Posts Tagged ‘Christian apologetics’

Reductio ad Hitlerum, Part 26: What if Hitler had a deathbed conversion?

November 10, 2018

I’m a fan of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale, an apologetics podcast from Ravi Zacharias’s ministry. In each episode Vince and Jo (along with host Michael Davis) answer often difficult questions about Christianity that are submitted by listeners.

In the most recent episode, a listener asked the following: “If Hitler repented to God on his deathbed, would he have been forgiven?”

Please note that no one is asserting that Hitler did repent and believe in Jesus. Indeed, since he committed suicide, it seems unlikely that he even had a deathbed. So the question is hypothetical. But I like Jo’s response:

This is what it comes down to at the bottom of it, right? This may be the hardest thing to accept in Christianity. People say that if there’s a loving God, why would he judge people? But I think the much harder thing is, if there’s a loving God, why would he forgive people—even this person, even Hitler? But actually, the reality of the Christian faith is, either it’s for everybody or it’s for nobody. There’s no middle ground here. And I think what this question reveals is that on some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve: that there are certain people who deserve forgiveness and there are others who don’t. But the bottom line here—the message of the Bible—is that none of us do. Grace is completely unmerited.

The theologian Christopher Wright says that every victim of sin is also a sinner. There is none who is not also sinned against. That’s the state we’re in. It doesn’t mean that all sin is the same. I do think there are certain things that are horrifying and grotesque and sick and evil, and Hitler is the example we go to for that, and the life he lived is absolutely appalling. We’re not leveling out and saying that there aren’t differences in the way that we sin. But nevertheless we are saying that we’re all in the same boat in the sense that, yes, we’re still dead in our sin—whether it was extreme sin that killed us or small sin, we’re still dead in our sin.

And I think the question here becomes, Is the cross big enough to carry it? No matter the horrendousness of the evil, is God big enough to defeat it? Is his love strong enough to wipe out even the most horrendous kind of hate? And what does that say about what Christ carried on the cross, and the gravity of that, and the enormity of it—that even something so heinous could be what Christ is bearing for us at the cross?

My favorite part of her answer is this: “On some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve.” We believe we have to deserve or earn or pay for or prove ourselves worthy of God’s saving grace. Some people measure up, while others clearly don’t.

What about you? Do you believe that you have to deserve forgiveness?

The dying Capt. Miller speaks the most unhelpful words possible to Private Ryan.

Before you answer, consider how you respond to the following scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you’ve seen it, you may recall the dying words that Capt. Miller, Tom Hanks’s character, spoke to Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon. After nearly everyone in the unit dies in order to save Ryan’s life, Miller grabs Ryan by the lapels and says, “Earn this… Earn it!”

Next we see an elderly Ryan, decades later, near the end of his own life, standing beside the grave markers at Normandy beach—asking his children and grandchildren, “Did I earn it?”—in other words, did he live a life worthy of the sacrifices that Miller and his fellow soldiers made for him so long ago? Did he deserve the life that their deaths made possible for him?

His family reassures him: “Of course you did, Dad!”

And I’m like, Really? Who are they kidding? A dozen or so men sacrificed their lives to save Ryan’s life: How could he possibly “earn” that sacrifice? How could he repay that debt? How could he balance those scales?

He couldn’t… which is why I find this scene between Miller and Ryan more horrifying than any of the bloody carnage depicted in the movie. Miller places on Ryan an impossible burden of guilt.

Yet, in a way, this scene depicts our predicament before God. Because of our sin, we owe God a debt we can never repay. The difference, of course, is that instead of insisting that we repay the debt—a debt infinitely greater than what Ryan owes—God himself pays it for us on the cross of his Son Jesus, who is also God.

Instead of grabbing us by the proverbial lapels and saying, “Earn this,” God says, “Receive this… receive this free gift, which I paid for on the cross. It was my pleasure to purchase this gift for you because I love you that much! Receive it!”

So the question is not about Hitler, and how evil he is, but Jesus and how powerful the cross is. Do we believe, in other words, that Jesus accomplished something objective on the cross to make forgiveness of sin possible, such that both God’s perfect love and his commitment to perfect justice—both of which are aspects of God’s nature—would be upheld?

