Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Kalām  Cosmological argument is one of the simplest and most effective arguments for the existence of a creator.  It goes like this:
  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause

Whatever begins to exist has a cause

This premise is simple and intuitively obvious.  We have no examples of something beginning to exist without a cause.  Some will bring out the example of quantum particles appearing, seemingly coming into existence without a cause.  But this is more likely an example of something with an unknown cause.  Seldom will anyone really challenge this premise because it is so obvious.

Do note that this is not the same thing as claiming that everything has a cause.  If you make the mistake of making that claim, expect to be asked the question of what caused God.  The Kalām argument specifically deals only with things that began to exist, which eliminates anything that did not begin to exist at some point, including God.

The universe began to exist

There are two valid approaches one can take in making this argument.  The first is philosophical and goes something like this.
  • An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
  • A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things
  • Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist

An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
Infinity is a mathematical concept that has no real life parallel.  There is nothing in this universe, including the number of molecules, that cannot be counted.  Dealing with actual infinite amounts on anything leads to some absurdities.  For instance, if you take an infinite number of people, and add 3 more people, you still have the same amount.  Or if you remove 3 billion people, you still have the same number of people.  While we might have a potentially infinite number of divisions between any two numbers, in actual practice, those divisions are countable.

A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things
If something did not have a beginning, then it has existed for an infinite number of time periods.  This is contrary to the initial premise that expresses that an actually infinite number of things is not possible.  In other words, this second premise is really just a specialized version of the first one.  Related to this is the inability to ever reach infinity by counting.  No matter how big your number is, and no matter how much you add to it, your number will never reach infinity.

Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist
While there are those who will argue in favor of the possibility of a universe that has existed for an infinite period of time, it is really an illogical argument on their part.  What they are trying to do is take the infinity concept of mathematics and apply it to the real world.  And doing so demonstrates a lack of understanding of the concept.  There is really no philosophical basis for believing that the universe did not have a beginning.

The weakness in this argument is that it only applies to things that are "in time".  And while that makes it easy to exclude a God who has no beginning, it also can easily apply to a multiverse that produces a multitude of island universes.  If a multiverse does exist, which is beyond our ability to know, it would be outside of time, at least as we know it.

Scientific – Big Bang

Many Christians view science, and in particular the Big Bang, with much skepticism and disbelief.  But I believe that this can be a very important tool to us in demonstrating the rationality of belief in a creator.  The important thing to note about the Big Bang is that it is the best scientific explanation for the origin of the universe.  And that the Big Bang implies a beginning.  The implication of this should be obvious.  A beginning requires, according to the first premise in the Kalām argument, a cause; something, or someone, to bring it into existence.

There have been many scientific attempts to provide an alternative to a Big Bang beginning for the universe, most frequently to circumvent the need for a creator.  But so far, none of these attempts have been successful.

Scientific – Thermodynamics

According to the second law of thermodynamics, processes in a closed system tend toward a state of equilibrium.  Life exists today, as well as all processes in the universe, because of energy transfers from one object to another.  And these energy transfers occur because of a difference in the energy level between the two objects.  But the 2nd law states that the trend is toward equilibrium, or a lack of difference between the objects in the system.  Eventually, there will be no energy to transfer, life will cease and the universe will become cold.  When this is applied backwards, it requires that there was a beginning point of high energy with the universe slowly cooling down since then.  Thus, the 2nd law of thermodynamics requires a beginning to the universe.

Therefore, the universe has a cause

If the two premises are true, and it is hard to argue against them, then the conclusion is unavoidable.  The universe did not just come into existence all on its own, it had a cause.  While the Kalām argument does not speculate on the nature of the cause of the universe, there are some things that can be reasonably determined.
  • The transition from no universe to universe required a triggering event, making the cause for the universe a personal agent who chose to create the universe.
  • The intelligence displayed in the universe implies a high degree of intelligence by the creator.
  • The creator, or cause of the universe, necessarily exists independently of the universe, or is transcendent to it. 
While this does not constitute an absolute proof for the existence of God, it does demonstrate that it is rational to believe in a creator.  This is also not an argument for the existence of the Christian God, or the god of any other religion.  The argument only asserts that there is a cause for the universe, and likely a personal and intelligent cause.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Continue in your Faith

Once saved, always saved!  I grew up hearing this repeated over and over, like a mantra.  The problem is that it's deceiving.  Most people I hear using the phrase are referring to salvation as being something that happened at some point in the past, an event that makes ones eternity secure regardless what might happen later.  And it gives peace to those who love a believer who has turned from the truth.  But no matter how sincere and real a persons commitment to God was in the past, salvation is not a single point in time event.
22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.
Colossians 1:22-23a NIV
Paul here tells me that I have been reconciled to God, holy, without blemish, and free from accusation, through Christ's death on the cross: in other words, I have been saved.  But there is a big 'if' here that is frequently overlooked.  If I continue in my faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope of the gospel.  Salvation is not based on a one time event.  It is the result of being faithful to the end; it's as much how you finish as how you start.

While I agree that once one is saved, they are saved eternally.  I also hold that it is the one who has endured to the end who is saved, not the one who puts their hand to the plow and then turns back.  God knew from creation who would prove faithful; and they are his elect.  But I still have to live out that life, walking in faith before my creator.  Those who start but do not finish have not lost their salvation.  They never had it in the first place.

Please, don't rest on your past.  Be faithful to the end.  Don't be moved from the hope held out for you in the gospel.  Finish the race set out for you!

