Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Conclusion

How shall we conclude Enlightenment Now? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Starting at around p. 420, Pinker goes into theistic morality and says it has two flaws. The first is that there’s no evidence God exists. This certainly would deal with theistic morality, but his case is weak. He relies on his wife in her work Thirty-Six Arguments For The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. Call me a masochist, but I have ordered it from the library anyway.

Pinker says these claims also often lead to different gods and different Scriptures and different miracles. That is because there is a limit to metaphysics. Metaphysics can show you that some being like God exists. Metaphysics cannot show you how He has revealed Himself. Reason alone can only tell you so much. A man can sit in an armchair all day with nothing but reason and he will never learn historical claims about Alexander the Great.

Pinker then repeats about Scriptures and how they’re human products. (Obviously, everyone in the Middle Ages believed they fell from the sky) There is no interaction with any historical scholarship on this matter. So what about other arguments for God?

The cosmological and ontological arguments are logically invalid. Evidence or demonstration of this? Not a bit. That’s all that’s said. Design was refuted by Darwin. Again, not a bit. Even granting Darwinism, design classically has been about things working towards an end and not internal make-up. He also comes up with some ludicrous escape hatch such as people saying the resurrection was too cosmically important for God to allow to be empirically verified. (In meeting with Mike Licona yesterday, I asked him if he had ever read such a bizarre statement and he had not.)

He goes on to say many theistic beliefs came about as explanations of the weather and other such phenomena. No evidence is given of this. He also says that God of the Gaps is always there for Christians. As one who does not use scientific apologetics, I find this incredibly weak. In the Middle Ages, it was the Christians filling in the gaps and they never once thought they were putting God out of a job. They were thinking more about how God did things. The whole mindset assumes God cannot act through secondary instrumental means.

Naturally, something is said about theodicy. There is no recognizing that the logical problem of evil has been defeated and this to the satisfaction of atheistic philosophers. That is not to say there is not a problem of evil advanced by them, but it is not the logical problem. Pinker does not seem aware of any of this.

He speaks also about fine-tuning. I am not an advocate of it, but his replies are quite lacking. He says we are in a universe we can live in not because it was tuned for life, but because we exist it shows it is that kind of universe. Well, yes. That’s the question. Why is it that kind of universe and not another? This is the sharpshooter fallacy on Pinker’s part.

The multiverse is also brought forward as an explanation. I find it bizarre to say you will answer the question of how one universe got here by saying that you know how a potentially infinite number got here. Imagine a police officer investigating a homicide with one dead body in one place. Another officer comes to him and says he’s solved it. The answer is there are 500 altogether in another place. That would not explain the one. If you cannot explain one, how would you explain 500?

We also don’t have access, but notice an atheist will want to go this either way. If we could access these and find they had life, “Well see. Life is nothing really special. God doesn’t exist.” If they do not, we will be told “Well see. Life is a fluke thing. God doesn’t exist.” This is one reason I find this approach so problematic. The objections are not really scientific but theological. It’s saying that if God designed a universe, He would make it full of life for some reason that is unknown. How is this known?

There is some material on consciousness as well. There is no interaction with Near-Death Experiences. It is as if Pinker did not really do any research, except perhaps reading people who already agree with him.

Of course, Pinker brings up the Euthyphro dilemma in talking about theism. The second problem with the morality to him is Euthyphro. He says the main benefit theistic morality has is its enforcement. It does have that, but I think it’s main benefit it has is it provides a grounding.

I have written before on Euthyphro and the problem applies just as much to the skeptic. Is behavior good because society says it is or does society say it is because it is good? Is behavior good because it benefits mankind or does it benefit mankind because it is good? Pinker needs some grounding for goodness. It’s not there. How is it that this universe that is supposedly an accident has these standards of goodness?

Pinker also talks about the nones. The problem is he equates all nones with agnostics or atheists. That’s a simplistic way of looking at them. The Nones are an incredibly difficult group to pin down. More can be found here and here. Much more in-depth is the work by Bradley Wright.

As we conclude Pinker’s book, I walk away disappointed. On the plus side, there is a lot of good material in the middle. It is material that is fine with either worldview for the most part. It is the claims he makes in parts 1 and 3 that are the most problematic. We’ll see what we find when the book he recommended on the existence of God comes in at the library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 7

Does God exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to David Pye’s book and this time he has a chapter on the existence of God. Pye is not ready to say he’s an atheist yet, but he does lean more towards that side. This isn’t a really long chapter, though it does seem longer than others. The downside is that real evidence is not engaged. There’s more thought experiments than anything else.

Pye starts by talking about how The God Delusion came out which presented the case for atheism with great force and clarity. With great force, we can agree. With clarity, we cannot. Dawkins did not write a convincing work at all and a number of atheists even agree with that one. It will be agreed that he at least brought a debate mainstream, but even now the new atheists seem to be a thing of the past.

One of the first pieces of evidence for theism that Pye presents is people saying that they know God. “Jesus indeed rose from the dead. I spoke with Him this morning!” I really do not take arguments like that seriously any more than I take the Mormon claim of the burning in the bosom seriously.

I agree with Pye also that this seems to be the inside language in the church. I don’t think it does any good and wish that older Christians would stop because I think it just confuses younger ones. Go look in your Bible and see all the passages where it tells you how to hear the voice of God. Oh wait. They’re not there.

From here, Pye goes on to the rise of science. He says that over time religious explanations have been replaced by scientific explanations. It’s a shame no examples are given. We can be sure that there were many people in a polytheistic context who tried to explain such things, but did they invent deities to do that, or were the deities already there believed to do the things that needed explaining?

As for Christianity, the Christians were the ones trying to find the scientific explanations many times. Science was being done often in the Middle Ages. Finding a natural explanation for something was not seen as removing God from the picture. It was seen as a way of demonstrating how the mind of God works.

The idea of science removing faith might work if you have an idea of a God who must be constantly doing miracles or such to maintain reality. That is not the Christian position. It is true that God upholds all existence by His power, but He also does it through many instrumental means and not through a constant working of the miraculous.

He tells a story about a little boy seeing the sun and realizing no man made that. He points out this story would be convincing 30 years ago, but not today, but why? What did we discover? There is often this idea that if you find a natural explanation for something, there can be no greater explanation. I see no reason to think such a thing. A natural explanation can show the genius of the creator.

