Miracles and Einstein, Part 1

Albert Einstein’s official portrait on award of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Miracles are often mocked by skeptics as impossible, but I would like to suggest here that the skeptic is not seeing the big picture, and is, ironically, being somewhat close-minded.

Now, it’s always good to define our terms, so first, what is a miracle? Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines it as “A sign, a special manifestation of God. Miracles set forth God’s character, and are used to accredit His messengers” [1]. C.S. Lewis, in his classic work, Miracles, gave a good working definition as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” [2]. We can gather from this two key points: a) miracles are the exception to the norm, and b) miracles have specific purposes. Indeed, the rarity works to highlight their significance and the purpose behind them. But can miracles “fit” into any modern view of the world? We live in a science-loving society, and our world is often (but not always) made better by scientific advances. Yet science is the study of the natural world around us, and miracles are supernatural, by definition. So where can miracles fit in our model of reality? Let’s work through that today.

Albert Einstein actually made some comments in his 1920 book, Relativity, that can shed some light here.  In it, he attempted to explain to the layman his theories of special and general relativity. Classical, or Newtonian physics had been an excellent framework for scientific inquiry since the time of… Newton. But some phenomena appear to break the laws of physics in a purely Newtonian framework. They are rare, but when they are observed, accounting for those puzzling phenomena requires more and more complicated, ad-hoc theories. The beauty of Einstein’s special and general relativity were that they explained the cases where Newtonian physics was deficient, but then both  simplified to Newtonian mechanics under the vast majority of conditions (namely weak gravitational fields and travel speeds much slower than the speed of light) [3]. As the speed of an object approaches the speed of light, or gravitational fields get very strong,  observations framed in classical terms tend to make less sense and physics appears to “break down”. Not breaking down in those cases, Einstein’s theories therefore had more explanatory power than Newton’s. And in fact, we’d already seen this subsuming of previous theories by more comprehensive theories with an example Einstein himself used: the laws of electrostatics were thought to be the laws of electricity until electrodynamics was developed by Einstein’s hero, James Clerk Maxwell. Said Einstein:

“Should we be justified in saying that for this reason electrostatics is overthrown by the field-equations of Maxwell in electrodynamics? Not in the least. Electrostatics is contained in electrodynamics as a limiting case; the laws of the latter lead directly to those of the former for the case in which the fields are invariable with regard to time.  No fairer destiny could be allotted to any physical theory, than that it should of itself point out the way to the introduction of a more comprehensive theory, in which it lives on as a limiting case.” [4]

What does any of this have to do with miracles? Well, a naturalistic methodology can explain our observations of the world the vast majority of the time. But we have to recognize that there are times it may not explain things. These cases of miracles, where we get intervention from outside the natural world for a specific purpose, won’t make sense to us until we enlarge our frame of reference to include the possibility of that. We are often reminded that methodological naturalism is the mandate of science, and there is no room for God in that. But then the skeptic making this response often proceeds not to a stance of methodological naturalism, but philosophical naturalism. The first is a method of investigation that assumes an event happened without supernatural intervention; the second assumes such intervention is not even possible. The distinction is significant. We cannot recognize effects from outside the system if we don’t recognize even the possibility of there being anything outside the system. It would be like coming home from work to find my grass wet, and puzzling over such an extremely isolated rain shower that didn’t get the house or driveway wet, and never acknowledging the neighbor’s sprinkler as a potential cause. An assumption of rain may be correct most of the time, but if don’t allow for the actions of free agents outside the “system” of my property lines, some explanations will forever elude me.

Despite the claims by atheists of being freethinkers, the Christian is actually in the more open-minded position here. The Christian acknowledges the validity of searching for natural causes to events (for God created an orderly and comprehensible universe governed by uniform, rational laws), but also acknowledges the possibility in rare situations (lest they become meaningless) of intervention by God when He deems appropriate and has a specific purpose in mind. In this way, the Christian actually has the more general theory of the world that can encompass the atheist’s smaller view of the world just as electrodynamics encompasses electrostatics, or relativity encompasses Newtonian physics. Maybe you’re a skeptic reading this right now. Understand, I’m not expecting you to instantly believe the miracles recorded in the Bible now, but in the final analysis, Christianity is a more comprehensive worldview than atheism. Now look at the big picture and follow the evidence where it leads. Till next week, S.D.G.


[1] “Miracle”, Nelson’s Foundational Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).
[2] C.S. Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs, (NY: Macmillan, 1978), p. 5.
[3] For those interested , the kinetic energy formula according to special relativity would be the series mc² + mv²/2 + 3/8mv^4/c²+… where v equals the velocity of the particle considered. At velocities << c, mv²/2 becomes the dominant velocity-dependent term, while mc² is a constant of the particle. Therefore, the relativistic kinetic energy reduces to the classical KE=½mv² formula. Regarding his general relativity, Einstein said, “If we confine the application of the theory to the case where the gravitational fields can be regarded as being weak, and in which all masses move… with velocities which are small compared with the velocity of light, we then obtain as a first approximation the Newtonian theory. ” –  Relativity, p.39, 87.
[4] Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special & The General Theory (NY: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 65.

Dead Again?

“The Ascension”, by John Singleton Copley, 1775.

Was Jesus resurrected simply to die again a few weeks later? That’s what one former minister-turned-atheist tries telling people the Gospels are actually indicating. Yes, some atheist delusions are further out there than others. But, this particular author has made the claim, and atheist reviewers on Amazon keep commending his book, so let’s work through some of this silliness today.

