Friday, July 30, 2010

Fighting with both hands tied

Naturalism is the philosophical belief that the universe is the product of a purely naturalistic accident and that everything should be explained by naturalistic means. Naturalist would discount any Supernatural explanation. If a scientist has a naturalistic view, then all explanations are explained without reference to Supernaturalism. Carl Sagan once stated, "the Cosmos is all that was, is, or ever will be."[1] Nature is all there is on a naturalistic worldview.

What would happen if the Supernatural realm exist? Well, for starters, truth cannot be obtained if one holds a naturalistic viewpoint. Philosopher of science Del Ratzsch said, "If part of reality lies beyond the natural realm, then science cannot get at the truth without abandoning the naturalism it presently follows as a methodological rule of thumb." In other words, truth can never be obtained because naturalism can only answer so much. The truth of the matter is, naturalism is a religion in and of itself, for it makes statements of how we should perceive reality.

In 1912, Charles Darwin discovered a so called missing link between man and apes called "Piltdown man." It was discovered some 40 years later that the cranial bones were stained with a red dye to give the appearance of age, and the jaw bone was actually from an orangutan, with a cranium that was human. Now, this is not to say that science does not contribute greatly to our understanding of the world, but the point is, as Darwin was trying to manipulate the evidence for a preconceived purpose or idea, likewise, naturalism also has a preconceived idea that prevents the faith of naturalism from gathering all the evidence of truth. Journal editor, Alexander Kohn rightly stated, " Scientists, contrary to lay belief, do not work by collecting only hard facts and fitting together information based on them. Scientific investigation is also motivated by pursuit of recognition and fame, by hope and prejudice. Dubious evidence is strengthened by strong hope: anomalies are fitted into a coherent picture with the help of cultural bias."

Again, science has offered much and continues to do so, but a purely naturalist view mixed with a preconceived scientific view can only partially answer the big questions of life. Naturalism is a religious view that is akin to a boxer fighting with both hands tied behind his back. If truth is important, then we should consider the evidence wherever it leads irregardless of the positions we hold so dear.

[1] Sagan, Carl, Cosmos

Friday, July 23, 2010


Carl Sagan once stated, " Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." When earth is viewed from deep space, it does appear as an insignificant speck in space (see photo), but is it really? According to Sagan and others, our planet is not special.

Recent findings would dispute Sagan's comment concerning the lonely speck called earth. [1] We now know that so many factors have to be perfect in order for life to even exist. For example, the earth has to have a certain type of star for life. The earth must be the proper distance from the sun for life. The earth must have a certain type of moon. The earth must be in the proper position in the solar system, and in its galaxy. The earth must have a certain type of galaxy. All of these parameters and more must exist in order for life to exist. Scientist continue to discover more and more planets, only confirming just how special our lonely speck is. Thus far, out of the hundreds of planets discovered, not one comes close to the specialness of this planet.[2]

This planet is either the product of an accident or design. The perspective one takes makes a big difference in the type of life one has here on earth. Solomon, once toiled with the question of what meaning exists here on this planet. From Solomon's perspective, life without God is meaningless (Ecc. 12:8). But, for the Christian, life is seen through a totally different len's.

Ravi Zacharias has this to say about perspective, "Under the sun means an existence outside of God where there is no input from outside - a closed system. What else can the secular media do but dabble in weirder concoctions of the senses when their philosophy is bred under the sun? What else can secular education do when its intellect is sold out to a closed system?

But for the Christian, God has spoken. Our theory of pleasure is not born from under the sun but from Him who the psalmist says has 'set (His) glory above the heavens (Psalm 8:1).' and who sent us His Son, whose life has been the benchmark of all that is good."[3] Perspective makes all the difference, even for a lonely speck in the vastness of space.

[1] Article about the special properties of earth.
[2] Two great books that point out the specialness of planet earth: Rare Earth and The Privileged Planet
[3] Zacharias, Ravi, Cries of the Heart, p. 131

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Miracles: Top-down vs. Bottom-up

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to skeptics concerning God's existence is a miracle. The scientific/naturalistic view, which developed during the Enlightenment period of Charles Darwin theology, left no room for the possibility of miracles. A miracle can be defined as "an extraordinary, extremely outstanding or unusual event." [1] The event is so unusual that Supernatural explanation is often given to account for the event. In the naturalistic worldview the Supernatural explanation is ruled out. If naturalistic science cannot explain an anomaly, the future will surely provide an explanation, because the naturalistic worldview does not permit any counter explanations outside of the realm of what occurs in nature. The question then arises, "Does science hold all the answers to those alleged miracles or is it reasonable to believe that a non-naturalistic explanation of reality of miracles exists?"

