Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why he is a Christian

It is the evening of Thanksgiving. I am recovering from a food coma and most of the family is asleep. ASU was losing to USC, so I got a little bored and decided to do a little reading. I came across this article by Stan Guthrie, who wrote a brief editorial for Christianity Today to explain why he is a Christian. Below is a chunk of the editorial. To see the full version, click here. I agree that there is no one thing that is the most overwhelming; it is the weight of all of the concepts that serve to convince me. Just like a court case, you cannot hang your hat on one piece of evidence. As it is said, the sum is worth more than the individual parts.

"...remembering Bertrand Russell's famous essay, "Why I Am Not a Christian," here is a Reader's Digest version of why I am.

Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet. Tinker with any one of scores of fundamental physical laws or the initial conditions of the universe—such as gravity or the cosmological constant—and we would not be here.

Beauty: Beethoven's Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator. And isn't it interesting that we have the capacity—unlike mere animals—to gape in awe, to be brought to tears, before them?

New Testament reliability: Compared with the handful of existing copies of seminal ancient works such as Homer's Iliad, the New Testament's provenance is far better attested. There are thousands of NT manuscripts in existence, some made within mere decades of the events they report.

Scripture: Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture's message rings true. It has been said that human depravity is the only religious doctrine empirically verified on a daily basis. And the Bible's gracious solution to our predicament, Christ's atoning death on the Cross, uniquely emphasizes what God has done, not what we must do, for our rescue.

Jesus: Christ's life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit.

The trilemma: C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ's claim to divinity, said: "You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Resurrection: After the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty. His formerly despondent disciples then turned the Roman world upside down with the message that Christ had conquered death. And they were willing to die for it. The best explanation, according to N. T. Wright and other scholars, is that Christ rose from the dead.

Progress: Despite some horrific incidents perpetrated in the name of Christ, freedom and prosperity generally have followed Christianity. Testimonies: While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson? A John Newton? A William Wilberforce? Then there are the innumerable soup kitchens, universities, hospitals, and orphanages founded to the glory of Christ.

My experience: Finally, as a forgiven sinner, I testify to an imperfect yet growing sense of God's peace, presence, and provision since receiving Christ more than a quarter-century ago. Despite occasional setbacks, my faith has deepened and strengthened, whatever life brings."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jesus Called...

Intriguing post on the subject here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Belief, Part 1: God

“There's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!” -- George Carlin

The idea of God sounds a little crazy, on the same level as a fairy tale (or a horror movie after reading the above quote by the comedian George Carlin). One of the reasons I enjoy apologetics, theology and philosophy is that is requires me to continually immerse myself in my religion beyond the cursory. Faith and belief are not easy at times. As George Hanson once said, “The difficulties of belief are great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.” In the end, I think belief is the most reasonable position to hold, as opposed to atheism or agnosticism.

After several years of wrestling with the concept, I ultimately came to the conclusion that God was real and that He revealed Himself through Jesus Christ. On one hand, I wish coming to that conclusion were as easy as writing this sentence. On the other hand, nothing in my life that is of value is easy – my marriage, fatherhood, and, yes this includes my belief in God.

I am writing this blog post as a means to explain why I believe in the existence of a god. This is not an exhaustive explanation and will only (briefly) touch on some of concepts that have been influential to me. I will look at the Bible and Christ in a future post.

Good and Evil

Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within.” Kant makes a profound point with which I would agree. Where we part ways, however, is when we look at the origins of the awe inspiring (Kant did not believe is a god).

Witnessing an injustice brings about a profound anger inside of me. When someone is hurt, I want to protect the victim and see the perpetrator held to account for his actions. When I witness an act of kindness or bravery, it brings a smile to my face. Why is this so? There are certain actions in life that humans look upon in disgust, while there are other actions that we find admirable. The idea of right and wrong, or good and evil, just and unjust is cross-cultural. In other words, if I spend time with another culture, I would see, to some degree or another, many similar standards or norms in place. This is especially the case with the concept of “fairness.”

Is the human idea of good and evil merely genetic, handed down via the evolutionary process, or is there a different explanation? In my eyes, the evolutionary explanation fails in many areas (I touched on this is a previous post). For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? There has to be a better explanation.