As an introduction, David Madison claims to be a former minister of two churches before coming out as an atheist. In his book “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch Your Faith”, he details at length his superficial “Christian” childhood in a very theologically-liberal family and his rejection of the vast majority of Christian doctrine in high school and college, jettisoning the last of it in seminary.  You might it think it odd, as I did, that he should continue pursuing his degree, and most especially ordination, and the solemn responsibility of pastoring a congregation, if he did not believe the tenets of Christianity at this point. But then he proceeds to demonstrate an abysmal knowledge of what Christianity teaches so that one can only pity his former congregations. But what does he actually say about the resurrection? Let’s hear from the man himself:

“My belief in the grand centerpiece of Christian theology, the Resurrection of Jesus, eroded as well during my seminary experience…. From a secular, scientific point of view, resurrection is silly and indefensible. A dead body walking around? Why not call it the Halloween Faith instead of the Easter Faith?”[1]

This, like many of his snarky objections, can be traced back to simple ignorance. The resurrection is not some dead body walking around like a zombie. Jesus was alive after the resurrection, talking with people [Mt 28:9-10], eating with them [Lk24:41-43, Jn 21:12-14], teaching [Lk 24:27], proving that He was not a ghost or hallucination but a real, live person [Lk 24:39-40, Jn 20:20,27, Ac 1:3]. Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection was more than just a temporary restoration of physical life like with Lazarus [Jn 11:43-45]. Instead, Jesus is the “firstfruits” of a resurrection to undying life, to life everlasting [1Co 15:20-22].

“But to die-hard Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is one of those articles of faith that must be taken on faith. It is a miracle in defiance of science, we were always told, which enhanced its value.”[1]

Madison may have been sadly misinformed that miracles are in “defiance of science”, and that faith was somehow enhanced by being contrary to reason, but he certainly doesn’t speak for Christians. Our God is God of logic and reason. And if there had been a scientist at the Wedding Feast in Cana [Jn 2:1-11], he could’ve confirmed the occurrence of the miracle of turning water into wine, even if unable to explain it.  A water sample from the water jugs would have tested as water beforehand, and a sample afterward would’ve had water + alcohol + the various organic compounds present in a fine wine.  Likewise, checking Jesus’ body for pulse, respiration, and brainwave activity  when He was placed in the tomb would’ve confirmed a state of death. Three days later, those hallmarks of life would be present. No defying science there, just naturalistic presuppositions.

“The New Testament reports that the resurrected body of Jesus ascended into heaven, literally, up through the clouds. According to the Book of Acts, this happened forty days after the resurrection. Now we know that heaven is not ‘up there,’ a few miles or even thousands of miles above the clouds. So there is no way that the resurrected body of Jesus left planet earth. In other words, he died again. And this most obvious of conclusions prompted one of my Bible professors to ask, ‘So what is the value of a forty-day resurrection?’ That comment wiped out resurrection as an article of faith worth believing, let alone defending.“[1, emphasis mine]

I’m not sure which is sadder: that a Bible professor would lead students astray like that, or that seminary students could be led astray by that. Jesus merely disappears from view of the disciples, and Madison (and his professor, apparently) concludes that He died again? Like far too many atheists, Madison has let one simple question derail him that never should have.

“It became crystal clear to me– again, acknowledging the obvious– that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection preserve a rumor that got out of hand, a cover-up, a lie, or– more innocently– simply a fantasy, a product of imagination. This meant, furthermore, that resurrection says nothing at all about the power of a god or the “triumph of Jesus over the grave.” From either the scientific or theological standpoint, resurrection was worthless. It became even more tempting for me to push the idea of God itself into the realm of fable.”[1]

The only fantastical product of imagination here is Madison’s book. It’s been pointed out repeatedly, but apparently still needs to be pointed out: people normally don’t go through extended, torturous deaths to preserve what they know to be a runaway rumor or a lie, and certainly not an innocent fantasy. The apostles were in a position to know what really happened, and they all paid dearly for holding on to their belief in the resurrected Jesus. And Paul was in the business of killing this supposed rumor/lie/fantasy when he gave up everything to be a part of it [Ga 1:23-24] and eventually die for it. And as for saying nothing about the triumph of Jesus over the grave, that is because Mr. Madison apparently thinks Jesus was still dead! If you deny what the Bible clearly says about the nature of the resurrection, and then try to shoehorn it into a box it never came out of, it’s not going to make much sense. But that’s not the fault of the message, but rather the fault of the one desperately trying to misread the message so he can dismiss it as nonsense instead of the convicting truth it is.

Did Jesus rise only to die again a few weeks later? No. That’s not what Christians believe, and there’s  no way to get that from the Bible, or any other historical document. It is pure fantasy; and while Mr. Madison may deceive himself with these flights of fancy, my hope for you, dear reader, is that you won’t follow him off that cliff.


[1] David Madison. Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), Kindle Edition p. 15.

 

“Just One More Thing…”

The always inquisitive Detective Columbo.

Do you remember Detective Columbo, the character Peter Falk played so well over the course of more than 30 years? Disarming but shrewd, his persistent questioning of suspects often involved some variation of starting to leave, apparently satisfied with the suspect’s explanation, only to stop, turn, and ask “Just one more thing…” Columbo’s thoughtful and relentless questions are usually a good example of persistence, thoroughness, critical thinking, and following the evidence wherever it leads – all good traits. But there is a time when continued questioning is not good. What do I mean? Let’s work through that today.

What I’m thinking of is the hyper-skepticism that can’t stop questioning. No answer can ever satisfy this mindset. The “question everything” mantra of this universal doubt sounds at first like a rigorous and impartial search for truth, but ends up being a self-destructive endeavor that only undercuts any truth it finds. How this often plays out in discussions of the existence of God or the reliability of the Bible is that there is always “one more thing” the skeptic objects to, one more justification for not believing the Bible. But these “reasons” tend to be reasons based on ignorance rather than positive knowledge. What I mean is that they are based on what we don’t know rather than what we do know. And that is not a good model to follow in any area of life. My own field of structural engineering is largely concerned with designing structures to resist loads caused in one way or another by gravity, but I couldn’t tell you whether gravity is a particle or a wave (although experiments in recent years appear to support the latter). And yet the most magnificent structures are built on the positive knowledge we do have about gravity and its effects, in spite of the details we don’t know. Likewise, we may not be able to verify everything in the Bible in our lifetimes. Some details may simply be impossible to confirm through archeology or other means after the millennia since it was written, but we are responsible for the knowledge we do have. We shouldn’t say that even though a witness has proven reliable in many other instances, we will discard all he has to say because of some statements we can’t prove. Yes, we are putting our trust in the person at that point, but it is an earned trust based on a consistent track record, and it is a reasonable position to take.