If the Bible is telling the truth, the answer is a resounding yes.

In Mark 10:35-45, which I preached on a few weeks ago, Jesus hints at how the cross accomplishes this. When James and John ask about sitting at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory, he says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

This “cup” is the same cup to which Jesus will later refer in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36 (and parallels): “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is also the cup to which the Old Testament refers—a symbol of God’s wrath, which, scripture warns repeatedly, the unrighteous will have to drink as punishment for their sin:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (Jeremiah 25:15-16)

The good news, as Isaiah prophesies, is that God will remove the cup of his wrath.

Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.” (Isaiah 51, 17, 22)

In the interest of justice, how can God do this? Does humanity not deserve to drink this cup? What causes God to take the cup away?

Only this: God offered an acceptable substitute for us. And who could possibly serve as a fitting substitute? Only God.

In other words, we owed a debt to God that only God could pay. So he paid it—willingly, out of love. This is why God came into the world in Christ: to “give his life as a random for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ words in this verse point back to Isaiah 53:5, 10:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed…

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

As a result of God’s offering of himself on the cross, an “offering for guilt,” we—those of us who believe in Jesus—become the “offspring” of God himself. As John himself (the very one who, along with his brother, is squabbling over sitting at Christ’s left or right hand) would later write,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

This is the gospel, the very foundation on which I’ve built my life. Thank you, Jesus!

How do we not sin in heaven?

November 1, 2017

In Christian apologetics, one pressing question is theodicy: How do we reconcile God’s love and goodness with the existence of evil? One important part of the answer to this question, for most apologists, is free will: just as Adam and Eve were free to break God’s law and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so we are free to choose evil over good. And we do. Often.

Who could argue that the vast majority of evil in the world isn’t man-made?

But “free will” isn’t close to telling the whole story of evil in the world. For one thing, our free will is itself so corrupted by sin—into which and with which we’re born—that choosing not to sin is impossible. Left to our own devices, apart from grace, our will is in bondage. This is why, for example, we Wesleyan-Arminians speak of God’s “prevenient” grace: we need the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to make a free choice to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. This choice, we believe, isn’t determined by God but is made possible by God. Before we can be saved, in other words, our will has to be set free.

Despite how some Calvinist opponents of Arminianism frame it, we don’t advocate for “free will” so much as freed will. There’s a world of difference between the two.

Still, I recognize that “free will” arguments would not be persuasive to any Calvinist who holds his convictions with perfect consistency. This post isn’t for them, unless they believe, as I do, that we will possess free will in heaven.

But how could we, since heaven is a place without sin? If we can’t be free on earth without sinning, how can we be free in heaven without sinning? In this world, after all, sin seems unavoidable. How will it not be in the next? If we sin in heaven, how can we remain in heaven? On the other hand, if God prevents sin in heaven by overriding our free will, why didn’t he do this on earth—and spare us all the pain and suffering?

Do you see the problem? Many skeptics do.

Clay Jones answers these questions in his book Why Does God Allow Evil? In fact, Dr. Jones argues that one important reason for evil in this world is to teach us the folly of sin. Every time we sin—and suffer its consequences—we are learning how stupid sin is. (“Stupid” is his word.) I can gladly testify that this experience is an effective teacher!

But there are many other reasons that we won’t sin. First, our bodies will be perfect, and we’ll all—equally—have everything we need. How much of our greed, lust, anger, and envy come from a sense that we don’t possess what we need—and that someone else does? Imagine perfect satisfaction and perfect contentment in Christ for all eternity. As Jones writes,

In Kingdom Come, there won’t be any forbidden fruit. Presumably we will be able to eat as much as we desire—we won’t get fat as we’ll have spiritual bodies like Jesus had—and there will be no lack so there won’t be a fight over the last chunk of chocolate cake. In Kingdom Come the lust of the eyes won’t be an issue either, because we are all inheriting the kingdom. As Jesus said in Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He’s not just letting us visit the kingdom—which would be awesome in itself—He’s giving the kingdom to us. It’s not like some of us will have beachfront property while others are stuck in a slum. Mark Twain’s advice, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” will be irrelevant. All of us will be coheirs in the kingdom.[1]

