Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who Designed the Designer?

Here is one of the most common objections to Intelligent Design and that comes up in discussions surrounding the existence of God. Philosopher Jay Richards offers some good insight about how to think about this intriguing question.

For more on this, check out the Case for the Creator.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What was Jesus like as a child?

“Western culture is a Jesus-haunted culture, and yet one that is largely biblically illiterate. Almost anything can pass for knowledge of Jesus and early Christianity in such a culture.”—Ben Witherington

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like as a little boy? The New Testament covers Jesus’ birth, but then skips ahead to when he is 12 years old in the temple sitting with the teachers (cf. Luke 2:42-51). What about all the years in between?

Enter the lost gospels. These writings, for various reasons, tried to fill in the gaps about two periods of Jesus’ life—his childhood and the three days between his death and resurrection.

Here are two passages from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas about his childhood (judge for yourself if they ring true):

Now the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph; and he took a willow branch and scattered the water that Jesus had gathered. Jesus was irritated when he saw what had happened, and said to him: “You unrighteous, irreverent idiot! What did the pools of water do to harm you? See, now you also will be withered like a tree, and you will never bear leaves or root or fruit.” Immediately that child was completely withered. Jesus left and returned to Joseph’s house. But the parents of the withered child carried him away, morning his lost youth. They brought him to Joseph and began to accuse him, “What kind of child do you have who does such things?”

Evidently Jesus didn’t play nice with the other children! Here is another interesting snap shot of Jesus’ childhood:

Somewhat later he has going through the village, and a child ran up and banged into his shoulder. Jesus was aggravated and said to him, “You will go no further on your way.” And right away the child fell down and died...The parents of the dead child came to Joseph and blamed him, saying “Since you have such a child you cannot live with us in the village. Or teach him to bless and not curse—for he is killing our children!”*

One thing is clear, “Don’t mess with Jesus!”

Anyone who has read the NT can easily distinguish the flavors of these writings. These 'accounts' are far too late to offer us anything historically solid. The Gospels and the other writings of the NT are the best and most accurate sources of knowledge about Jesus.

For more background substantiating the accuracy of the NT message, composition, and transmission, see the excellent book Reinventing Jesus by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, & Daniel B. Wallace

*(Quoted From) Infancy Gospel of Thomas ch. 3 in Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 58.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chance or Design?

I came across this clip and was again reminded of how easy "design" is to recognize in everyday life; but then how ironic it is that design is a forbidden inference when we look at "really small" or "really big" stuff like the bacterial flagellum or the universe. Enjoy this clip...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Do Humans Have Minds or Brains (or Both?)

Do I have a mind, a brain or both? Am I only my physical brain states or is there an immaterial mind / soul that interacts with the physical brain in the process of thinking and reality consciousness? Related questions of free will of course enter this discussion.

The debate about Intelligent Design vs. Naturalism (cf. Neo-Darwinian Evolution) has now spread to the Mind / Body problem. Do brains / minds need a designer or are they the product of random, blind processes? Can physics and chemistry alone account for consciousness, free will, thinking etc?

In answering this question, we need an explanation that best explains all of the data.

Here is an interesting podcast by Dr. Egnor (a neurosurgeon) and Dr. Schwartz (a neuropsychiatrist at UCLA) Below is an article that I have copied and pasted by Dr. Egnor for your convenience that really sets the table for this discussion:

The Mind and Materialist Superstition by Dr. Egnor

MaterialismPhilosophy. The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

Superstition1 a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Mind(in a human or other conscious being) The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges.

Materialists have taken note of the growing efforts by non-materialist neuroscientists to point out the deep problems with the inference that the brain is entirely the cause of the mind. Materialist neuroscience, like materialist evolutionary biology, is a vacuous orthodoxy, and its proponents resent threats to their dogma. Darwinian explanations for functional biological complexity are nonsense, but some familiarity with the relevant science is necessary to understand that it is nonsense. Materialist explanations for the mind are transparent nonsense.
Consider the six characteristics of the mind, generally accepted by materialist and non-materialist scientists and philosophers. Each of the six poses enormous problems for a materialistic explanation:


Intentionality is the "aboutness" or meaning of a mental state, the ability of a mental state to refer to something outside of itself. Ink on paper has no meaning unless it is conferred by a mind, which wrote it or read it. Matter may have intentionality only secondarily ("derived intentionality"). The problem of intentionality is believed by many philosophers of the mind to be the most serious challenge to materialism. "Meaning" is imparted to matter by a mind; matter isn’t the source of meaning. Therefore matter (brain tissue) can’t be the entire cause of the mind.


Qualia is subjective experience, which is first person ontology. You can describe pain, using science or literature or whatever. But the experience of pain is something qualitatively different. There is nothing in science which infers subjectivity — no "Newton’s Fourth Law" by which objective matter produces subjective experience. No material law or principle invokes subjectivity, yet subjectivity is the hallmark of the mind.