A question came up recently about the Massacre of the Innocents and the Resurrection of the Saints, two events recounted only in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 2:1-18, he records King Herod’s jealousy of this prophesied King of the Jews, Jesus. In Herod’s paranoia about rivals (which is attested to outside the Bible), he tries to “nip this one in the bud” by having all the children under the age of two killed in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace. Then in Matthew 27:51-54, he records Jesus’ death on the cross, and the signs that followed, such as a great earthquake, graves being unblocked, and holy ones who had died coming back to life and coming out of the newly-opened graves to appear to people in Jerusalem. No other contemporary biblical or secular writer confirms these events or even mentions them, as far as we know (so far). Does that absence of independent corroborating testimony invalidate Matthew’s testimony? Of course not. There very well might’ve been other accounts lost to the ravages of time, but because of the importance of the subject matter Matthew was primarily focusing on (The life of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world), this lone account of those two secondary events survived as well.

Now, we may never find anything to corroborate these two stories in Matthew. On the other hand, someone 100 years from now may unearth another source contemporary with Matthew that confirms his account and fills in all the missing details. Who knows? But either way, there are a lot of things we do know and have to deal with. Rather than get stuck on secondary issues, I would encourage the skeptic to work through the primary issues first. A lot of the objections I hear from atheists about alleged Bible contradictions are things that could be ignored without affecting the central message of the Bible in the least. And that message is that God created this universe, we broke it by rebelling against Him, and yet He provided a solution to the mess we’re in that we never could get out of on our own, that solution is Jesus Christ, and we only have this life to decide our eternal destiny. While questions of what we are to do with unclear passages of Scripture are good and interesting exercises, and I have personally grown in my knowledge of Scripture and its interpretation by doing in-depth research to try to answer a skeptic’s question, the critically important question for the skeptic is what will you do with the clear message of the Gospel? To focus on many of objections I read or hear, and ignore the central message of rebellion and redemption, is akin to a person fretting about an ingrown fingernail when their leg is gangrenous. Their priorities are a bit misplaced, to say the least. Whatever your pet objection might be, might I suggest placing a higher priority on the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus and what that gift means for you? For if Christ was resurrected, then that is the single most important event in all of human history.

In closing, let me be clear that I don’t consider asking questions to be bad. But the purpose of asking honest questions is to find truthful answers. And when you get to the truth of a matter, there’s no more need for questions; they have served their purpose. Yet there is a mindset now that asks questions to undercut knowledge rather than to gain knowledge, as a means to protect cherished presuppositions, and that is what concerns me. If you’ve been “burned” before, and are skeptical in a merely cautious sense, by all means ask questions! Not every Christian out there may be able to answer your questions, but know that our ignorance on a specific issue doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer. And know that we care about you and want you to find the truth, “for the truth shall set you free” [John 8:32].

Criminals & Victims in Abortion

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge addresses the 2018 Arkansas March for Life at the State Capitol.

I attended my state’s March For Life at our State Capitol this past Sunday, mourning the last 45 years of legalized abortion here in America. Afterwards, I had an unusual conversation with a gentlemen who claimed to be pro-life. Throughout the rally, he had been holding up a sign that advocated putting women in jail who sought abortions. This was the first time I’d seen anyone at a pro-life rally who advocated that, so we had an odd, but civil, conversation afterward. From the last 2 posts this month, and previous posts on the subject of abortion, you can see for yourself that I consider abortion to be the intentional killing of a living, innocent, human person – and therefore murder. So if abortion is murder, why would I and most pro-life people disagree with the gentleman I spoke to regarding the prosecution of women seeking abortions? Let’s work through that today.

  • The abortionist, as the one actually committing (and profiting from) the deed, and possessing sufficient medical training to know what it is that he is doing, will always bear the larger moral responsibility for an abortion. This is partly why pro-lifers consistently argue for punishment for the abortionist performing these procedures rather than the women seeking them. For instance, in a dismemberment abortion, the abortionist tears the arms and legs from the torso, then crushes the skull of the baby so that it may be sucked out of the womb through a vacuum hose. Because of the possibility of infection if any of the baby’s body parts are left in the womb to rot, the abortionist must examine the remains and account for all of them. While the woman may be told that her baby was just an “undifferentiated clump of cells”, the abortionist is able to visually confirm that that is simply not the case. He is without excuse.
  • This brings up a 2nd point: lies women believe. Many women have fallen for the lies that the new life they carry is “just a clump of cells”, “similar to a polyp or cyst”, “not human yet”, “not alive yet”, or “a part of their body to do with as they please.” It grieves me to hear responses like those from women (and men who feel they are being supportive of “women’s rights” by parroting the abortion talking points). The case for life is robust, both philosophically and scientifically. But sadly, pro-abortion lies like “My body, my choice” can be chanted and carried on signs far easier than a discussion of the verifiable different DNA between mother and baby. But since women do believe these lies, and hence do believe that they are simply getting rid of something less than human, I don’t fault them for making a tragic decision based on the false information given them by groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW and others who claim to have their best interests in mind. Rather, I, and so many other pro-lifers, seek to educate women (and men) everywhere on the amazingly complex development going on largely unseen in the womb. Education dispels ignorance, and science is strongly on the side of life. In fact, some of the most outspoken pro-lifers have been former abortionists who could no longer ignore the clear scientific facts staring at them from an ultrasound machine, or the clearly human remains they were disposing of (Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Dr. Joseph Randall, Dr. Anthony Levatino, among many others over the years).
  • While the baby killed is clearly a victim in an abortion, many women do not leave the abortion unscathed. While there are the pregnant women who actually die in abortions, and other who suffer from medical complications afterward, I’m actually talking about the women who have regrets for an irreversible action that can’t be undone later; the women who suffer from guilt and wonder what that child might’ve grown up to be; and the women who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts after the abortion, as found in a 1996 study in Finland [1].
  • We have a standard in the US of “innocent until proven guilty”. While the abortionist is clearly guilty, the case of the women involved is not nearly so clear cut. The expectant mother has often been lied to and misinformed, and may be scared of the consequences of her pregnancy and unaware of life-protecting options like adoption. Therefore it is better to err on the side of giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Some women are pressured into abortions by abusive husbands, boyfriends unwilling to man up and take responsibility for the child they helped create, parents threatening to kick their pregnant daughter out of the house unless she aborts, pimps who know how much money they will lose out on if one of the girls they prostitute is pregnant for 9 months, or the government in the case of China.

