Challenging Hawking’s Statement on God

Reflecting on the inspiring life of the late Stephen Hawking, John Lennox (Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) is full of praise for Hawking’s greater talent and his extensive contributions as a scientist[1]. Hawking’s work on gravity, and his development of the standard model, have been immense contributions to scientific knowledge and have given many “yet to be proven” theories for physicists to explore. Hawking has taught many famous physicists who are carrying on the work today. Further – he was someone of inspiring personal resilience and determination. He beat the odds that he faced as a result of motor neurone disease.

 

Lennox went on to quote Lord Rees, previous president of the Royal Society, who observed that Hawing “attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise – for instance philosophy.”[2] There was a downside to his iconic status. Rees went on to say that we shouldn’t attach any weight at all to what Hawking says about God.[3] Rees is referencing Hawking’s atheism that is presented in his book The Grand Design.

 

Lennox makes a further observation: “Outside his own field, a scientist is as dumb as the next guy. Statements of scientists are therefore not always statements of science.”

 

Even though Hawking’s scientific opinions are held in high esteem, when he spoke outside of his field – philosophy and theology – he made some basic mistakes that he never seemed to try to correct. Lennox doubts that any philosophers or theologians ever read The Grand Design before it was published.

 

One of these mistakes is the central premise of his book. “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”[4] What is wrong with this statement? Lennox observes that it is self-contradictory.

  • Because there is something (the law of gravity)
  • The universe creates itself from nothing
  • But if there is something there is not nothing – therefore this reasoning contains a basic contradiction.

To put it even more simply:

  • x can create y
  • but x cannot create x

 

What’s sad to Lennox is that Hawking claimed to produce a universe from nothing, but did no such thing because what he calls nothing … is not.

 

 

Lennox also observes that both Hawking and Isaac Newton held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. While Newton didn’t say “I’ve got gravity…so I don’t need God,” he did say, “how brilliant for God to do it this way.” Yet Hawking was different. He saw God as a competing explanation for the existence of the universe. In other words – God fills the gaps in our knowledge, and as the gaps decrease so does the need for God.

Lennox observes that viewing God and science as competing hypothesis, is like saying “Henry Ford is an alternative explanation of the motor car from the laws of internal combustion. This is just nonsense. Ford doesn’t compete with the physical laws in any way – he is simply a different kind of explanation. He is agency, rather than natural law.”

So too with God. God’s not an alternative explanation to the universe from science. Hawking was mistaken. God’s a complementary explanation…the agency that harnesses the physical law he created.

 

Lennox deeply respects Hawking as a scientist, but not as a philosopher or theologian. For what it is worth…I agree with Lennox.

[1] John Lennox, John Lennox Reflects on Stephen Hawking’s Life and Beliefs, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://fixed-point.org/articles/john-lennox-reflects-on-stephen-hawkings-life-beliefs/, this source synthesised and summarised in the blog.

[2] Lord Martin Rees, Professor Stephen Hawking: An Appreciation by Lord Rees, Trinity College Cambridge, published 14th March, 2018, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/professor-stephen-hawking-an-appreciation-by-lord-rees/.

[3] Martin Rees: ‘We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Stephen Hawking says about God’, The Independent, published 26th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/martin-rees-we-shouldnt-attach-any-weight-to-what-hawking-says-about-god-2090421.html

[4] Great Minds: Stephen Hawking -The Grand Design of the Universe, uploaded 12th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPvQY8L481o.

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Did the First Christians Believe in the Physical Resurrection Of Jesus?

Did the first Christians actually believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead? Or was his resurrection an idea that evolved over time? We all love a good conspiracy theory…but does this one have a ring of truth about it or not?

Richard Carrier identifies the earliest written record about post-resurrection Jesus in Paul’s letters. He goes full blown conspiracy – deciding that Paul’s idea of resurrection was “spiritual” rather than physical. To Carrier, the idea “Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed.”[1] The New Testament Gospels, written after Paul’s death, therefore contain these legends. There was no empty tomb, just an idea in Paul’s mind that got blown up out of all proportion.

