All posts by Jason

I am a Christian engineer with a desire to help people understand the rational basis of Christianity.

Christian Continuing Education

The Book-Worm – Carl Spitzweg 1850

I just got back from a class that involved 24 hours of training over the course of 3 days. That’s a full schedule! That also included giving 2 presentations as a student, which makes for an exhausting schedule when you’re not much of a public speaker! 24 hours is  actually enough training to meet the requirements for my professional engineering licensure for a 2 year period in many of the states in which I’m licensed. But, none of this will count for any of my PE licenses. Why not? Because this concentrated training program wasn’t for my engineering profession. It was for my far more important profession as a Christian.

Allow me to highlight a few similarities I’ve noticed between the continuing education classes I’ve taken for my growth as an engineer and those taken for growth as a Christian. Some reason for taking these classes are:

  1. Pursuing continuing education instills a learning attitude. Formal training – whether seminars, webinars, correspondence classes, or traditional college classes – reminds us that learning is a lifetime process that we’ll incorporate into our daily lives. It develops a mindset of looking for learning opportunities, whether formal or informal. I could never learn everything there is to know about engineering – even my particular niche. But how much more vast are the depths of the knowledge of God! One thing that I find fascinating is that God can reveal Himself in such a way that a child can understand what he must do to be saved, yet one could devote a hundred lifetimes to studying the nature of God, and never exhaust that field of study.
  2. Continuing education expands our knowledge base. Last month I attended a 4 hour seminar on dynamic analysis of structures due to earthquakes, impact loads, and so forth. Some of those analysis methods were ones I’d heard about, but never used. One seminar doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch, but now I know what’s involved in those methods, and I have resources I can look back to if the need arises later to use those new methods. I’m more prepared for those possibilities now. Likewise, pursuing more training in things like theology, philosophy, science, and apologetics prepares us as Christians. It helps me to recognize the firm foundation I have in Christ, and be able to weather trials of life, “knowing whom I have believed in.” [2Tim 1:12] It also prepares me to answer questions and objections related to the truth of Christianity. It helps me to  “be ready in season and out” [2Tim 4:2] “to give an answer for the hope that I have” [1Pet3:15], that I may “know how to answer everyone.” [Col 4:6]
  3. Continuing education helps us stay current on new information/applications. While the basic forces of tension and compression and shear don’t change, our understanding of them and our ability to analyze them does.  In similar fashion, I was presenting last week on the ontological argument for the existence of God. I was using Alvin Plantinga’s reformulation of Anselm’s 900 year old line of reasoning. While God’s truth doesn’t change, our understanding of it with our finite minds can improve as we wrestle through certain tough applications or newly raised objections. Many times skeptics will mock one version of an argument, not realizing (or ignoring) that their objection has already been addressed by an improved version of that argument.

The resulting benefits of this commitment to ongoing training make us:

  1. Better informed. Just as shared technical knowledge makes for a more well-informed engineer, shared knowledge of doctrine and apologetics makes for a more well-informed Christian.
  2. Less prone to error. One common format for engineering ethics classes is the case study of past mistakes. The idea is to look at where an engineer went wrong, the results of that error, and how to avoid making the same error yourself. As Christians, we can also benefit from looking at past errors (like the heresy of modalism, for instance), understanding where the proponent (Sabellius in that case) went wrong, and examining our own views to verify we are not making similar errors. A good class in church history or systematic theology can go a long way toward countering unbiblical doctrine that sometimes creeps in. Apologetics, of course, also helps in that it focuses on why we believe what we believe.
  3. More involved. A commitment to learning and growing helps protect against apathy and laziness. When you’re constantly learning and seeking out new opportunities, it’s hard to not be involved. Remember how Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” [2Tim 2:2] That’s learning and then not just sitting on that knowledge, but passing it on to others who will pass it on. That’s getting involved instead of being content to hibernate your way through this Christian journey.

Now, after all that, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is a danger in “always learning and never doing.” One could draw a parallel to James’ description of that dead faith that has no signs of life made evident in good works: knowledge that never gets applied is equally dead. But, if we comprehend what we’re learning about God’s nature and His plan of redemption and of the Gospel, we will be motivated to apply what we’re learning every chance we get, for the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” [Matt 9:37] So, if you’re a Christian, where are you investing your time? Are you “growing in the knowledge of God” [Col 1:10] as Paul prayed the Colossians might be? Or are you stagnant? My prayer – for myself, and every reader – is that we never stop learning of that unfathomable knowledge of God, and applying that in our lives for the glory of God.

Apologetics Leads to True Worship

Apologetics and worship? Aren’t those mutually exclusive? Christian apologetics, the reasoned defense of the faith, is often seen as rather dry and clinical – a very cold, sterile niche of Christianity set aside for those kinda weird nerds or those that are a little more quarrelsome than they should be. Meanwhile, worship is of the heart, not the head, right? Well, this nerd begs to differ. Worship is certainly more than feelings. I would dare say that many mistake the beat of a good tune for the moving of the Spirit of God, but I digress….