These are some reasons why pro-lifers reach out with compassion to abortive mothers. As Robert P. George so succinctly stated, “We are interested in saving babies, not punishing mothers. And we know that we don’t need to punish mothers to save babies.”[2] So as Christians we follow Paul’s command to speak the “truth in love” [Eph 4:15], educating people who may possibly not understand the significance of what they do or advocate. And if you are considering an abortion, please call 1-800-848-LOVE to speak to a counselor or to find one of the 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers nationwide near you. They can help you make the best choice for yourself… and your baby.


[1] http://www.bmj.com/content/313/7070/1431.full. This result is interesting in a country that provides free abortions and isn’t noted for associating any stigma with abortion.
[2] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/03/trump-is-no-pro-lifer. Regarding George’s main premise about Trump in his article, I will only say that I have been pleasantly surprised with Trump’s continued support of life and hope that Mr. Trump continues to prove us wrong who were skeptics of the genuineness of his seemingly recent pro-life views.

Normalizing Murder, Part 2

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

Last week, we looked at the first eight of sixteen statements phrased as fill-in-the-blank sentences that are showing up on billboards in Cleveland, Ohio supporting the barbaric practice of abortion. Today, I’d like to work through the remaining eight.

  1. “Abortion is  life-saving. “ The irony of this statement would be comical if it weren’t such tragic disinformation. A successful abortion necessarily kills an innocent human. That’s not life-saving; that’s life-destroying. And while there are still cases where carrying the baby to term truly endangers the mother’s life, such as ectopic (tubal) pregnancies or uterine cancer where treatment may kill the baby and non-treatment may kill the mother, these are the exception and make up a minuscule portion of abortions. Interestingly, former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said in 1980, “In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.” Even Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood, stated in 1967 that “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.”[1] And genuine life-saving technology has only improved since then, thus further reducing the likelihood of actually needing an abortion.
  2. “Abortion is  a parenting decision. “  If so, then it’s a tragic and often uninformed or misinformed parenting decision. Unfortunately, too many mothers believe the lies that their baby is simply a “clump of cells” or “a parasite”, or “only a potential human”, and make bad, irreversible “parenting” decisions. But parenting is more than just biology. A parent protects, nourishes, and loves their children, and prepares them for adulthood. To have the child killed is antithetical to the common idea of what makes a “good” parent, for it is opposed to a foundational goal of parenting: desiring the good of your children.
  3. “Abortion is  liberty. “  I think this misunderstanding comes from the notion of liberty being unrestrained ability to do anything you desire. That is simply untrue. I am never free to murder my neighbor, nor am I free to steal his car for the fun of it. Liberty is the freedom to do what is right. Freedom of choice does not entail the freedom to choose wrong or to violate someone else’s rights, which is precisely what happens when the unborn baby is deprived of that most fundamental right – the right to one’s own life.
  4. “Abortion is  a second chance. “ The hidden assumption of this statement is that bringing a new life into the world is a) a mistake, and b) one that can simply be erased  like an Etch-a-Sketch via abortion. Even if a baby is “unplanned”, or “inconvenient”, or the result of a one-night-stand, affair, or even a rape – are any of these a good reason to kill an innocent baby? Where is the baby’s first chance to live and make a difference in this world?
  5. “Abortion is  hope. “ Hope achieved at the expense of another’s life is not any kind of genuine hope to offer people, but is only the vice of selfishness repackaged as a virtue. Thinking the deliberate killing of a child brings hope is to assume the child is some kind of anchor holding the mother down, and that abortion can realize the hope of release from such a weighty burden. Yet this goes completely contrary to the beautiful, nurturing nature of motherhood, that routinely sacrifices self for the child. Our next generation isn’t a burden holding us down, but rather our successors that we give a step up to so that they can achieve more than we did, just as we tried to build on what our parents did for us. Abortion actually turns the advancement of civilization on its head.
  6. “Abortion is  health care. “ Calling the ending of someone’s life without their consent “health care” is just as much Orwellian “newspeak” as calling a government propaganda department the “Ministry of Truth”.[2] When the intent of a procedure is to take a healthy living human and make them dead, that is as far from health care as can be conceived.
  7. “Abortion is  sacred. “  This is perhaps the most egregious of the slogans. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the intended meaning here was “entitled to reverence and respect” or “highly valued and important”, and not the religious uses of the word “sacred”. Even so, those are hardly words that should be used to describe what is at best a tragic loss of life, even in the rare cases when a mother’s life is in danger.
  8. “Abortion is  right for me. “ Dear reader, if you are considering an abortion, I hope these previous 7 responses, and the 8 from last week, have helped you see why abortion is not right for you. All of the statements examined these two weeks try to deflect your attention away from one simple question: is the object of discussion an innocent… living… human… person? If it is (and I believe there are good reasons to say it is), then there are no good reasons that can justify killing it.

