RESPONDblogs: Darwin’s Doubt

Darwin-Doubt2

Western culture has soaked in the theories of Neo Darwinian Evolution for 150 years. Particularly common descent, the tree of life. And yet many people in scientific roles who are studying the origins of life are beginning to have the courage to stand up and challenge the long held assumptions of Neo Darwinism.

 

My background is Computer Science, not Biology. I’ve never been convinced by traditional Darwinism. Clearly life adapts, it is designed to be able to do so. But that does not mean all life can be traced to a single ancestor. I see evidence in Biology for the adaption of species, not the origin of species.

 

Philosopher of Science, Dr. Stephen C Meyer, would agree with me…for better and more thoughtful reasons! He helped to found the Center for Science and Culture. This is NOT a religious organization. This is an organization focussed on examining the evidence we have, building scientific models to help understand past processes and predict future outcomes in Biology.

 

“We are the institutional hub for scientists, educators, and inquiring minds who think that nature supplies compelling evidence of intelligent design. We support research, sponsor educational programs, defend free speech, and produce articles, books, and multimedia content.”[1]

 

Dr. Meyer points out that, contrary to the prevailing theories, the fossil record does not show gradual evolution. It shows “sudden” life emergence.

Evolutionary Biologists have to cope with the observable evidence of “sudden” life emergence from the Cambrian period. Multiple animal phyla appear “suddenly” during a very narrow period of geological time. By “sudden”…they are talking about millions of years. But this is certainly not long enough for the evolution of a complex protein by traditional Darwinian models…never mind the formation of a complete life form like Anomalocaris.

 

Why not zoom into the summary below for more…?

darwins-doubt-3

 

I am a fan of following the evidence where it leads in all areas of life. And I’m watching what Dr. Meyer says closely.

[1] http://www.discovery.org/id/

RESPONDblogs: Does Evidence of Jesus’ Miracles Exist Outside of the Bible?

resurrection.power

Earlier today, someone said this to me:

“There is historical evidence for Jesus crucifixion…but not any of his miracles.”

As those words hit me, I groaned inside. Why? Because I think this guy is just expressing something that is mistakenly assumed by so many skeptics of Christianity.

 

I try to reach a skeptical audience with this blog – i’m not always successful. Having said that…it strikes me that, if I’m a Biblical skeptic, i’m not going to be too impressed by evidence of Jesus miracles from the pages of the Bible itself. So…what about evidence of Jesus miracles OUTSIDE the pages of the Bible? Does any of this corroborating evidence exist…evidence that supports the evidence in the Bible?

Well – I explored some of the earliest reporting from those who were hostile to Jesus here. A priori knowledge about Jesus and his supernatural status is being explained away by some of these skeptical reports. If this is a boot print in history, then the nature defying Jesus of the New Testament is that boot.

You can find more interesting details on how the early enemies of Jesus viewed him here:

Josephus

Tacitus

Suetonius

 

But the extra-Biblical evidence of a supernatural Jesus goes further.

Archaeologists have also uncovered evidence suggesting that the followers of Jesus did not simply view him as a good man…they worshipped him as God.

 

Alexamenos-Graffiti

First – the earliest portrayal of Jesus Christ we are aware of is a piece of graffiti that is drawn with the intention of insulting Jesus and Christians in general. It shows a man with a donkey’s head being crucified…and another man standing to the side with one hand outstretched. Beneath this is written in Greek, “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

Weird, eh? But actually, the early Christian claims of a crucified God were viewed as ridiculous. The Christian claim that Jesus rose from the dead was treated with as much scepticism then as it is viewed by so many today. This graffiti qualifies as ancient satire, it was drawn to poke fun at the early Christians. And it corroborates an important fact. Early Christians – strict monotheists – worshiped Jesus. What would cause strict monotheistic Jews who worshipped Yahweh…to worship Jesus?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Second – two inscriptions found on ossuaries (jars containing skeletal remains) dated around AD 50 – are actually prayers addressed to Jesus…asking for his help. Mark Mittleberg asks a penetrating question. “How is it that Jesus – if he never lived or never rose from the dead – is invoked in prayer a mere twenty years after his death?”[1]

 

Where does this leave us? Well – if we are willing to look – corroborating evidence supports the claim of the New Testament. Specifically – that Jesus lived, he died, he rose from the dead and his followers worshipped him as God; they genuinely and honestly initiated the spread of Christianity.

