Sunday, February 27, 2011
Silverman quickly got under O’Reilly’s skin. He told O’Reilly, in a strikingly confident manner for such an unsupportable position, that everyone knows religion is a scam, which he defined to mean “deliberating misleading.” He said that labels like “scam” and “myth” are facts. He then mocked those in the pew, saying they “pray to an invisible man in the sky,” that such people are gullible, and that many in the pews are there simply because of familial and social pressure. O’Reilly responded by trying to point out what atheism can’t explain. Unfortunately, he used as an example the tide going in and out, which gave Silverman the opportunity to further mock O’Reilly by offering Thor on Mr. Olympus as the source. O’Reilly ended the discussion by telling Silverman that only a “loon” would believe in atheism.
It is difficult to make the case for Christianity in a five minute interview. And it’s easy to second guess someone who is trying his best in the heat of the moment. But reflection on how that encounter went might be fruitful in dealing with the aggressive atheist.
Silverman’s point has some validity. People should apply a healthy skepticism to the claims of religion. They should test what they believe. And because the world’s major religions make conflicting truth claims, he is correct to conclude that many people may reach mistaken conclusions. But this does not mean that all religious claims are false.
The problem with Silverman’s view is not that skepticism is wrong. It’s that skepticism does not support his conclusion that there is no God. As O’Reilly was trying to establish, there is something, rather than nothing, and that something appears to be designed and well-organized. It is basic reasoning that such things require a designer. That people disagree on who the designer is, or on his attributes, is a poor reason for concluding that an adequate a designer is not necessary. But that is what atheism claims: something from nothing.
Consider an analogy: You return to your dorm and find it deserted. On your desk you find alphabet cereal organized to spell the following words: “Get out now It s not safe here” You determine there are a few possibilities: one, your roommates are playing a game which no one bothered to share with you; two, the letters just happened to randomly appear; three, someone is playing a joke on you; and four, someone is trying to warn you about a real danger. Only one of the possibilities is the kind of “fact” that Silverman is talking about - only one conforms to the actual state of things. The others are false. That you can appreciate that some of the possibilities are mistaken should not cause you to conclude that the answer cannot be reliably determined, or that the effort to find the answer is not worthwhile. After all, there might truly be danger there.
In the analogy, explaining the source of the alphabet cereal - eg. that it came from a cereal box - would not solve the problem. Silverman can point to the effect of the moon in order to explain the tides, but that misses the point. Someone made the cereal in the form of the alphabet, and both the source of the cereal and the designer of the alphabet would require explaining. So too with the tides: the fine-tuning of the solar system to allow for life on Earth is what needs explaining. Claiming that it all just happened by chance is about as foolish an explanation as the reference to Thor that Silverman made.
Moreover, the alphabet cereal letters are conveying information. DNA similarly conveys information. The arrangement of the letters on the desk form a message; they are communicating an idea (or more precisely for DNA, a blueprint), and blueprints require as a source a mind. Similarly, all of us recognize that we ought to act in a certain way and that we often fall short. We attribute this, and the feelings of guilt that each of us will inevitably feel, to our conscience. But what informed the conscience? Who provided the “message” about how we should live. These are just two of the many reasons we conclude that there must be a God: there is order and intelligence and information throughout creation (blueprints), and the existence of morality (a message) requires a message sender.
Silverman has given up before he has begun. Rather than do the heavy lifting of determining which, if any, of the major religions can support its claims, he is defiantly claiming that none can. Worse, he is reaching the one conclusion sure to be wrong: that the myriad of complex, organized and intelligent things all around us do not need explaining. Without bothering to inquire as to who made the alphabet cereal letters, he concludes that the message on the table is random and has no source.
Does this make him a “loon?” Perhaps not, but foisting such misinformation on whoever will listen does qualify him as “deliberately misleading.” Misleading indeed. It is atheism that is the real scam.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
In the Mormon religion, "Elohim" is the name of the god who is the father of our spirits. More commonly referred to as "Heavenly Father," Elohim is the literal father of all "spirits" - ours, Jesus', Satan's, etc. - by union with his many goddess wives. Since the religion teaches that God was once a man and righteous LDS men can become gods, Elohim is the highest god of all the gods being grown on this planet - the LDS Most High God.