Persistence of Self-Identity

We are the same person throughout our lives, despite a continual turn-over of matter in our brains. The matter that constitutes your brain today is different matter, for the most part, than the matter that constituted your brain ten years ago. Furthermore, your brain matter is organized differently now than it was ten years ago. Yet your sense of identity, which is a fundamental characteristic of minds, is continuous over time. You are you, despite profound changes in brain matter and organization. What property then is the “same” that accounts for you being the same? It’s not matter and it’s not organization of matter. Hume thought that the sense of personal continuity was the result of a continuous string of memories, but his theory begs the question. Who is it that has the string of memories? Continuity of self is a prerequisite for a string of memories, so it can’t be the result of a string of memories. Persistence of self-identity through time can’t be explained materialistically; the most reasonable explanation is that there is an immaterial component of the mind that is continuous over time.

Restricted Access

Restricted access means that I, and only I, experience my thoughts first-hand. I can choose to describe them to others, and others may be able to explain better than I some of the ramifications of my thoughts, but only I experience them. Even a lie-detector machine or a functional MRI doesn’t permit other people to experience my thoughts; they are merely material expressions of my brain activity, akin to speech. This is entirely unlike matter. I know the brain anatomy (matter) of my patients much better (usually) than they do. I know what their brains look like, whereas they have never actually seen them. Yet I have no first-hand experience of their thoughts, no matter how well I know their brain. We each have absolute restricted access to the experience of our own thoughts. Matter does not have this property, and therefore matter cannot be the entire cause of our thoughts.


Incorrigibility, which is related to restricted access, means the unassailable knowledge of one’s own thoughts. If I am thinking of the color red, no one can credibly refute that fact. Of course, I may be lying about what I am thinking, or I may be mistaken about the implications of my thoughts, but I experience my thoughts in a way that no one else does. If I say (honestly) that I like impressionist painting, it is nonsensical for someone else to assert, "You are mistaken; you don’t like impressionist painting." This incorrigibility isn’t a property of matter. I can hold an honest opinion that the hippocampus is in the parietal lobe (it isn’t; it’s in the temporal lobe). My interlocutor can point out that I am incorrect about the material issue (where the hippocampus is located), but he can’t plausibly argue that I’m wrong that I hold that opinion. Incorrigibility is a property of mind, but not matter.

Free Will

If the mind is entirely caused by matter, it is difficult to understand how free will can exist. Matter is governed by fixed laws, and if our thoughts are entirely the product of brain chemistry, then our thoughts are determined by brain chemistry. But chemistry doesn’t have "truth" or "falsehood," or any other values for that matter. It just is. Enzymatic catalysis isn’t true or false, it just is. In fact, the view that "materialism is true" is meaningless… if materialism is true. If materialism is true, than the thought "materialism is true" is just a chemical reaction, neither true nor false. While there are some philosophers who assert that free will can exist in a deterministic materialistic world (they’re called "compatibilists"), and some have argued that quantum indeterminacy may leave room for free will, the most parsimonious explanation for free will is that there is an immaterial component of the mind that is undetermined by matter.

So is the materialist inference that the mind is caused entirely by the brain plausible? Please note that materialism has failed to offer any explanation for any of the six salient characteristics of the mind. Not a single salient characteristic of the mind is a property of matter. The strict materialistic explanation for the mind — the attribution of immaterial mental acts and properties to brain matter — is, by definition, a materialist superstition, a "false irrational conception of causation in nature maintained despite evidence to the contrary."

Of course, on reflection, we wouldn’t expect neuroscience to have important things to say about the material/immaterial nature of the mind. Neuroscience studies correlations between material events and behaviors, which are third-person objective phenomena; it has provided no explanation for subjective-first person processes, which is the essential quality of the mind. The assertion that neuroscience demonstrates the material nature of the mind is an ideological assertion, a misuse of neuroscience to serve a tenuous materialist agenda.In Wolfgang Pauli’s deathless phrase, the materialist explanation of the mind ”isn’t even wrong.” It’s superstitious nonsense. Materialism can’t explain the mind, because the salient characteristics of mental states — intentionality, qualia, persistence of self-identity, restricted access, incorrigibility, and free will — do not admit material explanations.

A coherent and meaningful understanding of the mind requires a repudiation of this materialist superstition. Strict materialism offers some insight into behavioral correlations — behavioral arousal is associated with activation of neurons in the brainstem reticular activation system — but materialism offers nothing to explain the subjective properties of mental experience, which constitute the mind as we actually experience it. A genuine understanding of the mind must be open to immaterial causation, because there is nothing in materialist science (or materialist philosophy) that can account for subjective experience.

The viewpoint that matter has desires, intentions, and subjective experiences has a long history in human affairs. It was the foundation of Aristotelian natural philosophy — matter fell to the earth because it seemed to "desire" to return to its natural place. The ancient world was haunted with "sentient" inanimate objects — talismans, charms and idols. Children attribute wishes and feelings to stuffed toys. Since the dawn of man we have ascribed sentience and feelings and will to matter, and a salient triumph of modern science has been to expunge this attribution of subjectivity to matter. The work of physical science is to identify and if possible quantify regularities in the "third person objective existence" of matter. Matter has third person objective existence. The mind, as experienced, has first person subjective existence.

