Christianity: the Right Tool for the Job

“Christ with Thorns”, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1865-1879.

I have a small book on my bookcase with one of the more unusual titles of any I own: “Jesus, Friend to Terrorists”. Yes, you read that right. The book was addressed to the terrorists, rebels, and revolutionaries around the world who want to change the world, albeit in very misguided and tragic ways. The book applauds their zeal and commitment to a cause, but encourages them to reconsider their brutal methods, consider what will happen if they succeed in overthrowing their oppressors only to become the oppressors the next generation seeks to overthrow, and instead commit themselves to the much better cause of Christ. In the end, it asks them to trade in the hate and envy of political revolutions, and the bloody violence of terrorism, for the love and hope brought by the most amazing revolution known: the divine transformation of a human soul. Last week, I offered some reasons why I think humanism, like so many other ideologies (including those of terrorists), is the wrong tool for solving the world’s problems. This week, I’d like to explain why I am persuaded that Christianity is the right tool for the job.

  • “Out There” vs. “In Here” Problems. Last week I noted that some of the goals that humanists aspire to, like ending war and poverty, are admirable. Yet they are only looking for an external problem to fix, like an allergen “out there” in the world, when the problem is more like a disease “in here”, inside each of us. Too often, we want to lay the blame on an array of external factors like how we were raised by our parents, the culture we grew up in, and on and on. The Bible shows us that the problem is an internal one called sin. But the Bible doesn’t simply diagnose the real problem; it points us to Christ, who removes the hatred and selfishness and pride in me and you, which ultimately addresses the symptoms that manifest themselves in society as a whole. Transformation inside is what’s required to fix the problems we see outside.
  • Collective vs. Individual Remedies. It’s far more comfortable to talk about “people” or “society” needing to change, but God commands us individually to change, and that can get uncomfortable quickly. But what is needed for a society to change? The individuals that form that society must change. And when numbers of individuals are radically transformed on the inside, their outside actions necessarily follow suit, and whole empires are changed.
  • Love. Two things that were noticeably absent in the Humanist Manifestos I read were the love and forgiveness that the Bible emphasizes so much. There seems to be a significant difference between helping the poor because it will supposedly help society flourish and helping them because one genuinely loves the person being helped. But the term “love” has become rather diluted in our culture, so what do I even mean by love? And what shall we base it on? Christian love isn’t a mere feeling of affection, for we are called to love even our enemies [Mt 5:44]. And it’s not “reciprocal altruism”, for we are also called to love those who could never return the favor. Rather, it is the willing of good for another and the giving of oneself to realize that good. While it is thoughtful, love is not only thoughts – it is action. While it can be spontaneous, it is also committed and enduring. And above all, it is unconditional. After all, what condition could an enemy satisfy to warrant such love and still be an enemy? Yet there are many examples over the last 2,000 years of Christians asking God to forgive the very people brutally torturing and killing them. Why should we go to such extremes? Because we were each enemies of God, yet He loved us first [Rom 5:8-10, 1Jn 4:19]. So then Christian love is grounded not in the ever-changing state of our emotions, but in the very nature of God [1Jn 4:8-11]. In fact, while the law is normally seen as cold and unloving, Jesus said that all the Mosaic Law could be summed up in 2 commandments: to love God with all that you are, and to love others as yourself [Mk 12:28-31]. The revolutionary, transformative love of God can change the vilest sinners into saints.

Do you want to see the world changed for the better? Forget humanist panaceas, cultural paradigms, economic schemes, and political solutions. Instead, recognize the problem of sin in yourself first, freely take of the remedy graciously provided by your Creator, and then go live out that love you’ve received, bless others as you’ve been blessed, and share the good news you’ve learned so others can experience the same joy. Do that and see if you don’t “turn the world upside-down” like the Jesus’ apostles [Ac 17:6 ESV].

Humanism: The Wrong Tool for the Job

Make sure you use the right tool for building your life

This last weekend, I spent far more time than planned installing a new hot water heater at my house. But frustrating experiences can often be good teachers, and that project reinforced the importance of having the right tool for the job. Some tools are woefully inadequate for the task at hand, while the more appropriate tool makes quick work of it. The worldview we filter life through is similar in that the wrong worldview makes life less comprehensible and more difficult – or even impossible – to live out consistently; but with the right worldview, everything falls into place. Let’s work through an example of that today.

After finishing the home repairs, I read through the three Humanist Manifestos maintained on the American Humanist Association website. The first was published in 1933, with a second in 1973, and the latest in 2003. Other than the rejection of God, they have some admittedly admirable goals like the elimination of war and poverty, and the security of freedom. Some “freedoms” advocated aren’t so admirable, like unrestricted abortion and euthanasia. After all, killing another innocent human being is murder no matter what euphemism is attached to it. But the general intent seems to be one of sincerely wanting to improve the world they live in. Yet, you can sincerely wear yourself out trying to use a screwdriver on a 16 penny nail  and never accomplish anything. Might I suggest, that despite all their sincerity, humanists are trying to use the wrong tool for the job when it comes to building a better world?