If miracles are a stumbling block and one is open to the possibility that a purely naturalistic explanation may not provide the most reasonable evidence for miracles, then what approach should one take. Two possibilities emerge called the Bottom-up approach and the Top-down approach. Let's take a look at both views, which much of the emphasis on the Bottom-up approach, to see if these anomalies of nature could fit a Supernatural explanation.

Both Bottom-up and Top-down approach are aptly named, for the former starts here on earth with miracles and works its way to God (arguing from miracles to God's existence), while the second argues for God's existence and proceeds toward Supernatural miracles. In the Bottom-up approach we have reasons to believe that Supernatural miracles have taken place and therefore, can reason that God exists. In the top-down approach, if it could be shown that God exists, then it is within reason to believe that miracles are Supernaturally possible. The bottom-up approach tends to lean heavily on historical evidence, which for many is a stumbling block in itself.

My personal preference is the Bottom-up approach, although I believe that both approaches can be equally effective depending on the disposition of the person that one is in dialogue with. If one has a skeptical bias against historical evidence, the Top-down approach should be employed. But, if one is open to historical evidence and the reliability of the Bible, then the Bottom-up approach could be effective. In both approaches the need for background work might be necessary. For example, an understanding of logic and the limits of science would be helpful for the Top-down method, where the Bottom-up approach , a historical foundation would be helpful concerning the New Testament and other first century documents.

One of the big proponents of the Bottom-up approach is Dr. Gary Habermas. In numerous articles and books, Habermas offers evidence for perhaps one of the most contested anomalies in history, that being the resurrection of Jesus. [2] If one is willing to accept that Jesus lived during the first century, but is unsure of miracles, then three powerful evidences can be given to show that the resurrection story was most probably miraculous.

In arguing for or against miracles, ultimately all possibilities must be considered if one is to be open minded. Historical evidence and the evidence of logic must be looked at. Looking at all the evidence from a purely naturalistic vantage will not provide a complete picture. The overwhelming evidence of first century documents points to the resurrection of Jesus. And, if the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation, then the door is wide open for miracles, the existence of God, and the purpose of life. If the resurrection of Jesus is the most plausible explanation, then this event tips the scales in favor of Jesus as being the promised Messiah.

What evidence supports the resurrection story? the first argument is the empty tomb. There is substantial evidence in history that the tomb was not only known, but was empty of the body of Jesus three days after his death. Jacob Kremer states, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb." [3]

The changed lives in people, who were willing to die and in many cases did for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, is the second argument for the truthfulness of the resurrection of Jesus. Not only did people radically change and believe in the resurrection, but some of these changes lives were people who were formally antagonistic or doubtful of Jesus. One of Jesus own apostles, Thomas, would not believe unless he could physically touch and see Jesus (John 20:27). the life of Thomas forever changed, and according to tradition, he paid for his life as a martyr preaching the resurrection of Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus. is another individual who changed his view of Jesus. James, previous to the death of Jesus was far from believing in him (Mark 3:21; John 7:1-10). After Jesus appeared to his brother (Gal. 1:19), his life radically changed from an non-believer to a leader of the early Church (Acts 21:18). Finally, Paul, who persecuted the Church and Jesus (Acts 9:1-5), made the radical leap from a leader in the Jewish religion to one who gave his life in the pursuit and proclamation in the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-20).

