Book Review: The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl

By Timothy Fox

I’ve waited for this book for a long time. I’ve been listening to Greg Koukl – one of my personal apologetics heroes – on the Stand to Reason podcast for years and he would occasionally mention this book he was working on, The Story of Reality (originally entitled Credo). I had been (not so) patiently waiting for it ever since.

In a sense, I felt like I’ve read the book before since it contains ideas Greg weaves throughout all of his podcasts and talks. But now we have a full survey of the Christian worldview in one location. And it’s fantastic.

Story of Reality Koukl

Content

The Story of Reality is obviously about a story. But not just any story, the Story, with a capital S. Greg argues that Christianity is not just a mere religion; it is a complete understanding of all reality. And as any story is comprised of four major components – introduction, crisis, resolution, and ending – so does the Story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. If any of those pieces are missing from your understanding of the Story, you have an incomplete view of Christianity.

So what is the Christian Story? Greg explains it through the five parts of his book: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection. The Story begins with God because He is the main character, the creator of all things. This part explores competing explanations of what reality is composed of, Matter-ism (materialism) and Mind-ism (pantheism).

Part 2 tells how God crafts man in His own image, which makes humans beautiful and valuable. But man disobeys God, triggering the crisis of the Story and bringing pain and suffering into the world. So now mankind is both beautiful and broken. This explains what every human knows about reality: there is something deeply wrong.

Part 3 introduces us to the Hero, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who came to fix what mankind broke. It answers two important questions: Who is Jesus? and What did Jesus come to do? Greg also briefly discusses a common modern objection that Jesus never existed as an actual person of history.

Cross teaches how the Hero saves us, by sacrificing Himself through a brutal crucifixion. Jesus bears the punishment we deserve by making a divine trade with the Father. All we do is place our trust in Him and accept God’s saving grace.

In Part 5, Greg uses what is known as the minimal facts approach to show that Jesus’ resurrection is a true historical event. The resolution of the Story shows mankind’s two alternatives: perfect mercy or perfect justice. We can either accept God’s offer of salvation or face his wrath as a just God.

Assessment

In my opinion, The Story of Reality offers the best way of explaining Christianity: as a complete Story or worldview. You cannot take the parts you like and leave the ones you don’t. Similarly, there may be aspects of reality that are difficult to understand but best fit within the Christian Story and not into others, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Greg tells the Christian Story simply and thoroughly, packing a ton of truth in under 200 pages. Every part is divided into multiple chapters which span only a few pages each. If you have ever listened to Stand to Reason, you know how skilled Greg is at explaining complex topics, which also applies to this book, making it very readable. This book is appropriate for Christian and seeker alike, so buy a copy for yourself and your unbelieving friend.

Conclusion

Greg has created a hard decision for me. Whenever anyone asked for a recommendation for an apologetics book, my number one choice without hesitation was always his previous book, Tactics. That is the book to learn how to navigate any conversation with ease and grace. But now I’m torn because The Story of Reality is so foundational. It surveys the entire Christian worldview simply and thoroughly while handling common objections.

Maybe next time some asks for my number one apologetics resource, I’ll just flip a coin. But either way, the top honor belongs to Greg Koukl.

―Tim Fox (FreeThinkingMinistires.com)


To purchase “The Story of Reality” visit STR.org

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Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

Studies continually show that most Americans—including many Christians—have poor theology. There is a lot of confusion about the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the attributes of God.

And yet there is one particular doctrine that has pressing implications for so much of Christian theology, which in my experience, seems to have been forgotten in the church and the wider culture—the sinfulness of man. Do we really grasp how deeply human nature has been corrupted by sin? Failing to grasp the nuances and depth of human sinfulness has massive implications for one’s theology and for all of life.

Sin Doctrine

The consistent biblical teaching is that mankind is made in God’s image with inestimable worth, but has been deeply flawed by sin (Mark 7:21-23; John 2:24-25; Romans 3:9-20). How can I claim human sinfulness has been lost? Let me share two stories.

The Problem of Hell

Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell: How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth.

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin. An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith.

Niceness vs. Goodness

Each year I take a group of high school students on an apologetics or worldview mission trip. The goal is to train our students how to lovingly defend their faith by having conversations and interactions with people who hold very different faiths. Inspired by my friend Brett Kunkle, we started taking teenagers on trips to Berkeley to interact with students at UC Berkeley and also with leading atheists and agnostics from the Bay area. Both students and parents loved the trips, and I never received any critical feedback about the nature of the trip.

But then we decided to take students to Salt Lake City to interact with Mormon students at BYU. While most students and parents were supportive, one girl who chose not to go on the trip made a statement that expressed the thinking of a number of people: “Why are we going to SLC to beat up on Mormons?” It was strange she talked about beating up anybody, because we are very relational and gracious in our approach on all our mission trips.

But it also puzzled me that she was particularly defensive about reaching out to members of the LDS Church. And then I put my finger on it—she had trouble reaching out to Mormons because they are such nice people.[1] And they are! I have many friends who are Mormons and they are remarkably nice and hard working.

But we must not confuse niceness with goodness. Jesus taught that no one is truly good. That’s right, no one (Luke 18:19). That includes you and me. And it includes people of every faith or no faith (Romans 3:23).

We can respond to our sinfulness in different ways. One way, like the prodigal son, is to indulge our passions and ignore restraint. Another way, like the older son in the same parable (Luke 15:11-32), is to try to earn our righteousness by doing good works and following the law. What is interesting about this parable is that both sons were separated from the father and failed to understand what he desired from them—the younger son who rebelled, and the older son who was dutiful.

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

The doctrine of human sinfulness is offensive. No one likes being told that his or her own heart is fallen and in desperate need of transformation (myself included). We would much rather embrace the New Age idea that we are one with God. And yet the Christian story makes no sense without it. If humans were not “desperately wicked,” as the Bible teaches, then Hell would be total overkill. And there’s no need to reach out to people who are dutiful and nice.

But if human sinfulness is real, then the Christian story makes sense. We can at least begin to understand the reality of Hell and the need to reach all people with God’s grace. There are many doctrines we should be concerned about properly teaching the next generation. But in my experience, when people grasp their own sinfulness (and the converse, that God is holy), the rest begin to fall in place.

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.


[1] Which is doubly strange, since Mormons send out missionaries to knock on the doors of strangers to spread their version of the gospel. I don’t fault them for this. In fact, I respect their efforts.

 


 

What Are the Two Most Important Christian Virtues Today?

What would you say are the most important virtues for Christians to cultivate today? Believe it or not, but this is a question I have been wrestling with for some time. This post is not meant to downplay any Christian virtue, or to claim that some are not needed. Christians are certainly called to be like Christ and to exemplify all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-21). Rather, my goal is to ask what virtues are most critical today in light of our current cultural milieu.

I would welcome your thoughts and critique, but here is my conclusion (in advance): In light of our secular culture that increasingly considers classic Christian beliefs extreme, irrelevant, and sometimes even dangerous, the most pressing virtues for Christians to cultivate are courage and kindness.

Christian Virtues

The Case for Courage

Courage has arguably been cheapened in our culture. We think it’s courageous to speak out on a particular subject on Facebook. We think it’s courageous to tweet our support for a candidate or social cause. While these things are fine in themselves, and sometimes even helpful, Christians need to embrace a much more radical kind of courage—the kind of courage we see in Jesus, the apostles, and many other leaders throughout church history.

Consider the apostles of Jesus. They were threatened, imprisoned, jailed and even threatened with their lives. And yet on behalf of the apostles, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The apostles feared the judgment of God more than they feared the opinions of men. In fact, as I demonstrate in The Fate of the Apostles, they so deeply believed in the resurrection that they valued faithfulness to God above their own comfort. They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, rather than compromise their convictions.

While faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t presently cost Christians their lives in the West, the temperature is being turned up. And the cost is getting greater. If this story is correct, pastors may even be imprisoned for preaching biblical truth within the church.

I have no interest in overstating the cost of following Jesus in America today. After all, compared with much of the world, we still have remarkable freedoms. And my prayer is that we can maintain them. But it would be foolish to dismiss genuine threats to religious freedom and what they mean for individual Christians who are trying to faithfully live out their convictions in the private and public lives. I have personally met many Christians torn between their professions (bakers, photographers, pastors, etc.) who need to make a livelihood, but who also want to faithfully live out their deepest religious convictions.

Here are some questions we all need to consider: Will we stand courageously for our faith, like Daniel, even if it costs us our jobs, relationships, and freedoms? What are we doing now to cultivate courage, so if challenges come, we are ready to be faithful to Jesus?

The Case for Kindness

As important as courage is today, it is not enough. Courage must be balanced with kindness. Scripture is filled with commands for believers to be kind:

“Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9).

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Christians are to be kind both to fellow Christians and to outsiders. Why are we to be kind? Simple: because God first demonstrated kindness to us. Ultimately, God’s kindness is what draws us to Him in repentance: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness is not merely saying nice things to people, but exhibiting generosity and friendliness. Kindness involves being truly gracious with others, even if they hate us. Jesus demonstrated this kindness by asking God the Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. The kindness of Jesus drew the attention of those watching (Luke 23:26-48). And by God’s grace, our kindness might as well.

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.

What Is the Key To Being an Effective Debater? Stories and Tips from Josh McDowell.

Effective Debater

This goal of this blog is for me to soak up wisdom from my father and share it with you. I have been blessed to have an incredibly influential father, Josh McDowell. He has written over 150 books and spoken to more young people live than anyone in history. But what I appreciate most about my father is his love for my mom, for his kids, and now for his many grandkids. Enjoy!

 

What Is the Key To Being an Effective Debater? Stories and Tips from Josh McDowell.

SEAN: Dad, you’ve done over 250 debates on college campuses around the world on a host of topics. What is the key to being an effective debater?

JOSH: First, do your homework. Thoroughly know the subject. Second, love your opponent, because the best way to win a debate is to love your opponent when you’re destroying his arguments. Third, always find a way to work in your personal testimony as it relates to that subject. The person with an argument is almost always at the mercy of the person with experience. The Christian should have both the argument and the experience.

Effective Debater

SEAN: Are debates still important and effective in culture today?

JOSH: Not as much as they used to be. When Evidence that Demands a Verdict first came out, there was not much access to the evidence for Christianity. And so the book took off and was an instant bestseller. But today there is much more access to the arguments for and against Christianity right on the Internet. The benefit of a debate, though, is that people get to both sides challenged right before them, and then they can decide which side is most reasonable. This rarely happens on the Internet, as so much bad information gets passed on as if it’s true. So, debates provide the opportunity for truth correction.

SEAN: What was your most memorable debate and why?

JOSH: One of them was definitely with the Muslim apologist Ahmad Deedat who was probably the top Islamic apologist in the world at that time. He was literally destroying everyone who debated him. Christians were deeply embarrassed at how badly he beat them. I received a personal letter from about 40 churches in South Africa, asking if I would debate him. And to this day, I thank God I said yes. It was probably the best debate because of the impact of it. It literally changed evangelism in the entire continent of Africa and beyond. I loved him personally, and cared for him, but he was humiliated after the debate. He only distributed his half of the debate through all Africa. Once the rest of the debate was released, his credibility and trust was completely undermined.

Amazingly, a close relative of his came to me a few years ago when I was visiting South Africa and said, “I felt you needed to know some details around the death of Ahmad. The day before he died, he asked me to find a copy of your book More Than A Carpenter. So, I brought it to him and he read some of it.” We won’t know until after this life, but there’s a chance Ahmad Deedat is in heaven.

SEAN: If you were starting again in ministry in today’s culture, would you do debates?

JOSH: I’m not totally sure. Debates have certainly lost some of their pizzazz and some of their influence. Thousands of people used to come to each of my debates. But now with the Internet, they’re much more common and accessible. One reason I might do debates, though, is that they forced me to study and master a subject. I probably spent 300 hours in preparation for a debate. I knew I could use the material the rest of my life in talks, books, and future debates. At times, some of the leading scholars in the world helped me prepare. Those times were some of the best experiences of my life.

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.


Resources for Greater Impact: 

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I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

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WHY I STILL DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

Surprising Evidence for God: Near Death-Experiences

I am a skeptic. Sure, I am a Christian. But I am naturally skeptical about extraordinary claims. While my worldview makes room for near-death experiences, I have never found the evidence that compelling. There is just too much abuse[i], overstatement of the evidence, and exaggerated stories.