We’ll also be free from the destructive influence of Satan and rebellious humans. It’s hard to underrate how important their influence is in our choosing to sin:

Consider that many, if not most, of the temptations to sin come from sinful humans acting out their sinfulness. Adultery and fornication take at least two people, after all. Also, someone has to pose for porn, someone else takes the pictures, someone else distributes them, and so on. People produce media that makes us lust after people, positions, possessions, and pleasures, and they cause us to have wrong views about that which really matters. In the kingdom, we won’t have to respond to lies or to gossip or to the seducer. They will be no more.[2]

Jones even argues that the ongoing existence of hell will be a sober reminder of the “folly of rebellion.”

There’s more: just as our experience with evil in this world teaches us not to sin, our experience in Final Judgment will do the same:

What we didn’t learn about the horror of sin in this life will be declared to everyone at the judgment. Every evil intent and rank rebellion, even those cloaked with goodness will be exposed for exactly what it is to all the redeemed and angels. They will be unmistakable because the judgment will reveal them for what they really are.

But this education isn’t limited to God’s judgment of us, but our judgment of others. As Jones explains,

In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, we learn that Christians will judge men and angels, so it isn’t as if we won’t have to attend the judgment of other beings, whether angelic or human. We’ll not only be attending, we’ll be participating in the entire judgment. And what information will come out at the judgment? Everything. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Not only will intentionally hurtful words be judged, but even careless words.[3]

Of course, from scripture such as Romans 2:16, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 4:13, and Revelation 20:11-15, secret and hidden sins will also be disclosed and judged. Jones even estimates that the judgment of everyone who ever lived will take hundreds of thousands of years—so there’s a lot of time for education! While estimating time in this manner seems highly speculative, his point is a good one: We will have ample opportunities to learn about the folly of sin.

Finally, what Jones refers to as “epistemic distance between us and God” will be eliminated.[4] Faith will become sight. “We will know fully, even as we are fully known.”

With all of this in mind, Jones argues, the temptation to sin in heaven will seem as appealing as stabbing a pen in your eye. There is no scenario I can imagine in which I would ever be tempted to do that. Can you imagine temptation to sin being as resistible as that? We can look forward to that day!

1. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 147-8.

2. Ibid., 149

3. Ibid., 153.

4. Ibid., 155-6.

Why isn’t God’s presence more obvious?

October 6, 2017

In light of this week’s tragedy in Las Vegas, I’m preaching a one-shot sermon this Sunday called “Where Is God in the Midst of Tragedies.” My text is Luke 13:1-9. In my view, this scripture is Jesus’ most important word on evil and suffering. At the very least, it speaks directly to modern objections to God’s existence based on the “moral problem” of evil. I preached what I’m sure was a theologically and biblically inadequate sermon on this text back in 2010. I’m almost afraid to re-read it now!

Still, in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, I’m currently reading Clay Jones’s Why Does God Allow Evil. Among other things, he expands on ideas he debated on an outstanding Unbelievable? podcast in 2015. I admire the forcefulness and clarity with which he approaches a subject that most of us only approach with great caution. Perhaps he’s fearless because, as he says in the book’s introduction, when we understand who we are as sinful human beings, the so-called “problem of evil” vanishes. After all, no one asks, “Why do bad things happen to bad people?”

I don’t disagree with him.

In fact, I’ve been blogging for a while about how ill-equipped most contemporary Methodists are in dealing with questions of human or natural evil. Remember this official UMC article on the recent hurricanes? Most Methodist thinkers say something inadequate like, “We don’t know why there’s evil, but God is with us!”

Regardless, one nagging apologetic concern I have struggled with more recently is the apparent “hiddenness” of God. Why does God not make his presence more obvious to people whom he otherwise wants to save?