Humanism, according to their manifestos, has some views and goals worth comparing to Christianity. Here are just a few:

  • All 3 manifestos regard the universe as self-existing, in spite of the evidence pointing more and more over the last century to a beginning of the universe at a finite point in the past. Interestingly, the evidence that humanists are uncomfortable acknowledging points to what the Bible has said all along: “In the beginning, God created….”[Gen 1:1]
  • Unguided evolution is supported in all 3 manifestos, even though genetics and information theory has been steadily chipping away at that as a viable option. Science is already confirming what the Bible has said all along: we are fearfully and wonderfully made”[Ps 139:14].
  • But the idea that mankind can evolve socially and become better and better was evident in the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933, in spite of the horrors of the “war to end all wars” (World War I) that had destroyed that utopian idea for many already. With two world wars in its rear view mirror, the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II noted in its preface that the previous manifesto had been “far too optimistic”, and recognized “the depths of brutality of which humans are capable”, and that “science has sometimes brought evil as well as good.” Even so, the Manifesto still advocated the same optimism and blind faith in the power of humans to change themselves (to the point of being able to “alter the course of human evolution”).[2] For those who have read the Bible, the preponderance of evidence of human depravity, both historically and in the dark recesses of our own hearts, is no mystery. Humanists may not want to admit that they (and every other human) are sinners, but it certainly does explain the world around us better than the naive optimism of humanism. That we are created in the image of God, but marred by sin explains why we humans seem capable of so much good, and yet still do so much evil.
  • Humanists want to “provide the purpose and inspiration that so many seek,” give “personal meaning and significance to human life,” and provide “abundant and meaningful life”. [2] This is to come about from a selfless commitment to the greater good of “broad-based cooperative efforts”[2], “participation in the service of humane ideas” and “working to benefit society”[3], with a goal of “a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good.”[1] But I have to ask, why should a person want to do this? Why, if this life is all I have (as the 3 manifestos clearly state), should I spend it working and sacrificing to improve the lives of others? Not that I disagree with their goal of cooperation and selfless service; rather, I question their foundation for it. Even if society as a whole benefits from my sacrifices, why should I care enough to forfeit any of my limited time on earth to enjoy life? After all, we must find our fulfillment in the “here and now” according to humanism. I don’t think they really have a good answer to that, but the Bible does. We love because He first loved us [1Jn 4:19]; we serve because Christ served those He came to save [Mk 10:45] and because in serving others, we serve Him [Mt 25:35-40]; we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others [2Co 9:11]; we value others because we recognize them as created by God [Ge 1:27, Ac 17:26], loved by God [Jn 3:16, Rm 5:8], and precious in His sight – so how could we not want to give of ourselves to show love to them, even if they be our enemies [Mt5:44]? And we really do get the abundant life humanist seek! [Jn 10:10]
  • They want to “conquer poverty”, stating that “world poverty must cease.” Yet Christians, not humanists, have been the most generous force in human history by building hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities; donating food, clothing, services, money, and volunteer time to help those in need; translating languages and teaching native people reading and writing, basic hygiene, and life skills like improved farming;  and working to end barbaric practices like slavery and suttee. We do it not out of commitment to an ideal, but out of genuine love for those affected by poverty. In fact, maybe the conspicuous absence of love in humanism is why Christians have traditionally given more to alleviate poverty.
  • The manifesto claims that “war is obsolete”[2]. Far from being “obsolete”, war has been made more efficient than ever. Now we have the power to destroy entire countries in an instant with nuclear weapons, or in an agonizing time frame of our choice with biological and chemical weapons. Or we can target down to the individual, remotely, from the other side of the world, as if we were simply playing a video game. Rather than naively saying war is obsolete because humans can learn to not be selfish and to cooperate instead, the Bible shows us that we are all selfish apart from the transforming work of God in our hearts, and as long as there are sinful humans on this planet, some people will hate others or covet what others possess. These are the root causes of any unjust war, and they both really come down to that most ancient of vices: pride. Christianity deals with the ultimate cause of war, and all other acts of aggression, and prevents war by preventing the pride that starts wars.
  • Humanists claim to be “committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity”[3], yet their explicit support for abortion and euthanasia say otherwise. Some people’s lives apparently aren’t worth as much as others. The Bible is consistent in all human life having inherent worth because of our creation in the image of God [Gen 1:27, 9:6].
  •  Supposedly, in spite of the vast weight of history, “humankind has the potential, intelligence, goodwill, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades to come.”[2] Sadly, but unsurprisingly, humankind has missed that goal by a mile. Maybe that’s why, 3 decades later, the 2003 Humanist Manifesto III was one-quarter the length of the 1973 version, and with less concrete statements. Humans have potential, but it is only realized in the regeneration wrought by God. Without that, our only potential is for continued decay.

I’ve taken excerpts from 3 manifestos written over a 70 year period. I’m not trying to mix and match to paint them in the worst light. Rather, I hope I’ve shown a few ways that humanism has consistently missed the mark in addressing what ails the world. In the end, the fatal flaw of humanism may be found in their statement in Manifesto II: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” And that, my friends, makes about as much sense as grabbing a saw when you need a screwdriver.


[1] https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto1/
[2] https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto2/
[3] https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto3/

Comfort Zones God Makes Uncomfortable

Burgess Meredith as bookworm Henry Bemis with “time enough at last” for reading in the classic 1959 post-apocalyptic Twilight Zone episode.

I can truly appreciate all the jokes and memes circulating these days about introverts; given the option, I’d gladly sit on a desert island with a small mountain of books. But while I may be content with that, God doesn’t appear to be. And there’s a good chance He’s not content to leave you in your comfort zone either, so let’s work through that today.