Recently, however, I decided to probe more deeply into the evidence for near-death experiences (NDEs) for the class I teach on the resurrection. To put it simply, I was stunned at both the quantity and quality of cases that pose a challenge for naturalism. My experience is not unique. In Near-Death Experiences, J. Steve Miller observes:

“It’s important to note that most of these [NDE] researchers don’t come across as heralding their pet theological or philosophical positions. Most that I read began their research doubting that NDE’s involved anything spiritual but became convinced by the weight of the evidence.”[ii]

I am not talking about the many popular cases found in books or movies. These cases are certainly interesting, but the mere fact that someone reports having an NDE isn’t proof alone for the supernatural. The evidentially significant cases are when people reportinformation they could not have received naturally in their clinically dead state. And these cases are not rare. Here are a few interesting ones, all of which are all carefully documented:

  • A chemist, who had been blind for almost an entire year from an accident, correctly reported visual details surrounding the scene at his NDE.[iii]
  • A woman named Maria was rushed to the hospital with a severe heart attack. After successful resuscitation, she described an NDE in which she claimed to travel outside the hospital building and saw a man’s blue left-footed shoe with a wear mark above the little toe and a shoelace tucked under the heel. Researcher Kimberly Clark Sharp discovered the shoe exactly as Maria described it.[iv]
  • Thirty-five year old Pam Reynolds underwent a complex surgery to repair a massive aneurism in her brain. As report by the acting cardiologists, her body was lowered to 50 degrees, blood was drained from her brain, her eyes were taped shut, brain stem activity was monitored by 100-decible clicks emitted by small molded speakers inserted into her ears, and her entire body was covered except for the small area of the head that was opened. When she awoke from the surgery, Reynolds reported a vivid NDE in which she observed part of the surgery, described specific tools that were used (which were covered beforehand), and offered details of various conversations.[v]

These three are only a smidgeon of the documented cases. In other NDEs the blind see, the deaf hear, people report having conversations with dead loved ones whom they didn’t know were dead at the time of the NDE, and some people report shared NDEs (often times at a distance).

While I personally believe many of the cases of people who claim to go to Heaven during an NDE, unless the stories can be independently confirmed, they offer minimal evidential value. Here’s the bottom line: NDE’s don’t prove the existence of God, or even uniquely the Christian worldview, but they do pose significant problems for naturalism and strongly confirm that consciousness continues after death.

Perhaps what surprised me the most is the amount of people who have claimed to experience an NDE. According to one study in the U.S. and Germany, 4.2 percent of people stated that they have experienced an NDE.[vi] Former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver recently shared about an NDE that ultimately changed his life.[vii] Influential atheist A.J. Ayer described a vivid NDE, even though it didn’t change his worldview.[viii] And Plato wrote about the experience of a soldier on the battlefield who had an NDE.[ix]

But don’t take my word for it. Investigate the stories yourself. If you are a Christian, you might be surprised, like me, at the case for NDEs. If you are not a believer, and you are open to being persuaded, I strongly suggest beginning with the book by J. Steve Miller:Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language. Miller is careful, reserved, and writes with integrity. Here is how he concludes the book:

For Dr. van Lommel, Dr. Rawlings, Dr. Moody, Dr. Sabom, and a host of others, a close examination of NDEs compelled them to believe that death isn’t the end of life. With the state of research today, even if NDEs were my only evidence, I’d choose theism over atheism, survival over extinction.[x]

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.


[i] For example, see this fabricated account as reported in the UK Guardian:https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/21/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-alex-malarkey.

[ii] J. Steve Miller, Near-Death Experiences As Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven (Acworth, GA: Wisdom Creek Press, 2012), 23.

[iii] Gary Habermas & J.P. Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 158.

[iv] Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry, Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), Kindle edition, 72-73.

[v] Miller, Near-Death Experiences, 54.

[vi] Von Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 9.

[vii] Nicole Fisher, “Ricardo Lockette Opens Up About His Near-Death Experience,” The Federalist (July 15, 2016): http://thefederalist.com/2016/07/15/ricardo-lockette-opens-up-about-his-near-death-experience-with-god/.

[viii] A.J. Ayer, “What I Saw When I Was Dead,” http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/a-j-ayer-what-i-saw-when-i-was-dead/.

[ix] The Republic, Book X: 614-615.

[x] Miller, Near-Death Experiences, 93.


Resources for Greater Impact: 

  • mp3-icon HEAVEN: A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON LIVING

Can Christians claim to have the One, True God?

By Ryan Pauly

You don’t have to spend very much time interacting with atheists on the internet before you hear this objection: “There are almost 5,000 gods being worshiped by humans, but don’t worry… only yours is right.” The picture above was sent to me on Twitter last week in response to my blog about God’s hiddenness. There are other very popular forms of this argument. Richard Dawkins claims that Christians are atheists when it comes to Zeus, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and many others. Dawkins just goes one god further than the Christian. So the claim is either than I’m an atheist when it comes to 4,999 gods or that I’m dumb for claiming to have truth when I reject so many other options.

The reason this argument is so popular on the internet is that it is easy. It fits into a 140 characters for Twitter and can easily be turned into a meme. Here are examples I found from a very quick search on Twitter.there-are-almost-5000-gods-being-worshiped-by-humanity-but-dont-worry-only-yours-is-right

“There have been nearly 3000 Gods so far but only yours actually exists. The others are silly made up nonsense. But not yours. Yours is real.”

“there are thousands of religions practices. thousands of gods worshiped. but don’t worry. yours is the only right one.”

“30,000 religions and 5000 versions of Christianity and only ‘yours’ is the right one-you are a joke.”

“Roughly 4200 religions in the world; and only yours is the right one? You must be a genius and everyone else is dumb to not pick yours.”

This objection also works well because a good response can’t fit on Twitter or a meme (like most good responses or argument), and so it seems like the Christian is left without an answer. If you try to answer on Twitter, you are most likely going to get another short objection. Instead of giving you a short Twitter response,  I will hopefully help you understand this objection. This will help you see that there is a response and that the is just a bad, popular level objection. There’s nothing to worry about for the Christian.

Let’s start by applying the same logic of this objection to other scenarios to see if it even makes sense. The basic idea of this argument is that since different people believe different things, it is unreasonable to think that you are right. If a married couple does their finances and comes to two different conclusions on how much money is in their bank, does that mean they can’t know the truth? No, it means that either both are wrong or one is right and the other is wrong. Disagreement doesn’t lead to the absence of truth. A person can have the truth in a world of contrary beliefs.

The second idea I see with this objection is that Christians are basically atheists because they reject thousands of other gods. Does that follow? Is a married man basically a bachelor because he isn’t married to thousands of other women? To say that I am an atheist when it come to Zeus and Thor is like saying a married man is a bachelor when it comes to women other than his wife. The difference between a bachelor and a married man is the difference between a theist and an atheist. You would never say a married man is a bachelor for every other woman. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say that a Christian is an atheist to every other God.

Another objection against Christianity that can be easily refuted by simply paying close attention to how silly it really is.

Imagine looking at a police lineup and telling the officer that person #4 committed the crime. What would you say if the officer responded by saying, “There are four other possible suspects… but only your guy is the right one-you’re a joke.” I don’t think you would say “Good point officer, I guess we are done here.” If this objection worked, defense attorneys could win every trial by saying “Roughly 7 billion people in the world; and only yours is the right one? You must be a genius and everyone else is dumb to not pick yours.” There’s a reason we don’t see this objection being used with police or in court.

The reason we don’t see these situations in court is that we base the innocence or guilt of a suspect on evidence. We know that not all suspects are the same, and in the same way, not all gods are the same. If there is positive evidence that a certain person committed a crime, then we have good reason to rule out all other possible suspects. We don’t use the possibility of other suspects to say that we can’t know who committed the crime. If that were true, no one would go to jail. If we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one person is guilty, then other possible suspects are innocent. In the same way, I am convinced that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Christian God exists.

The reasonable person makes a conclusion based on the evidence, and this is why it is reasonable to conclude that I do have the truth in a world of different beliefs. There is very good evidence that God exists. I won’t get into that evidence here, but I barely scratched the surface of examining the evidence when I wrote my blog Is Belief in God a Rational Position? These are just three of over a dozen arguments for His existence. A big difference that atheists, who present this objection, fail to recognize is that Thor, Zeus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are all gods inside the universe. The Christian God exists outside the universe and is the creator of all physical things. We are talking about very different categories.

Visit Ryan’s website at CoffeeHouseQuestions.com


Resources for Greater Impact: 

 

What To Teach Kids About Unanswered Prayer

By Natasha Crain

My son Nathan wasn’t feeling well recently so we all prayed together for him to feel better. The next night at prayer time, Kenna pointed out that we prayed for him already but he wasn’t feeling better. She had a look of simultaneous confusion and disappointment on her face.  In a total of about 3 seconds I had the thought that this is the beginning of a lifetime of seeking to understand why God does or does not answer certain prayers AND replied, “We’ll keep praying and trust God that Nathan will feel better.”

I felt a giant theological error well up in my throat. How often we casually imply or even consciously think that if we just “trust God” for a specific prayer outcome, He will answer the way we want!

“Everything will be OK! Just trust in God!”

Yes, everything will be OK . . . perfect actually . . . when Christ returns and God is glorified in His kingdom for eternity. In the meantime this life is a mess. We are sinful people with free choices, surrounded by other sinful people with free choices. There is illness, there is death. There are natural disasters. Christians live in this fallen world and are affected by its consequences as much as non-believers.

Yet, we are to pray. We are to ask God for our hearts’ desires in the midst of all this. If every Christian’s prayer for a specific (positive) outcome was answered, however, we would effectively be in control of the world through God.  Thank God that prayer doesn’t work that way!  It’s actually a little scary to think of millions of people (even if they are Christians) controlling God like a puppet through prayer strings. I would much rather God be in control, in His infinite wisdom and perspective.

The dynamics of prayer are really not unlike our children making requests to us . . . we encourage their requests, consider their requests, and want them to continue making requests, but may not grant them what they want depending on how it would impact themselves, us or others  . . .  just like God relates with us through prayer.

Jesus powerfully demonstrated this himself when he prayed in Mark 14:36: “Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” God CAN do anything but his specific answers to prayer are based on how our requests align with His will.

If we come to believe that God can or should be trusted for specific outcomes, our relationship with Him will be as variable as the ups and downs of life; a good outcome equals happiness with God, a negative outcome equals disappointment or anger with God. This is not what our relationship should look like, yet it is very common.

To put this in a simple framework for my kids, I’ve boiled it down to these 5 key concepts that I emphasize at home.

    1. God wants us to continuously pray. (e.g., Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 6:18)
    2. God hears our prayers. (Implied in the fact he wants us to pray, plus Psalm 34:15)
    3. We can and should pray for our hearts’ desires. (e.g., Matthew 21:22; Matthew 7:7-11; John 14:13-14)
    4. God CAN answer our prayers for specific outcomes, but may not, depending on His will. (e.g., Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36)
    5. God works all things together for good. This statement, from Romans 8:28, can easily be taken out of context. Paul is not saying that God works all things together for OUR good (at least as we would commonly perceive “good” in this life). He follows in verses 28 and 29 by explaining that the good he is referencing is God’s overall plan for the world leading to His final glorification.

Here is is how I apply these truths for my (young) children:

“We just prayed for (fill in the blank). Do we know God WANTS us to pray? (yes) Do we know God hears ALL of our prayers? (yes) Do we know that God CAN answer any prayer he chooses? (yes) Does God answer EVERY prayer the way we ask? (no) What is important is that we always pray because God wants us to, but we have to remember that only God can decide how he is going to answer our prayers.”

In this way I hope to teach them that we should not limit or censor our prayers, but at the same time we need to respect and trust in God’s infinite wisdom . . . not our own.

What To Teach Kids About Unanswered Prayer

J.P. Moreland Answers Three Important Questions

In my recent book, A New Kind of Apologist, I was able to interview my friend and colleague J.P. Moreland. He is the distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of   Theology and the author or coauthor of thirty books, including The Kingdom Triangle.

As you may know, Dr. Moreland is one of the most influential and insightful Christian philosophers today. His writings and teachings have had a tremendous influence on my life, and the life of many others. In particular, his work on this soul is important for both Christian living and apologetics.

SEAN MCDOWELL: How has apologetics changed since you began?

J.P. MORELAND: When I started, most people believed in God and historical apologetics, and questions about people who never hear the gospel were front and center. Now, the question of God needs to be defended, issues of science and Christianity, and topics about pluralism and relativism regarding worldviews and religions are important. Also, people don’t believe in truth, so that needs to be defended and clarified.

MCDOWELL: What big issues do you think apologists should be focusing on?

MORELAND: I think we need to focus on the idea that Christianity is a source of knowledge of reality and not just a set of mere true beliefs. Also, we need to defeat scientism and show that there are other ways of knowing besides the hard sciences. Several ethical issues have come up, especially homosexuality and gay marriage.

MCDOWELL: What advice would you give apologists?

MORELAND: Two things. First, continue to cultivate a gentle approach to people. Read Dallas Willard’s new book The Allure of Gentleness. Part of this requires the development of emotional intimacy with God. Second, apologetics is cross-country not a hundred-meter dash. Stay at it. Slowly, keep reading and growing. Never settle for where you are currently.