What are some alternatives to abortion that would be right for you? The times that stretch us beyond what we thought we could withstand are often the times we grow the most. If you don’t feel like you could take care of a baby, consider the generations of women before that opted to push through the trials and raise a kid amidst financial uncertainty, poverty, food scarcity, war, and a host of other struggles. How many of us were “unplanned”, and caused years of sacrifice for our parents? And yet, if that was you, aren’t you glad you got the chance to live? But if your situation really does preclude raising your child, adoption is another option. Is your pregnancy burdensome? As difficult as it may seem, it is a temporary burden, while abortion is an action with permanent consequences. Seek support during this difficult time and persevere until birth so that someone else can offer your child the opportunities you can’t. In closing, everyone comes to this decision with their own story, their own questions, and fears, and concerns. If you’re trying to decide between abortion and giving birth, let me point you to a nationwide toll-free number you can call or text anytime to talk to someone about your specific situation. There is likely a pregnancy resource center near you that may even be able to offer you services like ultrasound, but this number will get you started, wherever you are in the US: 1-800-848-LOVE (5683).


[1] Koop and Guttmacher quoted at http://abort73.com/end_abortion/is_abortion_ever_justified, accessed 2018-01-14. Although I prefer to set eyes on primary sources to confirm a quote is authentic and in context, I was not able to find the sources referenced online or for sale in print. If you have a copy of Guttmacher’s book Abortion–Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press, 1967), or the May 1980 issue of Moody Monthly  that you would be willing to donate or sell me, please contact me.
[2] George Orwell, 1984. A good read, I might add.

Normalizing Murder, Part 1

Image of fetal face, not from a pro-life website, but from an ultrasound manufacturer. Abortion kills a living human person.

Some billboards are going up in Cleveland promoting abortion. Now, I’m used to the typical lines like “It’s my body” and so on. I can at least understand the confusion with ideas like that; the proponent assumes that just because something is inside one’s body, then it is one’s body. My response is simple – get a DNA test done on the baby (or fetus if you prefer), and if it comes up identical to your DNA, go for it. You would have my blessing to proceed with an abortion, for it would simply be part of your body. Of course, that is an impossibility, for the mother only provides half the chromosomes to the fetus. Therefore it is impossible for it to be part of the mother’s body. From within moments of conception, the baby is a genetically distinct human. But these new billboards are so brazen in their disinformation, that they require a response. The billboards simply show a short fill-in-the-blank sentence, “abortion is _____”, with the blank filled in with one of 16 different false conclusions. As the tragic anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches this month, and we mourn the loss of nearly 60 million Americans over the last 45 years, let’s look at the first 8 of these faulty arguments this week, and the remaining 8 next week.

  1. “Abortion is  normal. “   The word “normal” can have a technical  meaning in fields like statistics and engineering, but in everyday usage, normal means regular, common, or natural. Induced abortions ended approximately 19% of pregnancies in the US in 2014.[1] Clearly, the regular, natural result of a pregnancy, if not interrupted, is childbirth, not abortion.
  2. “Abortion is  necessary. “  Abortion is certainly not necessary, in general. If the human race is to continue to survive, childbirth is necessary, but not abortion. I’m guessing – hoping – they are referring to the specific cases where the mother’s life is in imminent danger. Is there any other case where the idea of a necessary death could even be contemplated? Even when presented with the apparent need to kill one to save the other, versus losing both, it is still a decision of last resort arrived at after exhausting other options. But those cases are the exception even in times and places of poor medical care. In light of  current medical advances, there are becoming fewer and fewer cases where a nonabortive solution can’t be found. The primary case is ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which is an almost guaranteed death sentence for both mother and child if allowed to proceed, although even in that dire situation, there are a handful of cases where mother and baby both survived an ectopic pregnancy (with 3 in the UK between 1999 and 2005). However, these are an extremely small percentage of abortions. If this is the scenario pro-abortion activists want to appeal to, then OK; let’s ban all abortions except where it is actually necessary. Since the vast majority of abortions are elective, I suspect the argument for necessity is simply a bluff needing to be called.
  3. “Abortion is  your right. “  While abortion or a right to privacy are never mentioned in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, the right to life is recognized and protected in both documents.[2] But since the abortion supporters bring up the subject of rights, it’s worth reminding everyone of something  R.C. Sproul used to say: nobody has the right to do what is wrong. It’s also been said in various ways since the 1800’s that the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Rights come with responsibilities, and if your right to do something is reasonably restricted when it would only harm another person, how much more should that alleged “right” be restricted when it would kill an innocent person?
  4. “Abortion is  gender equality. “ This is an interesting one because sex-selective abortion kills more females than males worldwide. After years of preferentially aborting baby girls, areas like China and India are beginning to see substantial deficits in the number of women compared to men. Just from a practical standpoint, it really makes no sense for feminist women to support a procedure that actually kills more women than men worldwide. But then today’s feminists aren’t like the real pioneering feminists who were staunchly opposed to abortion.
  5. Abortion is  a  family value. “ To say that killing a family member is somehow a family value is simply bewildering. Enough said.
  6. “Abortion is  good medicine. “ Actually, abortion violates the Hippocratic Oath, from whence we get that most basic, founding medical principle of “Do no harm,” the idea that doctors should be about healing their patients, not harming them. But perhaps you might think Hippocrates was only referring to those who had been born. After all, he did live 2400 years ago and couldn’t possibly know what we know now about babies from genetics and embryology (which has only strengthened the argument against abortion, by the way). You might be tempted to think that, except that Hippocrates specifically prohibited a doctor from performing abortions in his famous Oath. Yes, it was bad medicine back then, and it’s even clearer now that things like ultrasound have opened a window into the womb.
  7. “Abortion is  safer than childbirth. “  This is based on the presupposition that the mother is the only patient involved. When we correctly understand that the unborn baby is a living human person, then we understand that every successful abortion kills at least one of the patients (and sometimes both).
  8. “Abortion is  a blessing. “ This is perhaps the most selfish of all the billboard slogans, for depriving someone of their very life, without their consent, is only a blessing if you don’t want that person alive. This slogan perverts the traditional view of children as a blessing and substitutes their death as the blessing.