In reading the Bible and church history, it is always interesting the people used by God. Consider a few examples:

  • Moses may have been raised in Pharaoh’s court, but he doesn’t seem to have ever been comfortable leading the Israelites. He asked “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” [Ex 3:11], and tried to get out of his call because of his apparent speech impediment [Ex 4:10-16]. And yet he did oppose Pharaoh, one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, and led an entire people group out of captivity.
  • Gideon was afraid, threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites when God called him to lead the Israelites into battle against their oppressors [Jg 6:11]. The Lord called him valiant, but he responded by asking, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” [Jg 6:15] Even after God granted him signs to confirm His message, Gideon was still nervous about completing his first assignment in broad daylight [Jg 6:27].
  • Peter was a fisherman who was often sticking his foot in his mouth [Mt 16:22-23, 17:4-5], and yet was used by God to preach to the crowd at Pentecost where 3000 people were convicted by his message [Ac 2:14,37-41]. Later, in testifying before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council), the council members “observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” [Ac 4:13].
  • Paul may have been in his comfort zone discussing theology like in his letter to the Romans, but he was also a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, zealous for the Mosaic Law, and a persecutor of Christians initially [Php 3:4-7]. Yet he was sent to the Gentiles of all people – the non-Jews – to witness to the power of Christ to bring people from all nations to God through Jesus Christ [Ro 11:13-14, 15:15-16, Eph 3:8]. And though he always longed to see his fellow Jews accept Jesus as Lord [Ro 9:2-5], he would spend most of his remaining life ministering primarily to non-Jews.
  • John Calvin just wanted to lead a quiet life of study in little Strasbourg, but he couldn’t escape the call to minister in Geneva, a much larger, worldly metropolis. He was a systematic theologian extraordinaire, but he was compelled to also pastor the flock at St. Peter’s church in Geneva, Switzerland. And in looking at the call of Christ to His followers to take up their cross and follow Him, Calvin considered Geneva his cross to bear and obediently went. As much as he would’ve like to, he couldn’t live in his books when there were brothers and sisters in Christ facing all the messy problems of daily life, who needed guidance and equipping. [1]

Why does God seem to take us far outside of our comfort zones a lot? I see two primary reasons.

  1. To establish Who gets the credit. Right before God thinned out Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to a scant 300, God told him, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’”[Jg 7:2] I’d be far more comfortable with 32,000 soldiers than 300, but I’d also be trusting in my own abilities rather than God. Paul reinforces this principle when he writes of how God uses our weakness to demonstrate His power and grace [1Co 1:26-30, 2Co 12:9-10]. Often we hear that the things we are good at, those things we gravitate towards and that tend to come easy to us, are an indication of our calling. And that’s understandable; God equips us for the tasks He gives us. But that doesn’t mean that the tasks He gives us will be achievable in our own strength. Indeed, if they always are, we may be confusing our goals for His. He is glorified most when the task is far beyond our natural talents, for when we are weak, He is strong.
  2. To develop our character. This is part of sanctification. It’s easy for many to sit in church on Sunday and just see it as an item to be checked off the list. The message goes in one ear and out the other, and once it’s checked off the list, there’s no additional exposure to God’s Word the rest of the week. But apathy like that should be uncomfortable for a Christian. On the other hand, it’s easy for nerds like me to soak up knowledge like a sponge and yet never do anything with it. I could sit happily taking notes and absorbing information at a conference for hours on end, but applying that knowledge is nerve-wracking. Yet what do you do with a soapy sponge? You wring it out. It shouldn’t surprise me then if God expects me to actually take action, and step away from the books, and share the truth in love with others (even if it means talking to real live people…). Others have a zeal for action and just want to jump in and save the world, but buckling down to study and develop a good, deep, stable foundation is what makes them uncomfortable. Yet God calls us to “accurately handle the word of truth” [2Ti 2:15]. God’s goal is not our comfort or short-term success, but rather our holiness and our conformance to the image of His Son in all areas of our lives [1Pe 1:15-16, Ro 8:29].

I started out this week with some examples of people who needed to step outside of their comfort zones to change their world and advance God’s kingdom, before looking at the massive benefits that go along with that – glorifying God and maturing as Christians. This week, ask God to show you some areas you’ve grown comfortable in that probably shouldn’t be so comfortable, and the courage to follow Him wherever He leads.


[1] “Heroes of the Faith: John Calvin”, by R.C. Sproul, 2006.

Is Christianity Just Wishful Thinking?

“Martyr in the Arena”, by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1869

I was reading a book by an atheist author who claims to be a former minister yet seems to know very little about Christianity. While the book was heavy on sarcasm and light on reason, there was one point I’d like to address today. In one section, he proclaims that Christians merely “yearn for… an escape from death.” So what about that? Am I, as a Christian, just a victim of deluded, wishful thinking, only too eager to believe death isn’t really the end of me in spite of the cold, hard reality? Let’s work through that today.

Before the comment about Christians yearning for an escape from death, author David Madison proclaims, “There is no exit from death. Period. It is unbecoming to be so afraid of death, and it’s disgraceful that religions have specialized in marketing ways to get out of it.”[1] Let’s start by refreshing our former minister’s memory of some Scriptures that speak on this matter of death, and see if his charge against “religions” applies to Christianity.