14 Ways for Christian Parents to Teach Kids about Atheism

By Natasha Crain

I suppose this a funny title for a post on a Christian parenting blog! But, as I often explain, we can no longer teach our kids about Christianity in a silo and expect them to automatically stand spiritually strong. The challenges today are too great. As I discussed in my last post, the atheist worldview in particular is a threat to the faith of young people.

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

I should note that the first several ideas on this list are not necessarily for teaching the specifics of the atheist worldview. They do, however, lay an important foundation for future learning on the topic (e.g., with the last seven ideas on the list).

Without further ado, here are 14 ways to teach your kids about atheism.

 

1. Be intentional in pointing out that not everyone believes in God.

Depending on where you live and your kids’ educational setting, they may or may not have this basic fact fully on their radar. When I was growing up, I was very aware of different religions, but was hardly aware that there were people who didn’t believe in God until I was in high school!

The fact that God is invisible often comes up in our Bible study time with the kids (ages 5 and 3). I use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that it takes effort to understand a God we can’t see or touch, and that some people decide God must not exist if we can’t see him. I emphasize that God doesn’t just make us guess that He’s there, however; He has left us much evidence in what we can see. (See this post for discussion pointers.)

 

2. Discuss reasons why some people don’t believe in God.

One night per week, instead of our planned Bible study time, we let the kids ask any questions they want about God. This week, my daughter asked, “Why doesn’t everyone believe in God if the Bible tells us all about Him?” I was so happy she asked that question, and it led to a great introductory conversation about why some people reject God. At an age-appropriate level, we discussed how some people just don’t want to believe in God because they want to live without any (moral) rules; how some people see all the bad stuff happening in the world and decide a good God can’t possibly exist; how some people think the world has just always existed without a creator; how some people think the world would be very different if God existed; and so on.

This can lead to a great conversation about how the decision to accept or reject God (and Jesus) is the most important decision people must make in life.

 

3. When talking about stories from Jesus’ life, talk about the reactions he received from non-believers.

One of the stories that baffles me the most from Jesus’ life is when he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and the Pharisees who were present immediately set out “to destroy Him” for violating their rules (Mark 3:6). If I just saw a withered hand miraculously restored in front of my eyes, I think I’d be convinced that this person had authority from God and I’d chill out on the Sabbath rule enforcement. But, despite this evidence, they still did not believe Jesus was God’s Son and set out to kill Him.

Events like these from Jesus’ life provide a good opportunity to talk about belief and non-belief – that even when Jesus was walking this earth and doing amazing miracles in front of people, there were those who would not believe. The Pharisees were not atheists, so this isn’t a conversation about atheism per se, but it is a conversation that helps kids start thinking about the nature of belief and unbelief.

 

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part to prove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

 

5. Acknowledge the uniqueness of the resurrection.

I always think it’s funny when atheists leave comments on my blog to tell me they don’t believe in Jesus because we know from science that dead people don’t come back to life. Do they think this has never occurred to Christians? Do they think I will say, “Wow, he’s right! Why did I think Jesus was resurrected all this time? I totally forgot dead people stay dead!” Yet, this “argument” is repeated over and over on the internet as if it’s proof that can falsify all of Christianity in 1-2 sentences.

Lest my kids ever feel shamed when encountering such a statement, we spend a lot of time talking about how unique and “crazy” it is that Jesus came back to life. A sample conversation when talking about the resurrection goes something like this:

“Now, do dead people ever come back to life normally?” (No, never.)

“Who is the only person that could come back to life?” (Jesus)

“Why?” (Because Jesus is God’s Son, and only God would be able to make that happen – we would never believe a “regular” person could come back to life.)

Of course, this conversation doesn’t get you all the way to why we believe the resurrection actually happened (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus), but it plants the seeds that the resurrection is a totally unique event that we have reason to believe in – and not because we believe people naturally come back to life from the dead.

 

6. Ask what your kids have heard at school (or church!) from kids who don’t believe.

As I discussed in my last post, it’s likely that your kids are encountering peers and teachers who don’t believe in God and they’ve almost certainly heard things that you would want the opportunity to weigh in on. That said, it doesn’t mean they are automatically sharing all this with you. Ask them regularly what they hear about God from kids and teachers. This gives you the opportunity to address it head-on.

 

7. Read apologetics books for kids together.

Here is an excellent list of apologetics resources designed for kids of various ages.

For elementary-age kids, you’ll see there are very few apologetics resources available. There are two excellent books for this age group that are not on this list, however: How Do We Know God Is Really There? and How Do We Know God Created Life?, both by Melissa Cain Travis. These are the first two books in her “Young Defenders” series, and they teach the basic ideas of the cosmological and design arguments, respectively. Each book explains its subject through the telling of an entertaining story that captures children’s attention. They are appropriate for the 5- to 10-year-old range. Definitely check out these wonderful resources!

 

8. [Older Kids] Discuss relevant current events from newspaper articles.

If you get in the habit of periodically visiting Christian news sites like The Christian Post or Christianity Today, you’ll see all kinds of articles that are relevant to the discussion of Christianity and atheism (the Tim Lambesis story and the launch of Atheist TV are just two examples). Make it a point to print out one article a week to discuss with your kids. It’s an excellent opportunity to get them culturally savvy before they leave home.

 

9. [Older Kids] Introduce atheist memes for discussion.

Long before your kids encounter any kind of intellectually sophisticated atheist arguments, they’ll likely encounter bite-sized attacks on Christianity via social media (e.g., in memes). Now, to be fair, no side wants to be represented by their least sophisticated proponents. I’m sure any atheist that reads this would bristle at the notion of teaching your kids about atheism by using memes. But the unfortunate truth is that such memes have a lot of emotional impact and are likely to reach your kids before more sophisticated atheist arguments. Choose memes from a site like this one and discuss what is being said.

 

10. [Older Kids] Read stories of people who turned away from Christianity.

If you Google “ex-Christian stories,” you’ll find an array of sites where former Christians post their de-conversion stories. These can actually be great discussion starters. Having the opportunity to talk about these experiences before your kids leave home is ideal for minimizing the shock factor of hearing such stories later. Talk about the person’s rationale for leaving and ask your kids what they would say to that person. Ask if they’ve ever thought some of the same things, and encourage them to be open about any doubts – now is the time to address them!

Here is an example case study of a Christian-turned-theist.

 

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

 

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

 

13. [Older Kids] Read a book together by an atheist and then a rebuttal by a Christian (or vice versa).

I recommended before that parents read one or more books written by the influential “new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett. Several parents emailed me and/or commented that they would be scared to introduce their kids to this material. While I understand it’s a challenge that forces us out of our comfort zones, it’s extraordinarily important to understand that your kids will hear the arguments of these writers  whether you introduce them or not. Why not take the opportunity you still have to discuss these challenges with your kids? You don’t have to have all the answers first. Study it together.

One example combination I would recommend is The God Delusion followed byAnswering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God (a fantastic response).

 

14. [Older Kids] Check out atheist websites together.

I came across a website this week that graphs all the “errors and contradictions” in the Bible (check it out here). Visually impressive sites like this can be very impactful for kids and adults alike. Knowing your kids will see this kind of site eventually, why not take the time to sit down and look at one together? As in these other ideas, use it as an opportunity for questions to arise and then discuss your kids’ thoughts.

 

Have you proactively talked to your kids about atheism? Why or why not? If so, how have you done it?

Visit Natasha’s Blog: christianmomthoughts.com

See the source site of this article.

Free From God

By Timothy Fox

I recall an online conversation I had with a skeptic about spiritual things. To gain some clarification, I asked if he was an atheist or agnostic. His response? “I’m free!” Now, although this in no way answers the question, it does illustrate what people think about religion. It’s some form of mental slavery that you must liberate yourself from. Then you can be free to live your life however you wish. And freedom is a very important thing!

But whenever we talk about freedom, we need to ask two questions: 1) Free fromwhat? and 2) Free to do what? Thinking of the American Revolution, our founders wanted to be 1) free from England’s rule and 2) free to govern themselves. So our enlightened skeptic friend claimed he was free, meaning, I suppose, that he was 1) free from God/religion/dogma/whatever and 2) free to do whatever he wanted. [1]It’s a powerful statement, if you assume that religion is nothing more than a form of slavery. But is it?

The divine ball and chain

I’ve heard many of the New Atheists compare God to a divine tyrant. And I’ve heard many people refer to their spouses as the “ball and chain,” again using the prisoner/slave metaphor. So let me adopt this analogy for myself.

Imagine I want to be free from my wife. I no longer wish to be married. I want to be single again, to live the bachelor life. What exactly am I free from? Marital fidelity. Commitment. Being responsible for and accountable to another person. Having to compromise and making joint decisions about everything.

What am I free to do? Pursue other women. Live for myself. Basically, do whatever I want whenever I want. Even better!

But what else am I free from? My wife’s love. Her support. Her affection and care. Companionship. Her eyes and her smile. Her great cooking (and awesome chocolate chip cookies). Doesn’t seem such a good idea now, does it?

So before I make any rash (stupid) decisions, I need to consider the cost. Is my “freedom” worth losing a relationship with the most wonderful person in my life? The one that gives me the greatest happiness, joy, and fulfillment? Obviously not.

A biblical example

Let’s look at a biblical example of someone who wanted to be free: the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He sought freedom from his father and his rules so he asks dad for his birthright and leaves. He makes some friends, he parties it up. He’s free! But when his money runs out, so does the fun. The real world hits. And he starts remembering how good he had it back home. He had food. A roof over his head. And he realizes that even his father’s servants have it better than he has it now. So he decides to beg for his father to take him back as a servant.

But he doesn’t.

He takes him back as a son. Because that’s how good his father is.

The son wasn’t as free as he thought he was, was he? He was free from his father’s rules and authority, but he became enslaved to poverty, homelessness, and loneliness.

Free from God

What does it mean to be free from God? You don’t have to follow His moral commands. You’re “free” to sin as much as you want. However, instead of freedom, the Bible describes sin as slavery (see Romans 6). And like being “free” from my wife would actually remove a great many positive things from my life, what about severing our relationship with God, the very source of goodness?

But now, this life isn’t so bad. The atheist may enjoy a good, happy life. So how is a God-free existence so terrible? As the Creator, God’s goodness is built into this world. This side of eternity, we all get to enjoy God’s goodness (known as common grace), both believer and unbeliever alike. But what about the next life? After death? That’s when things change.

Eternal “freedom”

When most people think about hell, the first things that comes to mind are fire and brimstone. Maybe devils with horns and pitchforks. But the true horror of hell isn’t the temperature; it’s the utter and complete separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9). From His goodness. From love, joy, peace, and justice. The same way that separation from my wife may seem pleasant at first, I’d actually be losing far more than I would be gaining. The same goes for our relationship with God. The prodigal son took his dad’s money and purchased a lot of worldly pleasures with it. But when it ran out, and so did the good times. And even those who are “free” from God are still living off of His goodness.

But while a life apart from God may seem nice now, it won’t be so pleasant later.

Truth and freedom

So the atheist is only fooling himself when he says that he’s free. He’s completely dependent on God for any happiness that he has in this life. But more importantly, he’s missing the entire point of religion. It doesn’t matter if a religion makes you happy. It only matters if it is true.

And as Jesus taught, only when you follow Him will you know the truth (John 8:32).

And the truth will set you free.

 

Visit Tim’s Website: Free Thinking Ministries

Click here to see the source site of this article.


 

Notes:

[1] The irony is that if atheistic naturalism is true, there’s no such thing as free will. The naturalist is “free” to do only what he has been physically determined to do. Check out Tim Stratton’s article on it: The Self-Refuting Nature of Naturalism.

Don’t judge me. Why Not? Because Jesus said so!

By Timothy Fox

When you study to be an educator, you have to spend a certain number of hours as a student teacher, under the guidance of a veteran teacher. I remember my cooperating teacher telling me one of my strengths was that I took criticism well and was very open to it. I was shocked to hear this! I wanted to tell him he was crazy and that I hate criticism! But I was also well aware that he was the master, and I was the apprentice and that it was his responsibility to help me to be the best teacher I could be. So I needed his criticism. (And I received a lot of it!) Whenever he gave me feedback, positive or negative, it wasn’t intended to stroke my ego or hurt my feelings. It was so I can learn and improve, to keep doing the good and to change the bad.

The same goes for many other things, such as sports. Athletes have coaches that train and guide. But what about normal, everyday life? That’s when we want people to leave us alone. Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t judge me.