In studying the ontological argument the past few weeks, I have read through quite a few references on it. Most address the validity of it, the objections to it, responses to those objections, and so on. But Doug Groothuis was the only one to remind the reader that this argument for the existence of God was originally part of a prayer. Says Groothuis: “Anselm’s version of the argument was offered as part of a prayer. He earnestly sought to offer an argument to God that would convince “the fool” of Psalm 14 that God must exist. So, the chapel and the study become the same room. The existence of the greatest possible being should compel our worship, since no greater being is possible and we are far lesser beings than this being.”[1]

But is this joining of the study and the chapel unique to this one argument? Hardly. It’s difficult  to really think of the axiological argument (the moral argument), without thinking of the perfect justice of God. And as praiseworthy as that attribute of God is, that also reminds us of how far we fall short of His standard and are rightly condemned by that perfect justice [Rom 3:10,23]. But then we are reminded of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all” [Heb 7:27], that we may be reconciled to God [2Cor 5:18-21], not because of our own works [Ti 3:5], blind as we were on our own, but only because of God’s grace [Eph 2:8-9]. And we can joyously sing with that former slave-trader John Newton:

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

The teleological argument (the design argument) has always made such perfect sense to me as an engineer who designs things. How could I not recognize the handiwork of the Master Designer in everything from the grand scale of the finely-tuned cosmos [Ps19:1-2] to the layered mysteries of genetics [Ps 139:14]?  Surely, I recognize the signature of Him whose work astounds me afresh the closer I study it! And then, recognizing the staggering heights of power and knowledge we speak of when we bandy about words like omnipotence and omniscience, what could be more fitting than that beautiful hymn “How Great Thou Art”? ”

“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed;
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
how great thou art, how great thou art!”

The cosmological argument points us toward the necessity of a transcendent First Cause, existing beyond space and time [Col 1:17, 1Cor 2:7]. And when we work through the implications of this, words like “eternal” can’t be uttered quite so flippantly. And we join with that great hymn writer Isaac Watts in humbly approaching our Eternal God :

“Through every age, eternal God,
Thou art our rest, our safe abode;
High was thy throne ere heav’n was made,
Or earth thy humble footstool laid.

Long hadst thou reigned ere time began,
Or dust was fashioned to a man;
And long thy kingdom shall endure
When earth and time shall be no more.”

Of course, worship must be sincere, and cannot be manufactured, but worship flows out of a grateful heart convinced of who God is and what He’s done. A study of apologetics teaches us why we believe what we believe about God,  and the more we study God – His attributes, His past actions, His foretelling of future actions, His statements about Himself and what they mean – the more convinced we will be of His praiseworthiness. We tend to worship unsuitable things all too easily. It is so commonplace in our culture, that here in America, we’ve even named a common quest for fame “American Idol.” But a mind renewed and  informed by a steady diet of God’s truth can put the brakes on that idol factory of the heart, and redirect it toward the only worthy object of worship: God almighty. Yes, our minds must be involved in worship. Learning about God, if understood, necessarily leads to worship; it can do no other. So, as I get ready to leave in the morning for 3 very full days of classes and presentations from some great men of God, I encourage you to love the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength, and – yes – your mind. [Lk 10:27]


*  If you don’t see the humor in the intro graphic above, it may help to know the 2 men in the bottom of the photo are the Christian philosophers William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Read my original post on the ontological argument here, to find out why they might worship God as “maximally great”. 😉

[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), p. 186-7.

Digging for Answers

I mentioned last week that I am one of those engineers that is always going back to the commentaries in the backs of most of our engineering design standards, seeking answers to why things are the way they are. It’s not just idle curiosity; learning that background has often been helpful later.  But even I was a bit taken aback when the brand-new copies of ASCE 7-16, the “Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings & Other Structures” arrived in the mail from the publisher. I thought I’d accidentally ordered us twice as many copies as we needed in our office! Then I realized that the commentary had grown so much over the last couple of updates, that ASCE had split the commentary out into its own book, almost exactly equal in size to the actual provisions themselves (400 pages each). Maybe they had overly-curious nerds like me in mind this time around….

The fact of the matter is, though, that a lot of good background information is presented in the commentaries. It’s not really necessary to apply the code provisions, but it is extremely helpful in knowing why you’re required to do something, or prohibited from something else. It’s not just in engineering where it’s helpful to know the background, or context, of particular provisions. In the Christian journey, we have a “design standard” for our lives – the Bible – that tells us how to fulfill our purpose in life [1], as well as telling us the background story of why things are the way they are. As Blaise Pascal observed, the Bible explains the greatness, and wretchedness, of humanity like nothing else can. The Bible is the lid of the puzzle box that makes sense of all the jumbled-up puzzle pieces.

Of course, the Bible has obvious provisions like not stealing and murdering, but it also explains the foundation for those provisions in loving our Creator (our vertical relationship, Mk12:30, Deut 6:5) and our fellow humans (our horizontal relationship, Mk12:31, Lev 19:18). But then this love for others is grounded in our love for God because each of us is made in the image of God [Gen 1:27, 9:6]. And so, respecting and loving God means (among other things) loving what He created. Being image-bearers of God results in an intrinsic value to every human, regardless of social status, nationality, physical differences between us, or any other distinctions we make. Does the Bible come out and list the consequences of the “imago Dei” – the image of God –  in a nice tidy outline you can find skimming over the text? No, bu it also doesn’t mention the word “Trinity” either, yet these are both concepts readily assembled from a familiarity with the whole of Scripture. That’s why King David could talk about meditating on God’s law day and night and it being his delight [Ps 1:2, 63:6, 119:23-24]. You have to dig for some answers, but it’s the most exhilarating digging you’ll ever do.

But suppose you’ve read the Bible and were still confused. What then? If you’re reading this internet blog, then you likely have a world of information at your fingertips just like me. A lot of very wise people, far more spiritually mature than I, have written insightful Bible commentaries and systematic theology books, and preached amazing sermons over the centuries, a whole lot of these resources are available for free over the internet or from libraries. For most of us, there really is no excuse for not digging into the rich ore of God’s Word, and studying the works of those Scripture miners that have gone before us and already unearthed nuggets of golden truth. [2]

To the Christian, I would end by pleading: don’t be content with a shallow knowledge of God. You certainly don’t need a theology degree to be saved, but God is also clear in His Word that we should be growing and maturing in our faith [Heb 6:1-3, 1Pet 2:2-3, 2Pet 1:5-8, 1Tim 4:15-16]. That requires knowledge about what you actually believe, and whether your belief actually lines up with what God says is true. As a point of practical application, if someone challenged you to defend your beliefs, could you? Do you know what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the world? Is your belief just one of casual comfort, or is it grounded in the truth? We should always be prepared, “in season and out” to speak the truth to a desperate and dying world [2Tim 4:2]. But even if you never need to “provide an answer for the hope that you have” to others [1Pet 3:15], do you understand the incredible gift you have – “Christ in you, the hope of glory”? Do you value it above all else? If so, it’s hard to not want to dig deep and share what you learn.