Related Posts
The Hope of Salvation

Friday, October 25, 2013

So Just What Is An Atheist

I find the flack that Oprah has taken recently over her ideas of what atheism is to be interesting.   Yes, she got it wrong; although she also seemed wrong about theism.  But how many people do know what atheism is?  The term means different things to different people, similar to the term 'Christian', and even atheists will disagree about what the term means.  I know that the chances of defining this is a way that everyone will agree with is minute, but I am going to share my take on it anyway.

Believes There Is No God

For most of my life this is the definition that I would have given, and the one that I have generally heard: "Belief that there is no god(s)".  And in debate with many atheists over the years it appears like that is really the position that many, if not all of them, actually hold to, even if not outwardly.

The problem with this position, and the reason many atheists will no longer admit to it, is that it is a positive statement about belief.  And as such the theist has as much right to ask for their proof as they do to ask us for proof about God's existence.  And the reality is that there is no proof for either claim.  And so to avoid having to admit to a lack of proof, while still asking the theist for proof, they have generally adopted a different definition.

Without Belief in God

"Not having a belief in God" sounds very much like "believing there is no God", at least to the theist.  But there actually is a difference.  Take Greek yogurt as an example.  Some people like it.  Some don't like it.  I have no opinion since I have never experienced it.  Atheism, with this definition, says that the atheist lacks any belief concerning any god(s).  They neither believe that there is a god, or that there is no god.

This is probably a good definition for a 6 month old; they truly have no beliefs concerning a deity.  And it could be a good definition for someone who has not really been exposed to people talking about some god(s).  But it is hard to imagine that atheists who are involved in debate concerning the existence of God have no belief one way or another.

They will say that I lack belief in Santa Claus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Norse gods.  But that is not true.  I believe that none of them exist.  Can I prove it?  No.  But that does not stop me from disbelieving in them.

This definition, in my opinion, is really nothing more than a dodge.  It would be more intellectually honest for the atheist to admit to a disbelief in the existence of deities and then either provide a proof for their disbelief, or admit that they have none.

Awe & Wonder

Is an atheist capable of experiencing awe and wonder at the universe?  That seems to have been at the heart of the Oprah controversy.  Diana Nyad claimed to be an atheist and also able to experience awe and wonder of the universe as much as the most devout Christian, or other believer.  Oprah seemed to struggle with that, equating awe and wonder with God.

So who was right?  I would have to side with Diana on this.  I see no reason why an atheist could not experience awe and wonder over the grandeur of the universe, the majesty of Mt Rainier, or the beauty of a rose.  After all, those things are pretty amazing, and awe and wonder seem to be an innate part of who we are.

There is a difference though in the awe and wonder that Diana Nyad might feel about the universe, and what I feel.  She is really in awe of the end result of what she sees as a series of accidents, of fortuitous happenings.   I am in awe of a creator who produced these wonderful things.

Without Purpose

As a Christian, I believe that God created the universe and all that is in it, including myself, for a purpose.  That tells me that I have purpose, gives me hope for my future, and assures me that I have value as a person.  But what purpose, hope and value can one have if the universe and all it contains are nothing but a cosmic accident.

Sure, I can assign my own purpose to my life, and many people do that, even Christians.  And it may provide some self satisfaction.  But is it really purpose?  Purpose is defined as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."  But if I exist only because of a series of unplanned, unintended and accidental happenings, then what reason could there be for my existence.  If there is no creator, then life has no purpose.

I might hope the weather clears for the weekend.  I might hope that the world becomes a better place for my kids to raise their own families.  And I might hope that the few years I have on this earth is not all that I have.  The first two hopes are applicable to everyone, although they are hope with no assurance.  The third is limited to those who believe in a God who created us for a purpose.  And it is, quite honestly, a hope that I have confidence in (2 Timothy 1:12).

For the atheist, what value can there be in human life?  What is it that makes us so much more special than a cow, a germ, a weed, or a rock?  As individuals, or a society, we might choose to value human life, but there is nothing that explicitly demands that; we have no inherent value just because we are human.  What is to say that valuing the life of all humans is preferable to only placing value on your own clan?  In contrast, if I was created, then I have value to the one who created me.  And I recognize the inherent value that all other people have as well.  It is not up to me to decide if they have value or not.

Morality

Some people have a pretty bleak opinion of atheist morality.  But in my experience that is a mistake.  While you might occasionally encounter an atheist with no regard for others; much more often you will find them to be the moral equivalent, and sometime superior, to those who believe in some god(s).  While there may be some innate morality that we all have, atheist or theist, most of our morality is socially learned.  And the atheist learns the morality of their society just as much as the Christian.  Just because the atheist believes there is no creator, and no hope for existence after this life, does not mean that they have cast off all restraint here and now.

In Short

An atheist is one who, for one reason or another, believes that there is nothing beyond the natural world that we can experience with our senses, or ultimately reason out with our minds.  There is no creator, God, gods or supernatural.  While they may have no explanation for the origin of the universe, and life within it, they are unwilling to attribute it to the purposeful act of a deity.  For the atheist, the only time that they have is the present, and they refuse to look to a future beyond this life.  And so the atheist lives without any inherent purpose and without a future hope; unfortunately not unlike many who do confess belief in a creator.


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Bible: Inspired and Authoritative

The Bible!  Inspired Word of God, or outdated collection of myths and moral instruction?  The beliefs people have concerning this collection of writings vary widely, from near worship to disdain.  From reliable guide for life, to the root of all evil in our society.  God's special revelation of himself to us or a means to manipulate the masses.

It is challenging to 'prove' the Bible, and I will not be attempting that here.  Rather I will expressing what I believe to be true about it.  You may take exception to one of more of the positions that I take, but it is what I have come to believe over the years.  Coming to this place has been a long and challenging journey; and one that may not yet be complete.  But it has been rewarding and has helped to shape much of the rest of my faith.