Superstition is “a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.“ The foundation of the scientific revolution is the repudiation of the inference that matter has will, emotions and desires. If there is anything that modern science has demonstrated beyond dispute it is the gulf between objective and subjective ontology — between matter and mind. Yet the materialist superstition isn’t completely gone. It persists in its modern scientific manifestation — the inference that the mind is entirely caused by the brain — which is a superstition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Secrets of the Bible???

I was getting a cup of coffee at my local Barnes and Noble yesterday and came across a special magazine issue on "Secrets of the Bible" by US News and World Report. Here is an excerpt from the back:

"...But even though it has been read, interpreted, analyzed, and dissected countless times, there are still puzzling omissions, murky passages, and, yes, mysteries to the Bible's origins and composition. Now Secrets of the Bible delves into these untold tales to reveal the latest theories and insights from renowned scholars...."

Now I love a good mystery....but these magazines seldom tell the whole story or give a "balanced" treatment of the issues (just look at the sampling of scholars interviewed). Now I am not saying they shouldn't be interviewed...but where are the scholars, of the the same caliber and credentials, who argue for the Bible's accuracy, historical reliability, etc.? (contrary to popular opinion, they do exist). Christian faith is not blind and we have nothing to fear from searching for the truth. Hearty discussion is good.

So, I want to recommend a full-color, short book that addresses the question of how we got the Bible. This is done by a leading NT scholar (Dr. Clint Arnold) and the images of ancient texts and other artifacts are simply amazing. In How We Got the Bible: A Visual Journey you will explore:

How did the Bible come to be?
How has it been passed down to us through the ages?
Is it still trustworthy and relevant after all these years?

"The Bible is the bestselling book of all time and the basis of faith for billions of people around the world. Encompassing the fields of archaeology, biblical studies, and history, the story of how the Bible has come to us today is a fascinating one. It is told here, accompanied by beautiful full-color photographs and illustrations."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Which Jesus?

Tis the season for alternative Christianities, missing gospels, and conspiracy theories. We will talk more about that soon. But here is a quote to get the ball rolling:

“Students of Jesus today are faced with a multitude of options, ranging from the traditional Jesus who was Savior, Lord, and founder of the church, to a Jesus who was considerably different—a Jesus who was a sage, a religious genius or social revolutionary. These latter three portraits though clearly drawing their energies from live wires in the Gospels, leave us with a Jesus who is not big enough to explain his crucifixion, his following, or development of the Church. If we today are going to be honest about Jesus, we have to choose a Jesus who satisfies all the evidence historians have observed and who will also explain why it is that so many people have found him to be so wonderful that they attend churches every week to worship him.”—Scot McKnight

Check out The Case for Christ DVD to begin exploring these issues.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Richard Dawkins believes in god????

Maybe. Yeah, I know, pretty interesting. You can read the whole article here (which is insightful). But the short of it is that at a recent debate, Dawkins - Mr. God Delusion himself - conceded that, wait for it, "A serious case could be made for a deistic God." Stop the presses!!

That would be similar in principle to the case that Anthony Flew makes in his recent conversion to deism, in There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. This is a fascinating read--even if you disagree with his conclusions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dawkins vs. Lennox - Science & The Question of God

On October 3rd of 2007 in Birmingham, Alabama, Professor Richard Dawkins and his Oxford University colleague Dr. John Lennox engaged in a lively debate over what is arguably the most critical question of our time: the existence of God. The debate centered on Dawkins' views as expressed in his best-seller, The God Delusion, and their validity over and against the Christian faith. Both presenters agreed to the format and topics of discussion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Has Science Killed God?

Oxford professor John Lennox says no and gives a compelling case why. He refutes the arguments offered by the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins.

The book is God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? And it needs to be on your bookshelf. It is accessible and substantive--a difficult thing to do.

(About the Author) John Lennox is reader in mathematics in the University of Oxford and fellow in mathematics and the philosophy of science at Green College. He has lectured in many universities around the world, including Austria and the former Soviet Union. He is particularly interested in the interface of science, philosophy, and theology.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Expelled Now on DVD

If you have not seen Expelled, then you ought to see what all the fuss is about. Just listen to the glowing endorsements of critics. ;)

Expelled Website

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Memes to the rescue?

What's in a meme? It is a Neo-Darwinian concept that is supposed to explain some of the things we have been talking about in terms of survival and morality and God.

Oxford Prof. Alister McGrath gave a lecture on this, The Spell of the Meme (here is the PDF).

He also has a book length critique of Dawkins concept as well...

Dawkins' GOD: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life

(Review) "Wielding evolutionary arguments and carefully chosen metaphors like sharp swords, Richard Dawkins has emerged over three decades as this generation's most aggressive promoter of atheism. In his view, science, and science alone, provides the only rock worth standing on. In this remarkable book, Alister McGrath challenges Dawkins on the very ground he holds most sacred - rational argument - and McGrath disarms the master. It becomes readily apparent that Dawkins has aimed his attack at a naive version of faith that most serious believers would not recognize. After reading this carefully constructed and eloquently written book, Dawkins' choice of atheism emerges as the most irrational of the available choices about God's existence."--Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project

Monday, October 6, 2008

Does evolution make good sense of objective morality?