If the history is right…and Jesus rose from the dead as the New Testament Gospels affirm…then it confirms His recorded claims to be God Himself. Why? Because the thing that eventually masters each and every one of us – death – has no power over Him. In the light of that…wouldn’t it make sense to bring our lives under His love and care?

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29, NIV

 

[1] Mark Mittleberg, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Tyndale House 2010, 77.

RESPONDblogs: Responding to the “Magical Jesus” Accusation

water to wine

I was speaking recently to another blogger about Jesus Christ. Jesus – the man of history, referred to in history and followed by Christians all over the world. She said that she thought Christians worshipped a magical Jesus. Someone who is not actually found in the pages of history at all. But rather – is simply the result of exaggeration and Church manipulation down thru the centuries. What she was saying was this – the miracle working Jesus must be legendary…because reports of miraculous events always are! This is legend – not history. The Jesus you worship, Stuart, is therefore not real.

 

Now I guess she is referring to the many miracle claims that the New Testament makes about Jesus life. The ones people probably remember are…turning water into wine at the wedding in Canna, feeding of the 5000…and his physical resurrection from the dead. But the New Testament records many many more.

 

Is my friend right? Is this a mythical construct superimposed on a real person?

 

Well here’s the interesting thing. In the surviving ancient historical sources that document the miracles of Jesus – none of them deny that these miracles occurred. They all assume that they did. They only dispute the reasons for their occurrence.

 

So – for example – the Jewish Talmud (certainly not favourable to the person of Jesus Christ…after all it was the Jewish religious establishment who had him crucified in the first place) says this:

 

“On the eve of Passover they hung Jeshu the Nazarine. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying]: “Jeshu the Nazarine will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel.”[1]

Now – notice. The Jewish people recorded their traditions in the Talmud. The manuscripts that survive today in printed form give a fascinating insight into the ancient Jewish assessment of the Jesus who lived amongst them. David Instone-Brewer believes what we have here is the actual charge sheet read out against Jesus prior to his crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government.

The problem that the Jews had with Jesus – is that he did miraculous deeds! The underlying assumption of the Talmud – is just this fact. They accuse him of “sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel” so their assumption was that his miraculous deeds themselves were coming from an evil source (not Yahweh). But the assumption remains in this ancient account from the enemies of Jesus – he worked miracles just as the New Testament explains in detail.

Christians aren’t worshipping a legendary construct – we are worshipping a historical person.

 

Another example is – the Greek intellectual Celsus. He “attacks Christianity with force and ridicule.”[2] Writing in the second century, Celsus criticizes Christianity and Jesus in particular. He says this, “having tried his hand at certain magical powers, Jesus returned from there (Egypt), and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God.”[3]

 

Again – we have an enemy of Christianity assuming that the miracle reports were true, but trying to explain them away by some other means. In this case, Celsus decides that Jesus must have learned his special abilities from Egyptian magicians.

 

Christians don’t worship a magical Jesus. They worship the man whose miracles are documented from the first century.

 

A third source is Josephus. Scholars have decided that the passage about Jesus in Antiquities 18 has been interpolated by medieval Christians (added to and embellished), yet a general consensus of opinion amongst scholars is that the original text from Josephus can be clearly uncovered….

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonders…”[4]

Geza Vermes, a Jewish professor from Oxford University says, “For Christians Jesus was the miracle working Son of God. For later, hostile Jews he was a magician. Josephus stands in the middle: for him Jesus was a wise man and a performer of extraordinary deeds.”[5]

 

But notice again the underlying assumption. As John Dickson summarises the situation…

“There can be little doubt, in other words, that friend and foe alike thought Jesus to be a wonder-worker of some kind.”[6]

 

I have pointed to 3 sources – scholars point to seven, independent sources that document Jesus as a doer of wonders. Including the New Testament documents themselves which are prized by Historians for both their early date, their incredibly good preservation through the centuries (thousands of extant manuscripts), and the clear statement of intent in these documents – they were written so that we would believe in the resurrected Jesus.

“Historians…do not privilege the New Testament texts, as Christians do, but nor do they approach them with sceptical prejudice. The Gospels are treated like any other historical text of the first century, whether those of Tacitus or Josephus…The fact is, mainstream experts overwhelmingly agree that the core of the gospel narrative is historically sound.”[7]

 

But what about other ancient historical people who claimed magical powers for themselves. Should we be convinced by those too?

Let’s look at an example. Apollonius was born in Tyana, Turkey and travelled widely preaching Neo-pythagorean philosophy. He is also reported to have performed countless wonders – including raising a child from the dead.