That’s the defense mechanism of our generation: “Don’t judge me!” But did you ever ask “Why not?” You may get the response: “Jesus says so” (from a defensive Christian, anyway). And they’re probably referring to Matthew 7:1, which begins: “Do not judge.” But that’s only the first three words of a complete thought:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭1-6‬ NIV)

Jesus’ point is not not to judge (note the double negative). It’s “Don’t be a hypocrite!” Verse 5 commands us to clean up our own junk, then to help clean up your friends’. He’s stating the obvious, that when you criticize people, they will turn around and criticize you back. So make sure your closet is clean first! And how do you know who the “dogs” and “pigs” are (v. 6)? Wouldn’t you have to judge them?

And then there is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Here Jesus is differentiating between proper and improper judgment. But he still commands to judge!

The reason for many of Paul’s letters is to correct some kind of nonsense going on in a church. In 1 Corinthians 5, he writes angrily that the church is not judging sin in their midst (and it’s quite the sin – go read it!). In verse 12, he rhetorically asks “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” And in the following verse, he plainly states to remove the “wicked person” from their midst. Here Paul is criticizing the church for not judging when they should have, even to the extent of excommunicating an unrepentant church member.

Maybe we just don’t like the word “judge.” It sounds so, well, judgmental. But there are plenty of similar words used throughout the Bible: discern, correct, rebuke, admonish, reprove, etc. Here are some examples:

  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3:16).
  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).

It’s clear that one of the reasons why we have a community of believers is so we can help each other grow spiritually. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:11-16 that God has provided leaders whose responsibility is “building up the body of Christ” so we can achieve “mature manhood,” no longer thinking and acting like children (or worse – teenagers!). Our ultimate goal is to become like Christ. And this can only happen through instruction and correction by those wiser than we are.

More often than not, the ones who cry “Don’t judge me!” the loudest are the ones who need it the most, whether it’s due to insecurity, pride, or flat-out rebellion. But let us not forget that Jesus was full of truth and grace. We desperately need both in our dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we give correction as well as when we receive it. It’s never pleasant to hear some hard (but loving) truth, but remember the first half of Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Do we like it? Of course not. But we need it. And more than that, the Bible commands it.

 

Click here to see the source site of this article.

 

Make sure to check out this video about it.

How The Discovery Of The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation Falsified Atheism

By Wintery Knight

Prior to certain scientific discoveries, most people thought that the universe had always been here, and no need to ask who or what may have caused it. But today, that’s all changed. Today, the standard model of the origin of the universe is that all the matter and energy in the universe came into being in an event scientists call “The Big Bang”. At the creation event, space and time themselves began to exist, and there is no material reality that preceded them.

So a couple of quotes to show that.

An initial cosmological singularity… forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity… On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.

Source: P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag ).

And another quote:

[A]lmost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.

Source: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

So, there are several scientific discoveries that led scientists to accept the creation event, and one of the most interesting and famous is the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Here’s the history of how that discovery happened, from the American Physical Society web site:

Bell Labs radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were using a large horn antenna in 1964 and 1965 to map signals from the Milky Way, when they serendipitously discovered the CMB. As written in the citation, “This unexpected discovery, offering strong evidence that the universe began with the Big Bang, ushered in experimental cosmology.” Penzias and Wilson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 in honor of their findings.

The CMB is “noise” leftover from the creation of the Universe. The microwave radiation is only 3 degrees above Absolute Zero or -270 degrees C,1 and is uniformly perceptible from all directions. Its presence demonstrates that that our universe began in an extremely hot and violent explosion, called the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

In 1960, Bell Labs built a 20-foot horn-shaped antenna in Holmdel, NJ to be used with an early satellite system called Echo. The intention was to collect and amplify radio signals to send them across long distances, but within a few years, another satellite was launched and Echo became obsolete.2

With the antenna no longer tied to commercial applications, it was now free for research. Penzias and Wilson jumped at the chance to use it to analyze radio signals from the spaces between galaxies.3 But when they began to employ it, they encountered a persistent “noise” of microwaves that came from every direction. If they were to conduct experiments with the antenna, they would have to find a way to remove the static.

Penzias and Wilson tested everything they could think of to rule out the source of the radiation racket. They knew it wasn’t radiation from the Milky Way or extraterrestrial radio sources. They pointed the antenna towards New York City to rule out “urban interference”, and did analysis to dismiss possible military testing from their list.4

Then they found droppings of pigeons nesting in the antenna. They cleaned out the mess and tried removing the birds and discouraging them from roosting, but they kept flying back. “To get rid of them, we finally found the most humane thing was to get a shot gun…and at very close range [we] just killed them instantly. It’s not something I’m happy about, but that seemed like the only way out of our dilemma,” said Penzias.5 “And so the pigeons left with a smaller bang, but the noise remained, coming from every direction.”6

At the same time, the two astronomers learned that Princeton University physicist Robert Dicke had predicted that if the Big Bang had occurred, there would be low level radiation found throughout the universe. Dicke was about to design an experiment to test this hypothesis when he was contacted by Penzias. Upon hearing of Penzias’ and Wilson’s discovery, Dicke turned to his laboratory colleagues and said “well boys, we’ve been scooped.”7

Although both groups published their results in Astrophysical Journal Letters, only Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the CMB.

The horn antenna was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Its significance in fostering a new appreciation for the field of cosmology and a better understanding of our origins can be summed up by the following: “Scientists have labeled the discovery [of the CMB] the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century.”8

It’s the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century.

In the New York Times, Arno Penzias commented on his discovery – the greatest discovery of the 20th century – so:

The best data we have [concerning the Big Bang] are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the bible as a whole.

Just one problem with the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century: atheists don’t accept it. Why not?

Here’s a statement from the Secular Humanist Manifesto, which explains what atheists believe about the universe:

Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

For a couple of examples of how atheistic scientists respond to the evidence for a cosmic beginning, you can check out this post, where we get responses from cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, and physical chemist Peter Atkins.

You cannot have the creation of the universe be true AND a self-existing, eternal universe ALSO be true. Someone has to be wrong. Either the science is wrong, or the atheist manifesto [atheism] is wrong. I know where I stand.

 

Click here to visit the sources site of this article.

Christianity Promotes Rational (and Evidential) Exploration

Anais Nin, the avant-garde author, and diarist, once said, “When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” I couldn’t agree more. As a detective and evidentialist, the last thing I want a jury to do is to adopt a position blindly. Many people seem to think that Christians do this very thing, however, when they adopt the view that Christianity is true. This is largely due to the fact that the term, “faith” is largely misunderstood. For some (even for some Christians), faith is best defined as “believing in something that lacks supporting evidence.” But this is not the definition of faith that is presented on the pages of Christian Scripture. Instead, the Biblical notion of faith is more akin to “trusting in the best inference from the evidence.”

The Biblical authors repeatedly encouraged their readers to search the evidence to investigate the claims of Christianity (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and 1 John 4:1) so they could be convinced of the truth of these claims (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12 and 2 Timothy 3:14). This encouragement is consistent with the notion that the evidence will lead us to a rational conclusion about the nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus also encouraged his followers to consider the evidence he provided about his deity (John 14:11 and Acts 1:2-3). Christian faith is not blind. Instead, the Christian faith encourages investigation related to Jesus and to the world around us. Christians ought to understand the distinctions between unreasonable, blind and reasonable faith:

Unreasonable Faith
Believing in something IN SPITE of the evidence. We hold an unreasonable faith when we refuse to accept or acknowledge evidence that exists, is easily accessible and clearly refutes what we believe

Blind Faith
Believing in something WITHOUT any evidence. We hold a blind faith when we accept something even though there is no evidence to support our beliefs. We don’t search for ANY evidence that either supports or refutes what we are determined to believe

Reasonable Faith
Believing in something BECAUSE of the evidence. We hold a reasonable faith when we believe in something because it is the most reasonable conclusion from the evidence that exists. The Bible repeatedly makes evidential claims. It offers eyewitness accounts of historical events that can be verified archeologically, prophetically and even scientifically. We, as Christians are called to hold a REASONABLE FAITH that is grounded in this evidence.

The pages of Scripture support the notion of “reasonable faith”. Perhaps this is why so many Christians are evidentialists and have applied this evidential view of the world to their professional investigations (I’ve assembled a partial list of some of these Christian investigators in a variety of fields). Christianity has not stunted the intellectual growth of these men and women (as Anais Nin seemed to insinuate) but has instead provided the foundation for their exploration. For these investigators, the evidential nature of the Christian Worldview was entirely consistent (and even foundational) to their investigative pursuits in every aspect of God’s creation. Christianity did not cause them to “cease to grow” but, instead, provided the philosophical foundation for their investigations.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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A 7 Day Bible Reading Plan to Help You Study the Evidence for God

When I first began investigating the reliability of the New Testament Gospels, I found myself at an important philosophical crossroads. As I employed my skills as a cold-case detective to the claims of the gospel eyewitnesses, I grew increasingly confident in their trustworthy nature. The four-part template I typically used to assess eyewitnesses was particularly helpful in this regard. The gospels passed in every aspect of my testing (this investigative journey is chronicled in Cold-Case Christianity). But I still had a problem. Although I was convinced the authors were truly present to see what they reported (or like Luke and Mark, had access to those who were truly present), could be corroborated by outside evidence, hadn’t been altered over the years and were free of bias, I was still dismissive of the supernatural elements present in the accounts. I rejected the claims of miraculous healings and deeds, and I certainly denied the Resurrection of Jesus. As an atheist and philosophical naturalist, I believed the Gospels were a form of historical fiction; a fanciful work rooted in a few historical truths. At this point in my investigation, I decided to take one last additional step. I decided to investigate my own philosophical naturalism.

Was I warranted in believing everything in the universe could be explained with nothing more than space, time, matter and the laws of physics and chemistry? Could my naturalism truly account for the most interesting and demanding features of the universe? Every worldview must provide an explanation for the reality we experience. It was time for me to see if my philosophically natural worldview could account for eight critical pieces of evidence:

The beginning of the universe
The fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life
The origin of life in the universe
The appearance of design in biological organisms
The existence of consciousness
Our experience of free agency
The existence of transcendent, objective moral truths
The persistent problem of evil

The next step in my investigation would require me to critically examine my own presuppositions to see if they were supported by the evidence. This part of my journey is recorded in my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe.

My personal journey of investigation took months to complete, and my study of the evidence became a daily devotional of sorts. As I sifted through the cosmological, biological, mental and moral evidence, I found myself more and more convinced of God’s existence. I examined the universe using the same skills and techniques I would use to investigate any crime scene to see if an external suspect is the most reasonable suspect, and once I was convinced an all-powerful God outside the “room” of the natural universe was the best explanation for the evidence “inside the room,” I returned to the Gospels. While most of my suspects are reluctant to confess, this “suspect” already had. The Gospels describe the God I identified in my investigation of the universe.

If you would like to begin examining the universe as part of your daily devotional life, I have a suggestion and a resource. I’ve created a 7 day devotion based on God’s Crime Scene and you can read it for FREE on the YouVersion Bible App:

YouVersion App

I hope this brief journey will ignite a passion to investigate the evidence so you can make the case for what you believe. I’ve included Bible verses in each daily devotional, so be sure to connect the dots with the Scripture. You’ll be amazed at the relevant way in which God’s Word continues to address every aspect of life, including the nature of the universe in which we live.

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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Can Naturalism Account for Human Dignity and Value?

In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe by asking a simple investigative question: “Can I explain the evidence ‘in the room’ (of the natural universe) by staying ‘in the room’?” This is a question I ask at every death scene to determine if I actually have a crime scene. When evidence in the room can’t be explained by staying in the room, I’ve got to consider the involvement of an intruder. If the evidence inside the universe can’t be explained by staying “inside” the natural realm of the universe, we must similarly consider the involvement of a cosmic intruder. One critical piece of the evidence in the universe is the existence of moral obligations. Can we explain these obligations by staying “inside the room”? Can naturalism account for the human dignity and value necessary to ground moral obligations?

Why do we, as humans, feel obligated toward other humans when we don’t recognize moral obligations toward other forms of life on the planet? We seldom hesitate to exterminate the rodents and insects in our homes and we feel no moral obligation toward the weeds growing in our garden. What, from a naturalistic perspective, gives us the right to consider humans differently? Can we stay “inside the room” of the universe to explain why humans ought to be honored with dignity and value when we don’t afford these considerations to other species or forms of life?

If humans are simply the product of blind physical and chemical laws, there is no reason to believe we are anything more than the accidental consequence of an evolutionary process. If this is the case, there’s nothing special about us when compared to other species or forms of life in our environment.

To make matters worse, humans often behave badly, yet we treat humans as though we are somehow different than other species and worthy of moral obligation. We hold humans to a higher standard than we hold other species, and we view the actions of other animals without moral condemnation. Ethicist Richard Taylor observes: “A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it—for none of these things is forbidden.” If humans are just like other animals (the unintended result of blind physical processes) why do we consider our actions differently than the actions of the hawks in Taylor’s example? As William Lane Craig observes, “To think that human beings are special is to be guilty of speciesism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species.”