But is Carrier right that Paul was talking about ephemeral spiritual resurrections and spiritual bodies?

No – the first Christians believed in an empty tomb and Jesus’ physical resurrection. The explanation gets a bit technical tho…

Paul’s Teaching on the Empowerment of Resurrection Bodies

Paul contrasts natural and spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. To western minds, we might jump to the assumption he’s contrasting a physical body with a ghostly…spiritual body. We would be wrong. Why?

Paul’s original Greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s not talking about physical bodies at all. He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

This distinction has nothing to do with the composition of the bodies. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[2] So Paul’s not talking about the composition of a soulish or spiritual body and he’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition. He’s talking about its power source.

Paul’s argument about resurrection bodies hinges on our power source – are we naturally driven, or driven by God’s power in our lives?

Carrier’s misunderstanding of Paul is probably enough to end the discussion here. But to show that the first Christians (like Paul) did indeed believe in an empty tomb and a physically resurrected Jesus, I’ll look now at Paul’s subsequent argument about the resurrection body.

Paul’s Teaching on the Nature of Resurrection Bodies

1 – Bodies are Physical

Paul teaches a right understanding of the physical body to those who despised the physical, and therefore expected resurrection to be somehow different. He appeals to God’s original creative work of the physical Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[3] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[4]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, why would he link the resurrected Christ with Adam? No – he tacitly assumes Jesus was really, physically raised.

2 – Jesus Resurrection Body is Like What Our Future Resurrection Body Will Be Like

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[5] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s.

Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives Will Be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[6] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[7]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body to his readers in Corinth. Yet Paul’s not writing about the nature of the body at all. Rather, he’s talking about what empowers the body – is it just soul, or spirit? In his argument, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[8]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Conspiracy theories about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts therefore are not grounded; the earliest Christians (like Paul) did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[3] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[4] Wright, 354.

[5] Wright, 355.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wright, 354.

Curious Evidence for the Claimed Resurrection of Jesus

When considering the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, one thing often overlooked is the lack of a second burial.

In ancient Jerusalem, families often shared tombs where deceased family and friends were laid on stone shelves. Bodies were “wrapped in grave-cloths along with a significant amount of spices, to offset the smell of putrification, on the usual assumption that other shelves in the cave would be required soon.”[1] Then after a year, the family would return and “collect the bones, fold them reverently and carefully…and place them in an ossuary.”[2] This would count as the second burial and cleared tomb space for future burials.

Here’s the interesting thing – no account exists of a second burial for Jesus’ body.

  • If the data existed, wouldn’t the enemies of Christianity have pointed to it?
  • Jesus’ life was carefully documented, why would the second burial also be written down?

What is written down casts doubt that a second burial ever occurred at all.

  • At the precise time the second burial should have occurred, the record talks about his friends “proclaiming him as Messiah…on the grounds that he had been raised from the dead.”[3]
  • Also at this time, the Christian church’s persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus and become a Christian evangelist.

 

Perhaps the reburial happened privately so wasn’t documented. Could Jesus’ disciples have stolen the body as a way of concocting a resurrection myth?

  1. Why? No-one in first century Judaism expected resurrections to work this way, so why would they concoct something they weren’t expecting?
  2. This implicates the disciples in a coverup. Yet the historical record establishes high confidence that many were martyred for their Christian faith. “Lying about something is a poor thesis for being a martyr.”[4]
  3. How does this explain Saul going from persecutor to Christian evangelist?
  4. If Jesus was still dead when Christianity erupted in the city where he was killed and buried, why wasn’t his dead body produced by the authorities to stop the Christians from preaching his resurrection?

 

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, so we cannot be 100% sure. But given the history of the early Christian church combined with Saul’s conversion, isn’t it reasonable to posit that there’s no evidence of Jesus’ second burial because no body remained and days after his public execution, the tomb was empty, and friends and enemies alike did encounter him alive again in a new way?[5]

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 707.

[2] Wright, 708.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Evidence for the Empty Tomb, The Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas, in the Credo Courses, accessed May 6th, 2017, http://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 2:32.