Inspired

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired.  But being inspired means different things to different people.  Some argue that the specific words in the original texts are inspired, and others say the general ideas contained in the Bible were inspired.

I lean toward the later camp.  It seems to me that if the words themselves are given by God to the human authors, then they should all sound alike.  And there would only be a single gospel account.  But that is clearly not the case.  Paul and John have distinctly different styles and ways of saying things.

I do believe that God is moving in the human authors in some way, inspiring them, but not telling them specifically what to write.  The words are theirs, as are the way they put them together to express their thoughts.

Inspiration tells me that I can depend on the scriptures in matters of faith; that God would not allow the addition of something that lead me astray from what he wants me to be as a follower of Christ.  Inspiration also means that the scriptures contain all that we need concerning matters of faith.  I might want more, but no more is needed to be a faithful follower of Christ.

Authoritative

I accept that in matters of my faith, the New Testament is authoritative.  God reveals his will to me most often in these writings and it is important to me to be obedient to that direction.  I do not, however, consider the Old Testament to be authoritative for me.  It is the scriptures of the old covenant, a covenant of law, which I am not under.  Instead I am under the new covenant, a covenant of grace, and the New Testament contains the writings of this covenant.

I also do not consider the Bible to be authoritative in matters outside of teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Does the history it contains match up to modern standards?  Often times not.  Does it provide a view of the workings of creation that is scientifically accurate?  Often times not.  But that does not take away from its immense value in helping me to know and follow my Creator and Lord.

Not Inerrant

Those who would claim the Bible is inerrant, hold that the original documents are without any error, in any form.  I do not believe that to be true.  Rather I believe that in matters of faith only are the scriptures free of any error.  I do not hold them to be historically accurate by modern standards.  I also believe that they reflect the understanding of the creation that was present at the time they were written.

Not trying to hold the scriptures to the standards of history that we demand today, or having to go through the mental gymnastics necessary to explain away a mountain tall enough to see the kingdoms on the other side of a globe, free me to focus instead on what the Bible is inspired for; helping me to be a mature believer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Maintaining a Proper Focus

At the end of the second chapter of Colossians, Paul talks about the futility of being able to control our passions with law or rules.  No matter how comprehensive the rule set, they do not change a person, and have minimal value in restraining our sensual natures.  Fortunately he does go on from there to share with us how we can be transformed: and it's a matter of focus.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 NIV
In this passage Paul tells us two very important things.  The first deals with our position: we have died and then been raised with Christ and are now hidden with Christ in God.  While I physically continue to live on this earth, and am subject to all of its pleasures, temptations and struggles, there is another part of me.  That part is tightly connected to Christ, and where he is, I am also.  Christ is described as seated at the right hand of God.  And my life is hidden with Christ in God.  While my flesh is still here, my spirit is already with God in heaven.

The second thing Paul has to tell us in this passage is possible because of the first, my position in Christ.  Paul tells me that, because I am raised and seated with Christ, I need to set my heart and mind on things above, where Christ is, and where I am.  Rather than thinking about how to get ahead in this world and valuing the things of this life, I should be thinking about life in the kingdom and valuing the things of God.

And if I will do that, focusing my heart and mind on things above, the appeal of the things in this life will be diminished.  I will have no need of the legalistic rule list to tell me what I should or should not do.  Instead I will begin to naturally live in a way that honors God, loving him as well as those around me.  Changing my focus from this temporary world to the real one, the world that is eternal and is my real home, will make a dramatic difference in who I am and in how I live.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Does God Exist?

I think the initial question in the debate concerning religion is about the existence of God.  Why should a person believe that there even is a God?  Obviously, if there is not a God, then worshipping him is a pretty limited exercise, at most providing some social stability.  I have engaged a number of people in the debate concerning the existence of God over the past few years, although I have yet to find the magic approach that will be convincing to most people; nor am I at all certain that such an argument even exists.

In fact, I am fairly convinced that it is not possible to really prove the existence of God.  As appealing as it might be sometimes to have that compelling proof, what would such a proof do to faith?  It seems like proof would eliminate the need for faith.  But Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  That would indicate to me that God has stacked the deck against those who would seek to develop a way to prove that he exists; because proof would eliminate the need for faith and thus make it impossible to please God.

So why should we bother to develop and offer proofs for the existence of God.  In my opinion, a good proof for the existence of God can demonstrate that it is at least rational to believe in God, unlike believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or in the tooth fairy.  You do not need to check your brains at the door when you come to faith in God.  There are quite a few ‘proofs’ that have been developed over the years, some better than others.  Before looking at these, I think it would be instructive to take a look at the basic structure of a proof.

Logic Argument

A logical argument is one in which a set of premises (a statement assumed, or believed, to be true) are defined and then a conclusion is drawn from the premises.  For example:
  • All fathers are male (premise 1)
  • I am a father (premise 2)
  • Therefore, I am a male (conclusion)

So long as the premises are true and logically lead to the conclusion, then the conclusion should be valid.    There are two basic types of logical argument that can be made.  The first, and most reliable, is the deductive argument.  This argument uses general premises to arrive at a specific conclusion, like the example above.  In a deductive argument, if the premises are true, and complete, then the conclusion can be considered to be valid.

Inductive arguments, on the other hand, start with specific premises and try to reach a general conclusion.  For instance:
  • All of the crows I have seen are black (premise)
  • Therefore, all crows are black (conclusion)
In this case, the conclusion may be true, but there is no guarantee of it; the conclusion is not required by the premise.

Arguments

There are many logical arguments for the existence of God, and some that I find to be compelling, while others are less so.  But of course I am already a believer in God, and so it is perhaps natural that I would find some of these arguments convincing.  But I have seen atheists, who appear otherwise logical, who were un-swayed by these same arguments.  While it is certainly possible that the atheist just refuses to allow himself to be convinced, it is also possible that the arguments require a certain amount of predisposition towards believing in God ahead of time in order to actually be effective.