Growing up, I was fan of Star Trek. Imagine an episode in which a superior race of aliens from another planet invades earth with the goal of enslaving humans for their own selfish purposes—not an unusual Star Trek storyline. In a scenario such as this, would we (as humans) have a right to complain? After all, we have a history of using horses, hunting dogs, oxen, and a variety of other species in a similar way. How could we argue against such treatment by a species as superior to us as we are to other forms of life on this planet? GCS Chapter 07 Illustration 08

Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

Those who stay “inside the room” of the universe to account for intrinsic human dignity and inherent human value simply cannot justify their prejudice toward humans. If, however, humans are the special creation of a Creator God who created us in His image, our position “inside the room” would indeed be worthy of moral obligation.

This brief summary is excerpted from God’s Crime Scene and is part of a larger chapter on the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. The existence of moral truth and obligation is just one of eight evidences “inside the room” that point to the reasonable inference of a Creator God “outside the room.” For a much more detailed examination of this important piece of evidence, please read Chapter Seven: Law and Order – Is Morality More Than An Opinion?

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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Cameras of the Watchman: The Reality of the Relationship between Science and Theology (part 2/3)

Scott Symington

3.3 Third Intersection: 4 Types of Interaction

Any two valid forms of knowledge (as defined previously), for example, physics and mathematics, science and philosophy, history and archeology, theology and science, theology and history, either can or do not interact. If two valid sources do interact, then there is a continuum of agreement upon which this interaction would lie, and four distinct types of interaction on this continuum, all of which, except one, have been addressed in the literature.[1]

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[1] The kinds of interactions were categorized, according to theologian and physicist John Polkinghorne as: (1) conflict between the disciplines, (2) independence of the disciplines, (3) dialogue between the disciplines where they overlap and (4) integration of both into one field. John PolkinghorneScience and Theology (SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998), 20-22. Theologians Ian Barbour and John Haught provide similar categorizations. More can be found by theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke, with reference links provided by Wikipedia.

3.3.1 COMA

If the two sources of knowledge are valid, do interact, and if there was complete knowledge, meaning all the possible data was in and was accurate, if we had a sort of God’s-eye-view, then wherever the two sources viewed the same subject (intersected), there would be complete concord. William Dembski gave a lecture regarding information content in biological molecules, and during the interesting talk, NOMA was brought up. Dembski supplied his idea: if a theology is accurate to reality, then all knowledge in science and theology will agree in a Completely Overlapping Magisteria model (COMA). Great acronym. Some have used the “all knowledge is God’s knowledge” phrase. While I agree to some extent, I noted in the Q and A that his model is from God’s perspective, while the relationship in question involves science and theology as tools or viewpoints from humanity’s application and perspective. And currently, we do not have complete knowledge, therefore we have not, reached COMA.

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In addition, there are areas in the knowledge encircled by science that are outside of the area encircled by theology, and vice-versa. The Bible does not provide: “And on the sixth day God synthesized deoxyribose nucleic acid, but the polymerization of complex proteins, enzymatically catalyzed by . . .” If I want to learn about electric and magnetic dynamics, I will not be looking in the Bible (or anywhere in the theology circle), but instead will look within the science circle, and perhaps the intersection with the mathematics circle, where Maxwell’s work is located. Similarly, I don’t count on science to explain why there is something rather than nothing, or about the ontology of objective morality. If I want to stand upon truth regarding how to have a relationship with God, and assurance of the best outcome for me and loved ones, especially eternally, then I will look in theology (and also into science, philosophy, history, etc., to determine which worldviews stand on rock, and which on sand).

Polkinghorne adds that while there will be a consonance between the answers science and a specific theology give if both accurately provide answers to a fundamental unity of reality, still, “neither science nor theology should make the mistake of supposing that it can answer the other’s proper questions.”[1]

 

After presenting the SOMA model to get his opinion, Dembski, acting out what I had expected after a couple of previous conversations and interaction with some of his work, showed humility and quick, focused thought, by avoiding a defensive stance for his idea (with the better acronym), and instead agreed the SOMA model is right, and then provided two excellent supports, which I still have to buy the mp3 of the conference in order to retrieve and add his examples to this paper.

Bottom-line

COMA is accurate if you are talking about a God’s eye view of science and theology, and only in the areas of intersection. Therefore, the applicability of this model, like NOMA, has a limited scope.

[1] John Polkinghorne and Philip Clayton (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (Oxford University Press, 2006), 57.

 

3.3.2 Proof

Science does not accept things as “proven”. And as far as the Christian God, and therefore the biblical model, proof is also not the goal. God does not seek propositional knowledge, or just believing that he exists, but instead purposes for a relationship of love and trust. Gaining redemption and a saving relationship with God is by grace, a gift we would be incapable of earning, so it is not part of the biblical model that we can plug in our wisdom, and by our intelligence solve an equation and prove that God exists. If that were how we gain eternal relationship with God, then heaven would look a cast shot in Leonard’s and Sheldon’s room in The Big Bang Theory.

There can be enough evidence to convince, but not compel belief. Therefore, just less than “proof” would be an upper limit on the continuum of this relationship between two fields that disallow proof.

3.3.3 Conflict

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At the opposite end of the continuum of agreement, are the conflict models. Cornell University’s Andrew Dickson White published a book entitled, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. The metaphor of “warfare” to describe the relations between science and the Christian faith became very common at the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th century in Western culture, even with Christians. John William Draper followed along with White in arguing continuous conflict through history, methodologically, factually and politically. Conflict examples included claims that the biblical worldview hindered the progress of science, churches relying on prayer instead of using lightening rods, and the Galileo affair. Contemporary scientists and speakers such as Richard DawkinsSteven WeinbergCarl Sagan, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Shermer, as well as many theist “creationists” also promote the idea. The conflict thesis remains popular in the public perception, and is fostered in popular media, such as seen, for example, in outspoken atheist, and creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s work.

 

However, most contemporary historians of science reject the conflict thesis.[[1]][[2]][[3]][[4]] Much of the scholarship that served as a basis for the conflict thesis has been discredited as inaccurate or misrepresented. For example, modern historians of science such as J.L. Heilbron, Alistair Cameron CrombieDavid LindbergEdward Grant, Thomas Goldstein, Ted Davis, Charles Thaxton and Nancy Pearcey posit that not only is the idea of Christian theology stunting science an inaccurate understanding, but Christianity actually has a sustained history of preserving and fostering education and science.

 

The Johns Hopkins University Drew Professor of the Humanities, Lawrence M. Principe, states that even current-day conflict is limited to religious and science extremists, over only very few topics, and that the flow of ideas between scientific and theological thought has been more the norm.[5]

 

Gary Ferngren, a Historian of Science, adds: “If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.”[6] And then, of course, are all the examples of concordance, dialogue, and mutual support between science and theology.

 

While a better understanding of the history of science has moved scholars away from the conflict model of the relationship, nevertheless, some forms of conflict do exist. Because there are mutually exclusive theologies, which mean that only one at most can be accurate to reality wherever theologies contradict, one should expect conflict between science (or other valid methods of study, such as history) and most theologies (at least those that are testable). This is precisely what we do see, which will be left to the reader to look into further as the subject and evidence are voluminous and will not be covered here.

 

What about Christian theology, which has been the focus of most of the scholarship concerning science and theology interaction, and the focus of this paper? Conflict situations have in the past, do currently, and will in the future occur. While the conflicts may be the exception, and there are established examples of mutual support, as noted previously, the specific conflicts have to be taken into account in an interaction model that has sufficient explanatory scope.

Bottom-line

While the conflict model has been discredited, there are examples of conflict, therefore, conflict exists, but is applicable only to a limited extent.

 

Even if two sources of knowledge are valid, and show areas of agreement and mutual support, if one or both fields disallow proof, or if we are not at the point of complete and accurate knowledge, or if influential-external factors are involved, which is certainly the case when people are dealing with such serious and personal concerns as theology brings, then there will likely also be conflicts between even two valid fields.

 

This is getting complex! And brings us to the last potential model, which combined with the others funnels us toward the new model that contains the accurate points of the former ones, and expands the explanatory scope to allow for dynamic testing as new discoveries keep coming.

 

[1] C.A. Russel, and Gary B. Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 7 “The conflict thesis, at least in its simple form, is now widely perceived as a wholly inadequate intellectual framework within which to construct a sensible and realistic historiography of Western science.”

[2] Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 195. “In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the ‘warfare between science and religion’ and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.”

[3] John H. Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 42. “In its traditional forms, the conflict thesis has been largely discredited.”

[4] Gary Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), x “… while [John Hedley] Brooke‘s view [of a complexity thesis rather than an historical conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind.”

[5] Lawrence M. Principe, Science and Religion (The Teaching Company, 2006), as noted in Wikipedia: relationship between religion and science.

[6] Gary Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), Introduction, p. ix.

 

Cameras of the Watchman: The Reality of the Relationship between Science and Theology

Part 1/3

Scott Symington

Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Allegiance Health

Initial draft September 1999, current version April 2015

 

Abstract

You are fast approaching an “orange” light, within just moments you naturally use viewpoints including physics, history, observation and ethics to arrive at a conclusion to either stop, or pass through. Similarly, most choices in life are best visualized when multiple valid viewpoints, or sources of knowledge, are turned on the subject. The question then arises: what, if any, interplay occurs between differing sources of knowledge, particularly ones as influential as science and theology? While the scholarship appears to diverge into the full range of possibilities, when recognizing accurate points, yet specificity of application in each proffered path, a clear direction emerges to a singular reality of the interaction. If two sources of knowledge are valid, providing unique, useful, and accurate information, and if these sources do interact, the sources will be in concord, even if coming from different viewpoints because each valid source will view the same reality. However, if one or both fields disallow proof, or if lack of data or influential-external factors are involved with the viewers (people), then the interaction will likely display both concord and conflict in a complex contextualized history. Yet, this complex history will trend over time, as the knowledge bases grow in accuracy, conforming towards the reality of the mutually supportive relationship between two valid sources. This paper will progress though: an illustration and definitions, a flowchart displaying our progress through each intersection of possible relationships, thought-provoking examples, and an explanation of relationship between science and theology that has the successful predictive model and demonstrative trend-line.

 

Part 1. Introduction

One of the earliest memories I have involves a pretty good story. I was on a class field trip and so young that the eight of us were all holding hands with each other, during the entire time at a museum. We sat down in a circle, still holding hands, with myself at one end, the teacher in the middle, and the last student at the other end holding the hand of the museum worker, who was reading us a story.

 

Almost immediately I lost interest in the story, and noticed that there was an open electrical outlet on the wall next to me. Within moments I went through the basic scientific method:

1) Observation or problem: if I jam my fingers into that open outlet, will the shock just get me, or will it make it all the way to that museum reader?

2) Hypothesis: my past history did show that even touching the metal prongs of a night light will shock me, and I heard stories of others touching sticks to electric fences and getting shocked, and, and my mom gave a brief physics lesson noting electricity can travel through some things, so it may make it through a line of connected people. I included views from science, personal history, even ethics, but failed to place much weight on ethics.

3) Test and Data: so, I jammed my fingers into the open-ended wires in the outlet, and sure enough, the back-straightening jolt instantly went through the line of us, and terminated with the unsuspecting museum employee.

4) Analysis: my hypothesis was correct, and totally worth the effort.

 

Since childhood we naturally and efficiently integrate different sources of knowledge when facing a problem to solve, or decision to make. On your way home tonight, you may find yourself fast approaching a traffic light that is “orange”, within just moments you naturally use viewpoints including physics (you don’t actually do a napkin calculation, but consider momentum and road friction); history, you consider occurrences yourself or others have had; observation, check for any nearby police officers; and ethics, wondering if you may put others at risk of injury, to arrive at a conclusion to either stop, or pass through.

 

Similarly, many choices in life are best visualized when multiple valid viewpoints, or sources of knowledge, are turned on the subject. The question then naturally arises: what, if any, interplay occurs between differing sources of knowledge, particularly ones as influential as science and theology. While the scholarship appears to diverge into the full range of possibilities, considering this vast scholarship on the issue provides two unexpected and significant features: a) each proffered path contains accurate points, and b) each currently proffered theory is restricted to only being applicable to a specific subset of the relationship between science and theology. Taken together, these two unexpected features leads one directly to a singular reality of the interaction between science and theology.

 

This paper will progress though: an illustration and definitions, a flowchart displaying our progress through each intersection of possible relationships, thought-provoking examples, and an explanation of relationship between science and theology that has the successful predictive model and demonstrative trend-line.

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Part 2. An Illustration and Definitions

2.1 The Night Watchman of the Universe

Imagine yourself as the night watchman of the house of the universe. You are required to stay in the office of life, which gives only a marginal view of the rest of the house. But you have cameras, labeled: physics, philosophy, mathematics, theology, history, and others, which monitor different areas of the house through the respective unique points of view. While each camera sends back its own view and information, you can combine all the views at your terminal in the office, in order to have the most comprehensive possible coverage of the house.