As we continue to explore the moral argument, we have admitted that objective moral values are real (i.e., rape is always wrong). The question at hand is whether anyone other than a moral lawgiver--God--can account for these objective moral values.

It seems to be the only other option is Nature gave them to us. but what is Nature? Well Nature turns out--even mother nature (notice the personification of nature to make people feel better and offer purpose and care)--to be nothing more than blind, random chance over time according to the Naturalistic story--Neo-Darwinism being a prominent part of the just so story.

Here is what Dr. Michael Ruse, a Darwinian Philosopher of Science at Florida State, had to say about morality:

“Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says "love thy neighbor as thyself," they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . And any deeper meaning is illusory.”

Now not everyone agrees with him. But it is hard not to. Where do objective moral values come from? What about a random, blind process of chemical reactions puts an obligation on me to do one thing and not another? Even an 'obligation' is not physical, though we all know they are real--so how do you get non-physical obligations from a physical process...a rearranging of the bb's of matter?

Darwinian evolution, at best, only offers a description of the current state of morality today--perhaps social agreement? What it does not offer is why I ought to be moral tomorrow.

So it seems then that premise 1, in absence of a counter argument is more likely than not true as well.

If that is the cast then the argument is sound. The conclusion follows necessarily from the premises.

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values & duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values & duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apologist: Objective moral values evidence of God's existence

Here is some of an interview on the issues we are discussing by Dr. Paul Copan: (for the whole article click here)

Evolutionary ethics produce skepticism about a human’s ability to know truth, Copan said, adding that Charles Darwin said, “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals are of any value or are even trustworthy.”

Ethical foundations, then, are undermined by “an evolutionary process that is interested in fitness and survival but not true beliefs,” Copan said.Theism offers a more plausible context for affirming human dignity than naturalism that puts moral objectivity and rational thought in question.

Copan cited the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to show that humans have an intrinsic understanding of human rights, regardless of religious convictions. He quoted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, one of the document’s drafters, who said, “God and objective morality cannot be plausibly separated since God is the Creator of valuable, morally responsible human beings and is the very source of value.”Copan concluded by saying that a moral argument alone doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian God but can be supplemented with other arguments for God.“The moral argument points us to a supreme, personal, moral being who is worthy of worship and who made us with dignity and worth,” Copan said. “He is a being to whom we are accountable and who could reasonably be called God.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics

In light of the conversation we are having here about the Moral Argument, I wanted to make you aware of a new book debating these issues.

(From Publisher's Website)

Morality and religion: intimately wed, violently opposed, or something else? Discussion of this issue appears in pop culture, the academy, and the media—often generating radically opposed views. At one end of the spectrum are those who think that unless God exists, ethics is unfounded and the moral life is unmotivated. At the other end are those who think that religious belief is unnecessary for—and even a threat to—ethical knowledge and the moral life.This volume provides an accessible, charitable discussion that represents a range of views along this spectrum. The book begins with a lively debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on the question, Is goodness without God good enough? Kurtz defends the affirmative position and Craig the negative. Following the debate are new essays by prominent scholars. These essays comment on the debate and advance the broader discussion of religion and morality. The book closes with final responses from Kurtz and Craig.

List of Contributors: Louise Antony, William Lane Craig, John Hare, Donald C. Hubin, Paul Kurtz, C. Stephen Layman, Mark C. Murphy, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Richard Swinburne.

About the Editors:
Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King are Ph.D. candidates in the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does God Exist? Cont. (the Moral Argument)

Well, let's continue our discussion. In order to stay on task, here is the argument as it stands:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values & duties do not exist.
  • Objective moral values & duties do exist.
  • Therefore, God exists.

  • An important clarification needs to be made here. Often, people misinterpret the argument to entail that people cannot live moral lives or 'be good' unless they believe in God. This of course if false and it isn't the argument here. The argument here concerns, what makes the best since of objective moral values and duties. What is a sufficient ground for them if they exist? So atheists can live moral lives. It remains to be seen however if atheism has the resources to provide ontological grounding for objective goods, duties and values which one would then have an obligation to exemplifying.

    By way of review, premise 2 seems solid (at the very least more probable than its contradictory).

    So what of premise 1 - that objective moral values and duties would not exist if God did not exist?

    Let's ask the question this way. It seems to me that Atheism entails Naturalism. And Naturalism reduces all existence to physics and chemistry. Non-physical stuff like consciousness, minds, freedom of the will, moral obligations, and beauty seem out of place in such a worldview.

    So moral values and obligations if they exist, on an atheistic view, would arise from only three sources (can you think of any others that would possibly be objective?).

    1. social agreement (but does this confer ontological grounding to what we agree on?)
    2. evolutionary emergence (but in what since are these objective instead of arbitrary?)
    3. some sort of platonic heaven as abstract objects (but how do abstract objects, like numbers, confer obligations?) 
    So the question then is, what is the more reasonable inference? That God grounds objective morality and duty in his very essence, being, and character or these three possibilities?