  • The author of Hebrews writes that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” [Heb 9:27] The Christian is under no delusions of either escaping death or death being an escape. Instead, we face it head-on, knowing it is coming.
  • Jesus reminded His listeners, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” [Lk 12:4-5] We are not to fear death, but rather the wrath of God that justly lies on all of us until we are reconciled to Him.
  • Jesus told His disciples that “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” [Jn 16:2] We are to not be surprised when death is a consequence of following Christ.
  • The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians of his earnest hope that “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:20-21] Paul was prepared to serve God whether that involved a long hard life or imminent death, and every Christian is to be similarly prepared.
  • John tells us of the martyrs he sees in his revelation who “did not love their life even when faced with death.” [Rev 12:11] In fact, almost every book in the New Testament mentions that Christians would experience persecution, with several explicitly stating that it could include death.

Indeed, Tertullian wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church [1]: Christians were massacred for much of the first couple of centuries after Christ, and have continued to be killed in Communist and Muslim countries in particular. And these are the very places and times when Christianity has grown the most. If Christians were afraid of death and seeking an escape from it, choosing a life that often led directly to death – and cruel, torturous deaths at that – sure seems a strange way to go about it!

Historically, Christians have not been afraid of death. And why would we? We know this life, that can end in the blink of an eye, is not our home, and so we can hold on loosely to it. Madison’s comment about fear of death makes absolutely no sense when compared to the vast, consistent testimony of Christians over the last 2 millennia sacrificing their lives as they counted physical death a small price to pay in service to their Lord. That fear of death is antithetical to Christian trust in our risen Savior can be confirmed with even a brief reading of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, or the testimonies of the many Christians who suffered and were brutally killed in atheist countries like the USSR, Red China, and the Eastern Block countries of Europe after WWII, or watching videos of ISIS beheading or crucifying Christians.

With all this acceptance of death, then, is Christianity some kind of death-obsessed cult like the “Heaven’s Gate” group that all committed suicide back in 1997? Hardly. As Paul pointed out, going home would be good, but there was also still good work to be done here. So we can live joyfully for the Lord while also looking forward to being with the Lord someday. But are we really only seeking immortality when we become Christians? It’s not a matter of wishing for immortality, but rather recognizing the fact of our immortality, as testified to by the God who has proven Himself trustworthy throughout history, and then choosing wisely how we will spend eternity. If we had nothing on which to base this idea of life after death, then Mr. Madison might have a point. But we have the testimony of God, as recorded in His Word, as well as the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus, the “first fruits” of those who have died. [1Cor 15:20] Death may be a closed door where we can’t see and measure what’s on the other side, but that is no reason for skeptics to assume that it is just an impassable brick wall when we have the testimony of our Creator that it is a doorway each of us can and will pass through. Will you be ready when the door opens for you?


[1] Although it’s certainly not a book I can recommend (in fact, it’s probably the worst atheist book I’ve read so far), for completeness, it’s “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith”, by David Madison (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), p.145.
[2] Tertullian, Apologeticus pro Christianis, Chapter 50 (as commonly paraphrased).

Genetic Identity & Chimeras

Details of bony structures in 14-week-old fetus from an ultrasound equipment manufacturer.

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I am pro-life, both on religious grounds and on scientific grounds. In a recent discussion on Twitter, I made a point I have made before, that the fetus cannot be a part of the mother’s body (as many pro-abortion advocates say), partly because the fetus has different DNA from the mother. Later in the discussion, an objection was raised to this point that I hadn’t heard before, so let’s work through that today.

For those who may have been living under a rock the last 60+ years, DNA is the complex molecule Deoxyribonucleic Acid found in every living cell that stores the “blueprint” for that person. First discovered in 1869, it’s structure was finally determined in 1953, and the staggering informational content fully mapped in 2003. After that slow start, our knowledge about DNA and uses for that knowledge have increased dramatically over the years. Some of the most common uses of DNA testing include determining parentage, convicting guilty criminals (or exonerating those wrongly convicted), and identifying partial or unrecognizable remains. Essentially, these examples use DNA to verify the unique identity of individual persons. Now combine that with the well-established fact that by the time fertilization is complete (within 24 hours of the joining of sperm and oocyte), and while still only a single cell, a developing baby has DNA distinct from either parent. The obvious conclusion, biologically, is that this rapidly developing organism is not the same organism as the mother.

Now, the objection raised was that unique DNA doesn’t determine how many lives are present because of the existence of chimeras. What’s that, you ask? A chimera, outside of the mythological monster from which the name is drawn, is an organism with two (or more) distinct sets of DNA. Though not “new” in terms of existence, the first confirmation of a natural human chimera was in 1953 when a woman in England donated blood and it was found to contain two different blood types in one sample. As our knowledge of genetics has grown and DNA testing has become more commonplace, so too has observance of this phenomenon. for instance, a woman needed a kidney transplant in 1998, but when her 3 sons were tested as potential donors, 2 of them were determined, based on DNA, not to be her biological sons, even though she had given birth to them. Then in 2003, a woman in Washington filed for welfare benefits for her children and was denied, with accusations of welfare fraud pending, because her 2 children were determined not to be hers. A 3rd child was born while this was being investigated, so that birth and an immediate DNA test of both mother and child were witnessed by an officer of the state. Again, the DNA test showed different parentage for the child just born. What happened in each of these cases? Each of these 3 women had been twins. The Englishwoman in 1953 had a twin brother who had died shortly after birth. Cells had been shared between the two early in the pregnancy. The other 2 women were both the result of fused embryos, or a “vanishing twin”. Two oocytes had been fertilized by two sperm, resulting in twin zygotes. Early in the pregnancy, however, the two zygotes merged into one. Because they were separate zygotes, they each had different DNA. However, because this occurs very early in development, the zygote is still a collection of totipotent cells (meaning each cell at this stage can still become any cell in the human body, i.e. they have not differentiated into their separate lines of specialized cells for organ generation). When the twin zygotes (call them A & B) fused together, some of the cell from twin A went on to form various body parts like the skin cells inside the cheek where DNA samples are often taken. Cells from twin B went on to form other body parts such as the ovaries that would be responsible for producing children “not her own”. A third scenario, Fetal Microchimerism, or FMc, is much more common and is when cells from the blood of the fetus and/or mother get through the placental barrier to reside in the other person. Cells from their children have been found in the bodies of autopsied women many years after their pregnancies.

