Does objective truth – and specifically objective moral truth – matter for Christians? In a survey of teenagers conducted by Barna Research on Feb 12, 2002, 83% of those teenagers said moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6% overall said moral truth is absolute. Of those who identified as born-again Christians, only 9% agreed that moral truth is unchanging and not relative to the situation. Those teenagers of 17 years ago are now the middle-aged backbone of our working society, as well as parents raising the next generation. But does that dim view of objective moral truth even matter in our time? Let’s work through that today.
Tag Archives: Worldview
Christianity: the Right Tool for the Job
I have a small book on my bookcase with one of the more unusual titles of any I own: “Jesus, Friend to Terrorists”. Yes, you read that right. The book was addressed to the terrorists, rebels, and revolutionaries around the world who want to change the world, albeit in very misguided and tragic ways. The book applauds their zeal and commitment to a cause, but encourages them to reconsider their brutal methods, consider what will happen if they succeed in overthrowing their oppressors only to become the oppressors the next generation seeks to overthrow, and instead commit themselves to the much better cause of Christ. In the end, it asks them to trade in the hate and envy of political revolutions, and the bloody violence of terrorism, for the love and hope brought by the most amazing revolution known: the divine transformation of a human soul. Last week, I offered some reasons why I think humanism, like so many other ideologies (including those of terrorists), is the wrong tool for solving the world’s problems. This week, I’d like to explain why I am persuaded that Christianity is the right tool for the job.
- “Out There” vs. “In Here” Problems. Last week I noted that some of the goals that humanists aspire to, like ending war and poverty, are admirable. Yet they are only looking for an external problem to fix, like an allergen “out there” in the world, when the problem is more like a disease “in here”, inside each of us. Too often, we want to lay the blame on an array of external factors like how we were raised by our parents, the culture we grew up in, and on and on. The Bible shows us that the problem is an internal one called sin. But the Bible doesn’t simply diagnose the real problem; it points us to Christ, who removes the hatred and selfishness and pride in me and you, which ultimately addresses the symptoms that manifest themselves in society as a whole. Transformation inside is what’s required to fix the problems we see outside.
- Collective vs. Individual Remedies. It’s far more comfortable to talk about “people” or “society” needing to change, but God commands us individually to change, and that can get uncomfortable quickly. But what is needed for a society to change? The individuals that form that society must change. And when numbers of individuals are radically transformed on the inside, their outside actions necessarily follow suit, and whole empires are changed.
- Love. Two things that were noticeably absent in the Humanist Manifestos I read were the love and forgiveness that the Bible emphasizes so much. There seems to be a significant difference between helping the poor because it will supposedly help society flourish and helping them because one genuinely loves the person being helped. But the term “love” has become rather diluted in our culture, so what do I even mean by love? And what shall we base it on? Christian love isn’t a mere feeling of affection, for we are called to love even our enemies [Mt 5:44]. And it’s not “reciprocal altruism”, for we are also called to love those who could never return the favor. Rather, it is the willing of good for another and the giving of oneself to realize that good. While it is thoughtful, love is not only thoughts – it is action. While it can be spontaneous, it is also committed and enduring. And above all, it is unconditional. After all, what condition could an enemy satisfy to warrant such love and still be an enemy? Yet there are many examples over the last 2,000 years of Christians asking God to forgive the very people brutally torturing and killing them. Why should we go to such extremes? Because we were each enemies of God, yet He loved us first [Rom 5:8-10, 1Jn 4:19]. So then Christian love is grounded not in the ever-changing state of our emotions, but in the very nature of God [1Jn 4:8-11]. In fact, while the law is normally seen as cold and unloving, Jesus said that all the Mosaic Law could be summed up in 2 commandments: to love God with all that you are, and to love others as yourself [Mk 12:28-31]. The revolutionary, transformative love of God can change the vilest sinners into saints.
Do you want to see the world changed for the better? Forget humanist panaceas, cultural paradigms, economic schemes, and political solutions. Instead, recognize the problem of sin in yourself first, freely take of the remedy graciously provided by your Creator, and then go live out that love you’ve received, bless others as you’ve been blessed, and share the good news you’ve learned so others can experience the same joy. Do that and see if you don’t “turn the world upside-down” like the Jesus’ apostles [Ac 17:6 ESV].
Humanism: The Wrong Tool for the Job
This last weekend, I spent far more time than planned installing a new hot water heater at my house. But frustrating experiences can often be good teachers, and that project reinforced the importance of having the right tool for the job. Some tools are woefully inadequate for the task at hand, while the more appropriate tool makes quick work of it. The worldview we filter life through is similar in that the wrong worldview makes life less comprehensible and more difficult – or even impossible – to live out consistently; but with the right worldview, everything falls into place. Let’s work through an example of that today.
After finishing the home repairs, I read through the three Humanist Manifestos maintained on the American Humanist Association website. The first was published in 1933, with a second in 1973, and the latest in 2003. Other than the rejection of God, they have some admittedly admirable goals like the elimination of war and poverty, and the security of freedom. Some “freedoms” advocated aren’t so admirable, like unrestricted abortion and euthanasia. After all, killing another innocent human being is murder no matter what euphemism is attached to it. But the general intent seems to be one of sincerely wanting to improve the world they live in. Yet, you can sincerely wear yourself out trying to use a screwdriver on a 16 penny nail and never accomplish anything. Might I suggest, that despite all their sincerity, humanists are trying to use the wrong tool for the job when it comes to building a better world?
Humanism, according to their manifestos, has some views and goals worth comparing to Christianity. Here are just a few:
- All 3 manifestos regard the universe as self-existing, in spite of the evidence pointing more and more over the last century to a beginning of the universe at a finite point in the past. Interestingly, the evidence that humanists are uncomfortable acknowledging points to what the Bible has said all along: “In the beginning, God created….”[Gen 1:1]
- Unguided evolution is supported in all 3 manifestos, even though genetics and information theory has been steadily chipping away at that as a viable option. Science is already confirming what the Bible has said all along: we are fearfully and wonderfully made”[Ps 139:14].
- But the idea that mankind can evolve socially and become better and better was evident in the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933, in spite of the horrors of the “war to end all wars” (World War I) that had destroyed that utopian idea for many already. With two world wars in its rear view mirror, the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II noted in its preface that the previous manifesto had been “far too optimistic”, and recognized “the depths of brutality of which humans are capable”, and that “science has sometimes brought evil as well as good.” Even so, the Manifesto still advocated the same optimism and blind faith in the power of humans to change themselves (to the point of being able to “alter the course of human evolution”). For those who have read the Bible, the preponderance of evidence of human depravity, both historically and in the dark recesses of our own hearts, is no mystery. Humanists may not want to admit that they (and every other human) are sinners, but it certainly does explain the world around us better than the naive optimism of humanism. That we are created in the image of God, but marred by sin explains why we humans seem capable of so much good, and yet still do so much evil.
- Humanists want to “provide the purpose and inspiration that so many seek,” give “personal meaning and significance to human life,” and provide “abundant and meaningful life”.  This is to come about from a selfless commitment to the greater good of “broad-based cooperative efforts”, “participation in the service of humane ideas” and “working to benefit society”, with a goal of “a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good.” But I have to ask, why should a person want to do this? Why, if this life is all I have (as the 3 manifestos clearly state), should I spend it working and sacrificing to improve the lives of others? Not that I disagree with their goal of cooperation and selfless service; rather, I question their foundation for it. Even if society as a whole benefits from my sacrifices, why should I care enough to forfeit any of my limited time on earth to enjoy life? After all, we must find our fulfillment in the “here and now” according to humanism. I don’t think they really have a good answer to that, but the Bible does. We love because He first loved us [1Jn 4:19]; we serve because Christ served those He came to save [Mk 10:45] and because in serving others, we serve Him [Mt 25:35-40]; we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others [2Co 9:11]; we value others because we recognize them as created by God [Ge 1:27, Ac 17:26], loved by God [Jn 3:16, Rm 5:8], and precious in His sight – so how could we not want to give of ourselves to show love to them, even if they be our enemies [Mt5:44]? And we really do get the abundant life humanist seek! [Jn 10:10]
- They want to “conquer poverty”, stating that “world poverty must cease.” Yet Christians, not humanists, have been the most generous force in human history by building hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities; donating food, clothing, services, money, and volunteer time to help those in need; translating languages and teaching native people reading and writing, basic hygiene, and life skills like improved farming; and working to end barbaric practices like slavery and suttee. We do it not out of commitment to an ideal, but out of genuine love for those affected by poverty. In fact, maybe the conspicuous absence of love in humanism is why Christians have traditionally given more to alleviate poverty.
- The manifesto claims that “war is obsolete”. Far from being “obsolete”, war has been made more efficient than ever. Now we have the power to destroy entire countries in an instant with nuclear weapons, or in an agonizing time frame of our choice with biological and chemical weapons. Or we can target down to the individual, remotely, from the other side of the world, as if we were simply playing a video game. Rather than naively saying war is obsolete because humans can learn to not be selfish and to cooperate instead, the Bible shows us that we are all selfish apart from the transforming work of God in our hearts, and as long as there are sinful humans on this planet, some people will hate others or covet what others possess. These are the root causes of any unjust war, and they both really come down to that most ancient of vices: pride. Christianity deals with the ultimate cause of war, and all other acts of aggression, and prevents war by preventing the pride that starts wars.
- Humanists claim to be “committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity”, yet their explicit support for abortion and euthanasia say otherwise. Some people’s lives apparently aren’t worth as much as others. The Bible is consistent in all human life having inherent worth because of our creation in the image of God [Gen 1:27, 9:6].
- Supposedly, in spite of the vast weight of history, “humankind has the potential, intelligence, goodwill, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades to come.” Sadly, but unsurprisingly, humankind has missed that goal by a mile. Maybe that’s why, 3 decades later, the 2003 Humanist Manifesto III was one-quarter the length of the 1973 version, and with less concrete statements. Humans have potential, but it is only realized in the regeneration wrought by God. Without that, our only potential is for continued decay.
I’ve taken excerpts from 3 manifestos written over a 70 year period. I’m not trying to mix and match to paint them in the worst light. Rather, I hope I’ve shown a few ways that humanism has consistently missed the mark in addressing what ails the world. In the end, the fatal flaw of humanism may be found in their statement in Manifesto II: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” And that, my friends, makes about as much sense as grabbing a saw when you need a screwdriver.
Ideas Have Consequences
Last week, we looked at some of the visible results of living out the Christian life, and how these are typically recognized as good things, despite the protests of atheists that “religion poisons everything”. That was on a more pragmatic level of observable results. Today, though, I’d like to dig a little deeper into some philosophical foundations and how they work themselves out in practice.
How we see ourselves has real results in our lives. Being the product of random chemical reactions and natural selection will have different implications for how we live our lives compared to our being the result of deliberate creation by a loving Father. For example:
- It will affect how you see others. Are you merely the result of a lot of unguided, directionless biological mutations added to a mixing bowl (Earth) that is itself only the blind chance result of a cosmic accident? This has led many over the years into the throes of apathy, depression, and nihilism, but worse than the self-destructive belief in a purposeless life devoid of any “big-picture” meaning, is the idea that those you meet are actually competitors in a brutal game of “survival of the fittest.” Yet in the atheistic worldview, that is the supreme law of the land; we are simply advanced animals who survived the “struggle for existence” by hook or by crook. After all, it’s “survival of the fittest”, not “survival of the kindest” or “survival of the most ethical”. Acts of benevolence often reduce one’s own odds of survival. Or… just maybe, are all the people you meet – friends and strangers alike – actually fellow creatures with eternal destinies, made in the image of God, valuable to Him, and loved by Him? Are they, as the Bible maintains, broken and flawed – but redeemable! – people that God so loved that He sent His only Son Jesus to give Himself as the sacrifice for their salvation? Do you think that last view would lead to more love, more compassion, more service for others? Could there be any other result for someone who understands the implications?
- It will affect how you look at the environment. If we are cosmic accidents who have risen to the top by a ruthless struggle for existence, then why should anyone be environmentalists? Caring for weak and defenseless animals, and especially endangered animals, is to operate contrary to natural selection. The weak aren’t supposed to survive under natural selection. On the other hand, if our natural world is a stewardship entrusted to humanity to rule over well, then there is good reason to use it conscientiously, without abusing it. A biblical view seems to be that the environment is worthy of care as something God created a) “good” [Ge 1:25], and b) subservient to human needs [Ge 1:26], but not something more important than humans as some environmentalists proclaim. This leads to a more balanced approach to environmental care than what I’ve seen from much of the environmental movement.
- It will affect how you look at the actual living of life. If this life is all you have (around 80 years on average in the US, around 120 at the upper limit), and there is nothing after death, then you need to get everything you want in now, while you still can. And you probably shouldn’t let anyone get in the way of you enjoying your brief moment of life. After all, a car accident, a heart attack, or a hundred other tragedies might befall you tomorrow and end your existence like a bug getting stepped on. So “Carpe diem” and all that. Of course, that’s some bad luck if you’re the victim of a childhood disease, or a violent robbery, or some other untimely fatal event that takes you in what should be the prime of life. After all, even if the deadly disease is later cured, or the killer caught, it doesn’t do you much good, does it? Is life simply an unfair roll of the dice, where the scoundrel lives to a ripe old age enjoying the finest delicacies, while innocent children die every day from starvation, longing for a few grains of rice? Even the cynic that says “Life sucks and then you die – get over it” should be able to see that there are many things in life outside of our control that we instinctively recoil from as being not the way it ought to be. Why is that? Where do we get this notion of “ought”? We can’t ground it a secular worldview. Now, lest anyone think I’m a Christian simply from wishful thinking, I’m not saying that sense of “how things ought to be” justifies Christianity. Rather, I’m saying that Christianity justifies that innate sense we have. The Bible explains why we feel like that. What if your existence continues on beyond the death of your physical body? The Bible tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts [Ec 3:11], so it’s no surprise then that we feel like there’s more than this physical life. What if justice will be served after all, even if not in this life? The Bible tells us that there will be a final judgment, from which there is no escaping [Heb 9:27, Rev 20:12]. What if you were made for a bigger purpose? People sometimes get all they ever wanted in life, and yet are miserable. That’s because we were made to glorify God. As Augustine so aptly put it, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” But when we’ve found our rest in God, our life here on Earth – whether short or long, easy or hard, fair or unfair – takes on an eternal perspective that changes everything.
Can the atheist live differently from how I’ve described above? Of course, but I think he has to do it in contradiction to his underlying philosophy, just as a hateful, racist Christian would be undercutting his own philosophical foundations with his thoughts and actions. Our ideas have consequences – some pretty dramatic and obvious, while others only reveal themselves fully over many years or even generations. I urge you then, to examine the philosophy you are building your life on, and look for the logical consequences of it. Is it pointing you toward your Creator or away from Him? Choose wisely.
Miracles and Einstein, Part 2
Last week, I went over how Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity were a more comprehensive model of the universe than previous theories, and how a worldview that can acknowledge the possibility of miracles is likewise more comprehensive than the atheistic worldview. Apart from whether God exists or miracles do occur, the worldview that can handle those possibilities without breaking is, all else being equal, the more robust model. Today, I want to conclude that investigation with a look at one of Einstein’s more unique “thought experiments”.
Einstein was famous for his thought experiments, and for good reason. He worked as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office, without access to laboratories and expensive equipment to conduct physical experiments. Moreover, some of his ideas were beyond the ability to experimentally verify for years. But throughout his life, Einstein carefully reasoned his way through the implications of different ideas via these thought experiments. He published 4 papers in 1905 (while still a clerk!) that revolutionized science. Ten years later the world would get his general theory of relativity, and Einstein’s name would become synonymous with genius. Among his though experiments about lightning flashes and clocks and measuring rods on moving trains, he presented an interesting example in his book, Relativity, that I want to look at. To illustrate one implication of his theory of general relativity to the question of whether the universe is infinite or finite, he postulates a world of 2-dimensional “flat” beings living in a 2-dimensional “flat” world with “flat” tools for measuring their world. To the 2-D beings, depth is a foreign concept. Says Einstein, “For them nothing exists outside of this plane: that which they observe to happen to themselves and to their flat ‘things’ is the all-inclusive reality of their plane.”  While he proceeds to build on this to look at the finitude of our universe, what caught my eye was his point that only what happens in-plane is observable by the 2-D beings. This got me thinking of my own little thought experiment.
Suppose their flat universe is a region contained in a 3-dimensional universe. Maybe their entire existence is contained in a “tabletop universe” in your study. You, being a 3-D being, are able to look down on their universe and observe them in ways they cannot observe their own world. For them, they might not be able to see past an obstacle in their path, but would have to go around it to see what was on the other side. You can simply see over the obstacle to know whether trouble awaits them on the other side or not. In some sense, you can see how their choices will play out before they can. But what if your relation with their world wasn’t simply limited to observation, but could also include interaction? While they could move and observe things in the x- and y-axes of their world, you would be able to approach them from the z-axis — “out of the blue”, so to speak. With their observations limited to a plane, your interactions with them would surely be mysterious. If you moved an obstacle out of their way, they would be able to see the effect of your interaction, certainly, but the origin of it? Probably not. It might, from their point of view, appear to defy their laws of physics.
Could you communicate with them? Possibly, though maybe not with the sound waves produced by your vocal chords. But you might be able to communicate with them in ways possible in their plane frame of reference. For instance, if they communicated with each other in flashes of colored light, and you wanted to give them a message, you could do so by translating your thoughts into flashing colored light instead of spoken or written words, in order to put your message in their terms. If you really wanted to interact with them in a way they could understand, though, entering their world would be the ultimate move. Of course, this is the stuff of sci-fi stories, but that’s why this is a though experiment, so let’s keep going. Suppose you could transform yourself to a 2-D being like the ones in the tabletop universe. Your interactions and communications with them would be more direct and personal in such a case. They would be able to relate to you better as one of them, rather than simply a mysterious source of messages and the occasional intrusions of solid geometry into their plane geometry world. Even if you fully understood the limitations of living in a 2-D world beforehand, having endured those constraints yourself would make your interactions with them more meaningful for them.
Now, I’m not saying that spiritual reality is simply a higher physical dimension, or an alternate/parallel dimension, but I do think this analogy can show the plausibility of miracles. The skeptic often claims miracles are impossible, and yet we can think of scenarios where a completely naturalistic system could have events that would appear miraculous to one set of observers in the system. So to the skeptic, I would ask:
- Is it really that much of a stretch to say that God exists in a way that transcends our observable universe such that He can be “outside” it, but still interact with it?
- Would it be such a surprise that God might exist in a way that is like nothing else in our frame of reference? The idea of the Trinity, one Being with 3 personal centers of consciousness, is probably as different from our life experience as a 3-dimensional man would be to the 2-dimensional creatures of Einstein’s thought experiment.
- Should it be a shock that He could have knowledge of future events in ways we don’t understand? Some see omniscience as equating to deterministic control and negation of our free will, but knowledge of the future is not the same as causation of that future. Now the Bible does leave us with a tension between God’s sovereignty over us and our free will, but I would say this falls into the category of mystery rather than contradiction as some assume.
- Is it so unbelievable that He would condescend to communicating with us in ways we could comprehend? The Bible records some of the different ways God has communicated with us: by direct speech to Adam and Eve [Ge 3:9], mediated speech through other humans (any of the prophets), inspired writing (like Paul’s epistles), angelic messengers [Lk 1:26-38], visions [Is 6:1-3], dreams [Mt 1:20-21], His Spirit indwelling us and speaking directly to our spirit [Ac 20:22-24], or even speaking through a burning bush [Ex 3:2-4:17] and a donkey [Nb 22:21-39].
- Lastly, is it impossible that an omnipotent Creator could even enter His creation, taking on our limitations of physical existence and be one of us – “truly God and truly man” as the Creeds would say? That is the miracle of the Incarnation, and the most amazing demonstration of love for us. Some eschew this as arrogance on the part of us measly humans inhabiting this speck of dust in a vast cosmos, to think we are so important. But it’s not about some amazing worthiness on our part that warrants cosmic attention, but rather the amazing, mind-boggling extent of God’s love.
Perhaps, the skeptic’s problem is that they have too small a view of God. They are like the 2-D creature saying that the concept of “depth” is unintelligible and that there is nothing outside their plane. A world beyond their imagination breaks in to our world, and yet it doesn’t fit in their small, simplistic model of how the world works, and so they ignore it. Do you want to be open-minded, a real freethinker? Then free yourself from the constraints of atheism, and be open to the bigger view of reality. But I’ll warn you, when you do that, you’ll discover an added dimension to your world that Christianity best explains. Then you have a choice: do you turn your eyes back down to your flat world, or do you follow the evidence straight to Christ? Choose wisely, my friend.
 Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special & The General Theory (NY: Barnes & Noble, 2004, original 1920), p. 93.
Miracles and Einstein, Part 1
Miracles are often mocked by skeptics as impossible, but I would like to suggest here that the skeptic is not seeing the big picture, and is, ironically, being somewhat close-minded.
Now, it’s always good to define our terms, so first, what is a miracle? Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines it as “A sign, a special manifestation of God. Miracles set forth God’s character, and are used to accredit His messengers” . C.S. Lewis, in his classic work, Miracles, gave a good working definition as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” . We can gather from this two key points: a) miracles are the exception to the norm, and b) miracles have specific purposes. Indeed, the rarity works to highlight their significance and the purpose behind them. But can miracles “fit” into any modern view of the world? We live in a science-loving society, and our world is often (but not always) made better by scientific advances. Yet science is the study of the natural world around us, and miracles are supernatural, by definition. So where can miracles fit in our model of reality? Let’s work through that today.
Albert Einstein actually made some comments in his 1920 book, Relativity, that can shed some light here. In it, he attempted to explain to the layman his theories of special and general relativity. Classical, or Newtonian physics had been an excellent framework for scientific inquiry since the time of… Newton. But some phenomena appear to break the laws of physics in a purely Newtonian framework. They are rare, but when they are observed, accounting for those puzzling phenomena requires more and more complicated, ad-hoc theories. The beauty of Einstein’s special and general relativity were that they explained the cases where Newtonian physics was deficient, but then both simplified to Newtonian mechanics under the vast majority of conditions (namely weak gravitational fields and travel speeds much slower than the speed of light) . As the speed of an object approaches the speed of light, or gravitational fields get very strong, observations framed in classical terms tend to make less sense and physics appears to “break down”. Not breaking down in those cases, Einstein’s theories therefore had more explanatory power than Newton’s. And in fact, we’d already seen this subsuming of previous theories by more comprehensive theories with an example Einstein himself used: the laws of electrostatics were thought to be the laws of electricity until electrodynamics was developed by Einstein’s hero, James Clerk Maxwell. Said Einstein:
“Should we be justified in saying that for this reason electrostatics is overthrown by the field-equations of Maxwell in electrodynamics? Not in the least. Electrostatics is contained in electrodynamics as a limiting case; the laws of the latter lead directly to those of the former for the case in which the fields are invariable with regard to time. No fairer destiny could be allotted to any physical theory, than that it should of itself point out the way to the introduction of a more comprehensive theory, in which it lives on as a limiting case.” 
What does any of this have to do with miracles? Well, a naturalistic methodology can explain our observations of the world the vast majority of the time. But we have to recognize that there are times it may not explain things. These cases of miracles, where we get intervention from outside the natural world for a specific purpose, won’t make sense to us until we enlarge our frame of reference to include the possibility of that. We are often reminded that methodological naturalism is the mandate of science, and there is no room for God in that. But then the skeptic making this response often proceeds not to a stance of methodological naturalism, but philosophical naturalism. The first is a method of investigation that assumes an event happened without supernatural intervention; the second assumes such intervention is not even possible. The distinction is significant. We cannot recognize effects from outside the system if we don’t recognize even the possibility of there being anything outside the system. It would be like coming home from work to find my grass wet, and puzzling over such an extremely isolated rain shower that didn’t get the house or driveway wet, and never acknowledging the neighbor’s sprinkler as a potential cause. An assumption of rain may be correct most of the time, but if don’t allow for the actions of free agents outside the “system” of my property lines, some explanations will forever elude me.
Despite the claims by atheists of being freethinkers, the Christian is actually in the more open-minded position here. The Christian acknowledges the validity of searching for natural causes to events (for God created an orderly and comprehensible universe governed by uniform, rational laws), but also acknowledges the possibility in rare situations (lest they become meaningless) of intervention by God when He deems appropriate and has a specific purpose in mind. In this way, the Christian actually has the more general theory of the world that can encompass the atheist’s smaller view of the world just as electrodynamics encompasses electrostatics, or relativity encompasses Newtonian physics. Maybe you’re a skeptic reading this right now. Understand, I’m not expecting you to instantly believe the miracles recorded in the Bible now, but in the final analysis, Christianity is a more comprehensive worldview than atheism. Now look at the big picture and follow the evidence where it leads. Till next week, S.D.G.
 “Miracle”, Nelson’s Foundational Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).
 C.S. Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs, (NY: Macmillan, 1978), p. 5.
 For those interested , the kinetic energy formula according to special relativity would be the series mc² + mv²/2 + 3/8mv^4/c²+… where v equals the velocity of the particle considered. At velocities << c, mv²/2 becomes the dominant velocity-dependent term, while mc² is a constant of the particle. Therefore, the relativistic kinetic energy reduces to the classical KE=½mv² formula. Regarding his general relativity, Einstein said, “If we confine the application of the theory to the case where the gravitational fields can be regarded as being weak, and in which all masses move… with velocities which are small compared with the velocity of light, we then obtain as a first approximation the Newtonian theory. ” – Relativity, p.39, 87.
 Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special & The General Theory (NY: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 65.
Before and After September 11th
It’s been 16 years, but I still remember the shock of watching September 11, 2001 unfold as those of us out west awoke to two planes hitting the World Trade Center. For Americans of my generation, it is “a day that will live in infamy,” just as December 7, 1941 was for my grandparents’ generation. It was a day that showed the depths of depravity and evil of which humans are capable in the attacks themselves, but also the virtuous heights of compassion, kindness, courage, integrity, and resilience we are capable of in the reactions to the attacks. For some, like Richard Dawkins, this attack by Islamic terrorists changed how they thought about religion. As he put it,
“Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism.”
— Richard Dawkins
Not that Richard didn’t have a low view of religion before September 11th, but afterwards, he was galvanized in his opposition, even if often misdirected. Now, for the record, some religions may do poorly in the area of evidence, and some may be taken up in desperation as a crutch, but Richard has taken up an aggressive position against the existence of God in any conception, and in so doing has really overreached far beyond what his objections can support. In the case of my belief in the Christian religion, it is actually based on evidence and is definitely not a crutch for consolation. Though God has indeed comforted me in times of grief, I believe in His existence in general, and His revelation of Himself in the Bible specifically, not because of needing a crutch, but because I think it’s true. In fact, God makes for a rather frustrating “crutch” if that’s all one’s after, for crutches don’t normally convict you when you’re misbehaving. God is true, and oftentimes inconveniently so. But is Dawkins right about religion being dangerous?
For me, as a Christian, 9/11 didn’t change my worldview in the slightest. I know that humans are made in the image of God and are capable of truly great, beautiful things, like the heroism and selfless love displayed by first responders and ordinary civilians alike on that tragic day. But we are also corrupted, sin-enslaved creatures, fallen and capable of tremendous evil, like the meticulous planning, and carrying out, of a cowardly attack against unarmed, defenseless people. As Malcolm Muggeridge succinctly put it, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” And three centuries earlier, Blaise Pascal developed that idea in his Pensées to show that only Christianity adequately explains this paradox of man’s goodness and wretchedness.
But there is another thing Dawkins overlooks in his rush to denigrate all religion: 9/11 didn’t change the fact that there are monumental differences between Christianity (what he really objects to) and Islam (the easier target). To lump them into the same class is to ignore the significant intrinsic differences in them (as well as the recorded effects of both religions, for good or bad, over the course of their respective histories, but that is another post). Why do some Islamic people choose to kill themselves and others in suicide attacks? Is it just that the “false courage to kill themselves” has removed a barrier to killing others like Dawkins suggests? No. The purpose is not primarily to kill themselves but to kill infidels. A Muslim who kills only himself in Jihad, and fails to kill any infidels, has utterly failed. It is the idea of physical war against unbelievers embedded in Islam, and the idea that you can gain Paradise at the expense of others that promotes these attacks. Islam is ultimately a works-based religion motivated from selfishness. And the idea that killing unbelievers will not just count in your favor, but will guarantee you entrance to Paradise when you die is powerful motivation, particularly if you’ve done a lot of stupid stuff to make up for. Now compare that to Christianity, where a supposed Christian who succeeded in murdering an unbeliever is the failure, for not only has he sinned against God in committing murder [Ex 20:13], and forfeited his own life per God’s command of capital punishment [Gen 9:6], but he has condemned that unbeliever to eternal hell when God says that He desires the wicked to repent and live [Ez 18:23,32]. Rather, Jesus confirmed that all of the Old Testament law is summed up in 2 commands: Love God, and love your neighbor (or fellow human) [Lk 10:26-28]. And just to make clear to the Jews to whom He was speaking that this really included anybody under the title of neighbor, He told them the story of the Good Samaritan, where the hero of the story is a Samaritan, an ethnic group they despised [Lk 10:29-37]. Even more bluntly, He said to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us [Lk 6:27-36]. I don’t know that you can get any sharper contrast to the idea of Jihad.
Events often divide our lives into times of “before” and “after”. Maybe you’ve had this vague concept of “religion” that you felt was just bad, and events like 9/11 only solidified that feeling. But I’d ask you now to set a new dividing line in your life, where you say, “Eternity is too important to trust my feelings to. If there’s truth to be found in religion, I’m going to look at the evidence, and find the real deal amongst all the counterfeits.” Do that, and I assure you, it will lead you straight to Jesus Christ.
 “Has the World Changed?” The Guardian, October 11, 2001 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/11/afghanistan.terrorism2, accessed 2017-09-12).
On Suffering, Part 2 – Alternative Views
Last week, we looked at the tough topic of suffering, and how the Christian can view it. Just as for the Christian, other worldviews can also filter how we perceive suffering, and consequently our conclusions about it. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight a few alternatives to Christianity and how they address suffering (as best as I can tell).
- Hinduism – Hinduism is difficult to classify because it encompasses a wide variety of different and often contradictory beliefs, but they do generally seem to agree on the existence of reincarnation and karma. While American dabblers in the Eastern religions and their derivative of New Age spirituality tend to have an overly optimistic view of reincarnation and karma, they are actually pretty oppressive concepts focused on suffering – a lot. There is a veil of ignorance (“maya”) in this life that hides from us what the true reality is, and getting beyond that to be liberated from the cycle of suffering (called “Samsara”) is the goal. This liberation is called “moksha”, and is the end of reincarnation, when your soul (“Atman”), is reunited with “Brahman”, a kind of divine, unchanging cosmic consciousness. Since maya hides or distorts true unchanging reality from us, suffering, as well as everything material, is illusory in a way. Also, suffering may just be your lot in life, especially if you’re in a lower caste. No matter how good you are, you may have to suffer in thousands of future reincarnations to pay for mistakes in past lives. Helping those suffering is sometimes discouraged because you are potentially interfering with the karmic “justice” due them for their behavior in past lives. So “suck it up, buttercup” – you likely have many more lifetimes of suffering ahead.
- Buddhism – When Siddhartha Gautama left Hinduism to seek enlightenment and become the Buddha, he recognized the reality of suffering (dukkha) and made it a core component of his system: “To live is to suffer”. Suffering is not illusion, is universal, and is the result of our selfish desires (the 1st and 2nd of his “four noble truths”). But he also held onto the Hindu concepts of reincarnation and karma, and proposed that it’s up to you to escape the tragic cycle of reincarnation and karma by living ethically (i.e. following Buddha’s eightfold path). As in Hinduism, reincarnation is not something to be looking forward to, but something to be escaped. The Buddhist escape, however, is to be “blown out”, or “quenched”, as you reach “nirvana” (which means to be blown out, like a lamp) by realizing your “non-self”. This idea that there is no persistent soul, yet there is a continuing cycle of rebirth and suffering, is a primary (and somewhat puzzling) distinction between Buddhism and Hinduism.
- Islam – Allah is sovereign, and suffering is the result of sin on the part of humans. Consider this response on the Muslim site IslamQA: “It is a Muslim’s belief that suffering of pain, hunger, tragic accidents etc, are due to one’s sins, for Allaah wants this suffering to erase these sins which were made by this Muslim. Allaah says in Sura 42 verse 30 interpreted means: ‘Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness’.” Whatever suffering befalls you is punishment that you deserve under Islam.
- “Christian Science” – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this most inappropriately named cult famous for their views on suffering. Really neither Christian or scientific, the cult of the “Church of Christ, Scientist” believes that all is spiritual and the material world is only an illusion. Hence, the sickness and death and suffering readily observable in the world are problems of the mind and insufficient faith. Unfortunately, ideas have consequences, and anyone else that remembers Metallica’s “Black Album” might also remember that James Hetfield’s mother’s adherence to these ideas, and her subsequent death from untreated cancer were the impetus for him writing the song “The God That Failed”. Sadly, many have have conflated this cult with Christianity and rejected the truth because of the counterfeit.
- Atheism – We are essentially on our own. It’s a dog-eat-dog world of survival of the fittest. Nature is “red in tooth and claw“, as Tennyson would say. The weak will naturally suffer as they’re eventually weeded out. If you have an inordinate amount of suffering in your life, this whole universe is just a freak accident of nature, and your miserable life is just the way your dice rolled. “Life sucks and then you die.” Atheists often question why a good God would allow so much suffering, yet never stop to ask why a merciless, brutal, godless universe would allow so much goodness, beauty, and joy. Ultimately, atheism has no compelling answers regarding purpose, either bad or good, in anything.
I’ve highlighted five alternative worldviews here. There are others out there, and each, if it is to be a complete worldview has to address suffering, ether directly or indirectly. None of the views presented here can a) explain the origin and purpose of suffering like Christianity, or b) redeem suffering like Christianity. Suffering is either pointless like in atheism, or the result of something wrong with you (or a past version of you). Suffering is something to be escaped from in each system, but it’s never really redeemed and turned to good like it is in Christianity. If you missed last week’s post on a Christian view of suffering, you can read it here. If you’re an adherent to one of these views I’ve described, and you think I’ve misrepresented your views, let’s talk about it. I don’t want to misrepresent anyone’s beliefs, but I do think each of these belief systems have intrinsic deficiencies that make Christianity the better explanation.
 https://islamqa.info/en/2850, Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid answering why Allah does not prevent suffering, accessed 2017-08-29.
What’s Your Datum?
I was talking to the steel fabricator recently on a multi-story project where I was designing the stairs for them, and their detailer told me, “Hold off on the stair calcs; there’s gonna be some changes coming.” What were the changes? The architect had used the wrong datum, or elevation reference, to match up the floors of this 3 story expansion with the existing 5 story building it would be attaching to. In so doing, each of the floors, as well as the total height of the expansion, would be over 1 foot short. Fortunately, it was caught before steel was fabricated and shipped to the site. And as far as errors go, it could’ve been worse, in that most of the framing wouldn’t change. The floor plans would stay the same, the heights between floors weren’t affected – just the total column heights and the distance from the foundation to the first elevated floor. For me, the stairs would get longer on the first 2 flights, but otherwise a minimal impact at that stage. But if they’d tried erecting the steel with everything fabricated based on the wrong datum, none of the connections to the existing building would’ve lined up. One simple assumption in their Revit building model would’ve been an expensive fix at that point.
This got me thinking. What datum do we build our lives on? Are we making assumptions that will cost us dearly later? Will we recognize those errors before it’s too late? One “reference datum” of special importance in our lives is our assumption of God’s existence or non-existence. This has dramatic ramifications in all areas of our lives because it is a foundational assumption. However, sometimes we don’t see those effects without careful investigation. For instance, in the project I had, the floor to floor heights on the upper levels were unaffected. If they had managed to finish building with that error incorporated, you wouldn’t notice it out in the middle of the 2nd or 3rd floor. Likewise, atheists often feel that they don’t need God to live a “good” life. In their day to day lives, they may feel there’s no real difference. The problem is that their worldview is missing some support. What would happen if we went down to the ground level of atheism and inspected its foundation? Under western atheism, we’d find some Bibles stuck under their “columns” as shims! Yes, to be livable (in a civilized manner), atheism has to be shimmed up by blocks of Christianity (or at the very least theism, but more typically Christianity). Yet these are the very foundation blocks atheists try to demolish. For instance, an atheist can choose to ignore the fact that truly fair, objective judgement between humans requires a 3rd party outside of humanity (i.e. God). But when they succeed in removing that idea from the culture around them, they unintentionally undercut their own life structure. Atheists can try to ground their treatment of others in concepts like “human flourishing”, but only the God of the Bible gives us a reason for why we should treat others with dignity: we are made in God’s image – His unique creation – and we have intrinsic worth because of that. So even if I flat-out hated somebody, even if they were absolutely cruel to me, they are still a living soul made in God’s image, whom He considered worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on their behalf. Then, whether or not they deserve my kindness, whether or not humanity flourishes because of my kindness to them, and whether or not it improves the situation any, there are grounds for treating that person with kindness, respect, and love. I’m not saying atheists can’t behave well, and do wonderful things, but at some point, in your personal relationships, where general abstract philosophizing becomes very real and messy, you could care less whether humanity flourishes if it means suffering some wrong you deem “too far.” Like with Corrie ten Boom forgiving her Nazi concentration camp guard, only God can provide a foundation capable of bearing all things and enduring all things [1 Cor 13:4-7].
What are you assuming as a “given” in your life? Have you investigated that to confirm what you’re building your life on? I’ve used terms like “assumption” and “given” today to describe our different worldviews, because that is how many people arrive at them. But don’t be content to stay there, living an unexamined life. Just like with the datum on the project I was working on, you too can investigate and determine whether the datum of your life is correct or not. I’ve highlighted several lines of reasoning on this site in the past to help show how God fulfills critical requirements for any valid reference datum in life. The moral argument shows God is necessary for objective morality. The cosmological argument shows how God is necessary to provide the singular beginning of all space and time that science predicts. The argument from design shows show God is necessary to explain the intelligent and purposeful contingency we see in our universe. And the ontological argument shows how God is necessary based on the very nature of existence. Dig deep, investigate, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and follow the evidence where it leads. In the end, you’ll find life makes a lot more sense with God as your absolute reference.
 Western atheists would do well to study the history of the USSR and communist China to see atheism carried closer to its conclusion, in grand scale, than perhaps anywhere else on earth. The tens of millions dead (some estimates say over 100 million) show that ideas like atheism can have very tragic and uncivilized consequences.
I surprised an atheist colleague a while back when I asked to borrow all the atheist books he had. I was attending Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined Instructor’s Academy in Charlotte, NC for 3 days of intensive training in Christian apologetics (i.e. giving a rational defense for our beliefs). Part of the requirements for attendance was a long reading list of Christian apologists, as well as being familiar with the works of prominent atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. This desire to delve in to opposing views surprised my friend. But as physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne says, “The question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality”. That’s because of the far-reaching effects it has in our lives. Indeed, ideas have consequences, so let’s look at some consequences of Christian doctrine.
- Work Ethic – I often hear the lament that people don’t want to work hard anymore, and I’ve seen plenty of examples myself. Work ethic seems to have suffered some major blows in our generation. But it’s good to remember that this trait used to be referred to as the “Puritan work ethic” or “Protestant work ethic”. Why? Because the Puritans brought to America the application of biblical principles that Protestant reformer Martin Luther had reminded Europe of the century before: that there can be honor in our work, regardless of what we do, because we do it for God. Other civilizations viewed physical work as demeaning and lowly, fit for slaves but not for citizens, and certainly not for nobility. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to do our work, whatever it is, as for God rather than men; that masters should be fair to their slaves, for they too have a Master in heaven; and slaves should not just work when their master is watching, but with integrity all the time; and that God had given Adam, the first man, work to do in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned, and so work was not a curse to be avoided, but a way to serve and honor God. While we may not live in a society with masters and slaves anymore, those exhortations to fair treatment of workers and doing one’s work with integrity apply equally well to our modern-day employer-employee relationships.
- Ethics – That idea of fairness leads to another implication of Christianity. The Christian should not just work hard, but should also be ethical. The Bible tells us that false weights (i.e. for cheating in business transactions) are an abomination to the Lord. And that he who formerly would steal should steal no more.  We are also told that it is better to be wronged than to do wrong. And that even when we do the right thing, it should be from pure motives and not from compulsion or fear of being caught.
- Stewardship – Under Christianity, all we have is given to us by God. He is the owner, and we are simply stewards.  This perspective naturally leads to a desire to care for and use wisely the resources we have. We do not value resources like the environment and animals above people, but we don’t want to neglect them or misuse them either.
- Imago Dei – Speaking of the value of people, under Christianity, all people are created in the image of God, or “imago Dei” in Latin. Therefore, they each have intrinsic worth regardless of race, nationality, creed, gender, title, or any other differentiation. In fact, the Bible tells us that there is really only one race – the human race – so racism simply must whither and die in the soil of Christianity. Aside from our common origins, God has offered salvation and eternal life to all freely. And if Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for people a little different from us, who are we to hate those whom He loved? Moreover, we recognize that “none are righteous,” and that apart from Jesus, we are no better than the lowest outcast or the most evil villain. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
- Dealing with Suffering – Life can be tough. And yet, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes the various trials he has gone through, then proceeds to say that “momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Paul was a man who had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead – and yet, he considered this difficult life to be “light” in comparison to the “heaviness” of eternity with Christ. In Paul’s view, no amount of earthly suffering could tip the scales. Christians have a bottomless reservoir of strength and hope in times of trial.
There are significant implications to belief in Christ. We can compartmentalize our beliefs, but only at the expense of our honesty. For if we are honest, our beliefs must express themselves throughout our lives. These are just a few of the ways those beliefs will surface. Can you think of others?
 In fact, this blog is the result of being challenged by J. Warner Wallace at that training class to become a “Christian casemaker”. 🙂
 John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist, Ch. 3.
 Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31.
 Colossians 4:1, Job 31:13-15, Ephesians 6:5-9.
 Genesis 2:15.
 Proverbs 11:1, 20:10,23, Micah 6:11, Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13 to name a few.
 Ephesians 4:28.
 1 Corinthians 6:7, Proverbs 16:2, 2 Chronicles 19:9.
 Deuteronomy 8:1-20, Matthew 24:42-51, 25:14-28,
 Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26, Galatians 3:26-29.
 Romans 6:23, 1 Peter 3:18.
 Romans 3:10-12, 23.
 2 Corinthians 4:17.