Our universe is governed by certain laws or constants, such as gravity. Could it be that the idea of good and evil is a similar law for humanity? Before we say no, read what C.S. Lewis said on the subject, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line cooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe to when I called in unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless, from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because he is not a water animal; a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove God did not exist—in other words, that the whole reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. This atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should have never found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

If there is not a god, can there be such a thing as an objective right and wrong? The idea of morality presupposes right and wrong -- but whose definition are we using? If we are using a human definition, then right and wrong is subjective and anything goes, as long as most people feel it is okay. In essence, morality changes with the times. God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). My argument is that a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil. A humanistic concept of good/evil is only temporal and thus changes.

It is important to note, that I do not believe in God simply because the alternative would mean the subjectivity of good and evil. Quite the opposite. There are things that are intrinsically wrong (mala in se). If there are acts that are wrong, in and of themselves, how can good and evil be subjective? We can never argue that evil acts by brutal people (such as Hitler or child rapists) are good. As such, evil cannot change with the times, not should it. The fact that humans have what some would call a moral compass, which biology fails miserably to explain, should raise a lot of questions about the origin of such a compass.

The Beauty of Mathematics and the Cosmos

I mentioned earlier the idea of scientific laws or constants, such as gravity. There are many constants in place on our planet and in our universe that are vital to life. Given the preciseness of the constants, some would argue that the existence of life sits on a razor’s edge.

Dr. Francis Collins notes, “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory in unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal…In sum our universe is wildly improbable.”

Astronomer Dr. Martin Rees once said, “The expansion speed, the material content of the universe, and the strengths of basic forces, seem to have been a prerequisite for the emergence of the hospitable cosmic habitat in which we live.” He notes that if there were the slightest tweaking of the numbers, “The universe as we know it would not be here.” Further, the mere placement of our plant within our solar system and within our universe is strikingly fortuitous. Along these lines, atheist author Richard Dawkins once said, "It is such a privilege to be born at all" and that his birth was an "improbable event."

Additionally, the mathematics and formulas behind many of these scientific principles are extraordinary beautiful. Some have even called them, “elegant in their simplicity.” The more we dig into science and mathematics, the more we see beauty at the most infinitesimal levels. Nobel-prize winning physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg once said, “Sometimes nature seems more beautiful that strictly necessary.”

God in the Gaps

The fact that we are here is startling. The fact we have the ability comprehend ourselves and analyze what is going on around is also amazing. The fact that once we dig down into our environment we see a great deal or order and beauty would almost be humorous, if it wasn’t so fascinating.

There appears to something working in our universe beyond random chance. The existence of good and evil, coupled with the staggering improbabilities of life as we know it, lead me to keep my mind open about the existence of a god (there are other concepts that help me, but for relative brevity, I focused on these two).

One may look at what I have written an accuse me of using “God in the gaps” reasoning (if one can’t find a scientific answer, attribute the act to ‘God’). Collins also commented on this subject noting, “Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps…There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.” In short, I let the evidence lead me to my conclusion, rather than the other way around.

My subsequent post on the Bible and Christ will show how God has revealed Himself to His creation, beyond the general revelation outlined here. These general (natural) and specific (Biblical) revelations, in my opinion, are overwhelming evidence that God is real.

At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Positive of Persecution

I have not posted much lately, as my family, job and church responsibilities have taken up much of my time -- I enjoy writing, but sleep is nice too. I have a few posts in the pipeline, including: 1) Why I believe in a god; 2) Why I believe in the God of the Bible and Christ specifically; and 3) Do people go to heaven if they haven't heard the message of Christ. Given the complexity of these three issues, it have taken me a while to wade through everything while posting something of reasonable brevity.

In the meantime, I found this interesting article in Christianity Today regarding the positive side of the recent rise of atheist attacks on Christianity. Christianity flourished in spite of the Roman persecution during the first few centuries after the death of Christ. While we want the message of Christ to be spread the world over, there are dangers when our faith becomes mainstream or common, as it has been in western culture since before the founding of America. The danger, obviously, isn't from the message, but the laziness that can rise when there is no external challenge to being a Christian. We often cherish that which is harder to obtain, but possessions gained through relative ease do not hold the same position in our lives (Christ isn't a possession, but hopefully you get the point). Western Christians have not faced many significant persecutions or challenges to our faith, like for example our Chinese brothers and sisters. Yes, prayer has been banned from schools and it can be argued that many universities are not the most Christian-friendly places. But I can still attend my church on Sunday without having to worry about being thrown in jail.