Based on these observed cases, we know that a person can have multiple DNA. But does the existence of chimeras refute the idea that the developing baby is a unique individual distinct from the mother? I don’t think so. After all, when a patient receives an organ transplant, the donated organ will have the donor’s DNA rather than that of the recipient; but nobody considers the donor and recipient to be part of the same body. Furthermore, even though the person may have 2 sets of DNA in their body, the transplanted organ is only one organ, and cannot become anything more. A zygote, on the other hand, is capable of developing into a mature human, and is, in fact, directing much of the pregnancy. The case of cells passing between twins in utero, as in the 1953 English case, is really no different than the case of organ donation between adults. The case of fused zygotes is more extreme in that all of the “donor” has been passed to the recipient, but the concept of a donor providing some portion of a recipient’s organs still applies. Because the transfer of genetic information occurs at such an early stage, it’s impossible to know which organs formed from donor and which from recipient without some kind of comprehensive test that is not practical at this point, but it’s important to remember that neither zygote had the same DNA as the mother, so the resulting chimera is still not part of the mother’s body no matter how you look at it. As far as fetal microchimerism, we are only talking about a few individual cells from a genetically unique human (i.e. the baby) passing through the barrier that normally separates the baby’s blood from the mother’s, and residing in the body of another genetically unique human (i.e. the mother). The fact that a few of the baby’s cells migrate into the mother’s body (and vice versa) no more make the baby part of her body than an organ donor’s cells inside a recipient’s body makes the donor part of the recipient.

Does the chimeric objection succeed? No. Even with individual persons not necessarily being limited to only one DNA in their body, the baby is at all stages of development a separate, self-contained organism temporarily residing in the mother for nourishment and protective environment, and not a “part” of her that just has different DNA. All cases of chimerism, both natural and artificially induced, come about from the involvement to one degree or another of a second, genetically distinct organism. The different DNA confirms this and actually bolsters our understanding of a baby as a genetically unique individual from conception.


Further reading: “The Human Chimera: Legal Problems Arising From Individuals with Multiple Types of DNA“, by Robert Russell Granzen, Seton Hall Law School, 2014, was a thorough and interesting read on the matter.

On Turning Arguments into Discussions

“Endless Debate”, by Norman Rockwell

I had an interesting discussion with several people on Twitter last week regarding the topic of abortion,  and came away with a few observations I’d like to share today.

  • The danger of echo chambers. This discussion took place on the Twitter feed of an abortionist who proudly performs late-term abortions. It became quickly apparent that the feed was basically an echo chamber for those who agreed with her to reinforce each other’s beliefs in the rightness of their cause. There is a time and place for mutual encouragement and support, but like a closed-off room grown stagnant, our minds atrophy when isolated from opposing views. For even exposure to mistaken views or outright malicious falsehoods can still benefit us by forcing us to think through what we believe, why we believe it, and, ultimately, if our reasons are adequately justified. As the apostle Paul said, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” [1Th 5:21]. Being in an echo chamber had led several of her followers to fall for some very bad arguments. On the other hand, as a Christian, I have access to the only transcendent source of truth – God – in the forms of His written word, the Bible, and the guidance of His Holy Spirit. What a blessing! And getting support and encouragement from fellow believers drawing from that deep well of truth is a great thing. But that can turn into an unhealthy echo chamber for a Christian when it a) ends up only encouraging in spite of error that really needs correcting, or b) leads to being disconnected from the world Jesus has commissioned us to be ambassadors to [2Cor 5:20]. As an example, an American who never learned about Chinese culture would likely not be an effective ambassador to China. He would need to both represent his own country well and understand his host country enough to communicate with them clearly. Similarly, we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world” [Jn 17:14-18]. The Christian must be different, but who will ever know Christ made a difference in our lives if we stay isolated in a little Christian bubble [Mt 5:14-16]? So we need to be willing to engage with opposing views, but always with gentleness and respect [1Pe 3:15], speaking the truth in love [Eph 4:15].
  • The difference between monologue and dialogue. There were some initial insults and somewhat immature replies to my bringing science to bear on the subject of abortion, and my addressing biologically incorrect arguments seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Eventually, however, someone came forward willing to engage in serious dialogue. He wanted sources for what I was saying so he could verify them himself, so I gladly gave him quotes & references from different embryology textbooks. A civil, thoughtful discussion ensued – on Twitter of all places! Now, I’ve learned many things over the years from presentations that were essentially monologues, such as seminars without Q&A, or recorded webinars, and so forth; but dialogue is critical in discussing controversial topics. A person will only learn from a monologue if they go in willing to listen, and open to absorbing new knowledge (like a seminar I’ve paid to attend). But in a hostile situation, the other person is already defensive at having their views challenged, and dialogue with the person, instead of a monologue directed at them, is really the only hope for changing their mind.
  • The persistence of presuppositions. What was intriguing about the discussion was the repeated assumption that my objections were religious in nature, even though I’d never mentioned anything related to religion (of any kind) in my comments. It took a while to finally convey the point that a response from a user with the name “Well-Designed Faith” didn’t mean that every statement I made would be a religious statement, and that while I could make a religious objection to abortion, I hadn’t, and they would still need to deal with the scientific objections I had made. So why did that reaction happen in the first place, and why did it continue? I can’t get into anyone else’s head to determine their thought process, but it appears that those commenters had some unjustified presuppositions that anything a Christian said was related to Christianity and could be safely ignored. That is nothing more than the genetic fallacy – that the origin (or genesis) of an idea can determine its truth. For instance, the idea that a man can’t speak about abortion only looks at the origin of a message rather than the content of the message, which stands or falls on its own merits, regardless of who says it. In fact, that line of faulty pro-abortion reasoning actually undercuts the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that was judged entirely by … men. Likewise, while I am a Christian, my objection that the unborn baby is biologically not a part of the mother’s body is well-grounded medically, and is an objection raised by both Christian and atheist pro-lifers (yes, there are atheist pro-lifers…). So, just because a Christian raises the objection, that doesn’t mean one can dismiss it just because one has a low opinion of Christians. Similarly, the Christian can’t dismiss arguments without weighing them, or just because of who made them.