The Design Argument
  • The universe displays a tremendous amount of intelligibility, both internal to objects and in the way those things interact with each other.
  • This intelligible order is either the product of chance or of intelligent design
  • Not of chance
  • Therefore the universe is a product of intelligent design
  • Design comes from a mind, a designer
  • Therefore the universe is the product of an intelligent designer.

The Moral Argument
  • Real moral obligation is a fact.  We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil
  • Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the “religious” one
  • But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation
  • Therefore the “religious” view of reality is correct

The Cosmological or Kalam Argument
  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into existence
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for it’s coming into being.

The Argument from Contingency
  • If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist
  • The universe – the collection of beings in space and time – exists
  • Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist
  • What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time
  • Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time

The Argument from Miracles
  • A miracle is an event whose only explanation is the non-natural, or God
  • There are numerous well attested miracles
  • Therefore, there are numerous events whose only explanation is the direct intervention of God
  • Therefore, God exists

The Ontological Argument
  • It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone
  • “God” means “that than which a greater cannot be thought”
  • Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality
  • Then a greater than God could be thought (namely a being with all of the attributes of that God plus real existence)
  • But this is impossible, for God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought”
  • Therefore, God exists in the mind and in reality.

The Argument from Desire
  • Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  • But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy
  • Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures, which can satisfy this desire
  • This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever”

Giesler
Norman Giesler's argument deals with 'cause', but it is different than many.  He is not arguing for a cause in time past like the Cosmological Argument.  Rather he is arguing for current cause, similar to Contingency.  The light being on by my chair was caused in the first case by me turning on the switch, and in the second by the electricity that is flowing through the bulbs filament.  Giesler argues that just like the glow from the lamp is caused by electricity, so my continuing existence is caused by something.
  • Some things undeniably exist
  • My nonexistence is possible
  • Whatever has the possibility not to exist is currently caused to exist by another
  • There cannot be an infinite regress of current causes for existence
  • Therefore, a first uncaused cause of my current existence exists
  • The uncaused cause must be infinite, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-perfect
  • This uniquely perfect Being is appropriately called “God”.
  • Therefore, God exists
  • This God who exists is identical to the God described in the Christian scriptures
  • Therefore, the God described in the Bible exists

The Church

I believe that if we, as the church, the body of Christ, were to love God with all that we are, and were to love those around us, that there would be no need of logical proofs for the existence of God.  People would see God in us and be attracted to him.  Unfortunately, all too often the world sees little difference between us and them.  A transformed people provide powerful evidence of the existence of God.  People claiming to be reborn, who are no different than the once born, apart from where they spend Sunday morning, are really an argument against a God, especially as described in the New Testament.

Conclusion

In the end, I think that believing in God is a choice that each person makes for themselves.  That choice may be made with little, if any thought.  Or it may be made after much thought and consideration.  To believe in God, just because someone else does, or even your culture as a whole does, is, IMO, not a very good reason.  I do believe that there are valid reasons to believe in the existence of God.  But whether those reasons are compelling is something that each person will need to evaluate for themselves.

So why do I believe there is a God?  I have believed there was a God for as long as I can remember.  Initially it was because of the home I grew up in.  But ultimately, it is because of my own experience with what I understand to be his workings in my own life.  It is possible that I have misunderstood my experiences, but it seems more logical to me, in light of the writings in the Bible and the experience of others I know and have read about, to believe that it is indeed the actions of God, wanting me to know him and to prepare me for something beyond this life.

References

Handbook of Christian Apologetics – Kreeft & Tacelli
Reasonable Faith – Craig
Christian Apologetics – Geisler

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Futility of Legalism

It is common in some circles to have a set of rules that are used to regulate conduct and ensure that you are worthy.  Many churches, and even more individual Christians use the 10 Commandments, or other selected portions of the Old Testament Law as the basis for their "Code of Conduct", usually updating them a bit to handle more modern sins that need to be avoided. Most often these codes seem to take the form of "don't do this", "or this", "or this other thing".  But do these legalistic codes actually accomplish anything?
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23 NIV
Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!  Sure sounds like a code of conduct, or a set of rules developed to ensure conformity to some standard.  It seems like a reasonable approach if you want to be sure you stay in line with what God expects of you.  It even sounds somewhat Old Testamenty.  But it really has no value in helping you to maintain purity; to restrain sensual indulgence.

How many of us will really, and consistently, follow rules that tell us not to do something we really want to do, especially when there is no near term consequence of breaking the rule.  Indeed there are some who do manage to have more self control than I do, and are able to follow rules that prevent them from doing something they really want to do; but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

As a result, those who are compiling list of rules for folks to keep, generally only include those rules that they can easily keep.  My list might look something like:
  • Do not drink coffee
  • Limit your TV viewing to NFL Football and NCIS
  • No alcohol, drugs or loud music.
  • Stay out of casinos, nightclubs, and dance halls
  • Don't mess around with someone else's wife
  • Don't throw dog poo over your fence (I saw someone do this the other day, yuck)
I could go on and on, put you probably get the point by now.  Rules are only going to work for me if 1) I agree with them, or 2) there is some undesirable consequence for breaking them.  But they will never change who I am.  So is it hopeless; is there anyway to actually control my sensual desires?  Stay tuned (or read on into the next chapter of Colossians)!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Cross: A Look From the Other Side

I have been reading through Colossians and, as frequently happens, a passage jumped out at me and captured my interest.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. - Colossians 2:13-15 NIV
We see Jesus crucifixion clearly pictured in each of the gospels, and referred to throughout the epistles.  As Christians we look to it for our salvation and celebrate it, along with his resurrection, at Easter.  The cross has become one of the primary symbols that represents Christianity.  But while we look primarily on the physical side of the cross, because that is what we can best see and understand, this passage paints a view from the other side, the spiritual world.

