doesn’t convey to the blind man what light is, or the experience of seeing blue. To the blind man, color and light do not exist in his experience.

But in an amoral universe, moral categories have no basis of existence in reality. In a world where color had no basis of existence in reality, all would be as the blind man above, completely incapable of understanding the concept of color. Even if one conceived of such a thing as green or red in their imagination, they could never communicate this idea to others without a shared reference point. For purely subjective concepts, such shared reference points cannot exist.

It’s been argued that the fact that different cultures and religions have differing concepts of morality is evidence against objective morality. However, this is not the case. My wife and I frequently disagree on colors; I’ll say something is blue, while she insists that it is green. When it’s brought in to sunlight, we usually find that she’s right!

But notice that while we may disagree on the color of the object, neither of us is claiming that it has no color at all! In order for us to have a meaningful conversation about the object’s color, both of us must assume that color exists, and that the object does have a color. If color does not exist, then our conversation is meaningless, unexplainable, and could only be called delusional.

So the fact that every single person who has reached age two seems to have conversations about what men should and should not do seems to be strong evidence that they actually perceive something in the universe that actually exists. Whether politician, priest, parent, or protester, all make the claim that men should behave in a certain way. It seems remarkably myopic to consider all who hold such views to be sharing the same delusion!

For example, Christianity teaches that we should love our enemies, and as much as it is possible, we should live in peace with all men. Some branches of Islam believe that one should behead their enemies. Again, for this point, which view is correct is irrelevant; but in order for anyone to have a meaningful conversation about which view (if either) is correct, one must assume that a correct view does in fact exist. This requires an objective moral standard.

The implications of these two lines of evidence seem inescapable; unless objective moral categories of good, evil, right, and wrong actually exist in reality, our tendency to think in these terms is unexplainable. But to be fair, we’ve only looked at one side of the evidence. In a later post, I will address the arguments against this view.

God’s Crime Scene

It’s about 2 a.m. on an August morning in 1979. A beautiful young nurse by the name of Lynne Knight is living in a bungalow behind a larger house in Torrance, California. As two police officers approach her door, they notice a chair overturned in the entryway and bloody footsteps leading back to the rear bedroom. Each officer has his gun drawn, not sure what to expect.

When they switch on the light, they witness the worst murder scene of their careers. Ms. Knight is lying on her bed, undressed. Her throat is deeply severed, and her lifeless body, which had been stabbed repeatedly, is covered in blood.

Under her body is 18 inches of twisted wire strung between two small pieces of wood that had been sawed off from an old broomstick. Although they’ve never seen one in person before, the officers immediately know it’s a garrote—a homemade weapon used to strangle someone in order to commit a murder quietly.

The killer tried to murder Lynne with the garrote, but couldn’t complete the evil act because she fought back. So the killer stabbed her to death and left the garrote behind in a panic.

Could the garrote lead the cops to this monster? Not soon enough. For nearly three decades the case went cold until cold case homicide detectives J. Warner Wallace and Rick Glass got involved in 2007. They dusted off the evidence left in a box at the Torrance PD, and Wallace made it his personal mission to analyze every aspect of the garrote. It turned out to be the key to the murder trial that took place last summer in the same LA courtroom where O.J. Simpson was tried. And there was familiar face in this trial. The defendant, Doug Bradford, hired O.J. lawyer Robert Shapiro to be his defense attorney.

While Bradford was a former lover of Knight, there was no eyewitness or DNA evidence to link Bradford to the murder. And there were several other suspects in the case, some of whom had since died. Wallace, Glass, and LA District Attorney John Lewin had an uphill battle to convince a jury of twelve that Bradford had indeed committed the crime. There would be no conviction unless all twelve agreed.

But Wallace, Glass and Lewin had been down this road before. They earned convictions on every cold case they had brought to trial so far. Three of those cases were so intriguing that NBC’s Dateline featured them. This case was no different: Keith Morrison and his Dateline crew were filming the case in an episode they called “The Wire.”

Although Dateline didn’t know it going in, their confidence was rewarded: on August 14, 2014, this LA jury returned a guilty verdict. Robert Shapiro, perhaps aware he had been out argued, didn’t even show up for the verdict. Doug Bradford is now serving a life sentence after being free for 35 years.

How did they get the conviction?

They began by asking the question all detectives ask at a death scene: can this death be explained by staying inside the room, or does it require us to look outside the room? Obviously, this death was a murder and required a suspect outside the room. Had this been a suicide, natural death or accidental death, the event could be explained by staying inside the room.

Then Detective Wallace used some very ingenious methods to link the garrote back to Bradford. (You can watch the entire Dateline explanation here.) He linked the effect (the garrote) back to the cause (Bradford).

Now Wallace is employing the same investigative principles he uses to solve cold case murders to eight of the greatest questions we ponder as human beings. He does this in his insightful new book, God’s Crime Scene. In the book Wallace seeks to discover if we can stay inside the room (the natural world) or must go outside the room (the supernatural world) for the causes of the following effects:

  • The origin of the universe
  • The fine-tuning of the universe
  • The origin of life
  • The origin of new life forms and biological machines
  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Objective Moral Values
  • Evil

Each of the eight chapters starts with the details of a real criminal case and then applies the principles to the question at hand (the Lynne Knight case is in Chapter 4).

Wallace was a committed atheist until age 35. Now he is a highly skilled author and speaker who presents a unique case for the Christian worldview across the country. Columnist Mike Adams and I have recently teamed with J. to equip Christian youth and their parents with the case for Christianity through a dynamic new College Prep program. I can tell you that audiences are captivated by the way he applies forensic principles to build the case for Christianity.

But don’t think Wallace just tows the party line. Since he is a cold case homicide detective, Wallace presents you with the evidence pro and con, and then leaves you to draw your own conclusions. He does a masterful job of laying out the evidence and even illustrates that evidence with over one hundred of his own drawings, which clarify and summarize some potentially difficult subject matter. (Who said a serious book can’t have pictures?)

God’s Crime Scene is an engaging and very readable work that investigates some of life’s most important questions. I highly recommend you get it regardless of your religious viewpoint. I can’t guarantee you’ll be convicted, but your thinking will be challenged.

Could solar eclipses be evidence for God? — Premier Christianity

eclipse

This morning I published a guest article at the Premier Christianity blog (associated with the UK’s Premier Christian Radio). In it, I elaborate on solar eclipses as part of a cumulative body of data suggestive that our Universe is designed for intelligent life.

Today, the Arctic and Northern Europe, including the UK, will witness a total solar eclipse, representing the first total solar eclipse in Europe in more than a decade. An eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. Since the sun is four hundred times bigger than the moon, but also coincidentally four hundred times further away, the sun and the moon appear to be the same size in the sky. Remarkably, of the many moons in our Solar System, our moon is the only one known to yield the most perfect solar eclipses when viewed from the surface of the earth.

Read the rest here.