Dr. Jones tackles this question nicely:

If God wants us to be significantly free (know the kind of freedom we now possess), then God can’t make His presence too apparent; He can’t make His presence too “saturated.” His presence in the world is not smothering, like an overbearing parent. He is not an ever-present “helicopter God” (philosophers call this epistemic distance or divine hiddenness). This is so because if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge. As C.S. Lewis put it, “there must perhaps always be just enough lack of demonstrative certainty to make free choice possible: for what could we do but accept if the faith were like the multiplication table?” In other words, if Christianity were unmistakably true, then people would have less free will and they would be compelled to feign loyalty. For example, I’ve asked guys, “If you were getting up to speak at a podium, and there were cameras on you, and an audience watching you, and if there were a pornographic magazine on the podium, would you open it or even look down at the cover?” Of course the answer is always no. Why? Because they know that everyone is watching them! Similarly, God could make His presence and His power so evident that everyone would always do the right thing—whether they wanted to or not. But that would interfere with our acting freely.[†]

What would be wrong if the truth of God and his gospel were as obvious to us as the multiplication table? After all, we would know that God exists. We would know that the doctrines of Christianity are true. We would, in a sense, “believe in” Jesus.

But this wouldn’t be true faith. As I said in my recent sermon, “Dead Faith Can’t Save Us,” genuine faith is not merely knowing facts about God; it’s not agreeing to a set of propositions. It’s also entrusting ourselves to God—out of love for him and gratitude to him. It’s being loyal to him. Without this “epistemic distance,” as Jones says, we would “feign loyalty.” True faith may never take root and grow.

So without God’s “hiddenness,” the vast majority of people would believe in God, but they wouldn’t have faith in God. There’s a big difference!

Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 112.

Ask Dr. Olson a question? You bet I will!

June 2, 2016

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know how much I admire Roger Olson, a historical theologian at Baylor (not to mention an Arminian Baptist), and his blog. He has a new post this week, “Ask a Theologian a Question,” in which he’s fielding questions from readers.

My question was of a nagging apologetic concern that I’ve had. Dr. Olson was gracious enough to answer. The key, I believe, is that God doesn’t merely want us to know that he exists. Mere knowledge hardly produces love, or self-sacrifice, or worship. Doesn’t it seem likely that many convinced atheists wouldn’t submit to the kind of loving, trusting relationship that God wants us to have with him, even if they had more tangible proof? Both the late writer Christopher Hitchens and English actor Stephen Fry, among others, have said they wouldn’t want the Christian God to exist, and if he did, they wouldn’t bow down to them.

Besides, as James says, even demons know that God exists—and shudder. As I imply in my question, I agree with Olson: Believing that God exists is our natural state of affairs. Evidence from history, not to mention scripture, bears this out.

(Click on graphic to expand.)

olson

DeGrasse Tyson tries his hand at theology (again)

December 29, 2015

degrasse_tyson

A friend linked to this video on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote in the comments section. Thoughts? I could have written much more, but I thought this was a good start. What would you add or subtract from this response? 

A couple of thoughts. First, who cares what Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks about God? He knows as much about theology as I know about astrophysics. He ought to know enough about science, however, to say that the question is beyond the scope of science—by definition. It’s metaphysical, and science is strictly limited to the physical.

On the question of benevolence, however, does he really think there are no signs of it in our world? The very fact that he’s here enjoying life ought to count in favor of benevolence. Or even that we have this wonderfully life-sustaining world, which works out quite well for most people most of the time. And often, when it doesn’t, it’s not because the universe lacks “benevolence.” It’s because human being are foolish.

This is all an interpretation, of course, but the “problem of good” seems like a bigger problem for an atheist than the “problem of evil” is for a believer.

Moreover, even using the word “benevolence” implies that there is such thing as “good” (bene- at the root). Where does the judgment “good” come from? After all, even natural disasters that don’t work out well for human beings often work out quite well for non-humans and the rest of the planet: a forest fire that destroys lives and property will also replenish the ecosystem of a forest; a tsunami that wipes out thousands of humans will be wonderful for marine life. Who’s to say that’s not “good”? (I’m not saying it is good, but from a strictly “scientific” point of view, why should deGrasse Tyson think otherwise?)