Pye then goes on to ask if disbelief in God is evil. He compares it to the Loch Ness monster. Perhaps someone is not convinced by the evidence. Does that mean their denial is evil? Unfortuantely, the Loch Ness monster comes with no moral requirements of such a nature. If God exists and especially the Christian God, one is called to live a life of dying to one’s self and self-surrender.

This leads to Pascal’s Wager. He quotes Dawkins as saying that Pascal must have been joking. We can be sure that Dawkins has never read Pascal. Pascal in the wager was speaking to the man who has heard both sides and is just sitting on the fence and has his emotional doubt creeping in.

Pascal in this case does advise what is called “Fake it until you make it.” Pye says God would not be fooled, but such a person is not trying to fool God. Such a person really wants to believe. It is like the person in exposure therapy who tries to face his fears. He really does want to face them. He doesn’t feel like it the first time, but he wants to get there. A woman who has gone through abuse can have a hard time trusting her husband, especially sexually, but if she wants to, she will face even if she doesn’t feel like it.

Pye also says that the criterion listed is that God will judge based on belief, but this is assuming Pascal would not encourage a holy life anyway. Of course, he would. This is kind of like people who say an argument for God does not work because it does not prove the Christian God. So what? God is shown and theism is shown to be true then.

By the way, earlier in this chapter, Dawkins is quoted saying the non-existence of God cannot be shown. This is nonsense. This is not to say it can be established, but if one could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God, then God could not exist.

Pye also has some material about word associations. We often associate good things with theism and bad things with atheism. This is interesting, but it really says nothing about the existence of God.

From there we get into discussions about omnipotence. The classic question is brought forward of if God can create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it. I will gladly answer this.

No.

What? Isn’t that a denial of omnipotence?

Not at all. What it is saying is God cannot make a contradictory state of affairs. God cannot make it be that something surpasses His power over the physical world. Pye can often quote Lewis. He should remember Lewis also said nonsense doesn’t become sense just because you add the words “God can” to it.

Pye thinks it’s nonsensical to say “I believe God was able to raise Jesus from the dead” and then say “I believe God can heal your Psoriasis.” Why is it nonsense? Just becuase the greater entails the lesser? The person who says this is saying it because the other person really does have doubts and they want to encourage. Whether it’s the right thing to say is another matter. That it entails a problem with doubt is not established.

Finally, Pye ends with a note on solar eclipses. He notes that our planet is the only one we know of in such a relationship to its moon that it has solar eclipses. He has not seen this argument he says used for theism. Pye has not looked hard enough.

If you’ve been paying attention, you notice a few problems here overall. The only evidence really given for theism other than personal experience at the start is solar eclipses. No Kalam argument is given or interacted with. Moral arguments are not. Thomistic arguments are not. The arguments from desire and beauty are not.

As I think about it, it looks like we have a lot of psychology. There is much more thinking about why people believe things instead of the evidence for those beliefs. Hopefully in the future Pye will interact with the best arguments on both sides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 15

Has evolution dumbed us down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered. We’re going to return today with looking at his chapter in reply to Nancy Pearcey. The theme is that evolution dumbs us down. Pearcey argues that Darwinism eventually leads to pragmatism and postmodernism since all our ideas are products of evolution. This is reminiscent of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I have no wish to defend or critique the argument here.

Let’s get to what I do disagree with. Jelbert says that Pearcey gets wrong what atheism is. Atheism is not saying that there is no God. It is saying that a person does not believe there is a god. He goes on to say that this is important because it determines the burden of proof. One supposedly can’t prove that there is no God, just like you can’t prove there is no tooth fairy.

Well, these people disagree:

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Ultimately, I find this a dodge. The atheist is just saying that he doesn’t believe and the burden is automatically on the theist and if the theist doesn’t prove his claim sufficiently, the atheist is justified. Would the same be said to a person who is leaning towards a flat Earth and says “I’m not saying the world is flat. I’m just saying I don’t find sufficient reason to believe that it’s round.”? Would the same be said to the person who is arguing against evolution? Jelbert’s position should be considered more agnosticism, but then the burden needs to be placed on the atheist and the theist both. Whoever makes a claim has a burden.

It’s also a problem because let’s suppose that the claim “God exists” is true. In this case, theism is true, being the proposition that “God exists” is an accurate description of reality. On the other hand, let’s suppose that there are still atheists who say they lack God belief. In this universe, Theism could be true, in that God exists, and atheism could be true, in that people still lack God belief. This is something nonsensical though since atheism and theism are contradictories and contradictories cannot be be true. Theism is not making a statement about a subjective belief but about reality. If that is so, the denial of that statement is not making a statement about subjective belief, but reality.

And also, yes, God can hypothetically be disproven. One could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. That’s the way we disprove the idea of a square circle. That’s why there are such things also as the problem of evil that if they don’t disprove God, they at least try to show that God is highly unlikely.

Jelbert goes on to say that the big revolution of science was the freedom to say you don’t know something. Thus, you can try to find it out empirically. At this, one has to wonder if Jelbert has done any real looking into the medieval period. Empirical investigation was nothing new. It was being done. Scientists were trying to find natural explanations for most everything.

Jelbert then says that until God presents Himself for experimentation, we have no other recourse than naturalism, but why should I think that? This isn’t a scientific explanation but a theological one. If there is a God, then He would present Himself for scientific experimentation to us. Why should anyone think that?

“Doesn’t God want us to know He exists?” Why? What if God’s stance is sufficient evidence has already been given? What if He wants people to come to Him who want to know Him and not just treat Him like an object of trivia? What if He’s looking for people who are disciples?

But Jelbert has an example of this! Prayer experiments! Prayer experiments have not found prayer to be effective. Somehow, theists always have an excuse for God’s indolence!

Indolence?

That’s an odd way of putting it. The word refers to laziness or sloth. I’m sorry. We performed an experiment and God was obligated to play along? God is not like a machine where if you push A, B happens. There are no guarantees. Any married man should understand this. What your wife will like one time, she could find just annoying the next time.

Besides that, there are always too many variables. How do you know no one else is praying for a person in an experiment? How is the faith of each person involved in praying for a sick person? There is too much we don’t know, and from what we don’t know, we’re able to somehow make great leaps in logic. I’ve never been impressed by the idea of prayer experiments and having those tested. (Not to mention, there’s this little thing in the Bible about not putting God to the test.)

Pearcey goes on to say that each worldview gives an account of origins. Jelbert says that this is not correct. Scientists are fine with saying they don’t know and do not have undue concern for the origins of the universe. This must be news to Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking. He also says theists had ages to preach their truth with fervor only to adjust their position because of science. With this, Jelbert is perpetuating the myth of the warfare between science and religion. Yes. The conflict hypothesis is a great myth. It is recommended that Jelbert look at resources like Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science.