The problem with these reports – is that there are no reports as such. We do not have the wealth of independent early evidence that we have for the life of Jesus. The stories about Apollonius come from a single source – Life of Apollonius, written in the third century over one hundred years after Apollonius’ death. In comparison to this, the reports of Jesus life are like a 21st century excited tweet from the scene itself.

 

Is my friend right? Is the miracle working Jesus an elaborate, ahistorical construct designed to mislead the gullible? Not according to the enemies of Christianity in the first and second century. Not at all. Many will dispute these early reports of Jesus life and his miracles. But what we cannot claim…is that legend has built up over time about a “magical” Jesus. The earliest historical evidence does not permit it.

[1] David Instone-Brewer and Peter J. Williams, “Expert Evidence on the Crucifixion of Jesus,” accessed May 12th 2015, http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/expert-evidence-on-the-crucifixion-of-jesus.

[2] John Dickson, The Christ Files: How Historians Know What they Know about Jesus, Zondervan, 35.

[3] Ibid.

[4] James Tabor, “Josephus on John the Baptizer, Jesus and James,” Tabor Blog, accessed May 12th 2015, http://jamestabor.com/2012/08/12/josephus-on-john-the-baptizer-jesus-and-james/.

[5] John Dickson, Life of Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters, Zondervan, 63.

[6] Ibid., 83.

[7] Ibid., 40.

 

RESPONDblogs: Avengers Age of Ultron Movie Review

avengers

Short and sweet – I think Joss Whedon did a fine job given the conditions he was labouring under. You have got to hand it to him…this guy has VISION. His movie is vast in its scope.

It sounds like Marvel was brutal in forcing him to cut out (and therefore rend as confusing) the Thor subplot. Which is a shame…as it plays into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a BIG way (infinity stones, people). But hey…some of the best scenes in this movie still riffed on Thor and Mjolnir. Fantastic.

Having seen the movie twice, the thing that stuck out strangely to me…is Joss’s constant quoting of the New Testament thru the film. Is each instance dripping with irony? Well…sometimes…especially when it is Ultron who is speaking. But the childlike Vision echoes both Jesus and Yahweh in a much more innocent way.

I’ve not heard Joss talking about spiritual things. But he is a student of human nature. And I do hope he has time in his busy schedule to consider eternal things. They are coming to us all…

 

This blog is not a great AAOU movie review. But here IS a great AAOU movie review. Kevin Ott has (imho) knocked it out of the park. Enjoy…

 Avengers Age of Ultron Christian Movie Review

RESPONDblogs: Christianity Must Lead to War – Busting the Myth

religion and war

Myth? You’re kidding…right? Everyone knows that religion…especially Christianity…has caused terrible wars down thru history. And this is why many people choose not to be Christians.

 

Sure – many people reject Christianity. And many do so because of the violence that Christians have wrought throughout human history.

 

But please consider this perspective for a second? Perhaps It’s not actually religion that causes violence and war. It is people who start war; violence is at roota human problem that inflicts both the religious and the irreligious. YET…and with a large dose of irony…there is still hope…!

 

My focus in this blog…as a Christian…is specifically Christianity. Why? Because it’s unique amongst all other faith systems; only Christianity reveals the God who is seeking people out personally to save them. I won’t speak for other faith systems…I will speak for Christianity.

 

And I start with this. No violence is acceptable for a Christian. I am NOT going to attempt to justify or defend the atrocities committed by Christians from the past. I will however say this. In my experience, Christian people suffer the same tendency TOWARDS violence as other human beings who are not Christian. We all have hearts that need changing. BUT – there is hope…

 

So how do I propose to argue that Christianity does not cause war?

First – Christianity’s Critics Exaggerate Christian Violence

I would suggest that Christianity’s critics exaggerate the past in order to misrepresent the behaviour of violent, misguided Christians from the past.

John Dickson has researched two sad but specific examples of Christian violence over the last 600 years.

1 The Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition)

It began in the 15th century and lasted for 350 years. It is commonly claimed that hundreds of thousands of heretics were killed during this people. The facts paint a different picture.

“in its 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year.”[1]

That’s 18 deaths a year too many…I agree! But a lot less than the hundreds of thousands that are often claimed.

 

2 The Northern Ireland Troubles

This thirty year conflict, beginning in 1968, claimed the lives of less than 4,000 people…though many more were injured physically and psychologically over this time. The BBC history website reports, “During the Troubles, the scale of the killings perpetrated by all sides – republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.”[2]

Having lived through this time, it was terrible in so many senses. Almost 4,000 deaths were too many.