Why Does the Claimed Resurrection of Jesus Matter?

aaron-burden-40490-unsplash

Why do Christians make a big deal about the resurrection of Jesus? The claims made in the Bible texts are that Jesus was conclusively killed on a Roman cross, but that a few days later he was conclusively experienced as being alive by multiple hundreds of people. Why should I care about this odd claim? After all – odd things happen every day. This resurrection report was made a long time ago. Why is this report any more significant than any other unexplained phenomena that happens today in our mad world?

I’d suggest that it is because this is not just an isolated, strange event. Rather – it is a central part of a sequence of events that has been trans formative for this world as a whole. I’m talking about the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

What I’m saying here is – the events surrounding Jesus – point to God’s existence, and Jesus identity as God’s Son…saviour of the world. So…how does that work?

1 – Jesus made some very bombastic claims about himself.

I’ll summarise some of those below.

2 – The historical record points to Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection from the dead.

3 – Given these premises, we can conclude not only that God exists but God verified the bombastic claims that Jesus made about himself and therefore Jesus identity.

So first then, what bombastic claims did Jesus make about himself?

In a religious, monotheistic culture (ancient Israel), Jesus made two mind bending claims:

1 – That he personally had the authority to forgive people’s sins.

For example, “[Jesus] said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ ….’[Some people thought] he’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”[1]

2 – That he personally is deity, that he is God.

He did this in many complex ways that Jewish hearers would understand by calling himself the Son of Man and the Son of God. One brief incident that makes more sense to Western ears is found in John’s gospel, “before Abraham was born, I am!”[2]

3 – What people do with Jesus – determines where we will spend eternity.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[3]

No other ancient religious founder that we know of has done this. Jesus wasn’t following the common trend of religious leaders saying, “I’ve got important words here you must listen to.” No – Jesus was different. He said, “I am personally those words of life.” I’m the saviour.

Some might suppose – maybe Jesus was a cosmic prankster, a twisted person taking advantage of people’s ancient, religious naivety? Well – sure – you can claim that. But you won’t have any historical evidence to support your claim. And you will have a lot of evidence to the contrary that you’ll have to refute!

Second, why do I say the historical record points to Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection?

I’ve laid out some key parts of this historical record in another blog here.

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/respondblogs-do-any-natural-explanations-for-the-resurrection-work/

In summary, these two premises lead me to conclude that it’s no accident Jesus resurrection happened. It wasn’t just a random, unexplained event. There was purpose here, it happened for a reason. God exists and he is verifying Jesus’ identity, and the truth of what he did and said in his life.

Because Jesus’ resurrection happened at a point in time, we can conclude not just that God exists, but that Jesus claims about himself are true and so Christianity is also true. Jesus is the saviour of the world.

That’s one big reason why Christians make a noise about Jesus’ resurrection.

Media from unsplash.com

Blog adapted from Gary Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus, Credo Courses, http://www.credocourses.com.

[1] Mark 2:5-6, NIV.

[2] John 8:58, NIV.

[3] John 14:6, NIV.

Persuading the Right Way

night

Apologists often have a bad reputation. The term “Christian Apologist” is used by some people as an insult, a reason for eye rolling and derision. Perhaps part of the cause is that apologetics is about persuasion. It’s about giving a reasoned defence for Christian belief in a way that shows the vital importance of Christ, and the decision to believe in Him. Yet many people who attempt this fail to do so in a firm but respectful way. Hence the bad reputation.

 

“But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

 

Apologetics is all about persuasion…not railroading. Respectful reasoning, not manipulation. So, how do apologists make sure they persuade in a HEALTHY way? After all, its possible to simply try to railroad people, to force something at them. I’ve had the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door just like everyone else. But frankly, taking their approach with historic Biblical Christianity does not help the cause of Christ or respect the person we are talking to.

 

In a recent Straight Thinking podcast, Ken Samples asks the question, “How do you stop apologetics becoming propaganda?”[1]

 

PROPAGANDA: “The spreading of ideas, information or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause or a person.” – Mirriam-Webster dictionary

 

I run an apologetic blog that seeks to persuade people of the truth and importance of historical biblical Christian belief. But I certainly don’t want to injure anyone or look like I’m doing so! And yet, in my urgency for the other person to become a Christian I can easily find myself thinking less critically about an issue than I should. And frankly, who wants to talk to someone who thinks they are always right, and railroads everyone toward adopting their own personal position on an issue?