    What do you think?

    I will post more of my thoughts on these 3 options soon.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008

    Making the Case for Objective Moral Values

    William Lane Craig argues for objective moral values and this is a key premise in the moral argument for God's existence.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    Does God Exist?

    A good question to consider indeed. One argument for the existence of God that I find especially powerful is the so called "Moral Argument." Here it is.

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values & duties do not exist.

    2. Objective moral values & duties do exist.

    3. Therefore, God exists.

    Now this is a good argument because 3 follows necessarily if premises 1 & 2 are true; thus producing a sound argument.

    Premise 2 seems intuitively obvious to most people. Hitler was objectively wrong. Torturing babies for fun is objectively wrong. Human trafficking is objectively wrong. 'Objective' simply means that it is true regardless of whether anyone else thinks so or agrees etc. It is a fact of our world. Honestly if someone denies premise 2, they don't need an argument, they need to get help.

    It seems to me the issue is premise 1. Is God necessary to objectively ground morality? We will explore that in another post.

    Until then, listen to a debate on this issue - Is God Necessary for Morality?

    To see the argument in book form, check out Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    At least 5 things science can't explain

    In a debate between Peter Atkins (a Darwinist) and William Lane Craig (a Christian), there was an interesting exchange on the limit or limitlessness of science. Atkins says there weren't any. Craig pointed out the following 5 areas that science cannot give a scientific explanation of:

    1. mathematics and logic (science can't prove them because science presupposes them),
    2. metaphysical truths (such as, there are minds that exist other than my own),
    3. ethical judgments (you can't prove by science that the Nazi's were evil, because morality is not subject to the scientific method),
    4. aesthetic judgments (the beautiful, like the good, cannot be scientifically proven), and , ironically
    5. science itself (the belief that the scientific method discovers truth can't be proven by the scientific method itself)

    Science is helpful; but we should not expect it to answer everything and it certainly hasn't proven that God doesn't exist contrary to many claims being made. If you found this kind of insight helpful, you would benefit from I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    Does Science Have Blindspots?

    I came across an interesting podcast today by Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter on this question. Listen Here.

    *Dr. Hunter is an engineer and biophysicist. He received his doctorate in biophysics and computational biology from the University of Illinois. Hunter has authored three books related to science, theology, and philosophy: his most recent book, Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism; Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil; and Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science. All three of his books can be purchased through

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    Does Science Have the Answer for Every Question?

    Alex Rosenberg is a Philosopher of Science at Duke. He offers a helpful observation:

    “If the direction in which science carries philosophy is a one-way street towards physicalism, determinism, atheism, and perhaps even nihilism, then the intellectual obligation of those who wrestle with philosophical questions would be unavoidable. We must understand the substantive claims of physical science…and we must understand the strengths and limitations of science as a source of answers to these questions.”

    Science is far as it goes. But it is not omni-sufficient to answer all of life's ultimate questions (not least of which the nagging issue of what science itself is and what counts as science and what does not).

    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    What about those who've never heard?

    This is one of those questions that--if we are honest--we all wrestle with. Here is a short clip by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason explaining a biblical response.

    Friday, July 18, 2008

    Are people the problem or is religion?

    Is religion inherently dangerous? Oxford theologian Alister McGrath would argue, and I think rightly, that people are the problem; not religion per se.

    “All ideals—divine, transcendent, human, or invented—are capable of being abused. That’s just the way human nature is. And that happens to religion as well. Belief in God can be abused, and we need to be very clear, in the first place, that abuse happens, and in the second, that we need to confront and oppose this. But abuse of an ideal does not negate its validity.”

    This observation is important because it removes simplistic statements about religion being the root of all evil and violence in the world today. The issues are far more complex because human beings, who posses freedom of the will, are involved.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Truth....Not Always Comfortable

    “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair”—C.S. Lewis

    Not everything that is comfortable is true. Moreover, comfort is no safe indicator of truth. In fact; if we are never made uncomfortable, then we may be living under the illusion that we are the final arbiters / creators of reality (not a safe place to be because we are finite / fallen humans). But someday...maybe not today, nor tomorrow...but someday, we will all bump up against the truth. And if we 'make it up' - then on a really bad day, we will be unable to convince ourselves otherwise, because we cannot lie to ourselves forever.

    Thought about truth lately? Take a listen to Os Guinness' talk Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    Jesus in the news again.....

    A recent NY Times article talks about a stone that was found that talks about the resurrection idea in Christianity.

    See New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington's, initial response to this here.

    Here is a bit of it...."Long story short-- this stone certainly does not demonstrate that the Gospel passion stories are created on the basis of this stone text, which appears to be a Dead Sea text. For one thing the text is hard to read at crucial junctures, and it is not absolutely clear it is talking about a risen messiah. BUT what it does do is make plausible that Jesus could have said some of the things credited to him in Mk. 8.31, 9,31, and 10.33-34."

    Thursday, July 3, 2008

    Is Christianity the only 'Exclusive' religion?