The third bit of evidence deals with the post-resurrection appearances. Theologian Michael Green has stated, "The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity...There can be no rational doubt that they occurred and that they are the main reason why Christians became sure of the resurrection." [4]

The empty tomb, changed lives in the disciples, and the resurrection appearances provide strong support for one of the most contested anomalies on record. If the resurrection of Jesus is true, it not only validates his life and miracles, but also provides substantial evidence in the existence of God. The Bottom-up method can be effective if one is open to the historical evidence. If one were pre-disposed against any historical evidence, the Top-down approach would be the most logical argument for miracles. The open-minded person should not be closed to all the possibilities concerning miracles or anomalies. When all arguments are given concerning the existence of miracles, there is overwhelming evidence to believe that miracles are not only possible, but they are the most probable explanation of extremely outstanding events. If the Bottom-up approach for miracles using the historical evidence of the resurrection can be grasped by the skeptic, it offers the ultimate hope and purpose to the person without God. As J.R.R. Tolkien states concerning the resurrection of Jesus, "There has never been a story which men more wished were true."

[1] Merrian-Webster's School Dictionary, 1999, s.v. "Miracle"
[2] Link to Gary Habermas
[3] Jacob Kremer as quoted in William Lane Craig's, Reasonable Faith, 1994, p. 277
[4] Michael Green as quoted in Lee Strobel's, The Case For Faith, 2004, p. 240

Friday, July 16, 2010

Seeing is believing

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who was the first person in space said, "I looked and looked but I didn't see God." Gagarin and others have the view that seeing is believing. In other words, God has to be empirically verified in order to believe in his existence. Empiricism is the philosophical belief that, "All human knowledge is derived ultimately from sense experience."[1] The late philosopher Thomas Hobbs introduced many aspects of empirical knowledge and it seemed to have crystallized during the time of Charles Darwin. The interesting thing at accepting only empirical knowledge is that Darwin's theory has very little empirical evidence. Can God only be known by way of sense experience? Is the only way to obtain knowledge through empirical means?

Much of what we call scientific knowledge comes by way of non-empirical means. For example, the fields of Biology and Geology are largely based upon an inference to the best explanation. In Geology, finding many polished stones in an area can best be explained as being the result of water action. Likewise, an arrowhead found by an Archaeologist would represent a rock that had been worked on by past humans. No one would infer that the natural elements of weather carved out an arrowhead. The point is, many aspects of science are not based on empirical knowledge.

If one has to see to believe then we should throw out the belief of black holes, electrons and quarks. There is a reason why black holes are called black. Against the backdrop of space, black holes are invisible, but why do we believe in their existence? We can observe the gravitation pull that black holes have on other aspects of matter. Likewise, electrons and quarks, though unseen, exhibit certain properties to confirm their existence.

Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God;the skies proclaim the work of his hands." The Apostle Paul states, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.(Rom. 1:20)" Paul and David have made statements that knowledge does not necessarily have to be obtained in an empirical way. I would contend that the properties of God are observable such that we can reasonably believe in His existence, though He can't be seen. We can believe in that which we do not see. Some individuals are bent on non-belief in God simply for the reason that they want to be in position of a god.

In the book of Luke, there is a story of a rich man who was placed in Hades (away form the presence of God). Luke says the rich man was in torment and requested that someone from the dead return to earth to warn his family about Hades. The response given was, "'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.(Luke 16:31)" Some will not believe even if the overwhelming evidence for God's existence is present. Seeing is not always related to believing.

[1] Nash, Ronald, Life's Ultimate Questions, p. 388

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In defense of nothing

Atheism is found wanting in so many ways. There are two major problems for atheism. The first is that on the atheistic worldview life is meaningless, and therefore, human life has no special value. The second major problem is that atheism argues for meaninglessness.

If God does not exist and the world is here by accident, then humans have no special value. In fact, this is exactly what speciesism entails. Speciesism is the belief that all life forms are on a level playing field. According to speciesism, human life is no more important than fly maggots. On a naturalistic worldview this is perfectly consistent. The real problem is that atheism has nothing to ground morality. If all is merely an accident then why not indulge yourself? If you believe atheism is the truth, you are acting foolishly by trying to follow any prescribed moral standard, for if God does not exist, then neither do morals. Michael Ruse has stated, "Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction...and any deeper meaning is illusory." [1] Similar to the statement of Ruse is that of the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould who said, "We may yearn for a higher meaning, but none exists." [2] On a naturalistic/atheistic worldview, human life has no intrinsic value. The problem is that this worldview if followed through will produce a world that is truly scary and one to be feared.