Even more importantly, neither deGrasse Tyson nor myself is in a position to say that our world could be better than it is, at least from a strictly physical point of view. The exact same physical forces that produce a sunny and mild spring day also produce (occasionally) tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Maybe it’s not possible to have one without the other. Who knows?

Besides, if the universe were any “better” (from deGrasse Tyson’s point of view), he likely wouldn’t exist. And neither would I. All of us are where we are because we got the universe that we got.

Who am I to complain about that? 😉

Not that you asked for any of this when you posted this! Sorry!

Is apologetics a four-letter word?

August 19, 2015

When did I become such a “fundamentalist”? 😉

I was hanging out on a relatively conservative, evangelical-friendly Facebook page for United Methodists. Someone asked us what additional classes should seminaries offer that they’re not currently offering—or at least requiring. I said that we should be required to take a course in apologetics. To which a fellow clergy said the following:

Apologetics is a fundamentally flawed discourse, that too easily reduces the faith to the lowest common denominator under the guise of defending it. The faith doesn’t need defending, it needs proclamation.

Another pastor agreed, saying that intellectual objections are merely a smokescreen for an inward, “heart”-related problem. Presumably, once we deal with the underlying spiritual or emotional problem, the intellectual problems take care of themselves. Besides, he said, no one comes to faith through logic or reason.

While I agree that no one comes to faith through logic or reason alone—apart from the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit—Christianity is a rational religion. How could reason and logic not play an important role in evangelism? Otherwise, why bother with language at all? We may as well speak in tongues to unbelievers. (Actually, the apostle Paul has something to say about that very problem in 1 Corinthians 14!)

Besides, the concern is not merely with unbelievers, as I said in this comment thread: What about the intellectual doubts of the already converted? After all, nearly every day we pastors have to be able to reconcile our world of suffering and pain with our proclamation that God is good—that God really does love us. If we pastors haven’t worked that question out, intellectually, we’re doomed! And having read testimonies from pastors who lose their faith, I know that theodicy is Reason No. 1.

It won’t do to say, as mainline Protestant seminary often teaches us to say, “It’s all a mystery.”

I continued:

Or what about the intellectual doubts of young Christians going off to college and being exposed for the first time to ideas that directly contradict what they’ve learned in church? That happens all the time. Are we not supposed to equip young Christians to handle these questions?

Because they constantly hear things such as: Jesus never existed; the resurrection motif was borrowed from other myths and legends; the resurrection was a legendary development that happened over decades; Paul “invented” Christianity by distorting or ignoring the teachings of the historical Jesus; Jesus didn’t say or do most of the things attributed to him in the gospels; we have no contemporaneous accounts of the historical Jesus; science is irreconcilable with Christian faith; evolution disproves Christianity; Stephen Hawking has shown how “quantum gravity” accounts for creation out of nothing; the existence of evil proves God doesn’t exist.

I could go on, obviously.

Are we not supposed to furnish answers to these questions—or just let these intellectual doubts fester? The moment we attempt to answer them, however, we are doing apologetics. So we may as well learn to do it properly.

My concern, therefore, is not merely evangelism. It’s also bolstering the faith of Christians, all of whom experience intellectual doubts from time to time. In other words, it’s not only a “heart” problem.

I could point to Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 as an example of apologetics. But also: his words at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 are incomprehensible if he’s not appealing to evidence for the resurrection: the resurrection is a real historical event, Paul says, and here’s how we can know. In our own way, we ought to be equipped to do the same. Not to prove it scientifically, but to show the reasonableness of it.

Fortunately, in our own day, we are blessed with serious scholars who are doing this good work: Alvin Plantinga, Peter Kreeft, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, et al.

Obviously, thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Chesterton did the same in their day.

No less a late-modern theologian than Wolfhart Pannenberg believed that the work of theology was inseparable from apologetics.

Have I made case? Why would fellow clergy have a problem with apologetics? What am I missing?

“Why isn’t God a better engineer?”

December 5, 2012

I’ve noticed that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has become one of pop culture’s go-to guys for science, and it’s easy to see why: He’s charming and friendly, and he obviously knows his stuff, science-wise. I’ve seen him at least a couple times on The Colbert Report, but he’s on TV elsewhere.