To the skeptic, I would ask: is your skepticism truly based on an intellectual rejection of Christianity (despite some of the greatest scientists and philosophers of history being Christians), or is it more a willful rejection of God? Are you as skeptical of your own views as you are of Christianity, or are you really applying a double standard? Have you simply dismissed out of hand parts of the Bible that you didn’t like or that didn’t make sense to you? Or have you actually dug into the mountain of explanatory material that has been generated down through the centuries? As an engineer, when I run into code provisions that aren’t at all clear to me, they are often cleared up quite well after doing some research. Some cases require a lot more research, and hand-calcs, and talking though the issue with colleagues, before I’m convinced; but I can’t say I’m serious about pursuing truth in my engineering practice if I’m not willing to pursue it relentlessly. Likewise, you shouldn’t dismiss God lightly, for your eternal fate is a far more critical issue than anything I might ever design. So get digging, my friend! And if you have questions, contact me. I’ll do my best to answer them or point you to someone who can.


[1] Wondering what your purpose in life is? It’s no secret: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” http://shortercatechism.com/resources/wsc/wsc_001.html
[2] To get you started with some of those insightful Scripture miners,  might I suggest Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, & Ravi Zacharias?

Philosophy – Hiding in Plain Sight

“Philosophy”, by Raphael, 1511

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” [1] Those famous words of Mark Twain might also apply to the subject of philosophy. You may have heard about Stephen Hawking’s low opinion of philosophy [2], or Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ramblings against the subject [3]. What many scientists today conveniently forget is that philosophy is inescapable; the only question is whether your philosophy is valid or not.  Because it forms the framework that supports your worldview, philosophy is often hidden in plain sight, so to speak.

Some areas of knowledge typically grouped under the umbrella of philosophy that are absolutely critical to successful science are logic (how we think rationally about anything), epistemology (the study of how we can know that we rightly know something, or how we justify our beliefs), and ethics (you know – that we shouldn’t fake the data, fudge our numbers, plagiarize, etc). Can you see why scientists who think the tree of philosophy is nothing more than so much firewood are really attacking what supports their own little treehouse? Science can provide us an amazing view of the world, but only when it’s supported by good sturdy philosophy. Data is little use without interpretation, and good philosophy provides that wisdom needed to interpret the data truly, consistently, fairly, without bias, and without going beyond what the data can support.

Because philosophy is so foundational to much of life, it remains behind the scenes for most of us. But sometimes you get reminded of its presence and effect in even the mundane tasks. I’m one that likes to read the commentaries in the backs of the various design standards and learn why various requirements or recommendations are instituted. And in the commentary for Chapter J of AISC’s Manual of Steel Construction [4], I came across an explanation for why a particular definition of cross sectional area in combination with a particular safety factor are used for one formula. In the body of the specification, you’re just given the formula and the safety factor for block shear strength, with no explanation. But the commentary points out that block shear is a rupture (or tearing) phenomenon rather than yielding, and therefore , the requirements shown are consistent with the design philosophy of  another chapter that deals with tensile rupture.  You see, our design philosophy may be behind the scenes, but it drives how we implement our specific designs. As engineers, our first duty is actually not to our employer or our customers, but always to protect the public safety. That’s actually part of our code of ethics.

One way that works itself out in practice is by trying to control how our designs fail in a worst-case scenario. Failures due to tensile rupture,  shear rupture, or compressive buckling can be sudden and catastrophic. A sudden failure of the main roof framing of a large venue might kill hundreds or even thousands of people. A slow ductile yielding on the other hand, can result in massive amounts of noticeable sagging before the final collapse, allowing ample time for evacuating people and repairing the problem before it collapses. And so our design philosophy is twofold: to design a structure that safely supports its intended loads with some margin, and to steer any potential failure toward failure modes that are more predictable and controllable. This is especially done when designing for earthquakes where we fully expect massive damage in the design-level earthquake,  but we try to control where the damage occurs and how it fails so as to protect life at all costs. For example, we’ll design braced frames where the braces act as “fuses” (like a circuit breaker in your house) that will eventually fail only after many cycles of ground shaking, leaving the rest of the building (relatively) intact. A former boss of mine applied the idea of a tensile “fuse” – with that nice, slow,  predictable failure mode – to open-web steel joists like what you see in many retail stores [5].  So you see, one aspect of our philosophy  can can have far-reaching effects. Our philosophy also provides direction in new or uncertain conditions. Going back to the steel manual, there are some spots where the authors explain what the intent of certain provisions are, which is a significant help in applying those provisions to scenarios the authors possibly didn’t anticipate.  We can see that something may not violate the letter of the law, but it does the spirit, or intent, of the law (or vice versa). These are all cases where our philosophy helps guide us, and without some overarching framework, our endeavors are fractured and adrift.

Of course, I’ve mentioned “valid” and “good” philosophy throughout this post. Not all philosophy is created equal. The system Hawking and Tyson advocate is, or very nearly is, scientism, a self-refuting idea that trusts the methods of science to be applicable to all pursuits of true knowledge. but just as philosophy (in general) is a tree that supports science, it needs its roots in good soil to actually be able to support anything. That soil is the truth of God’s Word. In the end, it seems that the real beef against philosophy is that philosophy done right basically points out to us that ideas have consequences, and that it’s wise to foresee the good and bad consequences of our ideas and avoid the bad ones. This self-critique – this admonition to “know thyself” –  can get us out of our typical comfort zone in our narrow specialties and force us to ask the bigger questions of life. For some worldviews like atheism, there simply are no answers to those questions, and it can make people like Hawking and Tyson uncomfortable with the whole endeavor. But our comfort should never hinder our search for truth or our desire for wisdom, and philosophy simply means “love of wisdom.” So be wise and don’t fall in the trap of scientism; examine your own philosophical grounding and make sure it’s rooted in the only source of truth – God.