The LDS leadership has collected the scripture passages specifically about their Heavenly Father and put them in their Topical Guide, under the heading "God the Father - Elohim." Please take a moment to open the link, and look at the verses. Notice that the first three (four) scriptures on the list are from the Old Testament. (Do you also find it odd that there are only four?) I intend to show that these selections to not lend any support to their belief.
Now let's take a look at three of the Old Testament selections for "God the Father - Elohim." I'll first give the reference as it is found in the Topical Guide, and then I will put each reference back into its Old Testament context.
TG selection 1: "Blessed be Abram of the most high God, Gen. 14:19."
OT Context: Genesis 14:18-22 "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth..."
The Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, is "the LORD." In the KJV, the all-caps word "LORD" shows up often. But who is the LORD? We'll look at that in a moment.
TG selections 2 and 3: "God of the spirits of all flesh, Num. 16:22 (Num. 27:16)."
In Context: Numbers 16:20-23 "And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment. And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation? And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying..."
Numbers 27:16: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation..."
The God of the spirits of all flesh is also "the LORD." Let's talk about who "the LORD" is then.
Of the 7,970 times the all-caps word "LORD" occurs in the entire KJV Bible, 6510 times it has been translated from the Hebrew word יְהֹוָה. This Hebrew word can be transliterated "YHWH" and is thought to be pronounced "Yahweh." It is the very same Hebrew word from which we get the name with which many of us are already familiar: Jehovah.
But who is Jehovah, in Mormonism? Let's go back to the Topical Guide. Click on this link and scroll down a bit, to see that in Mormonism, there are two "God the Father"s: Elohim and Jehovah. Notice that one of the subheadings of "God the Father - Jehovah" is "Jesus Christ--Jehovah." Also click here to see the LDS Bible Dictionary definition for Jehovah (notice particularly the second paragraph).
By putting each reference back into its context, we've seen that the few in the Old Testament which have been designated by the LDS leadership as being about their god “Elohim,” who is Jesus’ supposed spiritual and earthly father, known to us as Heavenly Father, are, in actuality, about Jehovah, whom Mormons believe is Jesus himself. Confused?
Joseph Smith published his "Book of Mormon," began his "Doctrine and Covenants" and started his church in 1830. His view in 1830, as can be seen by what he was writing, was that there was just one (modal) God. In 1832, Joseph began to tell people that he had seen "the Lord" in a "First Vision," back in 1820. It wasn't until 1835-6, when Joseph began trying to study Hebrew, that he began to tell people he had seen two gods in that "First Vision." This was also when he wrote his "Book of Abraham," which contradicts his earlier attempt at rewriting Genesis (his "Book of Moses") by giving credit to many gods for the creation of the earth. And it wasn't until after 1835-6, that he first came up with the idea that Heavenly Father's name was "Elohim."
In part two of this post, which is coming shortly, I'll revisit the Hebrew words that divided Joseph from his previous thinking and teachings, and members of his earliest congregation from being able to follow him any longer.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
What does the film have to do with Christian apologetics? Very little, on the surface. But stories are often the best way to get a point across. With apathy and hostility two common responses to the Christian message, using a popular film to make an apologetics point can be an effective ministry tool. Perhaps a film like Avatar can make a point about a very controversial topic: how it is a “loving” God can allow people to spend eternity in Hell.
Making this point involves recognizing that Hell is not a place of torture, but is instead a place of torment brought on by separation from an infinitely perfect – and therefore infinitely desirable – Being. Life in our current bodies is, in a sense, like living on Jake's ship. Our bodies, like Jake’s, are quite limited, and not at all suited for life on the world that is our destination. The ship we inhabit is capable of supporting us, and for providing the means of transition to a fuller life. In the movie, that transition involves a rather arduous conversion. Anyoneon board can conceivably master the means of escape, the “pod” that serves as the interface between the ship and the lush garden world, but using the pod requires self discipline and training. Not everyone will be willing to undergo the rigors of this process.