Just a few observations this week about being good ambassadors, as I learn “on the job” to be a better one myself. So listen to what’s out there; it doesn’t help to answer the question nobody’s asking, and not deal with the issues shaping our world. Talk with people instead at them, and remember that they’re not just icons on screen, but real people, created in God’s image (even if they reject that truth). When it seems like you’re just talking past each other, step back and look for presuppositions (on both sides) that may be preventing you and them from understanding what the other is saying. And, as Greg Koukl, that master ambassador for Christ, would say, “Get out there, and give ’em Heaven!”

An Alternative to the Emptiness of Skepticism

The Allegory of Prudence, by Titian, circa 1560. The faint Latin inscription reads “From the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future action”.

Have you ever had a friend that was overly-critical? No matter what you did, they had some negative assessment of how it could be done better?  That criticism may get wearisome after a while when you feel constantly beaten down, but sometimes that can still be bearable when they really are giving you better ways of doing things. Even if their manner is less than gracious, their knowledge may still be valid,  and you just have to try to separate the worthwhile message from the annoying messenger. But there is a worse case. Sometimes, you run into someone who is always cutting you down, but never suggesting any way to improve. Their criticism is destructive rather than constructive, negative rather than positive, crushing rather than edifying. At some point, you ask, “Well, what would you suggest?”, and are greeted by silence, or “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t do that….” Skepticism similarly cuts down everything it touches, but can never build anything up in the ruins it creates. But there is an alternative. Let’s work through that today.

Skepticism is highly encouraged today. In fact, you can subscribe to skeptic magazines, read skeptic websites, and even attend conventions with catchy names like “Skepticon”. But is the “question everything” philosophy actually consistently livable? For instance, do skeptics question their own skepticism? Do they ever ask, “Is there a point I stop questioning?” There is an old story, modified in various ways over the years, of a Hindu belief that the world was supported on the backs of several elephants, who were themselves supported by a giant turtle. When asked what supported that turtle, the answer was, another turtle. After a few iterations of this, the questioner was answered with “it’s turtles all the way down.” This is, of course, an infinite regress; but for the skeptics, I have to ask, is it “questions all the way down” for you as well?

Yet, questions – not answers – is all skepticism has to offer. Asking questions is surely a good thing when they are a means to the end of obtaining knowledge. However, in having no basis for trusting any answers produced by its questions, skepticism destroys any knowledge gained and is a slippery slope that leads to universal doubt. And yet, this doubt is inconsistent, for doubt presupposes true knowledge: to doubt the umpire’s call that the baseball player struck out presupposes that you know what a strike zone is. To doubt one proposition is to not doubt a competing proposition. But then, do you really know the dimensions of the strike zone? Did you really see the flight path of the ball correctly? Skepticism, applied consistently, undercuts itself as it goes, rendering itself unlivable.

But surely some skepticism is a good thing, isn’t it? We don’t want to be naive or gullible, but we don’t want to be the hyper-skeptic that will believe nothing regardless of the evidence presented. Probably most people reading this have gotten emails at some time promising instant riches if you only made a small “investment” first; while it’s always possible the email isn’t a scam, some well-deserved skepticism will most likely save you money. So where do you draw the line? This is where the forgotten virtue of prudence enters. To be prudent is to act wisely in the present situation to bring about true good in the future, based on sound reasoning and knowledge learned from the past. When Jesus warned His disciples that they would be persecuted for following Him, He told them to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” [Mt 10:16]. That is, be wise, but never for evil purposes or self-serving ends. In other words, be prudent. The book of Proverbs also has much to say about prudence, such as, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” [Pr 14:15 ESV]. Prudence was considered a necessary catalyst for all the other virtues since ancient times, for it applies wisdom to the other virtues to restrain them from becoming vices. Prudence moderates action to be courageous without being reckless, cautious without being cowardly, merciful without being weak, just without being cruel, devoted without being obsessive, open-minded without being vacillating. It is wisdom applied to the situation at hand. But where is one to get this wisdom to apply to our daily situations? Proverbs tells us that “the fear (i.e. reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Pr 9:10], and James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all” [Jam 1:5-8].