 

Ken Samples gives six helpful insights that should help the necessary enterprise of Christian apologetics avoid looking like the spread of religious propaganda:

 

1 Be Careful and Fair Minded with Other People’s Ideas

This is Ken’s golden rule, and one I can only aspire to! Always treat other people’s opinions in a fair-minded way. Be a charitable person, giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Take the time to understand your opponent’s argument. After all, we must understand our opponent’s views before we can decide whether we agree with them or not.

If we are not listening to what that person is saying, we will slip into the Straw Man fallacy…where we intentionally or unintentionally distort what they are saying to make it easier to dismiss.

Practical – take the time to restate the person’s position back to them to check we understand it.

 

2 Stay On Topic When Responding To Another Person’s Argument

The escaped convict who covers himself in smelly fish is a wise person. Because when the prison guards send the dogs out after them, those dogs will be distracted by the smell of fish…giving the convict an advantage and opportunity to escape.

When we fail to stay on topic in a discussion, it looks like we are adopting this tactic…distracting the person…engaging in the red herring fallacy. It’s frustrating when other people do that to us (it REALLY is!)

Practical –  when we reach a blockage in our discussion is – rather than changing the topic – is to ask questions. How did your last statement fit into your overall argument? And listen and engage with their response.

 

3 Give an Honest and Fair-Minded Assessment of all the Evidence Supporting an Opponent’s Position

Don’t suppress positive or negative evidence. Admit the difficulties in your own position and don’t seek to shield an argument making it appear one sided. Generously expose all sides of the argument.

At the same time – fight vigorously on the side of the answers and don’t be tempted to paint them as just one other opinion amongst many.

Practical – stop when you find yourself starting to say that they have everything wrong. Think about this. This person has not got everything wrong. Some points will be right.

 

4 Identify Common Ground with People

Where can we agree? This is not just good manners and kind conversation…its also important when discussing important differences in opinion.

Practical – find areas of common ground and invest time talking about them.

 

5 Recognize that Everyone Has Positive Information to Share

In biblical terms, every person on earth is a recipient of God’s common grace. We all can see the natural world, and make inferences about the cause. We all have some God initiated truths embedded within us.

Practical – notice when the other person highlights this positive information and underline it as something you share with them.

 

6 Fairly Evaluate Differences

This is tough to do, and takes time. It’s evidence of a scholarly attitude.

Ken says one of the ways he does this is to approach disagreement this way. “Here are four arguments against my position. I don’t think they carry weight and I will tell you why.”

Practical – whenever looking for a quote from someone who’s position you seek to challenge, always seek out the best quote. And make sure it IS a real quote…have the reference to hand to prove it.

 

 

 

In summary, I think Ken’s dead right. There’s a right way and a wrong way to persuade. I for one want to become more skilled at doing it the right way.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] Ken Samples, Straight Thinking: Apologetics vs Propaganda, accessed 2nd February 2018, https://reasons.org/explore/multimedia/rtb-podcast/read/rtb-podcast/2018/01/10/straight-thinking-apologetics-vs-propaganda.

Nature and Reason Point to the Existence of God

road-sun-rays-path

Richard Swinburne proposed this argument for the existence of God[1] during a debate at Oxford University. His argument’s uses an approach called “natural theology” because it appeals to nature and human reason when arguing for the existence of God.

 

I often hear people dismiss the idea of God. “We just don’t know”, they say. Swinburne appeals to nature, and to human reason, and takes issue with this claim.

 

Swinburne’s proposition is that God is a personal being. Clearly, we are too. But unlike us, God has no limits or constraints placed upon him.

 

Further, God’s also perfectly good and free from irrational inclinations. Unfortunately, we can’t consistently do the right and good thing. Partly, that’s because we don’t always do the rational thing. There are many complicated reasons for this. But God’s not subject to this limitation – we might not fully understand why he does certain things (he’s God and we’re not) but God acts on reason always. He’s free – and he is good.