We are all free to reject the pod training, but if we do that, we have no choice but to stay within the confines of a room in the ship. With nothing much else to do, and no other way to make it to the garden paradise, we remain trapped on the inside, spending eternity thinking about – ourselves. To get out into the new physical world, by contrast, we need to look outside ourselves. We need to be willing to think of others, and to sacrifice. The struggle is worth the effort: on this other world, there is unlimited opportunity to live forever in a perfected body with others that we know and love. The choice is ours: from inside the ship, we are separated and inward looking; we can never unite with those on the new world.
Contrary to what many today believe, God is not in the business of punishing people to satisfy some sadistic desire. But this current life is not the destination – it is the ship we inhabit. The journey may at times be arduous, but it was never meant to be the final destination. In the end, God does all the work in transforming us into our Avatars. But we must willingly enter the pod, and begin the process of shedding our old, selfish selves and looking outward. If we do, He offers unlimited rewards. If we don’t, well… we end up with what we are asking for – agonizing separation and loneliness.
But for many, despite the rewards, the cost seems too high. They reject the option of loving God, and loving their neighbor, and instead concentrate on loving themselves, never realizing what they are giving up along the way. In the end, those who choose to stay on the ship – to stay walled in and to think only of themselves - cannot complain that God did not force them into the pod, and into heaven. They will have only themselves to blame.
A bit strained, admittedly. And not useful to teach doctrine or present the Good News. But a first step, perhaps, in engaging a nonbeliever by talking about something to which he can relate.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The Story of Adam and Eve is a Primitive Fairytale
Unbelievers sometimes point to the story of Adam and Eve as just another example of Christian mythmaking. Without evidence for the ancient existence of Adam and Eve, the idea that all humanity emerged from a single pair of humans is primitive and preposterous. But does the emerging science of “evolutionary genetics” contradict or support the Biblical claim? Also, Jim discusses Harold Camping’s “end of the world” predictions, the early models of church leadership, and the importance of ‘character’ in apologetics.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011
1. If evil exists because love is a choice, then can there be love
in Heaven where there is no evil? By the time we get to Heaven our
proclivity to sin will be removed, but if sin is not an option, can we
still use our freewill to love God? Can we have freewill in Heaven if
we cannot choose whether to love or to sin?
2. Will we have a proverbial tree of good and evil in heaven so
that we can still actively choose to love God after our sinful natures have
been removed? If we do have an ability to sin in heaven, as Adam and
Eve had in the utopian garden of Eden before sin entered humanity,
then would we swap eternities and be sent from Heaven into Hell?
Here are my ramblings on the topic. I'd be interested in hearing yours.
The Bible also speaks of love of God in terms of following His commands. (See John 14 and 1 John 5) So, we might say that freely loving God requires that we direct our will toward obeying His commands.
Let’s take evil and sin next. You state that God allows evil to exist so that love can exist through choice. Drawing from Augustine, Aquinas and other Christian thinkers, it is important to recognize that “evil” is not a thing that exists. If it were, then God, who created all things, would be the creator of evil. But God could not have created evil, for that would make Him the source of evil, and therefore evil Himself. Instead, “evil” is the label we apply to the corruption of the good. It is not a thing, and therefore was never created. It is the extent or degree to which we have used our free will to depart from God’s will, by taking what He has given us (all of which is good) and corrupting it. On a practical level, we see evil, in the form of acts that are taken, as “things” but what we are seeing are acts of free will that constitute evil because they violate God’s law and nature.
With these observations in mind, I would offer the following thoughts about what heaven will entail. I think you are correct in concluding that without free will, we can’t really love God. If love is a function of the will – a desire to obey God’s commands - how can the will be functioning if it is being directed? It is no longer an act of will but simply the act of a robot or a machine. If this is the true state of heaven, there may be harmony, but it would be the harmony of robots or computers humming along according to their programming. So, I think we must conclude that to love God we must still have free will in heaven.