While skeptics dig down and never find any foundation solid to build on, the Christian has a sure foundation that can never be shaken [Is 28:16, 1Co 3:11]. In God we have a grounding for knowledge. In revering Him, we develop wisdom. In applying that wisdom prudently, we have a stable platform to probe the world around us with questions without losing ourselves amidst the uncertainty of our questions. Unlike the skeptic undercutting his own foundations as he tries to build on them, we have a foundation we can build our lives on that can never be undermined. Have you worn yourself out trying to tear things down in the dark mines of skepticism? Would you like to find rest for your soul, rebuilding a new life on the sure foundation of God? Contact me, and let’s talk about it.

The Blind Faith of Atheism

“Blind” by Vasily Perov, 1878

Today I’d like to put forward an idea you might not have considered: that atheism is built on a foundation of blind faith. That might surprise you given the typical atheist vitriol directed against Christians accusing them of blind faith, or “believing in spite of the evidence”, and so forth. But let’s work through this today and see where the evidence leads.

First, let’s define key terms. What do I mean by “blind faith”? Faith is simply trust. If you say you “have faith” that a friend will do well in a performance, it’s a way of saying that you trust that they will perform well, perhaps because you have personally seen them practice, or have heard from others of the long hours they have invested in practice. The Greek word used for faith in the Bible (πιστις, pistis) was also used by secular authors of the same time to denote instances of trustworthiness [1]. And the Bible gives us a definition of faith that is very compatible with our English word “trust”: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [Heb 11:1]. Our trust in God, based on His record of what He has done, is what gives us assurance and conviction about those things not yet done.  Consider how frequently God reminded the Israelites of His past miracles in bringing them out of Egypt. This was a constant reminder to them that He had been trustworthy in the past, and should be trusted in their current and/or future trials. That is belief because of the evidence. Now, blind faith is also trust, but it is trust without evidence. For example, while I appreciated the encouraging intent behind the comments, friends who said they had faith in me that I would do well on a recent engineering exam, without having any familiarity with my engineering work, were actually exhibiting a blind faith in me. Blind faith, or trust without evidence, can still be correct, but it is only accidentally correct, and not a place any of us should really want to stay. Now, with that understanding of what blind faith is, let’s look at 3 areas where I think atheists demonstrate this trait.

  1. Atheists tend to trust in the goodness of man. As they are fond of plastering advertisements on buses that “You can be good without God” and so on,  this seems a fair statement of their view. Of course, there’s the little problem that “good” isn’t good enough before a perfect Judge, but they also generally seem to think that humanity is on an ever-evolving upward spiral of advancement, especially compared to the “primitive Bronze-age sheepherders who wrote the Bible”. I would not only say this is without evidence, but rather that this is in spite of the evidence. Atheists like to point to a handful of people dying at the Salem witch trials, thousands dying in the Spanish Inquisition, and hundreds of thousands dying in the Crusades, but this last century has been the bloodiest in human history, with low estimates of around 60 million being killed by regimes that rejected any accountability before God (and that’s not counting any wars). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that regimes like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Zedung felt empowered to slaughter any of their own citizens who were perceived to be threats to their power. In an atheist state, the government is god.
  2. Atheists tend to trust in future explanations of past events that contradict their worldview. How the universe could have a beginning (as the Standard Cosmological Model, or “Big Bang” has pointed to for the last hundred years) without a Beginner defies explanation, but don’t worry: “Science will explain it someday, and it certainly won’t involve any God!” Likewise for the origins of life. Likewise for the incredible fine-tuning of both our universe and our biosphere, both balanced on a razor’s edge to support life – and advanced life at that – in a very special location. Likewise for an explanation of consciousness in this one species of advanced life on this one oasis of life in a (so far) barren cosmos. But just ignore the issues that are problems in an atheistic universe, but readily explained in a God-ordained universe; we’ll figure out the “real” answer someday….
  3. Atheists tend to trust in possible future events rather than present observation. As mentioned previously, Earth is, so far, a lone oasis of life in a cosmic desert. But we can’t be alone in an atheist universe. There must be nothing special about us in an atheist universe; for uniqueness and remarkable suitability for one’s environment can make the mind wander too close to thoughts of purpose and design and… a Designer. So while we seem to be absolutely unique in the universe so far, “Science” will someday find abundant extra-terrestrial life out there and confirm all our hopes of meaninglessness and anonymity in the crowd. For the atheist, “Science” is their savior that will someday deliver them from present signposts pointing to God.

All truth is God’s truth, for truth is the way things actually are, the way God made them. In trying to deny the existence of God, atheists must cling to unsupported dogmas because reality will always point back to its Creator. We can place our faith in a fallen humanity that will disappoint us just as much 1,000 years from now as it did thousands of years in the past. We can place our faith in future events that may never occur, or future explanations of past events that may never be answered.  Or we can place our faith in our Creator, who has left His real and present signature across the cosmos and in every cell of our body, implanted a craving for eternity in our very souls, and demonstrated His love for us throughout recorded history, but most especially in His gift of Jesus. Will you choose the blind faith of atheism, or the reasonable faith of Christianity?


[1] See my blog post from 1/12/2015, here, for more information.

