Book Plunge: Jesus Among Secular Gods

What do I think of the book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale published by FaithWords? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been doing apologetics for a little over fifteen years. When I first started, one of the shaping books for me was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ followed by The Case For Faith. It was in the latter that one mind I read particularly gripped me with his story, personality, and reasoning style and that was Ravi Zacharias. One book of his quite popular at the time was Jesus Among Other Gods. I remember devouring that book and thoroughly enjoying it. Now here we are years later and we have Jesus Among Secular Gods.

This might surprise some people. Secularists don’t have gods! In the sense of real entities that are deities that have their own being, sure, but there are a number of isms out there like scientism and hedonism. Can the claims of Jesus stand up to secular thought? Does secular thought really answer the deep questions of life?

Ravi has a story early on about dialoguing with someone in the Middle East who drew two circles. For most Middle Easterners, their faith is the outer rim of the circle and their life is a little dot in the center. We have it reversed. It’s easy for us to compartmentalize our faith. This is what the Middle Easterner believed would lead to the fall of Western civilization. One’s religious walk is a secondary part of their life instead of becoming what influences their whole life.

Ravi goes on from there to interact with Stephen Hawking who suggested that we need to find extraterrestrial life if it’s out there before it destroys us. I appreciated Ravi’s cynicism at first in wanting to say that since we’re having a hard time finding intelligent life here, let’s find it elsewhere, but his next thought was even better. Isn’t it fascinating that intelligent life is something we are to be looking for outside of our Earth, unless that intelligent life happens to be theistic.

Richard Dawkins isn’t safe either. Many of us remember him saying that

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Yet if God is a fiction, then we have a problem. The actions attributed to him are really to be attributed to some really gullible people who in turn did some evil things. If so, then where does the evil lie? If Dawkins has it that God is a fiction and in turn there is no fall away from him but man living by his own nature, then aren’t we the source of the evil? Isn’t it the problem man playing God? Should we not strive to avoid that?

I like a story he tells about Billy Graham visiting Disneyworld and telling Walt Disney that he had created an amazing world of fantasy. Disney replied that Graham had it backward. He had shown the real world. Everything else was fantasy. What did he mean by that?

In Disney’s world, one of the greatest gifts is children are children. They laugh and play and have utter delight. Go out there and what do you find? You find children attacking other children. You find children cutting themselves and harming themselves. You don’t find white knights coming along to save them and you find dragons roaming in the real world that no one will fight.

Of course, Ravi and Vince contrast this with answers from other faiths. A story is told about talking to a man from a Muslim country asking the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God. He was told that if you want to know what the Christian God is like, read the life of Jesus. If you want to know what the Muslim God is like, read the life of Muhammad. That was enough to settle the question for him.

Vince also shows himself to be taking on the thinking of Ravi. I liked how he described that we talk about the intellect of God and how He knows everything immensely and we can’t compare, but when we talk about His love, we downplay it. We make God’s love very human and act like it’s just as prone to being broken as ours is.

I also appreciated the story about Matthew Parris writing on how Africa needs God. God gives the people hope. Following God helps them to be provided for and keeps them away from other gods such as the infusion of Nike, or the witch doctor, or the machete. We need to have evangelism going on in Africa and not let it be stopped.

By the way, Matthew Parris is an atheist.

Vince when taking on hedonism starts with the idea of the experience machine. Imagine a machine you could plug into and feel the sensation of any experience you wanted. You could be making love to a supermodel or going into battle in whatever time period you want or you could be making a scientific breakthrough. You can have whatever you want. Should you plug into the machine?

No. We don’t want just the feeling of doing these things. We want to be able to do these kinds of things. We don’t want to just feel loved. We want to be loved. We don’t want to just have dreams. We want to accomplish them.

Vince also tells about the Christian view of sex here. I like the story he tells about seeing a testimony in the past with someone saying “I used to drink. I used to party. I used to have sex. But now I’m a  Christian and I don’t do these things any more.” If this is your testimony, please stop. Everyone who isn’t a Christian is saying “It sounds like your life was better before.”

Vince reminds us that sex is something sacred and meant for a covenant of two people. The action means something and it is special when saved for that covenant relationship. Our world treats sex as something common and the results have been horrid for us.

That being said, God is not anti-pleasure, but he calls us to more than just living for ourselves in this moment. In fact, he tells us our greatest joy is in denying ourselves and following Him. Lewis would say this is really having us be more ourselves than we ever were before. Christianity is not opposed to pleasure, including sexual pleasure, but that pleasure is not to be a god.

The writers also point out the importance of disagreement. We have reached an age where to disagree with someone is to devalue them as a person supposedly. To be sure, there are wrong ways to disagree with people, but that doesn’t mean all disagreement is the problem. Disagreement can mean we value the person’s opinion and we think the subject itself is really important.

The book overall is a good look at the thinking we have in the West and how we need to contrast that with Christ. Ravi I have found consistently is a writer who touches the heart as well as the head. Vince follows along very well in that pattern and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the future. I recommend you go out and go through this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Hawking’s Grand Design

Does the Grand Design do away with God. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

“Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”

So begins page 1 of the Grand Design and it is downhill from there. When the book speaks about science, it can be interested. Readers are presented with a fairly short read and several illustrations to facilitate learning. There is sporadic humor throughout the book. Since this is by two authors and it’s hard to tell who wrote what, I will just refer to this work as GD.

The opening claim about philosophy being dead makes me think of the idea I have that too often, science today can seem like a teenager who thinks he is the big man in the universe because he can drive the family car, forgetting that it is his parents who own the car, pay the insurance, put gas in the car, and do maintenance.