Abortion is often a sensitive and emotional subject, but that is because the stakes are so high. It’s either no big deal and all these billboards trying to justify it are needless, or the human race has killed 1.4 billion of its most defenseless members without provocation – just since 1980 [3] – and it’s actually the most important issue facing humanity. There really is no in-between. If the unborn baby is a living human person, innocent of any wrongdoing, then abortion is murder, and abortionists are not doctors but serial killers. And if we continue to ignore the holocaust happening right in front of us, our generation will be just as shamed in future history books as the households of American slave owners and the Germans who lived near the Nazi death camps and looked the other way.


[1] http://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/
[2] Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence, and the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.
[3] See www.numberofabortions.com for more tragic abortion stats.

Another New Year and Still No Return of Christ

One of many predictions of Christ’s return that didn’t pan out.

As I write this, another year has passed into history, and a new year has crested the horizon. Skeptics like to point out that Christians have been saying Jesus is coming back soon – any minute now – practically since He left. “Enough already! Haven’t all these failed predictions convinced you Christians that none of this is true?” they ask. What of that? Does Christ’s not returning as He promised (yet) show Christianity to be false? Let’s work through that today.

First off, does Jesus say exactly when He’s returning? No. Predictions of exact dates are based on the all-too-fallible interpretations of mere humans. And Jesus specifically said that no man knew the day or the hour of His return [Matt 24:36,42,44], so these attempts to predict such a date are actually contrary to what Christ taught. While we are to pay attention, be prepared, and live accordingly [2Pet 3:11,14], we portray Jesus as a liar if we try to say He is returning at such-and-such a time. But why was God so vague in all the end-time references in the Bible? Why “tease” us like that? I would suggest that maybe He wanted to prepare us for what was to come, but not let our procrastinating tendency get the better of us.  What if God had actually said that Jesus would come back on March 11th of the year 4377? Honestly, I don’t think many of us would have a real sense of urgency about broadcasting the good news of salvation to those who need to hear it if we knew the deadline was thousands of years away. Meanwhile, people are dying every day separated from God. The situation has been, and continues to be, urgent, but our limited perspective blinds us to it. Given a definite date, far beyond the end of our lives, we would say it wasn’t a problem, forgetting that the task of evangelizing the world is a long-term project (humanly speaking). Simply put, we would blow it off, while the world lay in dire need of the Good News we so casually held onto.

Secondly, this ridicule of skeptics due to Christ’s delay is exactly what Peter says will happen in his 2nd letter, when he warns that mockers will come, asking where Christ’s return is, and saying that all has been the same since the beginning of creation. But Peter reminds his readers that it hasn’t really been the same since the beginning – God judged the earth once with a flood, and will judge the earth again. Third, Peter offered his readers an important reminder that I want to focus on today: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” [2Pet 3:9]

People tend to think about the Second Coming of Christ as something that can happen at any time, and should’ve already happened since it was anticipated so long ago (by human standards). OK, fine – let’s look at the alternative. What if Christ delays coming back for a million years? Or a hundred million years? Our sun has enough hydrogen to burn for several billion years, and geologically, the earth is good for several hundred million more years of supporting advanced life forms. So is there any reason He couldn’t delay a really long time from our perspective? We humans tend to have short attentions spans (Twitter, anyone? Just saying…), and we tend to think that any delay is an unreasonable delay.  But what would be the end effect of such a long delay? We Christians would have more time to evangelize the world so that in the end, the number of people that died without hearing the Gospel would be minuscule compared to the overwhelming masses of people over thousands (or millions) of years who did hear and had the opportunity to repent. For instance, imagine if He had returned in His disciples’ lifetimes, as they appeared to have been expecting. It’s estimated that only 1 out of every 360 people in the known world were committed Christians in AD 100, after the disciples had been evangelizing the world for 70 years. But that ratio has been decreasing ever since. Now, almost 2 millennia later the number is closer to 1 in 7.[1] Even in human terms, I can understand waiting 2000 years to allow those kinds of numbers of perishing people to come to Christ. While I don’t think a time would ever come when the world’s population is entirely Christian, or even majority Christian [Matt 7:13-14], I could see a time when the number of people unable to hear a gospel presentation and decide for themselves whether to accept or reject Christ approaches zero. Is that God’s plan? I don’t know, but it could explain why He tarries, “not desiring that any should perish” [v9].

As Bill Mounce says, eschatology (the study of end times) is primarily ethical. It’s not intended to provide a detailed map of future events, but rather tell us how we should live in light of what’s coming, being always ready, and working faithfully until He returns.[2] Christ’s not returning yet is not reason to doubt His eventual return, but to be grateful for His patience in allowing more people the opportunity to hear and choose wisely. It’s also a reminder for us Christians that our work is not yet done, and as long as there are still people dying without Christ, it is incumbent on us to not slack in our service of bringing them the Good News, no matter the cost. So I ask you today, to not let another year slip away unprepared to stand before Christ, for whether Christ ever returns in any of our lifetimes, we are nevertheless guaranteed an appointment before Him after our deaths [Heb 9:27]. Make sure you’re ready, and then help others do likewise.


[1] Lausanne Statistics Task Force, as cited by William Lane Craig in On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (David C Cook, Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 2707-2708. Ratio of 1 in 7 is the estimated number of committed Christians to non-Christians, in 1989. Nominal Christians are not included in either category. If all nominal Christians were included with non-Christians (worst case), the current ratio would still only increase to 1 in 9. Such estimations are necessarily imprecise, for only God truly knows the heart, but this does, it seems, provide a lower bound on the ratio of Christians to non-Christians worldwide.
[2] Bill Mounce, in his lecture on Mark 13 in Biblical Training Institute’s Academy curriculum.