[1]This is apparently the actual quote, contrary to what most of us heard growing up: http://www.twainquotes.com/Death.html
[2]Here is one philosopher’s thoughtful response to Stephen Hawking’s cutting off of the branch he sits on: https://philosophynow.org/issues/82/Hawking_contra_Philosophy.
[3] Here are 2 interesting responses to Tyson’s comments, the first providing a good recap of the comments: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/massimo-pigliucci/neil-degrasse-tyson-and-the-value-of-philosophy_b_5330216.html, and http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2014/05/22/why_does_neil_degrasse_tyson_hate_philosophy.html
[4] AISC 360-16, Commentary J4.3, Block Shear Strength”, p16.1-446. published by the American Institute of Steel Construction, 2016-07-07.
[5] For the geeks: https://www.aisc.org/Experimental-Investigation-of-Steel-Joist-Design-for-Ductile-Strength-Limit-State#.WXa4A1G1vcs. For everyone else: http://www.newmill.com/pdfs/flex-joist.pdf

What I Found

“Still Life with Bible” – Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

Atheists will sometimes ask what it would take for a Christian to walk away from Christianity. I think Paul addressed that in his letter to the Corinthians when he stated that if Jesus was not raised from the dead (i.e. bodily, as an actual historical event occurring in space and time), then our faith is in vain, we are to be most pitied of all men, and we should abandon this then-false religion, for we would be false witnesses against God by saying God raised Jesus from the dead if He didn’t [1Cor 15:14-19]. This emphasis on actual, objective, historical events that could be investigated is a really bad way to start a false religion, but a great way to proclaim truth. Per the apostle Paul, Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection.However, an atheist probably would not be content with a Christian leaving Christianity simply to turn to Judaism.  For, of course, refuting Christianity would still not eliminate the need for God. But the desire, nonetheless, is still for us to leave all religion and join their atheist ranks. So that got me thinking: what have I found in Christianity that I would be leaving if I were to oblige the atheist missionary? Well….

I have found Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover[1]; Aquinas’ First Cause[2]; the “Highest Good” that the ancient philosophers sought for; Anselm’s “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” [3]; the Necessary Being upon which all else depends for existence; the Fine-tuner of the universe that explains the Goldilocks dilemma we face when we examine the universe; the Enabler of abiogenesis, without whom life cannot come from non-life; the Source of all the information we find encoded in our own DNA; the Designer behind all the “apparent design” in biology that frustrates Richard Dawkins; the Mind that explains the consciousness of our minds that scientists can’t explain; the Truth that explains objective transcendent truth [Jn 14:6]; Love that explains how and why we love [1Jn 4:19]; the Grand Artist that explains aesthetics[4] in what should be a cold, cruel, survival-focused universe; and the Author of life [Acts 3:14-15 ESV]. It would be intellectual suicide for me to give up all that. But the atheist is asking me to do far more than just drop an intellectual stance.

I have also found the One who loved me from before the beginning of time [Rom 5:8, 2Tim 1:9, Eph 1:4, 1Jn 4:9-10]; a perfect Father [Rom 8:15-16]; the Savior of my soul [Lk 2:11, Jn 4:42]; my Redeemer who rescued me [Ps 19:14, Job 19:25]; the One who made me in His image and gives me intrinsic value [Gen 1:27, Gen 9:6, Matt 6:26]; my Mediator before a just and holy God whom I could never satisfy in my sinfulness [1Tim 2:5]; my Counselor, Advocate, and Intercessor [Jn 16:7-14, Rom 8:26-27]; my source of freedom – truly beautiful, joyous freedom! – [Jn 8:32,36]; my Comforter in times of trouble [2Cor 1:3-5]; the delight of my heart [Ps 35:9]; my Peace when all around me is turmoil [Jn 14:27, 2Thes 3:16]; my steadfast foundation in the tumultuous craziness of life [Lk 6:47-48]; my Hope of glory [Col 1:27];  and the Architect of my eternal home [Heb 11:10]. Yeah, I found all that, too.

Christianity is not simply a rational intellectual viewpoint, but a relationship with my Creator. It isn’t simply some sterile, isolated idea or opinion, but rather the very presence of my Creator. And you ask me to give up that relationship, and all those answers to life’s questions to boot, and be content with the loneliness and unanswered questions of atheism? Are you crazy?! Maybe, but I’m not!


[1] “Aristotle has an argument … which he makes in Book 8 of the Physics and uses again in Book 12 of the Metaphysics that there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.” Sachs, Joe. “Aristotle: Metaphysics”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[2] “It is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”  See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Vol. I, Question 2, Article 3, 2nd way.
[3] See this previous post for a refresher of St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument, based on Plantinga’s reformulation of it last century.
[4] Or, “that best and most systematic Artisan of all”, as Nicolas Copernicus would say in his preface to “On the Revolutions”. See Nicolas Copernicus, Complete Works: On the Revolutions, translation and commentary by Edward Rosen (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 4.

Some Truth About Truth

Today, I wanted to share with you some insights about the nature of truth. I’ve shared in the past about objective truth (here, here, and here), but today I wanted to share a nicely summarized list of some of the consequences of that objectivity, drawn from Frank Turek’s and Norm Geisler’s book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Let’s jump in!