 

 

Second – Secular Conflict is Worse than Religious Violence Yet this Fact is Downplayed

Let’s bring a bit of perspective here. And as I do so…I would suggest that the results of purely secular conflicts are downplayed because they are so much MORE bloodthirsty than the religious ones.

1 The French Revolution

The secular French Revolution between September 1793 and July 1794 happened in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

“As many people were executed…in a single year of the Revolution…as were killed in the entire three decades of the ‘troubles’”[3].

 

2 Secular 20th Century Wars

World War 1 (the war to end all wars) caused an estimated 8,000,000 deaths.

World War 2 was much worse; 35,000,000 deaths.

Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic regime killed at least 20,000,000 people. This means more people died under Stalin each and every week…than died as a result of the entire 350 year history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Atheist Paul Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge, “led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention centre, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived.”[4]

 

Third – Violence is Not Particular to Christianity. It is a common Human Problem

These figures are both tragic and mind boggling. But they paint an obvious picture. BOTH religion and irreligion can inspire hatred. Yet the irreligious violence tends to be MUCH MORE SEVERE than the violence from Christians.

 

Christian violence is a sad historical fact. So is secular violence – which is much worse than the Christian violence.

This points to my thesis that – violence is a human problem; we all are affected. In other words – the suggestion that Christianity CAUSES war…is simply a myth. The problem is the human heart….not Christianity or Christian belief. Can we call this myth “BUSTED” now…?

 

 

 

YET – ironically there is STILL HOPE for Humankind

Where is the hope that I promised at the beginning of this blog? Well – the hope will not appear if mankind succeeds in stamping out Christianity (as some have suggested). The hope comes when we become more true to Christianity. Hence the irony.

Why do I say that?

I know lots of lovely people who are atheists. Some of my longest standing friends are atheists. Imagine a committed atheist who is convinced that we live in a cold merciless universe… the product of the blind forces of physics…nothing to look forward to than personal death followed eventually by solar heat death. If I try to put myself in that position, then I make an interesting observation. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, the atheist decision to love is nothing more than a personal preference. Surely because there is no God, and therefore no ultimate accountability for our actions, ANY kind of life is logically compatible with the atheist worldview?

While the atheist can live how he pleases, no such free choice lies before the Christian. We are commanded to love like He loves. “when Christians love, they do so in full accordance with their worldview that begins with the love of God and the inherent value of his much loved creatures.”[5] A Christian filled with hate is indeed a historical fact…but it is also clear logical defiance of the Christian worldview. A hate filled Christian makes no logical sense.

 

So where is the hope I referred to earlier?

Christianity doesn’t provoke war; it brings peace to all people. Eternal peace between us and God.

The solution for violent Christianity is REAL Christianity.

The solution for a violent world is not no religion…where love is logically nothing more than a good lifestyle choice. The solution is REAL Christianity; loving and following Jesus Christ in a fuller and more devoted way.

 

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Jesus Christ (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)

 

“The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion…The more Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and the more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be.”            – Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian)

 

“But why so many words when I can say it in one sentence, and in a sentence very appropriate for a Jew. Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only in words and songs but, rather, foremost in your deeds.” – Albert Einstein (deist)

[1] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 68.

[2] BBC History, “The Troubles 1968 – 1998”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles, accessed May 5th 2015.

[3] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 69.

[4] History, Pol Pot, History, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot, accessed May 5th 2015.

[5] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 70.

RESPONDblogs: HOPE for the Nepalese

sky

Sky News are reporting today that the death toll in Nepal has climbed to over 6 thousand lives. This earthquake has been incredibly severe. The death toll is mind boggling. And at Kingfisher Church – we are raising money to send to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

  • To help save the lives of the injured and sick,
  • To protect the vulnerable and the afraid.
  • To ensure that living conditions, food and clean water supply is made available to everyone on the ground there.

 

This is so important – and I urge you to join us by giving to the DEC Nepal Appeal.

 

And yet financial aid is not the only thing that Kingfisher is giving. We are also praying for the families who are struggling with the loss of family members…whole families…whole villages. We are praying…

  • That God would protect the vulnerable and ensure that the aid gets to where it is intended
  • For the safety of the aid workers who are battling incredible harsh conditions on the ground there.

We are praying for peace in the midst of the trauma.