An Engineer’s Hymn

“Man Singing Hymn”, by Arvid Liljelund, 1884

I admit: I am a nerd. I’ve joked sometimes that I was born an engineer – it just took a few years for my education to catch up with my desire to design. While I may not have been aware, in my youngest days, of what that desire would someday translate to professionally, it was surely set permanently in me with my first exposure to Legos.  Occasionally, that engineering mindset comes through at odd times, like singing hymns at church. But I couldn’t help geeking out a little when singing Hillsong’s “In Christ Alone (Cornerstone)” song recently.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name”

As an engineer, I get to design building frames to resist wind and seismic loads, and I try to design them such that they can be trustworthy. However, while the engineer’s first duty is to protect the public, we still have to recognize that we don’t know everything, that we can’t anticipate every possible future condition, and what’s considered recommended practice now may be seen as inadequate 20 years from now. But my hope as a Christian is not the wishful, unfounded emotion that we commonly mean when using the word “hope”. Rather, it’s founded on the unchanging nature of God and the completed work of Jesus’ sacrifice for me. That is a surer foundation, a stronger frame, and a mightier structure than anything I could ever design out of mere steel and concrete.

“Christ alone; cornerstone,
Weak made strong; in the Savior’s love.
Through the storm, He is Lord,
Lord of all”

The Bible refers to Christ several times as our “cornerstone” [Mt 21:42, Ac 4:11, Ro 9:33, 1Pe 2:7, see also Ps 188:22, Is 28:16].  He is that stone that establishes the overall building location and ties adjacent walls together. Even today, “cornerstones” of sorts are still significant in masonry construction where several courses (levels) of masonry blocks are built up at each corner, with the wall built from the corners inward. Therefore, the first blocks on each corner establish the total length of each wall, and any variance from standard block lengths is taken up with trimmed blocks at midspan so the wall will still look symmetrical.

“When Darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.”

Storms can test buildings severely. On the 2nd day of my structural engineering exam, one of the long design problems dealt with proving that a given structure was adequate for the wind loads calculated based on the building being on exposed shoreline in a hurricane zone with wind speeds of 170mph. Needless to say, the building framing had to be rather substantial to resist those levels of wind. But something not addressed in that particular problem is nevertheless a critical issue in any real-world building design: anchorage. Now, this song lyric and Hebrews 6:19 that it is drawn from are both referring to ships’ anchors, but the analogy stills applies to structural anchors. As any good engineer will tell you, a well-framed structure that isn’t also well-anchored is a potential disaster waiting to happen. In fact, this has been observed quite often in surveys of tornado damage: uplift from the wind offset the dead weight of homes anchored to their foundations by a few old, corroded anchors, and houses were simply pushed off the foundation and tumbled to pieces at wind speeds of relatively moderate tornadoes.

But there are 2 aspects of anchorage: the strength of the anchor and the strength of the material anchored into. A corroded anchor into concrete and a strong new anchor into mud are both inadequate for protecting your house from “every high and stormy gale”. But the “anchor of our souls” is sure and steadfast, and “enters within the veil” [Heb 6:19]. What veil is the author of Hebrews talking about there? The veil that separated the outer area of the temple devoted to sacrifices – the holy place – from the inner chamber of the temple – the holy of holies – where God chose to make His presence manifest. This heavy veil of separation was a physical reminder of our separation from the unapproachable splendor and holiness of God. But this is where our certain hope is anchored – not in ever-changing contingencies of this life, but in the unchanging nature of God.

Yes, I tend to bring my engineering perspective to church and notice things others may not (and not notice things everyone else does). But I see a bigger application here: do I also bring my Christian perspective out in the world with me? Do you? It’s hard for me to just “switch off” the engineer side of my brain when I’m out of the office, but it should truly be impossible for the Christian to go anywhere without seeing the world in the light of Christ: a beautiful but broken world in need of redemption by its Creator. Is your Christianity something you switch on and off at the “appropriate” time, or is the Holy Spirit part of you, as the Bible says [1Co 6:18], with you in every place at every time? What would that look like in your life? People sometimes can guess the engineers in a crowd when we’re looking up at the roof trusses of the art museum instead of the art, and from all the other odd things we do, but does your Christianity stand out from the background noise of this world similarly? O that everyone would recognize in us what the Jewish priests and elders recognized in Peter and John: “they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” [Ac 4:13].

The Bible & Slavery

The Cursed Field – The Place of Execution in Ancient Rome – Crucified Slaves, by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1878.

Skeptics often like to criticize the Bible for not addressing issues they think it should’ve addressed (and often for addressing issues they would prefer it didn’t). Typically, however, it is more of a case of the issue not being answered as plainly as they would like. I get it; we all like things to be spelled out simply so we can have our answer quickly and move on. I get frustrated at times with some of the codes I have to use in engineering when I read a page that is supposed to be addressing a particular issue I’m working through, and there’s no single bullet point that says “if this, do that.” With project deadlines and impatient clients, the last thing I want to do sometimes is wade through hundreds of pages of code provisions, find some nuanced recommendations and dire warnings in the commentary, correctly interpret everything, and try to implement a solution that is safe, justifiable, and not over the top (knowing that almost anything I come up with can or will be second-guessed by someone). But, do you know what? If structural design was just picking components out of a book without needing to understand the concepts behind those choices, engineering wouldn’t be needed. In fact, “engineering judgment” presupposes an understanding of the concepts involved so as to make a reasonable choice because the engineer can “connect the dots” and foresee the consequences of a certain choice even when there aren’t explicit guidelines. So what about the Bible and slavery? Is the Bible wrong for not clearly condemning it? Or are the concepts there if we take the time to investigate? Let’s work through that today.

Continue reading The Bible & Slavery

At the intersection of faith and design