With the recent rise of atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others, Christians are facing a full-frontal attack to our belief system -- and it is not on a small scale. Since 2006, the three names I just listed have each published anti-God and anti-Christian books that have sold a combined 1 million copies. The questions they raise are not new, but their message is now becoming more widely spread, via television, the Internet, news papers and other media. Thus, Christians are facing a new wave of challenges and we are being called to defend our beliefs. The positive is that under such challenges, the search for answers will strengthen the faith of many and create opportunities to speak about Christ where such opportunities may not have existed before.

Below is an excerpt from the article.


You would have to have been hitchhiking across Siberia to have missed a striking new phenomenon: The atheists are back. Not just back, mind you, but globally parading in triumph across tv, bookstores, and the Internet...

Why a surge by atheists right now?...American evangelicals, we must admit, have not been immune to triumphal attitudes, arrogance, foolish public statements, and, sometimes, downright hypocrisy in personal behavior. A backlash against evangelicals has been brewing for years.

The good news? First, a bracing frontal assault on faith is actually good for evangelicalism. It compels us to reexamine what we believe and to behave—well, with greater humility.

Second, this backlash has produced a fascinating response among believers. For example, the most effective public debater with Christopher Hitchens to date has been Brooklyn Baptist and verbal flame-thrower the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In a debate, Hitchens disparaged the God-fearing sensibilities of Martin Luther King Jr., angering Sharpton. "In terms of the civil-rights movement," Sharpton responded, "it was absolutely fueled by a belief in God and a belief in right or wrong. Had not there been this belief that there was a right and a wrong, the civil-rights movement that you alluded to and referred to would not have existed."

Third...theists have drawn into the debate highly articulate scientists of fervent Christian faith. In England, Alister McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford, has battled Dawkins brilliantly on his home turf of science. McGrath holds a doctorate in molecular biophysics as well as one in theology.

Two other new books put forward important ideas about God's existence, offering magnificent ripostes to the atheists. In The Language of God, Francis Collins, a former atheist and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, refuses to choose between science and God. "Science is not threatened by God," he writes. "[I]t is enhanced." Former Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich, in God's Universe, draws a bright line between theists and materialists. He endorses the view that belief in "a final cause, a Creator-God" gives us truthful, coherent understanding about the design of the universe.

Christians have nothing to fear from the new atheist surge. We evangelicals, in our advocacy for the gospel, also have no need for blunt weaponry.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The 80/20 Rule

This was written by a gentleman the was the pastor of the church I attended when I was a little boy (Jim Taylor). It is worth the read.
“…I did not find paradise. It was only a reflection of my lonely mind wanting what’s been missing in my life...” (from Goodbye Alice in Wonderland by Jewel)

Many people are looking for a personal “paradise” ... the perfect job, the perfect mate, the car, a hobby, an advancement or recognition ... the thing that will fulfill them. Quite often they run from relationship to relationship, seeking that “paradise”. Or they get caught up in trying to “climb the ladder” or make their place in the world, seeking what’s missing and never quite finding it.

Oh, there are good things, yes! And quite often that person in your life or that job has brought a lot of satisfaction, but it is not quite everything that you envisioned. There still seems to be something lacking.

Let me share with you a little secret: There is NOTHING in life that will ever give you 100% of what you are expecting from it. Get used to this idea. Nothing will ever be 100%. No car, no job, no career, no sport, no piece of furniture, no house, no spouse. NOTHING and NO ONE will ever live up to 100%.

That’s a fact of life.

Many things and many people however will sometimes reach about 80% of our expectations. And there is nothing wrong with that. However … and this is important …… we can become indifferent to the 80%. We can grow used to the 80%. So used to it in fact, that we sometimes start worrying about the 20% we don’t have. And IF we are not careful, we will be tempted by the 20%.

I have seen it in marriages. One partner says, “You are not giving me everything I need. Oh sure, you are 80%, but I need that other 20%!” If they continue to fixate on what they don’t have, sooner or later 20% is going to come walking by. And many times they will leave the 80% for the 20%! Why? Because by fixating on what they don’t have --- the 20% --- they forget the 80% they do have and suddenly the 20% looks like more than the 80%. And so they give up the 80% and run off with the 20%. Then one day they wake up and realize they settled for 20% when they once had 80%, but now it’s too late to go back.

As parents we rarely are everything we want to be (if ever) and I know that in our children’s eyes we come short of their needs or expectations quite often. How many young people just can’t wait to get out on their own, only to find when they do that they have left 80% and now are living with 20%! If you focus on the 20% it often looks like the answer to your problems. When the 20% appears to us as if it is more than the 80%, it will appear to us as the way to everything we desire. When we pursue the 20% it can be exciting, thrilling, and promising. But when we leave the 80% and settle for the 20% life becomes empty and depression, discouragement or despair can settle in.