The John Templeton Foundation recently asked him (and other notables) to answer this question: “Does the universe have a purpose?” To his credit, he admits up front that answering the question requires “access to knowledge not based on empirical foundations.” We might imagine, therefore, that any argument from “empirical foundations” alone would leave a lot to be desired, as does his answer.

He argues that no universe that looks like ours could be the product of design. If God exists, wouldn’t he at least be the world’s greatest engineer? No engineer would design this universe. It’s far too inefficient and wasteful.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig has handled this objection in debates before. I like this short answer from his blog, in response to a reader named Mike, a software engineer and agnostic:

So these arguments alone give us good grounds to think that a Creator and Designer of the universe exists. Now against this conclusion you oppose two considerations. First, “The universe is wasteful. It’s HUGE and most of it is empty space devoid of life.” Ah, but Mike, recall that it’s one of the insights of the fine-tuning argument that the universe must in fact be very large, since the heavy elements like carbon of which our bodies are made are synthesized in the interior of stars and then distributed throughout the cosmos by supernovae explosions. But it takes billions of years for the stars to go through such a process, and all the time the universe is expanding. So the size of the universe is a function of its age, and that is a pre-condition of our very existence. So all that empty space is not at all a waste! Besides, how do you know it is devoid of life? Maybe there are intelligent beings who exist elsewhere in the cosmos who are also God’s creatures. Why be closed to that idea?

Second, you object that “Even on earth the process of life was very wasteful. The majority of species have gone extinct.” But is it true that life was wasteful? The primeval forests were the basis for the oil and coal deposits that make modern civilization possible. (Try to think of human culture ever evolving very far in the absence of fossil fuels!) The extinct creatures that existed during those times were part of the eco-system that made the planet flourish. And don’t you think that God, if He exists, delighted in the dinosaurs and other marvelous creatures now extinct? I think He did!

That brings us to the real crux of the problem, in my opinion. The implicit assumption seems to be that God wouldn’t create such extravagant waste. God is like a super-efficient engineer who wouldn’t engage in such waste.

Mike, I love you engineers because you respond so well to my approach to apologetics! But you’ve got to be really careful about creating God in your own image and projecting your values onto Him. As I said to Quentin Smith, who originally raised the efficiency objection, God may be more like an artist than like an engineer, someone who delights in the extravagance of His creation, in far-flung, undiscovered galaxies, in flowers that bloom unseen on a remote mountain hillside, in beautiful shells lying in the ocean’s unexplored depths. I see no reason at all to think that God should be like the engineer rather than the artist. Efficiency, as I said, is a value only to someone with limited resources or limited time, or both. But God has unlimited time and resources, so why shouldn’t He be extravagant? Granted that your engineer would marshal his time and resources carefully; but suppose God isn’t (just) an engineer?

God and the “God particle”

July 10, 2012

I knew that some people—both believers and atheists—would make some extraordinary claims in the wake of last week’s possible discovery of an elusive subatomic particle called the Higgs boson. As for what it is, read the linked Times article. I’m no physicist. I’ve read that it’s the “glue” that holds everything else together. Suffice it to say that physicists predicted that such a thing existed and have been looking for it for a while.

The main reason I imagined that it would pose an apologetic challenge is because of its unfortunate nickname, “the God particle.” The physicist who first called it that in a book he wrote on the subject wanted to call it a profanity beginning with “god” but his publisher objected.

For the apologetic challenge, the gist of the argument on the atheist side is that somehow the existence of this particle means that the universe no longer needs a God to create or sustain it. (Haven’t they been arguing that all along? How does the Higgs boson either add or detract from their arguments?)

Regardless, I’ll point you to my go-to guy for apologetics, Dr. Glenn Peoples. His article is excellent, as always, but I especially like this paragraph.

As you’re reading this, you might be forgiven for asking what any of this has to do with an argument that God’s existence isn’t necessary. You’d be right to ask that question, because in reality there is no connection at all. How does this even speak to the question of why there is, right now, something rather than nothing? What does this tell us about the origin of the universe from nothing? The answer is just that – nothing! Discovering a particle that exists within the physical universe obviously can’t tell us why physical matter exists at all. The particle that gives mass to some matter, leaving other matter without mass, has nothing at all to tell us why there is matter or why the universe came into being.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I hope this now seems obvious.