    Sometimes people claim that Christians are so intolerant because they believe that they are the only ones that can have a relationship with God--they are exclusive. And the implication is that 'all religions are basically the same.' This is an oft repeated slogan, but it is deeply flawed. Ravi Zacharias helpfully shows why:

    “The truth is that all religions are not the same. All religions do not point to God. All religions do not say that all religions are the same. In fact, some religions do not even believe in God. At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not. Buddhism, for example, was based on Buddha’s rejection of two of Hinduism’s fundamental doctrines. Islam rejects both Buddhism and Hinduism. So it does no good to put a halo on the notion of tolerance and act as if everything is equally true. In fact, even all-inclusive religions such as Bahaism end up being exclusivistic by excluding the exclusivists!”

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    Isn’t it arrogant to believe that one religion is true, and not another?

    Is one true religion possible? Interesting question. But what if someone truly believes that there is only one true religion....does that make her arrogant?

    A common tactic used to silence religious particularists is to claim they are arrogant and immoral for believing that there is only one way to God. In response to this charge, Philosopher Alvin Plantinga asks, “Suppose I think the matter over, consider the objections as carefully as I can, realize that I am finite and furthermore a sinner, certainly no better than those with whom I disagree, and indeed inferior both morally and intellectually to many who do not believe what I do; but suppose it still seems clear to me that the proposition in question is true [e.g., that Jesus Christ is the only way to God]: can I really be behaving immorally in continuing to believe it? It seems not."

    Moreover, the charge of arrogance and immorality cuts both ways because implicit in the sophisticated religious pluralist view is the claim that everyone else but them has it wrong! All of the devout adherents of the worlds major religions—billions of people—have it wrong. If that doesn’t count as arrogance, I am not sure what does.

    For more on this issue, check out chapter 14 of Welcome to College.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Did Humans Invent God to Make Themselves Feel Better?

    It is sometimes objected that humans invent God out of an intense need for a “father figure” or to console themselves. Alister McGrath cleverly summarizes the gist of this argument, “religion offers succor for suckers and losers, but not for serious and sophisticated people.” This argument finds its roots in writings of Ludwig Feuerback and Sigmund Freud.

    First of all, this argument cuts both ways. If Christians created God out of a need for a father figure, then atheists can be said to have rejected God out of a desire to kill a father figure. Paul Vitz, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at New York University, has documented a connection between fatherlessness and atheism in his intriguing book Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism.

    As for inventing God to meet our desires, maybe this is precisely backwards. Perhaps the reason humans have desires is because something / someone exists that will satisfy them? C.S. Lewis beautifully articulates this point, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

    For more on this, see Paul Copan's That's Just Your Interpretation

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Louisiana Science Education Act Passes

    Academic freedom gets a boost with the passage of this bill. For more on this and why it isn't religion, click here.

    It is important that people are taught to critically engage issues that may be controversial. We have nothing to fear from the truth.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008

    Welcome to College....Now what?

    So I'm what? Don't Christians have to check their brains at the door once they step on to the university campus? Welcome to College: A Christ-follower's Guide for the Journey is a new book by Jonathan Morrow that encourages students to think about what it would mean to live "Christianly" in college. Whether you are a high school student on your way, just settling in to your dorm room in college, or a parent trying to find out how to prepare your son or daughter for these formative and exciting years--this book may be just what you need. It covers everything from study skills, how to resolve conflict, and sex to what to do with doubt, can I trust the Bible, and is Jesus the only way to God? Christians can flourish in college.

    “Wow! What a book!! Quite frankly, this is the book I’ve been waiting for the last forty years to give to college students. It is the single best volume I have ever read for preparing students for how to follow Jesus and flourish as his disciple in college.”
    Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
    Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
    Author, Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan)

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    The New Testament...Is it Historically Untrustworthy?

    One of the claims repeatedly trumpeted in the pages of the New Atheists' books is that the New Testament (and the Bible for that matter) is untrustworthy. But there is at least one big problem with this claim--as Dr. Doug Groothuis notes--"The new atheists reject the New Testament as historically untrustworthy chiefly because of its antiquity and its miracle claims. However, in savaging the New Testament, these writers almost never engage the best conservative New Testament scholars."

    As I have read the New Atheists, this observation is valid. They have not done their homework. To read more about this, see the rest of of Groothuis's article, click here.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Choosing Your Faith?

    Mark Mittelberg has written a very intriguing and helpful book about the various faith journeys people take. It is well worth a read and can be used as a tool for having good conversations about Christianity. Faith is not the process of non-thinking as Richard Dawkins is fond of is trust with eyes wide open...and some options are more reasonable than others.

    Thursday, February 7, 2008

    Investigating The Edge of Evolution-Chapter One

    So it took me longer than a week to get this going, but nonetheless, this post will be the first of ten, discussing the ten main chapters of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. If you haven’t picked it up from a local bookstore, feel free to do so now! You can, of course, continue reading this post but if you want to be able to think about the arguments straight from the horse’s mouth, it’s best to go about doing so in that manner.