 

Swinburne proposes that if this God exists and is responsible for the universe – then that would explain two interesting observations.

1 – that there IS a physical universe in the first place.

2 – the Universe is governed by laws (captured by theories like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity).

These laws mean that every single particle in the universe has the same power and liability to influence any other particle in the universe.

 

 

Why would Swinburne’s description of God explain the existence of our ordered universe?

First – a good God would naturally seek to bring about good things. Fundamentally, human beings are intended as good things. It’s good for me that we all exist…and its good for you too. Of course, we face choices on how to treat each other. And we don’t always choose the good thing. But – its good for us that God has delegated this choice to us. We have free will because God intended it that way.

 

Second – for beings like us to exist, God must provide the necessary conditions. We are limited beings, embodied and our physical bodies require a physical universe.

If we are to be able to act as free beings in this universe, it has to be an ordered and regular universe. Not a chaotic one. What does this mean?

1 – we can predict what will happen. For example, if I feed you then – all things being equal – you will live. If I poison you…you will die.

2 – in a chaotic universe, it wouldn’t matter what I did…I would never actually know how it might affect you…. either positively or negatively. A regular universe is required for us to see how things behave. And this regularity is captured by certain laws, like physical laws, and these lead to general principles. For example, food nourishes and poison kills.

 

Swinburne’s claim is – if this sort of God exists – then you would expect to have a universe which is ordered.

 

 

What if there wasn’t a God like this. Would we expect this sort of ordered universe?

First – think about our physical universe.

Every particle of matter stretching across our mind-bendingly vast universe. Not only do these particles of matter exist in the first place…they are completely regular. Each and every one is composed of the same sub-atomic building blocks and behaves exactly the same way.

Now – how likely would this be if there was no God? Wouldn’t this be a bit like winning the lottery…not once…but a trillion-trillion times in perfect sequence?

Yet some people who do not believe in God might say – that’s just how the universe is.

But to believe that every particle of matter behaves as every other particle of matter – yet then proceed to decide that this state of affairs doesn’t require a meaningful explanation – seems deeply unscientific.

1 – you are faced with an overwhelmingly enormous number of coincidences.

2 – you can explain them all by a very simple explanation – there is a God.

3 – to stop at the coincides and to live with them, flies in the face of the scientific method.

 

So – we have data about how our universe is structured and behaves. Matter exists, and there are conscious beings who are able to recognise and analyse that fact. If there’s a God, you would expect that data. If there’s no God – if the physical laws are somehow ultimate and there’s nothing and no one beyond them – then you would not expect this data. It’s just astronomically unlikely.

 

Second – think about human moral choice.

We are faced with the choices whether to help or hinder other people…to hurt or to benefit. I face this choice, and evil results when I abuse the privilege of this choice. God’s good, and he’s interested in making people who are good and who will live forever.

The way human beings work, the choices we repeatedly make form our characters. Every time we choose to do the good and right thing, its easier to make that choice again. Likewise, every time we compromise, its easier to compromise in the future. God allows us the freedom to make these choices – but his goal is to help us develop good character.

So – what about human suffering, then? The fact that human beings suffer seems to fly in the face of this. Does suffering disprove the existence of God because it takes away human moral choice?

Well – to develop good character, we must have serious problems to face and to overcome. If I become ill, then the question is how will I deal with this? Will I grow in resentment and become a negative influence on the people around me? Or – will I face this challenge good naturedly?

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that God would provide difficult situations as an opportunity – during our limited time on this planet – to give us the chance to develop a good character? While this does not cover all issues related to human suffering, it poses a serious challenge to me. How will I choose to respond when I am suffering?

So – human freedom – and the choice to build a good or reprobate character – points to the existence of God.

 

 

In summary – this is the sort of world you would expect to have if there was a God. If there was no God – it would just be unbelievable that such a world would exist.

Therefore – on that basis – Swinburne proposes that there is a God.

 

 

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

[1] Richard Swinburne, Religion Helps Society | Richard Swinburne | Oxford Union, OxfordUnion, Youtube, accessed 23rd January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QXll-_qhQ.

Distinguishing Education from Propaganda

education-a-good-idea-an-array-of-school-40382

There’s something about true education that is just GOOD…intrinsically good. We are built with a need to LEARN. To feed ourselves with ideas that are filled with truth and goodness and beauty.

There’s a danger though. We can think we are educating ourselves, when in fact we are taking on board something else that’s called propaganda. What’s the difference between education…and propaganda? How do we tell the difference?

The Oxford dictionary defines propaganda as “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

There’s a lot of this in the public domain today. Sometimes it feels like everyone is out to persuade us of something! Well…I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do persuasion.

 

So – what’s the difference between these two? How do we tell healthy education apart from misleading propaganda? Let’s inform ourselves…so we know what we are feeding on.

I heard this discussion with Ken Samples, and found it very helpful.[1]

 

 

Education promotes learning, Propaganda is all about manipulation and distortion

We can learn by ourselves, or a teacher can instruct us. Either way…true learning is something done by an individual. A teacher’s job is to help the student in their self discovery. The teacher’s not there to manipulate or distort the issues. That’s simply passing on propaganda.

 

Education introduces the controversies and disagreements, Propaganda shields people from disagreement

This comes up a lot in religious groups. There are many theories about God, for example. To be an educator, involves exposing people to the truth of that so that we can understand why not everyone agrees.

It’s important that historic Christianity has been challenged on what it believes, because in responding to these controversies, it has clarified what the Christian position is on important issues (like the identity of Jesus).

There’s a danger that Christians can lapse from education into propaganda. Because we want people to believe the truth of the gospel, we can choose to air brush out the disagreements that have occurred in the past. We’re not being malicious – we don’t want to confuse anyone.

BUT – at the same time – we’re still passing on propaganda, not true education.

 

Education teaches the strengths and weaknesses of a position, Propaganda only focuses on the strengths

 

Education teaches you HOW to think, propaganda teaches you WHAT to think

Unfortunately, when we have been fed a continue diet of propaganda, we become people with very narrow views.

The more you educate yourself, the wider the issues open up for you and the more reasonable a position you can adopt and then defend.

 

Education involves talking about consequences, Propaganda just talks about the advantages

We see this all the time in advertising. Because there’s only a short time window in which to sell their product to us, they do the best job of focussing solely on the reasons why we should buy their product.

But there are going to be positive and negative consequences to choosing this product. And education about its value will look honestly at both.

 

Education encourages inquiry and dialogue, Propaganda discourages inquiry and dialogue

When you are listening to someone talk, ask yourself…what is their intention?

Are they saying, “I just want you to accept my view?” Or are they seeking to persuade while at the same time encouraging you to do your own work exploring this area?

A true educator – wants us to do our own enquiry…to engage with these issues and reach our own conclusions. To become people who engage in critical thinking.

 

Education is focused on the individual, Propaganda is focused on the masses

We see this played out in Nazi Germany. There was a concerted program there of making the state big in everyone’s minds, while the individual was actually minimized. What value are my opinions, when everyone else is saying this?

Joseph Goebbels said “Tell a lie long and loud enough, and people will believe it.”

This is the ad populum fallacy…a proposition must be true because most people believe it. Yes – most people believe it. But they just might be very wrong.

 

Conclusion

People are built to take on education. This is good and right. Yet we need to learn to distinguish between true education, and mere propaganda. We need to be able to tell the difference…so we can recognize propaganda when we hear it. And choose to reject the unhealthy ideas and seek what’s true, good and beautiful instead.

As a Christian, I want to help people to grow in discernment, to become fair minded lovers of the truth. This means that I must carefully avoid the trap of propaganda…and instead become a true educator.

 

Image from Pixabay, https://www.pexels.com/photo/good-idea-text-40382/.

[1] Straight Thinking: Education vs Propaganda, Reasons to Believe, January 2, 2018, http://reasons.org/explore/multimedia/rtb-podcast/read/rtb-podcast/2018/01/02/education-vs-propaganda, accessed January 15, 2018.