  1. “Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independently of anyone’s knowledge of it.” Suppose NASA were to announce tomorrow that the presence of intelligent  life had been confirmed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. If that were true, it would not become true because they said it. It would be true based on there actually being aliens living on Titan. It would be true whether or not humans ever discovered it. There is nothing we could do to make that statement true (short of moving to Titan ourselves).
  2. “Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times (2+2=4 for everyone, everywhere, at every time).” There is no “Western truth” versus “Eastern truth” or”modern truth” versus “ancient truth”. When the Nazis claimed Jews were subhuman, that was not true for them and false for the  rest of us; it was a lie regardless of who said it, when they said it, where they said, and whether or not their culture condoned them saying it.
  3. “Truth is unchanging, even though our beliefs about truth change.” People in our generation put an undue amount of trust in “science” to eventually reveal all knowledge and fix all problems, but the history of science is often one of trial and error. We laugh now at some of the seriously-proposed theories of only a few years ago and how far from the truth they were. But  notice that when we propose a new model to better explain gravity or the wave-like and particle-like behavior of light, it is not gravity or light that are changing, but rather our understanding of them. New theories presuppose that there is such a thing as objective truth, for it was the old theory’s “missing the mark” of an independent truth that required a new theory.
  4. “Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held.” You can sincerely believe you can fly (unaided), but if you jump off a bridge, gravity will clear up that sincerely wrong belief very quickly. It’s good to be sincere, but we should always strive to be correct in our beliefs as well.
  5. “Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it.” Nobody likes being corrected by a jerk, but humility or arrogance about the truth does not change the truthfulness of a statement. Questioning the truthfulness of a statement solely because of the attitude of the person espousing it would actually be a form of the genetic fallacy – the idea that the origin of the information alone can prove it false.
  6. “All truths are absolute truths.” There cannot be any relative truth. One might be tempted to say some statements are statements of personal truth, relative to the person making the statement and not applicable to anyone else. The statement “I like chocolate ice cream” might be true for John and not for Bob. But if we get more specific, we can see how even this can be absolute: “At 9:30 on July 11, 2017, John liked chocolate ice cream” is true for all people in all places at all times, if that particular man named John really did like chocolate ice cream then.
  7. “All truths exclude their opposites. Contrary beliefs are possible, but not contrary truths.” People like to assume things like “all religions are basically the same” without actually supporting that claim. But consider what just 3 religions say about one person in particular. Christianity claims that Jesus is God, eternal and  uncreated, the only mediator between God and man, who took on human nature and lived a perfect sinless life, gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins that we may be reconciled to God, and rose from the dead, the first fruit of a future resurrection available to all who trust in Him. That’s a significant claim! Judaism claims He was a blasphemous and traitorous rabbi who deserved the death sentence He received, and importantly, stayed dead once He was killed on a Roman cross. Islam claims that He was a true prophet, but one who was spared death on the cross, never claimed to be God, and is not the source of our salvation. These are contradictory beliefs, but each is still believed by many different people. While it is possible that all religions could be false, what is completely impossible is that they could all be true when they have contradictory tenets. If one is true (like Christianity), any others that contradict it are necessarily false.
  8. Let me add one more characteristic to the list: Truth is independent of the medium used to carry it. A true statement is true regardless of whether it is handwritten on paper, spoken out loud, typed electronically, or only thought in private and never communicated. It is true whether it is in English, or Chinese, or any other language. It is not the atoms of ink embedded in a particular pattern on the paper, or the magnetized molecules forming the binary bits of electronic data on a computer hard drive, or the molecules of air in a particular waveform of sounds, or even the neurons in the brain of the person thinking about it that make it true. This idea that information is immaterial is the basis for translation: we can say that “the apple is red” and “la manzana es roja” are equivalent statements because they both convey the same immaterial concept – the specific color of a  specific object (i.e. a red apple). And they are both true statements, regardless of how the statements are communicated, if the object actually is a red apple.

Our culture today likes to say things like “everything is relative”, and “there are no absolutes.” If you’ve accepted those popular mantras, my hope is that I’ve shown you good reasons why those relativistic slogans just don’t work in real life. Objective truth has certain implications that we can see manifested in the world around us. And when we recognize that relationship between truth and reality, it empowers us to boldly discern the truth that is out there waiting for us, rather than being stymied by walls of lies masquerading as contradictory truth claims that can’t be questioned. When we recognize that real truth can’t be “true for you, but not for me”, we then have the freedom to peel back the layers of opinions and perspectives and interpretations on controversial issues until we find the real nugget of truth underneath it all. And that is a beautiful thing, my friends, and worth the work.


Points 1-7 are from Dr. Frank Turek & Dr. Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), pp. 37-38.
Point 8 , regarding the immaterial nature of information (and, consequently, of true information) is from Dr. Werner Gitt, Without Excuse (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 124.

Atheist Objections: Occam’s Razor

William of Ockham, stained glass window in Surrey, England

I came across the following application of Occam’s Razor on the infidels.org site and thought this warranted a closer examination lest anyone be swayed by their example.

“The relevance to atheism is that we can look at two possible explanations for what we see around us:

  • There is an incredibly intricate and complex universe out there, which came into being as a result of natural processes.
  • There is an incredibly intricate and complex universe out there, and there is also a God who created the universe. Clearly this God must be of non-zero complexity.

Given that both explanations fit the facts, Occam’s Razor might suggest that we should take the simpler of the two–solution number one.”

Is this a legitimate use of Occam’s Razor? First, a refresher on Occam’s Razor. Infidels.org is correct when they say that William of Ockham (a priest, by the way) is the one commonly credited with the idea that we should “not multiply entities unnecessarily.” In other words, look for the minimum needed explanation for an event. Internet conspiracy theorists would do well to keep this principle in mind. When one sees the suspicious behavior of a couple of people,  a worldwide conspiracy should not be the first thing that comes to mind.  For instance, if an elaborate government conspiracy comprised of hundreds of people can explain the evidence, but so can two guys embezzling government funds on their own, don’t default to the giant conspiracy between the government, bankers, corporations, and space aliens unless you find further evidence that can’t be explained by just the two crooks.