The powers and authorities in this passage refer to spiritual rulers, and usually refer to those in opposition to God.  And they had a legal charge of indebtedness drawn up against us.  We had sinned, rebelling against God, and his enemies had claimed ownership of us.

But God took that legal document that condemned us, and nailed it to the cross alongside Jesus.  And doing so accomplished two things.  Our sins were forgiven, making us alive in Christ.  And the powers and authorities bringing charges against us were disarmed.  They had lost the weapon they had to use against us, and were left with nothing.

This was apparently a quite an unexpected turn of events for these powers and authorities and they were left in a state of humiliation.  You can picture them celebrating Jesus death and their victory over him, when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory; their victory cheers turning into wails of anguish.  God has taken their crowning moment, the cross, and turned it into triumph over them.

One of my favorite songs of the cross.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Living Worthy

For many people, living a life that is worthy of God seems like an impossible goal.  And yet it is what is expected of Christ's disciples.  Fortunately the scriptures give us some clues on how to do this, including this passage from Paul's letter to the church at Colossi.
"We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way"
Colossians 1:9-10 NIV
The starting place for living worthy is to know what God wants of you.  If you don't know what he wants, what chance do you have of pleasing him?  And Paul's prayer for this church acknowledges that and starts off with a request that God would make his will know to this body, through the wisdom the Holy Spirit brings.

Do you want to live in a way that is worthy of God, that pleases him in every way?  Then the place to start is in prayer, asking that God would reveal his will to you.  And if you are sincere, I am convinced that he will.  Unless he does want you to fail, which I have a hard time believing.

My biggest problem is that I am not always very good at discerning his response to me; often because it disagrees with what I want to do and/or be.  And when his will does not coincide with mine, I am left with a choice:  please God, or please myself.

How to be worthy is three easy (or maybe not so easy) steps:
  • Make it your hearts desire
  • Seek God's will for your life
  • Be obedient to the instruction he gives you through his Spirit's voice, his word, or wise counsel.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Introduction to Apologetics

What is Apologetics?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines apologetics as (1) the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrine, and (2) formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system.  Formally, then, Christian apologetics is a specific area of study that is directly concerned with proving a defense for the Christian faith to those who are challenging the beliefs of Christianity.  But apologetics is not just a field that should be left to trained theologians.  Apologetics should be a concern for every believer who is interested in reaching the lost around them.  While there will be those you may witness to who will not question the validity of Christian beliefs, you will find more and more who will ask some serious questions about one or more of our beliefs.  Being able to provide at least a simple answer to them can potentially remove a distraction that might keep them from God.  In a very real sense, apologetics and evangelism work hand in hand; with evangelism sharing the good news and apologetics knocking down the walls that can inhibit reception of the gospel.

Why do it?

As a Christian layman, why should you have any interest in apologetics, something that is generally considered a field for theologians?  I have already mentioned one reason above; it can be used to remove roadblocks that keep people from being receptive to the gospel.  But there are two other reasons that should concern every believer.

The first of these is because we are instructed to.  1 Peter 3:15-16 provides the most specific instruction for engaging in apologetics.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
 1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV
In this passage, Peter tells us to always be ready to explain to others why we have the hope in God that we do; to give a defense for our faith.  This instruction was not just given to trained theologians who are able to give long involved book length defenses.  But it was given to the persecuted believers scattered throughout the part of the world Peter is writing to.  We should be able, not only to tell people what we believe, but also to share with them why we believe it.

And this really leads into the second reason why we should engage in apologetics.  Being able to provide a reason for your faith requires you to first understand those reasons and then to be able to simply express those reasons.  This, in turn, helps you to better understand what you believe and helps to move your faith from being something that was taught you, to something that is actually yours.  This makes your faith much more personal and real.  Philemon 6, while not addressing apologetics specifically, does express this motivation.
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon 6 NIV

Faith and Reason

One of the challenges you may face with apologetics is an apparent conflict between faith and reason.  I believe this comes primarily because of a misunderstanding of just what the two terms actually mean.  To the rationalist, reason trumps all and faith has no place.  For many Christians, faith is all that counts and reason has limited value.  And between those two perspectives, there seems to be little chance of effective communication concerning Christianity.  But I don’t believe either of these extremes is correct.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines reason as ‘To determine or conclude by logical thinking’.  The implication to this is that rational conclusions are reached, not based on personal desires or feelings, but by an examination of available evidence using the rules of logic to arrive at the most reasonable conclusion.  If the evidence used is comprehensive and accurate, and the rules of logic are rigorously applied, then a valid, or rational, conclusion is likely.

Among the definitions for faith in the American Heritage Dictionary is ‘Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.’  At first glance, this would indeed appear to be contrary to reason, since it is expressly not based on either logic or evidence; key attributes of reason.  And this often times leads to the charge that faith is blind; that it requires the abandonment of reason.  And it must be admitted that this is often times the case for some people, choosing to believe something in spite of all of the evidence being contrary to the belief.

But I would argue that this is not always the case, nor should it ever be.  When evidence is sufficient, reason can provide a conclusion.  But what happens when evidence is not sufficient.  You can choose to not reach a conclusion or you can make the best one you can, based on the available evidence.  Many will claim that they choose not to reach a conclusion if the evidence is insufficient, and at times that is true for all of us.  But I seriously doubt that there is anyone who will never reach conclusions that are not based solely on reason.  It is just not practical for our day to day lives.