You then ask “Can we have free will in Heaven if we cannot choose whether to love or to sin?” But this begs the question. Why should I conclude that I cannot choose to sin? If free will is operating, I can choose to defy God’s will – to not follow His commands – and this would be sin. Is this not what the angels - and Lucifer - did?
The problem in the analysis is this: becoming free of our desire/inclination to sin does not remove our free will. We remain free but freely choose to worship perfection - God - because He is deserving of such love and worship.
Notice two keys differences between now and then: now, we are temporal beings, who cannot see with clarity the harm that each of our choices will make. We have an amazing ability to deceive ourselves into doing what we want to do rather than what we know we should do. These desires are largely based on our corrupt human nature. Then, we will no longer be trapped by time. With the ability to see the future as part of an eternal present, we will have no desire to choose to depart from God’s will, because we will have clarity in seeing the evil that would result. We will also be free of our corrupted human nature, in which a selfish desire for pleasure is one of our strongest instincts.
Second, and more importantly, we will see God in a more direct fashion. Perhaps, this world is the training ground for that, preparing us for the immensity of experiencing perfection. Seeing the infinitely perfect God with clarity, I would suspect that I will be in awe, and in love, with Him. He will be all consuming, all encompassing. Whatever Earthly good or pleasure I can imagine, He will be that multiplied by infinity. The magnitude of this is truly staggering, if you think about the implications.
So, I hope you see that putting these things together – clarity of vision as to God’s nature and no self-deception by clouding what the future will bring – I think heaven will be a place of eternal presence with God in a state of communal love. I will want to direct my will toward following God and I will do so freely, as He desired.
By way of analogy, I may have grown up as a smoker, which indulgence made stronger. Given a choice, I might always opt for a cigarette to take the edge off or to feel better. If my nature is improved, so that I see that smoking is harmful to me, I could eventually learn to give it up. After enough time, the craving for it might completely cease, replaced by a better way to deal with stress. At that point, though my desire for nicotine is gone, I have not lost my freedom, even though I use it to choose a healthy alternative. Finally, even if cigarettes are banned and no longer available, my free will remains. I simply won’t choose cigarettes, regardless of whether or not they are accessible to me, so nothing is lost.
Now, I think these views leave open the problem of why the angels fell initially, an interesting issue I do not address here, but which in a way leads to your second question: can we choose to sin in Heaven and thereby be sent to Hell. I think that the answer to that is probably yes, but given the above analysis no one who is saved - in whom God made a transforming work - would ever choose to do so. The Bible teaches that we live once, die once and face judgment. The Bible seems consistent in its message that this judgment is permanent. There is no suggestion that we can lose salvation once in heaven, as there is no possibility of bridging the divide from hell to heaven by starting to love God. So, it would seem that this swapping of heaven for hell is simply not going to occur. To use my analogy, seeing the ugliness of smoking as a way of life, and having through time and discipline eliminated my addiction, I am not ever going to be tempted to go back.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
But if the Christian worldview is correct, such apathy may itself be hazardous to one's spiritual health. Recently, I tried to make this case in a conversation with a skeptic. It went something like this:
“Let's say this was 50 years ago, and when I saw you, you were chain smoking cigarettes with your kids always nearby. I know where medical science is headed, so I tell you that you are hurting yourself, and your kids. You respond that no one can really know such things; after all, you can point to doctors who advertise cigarettes and smoke them themselves, and you feel fine when you smoke. I point to other doctors who think that it’s really bad for you. You respond, ‘See, it's a tie, so stop bothering me. Each believes what they were raised to believe, or what they want to believe.”
“Do you see,” I asked, “that the conflict between the doctors should not lead you to conclude that neither is right, or that the answer is not knowable? As a friend, should I keep trying to bring you back to the truth about cigarettes, or should I let you persist in believing something that is, in the end, hurting you and your loved ones?”
My friend’s response was not unexpected. It went like this: “Have you ever noticed how so many things are bad/wrong only at certain points in a cycle? Eat eggs, don't eat eggs; give your kids soy, soy is bad; babies should sleep on their backs, no their stomachs, no their sides, no their backs etc., etc. When my daughter was born I would put her on her back to sleep and when I left the room my mother would put her on her side and when my mother left the room my grandmother would put her on her stomach. Over time the answer comes full circle. Why go around and around with it? What I am saying is not just throw up your hands and quit; what I am saying is that I do what feels right to me and that is the best I can do. Sometimes I listen to friends (and doctors) and sometimes I don't. I think the "answer" to many of these things is unknowable.”
Fair enough. Some things are unknowable, and for some things, it doesn’t really matter. But that of course is the point of being thoughtful: deciding which is which. So, I conceded that for some things, the right answer might be "it doesn't matter." For example, a child might be equally safe on her side or her back. Eggs or soy might be good for you or bad, depending on your health and how much you eat. But for other things - like smoking - it will never “come back around.” Science will never say that smoking is good. It might say that it won't necessarily kill you, but not that it will "balance your humours" like they said 200 years ago.
"So," I concluded, "the trick is, which is this? Are questions of eternal life like laying a child on her side, or like smoking with my kids in the room? I hope you see the answer matters. If you were smoking 10 hours a day with your kids present, you would be harming them. Getting the right answer on that would matter. Getting the right answer on your relationship with God also matters, both to you and to the people you influence."
I don't think I persuaded her. As with smoking, not everyone bothers to read the warning label.
Monday, February 14, 2011
The Virgin Conception is Clearly Irrational
Skeptics often argue that the Christian claim related to the “Virgin Conception” is so patently irrational and scientifically impossible that it disqualifies Christianity from any intelligent discourse. Is this true, or is there something else at the heart of the discussion that is contaminating a fair analysis to begin with? Jim addresses this objection to Christianity and answers listener email related to the relationship between faith and “works” and related to the “inerrancy” of Scripture.
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"As I see it," I eventually responded, "eternal life isn't something I define. That it exists, I have little doubt. But what it entails? For that I need a source of knowledge. It cannot be reached through reason, because reason unaided has no access to it."
"So how can you be so sure you will achieve this 'eternal life'?" she countered.
"Actually, it not something that I will 'acquire' or 'achieve. 'It’s something I already have and that I will participate in, in some form or another, whether I want to or not. That's both good and bad news. The good news is obvious: this feeling that there is never enough – time, love, satisfaction, pleasure, that constant desire for “more” or for “better” – will eventually be fulfilled. The bad news, at least potentially, is that I may not like where I end up."
Scare tactics, her look betrayed. I pressed on. "Consider it this way: if I embark on a life of crime or drug addiction, I will eventually reap what I sow - nature has consequences built into it - and the place I find myself might not be pleasant. So too is eternal life, in my view. The 'I' part of me is eternal, even though my current body is not. That's why I say that I 'have' a body and not that I 'am' a body. Even linguistically, we realize that the 'I' part of us is something different - something ephemeral - than the physical part of us.”
So, I asked again, “How can you be indifferent about such a question?” I knew what her answer would be: "no one has the answers, and you are fooling yourself if you think someone does.” So, I tried not for the first time to personalize it: “But don't you think it’s worth an investigation by you? To satisfy yourself that you really can't know?”
“Take my drugs example,” I said. “Since you're young and healthy, you might be able to abuse drugs for quite some time without being harmed. You might be indifferent to whether using drugs is a good or bad idea. But how smart a move would it be for you to say that you really don't care what effect it will have on you in 20 years? Looking down the road to the consequence of our choices is something we all really need to do.”