Now, what is the difference between the 2 explanations for the origin of the universe above? Both accept as a given our observations of an “incredibly intricate and complex universe.” The first claims that this intricacy was the result of natural processes, while the second claims that God was added to the mix. Their conclusion is then that God is the “unnecessary entity” that Occam’s Razor advises against.  However, God is not an entity added to the natural processes of the first situation; in discussing the origin of the universe, God and natural processes are competing alternatives. Therefore, this is not a case of unnecessarily added entities. We have precisely one “entity” in each scenario: either nature alone, or an intelligent agent (i.e. God).  They are both proposed causal agents.

Let’s look at another example to explain this difference. I might observe a pot of water boiling on the stove. Is this the result of natural causes or intelligent agency? Which multiplies entities needlessly? The notion that my wife made a conscious choice to put a pot of water on the stove a finite time ago (for it hasn’t boiled dry yet) is a pretty straightforward explanation. We could step the explanation back farther to note that she first retrieved the pot from the cabinet and filled the pot with water, and at some prior point she bought the pot from the store.  But with an intelligent agent, those are hardly extraordinary possibilities.

How would a purely naturalistic explanation proceed? If there’s no agent to put the pot on the stove,  maybe an earthquake  shook it into place there, and a conveniently placed roof leak filled it full of water. A falling ceiling tile could potentially hit the switch just right to turn on the stove to heat  the water. But then where did this stove and pot and water even come from in a world where we ignore the possibility of free agents to procure these components? Well, maybe the stove is actually the result of erosion of a metal-rich piece of rock, and what appears to be copper wiring is really just the remnants of veins of copper ore. And the house it’s in is just an accumulation of storm debris. And the pot is actually a hollowed-out remnant of a meteorite. In fact, maybe a meteorite impact is why the roof leaks and the ceiling tile fell on the stove switch! Explaining the actions of free agents, even fairly simple actions, gets outlandish pretty quick when we don’t allow free agency as an explanation. But that’s nothing compared to trying to explain how everything that exists came to be by purely natural causes. But if we ignore the possibility of an agent who can choose to cause chains of events, and can choose between different options along the way, and can direct those processes through to their planned end, then we have to multiply entities needlessly, and endlessly, to compensate. And after all of our manipulation of freak accidents in just-right orders to explain what we want to have happened, we are left with a tale that smacks of ad-hoc, contrived wish fulfillment.

Does Occam’s Razor favor the naturalistic origin of the universe? No, in the end, Occam’s Razor shaves off the proposed natural causes and reveals the real cause: the intelligent, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe. Only a volitional being that existed eternally and transcended space and time could choose to bring those into existence, thus allowing any natural processes to even be possible. For natural processes are not possible without a nature to occur in, and if we’re talking about the origin of nature, then that cause must be outside of nature. Nothing can cause itself. Therefore, the most reasonable cause is a free agent outside of nature. But you can call Him God.


 

Source: https://infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/arguments.html#occam

In Defense of Logic

I received some surprising feedback lately from a fellow Christian pushing back against my emphasis on logic. The charge was even made that I “idolized” logic. Surprising (and saddening) as this is, I suppose it is worthwhile to review the role of logic in our lives. Now, I would never want to put anything, even logic, before God, but the simple fact of the matter is that we really can’t know God without logic. Don’t believe me? Let’s dig into that today by looking at 3 questions: What is logic? Is it necessary? And how does it apply to our understanding of God?

  1. First, what is logic? Is it some mysterious type of thought used by Vulcans, Mentats, and computers that is antithetical to Christianity?  Hardly. Logic is to thought as grammar is to language; it is the structure of thought. Logic is simply the organization of our thoughts into coherent structures that can have discernible meaning.  Without any further clarification, the statement “I am 5 feet tall and 6 feet tall”, would be nonsense to you. You might ask if I meant that my height was between those 2 numbers, or if I was talking about at different times of my life, or you might ask what the punchline was. Why would you not just accept that I existed in the form of 2 different body heights at the same time? Because it’s not possible. And we have a law in logic that puts that common sense notion into words. The law of non-contradiction states (in Aristotle’s formulation), that “the same property cannot both belong and not belong to the same subject at the same time in the same respect.” To have a body height of 5′ and 6′ at the same time, measured the same way, would necessarily be a contradiction and would be physically impossible. Because we cannot conceive any way something physical could be 2 different lengths at the same time in the same way, contradictions like that are truly nonsense. Now, it’s not like Aristotle (or anyone else) invented the laws of logic, anymore than Newton or Einstein invented gravity; these laws simply describe relationships that already exist. Logic is not a human invention, just a human discovery.
  2. Is logic really necessary? As Peter Kreeft points out in the preface to his logic textbook, “We all have used logic already, unconsciously, many times every day.” [1] He goes on to say, “One of the best remedies for bad reading and writing is good logic.” [2] Another professor laments that “logic is the very backbone of a true education, and yet it is seldom taught as such in American schools.”[3] While philosophy professors may bemoan the lack of logic instruction outside of their classrooms, that alone doesn’t make it actually necessary. In fact, you can certainly think without knowing logic, but only in the same way you can speak and write without knowing grammar – in both cases, the results will not be as coherent. Of course, the basics of logic, like the rather obvious law of non-contradiction,  are what we tend to call “common sense”, so even without knowing logic, it’s hard to not use it, even if used poorly at times. In fact, one typically has to resort to logic in any attempt to argue against it.
  3. So how does logic fit in with knowing God?  Classical logic systematizes our thoughts into three acts of the mind: understanding, judgement, and reasoning.
    • Understanding (or simple apprehension) is where we define our terms, where we understand what it is we are thinking about.  When we say that “God is good,” what do we mean by the terms “God” and “good”?  Many an unnecessary argument rages on because two opponents use the same terms but mean different things.
    • Judgement is that act of the mind where we make truth claims that must be accepted or rejected.Once we have our terms defined, judgement is what we say about those terms, those objects of our thoughts. We think about God, and judge that He is good. Our judgements are statements that are either true or false. There is no middle state between true and false, existence and non-existence, or any other condition and its negation (this is called the law of the excluded middle). If there is a middle option, then we have not been sufficiently specific in our initial statement.
    • Reasoning is where we establish why our judgements are true. This is the justification, warrant, or basis, for our statements or beliefs. Why do we think God is good? Think of valid reasoning as the foundation stones that support the structure made from true judgement of clear terms. Without valid reasoning, you can be accidentally correct about something, but your belief is just a house of cards waiting to be knocked over. Too many people rightly believe various truths about God, but for reasons like how it makes them feel, or that their parents told them these things. If they never dig any deeper to the real foundational reasons, then they are easy prey for the first skeptic that comes along and knocks these false supports out from under them.