 

 

Because the God I read about is one who is

 

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God” Psalm 68:5, NLT

 

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18, NIV

 

And yet one of the cynical internet memes that is doing the rounds right now…pours scorn on our prayers.

meme

It effectively says…why are we wasting our breath saying these prayers? Aren’t you responsible for this in the first place, God? If so…then praying to you makes no sense…and it is a waste of time.

 

As usual…memes like this one do oversimplify and miss the point entirely.

 

Why is it worth praying on behalf of the Nepalese to the God who is listening?

 

Well first…God may be responsible for the creation of the Universe and our Planet. But God is not responsible for…

 

1 – People deciding to live in dangerous regions of Planet Earth

I count myself as one of these people! Over the years, I have spent many weeks living in San Francisco. A beautiful and inspiring city. Yet one that has suffered terribly in past decades as a result of the shifting of the tectonic plates around the San Andreas Fault which passes thru the Bay there.

I guess you’ve got to live somewhere. My visits to the Bay area have been voluntary business trips. I have friends who live permanently in the Bay area themselves…and they choose to do so despite the risk. I have chosen to visit and spend time there…despite the risk.

Is this God’s fault? Not at all. It is my choice.

And unfortunately…the same is true for the Nepalese people (or at least their original anscestors). They live in an area marked by staggering beauty…the Himalayas must be a breath-taking sight. BUT – the mountain range is also testament to the very rapid movement of the plates that constitute the shell of the Planet in this region.

And they have decided to live there…despite the risk.

By the way…the science behind plate tectonics is pretty new; Lenny Esposito gives a brief rundown of it here. In summary, we have discovered that plate tectonics is part of what makes Earth habitable for humans. Earthquakes are necessary for people to survive. Further, scientists have mapped out the areas of the planet where earthquake activity is most likely…and therefore the areas which are most at risk. Some of these areas are at the bottom of the ocean…so pose no risk to humans (but do pose a risk to sea creatures). Unfortunately…other areas above sea level pose more of a risk to us.

 

 

2 – People deciding to ignore the warnings given of future Tectonic Plate activity

Geologists are not only discovering why plate tectonics is vital for life…and which areas are most at risk…they can even predict when future quakes are likely. The reality is that the predictions have been made in Nepal for twenty years. Warnings of a massive event have been repeated since the 1990s. As a Nepalese native himself…Lenny makes this point very clearly.

But the Nepalese people don’t need to examine the scientific evidence to know that an event is coming. The last devastating quake hit their region in 1934 and killed over 10,000 people. This is still in living memory for some people still alive today. Photographs exist and stories are still being told. The deadly 1934 event has now been joined by another deadly 2015 event.

Yet the Nepalese are proud of their country, and rightly so! These earthquakes…and the risk of devastation at the hands of nature…are part of Nepalese society. They are a wonderful people with a wonderful heritage…and their land is glorious to behold. The warning of future earthquake is simply a reminder to them of an aspect of what it is to be Nepalese.

 

Is this God’s fault? You cannot blame him for a tribe of people choosing to build their history on a dangerous spot on the planet. This doesn’t speak of God’s culpability; rather, it speaks of humanity’s courage and our ability to survive and thrive in a harsh and risky environment. And of people’s loyalty to the place of our birth, and our people there.

 

 

The meme is misled…God’s not responsible for this disaster.

 

 

3 – God is Responsible for Holding Out HOPE

God is – however – responsible for doing everything required to rescue mankind from a future that will lack all the blessings that we live with each and every day of our short lives.

Our world is affected by man’s rebellion against God.

Houses and dwellings in Nepal may well have been built without taking earthquake warnings to heed. Why? To make them cheaper to build…to turn a quicker profit while placing lives at risk. Sin is not just living as if God does not exist…it is also living as if other people don’t matter.

What has God done in response? Everything.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

 

Right now we struggle and groan… “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you violence! but you do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2)

 

And yet the Bible’s answer is found in Jesus Christ…God’s Son who came to bring us an eternal future.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour”  (Isaiah 61:1-3).

 

The Bible holds the answer to suffering people, folks.

As David Robertson says…what is the alternative? Just to shrug and say…”Bad stuff just happens?” Everything is random…so just suck it up? No – it’s not good enough! People are too vital and too important to be left to the vagaries of chance. God has made a way for us to know a wonderful future…which will eclipse our lives on this beautiful though dangerous planet.

 

 

He is the God who saves. And as a Christian…I want to copy God’s example as best I can. Hence the support of the financial appeal…hence the prayers.