Her smile told me that she was still not buying it. Perhaps she never will.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The next time someone tries to "relativize" an important discussion with you don't allow them to get away with it. When somebody says, "That's just your opinion", respond by saying, "Well, it's just your opinion that it's just my opinion." This should expose the flaw in their rhetoric and hopefully lead to a more fruitful conversation.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Why is that? Why is the modern secularist so confident that his soul does not need salvation? Many secularists will concede that there may indeed be a God, or many gods, but nonetheless they do not seem worried about how He will judge them. Most often, the answer you hear will be a variation of: I’m a good person, after all, and God will judge me accordingly.
There are dozens of definitions of “good” but for our purposes, let’s assume that most people mean in this context something along the lines of “morally excellent, virtuous or righteous.” God presumably will tally all the morally excellent, virtuous or righteous deeds they have done in their lives and this will tip the scales in favor of entry into heaven.
But this analogy, upon reflection, provides scant reassurance. After all, a scale is only used if there is something to be placed on the other side. Considering that selfishness is a big part of the human condition, and considering that an all-knowing God not only sees all our imperfections and failings, but sees them in His eternal present, then there is real cause to be concerned that our scale will quickly tip against us. Risking one's eternity on such calculations is not a wise bet, especially when the maker of the scale has provided a better alternative.
Polls tell us that an increasing percentage of Americans are obese. I suspect no one starts out hoping to achieve that result, given all the negative health consequences. Yet the human capacity for self-deception is great. We ignore the evidence of our eyes, and of the scale, as we continue to feel "pretty good" about ourselves, and we blithely ignore the bulging beltline that displays our self-deception.
So, too, it seems with eternal things. Banking on our ability to keep the scale tipped in our favor - on the side of "good" outweighing bad - simply fails to consider how a perfect God views our behavior. Like the battle of the bulge, the struggle is incremental. We may do much that is good, but trying to make this case to a perfect God and demand admission to his presence based on having earned it is a decidedly reckless approach.
The good news of course is that the One who made the scale, and who will do the judging, has given us the means to stay in perfect balance. But to do so, we must place our trust in Him.
Monday, February 07, 2011
You’re Only A Christian Because You Were Raised In a Christian Environment
Skeptics argue that Christians believe Christianity is true simply because they were raised in a Christian culture. If believers were raised in a Muslim culture (according to the skeptics), they would believe that Islam is true with the same passion and certainty they have for Christianity. Jim responds to this common objection and answers listener email related to the “hidden” nature of God, the pre-requisites of creation and dualism, and the evidence for a young earth.
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Sunday, February 06, 2011
Needless to say, a conversation with such a person won't get very far, as he or she filters everything through this lens of skepticism. There's no sure-fire way to overcome this obstacle - at least not that I have found - but breaking down the objection to see what it really entails is a good first move. And when you do this, you quickly see that the "Santa Factor" is really just a variant of the "straw man" fallacy. By caricaturing Christianity to be a montage of strange concepts - eating "flesh and blood," "virgin birth" and many other paradoxes - it is easy for the skeptic to conclude he is dealing with make-believe, without ever really considering the merits of the case.
So, let's take a closer look at the analogy. Santa, of course, is the supposed source of the gifts found under Christmas trees every Christmas morning. This explanation works for small children - giving them a wonderful period of anticipation and their parents a lever for a bit of behavior modification as kids struggle to remain on the "nice" list - but a moment's reflection as a child matures would reveal that no one person could possibly build and deliver an endless stream of worldwide gifts. Not to mention keeping straight who gets what.
But backing up a bit, discovering that there is no Santa is not cause for concluding that there are no gifts under the tree, or that they appeared on their own. No, logic dictates that someone put the gifts there, someone with knowledge of the child, access to the home, and knowledge of the child's wishlist.