Logic clarifies what is believed, deduces the necessary consequences of the belief, and applies it to difficult situations. [4]Let’s look at a prime example: the Trinity. This is core Christian doctrine. Indeed, it’s been said, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine.” [5] So why do we believe that God is triune? Because the church fathers had to wrestle with the tension between the clear teaching in the Bible regarding three divine Persons, and the equally clear teaching that the Lord our God is one God. But they very laboriously worked through precisely defining terms, judging what were true statements about those terms, reasoning through the serious implications of what they knew to be true, and applying that logic to discover this truth about the nature of God that we call the Trinity. The Trinitarian formulation is the result of resolving a paradox through logical reasoning.

As Professor Kreeft points out, the simplest and most important reason for studying logic is that “logic helps us to find truth”. [6] Jesus tells us in John 14:6 that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Any tool that draws us closer to truth can draw us closer to Him. And that’s worth defending.


[1] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 12.
[2] ibid. p140.
[3] D.Q. McInerny, Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking, (New York: Random House, 2005), p. ix.
[4] Kreeft, p. 4.
[5] Herman Bavink, The Doctrine of God, p.285, as quoted in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), p. 247.
[6] Kreeft, p.7.

An Uncomfortable God

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

I was listening to an old teaching series by R.C. Sproul on “The Psychology of Atheism“, where he mentioned briefly that the God of Christianity was not a “comfortable god”, and I thought that insight worth pointing out here. Skeptics may like to believe that the Christian’s God is simply make-believe like the gods of ancient Greece or Rome, or the animistic gods of primitive cultures, but there’s a problem. God isn’t like any of the gods of every other religion. Look at any of those “gods” and you find very flawed, finite, humanesque creatures – “supermen” and “superwomen”, perhaps, but still no better than the humans they ruled over. One glaring example is that they could be bribed, but not so with God. While we might very much want justice against those who have harmed us, we tend to like a god that we can convince to “let us slide” when we are the guilty party. But the Bible is clear that there is no partiality with God [Deut 10:17, Rom 2:11, Eph 6:9], as much as we might prefer it at times.  Indeed, God will hold us accountable for every word and thought [Matt 12:36-37, Rom 14:12], even if we go through all the motions of fulfilling our obligations to Him [1Sam 15:22]. That’s a sobering thought for anyone. There’s no faking it with God, for He sees through our masks to the real us, the part of us we dare not reveal to our closest friend. That perfect, penetrating vision of us is what made philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre shudder, but that makes for an uncomfortably odd creation of our imagination if that’s all God is. But it gets stranger. Christianity alone teaches this concept of grace, that it is “by grace you have been saved,” that it is not because of anything we could do that we might be able to brag about [Eph 2:8-9]. As if God seeing through our facades and judging the ulterior motives of even our “good deeds” with perfect justice wasn’t frightening enough, there is no possibility of bribery or earning favor with God: it’s all on His discretion. Salvation is His free gift. Why make up a deity that puts us in the awkward position of being helpless to save ourselves, puts our best efforts to “be good” to shame, and holds us to a standard we could never meet? What would we gain from inventing a god like that?

On the other hand, what if the very existence of a physical universe required a first cause that existed outside of space and time in order for the effect of the universe to occur? This is simply applying the law of causality – that every effect requires an antecedent cause beyond itself. But if time and space had a beginning and are an effect, then their cause must exist beyond those dimensions. And that cause must be eternally self-existent. So then this cause would be eternal and ontologically necessary. But in that case, if there is ever to be a change in conditions, that first cause can’t be simply a physical force like gravity (note that there wouldn’t have been anything for a force to act on prior to anything existing…); rather, it has to be an agent that can choose to act, to create a beginning.  What if the design of our universe required an intelligent agent of power, genius, and foresight to the Nth degree? Would it not be appropriate to call that agent omnipotent and omniscient? What if that agent that brings everything into existence therefore has the rightful claim of ownership of everything He made? Would we not say He was “sovereign”? But then, what if this Supreme Being wasn’t simply some powerful universal tyrant, but was loving, the very source of love, in fact [1Jn 4:8,10,19, Rom 5:8]? And what if, in creating creatures “in His own image” who chose to rebel against Him and make a mess out of things, He still loved us? Could He not reach out to us, and communicate to us, and work to redeem us from our brokenness, and reconcile us to Him [2Cor 5:19-21]? But if He were perfectly just, as well, the crimes of mankind must still be paid for, no matter how much He loved us. We can easily see that granting a serial killer a pardon would be a great offense to the families of his victims desiring justice. But under God’s perfect standard, we are all guilty [Rom 3:10,23, 6:23]. How would He demonstrate perfect love and perfect justice without compromising either? What if He, out of His unfathomable love, paid the penalty for our transgressions, and offered us the reward: new life for the death row inmate!? [Rom 5:6,8-10]

I know that’s a lot of “what ifs” there, and covers a whole lot of ground in one paragraph, but if those are actually the way things are, then Christianity has unparalleled explanatory power for what we find when we try to investigate where we came from, where we’re going, and everything in between. And when we do start doing the serious digging, we do find those to be the case. We see philosophically the need for an uncaused first cause and that it has to be independent of the time-space framework. And so far as cosmologists have been able to verify with scientific observation, space and time really do appear to have a definite beginning, confirming what we deduce through philosophy. The more we learn of the workings of our universe, the more mind-bogglingly complex designs we discover – ones that put anything humans have ever invented to shame. And we see this from the macroscopic systems of our universe to the microscopic systems of our cells and every level in between. We have an innate sense that things are broken in our world; it seems like we were meant for more, but things have been twisted and corrupted, and that things are not as they should be. We feel a tension between humanity’s call to greatness on the one hand, and our abysmal wretchedness and inability to fulfill that purpose on our own on the other hand.