    To take this chapter in summary, I want to point out that the thrust of it is that Behe makes clear that the structure and arguments of this second book are completely different from what he did in Darwin’s Black Box, his earlier work. Even the difference between the titles should alert the reader’s mind to the qualitatively different tasks at hand. In Darwin’s Black Box (hereafter abbreviated DBB), Behe sought to show how as the scientific community gained insights into the mechanisms of some biochemical processes of the cell, one could conclude that certain structures or phenomena were irreducibly complex.

    Here in Behe’s second opus, the task is altogether different. In the Edge of Evolution (or EoE), Behe is not playing the role of a skeptic with regard to how phenomenon X or organelle Y came about. On the contrary, he is looking to the scientific community to see what are the clearest studies on evolution done as time has progressed. As we shall see, the retrovirus HIV, the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the bacterium E. Coli, and the notothenioid fish that are able to survive the cold temperatures of the Antarctic are all elements of life on our planet that have been studied with regard to the evolutionary changes that can be observed.Another important element to the first chapter of EoE is that Behe sets out to clearly explain the semantic problems that we face when we discuss Darwinism. Like many concepts that have been discussed by myriads of individuals, there are many implications to the many ways one can go about defining them. Without a precise understanding, our communication will be muddled.

    Behe begins by carefully stating that when one discusses Evolution, this could refer to an emphasis on random mutation, natural selection or common descent. To be clear, random mutation refers to the changes in the genomes of populations through time, brought about by multiple means. Natural selection, on the other hand, is the way in which these mutations/variants of certain traits are passed down in a way that the more favorable variants become selected through time. And lastly, common descent is the idea that all of life is related, particularly through a common ancestor from whom all life on earth has descended. As we shall see, Behe has no qualms with the last of these three concepts (while many ID proponents would–but that is another issue that we should address when the actual arguments for common descent are raised). The real question that Behe has about these three concepts is how important the first two principles are in producing the third idea.Now normally, when two people argue about the issue, the skeptic of Darwin looks at the hill of “mount improbable” (to use a term coined by Richard Dawkins) and says that it’s impossible for random mutation and natural selection to produce the diversity and complexity of life on earth. In rebuttal, the proponent of Darwin says, “Oh yeah, well I do see how one can climb mount improbable through random mutation and natural selection!”

    As the “no ways” and the “yes ways” fly back and forth, we are left with a lot of dust and anger, but no clear arguments have really been set forth, if we do not look at what has been observed as evolutionary biologists examine the power of mutations and natural selection. The EoE presents itself as a way to wade through the data and discuss just how powerful evolution is. As you may surmise, his verdict is one where mutation and natural selection are not nearly as powerful as it would need to be, if it were the all in all with regard to accounting for life’s unity and complexity.As you can see, this is the scope and the lay of the land in the Edge of Evolution. As the weeks go on, the way in which Behe lays his case will be made. There will be elements of his work that challenge all, from the most staunch creationist to the most stodgy materialist. How we think about the arguments herein, and not what we conclude, is what matters most. Are we thinking clearly? Or will assertions and attempts to get the upper hand for argument’s sake cloud our vision? Hopefully the former of the two options is what guides us in all of our thoughts.


    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Presumption of Atheism or Agnosticism?

    In some of the comments, a theme keeps showing up: Theism (especially the Christian variety) seems guilty until proven innocent; while atheism seems innocent until proven guilty. Why is this? This is known as the “presumption of atheism.” But should Atheism be the default setting? One of the leading Philosophers of Religion of our day, William Lane Craig, shares why it should not be:

    “….another philosophical relic is the much-vaunted presumption of atheism. At face value, this is the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists. So understood, such an alleged presumption seems to conflate atheism with agnosticism. For the assertion that “God does not exist” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “God exists,” and therefore the former requires justification just as the latter does. It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence, confessing that he does not know whether God exists or does not exist, and so who requires no justification. (I speak here only of a “soft” agnosticism, which is really just a confession of ignorance, rather than of a “hard” agnosticism, which claims that it cannot be known whether or not God exists; such a positive assertion would, indeed, require justification.) If anything, then, one should speak at most of a presumption of agnosticism.”

    If there is a default setting, it is agnosticism, not atheism. In that case, the atheist has just as much explaining to do as the theist.

    For a more detailed treatment of this issue, see Scott A. Shalkowski, “Atheological Apologetics,” in Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    A Book in Blog Review

    So, in an attempt to be true to my words for what I would like this blog to be, I am going to propose something that should be fun and interesting for all who stumble onto this site.

    Starting next week, I will review a chapter per week of a book that I think deserves our honest attention. Yes, some will indeed be from the perspective of those who think the world points to nothing whatsoever, but to start I will embark on a review/dialogue over Behe’s latest book, The Edge of Evolution.

    So if you have not purchased it yet, now may be a good time to do so!Of course, any other interesting news that pops up as it relates to arguments over design will also grace the face of this place.


    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Has the New Testament Text Been Corrupted?