Pearcey also says that morality is always derivative from one’s worldview. Jelbert says this seems to contradict chapter 2 where absolute morality could demonstrate that there is a God. Pearcey is, however, right. What one believes about morality involves their whole worldview. Also, I don’t think Copan is saying morality proves that there is a God, but rather it gives strong evidence and he thinks God is the best explanation.

In closing, I have to say that yes, this isn’t meant as a proof of God, but a part of a cumulative case. I do agree that if the science is that evolution is true, we have to accept that and not just look to the consequences, but i think many times in his response Jelbert has made a number of philosophical and historical errors. Largely, having so many chapters endorsing the conflict hypothesis doesn’t really help. (And in all fairness, scientific apologetics doesn’t really impress me anyway.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Evidence Considered Chapter 11: The Origin of Life

Does the difficulty of the origin of life provide evidence for theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert with chapter 11 of his book Evidence Considered. In this chapter, he looks at Walter Bradley and his arguments concerning the origin of life. As many of you know, my area of expertise is not the sciences so I will not be speaking on science as science.

I also do have a problem when Christians look at this as a necessity in that if we find a materialistic way that life can come about, then it’s game over. If that is the case, then God’s role in our system is to be a gap-filler and the only way he can create is through direct fiat creation. We already have a way where he does not do that which we will be commenting on later. When I reviewed Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation this was something I noticed from Fuz Rana.

If evolutionary mechanisms possess such capabilities, then believers and nonbelievers alike wonder, what role is a Creator to play? For example, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins quipped, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” I debated developmental biologist Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a well-known atheist and author of the award-winning blog Pharyngula, at North Dakota State University on Darwin Day, February 12, 2015, on the question of God’s existence. One of the key points Myers made was, in effect, evolution can explain everything in biology, so why do I need to believe in God?” (P. 129)

And

The key lesson from my interaction with Myers (and other atheists) is that to make a case for a creator and the Christian faith, it is incumbent on us to (1) distinguish our models from those that are materialistic and (2) identify places where God has intervened in life’s history. If we cannot, it is hard to convince skeptics that a creator exists. (Ibid.)

Rana, as well as his opponents, are both doing theology. Notice in this that there is nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. There is also nothing about metaphysical arguments. This feeds the whole conflict hypothesis where there is a conflict between science and religion necessarily and that science is the arbiter of if God exists or not. I have no wish to concede that ground.

This isn’t a scientific stance. It’s a theological one, and one has to ask the atheist especially how he scientifically establishes what it is that God would do? I contend that such is impossible and it’s really just bad theology. This doesn’t show that God exists, but it is important to show that science cannot determine that.

So let’s look at the chapter now.

Jelbert makes the claim early on that deism is much closer to theism. He will give an argument for this later on. This is said because Bradley says the origin of life problem is causing atheists and deists to become theists. I am sure this happens with some, but I have no reason to question what Jelbert says about the majority not converting to theism.

Jelbert also says the difficulty to account for this makes it an argument from incredulity. Jelbert later says in this chapter that there are many arguments Bradley does not interact with, but in fairness to Bradley, there are places where he has. One example is in Lee Strobel’s The Case For Faith. I don’t say this to say that Bradley’s arguments work or are persuasive. I leave that to the scientists. I say it to say that he has covered these elsewhere and an essay in a book with 50 such essays cannot be expected to give a full synopsis.

If one is presented with several materialistic hypotheses and does find them all lacking and one thinks they have positive evidence of intelligence, then this is not an argument from incredulity. I think an argument like that is much more like what is said by many atheists on the problem of evil with “Why would God allow evil X to occur?” If one does not know, it does not follow that there is no reason. It only follows that we are not omniscient.

As he goes on, he gets to deism being closer to atheism than theism. I am not convinced of this. Deism also provides an ontological foundation for the origins of the universe and for the transcendentals like goodness, truth, and beauty. Jelbert regularly looks to God’s functions instead of His nature to make his case.

There’s also this idea that if it is God, we have no need to search. He points to embryology as an example since David speaks about being formed in his mother’s womb. We know so much about embryology so this is false apparently. I do not see how. This is the example I was speaking about earlier. Aside from the virgin birth, which I do affirm, there is no instance of fiat creation and even in the former case, once the conception took place, the normal materialistic processes took over.

The idea seems to be then that if we can show a materialistic way that something came about, God did not bring it about, with the implication being that God could not or would not use materialistic means to do something. No reason is given for this claim. To give examples, let’s take some scenarios.

Picture the Red Sea event during the Exodus. Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that this is a true historical event which an atheist will not grant. The sea parts and the Israelites pass through and it closes over the Egyptians. Suppose you find out that this happened because of a wind and this has happened before. Therefore, it is no miracle. Not at all! The miracle is not just that it happened, but when it happened.

Jelbert later says about Bradley that he is claiming certainty where it does not exist and searching for God in arenas that have little evidence available. Yet if this is so, why is there so much about science here and so many theological claims built around science? If science has little information available for the debate, why should it be the arbiter of the debate? Would it be better for us to go through philosophical and especially metaphysical evidences?

Again, note the position I am in. You could dispatch of Bradley’s argument and I’m fine because the metaphysical arguments for God and the historical argument for Jesus will still stand. Yet what about Jelbert? What if Bradley was right? Would Jelbert be in trouble? If so, Jelbert is letting science be the arbiter as said, and this in an arena with little evidence.

Jelbert is also then doing what he accuses Bradley of. Bradley is in essence marrying theism to science if he bases his case on this. (I do not know if he does or not.) If that is problematic, what if Jelbert does the same and makes his atheism dependent on the gaps being found out supposedly? It was said years ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow. If Jelbert wishes to base atheism on the science of the day and if a Christian wishes to base his theism on it, that’s their choice, but I think I’ll stick with philosophy and metaphysics that have been faithful to their cause for millennia.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

Does atheism account for the data? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 7, Jelbert responds to another essay of David Wood on explanatory scope of worldviews. It’s about God, suffering, and Santa Claus. Many children believe Santa Claus puts presents under the tree because our parents say so and we tend to think they’re reliable. Okay. Some of us might have better reasons for believing in such phenomena than others.