The Christian God would not be a very comfortable, soothing figment of our imagination if that’s all He were. Not only does He tower over us, but He also stoops to pick us up, yet not of any merit of ours, but only out of His own love, and mercy, and grace. He destroys all our pretensions, turns our world upside-down, and actually changes us from the inside out. And that’s the uncomfortable truth that we could never invent.

The Unwanted Cure

“Family Doctor”, by Grant Wood, 1940.

What would you do if you found out you had cancer? You’d probably be in shock first, but as that initial shock wore off, what would be your plan? Would you aggressively fight for your life? Would you follow your doctor’s advice like you never have before? Would you sell all you had to finance treatment? Would you consider experimental medical procedures  if more typical medical solutions didn’t work? Or would you just carry on with life as it was before you got the diagnosis? Would pursuing the cure be too much work to bother with?

We all have a disease – a terminal disease called sin [Rom 6:23].  This disease has a cure, though. That cure is called the Gospel. Gospel literally means “good news”. If you had an advanced stage of cancer, and certain death was fast approaching, and someone told you that there was a treatment regimen that would cure you of the cancer, saying that was “good news” would be an understatement! But getting the benefits of that cure requires something so basic, you might not think about it: it requires admitting that you have cancer. You obviously wouldn’t need a cancer cure if you didn’t have cancer.

But the Gospel is a cure for a problem we don’t want to admit we have. Like an alcoholic or drug addict, admitting we have a problem is the first step. People can see God’s grace as offensive because they don’t think they need it. I’m afraid one reason people in our generation think they don’t need it is because all they’ve heard from Christians is “God loves you.” And while that’s true, they hear that over and over again and think, “Why wouldn’t He? I’m a pretty good person.” I’ve had several friends and family members now that have battled cancer, undergoing surgeries, chemo, radiation, or some combination. Some won that fight, others lost. But chemo and radiation and surgeries are only ever good news when you understand that your sickness is going to kill you. Almost every book in the New Testament warns us that if we choose to follow Christ, we will suffer trials, hardships, mockings, torture, imprisonment, and death. Is that being overly dramatic? Ask the Christians being beheaded in the Middle East, or the Christians imprisoned in North Korea and Iran. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Read Paul’s account of his own sufferings. Why go through that? All of those people understood what God saved them from, and just how good the Good News really was. As Peter said when Jesus asked if the 12 disciples would abandon Him like the fickle crowds had, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” [Jn 6:68 NET]

So is there anything that confirms the diagnosis? The Law of God is the test that reveals the need for the cure of the gospel of grace. His Law reveals our inability to keep His perfect standard. It shows us that being “pretty good” doesn’t help. We can win the Nobel Peace Prize, and every humanitarian award there is, and still find ourselves failing to meet God’s perfect standard just like Hitler and all the worst examples of humanity. Talk about a blow to one’s pride! The best we could ever hope to do isn’t enough. That’s the bad news; that’s the cancer diagnosis. We’re going to die without intervention. But it gets worse. We’re going to die as rebels and traitors before a perfectly just God. And He wouldn’t be just if He didn’t punish lawbreakers.  What are we to do? What can we do? Nothing, really. You might wonder, “Are we just ‘dead men walking’ then? Pretty much. “That’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?” Yep….

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Where we are powerless to stop this disease, God provides a cure, as only He can. And notice the design of His cure: both powerful to save, and available to save. God’s salvation is not limited only to the rich who can afford it, or the genius who can comprehend it, or those of some supposedly superior race who deserve it, or of a particular societal class entitled to it, or to those born into the right family to inherit it, or those who have lived long enough and worked hard enough to earn the cure, or to those who showed the most potential. Those are all ways us humans might try to determine who qualifies for something so precious, if we were in charge. Rather, God sent Jesus, his only Son, to live the perfect life we never could, to fulfill the Law in every detail, and to be the only sacrifice that could satisfy what justice demanded. God’s gracious gift of salvation is open to the Wall Street banker and the Main Street beggar, the quantum physicist and the ignorant child, people of all races, the upper crust and poorest of the poor and all the middle class in between, the zealot that has sought after God since he was in a crib and the militant atheist on his deathbed, the sons and daughters of privilege to the loneliest orphan, the child prodigy to the unknown pariah. Maybe you’ve heard Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”, and felt the condemnation there. That’s good, actually, but only as a start! The truth hurts, but nothing like the consequences of ignoring it. Now keep reading to the end of that sentence in verse 24: “… being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Rom 3:23-24] We’ve all sinned, but see the unsurpassable love of God!  – that we may be justified before Him simply by trusting in the redeeming work of Jesus. Have you acknowledged the sickness of your sin? Have you laid aside your pride and trusted Jesus alone to cleanse you of the gangrene of your soul? Or will you choose to turn down the free cure?


For further reading, Alexander Maclaren does a beautiful job, far better than I ever could, of explaining the passage from Romans referenced above.
Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scriptures: Romans & Corinthians, Romans3:19-26. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/maclaren/rom_cor.ii.vii.html