    Welcome to part 2 of our discussion on the reliability of the NT (if you missed last week’s blog, check it out). To begin with, you need to know that none of the original manuscripts of either the Old or New Testaments exist—all that remain are imperfect copies. But this is no different than any other ancient document or classical writer (e.g., Greek or Latin literature). We use reliable copies in our daily lives all of the time (e.g., clocks and yard sticks). In fact, after last week’s blog, we learned that we have far more than any other ancient document to work with.

    Now the million dollar question: do we have absolute, 100%, “bomb-proof,” mathematical certainty what the correct reading of the original text of the NT is? The answer to this question is no, we do not. Does that mean we are thrown into utter skepticism regarding the reading of the original New Testament text? Not at all. Here is why. Ehrman in his book Misquoting Jesus claims that there are 400,000 textual errors / textual variants in the NT (i.e., differences between the texts). This claim sounds daunting and scary considering there are only about 140,000 words in the Greek NT. What should we say to this? When textual critic Dan Wallace teaches on this in topic in popular settings, he makes the initial statement that “99% of the textual variants make no difference at all” (Spelling and non-sense errors comprise the vast majority of these; BTW, when I was in graduate school we did some textual criticism exercises, and it was remarkable how easy it was—even for novices—to pick out most of these issues). This means that less than 4000 places (out of the original 400,000 variants) have any legitimate bearing on the translation of the text. So what kind of errors are these? Wallace categorizes them into 4 kinds; I will mention these and leave you to some homework to flesh out the particulars.

    Watch Dr. Wallace discuss these issues:

    1. Spelling differences (the great majority of these variants are spelling 70-80%)
    2. Minor differences that involve synonyms or do not affect translation (Greek is an inflected language, so you can say the same thing with several different constructions)
    3. Meaningful but not viable differences (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:9 – a late medieval manuscript says “gospel of Christ” instead of “gospel of God,” meaningful difference but not viable because there is little chance one scribe got it right much later and all other scribes got it wrong).
    4. Meaningful and viable differences (Less than 1% of variants) Meaningful here is not “earth-shattering” like Jesus was a liar or something…almost all are minor variations (cf. Rom. 5:1 “let us have peace with God” or “We have peace with God” and Mark 9:29 “Casting out demons by “prayer and fasting” or just “prayer”?)

    It is important to remember that the reason we have so many variants is because we have so many manuscripts (again a good problem to have!). So when all is said and done, Scholars have achieved a 99.5% copying accuracy of the New Testament (and the remaining issues all have finite options and none of these affect any central doctrine or issue). You can have confidence that what was written then is what we have now—whether you accept the message contained therein is up to.

    Tuesday, January 1, 2008

    C.S. Lewis Society Blog and Misquoting Jesus

    Welcome to the C.S. Lewis Society Blog. As a team we will be posting weekly blogs that will address or highlight key issues in Christian apologetics and Intelligent Design. Feel free to comment on these posts. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, we encourage you to engage these issues / topics openly and honestly.

    It has become fashionable as of late to make provocative claims concerning the origins of Christianity. Take the Da Vinci Code and the so called “missing gospels” (e.g., Gospel of Judas) as exhibits A and B. But recently, a book questioning the reliability of the New Testament has become a best seller, Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who changed the Bible and Why. What makes this interesting is that this book is basically a book on Textual Criticism written for a popular audience. Now Ehrman, who is chair of Religious Studies at UNC, is a well respected textual critic, and so many are being influenced by his book and his controversial claims. Here is just one of them:

    “The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of Scribes….It would be wrong…to say—as people sometimes do—that changes on our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them” (Misquoting Jesus, 207).

    Now this raises some good questions because few things are as central to Christianity as whether or not the Bible–as we have it today–has been reliably copied. Ehrman’s claims have not gone unanswered. Fellow Textual Critic Dan Wallace, whose Greek grammar text book is used at 2/3 of the schools that teach Intermediate Greek (including Yale, Princeton, and Cambridge) and who is professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, has responded at the popular level to Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. (FYI, these two scholars will be debating one another on the textual reliability of the NT on April 4-5 in New Orleans at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum).

    It really comes down to two issues: (1) do we have an adequate amount of manuscripts to work with in order to recover the original writings, and (2) is what was written then, what we have now? We will briefly speak to (1) today and address (2) next time. Concerning (1), Wallace notes:
    “The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers. In comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the New Testament copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful. If the average-sized manuscript were two and one-half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author would stack up four feet high, while the copies of the New Testament would stack up to over a mile high! This is indeed an embarrassment of riches” (Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You, 82).

    Furthermore, Wallace observes that, “We have ample data to work with, enabling us to reconstruct the wording of the original New Testament in virtually every place. And where there are doubts, there is still manuscript testimony” (Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, 49).

    So concerning (1) and contrary to what one might be led to believe reading Misquoting Jesus, Wallace represents what is the majority opinion among NT textual critics—there is plenty to work with and a significant number of these manuscripts are early. But whether these texts have been corrupted over time is what we will look at next week.
    Now, I simply included the conclusions. I will leave it to you examine the evidence for yourself.

    Here are some places to start:
    - Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace
    - Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace.
    - Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus by Timothy Paul Jones
    - The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel- Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
    -Daniel Wallace’s Blog on Textual Issues