Finding an adequate explanation for the "presents under our tree" - the universe, a planet fine-tuned to support us, the existence of life, consciousness and intelligence, and of beauty and morality - should be the task of the skeptic. Which worldview has a better explanation for all this? Atheistic naturalism may have made sense in Darwin's day, when the universe was thought to be infinite in duration and DNA was not even suspected as the reason life displays such ordered variation. But today, astrophysicists tell us that the universe arose from nothing 14 billions years ago - it began to exist, meaning something preceded it to set it in motion. Biologists seek to make sense of the tremendous body of information that is encoded in DNA. And information, of course, requires an intelligent source. But this is just a fraction of what needs to be explained: for instance, how can the atheist explain the origin of life? If even the simplest form of cellular life contains millions of lines of DNA code, believing that it magically assembled itself from inert matter is, well, just as difficult to swallow as Santa making it down the chimney. The list of questions continues: where does human intelligence come from? Since we are interested in truth - the secularist doesn't want to be mislead with Santa stories - how is truth grounded? Why isn't it relative, like a person's taste preferences? Why do we have free will? If the universe determines all outcomes, as the secularist believes, then the free will we all intuitively recognize we possess is simply an illusion.
In the end, it really does take more blind - uncritical -faith to accept the secular view. The Christian worldview, by contrast, holds that an infinite, personal and loving God created this universe, and us, for a purpose, and then revealed Himself to us in history. He did this in a way that provided evidence - largely in the form of personal testimony by witnesses who were so sure of what they saw and experienced that they suffered martyrdom rather than deny it.
Contrasting the two worldviews in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but the case is well made on the PleaseConvinceMe website here.
Will this overcome the Santa Factor? It should, if the skeptic really gives it a fair hearing. But that of course depends on the skeptic and how open he is to seeing through his little game of make-believe.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
One common source, in my experience, is what can be called the Santa Factor. This is the belief that Christians are simply deluding themselves when they believe in a God who will “deliver presents” to them when they die. Talking to skeptics about the rewards God has in store for those who place their trust in Him has little impact. It seems as real to them as the prospect of Santa leaving presents under their tree.
I had this confirmed recently in a conversation with an unbeliever. Seeing her indifference, I told her I felt like I was trying to talk to her about what presents she was hoping for from Santa, while she was just hanging back, secretly laughing at the absurdity of the whole concept. “It’s like I’m trying to list the reasons that there is a North Pole and flying reindeer,” I said, “and you are just politely nodding and wondering why so many people believe this ... nonsense.” I asked her whether that was close to what she thought, and her reply was a candid "yes." She thought the analogy to Santa was a perfect one, she said, one that captured her feelings in a very precise way.
Once this mindset is made clear, it’s easy to understand why my arguments gain no traction. Despite the soundness of the logic used in building my case for Christianity, to the unbeliever I might as well be trying to explain how elves could conceivably build toys or how reindeer might possess gravity-altering organs. Since there are many reasons to believe that there is no Santa, and no reasons to believe the contrary, that conversation ends before it begins.
I have, as yet, found no sure-fire way to overcome this Santa Factor. I'd be interested to hear from any apologists who have. I do believe there is a necessary first step, however, and that is to show the skeptic that the Santa Factor is actually a variant of the "straw man" fallacy. Setting up a straw man involves defining the other side's argument in an unfair or misleading way, and then concluding that you have the better argument when you knock down this "straw man." When skeptics think of Christianity, they often picture a combination of strange images - Father Time with his flowing white beard, angels dancing on the heads of pins, virgin births, cannibalism, and strange "miracles." A jumble of such images leaves the skeptic feeling comfortable rejecting the whole of Christianity as based on primitive superstitions and beliefs.
But this, of course, is not what thinking Christians are talking about when they defend the faith. Christianity is instead based on history, on evidence and on reason. In the end, faith transcends these factors, but faith remains solidly rooted in them. Christianity makes betters sense of the world than all the other competing worldviews. It provides answers that other worldviews can't provide.
The Santa analogy lends itself to making this point. After all, even when the Santa "straw man" is knocked down, there still remain presents under the tree whose source needs to be explained.
In my next post, I'll offer a suggestion as to where next to take the conversation.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
You Can't Trust the Biased Gospels
All the supposed eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus were Christians. Why should we trust them when they were clearly biased? Jim answers this atheist objection, discusses a tactic to energize the teaching of apologetics in the Church and responds once again to listener email about young earth creationism.
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