 

Now and then you notice that some important large areas, and some difficult corners cannot be fully illuminated by a camera. Therefore, you simply turn other cameras towards the same area. Even though the cameras will view the area from different points of view, they each still view the same thing and together cooperatively illuminate difficult areas. That is a good system, and the watchman can feel secure of being aware of as much as is possible.

 

Science and theology are not friends or foes, but different fields of study, or methods to gain knowledge about reality. If both the science cam and theology cam turn to the same aspect of the universe, or reality, they together provide a wider field of vision, and not only more knowledge, but also a very productive way to verify or discredit the accuracy each of the points of view provide. Or maybe these two different camera views shouldn’t, or can’t intersect?

 

2.2 Definitions

Walking out of an Ann Arbor bookstore, I couldn’t stop reading an article by Stephen Jay Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz!” The narrow-sightedness displayed by the Harvard professor so captured my thoughts, that my focus became similarly constricted, and the myopic article was almost the last thing to pass through the mind of this myopic pedestrian.

 

Returning to the article, after almost being removed from the gene pool by inappropriate selective attention, I wrote a response article and realized something was wrong with our culture’s mechanism for naturally selecting out faulty ideas. That was over a decade ago, and while my article has evolved to incorporate new discoveries that bolster my position, SOMA, the faulty idea promoted by Gould, NOMA, may not have evolved, but certainly dominates the mental landscape where science and theology meet.

 

The late professor, author, and scientist was extremely intelligent, and Gould’s accomplishments may be longer than this article, while mine could be stated in a breath. But Gould was simply wrong, due to significant misconceptions of the concepts involved.

 

Considering the consistent miscommunication surrounding science and theology, it will be helpful to start with definitions of the key terms.

  • Science: “(A) systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”[1]
  • Theology: An approach that builds and organizes knowledge from the study of areas relating to God, and knowledge provided by a divine authority.

 

Of course, a lot of details should be unpacked from these simple definitions, but simple is a nice place to start, and to refer back to when these terms are used. The definition of science, provided by Wikipedia above, is a good one as it entails the most important component of science – the approach or scientific method. Yes, science can be defined as the search for causes, or in many other related ways, and the conceptions of science have changed over time with no agreed upon definition even now. Still, the basis for the great success of science is its approach to that search. The science camera provides its view of an issue by starting with a problem or question to answer, then developing a hypothesis, or model, which explains in detail how we think the world may work, next the explanations and predictions of the model can be tested. This testable model approach provides data, which if analyzed appropriately, allows us to follow the evidence into knowledge about reality.

 

Now science, however you define it, cannot claim exclusive rights on this approach, as it is the same approach each of us use naturally every day, even since childhood, as displayed with my shocking example, but science makes it an enterprise.

 

Some people choose to add to the definition of science, such as science applying only to issues testable by observation and repeatable experiment. Those are very good tests. On the other hand, such restrictions would render much of human experience outside the limits of scientific inquiry, including past events like the Big Bang, and some of the greatest endeavors in science, which were or still are based on inference to the best explanation. If one chooses to make the definition of science more restrictive, that person only shrinks the circle of what science is able to view, or add knowledge within. Gould agrees with me here, and harshly notes the claim that “[The belief that an idea] must be dubious because the process has not been directly observed – smacks of absurdity and only reveals ignorance about the nature of science. Good science integrates observation with inference.”[2] The flexibility or diversity with which some define science impacts the breadth of the viewpoint, and the circle of knowledge the “science” viewpoint will circumscribe, and will impact what people will perceive in the interaction between science and theology. However, the reality of the relationship between science, however defined, and theology will only be impacted in the amount of interaction, not the specific way these two sources of knowledge will relate to each other. Bottom-line, science is a method of obtaining information about reality, and as such provides a circle of knowledge that can or cannot interact with the circle of knowledge provided by other views, including theology.

Most people seem to approach this issue as the relationship between “science and religion,” but “religion” is too convoluted as it involves how people organize around a theology, and includes more than will be covered here. “Theology” was chosen for specificity and simplicity. You could just define it as “the study of God.” The definition used here is more in-line with the definition of “science” as – bottom-line – both are approaches to learn things about reality. Some may want to add to this definition too, but the simple definitions provided above, with the focus on approaches and the knowledge encircled by these approaches, is what is meant in this paper when those terms are used.

[1] Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science.

[2] Stephen J Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz”, Time 154 (1999), Viewpoint. http://www.arn.org/docs/kansas/gouldks823.htm.

 

Part 3. A Flowchart

 

To begin, mutually exclusive theologies must be considered separately in their respective relationships with science, as the mutually exclusive relationships will obviously differ. Thomas Dixon, et al., supports this by noting that this study cannot progress in isolation from the reality of religious pluralism, and implied in Dixon’s point is the recognition of the law of non-contradiction as applied to the pluralism.[1]

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[1] Thomas Dixon, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumphrey, Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2010), 41.

3.1 First Intersection: Validity

A first point of intersection, when considering how two sources of knowledge relate to each other, is determining whether both sources are valid, or if one or both sources are not valid. The term “valid” is used here to mean a source of knowledge that provides unique and accurate knowledge about reality. Both science and theology are certainly valid in this sense, which I do not except anyone to accept without evidence, but will be evident in examples provided shortly.

 

An example, however, going the other route, would be the relationship between mathematics and astrology. Astrology is not a valid source of knowledge. This source does not provide accurate knowledge about reality. If an invalid source of knowledge does happen to interact with a valid source, then the interaction will either be one of non-interaction, unimportant interaction, conflict where the two sources interact, or only insignificant or apparent concord. If not at a point of complete knowledge, then there can be apparent concord, but likely the trend over time will be increasing conflict as the quantity and quality of knowledge grows. For example, here is an intersection between mathematics and astrology from a challenge I posted to a claim supporting astrology:

Test it. Each week, have someone cut out all the horoscopes from the week before, but remove the labels “Capricorn”, “Gemini”, or whatever, and pick the one that precisely described your week. Did you pick your sign? Do this over a year and see how many you got right. Just picking the horoscopes out of a hat will result in ~10% of the time getting your sign, so how much more than 10% did you get? How accurate is your horoscope really? The more you do this test, the more your results are likely to conform to just randomly picking your horoscope blindly out of a hat. I am sure it is not “OMG so accurate!” as claimed in the article.

 

There is a bottom-line: if a source of knowledge, or the camera and circle of knowledge it provides, as illustrated with the watchman example, is not a valid source for knowledge about reality – turn that camera off. Such a camera only provides noise, and only interferes and is detrimental to the likelihood of making decisions that are best for you.

 

If, on the other hand, both sources of knowledge, or cameras, do provide valid views of reality, then we come to a second point of intersection: either these two sources do or do not interact.

 

3.2 Second Intersection: Interaction

With an understanding of the terms “science” and “theology” as they are used in this paper, we now proceed to how these terms interact. Some like to think that science and theology can’t play nice together, or further, cannot play together at all. Conversely, I believe there will be a day, when little science and theology ideas and models will join hands as symbiotic [1] siblings, and will be judged not by their point of view, but by the validity and productive output of their content. No offense in mutating Dr. King’s famous lines, actually, he would likely agree with the above thesis. And, in fact, science and theology have already been engaging in a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship, which, after explaining the NOMA and SOMA models, will be demonstrated with one of science’s greatest areas of discovery.

 

3.2.1 NOMA

An eminent paleontologist, the late Stephen Jay Gould, provided a good description of a very common thought regarding science and theology, in his article presented in Time. Gould was responding to the Kansas Board of Education’s consideration of removing the Big Bang theory and evolution from the state’s science curriculum. Gould correctly stated that such a move would limit the students’ view of reality to what the Board decides. This was a clear demonstration of religious people shutting off their science cam, and trying to force others to a similarly restricted view of the universe. Weak thinking.

 

Gould then spends the rest of his article supporting his declaration that “these two great tools of human understanding (science and religion) operate in complimentary (not contrary) fashion.”[2] The professor is close to hitting upon a rock-solid point, but then displays the fault-line in his reasoning by adding that science and religion work together “in their totally separate realms (my emphasis): science as an inquiry about the factual state (again, italics mine) of the natural world, religion as a search for spiritual meaning, and ethical values.”[3] In other words, in the science circle are contained all facts and truth about reality, while in the religion circle are “spiritual meaning and ethical values”. Sounds weak.

 

Yet, W.T. Stace, a philosopher of religion also thinks the two fields are independent, each consistent and complete in its own domain.[4] The U.S. National Academy of Science supports the independence view also with its statement:

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to put science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.[5]

 

The statement above not only depends on the logical fallacy of a strawman argument, but also glosses over the interaction by claiming religious faith “typically” involves supernatural entities, and this is not always the case as certainly theology makes claims about the natural world where science would interact.

 

Aside from the errors involved in the statement given above, there is something even more fundamentally faulty: does reality neatly separate itself, like high school subjects during my tenure as a student? So if we want facts about reality, then we must look in the science circle, while whatever Gould meant by “spiritual meaning” separates itself out, and lands only in the theology field of view?

 

Believers in NOMA, including other scientists and some contemporary theologians, for example, Wittgenstein and Randall and possibly Sam Harris, believe these two fields of study address fundamentally separate forms of knowledge and aspects of life, and are too diverse to intersect, or accept some form of the non-intersecting models, and (excluding some like Dawkins and possibly Bill Nye “The Science Guy”) typically have no problem with those who want to use their theology camera, but expect those who do to keep that camera turned away from the area encompassed by science. Never the twain shall meet. This view, labeled “Non-Overlapping Magisterial” (NOMA) is illustrated below.

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[1]  I heard this term used by John Clayton of the Does God Exist? organization in the 1990’s in relation to the relationship.

[2] Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz.”

[3] Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz.”

[4] W. T. Stace, Time and Eternity: an Essay in the Philosophy of Religion (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1952).

[5] National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, National Academies Press, Washington (2008), 12.

In the years since Gould’s article, his NOMA belief has become the dominant popular understanding (or possibly the conflict model). Nevertheless, the popular belief is not always the one founded on reality. NOMA is valid, if and only if the following conditions are met:

NOMA is accurate, if and only if:

  • No area of life (or reality) can be addressed by both science and theology.
  • Theology cannot provide a testable, falsifiable scientific model.
  • Theology cannot add accurate knowledge to the “factual state of the natural world,” or to any area contained in the circle encompassed by science, and vice-versa with science into the theology circle.
  • Neither field can provide support, or denial, or interact with any knowledge encompassed by the other circle of knowledge.

NOMA artificially creates separate and unequal “magisteria,” or circles of knowledge. Both the religious people Gould chided in his article, and interestingly enough, Gould himself, based their positions on the misconception of “faith” as they conflate “faith” with a specific subset of faith, often referred to as “blind faith” or belief without supportive reasons, and incorrectly assumed knowledge about reality in the theology circle does not involve reasons, facts, supportive evidence, claims about the natural world, or testable models. So both sides in that Board of Education debate wanted to keep the two fields of study from mixing. I never knew Gould, and cannot claim he turned off his theology camera in his personal life, but he certainly disregarded it when trying to gain a picture of the “factual state of nature,” and thought it impossible for both cameras to point to the same area of reality and each provide the same, accurate, factual information.

 

And as far as scientism, the belief that all that can be known about our universe will be gained through science, not much space will be spent on this belief here, other writings have shredded this idea, maybe a century ago now. Briefly, you have to step outside the science circle to believe in scientism. One cannot prove through science that scientism is true – that is a philosophical claim. Proponents would have to know enough about reality to claim all that can be known will be made known through science. That is a bold claim without the evidence to rationally believe it. Even before beginning to utilize science, one must start with philosophical assumptions of realism, laws of logic, etc., and if you have to rely on philosophy to even do science, then science is not the all-in-all. Scientism is an invalid belief.

 

The night watchman described earlier is a person, and when people are involved, even the best system can fail. A watchman may decide to shut-off, or not pay attention to a camera, but disregarding a camera is only warranted if it fails to provide a unique point of view unattainable by the other cameras, and accurate information. Otherwise that careless watchman self-inhibits the view, creating a blind spot.

 

People, acting as a watchman, may try to justify turning off the history cam because they don’t like to focus on the past, or the mathematics cam, claiming the wiring is bad. I have spoken to historians and mathematicians, and while they may be past-centered and wired differently, respectively, the view each provides is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of reality. Stephen Hawking, and other physicists, have openly declared their belief that the philosophy cam provides no new information not already provided by science. However, had their philosophy cam been turned on, then those physicists would have watched themselves step outside the circle of science and step right into the circle of philosophy; because their claim is a philosophical one – a bad one – and the philosophy camera would have shed light on that bad philosophy. Reality doesn’t disjoint itself to always fall neatly into one discipline or the other, but instead is best determined when all possible cameras provide their views of the area (or subject in reality), allowing for diverse study and multiplied validation.