The second major problem is that atheism argues for absolutely nothing. Have you ever heard of an atheist apologist? Think about it, an atheist apologist is someone who is defending nothing. Why would an atheist even want to debate a theist? Why will the atheist not just let the silly theist babble about this God nonsense if they believe God does not exist? When an atheist debates a theist, he is essentially saying I will prove to you that all is meaningless, but what does that make his argument? Heywood Broun has said, "Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist there is no God." [3] Again, why would the atheist want to be so persistent in trying to prove the meaninglessness of the universe? Maybe, deep down inside, the atheist knows in his heart that he is, in fact, arguing against something.

Solomon said, that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is my belief that all know of God, they only choose to suppress this knowledge (Romans 1:18-20), only to put themselves in the place of God. The atheistic worldview fails ultimately because it defends absolutely nothing. If you are in defense of nothing, then maybe your argument adds up to nothing.

[1] Ruse, Michael, Evolution Theory and Christian Ethics, p. 262-69
[2] Gould, Stephen Jay, The Meaning of Life, (December 1988), p. 84

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The grace and truth paradox

There is a great little book with the above title by Randy Alcorn. The book is based on a passage in John where Jesus is described as being "full of grace and truth (John 1:14)."

I was reminded of this passage while attending a meeting of Christian leaders in the community recently. One of the statements from a prominent Christian leader was that we need to accommodate individuals at the expense of truth. Now this is not exactly what was said, but it was implied. One of the great tragedies today occurs when Christians or the Church is willing to water down truth. In reality, this happens when the world has crept into our thought process. In these cases, truth is thrown out in favor of only grace. So many issues that the Church faces revolves around this very point (homosexual marriage, abortion). The cry of tolerance is promoted and truth is trampled upon.

On the opposite side of the coin is when the Christian or Church is so bent on the truth side, that the grace of God is disparaged. When this happens you find a legalistic mindset. Legalism is what Jesus addresses so much during His life here on earth (Matthew 23:4). Legalism is the number one problem with the Church's bad reputation in the United States. Legalism makes the Church look arrogant and judgmental. Truth is important, but without grace it will have no effect on a lost world.

What is needed is both truth and grace. Jesus was full of grace and truth, not balanced between the two, but full of both. If Christians want to be taken seriously, then truth has to be defended and grace needs to be extended. Truth and grace when fully implemented promotes the message of Jesus to a world that so desperately needs Him.

  • A case and point dealing with a trampling of God's truth.
  • Research showing the arrogance that the Church so often promotes. This would be the trampling of God's grace.
  • Video addressing the homosexual issue and how it needs to be addressed with grace and truth.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Against the wind

Yesterday I went for a little 20 mile bike ride. The first ten miles was extremely difficult as most of the ride was uphill and against the wind. Several times along the ride, during the initial ten miles, I was extremely discouraged and thought about giving up. Curiously, while riding, I was thinking of how the first ten miles was a lot like life. I thought of the implications of life without God.

As a atheist, one has no purpose, hope, or meaning. When hard times come, the atheist has no one to confide in, but friends here on earth. The atheist has to view life with all of its problems as the best that he or she will ever experience. When facing death, the atheist has only a gloomy picture of what awaits. According to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, "Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation." [1] The point is not to show the falsity of atheism, but merely to recognize the logical outworking of leading a life without hope. As an atheist, everything one does is ultimatly for not.

Many years ago, Blaise Pascal made a famous wager. He reasoned that if you believe in God, and I don't, and God does not exist, then we both gain or lose nothing at death. But if you believe in God, and I don't, and God does exist, then you have gained everything, while I lose everything. The argument is in no way a proof for God's existence, but it points out what is at stake if God exists.

If God is real, then the Christian truly does have something to live for. If God is real, the Christian can live a life that has purpose, meaning and ultimate hope. If atheism is true, then all this world has to offer is despair. Mary Anne Vincent has stated that, "An atheist’s most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something,but can’t think of anyone to thank for it."

We will always face the winds of problems in this life. If God exist, then a purpose also exists for everything that happens and the Christian is assured of a time when the problems of this world will disappear (Revelation 21:1-4). One day, on the Christian worldview, the winds and hills of life will be reversed, just like it was for me on the final ten miles back home. Unlike my bike trip, the Christian can look for a Godly tailwind throughout eternity, and that makes a big difference in living on this planet.

1. Article on religious affiliation and suicide attempt