In saying this, I mean no disrespect to science. After all, it is not science that has this attitude, but certain scientists. These are scientists who believe they alone have the keys to knowledge and everyone else just better get in the back seat if they’re even allowed to ride in the journey at all. Too many new atheists and others are ready to throw out the philosophers and theologians. A warning to my fellow philosophers and theologians. Let us not make the same mistake.

A statement like this assumes philosophy and science works in the same way. Science works by increments with each new discovery being dependent on the latest discovery. Philosophy works with schools of thought. We still have Platonists vs. Aristotleans going on today. No one has really changed the ultimate beliefs of the schools of thought. They’ve just been working out what they said. Christians are not going to jettison belief in the Trinity any time soon nor are Muslims going to get rid of the Koran. Both will be working out the ramifications of their foundational beliefs.

In fact, a look through this book will suggest that perhaps GD should have studied some of that philosophy to avoid making mistakes. All that they say depends on a philosophical worldview. Are they idealists or realists? That’s philosophy. Are they epistemological relativists or not? That’s also philosophy.

On page 29, we are asked to consider three questions when we realize the universe is governed by laws.

What is the origin of the laws?
Are there any exceptions to the laws, i.e., miracles?
Is there only one set of possible laws?

GD admits that Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton all answered that God was the explanation for the Laws. For GD, this does not count as an explanation because we have a hard time understanding God. This is not an invalid answer. Why should it be? Scientists regularly posit unknown entities that they do not understand, such as sub-atomic particles, in order to explain data. Figuring out the nature of those particles is a mystery indeed, but the explanation makes sense.

Besides, if one does have a well thought-out theology, one can explain the mystery further. One could even take the general theistic concept found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and have that be an explanation for the origin of the universe. You could say “I know that there has to be some deity and he has to have some attributes such as X, Y, and Z, but how He has specifically revealed Himself I am still working out.”

As expected, GD is opposed to design and on page 34 we are told the book is rooted in scientific determinism. At this point, I wonder if I am reading the thoughts of the authors or just what it is they have to write because they are determined to do so. Can scientific determinism even verify itself? Can it determine that everything will work out scientifically in the future? If the universe is necessary and determined, then what does GD do with the problem of evil? Is it just that this has to happen and that’s tough, but you’d better suck it up and deal with it? Remember, the problem of evil is not just a problem for theists. Every worldview has to account for it.

Alas, that is a philosophical question and the authors think philosophy is dead, so it seems they will be without an answer to that question. If evil cannot be explained or is even a non-reality, could it be possible the same will apply to goodness? While they speak of an M-theory to explain everything, most of us would want an explanation of good and evil as well, including atheists!

On page 44, Gd says that realism is tempting but then bypasses it stating it is difficult to defend. In the very next sentence, they then say that “according to quantam physics, which is an accurate description of nature, a particle has neither a definitive position or a definitive velocity unless and until these quantities are measured by an observer.”

Question. If realism is not true, then how can it be that there can be an accurate description of nature? This assumes nature is a certain way and can be accurately described, but this is what realism teaches. Ah, the perils of saying philosophy is dead.

If realism is not true, then what is it that is being talked about in the whole book? This is part of the problem. Science alone can never determine that there is an external world. Even Berkeley’s view of reality in that it was all an idea in the mind of God could account for science. If all we have is science, we cannot even establish that matter, the object of its study, even exists.

Once again, it is not science that is the problem but science divorced from its foundations, which quickly becomes bad science.

Our next stop will be page 164, which interestingly happens in a chapter discussing the Goldilocks zone. I am not defending ID here, but simply stating that these findings are compatible easily with ID. GD says ID has the implicit understanding that the designer of the universe is God.

This would not explain agnostics like Berlinski and others, but suppose that IDists do have that belief. If they are entering in scientific data to show that, what is the problem? If God is real, then believing in some sort of design can help science as we can look at why things are the way they are as well. If the God explanation is true, and we keep looking for a contrary explanation, we are not only giving a false explanation, but we are missing the real one, and all of this just to avoid God? Why on Earth? Why think God would be the death knell of science since God was actually the origin of much scientific progress today?

On page 172, we have the usual “Who created God?” question. GD does say that some realize there must be some entity that needs no creator and this is usually taken to mean God. Unfortunately, they do not state why theists hold this position. They do not state we believe that a being who is incapable of change but the cause of all other change must be for all other change to be possible. Beings that change are part of existence and moving from one mode of existence to another. God does not do that since existence is His nature.

Finally, on page 180, we read this toward the end.

“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in chapter 6.”

Yes. You read that right.

If gravity exists, then something exists, so there is not nothing.

Gravity also acts on something else so something else must exist, hence there must be at least one thing.

Further, if gravity is a relation between two things at least, there must be at least two things.

Not only that, we have the same mistake of treating nothing as if it was something.

Finally, how is it that something can create itself. Only entities that exist can do actions like create and if something does not exist, it cannot create.

Perhaps some knowledge from a dead subject would have helped?

Also, we are regularly told about M-theory, but we are not told anything about what exactly it is and in fact are told it could be several theories. Keep in mind, it’s not allowed to posit a God who we do not understand, but it is perfectly allowable to posit a theory we do not understand. I am not against theories, but the sword should cut both ways.

In conclusion, those interested in science could enjoy the book, but do not come here expecting sound philosophy and/or theology or an understanding of either one. Once again, we have a case of the new priesthood wanting to vaunt its authority without being aware of the foundations it relies on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters