Tag Archives: investigation

Why We Don’t Clean Up the Bible

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Vasily Polenov, 1888

Ever had junk accumulate around your house until you finally got so sick of seeing it every day that you did some major purging? Sell it, give it away, throw it away -who cares, as long as the mess goes away? What about the Bible? Is there accumulated junk in the Bible? And if there were, shouldn’t it be eliminated?

Well, there actually are some cases of questionable material in the Bible. That may come as a shock for some Christians, while some skeptics might be saying, “Tell me something I don’t know.” But not so fast. While skeptics like Bart Ehrman make much of the textual variants between different manuscripts, like copying errors, and scribal additions and deletions, the vast majority of these variants are typos and spelling differences.  Also, the enormous quantity (and quality) of manuscripts from different times and places  allows us to trace the development of these differences and have a high degree of confidence in what the originals said. For more on the fascinating field of textual criticism, I’d encourage you to check out Dr. Daniel Wallace’s work.[1] But what about cases like the Pericope Adulterae, the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 7:53-8:12? This is a favorite story of many Christians, but the evidence weighs heavily against it being an authentic part of John’s gospel.  If that’s the case, and we really are concerned about truth – especially in our Holy Scriptures – why does it remain in the Bible?

To answer that, let me provide a more contemporary example. Four of the states I’m licensed in fall under new design provisions for tsunamis that are being introduced for the first time in the US later this year. In the course of researching the new provisions, I came across an interesting article on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s  website regarding their investigation and compilation of historical weather data [2].  While tsunamis and hurricanes can both generate large amounts of flooding, they have fundamentally different causes. Hurricanes are atmospheric events, while tsunamis are ground events (typically earthquake-induced, but also possible from landslides, like a 600′ high tsunami in Alaska in 2015 [3]). As it stands now, only the western coast of the US and Hawaii are considered in the new tsunami risk maps, due to two fault lines of the type that can cause tsunamis. But if a tsunami had been recorded on the east coast or gulf coast, then there would be obvious precedent for requiring us engineers to consider that risk in our designs in those areas as well. Well, there was a particular case in 1909 of a reported “tidal wave” sweeping over Grand Isle, Louisiana after a hurricane, killing hundreds. Was this tragic event tied to the hurricane, or was there an earthquake along an unmapped fault line in the gulf? Further investigation and computer simulation of the storm revealed the “tidal wave” to be part of the hurricane storm surge. While no less tragic for the families of those killed, establishing the true cause of past events like this helps us to design for them correctly and save lives in the future. Now, did NOAA delete this entry out of their Tsunami database? No, and here’s their reasoning:

So how does NOAA handle a spurious data record like this one? Do we delete the record? Oddly enough, we leave it in! We include notations that “debunk” the original tsunami designation, set the validity field to 0 (not a tsunami), and indicate that this event is of meteorological origin. If we removed the record entirely, it is likely that it would show up again in some future book or Web site, unopposed by the facts. Someone would email NOAA and say, “I found this great info about a tsunami in Louisiana in 1909. Why isn’t it listed it in your database?”

Can you see the application to biblical manuscripts? When copying manuscripts and confronted with questionable source material, scribes down through the centuries would typically err on the side of including the questionable material, just like NOAA did when they included the 1909 tidal wave in their database in 2002. But the scribes, like NOAA, would also add marginalia – margin notes and symbols – to denote concerns with the text of a passage. Now, if you’ve read almost any modern translation of the Bible, you’ve seen notes in the margin telling you things like, “Some early manuscripts do not contain this sentence”, or in the case of the adulterous woman passage, “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:12.” You’ll find similar statements at John 5:3, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7-8. The idea is that it’s better to include questionable data, duly noted as such, than to possibly eliminate divinely inspired teaching. Then, later, as more and more manuscripts are discovered and catalogued, if the passage is confirmed to be authentic, it hasn’t been lost due to overzealous “cleaning.” And if it’s confirmed as not genuine, then it is noted as such in each translation, so nobody has to be fooled by an appeal to some “shocking, scandalous, newly discovered Bible verses, hidden for centuries.” Like NOAA, we want to be able to oppose any future challenges with the facts.

Indeed, Bible translations are remarkable in their transparency, noting suspect passages, textual variants, and alternate translations quite openly rather than trying to hide them. But that’s because integrity to God’s Word is of utmost importance to the Christian, and most especially to the translator with the sacred duty of making God’s Word known to people in their own language. Despite the skeptic’s cynicism, we Christians understand that we are accountable before God for how we handle His Word [2 Tim 2:15].  And woe to the one who tries to corrupt it [Rev 22:18-19]. That’s one reason why we don’t translate from previous translations, as some uninformed skeptics like to think. Rather, we go back to the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic), and retranslate them into the current vernacular of English, Spanish, German, and so on. And contrary to skeptics’ claims of Bible translation being like the “telephone game”, as we find more (and earlier) manuscripts, our translations become more authentic, not less. In fact, check out Daniel Wallace’s site [4] to see their extremely high-resolution (50 megapixel) photographs of many of the world’s surviving Greek manuscripts (350,000 images and counting). You simply can’t beat that kind of transparency: you can judge the translators’ interpretation of the source material for yourself. So stop blindly accepting the allegations of skeptics about the Bible and start reading all those margin notes yourself! Study up, take Dr. Wallace’s Credo House course on textual criticism like I did, learn some Greek or Hebrew, look at ancient manuscripts – dig deep!  If you do, you’ll find the Bible to be reliable in both its transmission and its content. But then the question remains: what are you gonna do with that discovery? Our Creator, who gave us the message that is the Bible, doesn’t want to be your hobby, and He tells us as much in there. There’s something to think on next time you open up a Bible.


[1] http://www.credocourses.com/product/textual-criticism/
[2] https://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/magazine/tsunami_database/or_stormsurge.html
[3] https://www.adn.com/alaska-life/we-alaskans/2016/09/11/collapsing-alaska-mountains-southeast-alaska-landslides-and-tsunamis-on-the-rise/
[4] The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

Train As You Fight

Mark 19 GunneryLast week, I mentioned that one of the young kids in my Sunday School class had been confronted with an objection to Christianity by an atheist classmate at his school. For Christian parents, this brings up some good points to remember.

  • Prepare your kids early. I enjoyed both God’s Not Dead movies, but if you think your kids aren’t going to be facing challenges to their beliefs until high school or college, or that the challenge will just be from adults like professors, think again. Most of the boys in my class said they knew an atheist classmate or online friend. Depending on their age, challenges like that from peers may be more likely to have an impact than those from authority figures like teachers.
  • Understand the nature of the conflict. The apostle Paul tells us that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.[1] And it’s a battle for their very souls. These are high stakes, parents. Invest in your kids accordingly.
  • Recognize your part. I love getting to answer questions from kids and see them connect with ideas. But one hour a week with me or any other Sunday school teacher or youth group leader isn’t going to prepare them adequately. You can delegate some tasks to others, but your kids need you to lead the way. And fathers: it’s time to man up. The Bible actually calls for you to train up your children.[2] Too many dads are physically present but spiritual deadbeats that leave any spiritual training up to the mother. But if your kids see you sleeping through church, or finding anything else to do other than going to church, or never see you open a Bible, they’ll notice. And they’ll remember that.
  • Understand the difference between teaching and training. In my time in the Army, I experienced a lot of both. For a lot of the teaching, the memory of struggling to stay awake in hot, stuffy classrooms is all that remains. For the training, and especially the more realistic training like room-clearing scenarios, I can feel my heart rate go up just remembering it. Seeing a demonstration, or discussing tactics in a classroom setting, or reviewing historical successes and failures all have their time and place. But applying theory – putting knowledge into practice – is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Martial arts was the same way. Joint locks in Hapkido are very nuanced, and you just don’t develop effective technique without lots of good, correct practice. Likewise for getting my pilot’s license. I learn a lot by reading, but reading about stalls just isn’t the same as pulling back on the yoke, feeling the controls start to get mushy, and suddenly feeling the plane break over into a dive!  Are you teaching your kids? Good! Now, take it up a notch and start training them.[3]
  • Train like you fight. We had a saying in the Army: “Train as you fight; fight as you train.” The more realistic the training, the more likely you’ll respond appropriately in a real fight. Training that doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll actually face in battle isn’t just a waste – it can develop bad habits and overconfidence that can hurt you in the actual fight. Your kids will face tough questions in life. Go through real-life examples with them of how they can apply Scripture to different situations they may face. You can start out with “softball” situations, but don’t stay there.[4] Stretch them. Could you blame them if they got bored with baseball if all you ever did was toss them slow-pitch softballs? Is it any wonder when they leave the church if they never see their parents addressing the tough stuff, and their youth group is more about playing games and eating pizza than learning to actually apply the Bible to the hard issues of their lives?
  • Prepare yourself. I am often impressed with the sophistication of the arguments or objections I’ve heard from young people. You can’t teach knowledge (or train for skills) that you don’t already possess. When I took martial arts, my instructor was a black belt, so he could teach any of us. As we moved up the ranks, we could teach the lower ranks because we were already familiar with what they were just learning. Don’t wait for your kids’ questions before you investigate a topic. I can answer my students’ questions (generally) because I’ve already wrestled with the question before they’ve asked it. Check out resources like J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity (www.coldcasechristianity.com), Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason (www.str.org), William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (www.reasonablefaith.org), or Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined (www.crossexamined.org).
  • Be honest. Finally, kids are often surprisingly good polygraphs. If you don’t know how to address a question, the appropriate response is “That’s a great question. Let me do some research and get back with you with an answer.” And then follow up. While you may have to write down that you need to follow up, they’ll remember if you say you’ll get back to them and forget (as I found out my first year teaching).

Hopefully, this gives you a place to start your own training program with your own kids. 🙂


[1] Ephesians 6:12-13
[2] Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
[3] Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
[4] 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Hebrews 5:12-14.

Called to Investigate

Sherlock HolmesSkeptics will often accuse Christians of “blind faith”, of believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary. If you think that’s the case, I invite you today to consider who is actually commended in the Bible. In Acts 17:11, Luke is recording the results of Paul’s missionary activities among the Bereans, and states,

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

These Jews were highlighted as role models not for blindly accepting this teaching from Paul, but rather for fact-checking him. He came proclaiming that the Jewish prophecies of a coming Messiah had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. What did they do? They went back to the original sources, the writings of Moses and the prophets, and verified for themselves each day whether what Paul had said matched up like he said it did. And this wasn’t just skimming Paul’s citations to spot-check him. The Greek word used for “examining” the Scriptures is ἀνακρίνοντες (anakrinontes), meaning to examine or investigate someone or something thoroughly (even by torture); to interrogate; or to subject something to careful study, evaluation and judgment. In fact, this word is used often in the New Testament (and secular Greek writings) to refer to the process of a judge interrogating a witness or defendant.[1] Luke also notes that they did this daily. This wasn’t just a thorough check the first time they heard Paul speak; they were verifying what he said each day that he was there. Why? Because this is important stuff. The world will try to say that religious belief is a back burner issue – something that can be a quaint little compartment in your life if you choose, or can have no part in your life if you choose that route, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Yet, your beliefs about the existence of God, His attributes, whether He is involved in His creation or not – these have major impacts in every area of our lives. These are “big-picture” questions that send ripples through every little detail of our lives. And while the world may encourage apathy toward spiritual questions, the stakes are higher than most people are comfortable admitting. So be like the Bereans, and  keep investigating to see if these things are so.

Now, was this just a fluke, or do we see this call to investigate elsewhere in the Bible? We do, actually. Paul wrote a letter to the new Christians in Thessalonica, that “less-noble” city he’d been run out of before going to Berea. In it, he encouraged them to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[2] Here, it’s the word δοκιμάζετε (dokimazete), meaning to test or try something to prove that something is good or genuine, as in the case with precious metals. Is anything exempt from this, like religious claims? No! John uses this same term when he wrote in his letter to the church to “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God, lest believers be led astray.[3]  Again, Paul uses this term when he admonishes the Corinthians,  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”[4] .

In each case, we have a call to investigate, to examine everything, even ourselves, according to God’s unchanging standard. Does that leave any room for believing something blindly, “in spite of the evidence”? No. On the contrary, Peter tells the Christian he must always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”.[5] We must know what we believe and why we believe it, both for our own sake (that we not be led off track by false teaching) and for the sake of others (that we may be able to explain to them why they, too, should believe what we do). So dig in to the Scriptures like a Berean, and discover that rich, reliable, and inexhaustible vein of gold that is God’s Word.


[1] Luke 23:14 – Pilate’s examination of Jesus; Acts 4:9 – Peter & John before the Sanhedrin; Acts 12:19 – Herod’s examination (and execution) of the guards tasked with keeping Peter imprisoned.
[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.
[3] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[4] 2 Corinthians 13:5, NASB.
[5] 1 Peter 3:15, NASB.

Content to Doubt?

face-questions-1567164-639x373Last week, in sketching a portrait of scientific giant (and devout Christian) James Clerk Maxwell, I ended by asking if you are content to doubt. I’d like to expand on that question a little bit before continuing with that series.

What is doubt?

Doubt can be defined as disbelief, uncertainty, or lack of confidence in something.[1] One could also describe it as a condition of being unpersuaded or unconvinced of the truth of a statement.[2] Something each of these have in common is the idea of negation; doubt rarely expresses itself as a clear, positive assertion, but rather acts like a virus on other positive statements, parasitically draining them of their perceived strength. Suppose, for instance, that you say you think it will rain tomorrow, and your friend says that they doubt it. They haven’t come out and made a direct counterclaim that it won’t rain, but… they’ve still conveyed the idea that your statement may be wrong. Do you find yourself doubting now too? Do they know something you don’t? Like a virus, doubt, too, is often contagious.

Why do we doubt?

Let me give you the best reason to doubt before I give the more common one. Discovering contradictory evidence is a great reason to doubt a proposition. We know from logic that two contradictory statements can’t both be true at the same time in the same way. So when we find a legitimate contradiction, that should cause us to doubt our previous belief. However, contradictions are often only apparent ones, and we have to be willing to dig deeper before automatically assuming we found a contradiction in those cases. But there is a much more common reason for doubt, and that is emotion. Often, we don’t like the implications of a belief, particularly if they go against our own self-interest, and so we hope for a contradiction to find a way out of the obligation. We fuel our doubts out of selfishness. Other times, it is peer pressure and the fear of being an outsider that makes us wonder if our beliefs are wrong. But in any case, emotions are fickle things, and not a good reason to doubt our beliefs.

How do we overcome doubt?

  1. Examine it. Your doubt will typically be the conclusion of an unexamined syllogism (a logical argument, typically 2 premises and a conclusion). So first, supply what the missing premises would need to be to arrive at that conclusion.  Hidden premises are the bane of sound reasoning; so expose them here! A lot of times, this step will reveal the supposed reasons are completely unrelated to the conclusion. For instance, someone may doubt the existence of God, and come up with alleged contradictions in the Bible as the source of their doubt. Sorry, but the Bible could be completely made up, and God might still exist. Keep digging.
  2. Face it head-on. I said earlier that doubts tend to leech off of actual positive statements. To face doubt head-on, first express it as a positive assertion. Bring it out into the light and make it boldly say what it really is. If you have doubts about the existence of God, then don’t cover it up by saying you have “doubts” or “reservations”. Say “I think the proposition ‘God exists’ is more likely false than true.” Now you’ve actually made a claim, and he who makes the claim bears the burden of proof. A lot of time is spent trying to get out of the burden of proof these days, but this is a good thing to make your doubt into a claim with a burden of proof. Really! That forces you to recognize the need to justify your doubts just as much as the previous beliefs you’re now doubting.
  3. Don’t stop short. Think like an opposing debater looking at your argument for weaknesses. Recognize that while a weak link in your beliefs may have caused your doubts to begin with, your doubts also likely have some weak links. And yet, remember that weak links don’t necessarily refute a conclusion (on either side of the issue); they just show where you’ve failed to justify that conclusion, either in your initial belief or in your current doubt. You’ll likely need to keep repeating Step 1, forming a syllogism out of each premise, making it a conclusion needing supporting premises, and so on, until you get down to either some bedrock that will support your doubts, or shifting sand that shows your doubts to be unreasonable. Apply logic at each step. Are your terms clear, or are you equivocating on the meanings of words? Are your premises true? Does your conclusion at this particular level of your digging necessarily follow from your supporting premises under it?
  4. Recognize your own limitations. Get input from other perspectives, not just those that confirm your doubt. When you have doubts, you’re leaning toward a particular contrary position, and it’s all too easy to look for support in the direction you’re already leaning. Debates are great resources for expanding your perspective and thinking outside the box. A book author (or blogger) can get on a soapbox and conveniently ignore things, whether out of deceit or simply out of enthusiasm for his view. But a debate, and especially those in the form of published, written dialogues between opponents, can show you the best, fairest look at both sides of an issue because each side has to at least try to respond to an opponent critiquing their views.
  5. Finally, be honest and follow the evidence where it leads. In the Bible, Ezekiel tells us that God does not desire that anyone should perish[3], and Paul tells us that God has appointed our times and places that we might find Him, though He is not far from any of us.[4] One of Jesus’ disciples earned the notorious nickname “Doubting Thomas” because of his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, but it’s good to remember that Jesus didn’t strike him dead for doubting; instead, He appeared to Thomas, showed him the evidence that it was really Him, and told him to “stop doubting and believe.”[5] As Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage, “There is not an unbelieving word in our tongues, nor thought in our minds, but it is known to the Lord Jesus; and he was pleased to accommodate himself even to Thomas, rather than leave him in his unbelief.”[6] Friend, He can do that for you today also. “Seek, and ye shall find.”[7] But don’t let doubt stop your seeking.

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/doubt, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doubt, accessed 2016-06-28.
[2] Though not defined as “unpersuaded” in most dictionaries, it still seems to apply here and has a basis in New Testament Greek. When Jesus told Thomas to “stop doubting and believe” the evidence standing before him, the word translated as doubting is ἄπιστος (apistos), which is the negation of the Greek word for faithful or believing, πιστος (pistos). The Greek root for faith is the word πείθω (peitho), meaning “to be persuaded of what is trustworthy”.[http://biblehub.com/greek/3982.htm] Hence, doubt can be seen as being “not faithful because unpersuaded, i.e. not convinced (persuaded by God)”[http://biblehub.com/greek/571.htm]
[3] Ezekiel 33:11, NASB.
[4] Acts 17:26-27, NASB.
[5] John 20:27, NIV.
[6] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, John 20:26-29.
[7] Matthew 7:7, KJV.

Portraits of Christians – James Clerk Maxwell

James_Clerk_MaxwellAs we continue this series examining the Christian faith of the great men of science, I hope you enjoy today’s subject as much as I’ve enjoyed learning about this amazing man. Now, let’s look today at the scientist who paved the way for Einstein. In fact, Einstein summarized this man’s contributions by saying “One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell.”[1] A 1999 poll of 100 leading physicists ranked Maxwell as the 3rd greatest physicist of all time (behind Einstein and Newton). But while modern scientists ranked Newton ahead of Maxwell, Einstein himself, when asked if he stood on Newton’s shoulders, replied, “No, I stand on Maxwell’s shoulders.”[1] That’s pretty high praise coming from the man whose name is practically synonymous with revolutionary genius.

So what exactly did Maxwell do to earn this reputation? He crammed a lot into a short time considering he was only 48 when he died. Studying the nature of colors and color-blindness and producing the world’s first color photograph would’ve been noteworthy by itself. Astronomers would still remember him today just for settling 2 centuries of debate by proving through mathematics that the rings of Saturn couldn’t be solid as originally assumed Astronomer George Biddell Airy called this “one of the most remarkable applications of mathematics to physics that I have ever seen.”[2] And while his engineering work was more obscure, it was enough to get him in the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame[3] and impress this engineer! But his truly world-changing work was in developing the equations of electromagnetism bearing his name. Einstein divided scientific history at Maxwell because Maxwell connected electricity with magnetism as different aspects of the same electromagnetic waves, and concluded that light was also this type of wave. This transitioned science from a particle-centric view of physics to a wave-centric view that then opened the door for nearly every modern technology we enjoy. There is little that is “high-tech” that is not affected by this paradigm shift in physics. Think of your X-rays and MRI’s at the hospital, your cell phones and GPS and coffee shop Wi-Fi, the radar at your airport, the microwave oven in your kitchen, and on and on. And these are just some of the common practical reminders of the impact of Maxwell’s equations.

Now that we’ve established Maxwell’s credentials as a giant of science, what did he think of God? Did he give the subject much thought? Did he apply his sharp mind to theology? Indeed! Although he was quieter about his faith than Robert Boyle and wrote no papers or books in defense of the faith like Boyle, Maxwell nonetheless showed himself to be a very devout – and thoughtful – Christian. Although he had grown up in a Christian home, he was a notoriously and insatiably curious boy, and he didn’t just apply this curiosity to the physical world around him. In a letter to his friend Lewis Campbell in 1852, written while pursuing a Fellowship at Cambridge, Maxwell wrote at length of his thoughtful investigation of Christianity (condensed here, believe it or not):

“Now, my great plan, … is to let nothing be wilfully left unexamined. Nothing is to be holy ground consecrated to Stationary Faith, whether positive or negative. …. The part of the rule which respects self-improvement by means of others is: —Never hide anything, be it weed or no, nor seem to wish it hidden …. Again I assert the Right of Trespass on any plot of Holy Ground …. Such places must be exorcised and desecrated till they become fruitful fields. Again, if the holder of such property refuse admission to the exorcist, he ipso facto admits that it is consecrated…. Now I am convinced that no one but a Christian can actually purge his land of these holy spots. Any one may profess that he has none, but something will sooner or later occur to every one to show him that part of his ground is not open to the public. Intrusions on this are resented, and so its existence is demonstrated. Now, I do not say that no Christians have enclosed places of this sort. Many have a great deal, and every one has some. No one can be sure of all being open till all has been examined by competent persons, which is the work … of eternity. But there are extensive and important tracts in the territory of the Scoffer, … and the rest, which are openly and solemnly Tabooed, … and are not to be spoken of without sacrilege.

Christianity—that is, the religion of the Bible—is the only scheme or form of belief which disavows any possessions on such a tenure. Here alone all is free. You may fly to the ends of the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation. You may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in your explorations. You may read all History and be compelled to wonder but not to doubt. …

The Old Testament and the Mosaic Law and Judaism are commonly supposed to be “Tabooed ” by the orthodox. Sceptics pretend to have read them, and have found certain witty objections … which too many of the orthodox unread admit, and shut up the subject as haunted. But a Candle is coming to drive out all Ghosts and Bugbears. Let us all follow the Light.”[4]

Moreover, his collected letters to his wife show a sincere faith as they read the Bible when together and apart. In his letters, though he professes to be no expert on interpretation of Scripture, he nevertheless expounds on their shared reading with sincerity and piety and the utmost respect for the passage.[5] In fact, his friend and biographer summed up this trait of Maxwell’s when he wrote, “a spirit of deep piety pervaded all he did, whether in the most private relations of life, or in his position as an appointed teacher and investigator, or in his philosophic contemplation of the universe. There is no attribute from which the thought of him is more inseparable.”[6]

After Maxwell’s death, Colin Mackenzie, his cousin and one of the executors of his will, said  that he remembered Maxwell saying in his latter years, “I have looked into most philosophical systems, and I have seen that none will work without a God.”[7]

At his painful death from stomach cancer, his doctor noted, “No man ever met death more consciously or more calmly.”[8] This is only fitting for a Christian, who, like the Apostle Paul, could say “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”[9] Yes, this giant of science gave Christianity a good deal of thought, and saw it to be quite reasonable, – indeed, the only reasonable way to live. Friend, do you have doubts of the truth of Christianity that you are content to leave as doubts? Follow Maxwell’s lead and leave nothing willfully unexamined, especially your doubts. Rather, let those doubts push you to seek the truth incessantly, and not rest in convenient answers. If you persist, you will find that they eventually lead you right back to God.


[1] http://www.famousscientists.org/james-clerk-maxwell, accessed 2016-06-21.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clerk_Maxwell, accessed 2016-06-21.
[3] http://www.engineeringhalloffame.org/profile-maxwell.html, accessed 2016-06-21. Maxwell developing the “von Mises” yield criterion almost 50 years before Richard von Mises was particularly interesting to me.
[4] Lewis Campbell & William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (London: Macmillan, 1882), pp. 178-80.
[5] ibid, pp. 309-10, the letters of May 2nd & the 6th, written to her during their engagement, for example. Also the letter of May 16th (p.312) recounts his frustration at his inability to speak more clearly the truth of Christ to a mutual acquaintance.
[6] ibid, p. 429.
[7]ibid, p. 426.
[8] ibid, p. 412.
[9] 2 Timothy 1:12, NASB.

Qualifications

Black Diamond - for experts only...
Black Diamond – for experts only…

There is a trend I’ve noticed in debates (especially online) where it is put forth that who you are disqualifies you from making any statement on a controversial issue. Those familiar with logic will recognize this as the genetic fallacy, that a statement’s origin can determine whether it’s true or false. And yet it persists in the public square. Here are some examples, some of which I’ve been personally challenged with: you can’t speak about human behavior unless you’re a psychologist; you can’t speak about science without being a scientist; you can’t speak about abortion unless you’re a woman; you can’t speak about legal issues unless you’re a lawyer, and on and on. Since this is often brought up, let’s look at this in more detail.

First off, does someone trained in a particular discipline and working in that area have an advantage over the typical layman in discussing that topic? Certainly, but this doesn’t preclude other people from forming reasonably valid opinions on the same topic. For instance, if you want to know whether your office building can support a heavier rooftop air conditioning unit, by all means, call an engineer like myself to investigate that for you. We’ll apply our knowledge, experience, and specialized analysis software to your situation to work out the safest, best solution to the problem. But if you’re in your office, and the roof is starting to visibly sag, the sheetrock on the walls is starting to buckle inward, and you can hear loud noises as bolts suddenly snap, please, don’t think you need to wait on an “expert” to tell you that you need to get out! That situation doesn’t require an expert to say “Run!” There is a difference between needing the fine-tuned conclusion that a subject matter expert can bring to a topic and needing to establish the broad, basic solution that can be deduced by anyone applying valid reasoning to the evidence at hand. In the roof collapse example, it doesn’t really matter to the occupants whether the roof beams are failing due to lateral-torsional buckling or by block shear at the column connection. They can look at the ceiling getting closer to their heads, and listen to the building, and reasonably come to the same basic conclusion as the engineer: this building is collapsing and we need to evacuate. Likewise, you don’t need to be a psychologist to recognize the guy trying to run people off the road has some serious anger issues he needs to deal with. And lawyers, despite their expertise, actually don’t decide the guilt or innocence of a person charged with murder. They can only explain the case; average citizens on the jury make the decision.   This idea that only experts on a topic can speak on any level about that subject leads to blind faith in those experts, and is really a forfeiture of our responsibility to dig deep and understand the issues we face. Please understand, this is a standard I hold myself to as well. If you hire me as an engineer, and I make some crazy-sounding recommendation that I can’t explain any basis for, don’t blindly trust me either – by all means, call me out on it.

Something else to consider is that amateur enthusiasts often develop extensive knowledge in those areas that attract them. For example, I don’t often have to deal with liquefaction as a design consideration, but someone whose house collapsed in an earthquake because it was built on susceptible soil may devote their life to learning everything they can about liquefaction mitigation. Even though they may not have the engineering credentials that I do, I might still do well to heed what they say about that topic. I’d want to verify how they arrived at their conclusion, but we should never discount someone’s statements simply because of the person making the statements. You see, ultimately, the objective nature of truth determines the validity of the message, not the qualifications of the messenger.

Often, when I get this kind of pushback, the person I’m debating ironically also doesn’t meet the qualifications they demand of me before I can speak on the topic. By their own standard, they shouldn’t be voicing their opinion either. But typically, this is just a tactic for attempting to shut down the conversation. For example, one time, an abortion supporter told me I couldn’t comment on anything about abortion because I wasn’t a woman. And yet, the Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of abortion in 1973’s Roe v. Wade case were all men. The difference? Only that they were agreeing with her position.

Are we free from the duty of making informed decisions? Can we just “leave that to the experts?” Can we ignore the claims of those who aren’t experts? Not as Christians, we can’t. The Bible tells us to “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[1] That may surprise some who assume the Bible demands a “blind faith” or a “leap in the dark”, but we actually aren’t allowed to check our minds at the door. We need to study the evidence, reason through the implications, and make the wisest, most discerning choices we can, in whatever the matter is at hand, even if we’re not experts.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.

Tools Without Knowledge

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/tools-1417865A couple of months ago, I stopped to help a driver on the side of the highway. It turned out to be a lady who had a flat tire. Asking if she had a spare, she said that she did, along with the tools to change it, but she just didn’t know how.  A few minutes later, I had her on her way, having also explained each step so she would know what to do in the future. This got me thinking.

Christians in America have more “tools” available to them than any other generation of Christians in history. The average American Christian has multiple Bibles in their home, often in different translations.[1] Many American churches offer book and/or video libraries for their congregations. Most churches will offer some level of training/discipleship/Bible study. It is mind-boggling how many free references are available online. Early Christians who risked their very lives for a chance to read and quickly copy down a partial manuscript of one of Paul’s letters would’ve fainted to see what we have available at our fingertips. Current Christians in repressive countries who face being executed or sent to labor camps for owning Scriptures would cry at the sight of 8 or 10 different Bibles gathering dust on the shelves of an American Christian’s home. I’ve been able to download (for ridiculously little money) entire reference libraries of Bible commentaries, systematic theology books, and collections of classic writings from the early church fathers to the puritan writers, all the way to the present. A person can carry an entire pastor’s library on their cell phone now. If I want to see what a particular Bible passage says in the original Hebrew or Greek, that is easily accomplished.[2] If I want to learn Greek to dig deeper, a basic understanding is also well within reach of the average person.[3] But “from everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”[4] We as Christians in America are really without excuse.

And yet, this is also the most Biblically illiterate generation of Americans. It is, in effect, like driving around in a mechanic’s truck, with enough tools on hand to completely overhaul the truck, and saying we’ll need to call for help to change the flat tire. Why is that? I think for the most part, we don’t ever make the time to learn what we believe or why we should believe it. A few years ago, I was living in blissful ignorance, content to believe in Christ for my salvation, but that was really the extent of it. I had started digging deeper into the Scriptures in high school, but had been lulled to an apathetic sleep after that. Then I went on a jobsite visit with an atheist colleague a few years ago. On the 3 hour drive back, he asked me something that had been bugging him:

“How can you call yourself a Christian and an engineer at the same time? Aren’t those kind of mutually exclusive?”

The question caught me off guard and shocked me out of my slumber. I answered at the time that I didn’t see how I could be an engineer – seeing the design in nature that far exceeds anything I would ever think up – and not be a Christian. But that answer was more based on intuition then. Since then, I started digging into the Bible, into cosmology, into genetics, into information theory, into philosophy, into logic, into epistemology, and anything else that relates to how we understand the world around us, one that I would say is God’s world. And if it’s God’s world, then there is no contradiction between science and Christianity, because God is the same consistent Author of both. Not that one needs to get into all of that to come to a saving faith in Christ, mind you; but it does confirm that every tool in the toolbox of life points to God the Creator of life. Whether we use the tools of science, or philosophy, or history, or theology, we keep coming back to God.

It’s been hard work reading and studying a diverse number of fields; I do have a “day job” as an engineer (that sometimes bleeds into the night and weekends as well). There are the typical chores of life to squeeze in as well – changing the oil in the car, home maintenance, and so on. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, for it has brought me closer to my God, for Jesus’s command to “love the Lord your God… with all your mind”[5] is like sweet honey to me. And I dare say it can be for you, too.

As J. Warner Wallace, former atheist cold-case homicide detective turned Christian case-maker, is fond of pointing out, the Bible tells us that some are called to be teachers and evangelists and whatnot[6], but all of us Christians are supposed to be able to give a reason for the hope that we have.[7] Can you?  Maybe it’s time to do a little self-evaluation. Is church something to endure once a week to “pay your dues”, or is it a chance to get some training that you can hopefully put into practice in the upcoming week?   Is your faith a warm, fuzzy, vague, feel-good, emotional crutch, or something you believe because it’s true? Is being a Christian simply “fire insurance” to get out of hell, or an exciting chance to serve under the King of all creation? As Chuck Colson said, “the church does not draw people in; it sends them out.” So choose today to learn to use the tools that God has put in your hands, and go out prepared for the opportunities He brings you!


 

[1] According to the 2014 State of the Bible survey by Barna, almost 9in 10 Americans own a Bible, and Americans (overall) average almost 5 Bibles per household.
[2] Check out www.biblehub.com for handy interlinear translations where you can read the the English Scriptures with the Hebrew or Greek above each line (like this).
[3] I recommend Basic Greek in 30 minutes a Day, by James Found (Bethany House, 2012), for a surprisingly effective way for the average person to learn a fair bit of Greek easily.
[4] Luke 12:48.
[5] Matthew 22:37.
[6] Ephesians 4:11.
[7] 1 Peter 3:15.

“Hard Evidence”

Lab Experiment“I don’t think there’s anything he could say that would convince me – I need hard evidence,” said an atheist friend when I invited him to come with me to  a presentation on the reliability of the Bible. That got me thinking about evidence and our desire for more of it. After all, “seeing is believing,” right?

This November marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein publishing his theory of general relativity. Only 10 years earlier, in 1905, Einstein had published not one, but four, paradigm-shifting papers, including his special theory of relativity and his proposal of mass-energy equivalence, from which we get the famous equation E=mc². Since then, his theories have been repeatedly confirmed. Special and general relativity did not simply provide a competing theory compared to classical Newtonian physics; they encompassed Newtonian physics. In relatively weak gravitational fields, special relativity reduced to Newtonian formulas at speeds much slower than the speed of light (our typical earthbound experience). General relativity expanded on that to provide an explanatory framework that could account for objects travelling at all speeds and through any gravitational field. It explained what Newtonian physics could and couldn’t explain. That’s powerful.

How did Einstein develop this powerful theory? Can you tour the lab where he huddled over a workbench full of special scientific equipment, or see the telescope he tirelessly spent long nights peering through, looking for evidence of gravitational lensing, or examine his lab journals of dutifully recorded experimental results? Not really. Einstein worked as a simple patent clerk in his “miracle year” of 1905, and was still doing “thought experiments” when he developed general relativity. He was short on evidence, but long on problems to think through. He proposed 3 scenarios unexplained by Newtonian physics that relativity would need to correctly explain for it to be true: 1) the slight changes in Mercury’s orbit around the sun already observed by others, 2) the deflection of light by the sun that Newtonian physics predicted, but not accurately, and 3) the color change (redshift) of light passing through a gravitational field that was completely unverifiable at that time.[1] While he could compare his theory’s predictions to  Mercury’s orbital changes measured by others, he had no way to confirm the other 2 tests. In fact, the evidence to support his theory only trickled in over many years, the most conclusive confirmations  of it after his death in 1955. Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed the deflection of light by the sun’s gravity in 1919 when he measured the slight curvature of starlight bending in the gravitational field of the sun during a solar eclipse. But it was decades before sufficiently precise measurements could confirm gravity’s miniscule color-shifting effect on light here on earth. In the years since, though, several other effects have verified Einstein’s unproven theory.

In fact, Einstein’s general theory of relativity touches most of our everyday lives  in one very real, but surprising way. Our cars, planes, cellphones, and even wristwatches now have the ability to tell us where we are because a of wonderful cold-war invention called GPS. But engineers designing the GPS satellites originally didn’t think they would need to account for gravitational redshift in the signal timing. This change in color of visible light is actually an effect of time dilation; time actually runs faster in a weaker gravitational field. And so the clock on a GPS satellite will run 38 microseconds faster, per day, than the same clock on earth, which is enough to produce invalid location results. This would also handicap our cell phones that use this precise timing to handle transferring calls to new cell towers seamlessly.

So did the lack of hard evidence in any way detract from the truthfulness of his theory? No, that’s because we don’t create truth, we only discover it. If something is true, it’s true whether we know it or not, and whether we understand it yet or not. The GPS clocks ran faster whether the original engineers admitted it or not, and whether you and I fully understand it or not. Can Christianity be true without measurable, scientific evidence? Absolutely.[2] But there’s a deeper question here. Is experimental observation the only way we come to know truth? No. In fact, the “thought experiments” Einstein relied on were simply exercises in sound reasoning that scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers have used for millennia. As Einstein understood, there are many times where it is impossible to obtain “hard evidence” for something. It may be a unique, non-repeatable event, or it may be something infeasible to test at the present time, but that doesn’t have to stop us from investigating. Albert Einstein didn’t limit himself to experimental evidence, but rather used his mind to go where science couldn’t yet, and he changed the world. Don’t let your desire for a certain type of evidence keep you from investigating the truth of Christianity and changing your world.


[1] Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 87-88.
[2] Not that there isn’t a wealth of evidence for the truth of the Bible, but that’s a subject for another day.

 

Blind Faith?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net“Blind faith”. I’ve heard atheists use the term as an insult to Christian opponents – “I believe in science and not blind faith like you.” Surprisingly, I’ve heard some Christians use it almost as a badge of honor  that they had such complete blind faith.  So what is the biblical perspective on faith? Is it really “believing something strongly in spite of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary” as atheists would claim? Is it a step into the unknown, taking God at His word, so to speak, with no reason whatsoever, as some Christians would claim? Or is there another option? What does the Bible itself say?

Hebrews 11:1 is the most famous definition of faith in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here, and in most other places translated as “faith”, the Greek word used is πίστις (pistis) or one of its related forms. This word can be translated as faith, belief, trust, confidence, or proof. Looking at secular Greek sources, Herodotus used it to refer to a pledge or military oath[1].  Other secular authors such as Aeschylus, Democritus, and Appian used the word to denote evidence from the senses or from eyewitness testimony, or proof of intent deduced from observed actions [2].  The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo used the term pistis in his writings 156 times with the sense of evidence in over 50% of those instances [3]. Aristotle used the term to describe various “proofs” for convincing someone of your case through reason and logic [4]. This word for faith sounds like it was often used by secular sources as a justified belief based on observation, logical or philosophical reasoning, or testimony and solemn oaths. But we can dig a little deeper yet. The word pistis is derived from the Greek word πείθω (peitho), meaning “to persuade”. Are you persuaded blindly by any assertion you hear, or by evidence, by sound reasoning,and by common sense? It makes sense then that Aristotle would use pistis to describe the proofs of the art of rhetoric (persuasion).  It seems that Biblical faith is anything but blind. Rather, it is “God’s divine persuasion” [5]. It is also interesting that the word translated in Hebrew 11:1 as “conviction” in the NASB translation is ἔλεγχος (elegchos) which means proof, and is derived from ἐλέγχω (elegcho), a verb meaning “to convince with solid, compelling evidence; to expose, refute or prove wrong.” [6] Faith could be said to be God’s divine persuasion of the reality of the supernatural things we can’t observe with our natural senses.