The Twin Pillars of Christmas & Easter

National Building Museum, Washington DC, 2017. Author’s photo.

As the Christmas celebrations wrapped up, a friend shared the following quote yesterday from atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman:

The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance. He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption. That’s a great image of a divine being. This is not a God who is waiting for you to die so he can send you into eternal torment. It is a God who is concerned for you and your world, who wants to solve your problems, heal your wounds, remove your pain, bring you joy, peace, happiness, healing, and wholeness. Can’t we keep that image with us all the time? Can’t we affirm that view of ultimate reality 52 weeks of the year instead of just a few? I myself do not believe in God. But if I did, that would be the God I would defend, promote, and proclaim. Enough of war! Enough of starvation! Enough of epidemics! Enough of pain! Enough of misery! Enough of abject loneliness! Enough of violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and suffering of every kind! Give me the God of Christmas, the God of love, the God of an innocent child in a manger, who comes to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, the way it was always meant to be.”[1, emphasis mine]

I get it. We tend to like the “God of Christmas”: the God who sends Jesus to be born as one of us, the God who so loved the world that He sent His Son for us, the God who is “pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!”[2] Unless you have some psychosis where you resent being loved, who wouldn’t want “that God”? But here’s the thing. God isn’t one-dimensional. We often complain about books and movies where the character development is shallow, and each character has one personality trait that is exaggerated to the exclusion of all others. Then, why do we want God to be equally one-dimensional? Can He not be loving and just? But justice requires the judgement that Bart resents. Can He not love us, and punish evildoers? It’s hard to complain of the “problem of evil” if you specifically reject a God who judges and punishes evil.

What I think Bart is missing is that the “God of Christmas” is necessarily the same “God of the Cross”. You can’t have the manger without the cross, or the cross without the manger; they are twin pillars  in God’s plan of redemption.  We must not forget that the birth of Christ is not really functional without the other pillar: Easter. These two events, separated by about 33 years, mark the beginning and completion of a critical phase of God’s redemption plan established before the world was even formed. If Jesus had simply materialized at the cross to be a sacrifice for our sin, he wouldn’t have lived a sinless life [2Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15] to be an unblemished sacrifice [Heb 9:14]. If Jesus had been born and lived His perfect life, only to die the familiar and final death of men, then He would’ve been a great teacher and role model, but not our redeemer bringing eternal life, and we would be no better off than before He came. We can’t have one without the other. While we may feel more comfortable with the lowly child Jesus, the incarnation through a virgin birth was the necessary beginning that must end in the crucifixion and resurrection. The purpose of Jesus becoming that “innocent child in a manger” that would satisfy Bart, was to become the sacrifice that would satisfy the wrath of God that Bart resents.

Does wrath make you uncomfortable? It should. Left to face the perfectly fair justice of God on our own, wrath is rightly ours to bear. But that doesn’t have to be our fate. For God so loved the world, that He sent His Son [Jn 3:16], not to stay a sweet lowly baby, not to merely be a good teacher, and not to be an interesting story to ponder centuries later, but to be the mediator between us and God [1Tim 2:5], to be our great High Priest [Heb 2:17-18, 7:25], to pay the price for sin that we might receive the free gift of God [Rom 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23]! There is no dichotomy here – the  God of Christmas and the God of the Cross are one and the same. For that sweet baby came to be our ransom and take the wrath of God; and the cross and subsequent resurrection were the culmination of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to redeem us, and Jesus’s love for us in sacrificing His life for us. Christmas and Easter are both necessary pillars supporting God’s plan for our salvation. So give me that God, that is big enough to orchestrate a plan so much grander and better than anything Bart Ehrman, or me, or anyone else could ever come up with. Give me that God, who is loving and just, whose wrath is righteous, who is the only one who can be trusted with vengeance, who judges fairly and consistently, yet whose mercy and grace are unfathomable.  Give me that God, who loved me while I was His enemy, with a costly, sacrificial love, but also loves me enough to not let me stay wallowing in my sin. Rather He disciplines me, convicts me, molds me, even though it’s uncomfortable, but it’s for my own good, even when I can’t see that far.

In short, give me… the God of the Bible.


[1] Bart Ehrman’s blog, from Christmas Eve, 2017, https://ehrmanblog.org/christmas-reflection-2017, accessed 2017-12-26.
[2] Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, verse 2.

Where to Start?

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Krista Johanson

I was reading some more of atheist Dan Barker’s book “godless”, and came across this passage:

“I have often heard Christians say we must ‘start with God.’ … Isn’t that interesting? Would they say we must ‘start with unicorns’ or must ‘start with UFOs?’ We can only start where we both agree, and proceed from there. We both agree that there is a natural universe – no argument there. It is the religious persons who maintain additional ‘supernatural’ or transcendent assertions that go beyond what we both accept. It is unreasonable and unfair for them simply to fold their arms and demand that I disprove their allegations. Any impartial investigator will agree that we should start with what we do know, and then proceed from there. We should start with nature. We should start with the nonexistence of God and then the believer should argue for God’s existence, not demand that atheists argue against it. The burden of proof in any argument is on the shoulders of the one who makes the affirmative claim, not the one who doubts it.” [1, emphasis in original]

What do you think? Does he have a legitimate point? Let’s work through that today.

Let me first just agree with Dan on his last statement about the burden of proof. He is correct: anyone making positive propositional statements bears the burden of proof for those statements. With that in mind, let me quote the closing sentences of Dan’s previous paragraph: “…the probability for the existence of a supernatural being can be safely dropped to zero. In the name of honesty, it must be dropped to zero.” (emphasis in original) Dan, I’m afraid, took on a monumentally heavy burden of proof with that proposition. I’m no UFO hunter, but I’m not about to make the bold claim that the probability of UFOs are zero. To prove a universal negative requires either proving a self-contradiction that makes it deductively impossible, or observing all possibilities to verify inductively that the object in question does not exist in some unobserved state. However, the concept of God is not internally inconsistent, like speaking of a square circle would be, where we can truly say it cannot exist, by definition. Nor is Dan Barker omniscient, and able to search all time and space, and alternate dimensions, and so on, to verify the non-existence of God. I think I would reconsider that proposition if I were Dan.