I have faith in God.  And many would say that that faith is blind, that it is a belief based solely on desire and with no supporting evidence.  But I would argue that there is sufficient evidence to support a belief in God, particularly the Christian God.  This is the role of apologetics; the application of reason, a logical examination of the evidence, to the Christian faith, and will be what the other posts in this series will attempt to do.

Human Understanding Without the Holy Spirit

There is another very important issue to consider when addressing apologetics, applying to evangelism as well.  The Holy Spirit is God’s presence within the life of believers.  The Holy Spirit gives us assurance of God’s presence as well as guiding us into the truth.  This is something that is missing in the life of the unbeliever.  Both of these roles are important in the area of apologetics.

God’s presence within is, to the believer, proof of the existence of God.  As a believer, faith in God is not just an unfounded wish.  Rather it is based upon the reality of his presence.  We don’t just hope that there is a God.  We are able to walk with him and talk with him; we can know him.  But to the person without the Holy Spirit, the thought of him within us is just nonsense.  Trying to describe the Holy Spirit to one who is spiritually dead is like trying to describe the color red to one who was born blind.  In a very real way, that person is handicapped, although they do not recognize the handicap and will take offense at the thought.
The other advantage of the Holy Spirit’s presence concerns the assistance he gives us in understanding spiritual truths.  With God’s presence within, there are many things we can know that would not be possible otherwise.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit”
1 Corinthians 2:10b-14
This passage, among others, makes it clear that the person without the Spirit of God will be unwilling, or unable, to accept spiritual truth.  And observation bears that out as well.  It is easy to make the charge that the unbeliever is being purposefully contrary when we are providing a defense for our faith.  But a significant part of the problem is that they are not really capable of understanding.  We should not take that as an excuse to not bother.  Rather, it should encourage us to not become discouraged and just write them off.  Remember, that at one time, all of us were in the same position of unbelief.

Trust the Holy Spirit’s presence within and the understanding that he brings.  It is the most powerful tool you have in living as a follower of Jesus and in giving a defense for your faith.  But don’t be surprised or offended when those you share with are incredulous or take offense when you talk with them.  Remember the great handicap they are operating under.  They deserve your pity more than your scorn.

Related Posts
Being an Apologist

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Are You a Mary, or a Martha?

In the gospel of Luke we find recorded a visit that Jesus paid to the home of a pair of sisters, Mary & Martha; the same sisters whose brother Lazarus dies and is restored to life by Jesus, recorded in the eleventh chapter of John.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
- Luke 10:38-42 NIV
Martha is a great hostess, working to make everything just right for her honored guest.  Mary is a lazy slug, at least in Martha's view, who does nothing except listen to Jesus.  In exasperation, she chastens Jesus for letting Mary get away with doing nothing, instructing him to send Mary to the kitchen.

Jesus loving response to Martha is a reminder that the cooking and cleaning are not as important as he is.  I can just picture him patting a cushion and inviting Martha to take a break and spend some time with him.  And I can also picture Martha assuring him that she will; right after she takes care of a few more important preparations for dinner.

I can see that so clearly because Martha is my role model.  I want to spend time sitting at Jesus feet with Mary, absorbing what he has to say and basking in his presence.  But first I need to send an email, read an article, go out and pull some weeds, prepare a lesson, write up a blog post, give my mother in law her pills, and a million other little things.  Most of them take very little time, but collectively they seem to occupy my day.  I know Jesus is patting the cushion he has placed beside him, inviting me to join him.  And any time now I am going to get caught up and be able to take a break and sit down with him for a while; at least until my phone chimes with a new email.

Oh to be more like Mary!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Nature of the Creation

The creation is either:
  • Real and knowable
  • Real but unknowable
  • Imaginary

An Imaginary Universe

It is possible that our universe is nothing more than a computer simulation that is being run by some super-intellect.  That it does not exist in the real world.  And that everything I see is only sophisticated programming.  And even my sense of identity and thoughts are nothing but a running program.  The creator of this universe may be nothing more than a nerdy computer programmer putting together a game for sale on the newest gaming platform in some advanced civilization.

If this was the case, is there any way to know?  I certainly think I am real, but how could I know for sure; unless I take one of the little pills from the Matrix.  The level of sophistication for this simulation is well beyond anything we could do today, but that is no real argument against some more advanced civilization having that capability.

The primary reason I have for rejecting this scenario is that it requires me to disbelieve my senses and intellect.  If I cannot believe that what I see, hear and touch is real; if I cannot believe that I am able to rationally consider the world around me and make decisions about it; then why try to make sense of what is going on around me.  If is a futile effort and has no chance of success.  

A Real but Unknowable Universe

A second possibility is that our universe is real, that it actually exists.  But at the same time the universe is unknowable.  We may think we are figuring it out, but in reality it is something else all together.  This may be because we are not as rational and intelligent as we think we are.  Or it could be because the universe creator built it in such way that we would be unable to discover the truth about it.  

Like the imaginary universe, this scenario might be true, and there would be no way yo distinguish it from one that was knowable.  I have the same problem with this possibility that I do with the imaginary universe.  If I cannot believe my senses, then what can I believe.  

A Real and Knowable Universe

The third possibility is similar to the second in that the universe is real.  But it differs by claiming that the universe is as it appears to be.  What we are able to see, discern and experience in the universe is indeed how it actually works.  

For someone like myself, this has a great deal of appeal.  I like trying to understand how the universe works, although I admit that my grasp of that is pretty surface.  And I want to believe that truth about the physical universe is discernible; otherwise the discovery process seems a bit futile. 