So then, if our faith is more of an evidentially persuaded trust by definition, are there any supporting passages to confirm that is what biblical writers like Paul understood when using words like pistis and elegchos? Below is a partial list of supporting passages.

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

“And because of His words, many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” John 4:41-42 (NIV)

 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3 (NASB)

 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NASB)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (NASB)

We are to love God with all that we are, including our mind. Jesus repeatedly appealed to the evidence He presented to people, not the least of which was Him being alive after being scourged, crucified, and having a spear run through His chest.  Paul tells us to  examine everything carefully, while John urges discernment specifically in spiritual matters. In the end, I have to say that we don’t check our brains at the church door, and if we do, we’re not following the example set before us in Scripture. For while blind faith in the truth may still benefit us, it is an accidental benefit that could just as easily be a blind faith in error (such as cults). Thorough, honest investigation only destroys faith in error; but it only builds faith in what is true.


[1] The Histories, Book 3, Chapter 8, Herodotus. Viewable in English or Greek at The Perseus Project.
[2] Pistis as “Ground for Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul, David M. Hay, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1989, 3rd Quarter, p. 461.
[3] ibid. p.463.
[4] Rhetoric, Aristotle, Book 1, Chapter 1:3, 4th century BC, Kindle Edition. The word pistis or one of its forms is translated as “proof” here and throughout the rest of the 3 books.
[5] Biblehub.com word study of pistis (Strong’s #4102).
[6] ibid, word study of elegchos (Strong’s #1650).

Hide & Seek

Paul speaking to the Athenians at the AreopagusOver the last couple of decades in the engineering field, I’ve had the opportunity to use several different pieces of software aimed at speeding up different aspects of engineering design. At my current job, I use several different programs for specific tasks like wood design,  steel design, or general purpose structural analysis. When they work like I think they should, life is generally good. On the other hand, when the results aren’t what I was expecting… well…. Deadlines approach quickly as I try to figure out whether the program has a bug in it, or if it is calculating something I’ve been neglecting all these years. Did the software  developers interpret some building code statement differently than I did? Who’s right? I hate not knowing why something isn’t working, and when these things happen, I’ll spend the time to get to the bottom of it. Several times, I’ve found serious program bugs that the developers corrected when I reported them. Other times, I learned I was the one that was wrong. But every time, I learned far more about a particular aspect of building design in the process of researching the issue than if things had gone smoothly. In a deadline-driven world, though, it’s all too easy to do a cursory review and say “Oh good, looks like it worked, moving on.”

Philosopher Peter Kreeft makes an interesting point about this: “We investigate what we are surprised by, not what we already know or think we know and take for granted [1].” A common complaint about God is His “hiddenness”. The skeptic says, “If only God would plainly reveal Himself to me, I would believe.” But inherent in that seemingly open-minded statement is a demand housed in the word “plainly”; namely, that God reveal Himself to me in the time and place and method of my choosing. Not only would this be different for each person, but it also would reduce God to some genie working miracles on demand. Our desire for God to make Himself known to us in the way we choose is, in effect, a desire to reverse roles and make Him subservient to us.

Instead, God has revealed Himself in His own way, first through the general revelation of the natural world, with it’s grandeur and design that are apparent to the simple and unlearned, and yet, ironically, even more apparent the deeper we explore fields like astronomy and genetics. Second, through the specific revelation given the various prophets and writers collected in the Bible. So why does He not give us “more”? It might be that He does not reveal Himself to us completely to keep us searching. Like a puzzle, we fill in what we know of Him from general and special revelation, but if He gave us every piece of the puzzle, would we still hunger and thirst for Him? Would we think we had Him all figured out (as if we could figure out an infinite God) and stop chasing after Him to focus on something else we don’t grasp yet? By keeping some of Himself just out of view, does He excite our curiosity and drive to learn? Could a deliberate hiddenness be one way He draws those to Himself who wouldn’t otherwise come to Him, who would be content with where they are? The apostle Paul, in his discussion with the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17, states that “…[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” The word translated as “seek” comes from the Greek word ζητέω (zeteo), meaning “to seek in order to find; to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning; to strive after.” This isn’t casual skimming here; this is intensive searching, analyzing, studying. This is like the last 10 minutes of an open-book final exam – pages are flying as you frantically search for what you can’t quite remember. The word “find” comes from the Greek word εὑρίσκω (heurisko) meaning “to find, learn, discover, especially after searching” or “to find by inquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, hearing; to find out by practice and experience.” To use the college example again, this isn’t flipping the textbook open to the right page and stumbling on the answer. It’s more like the time in college I spent most of the night working one awful thermodynamics homework problem – I was definitely groping for the answer then![2] And if we ignore the collection of direct communication that God has provided, even if it’s maybe not what we want to hear, then we will be groping in the dark, though He is “not far”.


[1] Peter Kreeft, Summa Philosophica (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2012), p. 16.
[2] FYI: if your teacher normally assigns multiple problems and you get an assignment with only one problem, watch out! 😉