Moving on, I agree that starting with common ground is a great place to start. That saves two opponents the trouble of arguing back and forth trying to establish such common ground. And we do both agree that a natural universe exists; we can both observe it, and we can both make rational inferences about it. So I’m perfectly OK starting with nature. But did you notice the switch Barker did? First he wrote that we should “start with nature”, but then in the very next sentence, he wrote that “we should start with the nonexistence of God….” Not so fast there, Dan. Those aren’t the same. If we start with nature, then we are starting with raw observational data of the world around us, working to establish probable causes for what we observe. One of those possible causes is God, no matter how small you personally feel that possibility is. Therefore, you can’t rule that out beforehand. This is actually the logical fallacy called “begging the question”, or “assuming what you set out to prove”. [2] Now, if he had eliminated God as a possible cause in the course of the investigation, that would be one thing that we’d have to look at more closely later to find where he went wrong. However, defining Him out of the investigation before you even begin is like deliberately putting blinders on before watching a lab experiment, and wondering why you can’t explain the results: you only saw half the experiment!

As a former pastor, Dan Barker should know that the Bible encourages us to look at nature. Passages like Psalm 19 tell us that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” [Ps19:1]  Paul tells us in the New Testament that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” [Ro 1:20] And when we look at nature, we find a lot of things that need explaining. We see an absolute beginning that requires a Beginner; we see an incredibly fine-tuned cosmos that requires a powerful super-intelligence beyond imagination; we see amazing code written in our every cell that points to a Master Programmer; and we see beauty that has inspired artists and poets in every generation to try to represent it to their audiences. In short, we see that nature speaks of something beyond nature, something supernatural. Contrary to what Dan Barker assumes, when we have an open mind as we “start with nature”, we are compelled toward God, not away from Him.


[1] Dan Barker, godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2008), p. 92.
[2] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 94.

Hell vs Love

“Hell”, photograph by Robert Doisneau, 1952

Is the concept of hell as a place of eternal punishment incompatible with the concept of a loving God? I’m reading a couple of books right now written by atheists who both view hell not only as a moral outrage, but as contrary to the nature of God as loving. Are they right? Let’s dig in to that tonight.

Atheist David Madison wrote in 2016, “Hell and eternal punishment fall into the category of the cruel and unusual. Pain and torture that go on forever can’t be part of sound theology. ” [1] Eight years prior, Dan Barker wrote, “Love is not hatred or wrath, assigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your fragile ego or disobeyed your rules….” [2] Of course, Richard Dawkins gave his own sensational statement on hell back in 2006: “I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.” [3] But this opposition to hell is hardly limited to the so-called “new atheists.” Bertrand Russell, back in 1927, stated that “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” [4]

With that brief survey of some of the objections to hell, lets consider a couple of responses.

  • Is damnation an act of ego-driven hatred masquerading as love, as Barker alleges? Actually, this has nothing to do with ego or hatred, for it is justice, not love, that condemns people to hell. Too many people construct a very one-dimensional image of God they can feel justified in rejecting, and this is just such a case. Yes, God is loving; but He is also holy, righteous, just. One might be tempted to say that the love of God should override this harsh justice, yet people don’t seem to approve if a human judge lets an unrepentant criminal go unpunished. But in God’s solution at the cross, love actually satisfied the need for justice rather than ignoring it. While God’s justice condemns us to an eternal punishment we all deserve, His sacrificial love offers us freedom if we’ll accept it.
  • Is the duration of the punishment unloving or inhumane? These skeptics, and many others, specifically object to the “everlasting” part of hell. There are two responses here. First, this objection stems from a lack of appreciation of the seriousness of sin – any sin – from the view of a perfect judge. We tend to excuse “little sins” and “white lies” and such, but anything less than perfection is a failing grade before a perfect God. True justice, when perfection is the standard, requires any infraction, no matter how minor in the defendant’s eyes, to be a guilty sentence. Another response to this objection is that the sin and lack of repentance of those condemned to hell don’t seem to stop once they get there. I don’t want to read too much into a story, but it is worth noting that in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar [Lk 16:19-31], the rich man, while being tormented in hell, continued acting selfishly toward Lazarus, even as he asked favors of Lazarus. If one never repents of sin (i.e. turns from it), then one continues in sin, and therefore in condemnation. Thus, the eternal nature of the punishment may very well be due to the eternal continuation of the sin.

Does the existence of hell rule out the love of God? Not when understood in it’s context. As Douglas Groothuis points out, “The doctrine of hell does not stand alone as a kind of ancient Christian chamber of horrors. Rather, hell is inseparable from three other interrelated biblical truths: human sin, God’s holiness, and the cross of Christ…. Only by understanding hell can we grasp the immensity of God’s love…. This is a costly love, a bloody love that has no parallel in any of the world’s religions.”[5] The tragic fate awaiting so many is not something Christians relish. On the contrary, it is concern and love for our fellow humans that drives us to warn them of the disastrous path they are on. It is a love motivated by that costly love with which God first loved us. If you are one who has rejected God because of the offensiveness of hell, I ask – no, I plead – that you reconsider, and accept God’s free gift of salvation. For in the end, if you will not have His love, sadly, you will have His justice. Choose wisely, friend.


[1] David Madison, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), p. 277. Kindle Edition.
[2] Dan Barker, godless (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2008), p.89.
[3] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), p. 358.
[4]  Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not A Christian”,  a lecture given March 6, 1927, to the National Secular Society at Battersea Town Hall, England.
[5] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2011), Appendix 1: “Hell on Trial”, p. 658,660.

At the intersection of faith and design