And, most importantly, it better fits with what I believe about a creator. While it is certainly possible that the creator produced us for his own entertainment, I believe it was actually for some more noble purpose.  While an imaginary universe would work well for his entertainment, it is hard to figure what purpose it might serve beyond that.  I also have a hard time seeing a creator producing a universe that is other than what it appears to be; it strikes me as a bit deceitful and for no purpose that I can tell.

I do believe, along with most people, whether they believe in a creator or not, that the universe is real, and that it is knowable.  We can profitably study it, and understand how it is put together and how it functions.  I also believe that is the proper role for science; studying the creation and learning how it works.

Nature of the Creation

As I sit here writing this, I see a big willow tree across the street with a crow sitting on an upper branch. The gray clouds are slowly moving past, the skyline of Seattle is highlighted in the distance, and a ferry should pass by soon.  And, because I believe the universe is knowable, I believe that all of those things I can see outside my window really are there.  In the same way, I believe that the other things I can see, whether first hand or through reputable scientific sources are the way that they appear to be, and that I can learn from them.

This is significant for me, because I find myself torn between two competing views of the universe.  One is the scientific perspective, that claims the universe is knowable and rational.  The other is one held by many Christians, and folks of other religions, that claim that what the universe so clearly tells us about itself is not actual reality.  An example of this is light from far distant stars.  Did it leave those stars millions, or billions, of years ago; or was it created in transit only a few thousand years ago, giving the appearance of having traveled for a few million years.

And if that light was created in transit, containing a history that is make believe, how do I know that the universe is any more than 15 minutes old.  If light was created with false history, why could I not also be created with false history, memories of something that did not actually happen.  If you want to claim that starlight is lying about its history, then how can you trust any other history?

Ultimately I have chosen to believe that what the creation reveals about itself is what it really is.  The rest of this article will deal with some specific aspects of what the creation reveals that have significance to me and my beliefs.

The Scope of the Universe

How big, and how old, is the creation?  I freely confess that the answers to those questions are beyond my training, and possibly intelligence, to discover on my own.  I actually struggle a bit in trying to understand the answers that others have discovered.  But there are many who have invested a lifetime in trying to answer those questions, and I am very grateful to them for that.

So how old do they say the universe is?  100 years ago the general consensus among scientists was that it was eternal, it had always been.  But nowadays the age estimate has dropped considerably; down to around 13.8 billion years old.  And that has some pretty tremendous implications.  An eternal universe has no need of a creator.  A universe that had a beginning does have a need for something to have caused it, a creator. 

While I read with great interest the descriptions of the tests used to determine the age of the universe, it is a bit much for me to be able to spit it back out in an easily understood form.  Instead I would refer you to a wiki article that provides some background on this. 

The other half of the opening question for this section deals with the size of the universe.  And the answer to this is incomprehensible to me.  I can grasp a distance of 3000 miles from here to the far coast of the US.  The 98 million miles to the sun is nothing but a very large number, outside my frame of reference.  So a universe with an estimated 46 billion light year radius, and rapidly growing, is mind boggling.  And that's just the part we can see; no idea now big the whole thing is.  And this is an observable universe with an estimated 100 billion galaxies, each with from 10 million to a trillion stars.  

The observable universe gives every indication that it is 13.8 billion years old with a radius of 46 billion light years, containing an immense number of stars.  But does it really, or is it just an illusion?  If it is not as it appears, then the alternative is that it was created in such a way as to give the appearance of something else.  It may be that it was created 10,000 years ago, or 5 minutes ago, but with the illusion that it was actually much older.  It may be that the law of physics are not constant throughout the universe, making our attempts at studying the age and size of the universe to be futile efforts.  But as expressed earlier I much prefer reality to illusion.

Why So Big and Old?

I find 13.8 billion years to be an awfully long time.  But to a creator who sits outside of time, it is meaningless.  Never-the-less, I can't help but wonder why he would take so long to produce intelligent life, if that was indeed his purpose in creation.

If the universe is only 10,000 years old, then I know of no practical reason that it is so big.  The whole creation would not need to be bigger than our solar system.  But its size and age do become important if it went through the evolutionary stages that it is revealing to us.

It turns out that if one is going to kick start a universe with just an immense mass of raw materials and operating laws, then it is going to take a very long time to produce all of the elements required for life.  Hydrogen and Helium were produced as the early universe cooled and expanded after the Big Bang.  But apparently all of the other elements are forged within stars, and ejected when they explode, something that takes a very long time.  So in a very real sense, we are all made of star dust.  Pretty cool!

The Diversity of Life

What is the origin of life?  How has it taken such a variety of forms here on earth?  Is there life in the universe apart from earth?  The Bible says God created life in all its diversity, and is silent on life elsewhere.  Science has no answer to the origin of life, but says that all of the current life forms have evolved from a common ancestor.  It also says that life is likely throughout the universe.

Where did life come come.  Did the creator produce an initial life form that took shape and diversified into the profusion of forms we see today?  Did the creator produce life multiple times, once for each species that has lived on earth?  Or did he create the laws that govern the universe in such a way that intelligent life was inevitable?

It seems most likely to me that all known life on earth has a common ancestor.  While the Theory of Evolution does not answer all the questions I have, it does provide a framework that makes sense to me, and does explain the dramatic similarities in so much of life today.  Why do nearly all birds, reptiles and mammals have a bilateral form, 4 limbs, a head and tail, two eyes, two ears, 1 mouth, reproduce sexually, have similar circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems.  To me at least, the differences between species are not as dramatic as the similarities between them.  I would expect that if each were designed and created individually, there would be a much greater diversity in form and function.  I know that if I was in charge of creating the animals there would be at least one beast with an odd number of legs, and maybe eyes all the way around rather than just a pair in the front or sides.