3.2.2 SOMA

The model I proposed in 1999, in response to Gould’s article, is called Symbiotic Overlapping Magisteria (SOMA), where different approaches to the study of reality, whether science, theology, philosophy, mathematics, history, and other fields, all have areas of life they may exclusively contain, but also have many areas of knowledge that can be simultaneously viewed by multiple fields, providing mutually beneficial and supportive interaction, which biologists would call a symbiotic relationship. This idea, as opposed to NOMA, is valid if and only if the following conditions are met:

SOMA is accurate, if and only if:

  • There is an area(s) of life that can be addressed by both science and theology.
  • Theology adds accurate knowledge to the “factual state of the natural world,” or to any area contained in the circle encompassed by science, and vice-versa with science into the theology circle.
  • In that intersection of the circles, inaccurate interpretations or understandings in the science or theology views can be called into question by the other, and areas of knowledge can also be confirmed by the two independent approaches.
  • Theology can provide a testable, falsifiable, scientific model.

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Only one example is needed to invalidate NOMA, and meet the criteria of SOMA, and that knock-out-shot example is found right from the start – the beginning. The study of the beginning of the universe is saturated with Nobel Prizes, top-rate scientists, some of the greatest discoveries of modern science, and claims from every worldview belief system and theology. The science and theology cams have both been focused directly on this issue, and what has been found in the intersection of these views?

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            3.2.3 One Example: A Knock-Out Shot

We exist, unless you are a first year philosophy student, or an obsessive Matrix fan, the existence of ourselves and the universe can be taken as a given, or a properly basic belief. If we exist, then our existence leaves only two possibilities: either our universe had a beginning, or it did not have a beginning. Those are the only two options. Simple.

 

So we have the first step in the basic scientific method, problem/question: Did our universe have a beginning? This question of origins is also one of the core or “big questions” in life and worldview beliefs. Also very useful, the different worldviews and science took the second step in the scientific method by providing their respective hypotheses or models, and divide clearly between these two options. Let’s consider what each model predicted before the evidence came in.

 

Christian theology will be focused upon since much of the scholarship regarding the interaction of theology and science concerns Christian theology, yet the reader may take any other theology and do the same comparisons that follow. As far as theology, the biblical model, millennia before modern science brought its tests, not only predicted the universe had a beginning, but also provided the gold-standard that science seeks in its models – predictions that were unable to be known, unless the model is on to something unique. Such as:

 

(1) The universe, and all that is a part of the universe, had a beginning (Genesis 1:1, compound use of Hebrew words “shamayim” (heaven) with “aretz” (earth), refers to everything of the entire universe; John 1:3, everything aside from God was created, was caused, and has a beginning).

(2) Time itself had a beginning (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 1:10; Jude 1:25).

(3) Space and time began together (Genesis 1:1; use of “bārāʾ” refers to divine creating something new out of what was not in existence before, and this happened at “the beginning”).

(4)-(5) The universe came from not anything visible, or of this universe (Gen. 1:1; Heb.

11:3; John 1:3).

(6) The universe follows fixed laws (Jeremiah 33:25-6).

(7) The cause of the universe is given very specific properties, some of which include: uncaused, and outside of, or beyond space, time, matter and all nature.

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There are more, but these will do for now. As for the other models, possibly all theology models not tied to the Bible, predicted an uncaused, eternal universe, some with variations like an eternally cycling universe. Those in the scientific community generally accepted an eternal universe, as well as atheists in general; consider the first affirmation of Humanist Manifesto I.[1] If your worldview belief’s model is not provided, then add it on one-side or the other, beginning or no beginning.

 

3rd Step: Test the Models

It is important to keep in mind the Bible is not a scientific text, meaning its stated purpose is more of a love letter from God, explaining our situation, and giving Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Therefore, care must be taken in not extrapolating beyond what the Bible is providing to make a claim in the area of science. Nonetheless, theologies, the biblical model included, make claims about the natural world, and when these are clear and specific, like the ones above, then these claims are simultaneously in both the domain of theology and of science. William Lane Craig echoes this idea: “When religions make claims about the natural world, they intersect the domain of science and are, in effect, making predictions which scientific investigation can either verify or falsify.”[2]

 

This is already not looking good for NOMA, if the theologically produced models are testable/falsifiable, NOMA is no mas, as these theologically elucidated areas are also in the realm of science. And it only gets worse for NOMA fans. Let’s look at the tests and analyses.

 

The evidence is in, and includes: some of the greatest discoveries of modern science, multiple Nobel Prize winners, Einstein’s field equations of General Relativity, Hubble’s telescope, Hawking’s space-time theorem, the microwave background radiation and ripples, and great quotes, such as Alexander Vilenkin’s noting, “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”[3]

 

People have attempted the myriad of ways to get around the universe having a beginning in the finite past, typically I would provide a survey and the recognized refutations of those ideas, but for this discussion will leave that to the reader’s discretion. To not believe in the beginning of the universe, one would have to go against ALL the evidence. When one side of the argument has ALL the evidential support, and the other side has NONE, then even a graduate from Ohio State University can figure out what that means (I am a University of Michigan fan, whose football enjoyment has been greatly abused by that team to the south).

 

What science now knows:

(1) The universe and all that is a part of the universe had a beginning nearly 14

billion years ago.

(2)-(3) Time itself had a beginning, and is linked with the universe, physicists and

astronomers use the phrase “space-time fabric” of the universe.

(4)-(5) There was nothing, not anything of our natural universe, then a super dense, super hot, universe came into existence, and was so dense and hot that no light was able to be released until almost 400,000 years later.

6) The universe began expanding and cooling following fixed laws of nature.

7) Discoveries lead to specific properties of the cause of the universe.

Look again at the biblical model’s predictions. The phenomenal match between the biblical description and what modern science discovered has not been lost on those scientists involved.

  • Astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle was confronted with the points mentioned above about the beginning of the universe, but he believed the universe was eternal and ridiculed the idea of a beginning as “scientific Genesis.” He called the theory the “Big Bang” in his disbelief. The name stuck. Hoyle later remarked, “there is a good deal of cosmology in the Bible.”[4]
  • Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies said: “…astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world…. the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same.”[5]
  • Nobel Prize winners Penzias and Wilson add respectively: “The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.”[6] And, “Certainly there was something that set it all off…. I can’t think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match Genesis.”[7]

Mathematical physicist Frank Tipler sums up one of the conclusions: “From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”[8]

[1] Raymond B. Bragg, Humanist Manifesto I, American Humanist Organization,

http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I (1933).

[2] William Lane Craig, “What is the Relation between Science and Christianity”, Reasonable Faith,

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-the-relation-between-science-and-religion (2014).

[3] Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176.

[4] Fred Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe, second edition (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), 109.

[5] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 14.

[6] Arno Penzias, interview in New York Times on March 12, 1978.

[7] Robert Wilson, interview with Fred Heeren,
Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God (Day Star Publications, 2000), 157.

[8] Frank J. Tipler, The Physics Of Christianity (New York, Doubleday, 2007), Preface.

4th Step: Analysis & Conclusion

It is simply false to claim theology doesn’t make factual claims about the natural world. For example, the world religions make various and conflicting claims about the origin and nature of the universe and humanity. Therefore, the idea of non-interacting fields of science and theology, and NOMA, is falsified.

 

Theologies have produced scientifically testable models. The theological approach utilizing the Bible provided accurate factual knowledge about the natural world, and did so in an area science also addresses. NOMA is double-falsified.

 

And from that point, science supported theology in that it exposes inaccurate theologies, and adjudicates between mutually exclusive ideas. Other theologies, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., predicted an uncaused, eternal universe; the worldview of atheism predicted the same; science and common thought even into the 1950’s held to the eternal universe. Therefore, science can support, deny, or interact with subject(s) encompassed by the theology circle of knowledge. This triple-falsification invalidates NOMA, and demonstrates the symbiotic relationship of SOMA precisely.

 

Just as science provides maintenance for theology, the reverse also occurs. While not attempting to be a science textbook, theological text does account for properties in nature that can be tested. While all reasonable options need to be explored, just think if researchers gave more credence to the biblical model of the beginning, more time and effort could have been directed correctly, instead of focusing on faulty conceptions that science and other belief systems held even through Einstein’s time. Further examples are discussed in section 3.3.5.

 

We started at the beginning of the universe, and what is the next logical question? What was the cause of the universe? And again we find the same trail of evidence supporting SOMA and disproving NOMA. Because this paper is not focused on covering all the intersections, the cause of the universe and fine-tuning will not be covered here, but astronomer Robert Jastrow’s revelation is fitting: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[2]

[1] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 106-107.

[2] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 106-107.

3.2.4 Relationship Described by Set Theory

What has been shown above can be described in basic set theory, and the Venn diagrams we experienced in elementary school. Set theory was originally developed and utilized in mathematics, so if my application or memory of set theory runs afoul, I would appreciate corrective comments to make the explanation more accurate and robust. A set is a collection of things or elements, for example, a set A includes all even numbers 1-10, while set B contains even numbers 6-20, which would be written as: A = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10}, B = {6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. Sets can even contain other sets, for example, if set A and B are both elements of set R, (written as AR and BR), then: R = {A, B} = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. A union of sets means that you combine all the elements in the union, or joining of the sets, so the union of A and B would be: A È B ={2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. The intersection of sets means all of the elements that are in common between the sets. For example, the intersection of sets A and B would be: AB = {6, 8, 10}. This can be illustrated with a Venn diagram.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.55.26 PM 

As applied to the relationship between science and theology, let the knowledge obtainable through science be set S, the knowledge obtainable through theology be set T, and all the knowledge about reality be set R. So set S will include elements such as: S = {helical structure of DNA, Maxwell’s equations, optics, black holes, the beginning of the universe, … }. Set T will include elements such as: T = {does God exist, what is God like, has this being communicated with us, objective morality, free will, inherent value/purpose of life, claimed historical events, after-life, NDEs, claims about numerous aspects of life, the beginning of the universe, … }. There are other sets or approaches that bring knowledge about reality, including (Ph)ilosophy = {laws of logic, realism, ethics, logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, inferential reasoning, … }, (H)istory, (M)athematics, (P)sychology, etc. Set R will include knowledge gained about reality from every set, including S and T, R = {S, T, Ph, H, M, P, …}.

 

For NOMA to be true, there can be no element (e) that is factual knowledge about reality, which can be found within (T)heology. Further, there can be no e that is found in both S and T; ST = Æ, these two sets must be disjoint.

 

But there are multiple elements, e’s = such as facts about the beginning and cause of the universe, which are found in the intersection: ST = {all matter, energy and space had a beginning, time had a beginning, the cause is able to produce matter and energy from no “natural” thing ontologically prior, the universe follows fixed laws, … }. Formally, if e = the fact that the universe had a beginning, then ST = {e : eSeT }. Therefore, NOMA is false.

 

SOMA accurately describes the relationship between science and Christian theology. Notice how similar figure eight from Wikipedia is to my SOMA diagram, figure four. And, in that area of intersection, you could picture not just the Big Bang, but many other areas of knowledge to further establish this idea. For example, a psychology professor at a prominent university on the U.S. west coast, whose lectures were often overflowing with unregistered students and other professors, was once asked what was the key to a “good and happy life.” The professor responded that the most succinct and accurate prescription he had ever encountered for a healthy life was given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-12). PT = {e : ePeT }. The professor did not want his identity given due to possible repercussions for his theological statement, so you can take this example or leave it. But before you leave it, read the biblical passage yourself to consider the subject.

 

Additionally, the Bible has been scoured with the finest-toothed historical combs, due to the massive number of specific historical data provided. Critics have claimed numerous errors as had been found in any comparable writing. The accepted belief in historical studies was that there was not even writing during Moses’ time, the Davidic tunnel was a myth and excavation seemed to verify the inaccuracy, the Hittite people never existed, the alleged researcher Luke must have gotten many facts wrong in his gospel account. Further study revealed: the biblical account of writing during Moses’ time was correct, the Davidic tunnel was found and is a tourist attraction today, and thousands of artifacts now bring a wealth of information about the Hittites.

 

Regarding the reliability of Luke, and the biblical account in general, archeologists have targeted the biblical source as no other, and their results have been declared by top researchers in the field. William F. Albright, who is respected as possibly the top archeologist of this century, stated “There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”[1] Sir William Ramsay, considered one of the greatest archeologists to have ever lived, serves as another source. His schooling led him to believe that the scripture records were unreliable, but he had to consider biblical writings of Luke for a study of Asia Minor. His belief was completely reversed and he became a Christian through overwhelming evidence uncovered during his studies. Ramsay declared:

I began with a mind unfavourable to it (the truth of the biblical record), for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory (a theory that rejected the reliability of Luke’s writings) had at one time quite convinced me. It did not then lie in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts (a book in the Bible that was written by Luke, who wrote one-quarter of the New Testament) as an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth . . . I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.[2]

Then after 30 years of study, regarding Luke’s ability as a historian, Ramsay declared that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” And to reinforce the check-ability aspect, Ramsay affirms: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”[3] HT = {e : eHeT }.