Personal incredulity is not an argument

April 26, 2012

A Facebook friend helpfully pointed me to a webpage that reminds us of eleven mistakes of logic that we often make when arguing. As I’m currently preaching a sermon series on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I’m trying my best to avoid them. One fallacy, which I had never heard of before, is “personal incredulity.” Here’s the description:

I’m struck by the fact that he uses evolution as an example. I get his point, but I also note that this same mistake is often made by skeptics and atheists concerning God, theology, and resurrection.

Recently, my friend Mike was watching an online debate between Christian apologist William Lane Craig and the late Christopher Hitchens. I assume this debate was part of Hitchens’s God is Not Great book tour several years ago. (Click here to read about a debate I witnessed live between Hitchens and my Christian ethics prof, Timothy Jackson.)

Mike was impressed with Craig, and why wouldn’t he be? Craig knows all the arguments backwards and forwards, and is well-prepared to take on any comer. (Last year, Craig challenged Dawkins to debate him in England, but Dawkins turned him down. Smart man!) But my friend noticed that Hitchens had zero interest in engaging any of Craig’s arguments. And since Craig is such an earnest fellow, I can’t imagine that he fared well playing Hitchens’s game of scornful derision masked as witty repartee.

My point is, the fallacy of personal incredulity is a primary tactic of our celebrity atheists. Dawkins himself deflects criticism that he knows nothing about Christian theology by talking about fairies and flying spaghetti monsters. Why bother learning anything about theology? he would say. It’s such obvious nonsense.

And so it is with evidence for the resurrection. The attitude of many skeptics is, “It doesn’t matter what you tell me, I’m not going to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s beyond the realm of possibility.” Whatever else happened, we know in advance that that didn’t happen.

One thing I hope to get across in this “Reason to Believe” series is this: If the resurrection of Jesus did happen, then the evidence we have is the precisely the evidence that we should expect. 

“House” and miracles

February 14, 2012

Dr. Chase misunderstands God's involvement in the world.

One of my favorite TV shows, House M.D., is on life support, ratings-wise, and last night’s episode shows why. They’re running out of ideas. How many times, after all, have they recycled last night’s storyline: a patient has a religious experience, and a doctor (usually House himself, but this time Chase) tries his best to explain it away using science.

Well… the story isn’t new, but it’s still a good one. I appreciate the way last night’s episode put in sharp relief the faulty premise of scientism: if science can explain why something happens, then that squeezes God out of the equation. If science then not-God.

For example, in last night’s episode, Dr. Chase falls in love with a patient who is a nun-in-training—technically a postulant. She’s struggling with doubts about her vocation, which provides a convenient opening for Chase. After all, if she decides not to become a nun, then Chase can pursue a relationship with her.

So Chase goes to work on her. But he’s too late. She’s now convinced that God encountered her during a life-saving medical procedure. Upon learning this, Chase is prepared to convince her that her divine encounter was nothing more than a symptom of her disease. Nevertheless, seeing her newfound conviction—she’s praying the rosary as he approaches her hospital room—he doesn’t have the heart to go through with it.

In fact, he may even have second thoughts about his own convictions. The show, as always, leaves the question ambiguous.

But do you see problem with Chase’s point of view? He believes that if there were a “natural” explanation for her religious experience, then there could not also be a supernatural explanation. But why?

Couldn’t God have graciously used this woman’s medical condition and resulting hospital experience to convince her to pursue her calling? God gave her a sign, in other words, using perfectly natural and explainable processes.

My firm belief is that God does this all the time. To be a theist and believe otherwise is to be a Deist—to believe that God has a hands-off policy when it comes to Creation; that God winds up the universe, governed by well-ordered physical laws, and lets it run its course.

Needless to say, I hope, Christians are not Deists. We believe in a hands-on God who is always and everywhere at work in our world. And he can be this way without resorting to what we usually call the “miraculous.”

But that’s our problem. From my perspective, miracles happen all the time.