How many people neglected family and friends in pursuit of a career only to discover one day that while they reached the top of their career, there was nothing there? They have gotten the 20% but at the expense of 80%. Some people never understand the 80/20 Rule and spend all their life running, leaving, seeking, and never finding what they are searching for. They think if they can just get that special (fill in the blank) they will find contentment, fulfillment, and satisfaction. But because they don’t understand the 80/20 Rule they actually are working against themselves! The very thing that would bring what they want is the thing they constantly run away from!

The key is to learn to appreciate the 80% that you have! Do not listen to the call of the 20%. Do not allow yourself think about or dwell upon the 20%. Begin to explore all the possibilities that are in the 80%. Start being thankful for the 80% you have. It will take some time and requires a “training” of your mind, but in time you will begin to see how foolish it is to dwell on the 20%.

When that happens the 80% actually will become more valuable to you than you believe possible. It may even become more than 80%! Yes. That is possible. It may not look like it is now, but trust me, try it and you will find out whether I am telling the truth or not.

As I said, it will require you to train your mind, discipline it, and bring it under your control. If you have something or someone that is 80%, do not allow yourself to dwell on the 20% you don’t have! Think about the good things. Make yourself become thankful for the good parts. As you endeavor to do that, if you will ask Him, you will find the Lord will enable you to follow through, thinking about the good things. And His peace will invade your life. Not only will His peace come into your life, it will actually guard your mind so that the 20% never looks as large as the 80%.

Give it a try! What have you got to lose but dissatisfaction, discontent and unhappiness? You can live without those things!

Phil 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. NIV

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Can Science and Philosophy Embrace God?

I read two stories this week that, while not directly related to one another, carried the same theme: atheists moving toward belief in God. That an atheist may shift to belief in a god is not unusual. However, the two individuals that were the subjects of the stories are not your ordinary persons. One is an Oxford educated philosopher and the other is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Often I hear that one cannot have a rational or reasoned belief in God. Given these individual's distinguished backgrounds in academics, it is hard to imagine either of them "blindly" believing in anything.

Dr. Rosalind Picard is director of affective computing research in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Picard was raised an atheist, but later embraced the idea of God and eventually Christianity. "Those who argue that humans are composed only from molecular biology and nothing more aren't basing their argument in science," Picard says. "Science is not capable of making such claims." Furthermore, "Scientists cannot assume that nothing exists beyond what they can measure...It's quite possible that there's still something more." Picard says she personally has faith in scientific progress, but also faith in God.

The story also notes that, "When she speaks about DNA, which is the basic ingredient that forms organisms, Picard raises the notion of there being 'a much greater mind, a much greater scientist, a much greater engineer behind who we are.' DNA, is enormously complex, she says. 'It takes a lot of faith to believe it arose from purely random processes. There's definitely the mark of intervention in that.'"

But she does not support "intelligent design" hook, line and sinker. "Picard also laments that the news media put people who are of different minds on the intelligent- design debate into just two distinct camps -- intelligent design or evolution. 'To simply put most of us in one camp or the other does the whole state of knowledge a huge disservice,' she said."

The other two stories (here and here) were written about Anthony Flew. Once a devout atheist, he has embraced Deism in his older age -- critics would argue it is his age that has caused such lapse in thought. Flew makes it abundantly clear that he is not a Christian. Flew's movement from the atheist camp to the deist camp is not new news, as an announcement was made in 2004. But more interviews have been conducted recently due to the release of his book entitled, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

During a recent interview, Flew states, "I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code."

Two factors were were "decisive," as it relates to his change in view. "One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.

Flew says to those, such as Richard Dawkins, who argue that life and existence can be attributed to chance, "If that's the best argument you have, then the game is over."

The New York Times article on Flew concludes with a startling commentary by the author, "Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least." I get the sense from the New York Times article that the author questions Flew's so-called "conversion" to Deism. But I am a little miffed by his concluding remarks. The author seems to imply that atheists are driven by hate versus reason and thought.

Science, philosophy and God are not mutually exclusive concepts. One can have a reasoned faith. Even if Flew's shift can be explained by old age, there are many scientists and philosophers like Picard, Francis Collins and others to document such a fact. The claim that religious persons are ignorant (to use a milder term) is becoming tired and trite. Such a claim is a simple way of not having to engage on an issue of great importance.