 

If two sources of knowledge are valid, and if both view the same subject, then the views will show the same thing. And if a specific theology has concordance in the intersection with science, or in other ways is demonstrated to be a valid source of knowledge about reality, then one would expect to see the same type of interactions with other valid sources of knowledge, such as philosophy, history, archeology, etc. Conversely, contradictory theologies to a valid one, would likely demonstrate a trend in the opposite direction in the interaction with other valid methodologies for gaining knowledge. The biblical model again was and is the focus of most scholarly writings on the interaction, but the same comparisons can be done with other theologies and is left to the reader and other researcher’s discretion.

Bottom-line

The belief that science and theology cannot interact is mistaken. However, one can show that these fields of study have very different sources of data, and contain much in their respective circles of knowledge that is independent from the other’s circle – so the NOMA view is applicable, but only in this limited way. Keep this in mind (a model concerning the relationship between science and theology being partially accurate, but only applicable to a limited scope), as it will recur in other proposed models.

 

First, it has been demonstrated that indeed there are facts or knowledge about reality that can be cooperatively illuminated by both the theology and science cameras, or approaches, and fit simultaneously in both circles of added knowledge.

 

Second, both theology and science benefit from corrective and corroborative support from each other, and other fields of view, such as history, philosophy, etc. Theology provided a number of contradictory views about the beginning and cause of the universe, as noted in the predictions step, and science helped eliminate inaccurate viewpoints and provide support for correct view(s). While benefitting from phenomenal verification regarding the beginning of the universe, Christian theology also obtained corrective support. The Aristotelian view about the earth being at the center of the universe was accepted by the culture and many in the church of Galileo’s time. While the account of Galileo’s trials has often been portrayed erroneously in many presentations I have witnessed, the church leadership, particularly a cardinal who got his ego tweaked by Galileo, did buy into the faulty idea and used a biblical passage to try to support it. Science provided knowledge about our solar system, which led to further research into the biblical passage, and exposed faulty extrapolations from it made by some in the church.

 

Third, some theologies do not provide testable/falsifiable models, and some do. The ones that do can be checked throughout the history of discovery, in every field of knowledge. Trends are important indicators. You see trends in your grades, the economy, your health, and other areas, and trends speak loudly. If a theological or scientific view is valid, as time goes on, new discoveries and confirmation between different fields of study will increase, or the opposite, if the view is not true. Although over what time frame will the accurate trend arise? Who knows, as it depends on a number of factors, but we do have a considerable history of development of knowledge and equally significant trends have emerged. Check for your self, the relationship between specific theologies and science, history, philosophy, and other fields do have demonstrative inclinations. More about the SOMA model later.

 

As scholars began rejecting the NOMA model, the recognition of the interaction, and the modern dialogue between religion and science grew in popularity with Ian Barbour‘s 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion. Since that time, the study of the relationship has grown into a serious academic field, with academic chairs in the subject area, and dedicated academic journalsZygon: Journal of Religion & Science, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, and Theology and Science. Articles are also found in mainstream science journals such as American Journal of Physics, Nature, and Science.

 

Institutions interested in the intersection between science and religion include the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Ian Ramsey Centre, and the Faraday Institute. Numerous scholarly works are available, as are numerous societies for promoting this dialogue, for example, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology, the Science and Religion Forum, the Berkeley Center for Theology and Natural Science, and so on. Very significant on-going conferences sponsored by the Berkeley Center and the Vatican Observatory, in which prominent scientists like Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies have joined with prominent theologians like John Polkinghorne and Wolfhart Pannenberg to discuss the interactions and implications. The Templeton Foundation has awarded its million dollar Templeton Award in Science and Religion to integrative thinkers like the aforementioned Paul Davies, John Polkinghorne, and George Ellis for their work in science and religion. The dialogue between science and theology is so significant that both Cambridge University and Oxford University have established chairs in science and theology. The interaction between these two sources of knowledge has been the source of consistent and substantial scholarship.

 

With the NOMA model’s exposed limited applicability, and failures, and the movement of scholarship into the interaction models, what type of interaction has been found? This is the topic of part 2 of this series, which eliminates two other popular thoughts on either extreme.

 

[1] William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins Press, 1942), 176, as cited by McDowell, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 98.

[2] Sir William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 222, as cited by McDowell, NE, 63.

[3] Ramsay, BRDTNT, (1915), 222.

The Brief Case for Peter’s Influence on Mark’s Gospel (Bible Insert)

When I first examined the New Testament Gospel accounts, I was intensely interested in their authorship. I found it interesting that two of the accounts were not written by (nor even attributed to) eyewitnesses. Luke wrote his account based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses and servants of the word,” but Mark’s Gospel is a bit more mysterious. Was Mark a previously un-named witness? Form whom did he get his information? I’ve written about the case for Mark’s source both at ColdCaseChristianity.com and in my book, Cold-Case Christianity. I believe the evidence points to the Apostle Peter as the authority for the material in Mark’s Gospel. In this post, I’d like to offer a Bible Insert summarizing briefly the case for Peter’s involvement (along with a graphic illustration of the cumulative case):

Peter is Described with Familiarity
More importantly, Mark is the only writer who refuses to use the term “Simon Peter” when describing Peter (he uses either “Simon” or “Peter”). This may seem trivial, but it is important. Simon was the most popular male name in Palestine at the time of Mark’s writing, yet Mark makes no attempt to distinguish the Apostle Simon from the hundreds of other Simons known to his readers (John, by comparison, refers to Peter more formally as “Simon Peter” seventeen times). Mark consistently uses the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.

Peter Is “Bookended”
Unlike other Gospel accounts, Peter is the first disciple identified in the text (Mark 1:16) and the last disciple mentioned in the text (Mark 16:7). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness. In any case, Peter is prominent in Mark’s Gospel as the first and last named disciple.

Peter Is Mentioned Frequently
Peter is featured frequently in Mark’s Gospel. As an example, Mark refers to Peter twenty six times in his short account, compared to Matthew who mentions Peter only three additional times in his much longer Gospel.

Peter Is Named By the Church Fathers
A number of early Church witnesses and authorities confirm Peter as the source for Mark’s Gospel. Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD) repeated the testimony of the old presbyters (disciples of the Apostles) who claimed Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome as he scribed the preaching of Peter (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15, Book 3 Chapter 30 and Book 6 Chapter 14). In his book, “Against Heresies” (Book 3 Chapter 1), Irenaeus (130-200AD) also reported Mark penned his Gospel as a scribe for Peter. Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) wrote a book entitled “Hypotyposeis” (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15). In this ancient book, Clement confirmed Mark was the scribe of Peter in Rome. Early Christian theologian and apologist, Tertullian (160-225AD), also affirmed Peter’s contribution to Mark’s Gospel in “Against Marcion” (Book 4 Chapter 5). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 25) also quoted a Gospel Commentary written by Origen (an early church father and theologian who lived 185-254AD) attributing the Gospel of Mark to Peter.

Peter’s Embarrassments Have Been Omitted
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence, including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts. See Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation).

Peter’s Knowledge Has Been Included
In addition to the omissions we have cited, there are a number of details included in Mark’s Gospel demonstrating Peter’s involvement and connection to Mark. As we describe a few of them, notice these inclusions are relatively minor and don’t seem to add much to the narrative. Their incidental nature is an indicator the author lacked a motive other than to simply include Peter’s perspective in the account. Peter’s involvement appears to have been faithfully recorded by his scribe and assistant, Mark.

Peter’s Outline Has Been Followed
Papias maintained the Gospel of Mark was simply a collection of Peter’s discourses (or his preaching) as this information was received and recalled by Mark. If we examine the typical preaching style of Peter in the Book of Acts (1:21-22 and Acts 10:37-41 for example) we see Peter always limited his preaching to the public life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel omits the private birth narrative and other details of Jesus’ life described in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection and ascension, paralleling the public preaching of Peter as we see it summarized in the Book of Acts.

There is sufficient cumulative, circumstantial evidence to conclude Mark did, in fact, form his Gospel from the teaching and preaching of the Apostle Peter. I’ve illustrated the cumulative case for Peter’s involvement in the following way (excerpted from Cold-Case Christianity):

Illustration 11

 

To download a free Bible Insert of this cumulative case diagram, visit the homepage at www.ColdCaseChristianity.com and follow the Bible Insert link in the right column.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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Do I Need Scientific, Forensic Evidence to Prove Christianity Is True?

The relationship between science and faith continues to be hotly debated in our culture today. Eric Metaxas’ recent viral Wall Street Journal article, “Is Science Leading Us to God?” certainly reignited the discussion. His brief description of the teleological, fine-tuning parameters of the universe became the most-read online article the Journal has ever published. Even more recently, CNN has now begun a six-part series entitled, “Finding Jesus”. This mini-series seeks to discover “fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research”. The show examines six ancient relics of Christianity to see if “today’s technology can prove their authenticity.” In an empiricist culture deeply enthralled with scientific discovery and fascinated by shows like CSI, Cold-Case and Forensic Files, I’m not surprised by the demand for physical, scientific, forensic evidence. But as a cold-case detective with over twenty-five years of investigative experience, I’m here to tell you a simple truth: we don’t need any evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

Would it be nice to have scientific, physical evidence? Absolutely. When we first formed our cold-case unit, I retrieved over thirty unsolved cases from our homicide vault and sifted through each file, hoping to find one or two we could solve quickly with some piece of DNA or other form of scientific evidence. After all, our forensic technology has improved dramatically over the years, and I hoped to capitalize on this advancement to solve one or two of these cases quickly (to demonstrate the value of our new investigative team). Alas, I couldn’t find a single case of this nature. My partner and I were initially disappointed. But over the next fifteen years, we became the most active and successful cold-case team in Los Angeles County, solving more consecutive cases and appearing more times on Dateline than any other investigative team. And none of our cases benefited significantly from scientific evidence.

Most people don’t understand the broad categories of evidence used in criminal trials. As it turns out, evidence falls into one of two categories: direct and indirect. Direct evidence is simply eyewitness testimony. Indirect evidence (also known as circumstantial evidence) is everything else. Scientific evidence is an important form of circumstantial evidence, and I would certainly have welcomed evidence of this nature over the years (it sure would have made my job easier). But I’ve never been this lucky. In fact, I’ve investigated cases lacking any physical evidence at all. In one case, the murderer killed his wife and claimed she abandoned her family. He filed a bogus missing persons report and our agency initially believed him. Sadly, no one worked the case as a homicide for the first six years. By the time we re-opened it as a homicide case, the murderer had remarried and moved from the house where he killed our victim. We had no crime scene to investigate and not a single piece of scientific evidence.

When the case went to trial, the jury faced a number of unanswered questions: When precisely did he kill her? How did he kill her? What did he do with her body? How did he move her car so it would look like she abandoned her family? We couldn’t answer any of these questions and we didn’t have a single piece of physical evidence (let alone scientific evidence). But the jury only took four hours to find our defendant guilty (he later confessed to the murder at his sentencing hearing). That case strengthened my understanding of the nature and role of evidence and the luxury of scientific corroboration. It’s nice when you have it, but you don’t really need it. And when it comes to cold-cases you don’t often have this evidential luxury (there’s a reason these cases are cold, after all). The vast majority of my cases are constructed from a collection of seemingly meaningless statements and behaviors; stuff you might not even think was important at the time of the crime. But when these small indicators are assembled cumulatively and examined against the backdrop of the crime, little things become big evidence.

This is by far a more difficult way to build a case. Sometimes a single piece of scientific, forensic evidence can be very compelling, and in an impatient culture conditioned for brevity and 140 character communication, it’s not surprising jurors might prefer the shortest possible trial. Cases made by dramatic scientific evidence are definitely appealing. But real life is different than what you’ve been watching on television and at the movies. Making a case for anything in the past (whether it’s a murder or some other historical event) is often messy and complicated. It takes time. I’ve had cases that took over five years to put together and another five to bring to trial (luckily we’re able to work more than one case at a time). Scientific cases may be compelling, but in my experience, they are incredibly rare.

So I’m not surprised (given the antiquity of the Biblical events) we can’t make a case from scientific, forensic evidence. In fact, I wouldn’t expect us to be able to do this, any more than I expect to make a scientific case as a cold-case detective. That’s alright with me; I’ve seen many juries arrive confidently at the correct decision with no scientific evidence at all. We don’t need evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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