Wood’s main point is that atheism is not an explanation and when the gifts show up, who do you think? Theism has great explanatory power on the other hand and if the only problem is suffering, there are more than enough reasons for that. So what does Jelbert say?

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

The ancient Egyptians saw the brute fact of the sun rising each day. They explained that this occurred because Khepri, the scarab god, would push the sun across the sky ahead of him like a beetle pushing a ball of dung. It is unclear whether the ancient Egyptians ever took this “explanation” seriously, but the point is clear; a divine explanation is no explanation at all.

It really is a wonder that a paragraph such as this is typed. Jelbert wants us to look and say that this is obvious nonsense, but is it really? If you are an ancient Egyptian, do you not want to explain things some way? If you know of no other explanation, what is wrong with a divine one?

Jelbert says that a divine explanation is no explanation at all, but this is most certainly false. There are plenty of arguments for atheism. I do not consider them true arguments and fewer still are good arguments, but they are at least arguments. There are many explanations for how life came from non-life and while it is quite likely that some of them are false, they are still explanations. Even if something is seen as a bad explanation, a bad explanation is still by definition, an explanation.

If Jelbert wants to say that it is clear that this doesn’t explain things, he would need to show how. Has he demonstrated that there is no god named Kherpi pushing the sun? Perhaps Kherpi is invisible and has a superpower that we mistake to be a natural law like a character in a comic book. Do I think this is true? Not at all. Could Jelbert prove that it is isn’t? Doubtful.

Furthermore, this assumes that all divine explanations are equal. Why should I think that? Could it be some cases of theism have more explanatory power than do others? Is it a stretch to say that there’s more evidence backing the New Testament being true than there is backing the Book of Mormon being true? If Aristotle’s natural theology can end in a deity very similar to that of the three great monotheistic faiths, could it be because there was some explanatory power to that and the evidence led that way?

Not only this, if Jelbert is saying that divine explanations are not explanations, then is he not begging the question? He would like to say he’s open for evidence of God, but God would certainly have to explain something if He existed. Yet if Jelbert says that an explanation of God would explain nothing, then He is asking us to give something that doesn’t exist, mainly an explanation that cannot explain and yet have it be something that explains the data to him.

To base this on one example would be like looking at a fossil that has been seen to be a fraud in defense of evolution and then say, “Well as you can see, an evolutionary explanation is no explanation at all.” Jelbert would rightly say “Yes. That was wrong, but look at all this other data here for this better explanation!” I agree, and I will do the same for theism.

Jelbert goes on to say that for thousands of years, humans thought they had all the answers and all the explanations. No scientific advance was needed. That’s why they were resisted. I wish to know what history Jelbert is reading. If he thinks that during the medieval period they were only discussing theology and philosophy, he is badly mistaken. Often, the argument he’s using comes with this graphic:

Such a graphic though shows an abject ignorance of the medieval period and one that I suspect Jelbert has never really looked into. We cannot know because Jelbert cites no historians of the period here. All of this is just asserted, it’s almost like Jelbert wants us to take him by faith. I reserve the faith for the atheists. I prefer to check to see the evidence first.

Tim O’Neill is quite good at dealing with this. As he says on his blog:

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked this bullshit up from other websites and popular books and collapse as soon as you hit them with some hard evidence. I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Jelbert here could complain that I have just pulled into the debate another Christian apologist so why take the claim seriously? He could say that, but he would be wrong. O’Neill is no Christian apologist. In fact, he’s actually an atheist.

The point is the Christians in the medieval period were indeed busy trying to find explanations. Sometimes they were right explanations. Sometimes they were not. I would like Jelbert to find the time where the medievals explained scientific conundrums simply by saying “God did it.” If he can’t, then Jelbert has bought into a theory of history without any evidence. Perhaps by his standard he has an explanation that is no explanation at all.

Jelbert does take this kind of approach as he says that science comes to explain things that we used to explain with deities. Perhaps some did, but where are the Christians doing this? He does say that many Christians just move on to the next scientific difficulty. Right now, the big argument is that God tunes the universal constants. What happens when another explanation is found for that?

Dare I say it, but I agree here. I do not use the fine-tuning argument because first off, I do not understand the science behind it. If someone does, they are free to use it. However, even if I did understand the science, if I used it, I would not use it alone. I would never hang my theism on a scientific argument. I think it’s wrong to hang any worldview on any scientific argument. This is why I use the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas that are untouched by science.

Jelbert goes on to look at Wood’s question asking if we should reject an explanation that explains the data. Jelbert says that the answer is yes. He points to pseudo-science. Unfortunately, he does not give any examples and this is just a way of begging the question. Jelbert says we reject hypotheses when they make predictions that fail, but what failing prediction does he have in mind? Furthermore, if it fails at a prediction, it’s not really an explanatory hypothesis so Wood is still safe.

Jelbert’s next statement is again worth quoting in full.

And what of Wood’s idea that atheism explains nothing? If we include all scientific discovery in this (Which is reasonable because science is a naturalistic endeavor), it is hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement.)

The reality is it’s hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement than Jelbert’s! Why should we say science is a naturalistic endeavor? What about atheism is essential to science? A Christian and an atheist can do the exact same experiment in the lab. Their worldview does not affect the outcome. We could easily imagine a world where there are only Christians and the science would work the same way. We could easily imagine a world where there are only atheists and the science would work the same way.

Jelbert is also confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. The use of the former does not entail the latter and even still the former is a difficult term to define. Can it be that if any scientist looks at the data and thinks that it looks like a deity has been involved, that he has ceased to do science? What would he think of Fred Hoyle’s statement that

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

If a scientist says something like this, are they automatically excluded? It’s hard to not think of Lewontin’s statement.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

It amazes me that so many atheists ask for scientific evidence for God, which I consider to be a category fallacy really, and then rule out any science that points to God. It’s also a problem because what if God is the explanation? If so, then we are doing science at the outset that cannot reach the truth because we have ruled out the truth in advance based not on science, but on philosophy, and bad philosophy at that.

Still, Jelbert will look at the questions and one question is why is there a world at all? Jelbert says that if we want to ask the purpose, we have to consider everything, including the evil in the world, which Wood thinks is better explained by a good God. I find this quite fascinating.

You see, when Jelbert looks at Wood’s claim, Wood has to look and consider all the data and consider all possible explanations. When Wood gives a claim, Jelbert is only willing to consider naturalistic explanations. Why does Jelbert say we have to consider everything, but he himself doesn’t?