The only argument I know of against evolution is that it is contrary to the traditional interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis.  But even this passage only claims that God created, or made them, each according to their own species.  It provides no mechanism for how this occurred, other than "God said".

As to how life began, I don't know.  I am OK with either God's direct intervention (a miracle) to start life, or that the laws he put into place at creation made intelligent life inevitable.  I am inclined to go with the later but for no real reason other than it is more elegant.  The answer to that does have an impact on the question of life elsewhere in the universe.  If it requires a miracle, then life may be limited to this planet, unless the creator choose to also perform that miracle elsewhere.  If intelligent life is inevitable because of the laws that control the universe, then life is likely fairly common throughout the universe.

Ramifications

If the universe began in a "Big Bang" 13.8 billion years ago, and has then slowly evolved from that time; and if all life on earth began with a common ancestor and then diversified in some fashion similar to the Theory of Evolution; then there are some significant reconciliation issues with the more traditional Christian beliefs that include a recent creation without any evolution.  One cannot simply drop replace a young earth with no evolution, with an old universe and evolution, without an impact on other beliefs.

In particular, issues of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the fall of man need to be considered.  This will be done in later posts.  I have heard the question raised about the possibility of being a Christian and accepting evolution.  There are those who claim they are incompatible, and I have been branded an atheist by some because of that.  But as far as I am concerned, the mechanisms that the creator used to produce earth and the life on it, and what we believe about that, is really of no significance in a persons salvation and walk with their creator.

Other Related Blogs
Creation and the Big Bang
The Bible and Science

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Nature of the Creator

In an earlier blog I wrote about why a creator makes more sense for the origin of the universe, at least to me, than any of the alternatives.  I did not go into any details there concerning the nature of a universe creator, but would like to do that here.  I have read a number of books and articles that covered this same ground, some of which I agreed with and some not.  But I want to provide my own take on this.

Powerful

In my way of thinking, power is required to produce something.  And the bigger and grander the product, the more power is required to produce it.  As humans we think of ourselves as pretty powerful, and yet producing something the size of the moon is well beyond our ability to execute.  I cannot imagine the amount of power that would be required to produce a universe.  Even a universe that unrolls from a singularity would require an amazing amount of power to start it, and keep it unrolling.

I have no idea about what lies beyond the universe we inhabit, nor what limits there might be on a universe creator in that realm.  But within the context of the creation, I think it is safe to identify the creator as all-powerful, omnipotent; without equal in power and ability; able to do whatever he chooses.

Intelligent

The more complex and elegant the design, the more intelligence is required to produce it.  And can you think of anything that is more complex or elegant than the universe, apart from its creator?  Is there anything about the creation that its creator would not know?

Transcendent

A creator would be distinct from his creation, independent of it and not limited by it.  Space and time are two limitations that we are very familiar with.  Everything in this universe, that I know about, is limited to being in a single location at any one moment in time.  And everything that I am aware of experiences the passage of time in a forward only manner, although I am aware that there is some thought that in the quantum world that forward only direction may not be completely applicable.  This lack of limitation has some interesting application to a creator.

Not being bound by space means that the creator can be multiple places at any one instance of time, or even in every place within the universe.  This means that the creator could be omnipresent, everywhere at once.  While I am able to be multiple places at once, limited by the size of my body, the creator could be everywhere in his creation, since unlike me, he is not limited by space.

Even more interesting is that the creator would not be bound by time, meaning that he could move both forward and backward in time; be in multiple time periods simultaneously; or even be concurrently present at all points of time.  That is admittedly hard to visualize, but if, as scientists claim, time is just another dimension, then it is really little different than being in multiple places at one time, which is something that even I can do in a limited fashion.

If the creator is intelligent enough to create our universe, is able to be everywhere within it, both in space and in time, then he could know everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen.  He would be omniscient.

Miracles

A miracle is generally defined as something that has a supernatural origin, an act of a deity.  Much of the argument against miracles assumes that there is no creator.  But there are those who will argue that even an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator would be unable to produce a miracle.  But that does not really make sense, since creation itself is an act of the creator, a miracle.  I can find no rational argument for supposing that a creator would be unable to interact with his creation, i.e. perform miracles.

I am able to manipulate the creation in some limited extent to accomplish my own goals.  Why could not the creator be able to do the same thing?  While I am not able to manipulate the laws of physics to accomplish my goals, is there any reason to suppose that a creator could not?  I was a software developer for many years, the creator of little software worlds.  Most users of those applications were limited by the user interface in what they could do.  But I was able to tweak the underlying data in ways that they could not, allowing me to accomplish things that the average user could not.  That is really no different that the creator manipulating the underlying laws and constants that drive our universe to accomplish something that I would be unable to.

Miracles are impossible if there is no creator.  But if there is a creator, then miracles should not be a surprise, even miracles that we do not recognize as such; rather they should be expected.

Purposeful

While it is by no means certain to me, it does seem like a creator would have a purpose in his creation.  In other words, he had a reason for producing a life friendly universe.  Other than for the production of some form of life, it is hard to determine what his purpose might have been, assuming all we had to go on was creation itself.

But if he had a purpose in creation, and especially if that purpose included intelligent life, it would seem reasonable to assume that he would be active in his creation, at least enough to make sure his purpose was fulfilled.  It would also seem likely that he might want any life that developed to have some concept of him and his purpose.

Other Attributes

There may be other attributes for a creator that could be derived from there being a creation, but these are the ones that seem clear to me.  And of course there are many other attributes that specific religions give to their creator, or god.  But without the creator himself providing some glimpse of his nature or purpose, I am not sure how one would go about deriving those attributes.

I will look later at the God of Christianity, seeing how well he fits the above, as well as any other attributes of his nature that he has revealed to us.