We also have to ask is evil an exception or is it the norm? Dare I say it, but quite likely Jelbert wakes up in a warm bed every morning, has food in his refrigerator, drives from place to place, has a home where he has air conditioning and heating and cable TV and the internet, and goes through every day not fearing for his life. Does he really want to say that good is the exception and not evil?

As I have said also, if we go to other cultures where suffering is much more prevalent, they do not really talk about the problem of evil. I suspect more of us do because we have a sort of entitlement mindset. We think that we are owed a certain kind of life.

Jelbert then says that if it’s individual purpose, we have to create our own, but he prefers his as an atheist more than as a Christian. Conclusion? By most measures atheists have a better explanation. Ah yes. We used the great sample of one and came to a conclusion of all atheists. Well let’s go with this.

I as a Christian have a great purpose in my life that is a Christian purpose. If I went and asked my wife and she agreed with me for herself, then that would be two. By Jelbert’s standards then, Christians have a better explanation. Does that seem ridiculous to you? It is.

Something Jelbert never seems to ask is why do we ask the question anyway? Why do we think that there is a purpose? What is this longing in us that thinks that we are actually supposed to matter? Do we really matter? If we don’t really, why live like we do? Why deny reality?

He then goes on to the question of why the universe is fine-tuned. He chalks it up to selection bias, but this seems odd. Nature has a bias? Jelbert in doing this has just taken nature and made it his deity. He also presents the fallacious argument that if we are here to observe it, then the universe must be fine-tuned to evolve and support life. This is like the case of being sentenced to death tied to a stake and facing you are fifty sharpshooters with laser scopes on their rifles. Somehow, they all miss and the official in charge says that divine favor must be on your side and lets you go. When asked why it happened you say “Well of course it did, because I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t!” Yet this is the very thing to explain. Most of us would think the game had to be rigged somehow.

As for diversity, that is explained by evolution. Now here’s another problem for Jelbert. I could happily accept evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Evolution is not a problem to my theism. The problem is as has been said, Jelbert has to accept it. It’s the only game in town.

You see, for me, I happen to think that we know a lot more about the gestation process than our ancestors did. We know that there is no divine intervention involved every time a woman gets pregnant. Does that change the truth of the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. God using a naturalistic process does not change Him being behind the process and the great mind that developed it. I consider evolution in the same light.

Jelbert says that Wood has no explanation, but Wood does. Jelbert can’t just throw out God as an explanation entirely. Wood could easily say “I do not know the specifics of how God brought about the diversity of life, but I see enough evidence for Him so I know He did it and if He does exist, then He is behind it somehow.”

Jelbert goes on to ask that if scientists discovered how abiogenesis takes place, where would that leave the theist? For me, it would leave me in the exact same place. It would not be a problem. God is never meant to be a stopgap. I could instead ask Jelbert, what if it doesn’t come up? Jelbert has a lot more hanging on the science than I do.

What about miracles? Does God explain those? Jelbert says that there are conflicting miracle claims in many religions. It would have been nice if we had been told these claims. For instance, Christianity would happily accept the miracles of Judaism. They’re part of our Old Testament. Islam meanwhile claims no miracle except the Koran. Miracles that show up in the hadith later on are quite likely not historical and the Koran admits many miraculous things about Jesus.

What about other religions? Pantheistic systems like Hinduism don’t explain miracles because all is God. What is behind the miracles? Is God changing God? This certainly doesn’t work where the extra-material world is an illusion. What of Buddhism? Buddhism seeks to break people away from attachment to the world. Miracles make no sense here either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I do not rule out miracles in other religions because they are in other religions. I actually have this strange idea. Let’s go with a case by case study and look at the evidence for a claim before we decide if it’s true or not. I realize this goes against the atheistic position of ruling them out a priori, but that is just what you do when you go by the evidence. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in the miracle claim, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in it, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

What about the idea that some miracles are the work of demonic powers such as the devil? Jelbert says that we need to be able to scribe to the devil a very devious mind if we hold this. I don’t think it will take a lot to convince Christians of that. This is someone Jesus said in John 8 was a liar from the beginning and is a murderer and no truth is found in him.

Jelbert also says it’s amazing so many people were born into the right religion, but does this not go against his science? Jelbert just happened to be born in the right part of the world where they have scientific explanations instead of theistic ones. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? This is simply the genetic fallacy.

Jelbert does present the evidence of Sai Baba as a miracle worker. He says that we dismiss the claims and say he was just a con man. I have not looked at the claims so I cannot say. I can say I would not just dismiss them. If evidence can be shown that he was a con man, then that does damage the evidence for miracles. He goes on to say that the Gospel writers were not witnesses of what they wrote, but reported other traditions uncritically. In later chapters he looks at the historical Jesus, so we will deal with this then. Shortly here, we could simply recommend the newest edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jelbert does give a source here some and that source is Wells. Wells was not and is not a New Testament scholar. In fact, for some time, he held to mythicism. It is a wonder why Jelbert takes someone like that seriously, but it is quite likely any port in a storm.

Jelbert does say the New Testament has Jesus doing miracles such as raising the dead and feeding miraculously which were done by Elisha. Well of course! What does he expect? Jesus is doing reenactment and showing that He is greater than Elisha while staying in the tradition of Elisha. Of course, Jesus healed the blind as well and that didn’t happen in the past, but I suppose we just speak where it did happen and ignore where it didn’t.

He goes on to quote Wells saying that the letters of Paul don’t mention miracles. Why should they? The letters are not biographies. They are written to tell of the life of Jesus. The only reason to mention a miracle is that it is relevant to the needs of the people. Are we to think that telling the story of the multiplication of food would somehow help the Corinthians deal with food offered to idols?

We do need to go into some more New Testament as Jelbert does look at the appearances. Jelbert points to an evolutionary development based on the number of appearances, but how does this mesh? The account with the most experiences by far is the first one, the found in 1 Cor. 15. Still, this is discussed more in later chapters so we will deal with it then.

Jelbert then concludes that atheists can be thankful for their existence, their families, their friends, and all that these entail, but I want to know, thankful to whom? Jelbert has no one to thank for his existence and if he wishes to say the universe, then the universe has become the deity. If the universe needs an explanation, who could the universe thank?

In the end, I have to agree with Mike Licona on this, that methodological naturalism can often be a safe space for atheists. I, meanwhile, as a Christian theist can accept science happily and have no problem. I could accept the explanations of evolution and such given in this chapter and my worldview in Christian theism is not altered one iota. Jelbert could not say the same about theism.

We’ll continue next time looking more at science itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christian Hysteria And The Real Battle

Are we zealous in the wrong areas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I wrote about what was going on on a well-known apologist’s page and how it was the same thing from a year ago with a meme that was entirely false. This was about Halloween. Sadly, too many Christians posting ignored multiple people asking hard questions about the authenticity of the claim and went on with either bad-mouthing the person in the meme as if he really said the claim or jumped straight into panic mode. More often, it was panic mode.

Of course, no one is going to deny that parents want to protect their children and should do so, but could the real threats be being ignored for the fake ones? In fact, for those wanting to avoid the snare of the devil, I would think that someone like the devil could certainly create a false threat in order to hide a real one, a sort of diversionary tactic. Halloween is just such an example.

Sadly, I saw people posting speaking about how this is how the antichrist is going to take over by making this stuff fun and innocent. I’m surprised I didn’t see anything this time about the Illuminati and the New World Order. Of course, we also saw more and more people saying that this is pagan and that Christmas and Easter are also pagan.

I honestly wonder what such people are going to do when they tell their children this and then they or their children see something like the claims of Zeitgeist where Christianity is said to be copied from pagan gods. If we apply the same methodology, why not?

I do want it to be known that I surely realize the occult is out there. I also realize many Christians buy into a sort of occult thinking without realizing it. My wife and I like to sometimes watch these videos where people talk about the rapture coming and such. We don’t believe in it, but it can be amusing. It’s amazing how many of these begin with “I had a dream and” or “I had an experience and”. Too many Christians read signs into everything that happens to them as if the universe is all about them, kind of mirroring the way pagans read the entrails of animals and the flights of birds and other such things.

So while acknowledging that the occult is out there and yes, children need to be ready to deal with it, I can assure you that I see no reason to think that having your child put on a costume and go door to door asking for candy means they’re being caught up in the occult. Dare I say it, but perhaps not opening your children up to imagination and wonder is getting them closer to atheism. Chesterton was the great advocate of the importance of fairyland after all.

Furthermore, I am wondering how many of you who are like this are preparing for other challenges? For instance, are you equipping your child to know how they can show that God exists, the Bible is reliable, and that Jesus rose from the dead, beyond their personal testimony? If so, is your child ready to engage with the atheism they will find on a college campus?

What about materialistic greed? Is your child thinking that they need to have every new IPhone and computer and toy out there? Is your child wanting everything they can get and not appreciating the good gifts that they have? I’m not saying never get your child gifts like this, but make sure their love for you and their happiness is not conditional on such things.

Or dare I say it, what about sexual temptation? This is something they will live with all their lives. Do your kids have more than a few verses from Paul? Do they have a whole foundation of sexual ethics that tells them what sex is and why it matters and why it should be saved for marriage? Your kid could run into someone who will want to lead them into the occult to be sure, but they are far more likely to run into someone who will want to lead them into a sexual relationship outside of marriage and without a proper foundation, they will want to be led!

If you think that sounds a bit over the top, then just do this. Go to your average man who is married or not and is a devout Christian and ask him if he wrestles with sexual temptation. It’s a real battle. Even those of us, like myself, who love our wives deeply have to face a daily battle with the flesh. Are your kids ready?

Hysteria will not convince your kids. If anything, it will lead to your worldview being mocked and ostracized. If your child is talking about candy, there’s no need to bring up the plot of the antichrist. It saddens me that we who are supposed to live the most without fear are often the most fearful of all. You would think that Jesus had not won the battle against the forces of evil. You would think that Jesus is not Lord of all, conquering daily.

By the way, if you want my opinion on Halloween, go and have fun. It’s a day for kids to relax and enjoy themselves and pretend. If you don’t have kids, don’t close your door on Halloween. Here you say you are a Christian and you shut the door on children coming to your house. Is that the Christianity you want to present? Be there, put a smile on the faces of the kids, and give out the best candy that you have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Party of Reason

Does any side own reason? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I was listening to Unbelievable? and one of the guests was from a British Humanist Association. I noticed how it was said by the guest something alone the lines of the belief in reason and that they are advocates for reason. Every time I hear something like this, I always get amazed that so many atheists and such out there want to advocate reason as if it was some new discovery that they made and the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.

Part of that has been that in our day and age, many atheists, especially on the internet, like to claim that they are the people of reason. This is usually in contrast to the theists who are the people of faith. Naturally, this is not an accurate understanding of faith, but a faith that is looked at as blind belief. If any internet atheist wants to think that this is what Christians have always believed, I just urge them to go and read the most educated Christians of today and the past.

This doesn’t mean that you will agree with the conclusion that the Christian makes. It would be great if you would, but I doubt it will happen immediately, but at least see that the people are using reason. They are presenting arguments and giving evidence and asking you to follow that evidence. You can disagree, but it is still the position of using reason.

Is this to say that all Christians are like this? Of course, but this would be like saying that all atheistic philosophers are like the ones that you encounter on the internet. There are too many Christians that are very anti-reason and do say there’s no evidence and you just have to have faith. There are too many atheists as well who claim reason but will believe many of the most unreasonable positions because they argue against Christianity, such as the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed.

The problem also is that if one thinks they have reason and the other side doesn’t, then anything the other side says is discounted automatically. When I was engaged to Allie, a friend and I went to an event in Charlotte where Gary Habermas was speaking and in the Q&A an atheist tried to stump him at the microphone. Gary answered all of the questions and as the questioner was walking to his seat, my friend tells me he said, “At least I have logic on my side.”

Say all you want about logic, but there is nothing in logic that says God does not exist or that miracles cannot occur. No law of logic excludes those. Unfortunately, someone like this will just think that they are ipso facto a man of reason and they automatically are because, well, they’re an atheist and they’re the party of reason and so anything the opponent says must be false. Obviously, they’re a person of faith and they’re using reason after the fact. Even if that were so, that in itself does not discount the arguments.

Reason is a great tool and everyone should use it more and more and there are people who are people of faith on both sides. When I meet an atheist who makes a statement about how much they are the people of reason, I find it hard to take seriously. If you use reason, I certainly applaud you, but you are not different from the other people who are serious debaters in this field. In fact, the constant misunderstanding of faith from a Christian perspective means I just don’t take you seriously at all.

Reason is great, but it has been used by Christians for ages. It’s nothing new. Today too many atheists act like teenagers who have been given keys to the car and think that no one else has discovered driving. Sorry, but you’re not the only ones on this highway.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Science and Religion

What do I think of Joshua Moritz’s book published by Anselm Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A reader of Deeper Waters recommended that I look into the work of Joshua Moritz and see if I’d like to interview him on my show. The book recommended was Science and Religion. I got in touch with Moritz who got in touch with his publishers and a copy was sent my way.

I read the book and I was in many ways, surprised. The book was extremely thorough. At times, you wouldn’t even know a Christian was behind it because very little place would be given to religion. It would be just looking at the science itself.

Moritz starts with the obvious place in a book like this, namely Galileo. The information in here is quite good as he brings out pieces of the account that I had not read elsewhere. He does rightly show that this was never science vs. religion. Everyone in the debate held the same view of religion and would believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Everyone also believed that science told us truth about the world and that science and Scripture would not contradict.

Indeed, the big problem was that Galileo was speaking on areas where he was not authorized to speak and where he had even agreed to not speak. I ultimately view it as an ego conflict. It also didn’t help that he had a dialogue written depicting the pope as a simpleton. Not only that, Galileo’s case was ultimately right, but he did not at the time have the evidence for it and the church was ready to change its interpretation of Scripture if it had to, but it needed really good grounds to do that. Galileo did not have that yet.

From there, we move on to evolution and especially a case like the Scopes trial. Again, the narrative is hardly the same as the real story. Bryan who was arguing against evolution supposedly was hardly a fundamentalist and Darrow was hardly the brilliant attorney on the other side. He had his own skeletons in his closet. As for evolution itself, a number of devout Christians at the start had no problem with it. Even Warfield, known as Mr. Inerrancy, did not have a problem with it.

From there, we get a look at the history of the topic and look at questions like the Big Bang Theory and other such subjects. Sometimes the work can get a bit technical, but for the most part it’s easy to go through. We also look at some questions like the age of the Earth.

There is also talk about the limits of science. Are there some things that science cannot do? Is it possible to have science without faith? Is it possible to have faith without science? Could it actually be that both need each other?

He also goes to places many don’t go to. Miracles are somewhat understandable, but there is a different take given on them, though I do not wish to spoil for the reader. He also looks at the problem of evil, including animal suffering, and seeing if this is compatible with religion, and finally ends with a chapter more on eschatology and if there is any redemption for our world for if we all we have is science, the story does not end well.

Moritz’s book is a good and fascinating read and worthwhile for anyone interested in this subject. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Case For Christ Movie

What did I think of the film? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, Allie and I finally got around to seeing The Case For Christ. We had heard nothing but good things about it. In the past, I have been used to seeing Christian films that are cheesy and think that they have to shove the Gospel down your throat at one point in a super obvious way because, hey, otherwise you will miss it. Not so with this one.

I also know a number of the people involved in the story so that gave it an extra sense of joy. The story is indeed a fairly accurate one, though also at times I think holding back. Lee Strobel is a successful writer for a newspaper and he and his wife and daughter are enjoying their lives when through a series of events, his wife Leslie actually becomes a Christian. Lee, an atheist, finds his world torn apart.

One of the first thoughts he has, and this is extremely accurate for men, is that Leslie has gone and cheated on him with another man and that man is Jesus. He immediately thinks that somehow he was not good enough for her. Everything becomes a comparison between him and Jesus. Their marriage becomes all about the argument and gets darker and darker, though I do not think the movie could show the full level of darkness that was reached.

Meanwhile, Lee is also investigating a story about a cop that was shot. Alongside this one, the religious editor when hearing Lee complain about his wife says that if he wants to tackle Christianity and disprove it, the place to go is the resurrection. Might I say that it is wonderful hearing something like this? So many Christian movies hardly ever seem to make any significance of the resurrection. Many churches don’t in fact. Christianity is all about living a good life and the resurrection seems to be a nice add-on.

Lee asks him who the main expert to go to on the resurrection is and gets told to talk to Gary Habermas, which he does. At one point, there is some anachronism here. Habermas talks about his wife Debbie and how he wants to see her again, but that death took place much later than when the movie starts unless there was a lot of time skipped that I don’t know about which I doubt since it also has Lee’s son being born around this time.

It’s also excellent that many audiences are being introduced to this material for the first time. I find it fascinating that a movie can be made like this with a lot of scholarly input and actual information and yet still gripping. The story of Lee’s marriage, the investigation into the cop shooting, and the investigation of Christianity all started weaving together incredibly well.

I often thought the few other people in the theater could have thought that Allie and I were being rude. At some points, there was some mild laughter from me, but that was because I knew the answer that was coming and seeing Lee get caught flatfooted was a funny moment. I wonder what people might be thinking who were being introduced for this material for the first time.

What this shows us also is you can do apologetics and it can be accurate and it can be something enjoyable for the audience. You don’t have to shove it down their throats and it can be an enjoyable story. There’s also the real fact that just because Leslie accepted Jesus, it doesn’t mean her life is sunshine and rainbows then. It was a nightmare with she and Lee bickering back and forth. Our idea today is that Christianity will make your life better. It might do that, but sometimes, it can make it harder. You will have a much harder time in Iran if you become a Christian than if you do in the South in America. The question to ask about Christianity is not will it make your life better, but is it true?

If you want to know about the acting and such, I can’t really comment on that. It’s not the kind of thing I notice in a film or TV show. I’m sort of blind to that. I just look and ask if I enjoyed the film and what I thought about the content. In this case, this is a movie I am going to be wanting to get on DVD when it comes out. It’s a great one to watch and I hope more come out like it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Pastor….

Can I critique your sermon this Sunday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

(Note: This post is not about my own church or our sermon Sunday. This is a hypothetical that could be used for what I think are the sad majority of pastors in any church on a given Sunday. No reference to any specific person or timeframe is intended.)

Dear Pastor,

I wanted to talk to you about your sermon. I think you did a good job of showing that the Bible tells us that God loves us immensely. I think you were correct in that we need to live our lives accordingly with what is revealed in Scripture. I think your sermon did have some excellent application to it. Unfortunately, while I agree with that, I have a problem with your sermon.

You see, I write in the area of Christian apologetics and defending Christianity. All that you said is true, but I kept wondering, what if someone doesn’t believe the Bible is true? What does it mean to them? What about someone who could be even wondering if the Bible is truly a revelation from God?

If someone wants to believe in the love of God, can they believe in the message of love if they don’t know if they can trust the messenger of that love? Suppose I go see a doctor who is right, but he’s right 90% of the time. He tells me I have cancer and I need to undergo intense chemotherapy to treat it. Would it make sense to sign up immediately? Should I not consider a second opinion just to make sure? His message could be right, but I would want to know if it was right. If I knew he was right 100% of the time, I would sign up, but what if I have that 10% of doubt? What if he’s right and I have that 10% and never go get a second opinion? That doubt could kill me.

Pastor. Your congregation is encountering this doubt. Now of course, many people are firmly in a position where they will not wrestle with these questions. Many are not. Many of them are watching the History Channel and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic and reading the magazines and they see these specials about the Bible. Every time Easter and Christmas roll around, you have these specials coming out undermining something about the Bible. You had a movie like the Da Vinci Code come out and the book itself was quite popular and even a skeptical scholar like Bart Ehrman had a best-selling book on textual criticism calling into question the reliability of the Bible.

If that doesn’t leave you concerned, you’re not paying attention.

You see, you talked so much about what the Bible says and how to apply its message, but you said very little about the Bible itself. I’m not suggesting your sermon be apologetics, but wouldn’t it be a good opening to explain a little bit about the book you’re exegeting, when it was written, and some historical facts about it? This would not take long and it would also bring the text more to life. As it stands, if people don’t know the history of the Bible and when it was written and such, it’s essentially a text floating in air and it won’t take much to bring it down.

I understand you want to reach that person who is there for the first time also, but what if that person is an atheist? What if they’re a Jew? A Mormon? A Buddhist? You don’t know who they are. I don’t either. I do know that they won’t just blindly believe the Bible. They need some reason to do so.

Application is good and important, but is that all there is? Is the whole point of Jesus dying and rising again just so that we could be good people? I’m all for marriage enrichment and beating your personal problems and so many other things, and we need them, but you can have many of those things without Christianity. Christianity is not about giving good advice. It certainly will give good advice, but Christianity is about Jesus being the King of this world and how we must submit to Him.

If all we have is good advice, well Pastor, we can turn on Dr. Phil or Oprah or anything else and get advice. We’ve also never really been prone to follow good advice. I daresay that most people will leave the church and forget all that they heard in an hour if all they heard was good advice. If you give them a question that could be a thorn in their side that suggests that the Bible could really be from God and God could really have some authority on their lives, that is something that will not be easy to cast aside.

That’s something I want to hear. I don’t want to just hear moralizing from the pulpit because I can get that from anywhere else and from most any other religion. I want to hear what Christianity alone can tell me. I want to hear about King Jesus dying and rising again from the dead and not just what this means for me, but what it means for the future of humanity and the world that we live in. No other belief system can offer that.

Pastor. Let’s also not forget you have young people in your audience. Let’s even suppose the youth are growing up in good Christian homes, which is more and more becoming questionable since even many Christians are compromising in areas of morality, such as living together before marriage or endorsing homosexual practice. Is this young man or woman growing up in a devout Christian home safe? Not on your life.

Imagine them in their bedroom one day on the computer. No. They’re not watching porn, though you should also be concerned that many in your congregation are, but they’re doing something like listening to a song from their favorite Christian band. What do they see on the related videos on the side? “Ten Questions Every Christian Must Answer.” Pastor. What if that’s a video put out by an atheist? What if they get curious and click it? Have you prepared them for what they will see? If you know the answers to these questions and don’t prepare them, do you not bear some responsibility when they fall away? If you don’t know the answers, how can you get up and tell people the Bible is a revelation from God if you yourself have no reason to think that? Are you not the blind leading the blind?

They also won’t fall away for intellectual difficulties. I’m not sure if you watch any TV or movies pastor, but sex sells. It’s big on the big screen nowadays. We just had Fifty Shades Darker come out and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of women from your church went to see it. Believe it or not also, young men and women are greatly tempted to have sex. Women want to have that love and acceptance from a man. Many young men just want to have a good time with a woman and think sex makes them a man.

Do they know enough to know why they shouldn’t? Yeah. We can tell them what Paul said. If they can resist what Paul said on lesser things, such as talking back to their parents or overeating or buying things they can’t afford, why think they will be able to overpower the sex drive? Do you know how strong that is? If you don’t, I think you’ve just said a lot more about your marriage than you intended.

So you might say that when they engage, they’ll feel great guilt and will repent. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. If they don’t, then they will think the church lied to them. What else did the church lie about? Do you know how many of them are being told the church is trying to restrict them? Do you know how many atheists talk about liberation from the church’s teachings?

Pastor. Would it really hurt your church to know the historical reasons for believing that Christianity is true? Again, you don’t have to do a whole sermon on this. In fact, I don’t think you should, but you should at least touch on it. Now if you want to have a class separate from the sermon on this, by all means go ahead. That would be wonderful.

You still have an obligation to prevent your flock from falling away. Please also don’t tell them to just have faith. I cringe most every time when a pastor says that we need to have faith. Faith is a badly misunderstood term and one that an atheist will pounce on in a second.

Pastor. You might want your congregation to be safe and not put in danger from contrary thought. First off, they aren’t safe. Second, they will encounter contrary thought be it in the classroom or on TV or on YouTube or at the water cooler in conversation. Third, we are not called to be safe. We are called to do the Great Commission and the historic Christian church was not safe. They still aren’t. I just saw a highly reliable friend post a study showing that 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016. 90,000 are martyred and you’re thinking your church needs to be shielded from contrary thought? These weren’t. They had to live in it regularly and they were incredibly faithful. In fact, they were probably more faithful than even you or I are. When your life could depend on if the Jesus question is true or not, you probably take it a lot more serious and you know, you probably live out that application a whole lot better.

Your congregation is not meant to live in a bubble. They’re meant to do the Great Commission. How can they do it unless they are equipped to do it? It’s not enough to get them to tell their personal testimony. Everyone has a testimony. Even atheists in debate will often open with their personal anti-testimony. We don’t live in a time where testimonies have the same effectiveness. Consider instead combining them with a good apologetic, and you could be on to something.

Pastor. Please take these words to heart. I encounter atheists most every day that used to be Christians and they are often extremely evangelistic and antagonistic. If you’ve ever heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, they were established by someone who used to be in ministry as well. The sad thing is many of these questions are easily answered if you just have a congregation that is at least semi-informed. You’re the only one who can determine that. Think about your own standing before God one day. Do you want to be responsible for people falling away and the damage they do? Do you want to risk that you could be?

I’m at your service if need be, but the ball is in your court. Please consider giving us something different. Give us a reason to believe and then to live differently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters