RESPONDblog: Why Does God Hide?

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“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him?”

I know many people who just do not understand why my life features a God element to it. “Why do you spend so much time in churches, Stuart? I just don’t see the point…I just don’t see any evidence that God’s there.”

 

But sometimes they will go a step further. Not only doesn’t there seem to be any evidence for God…it seems to them that if He is there…God hides himself. And that just doesn’t make any sense. That’s just stupid.

“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him? To do the right thing? To worship Him?” Why would God hide himself from us? Unless the hiddenness of God is yet another reason to say that…actually God’s not hidden…he’s just not there at all?

 

What is interesting is that in the Bible, we see evidence that God does consciously hide himself. He doesn’t make his appearance too obvious to us.

 

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”[1]

 

In his book, “Why Does God Allow Evil”, Clay Jones makes an important observation about this seemingly counter intuitive truth about the Christian God. He’s not hidden because He’s not there…He’s hidden because He chooses to be.

 

Why?

 

Clay offers three reasons:

 

1 – Because if He was too obvious, then everyone would be compelled to call themselves Christians.

Often the sceptic thinks this is what Christians want. Well – it shouldn’t be – because it’s not what God wants. God honours our free will.

He doesn’t want to compel anyone to follow Jesus. Why? Because God intends each of us to exercise our God given freedom to choose.

Another way of putting this is – “if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakeable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge.”[2] If we are compelled to do the right thing because we are under constant supervision, then what does this mean? It means we aren’t free to do what we want to do. If there’s a fiery sword in the sky that comes down on anyone who breaks the rules – what will happen? We will have a human population that works hard NOT to get cut in half! People will feign loyalty to God as a survival strategy.

This isn’t what God wants. He wants people to choose willingly to follow Him.

 

2 – Because He gives enough evidence for those who want to know Him.

There are various instances in the Gospels where Jesus could have done more miracles to compel the people in a town to follow him. In one particular town, it was the religious people who demanded more of his credentials. Yet he refused. Why? Didn’t Jesus want to build up a crowd of followers…like the other rabble rousers in first century Jerusalem? No.

Jesus didn’t want to compel anyone. Rather, He gave enough to justify the belief of those who willingly chose to follow. But he didn’t give too much, and so force everyone else to feign loyalty….to pretend to follow on the outside, while growing in resentment on the inside.

Have you ever gone to a party unwillingly? Perhaps you didn’t know the host, or you knew them and were too polite…or dishonest…to say no to the invitation! How does that feel? Well – probably along the lines of, “When will this ordeal end?”

God gives enough evidence to nurture obedience and relationship…and nothing more. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out, but in the end he only wants people at the party who actually want to be there.

 

3 – Because if He was too obvious, people would be rendered spectators rather than obedient followers.

If God constantly intervened in the affairs of life, this would disempower us…not empower us.

Imagine you start a new job, and the boss is there to welcome you into your new position. But then – after your induction – he sits across the office and stares at you. Every email you write, every meeting you attend, every visit to the bathroom has to go through him…and he has to be there while you are doing it. What would you do?

I know what I would do – I wouldn’t stay in that job very long. Why? Because I’d start to second guess every email, every meeting…and possibly every toilet break! I’d start to say – tell you what – why don’t you write this email and run this meeting for me? Then you will get what you clearly want. If I’m employed to do something then I need to have the freedom to do it. I am accountable to the management – absolutely. But I can’t be micromanaged every step. If I am…I am disempowered. And that just doesn’t make sense.

God is not like that micromanager. He wishes to empower, not disempower. He’s wise enough to know how much is enough to get us started and moving in the right direction. But he does not smother us on the journey.

 

 

The thing about God as we find him in the Bible – is that he wants to know us. He wants a relationship based on choice and honesty. It’s not his plan to compel anyone in this. Instead, He draws us toward him. And maybe for us today…we’re not fully there yet. But know that – He is there, and He does long for you to be close with Him.

 

“I led them with chords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”[3]

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

[1] Isaiah 45:15.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers), 111.

[3] Hosea 11:4.

RESPONDblogs: Human Beings are Unique

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What are we?

 

I listened to an interesting talk recently from Simon Conway Morris, who is Chair of Evolutionary Paleo biology at the Dept. of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University.

 

He asks the question – are we essentially just more “evolved” animals that belong on Darwin’s incremental tree of life? Or is there something unique about people compared to the animals? However much time has elapsed, perhaps we aren’t just naturally selected incremental improvement? Rather – we are something different altogether.

 

Evolutionary theory has drummed into us that we are essentially no different from other animal species. We’re related to other hominids. We are just matter – we are physical – we are all related. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this idea.

 

Or are we? As Morris says, “Maybe it’s not as simple as that.”[1]

 

 

First – we often misunderstand the animals we invest our lives in.

Morris thinks we have a habit of reading ourselves into the animals we relate to. Our relationship with dogs is a perfect example of this, he says. We humanize them…and they are happy to play along with our delusion. But crucially – as Morris points out – the evidence suggests that dogs have no idea what is going on inside our minds. They react to stimuli – they learn what actions and objects mean and sound like. Nothing more.

 

Dogs live happy and fulfilled lives as our pets. But we are of a different order to them.

 

We are not the only intelligent species on the planet – but it seems that our consciousness is of a completely different order to anything else. We live in an extended universe – the animals are confined to a monotonic universe. And they are happy that it is so.

 

What experimental evidence does Morris appeal to in making this claim?

 

Second – Morris offers the following evidence:

 

1 – Humans Uniquely Understand Cause and Effect

There’s evidence that crows are very intelligent. An experiment has been done where the bird has to perform a task – drop stones into a container – in order to raise the water level so it can have a drink. The fascinating thing is – often the crow will work this out. It will find and deposit the stones to raise the water level.

It is tempting to assume then – that it understands cause and effect, that it gets the implication of what it’s doing. Unfortunately – when the conditions of the experiment change – it becomes clear that the crow doesn’t understand this.

Yes, it has memory, yes its intelligent. But no, it’s not building up an understanding of nature. It can do one thing well – and that involves survival.

 

2 – Humans Live in an Out of the Box Culture

We can think in terms of “analogy”; we are meta-thinkers that can work outside of the box. We explore seemingly unrelated ideas and come up with ingenious solutions to problems.

A simple example of this is – humans use tools. We employ them in many tasks, and the evidence suggests we have done this for a long time. Chimpanzees also use tools.

Yet we go beyond them; we live outside the box. We are the only species we know today that creates tools to build tools. What’s more, we rely on the discoveries and processes laid down by previous tool builders as we do so. Human culture is cumulative, it builds on itself.

Animals like chimpanzees don’t exhibit this behaviour at all. They use tools, they have a culture. But they don’t appear to KNOW they have a culture, and they don’t build tools to make tools.

Morris opines, “This sounds like a trivial difference. But it might be larger than we realize.”[2]

 

3 – Human Culture Features Teaching and Learning

Humans have a sophisticated approach to teaching. We have a self-referential pedagogical approach – the teacher observes the pupil and knows where their mind is currently at. Through observation, the teacher works to move the student forward to where they need to be. We intuitively sense the student’s mind.

Do animals? Morris refers to various species of Ant, Meercat and chimp. And the scientific observation to date suggests that which the animals instinctively develop habits and abilities, they do so in a simple way. Animals don’t go to University like humans do. We are of a different order.

Do animals have false beliefs about the world? Do they have a theory of mind? Current understanding says no, it doesn’t look like it.

 

4 – Human Language is Very Peculiar Indeed

Morris refers to Vervet Monkeys who have been observed to make sounds that seem to relate to other animals in their habitat like a leopard, a snake and an eagle. This sounds like it could be a proto-language, like the foundations of our own language capabilities?

Well, clearly, we have words that also refer to objects and concepts. This blog post is full of them! But our language isn’t just a more evolved version of the Vervet Monkey’s sound. Why?

Morris points to two peculiar aspects of human language:

  • We can say things that go beyond a single meaning. Our communication can have an infinite number of meanings, depending on the context it is used in.
  • We have a bottomless depth of rich imagination in human discussion. We easily move between factual and fictional statements. And we have the ability to create fictional worlds – completely unrelated to our own – where the reader can enter through their imagination. And the fictional world resonates deeply with them.

 

5 – Humans Apply Mathematics in a Unique Way

Experiments suggest that Guppy fish exhibit numericity. They are able to judge relative numbers in terms of distance and size.

For example, if some were to say – “Imagine you have a stone and a feather. How much do I have to add or remove from each to perceive a difference in their weights?” It turns out that I have to add or remove quite a lot from the stone, but not very much at all to the feather to notice a weight change. This is numericity…and Guppy fish can do something similar to this.

Is this proto-maths? Well, it’s called a psycho-physical sensory effect by the scientists. But to suggest it is proto-maths is nonsense to Morris.

Mathematics is a rich conceptual language that bridges the abstract and the physical. Maths:

  • involves abstract entities that don’t exist; numbers, complex numbers.
  • requires that we can do sums like addition and subtraction. Animals can’t seem to do that.

 

 

Conclusion

Are we just advanced chimpanzees? Morris suggests this well-worn message fails to recognize the uniqueness of human beings. It underplays our conscious, thinking abilities that came up with that inadequate theory in the first place.

Humans are of a different order to animals. We have “dominion over the natural world” and uniquely exhibit the characteristics of our Creator.[3] This is not just the Bible’s opinion, it is born out in our relation to those animals we were supposed to care for.

But aren’t we just physical beings like the animals? Is brain simply a biological computing engine? Morris thinks otherwise. He’s a substance dualist. Mind and brain are different aspects of human existence.

The physical human brain seems to be more than a biological information processing organ. It’s a filter. Our intangible, human mind exists independently of our physical bodies. Our brain is part of the mechanism we use for intercepting, exploring and harnessing what goes on in our minds.

People aren’t just more advanced than the animals. We’re built specially; we’re of a different order altogether.

 

Image courtesy of New Old Stock.

[1] Simon Conway Morris, The Emergence of Life, James Gregory Lectures on Science and Christianity, https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/james-gregory-lectures-on-science-and-christianity/id917410241?mt=2&i=1000382210716.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 1:26 – 27.

 

RESPONDblogs: PART 2 – Isaac Newton – Scientific Revolutionary…and…Theologian?

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In part 1 of this blog, I presented a case based on Isaac Newton’s published writings. I said that he was both:

  1. a brilliant scientific revolutionary and
  2. a passionate, counter-cultural believer in God

He passionately grappled with both Nature and Scripture to understand the God who’s influence he saw there. Even though his conclusions put him at risk from 17th century society’s heresy laws. He studied both of these revelations (nature and scripture) to the glory of God.

Why does this matter today? Well, I would suggest it matters for three reasons.

First, mankind’s greatest scientific mind believed passionately in God.

Newton’s influence can’t be understated in scientific terms. He laid the foundation of optics, he formulated the law of universal gravitation, and he invented calculus. His book Principia, “was one of the most important single works in the history of modern science.”[1]

And he embraced the theological implications of science. Faith and reason were not opposites to the brilliant mind of Isaac Newton. We cannot brush his religious faith under the carpet or frame it as simple and empty self-serving political posturing. Why? Because of the evidential passion of his belief in God that overflows in his private theological writings.

Since 2008, the Newton Project at Oxford University have been publishing the 2.2 million words of Newton’s religious works online. “The papers demonstrate that in this field Newton was a thinker of the highest calibre and intellectual daring, though our respect for his courage may well be tempered by the fact that he published almost nothing of it in his lifetime. “[2] We looked at that in more detail in part 1.

Holding both scientific and Christian perspectives on life made sense to Newton.

 

Second, Newton challenges us to follow his example.

He searched the scriptures trying to understand who his Creator was. He worked hard at it, and he held the Bible in high regard; he devoted his life to it. He spent more years writing Theology works than his works on nature.

If the greatest scientific mind can apply his reasoning abilities to God, then, why shouldn’t we? Are we saying we know better than him? Are we saying that belief in God is evidentially less reasonable in the 21st century than it was in the 17th century?

Some might suppose that, if Newton was alive today, he would be part of the ranks of the enlightened atheistic thinkers. After all, science has discovered so much more about how the Universe works now. Yes, it has. And as it has done so, it has stood atop Newton’s shoulders. In modern times, we do understand more about the Universe we live in. But one thing hasn’t changed. In fact, one thing is becoming much more pressing with each scientific discovery that we make. Newton understood that thing at his time, and he would no doubt have seen it more clearly now. What is that thing?

Evidence for God’s work is found in what we DO understand…not what we DON’T understand.

In speaking of the planets and their motion, Newton observed:

“To make this system therefore with all its motions, required a Cause which understood and compared together the quantities of matter in the several bodies of the Sun and Planets and the gravitating powers resulting …to compare and adjust all these things together in so great a variety of bodies argues that cause to be not blind and fortuitous, but very well skilled in Mechanics and Geometry….[this] system was the effect of choice rather than of chance”[3]

In other words, the fine-tuned mechanics of this system requires the influence of a skilled designer. Chance and natural alone is unable to account for the universe. Newton didn’t find evidence for God in the 17th century gaps of scientific knowledge. He found the evidence in the whole system of this universe. There’s no reason to suggest he would think any differently today.

Someone might complain, “But Stuart, he didn’t even agree with your basic tenants of Christianity! Are you saying he was right to do that?” He disagreed with the Christian belief in the Trinity for sure; God as Father, Son and Spirit. Personally, I’ve wrestled with various Christian doctrines throughout my life. I know what wrestling feels like. I’m not trying to somehow portray Isaac Newton as an evangelical Christian from the 21st century. What I am saying is that his reason led him to embrace and passionately wrestle with a personal belief in God as Creator involved with his creation. Newton was no deist. And he chose to spend his life diligently trying to understand the God who is present and active.

How about us?

 

 

3 – Newton puts a stake through the heart of the notion that science and God are incompatible

John Lennox, Professor of mathematics at Oxford University, says it so well.[4] He describes the supposed antipathy between science and religion as a myth. The real conflict is not between science and religion. It’s between theism and naturalism.

We can see that as we review the winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics. There have been winners who are Christians; there have been winners who are atheists. If belief in God is irrational, then what’s a Christian doing winning a Nobel Prize?  Clearly the battle does not involve science.

Actually, it is a battle of opposing world views. It’s a conflict between two beliefs:

  • naturalism (the universe is all there is) and
  • theism (God created the universe with creatures who are both material and spiritual at the same time)

The point is that neither theism or naturalism are statements of science, they are both statements of belief. When Newton makes a case for God, that’s not science speaking, it’s Newton. When the brilliant Richard Hawking, famed modern scientist, makes a case for atheism that’s not science speaking, it’s just Hawking.

The reality is, faith is essential to science. I come to a place of trust in a position, and I reason on the basis of my trust. Faith and reason closely work together. And in Newton, we see that faith in God is the motor that drove science forward.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this; is there evidence for my belief? How trustworthy is my belief? Why do I believe it? Because it’s going to influence my life.

And it’s here we reconnect with Isaac Newton.

“Don’t doubt the Creator, because it is inconceivable that accidents alone could be the controller of this universe.”

Science and belief in God are not enemies; theism and naturalism are.

 

4 – Newton’s big question is – how good is the evidence for my belief?

Here’s a final example, again from Lennox[5].

Stephen Hawking has until recently held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. And he’s an atheist. He believes that the Universe came from nothing. The existence of gravity, naturally will result in the formation of the universe. From nothing.

Do you know who the second holder of that chair was? Isaac Newton.

Here’s the irony. Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity and believed in God. Stephen Hawking, who also occupied Newton’s chair at Cambridge, uses gravity as a reason not to believe in God.

Looking at both these men, it’s clearly not science that is incompatible with belief in God. It’s the belief we bring to our science. So – do we have evidence for our beliefs?

Do we believe with Newton that God created the Universe? Or do we believe with Hawking that nothing created the Universe? We have a belief, whether we like it or not. Once we’ve picked a side, it’s time to look at the evidence. And in that…Isaac Newton helps us. I imagine he would strongly reject Hawking’s “nothing” explanation for the Universe to this day. Why?

Because the original evidence, that Newton patiently observed and pointed towards, hasn’t changed:

“When I wrote my treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. But if I have done the public any service this way ’tis due to nothing but industry and a patient thought.”[6]

 

 

Isaac Newton is a refreshing revolutionary in matters of science and faith. He challenges us to own up to our convictions, and to seek to evidence them. I think he really has done us a great service today.

 

 

 

[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Sir Isaac Newton: English Physicist and Mathematician, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isaac-Newton, accessed 22nd July, 2017.

[2] Introduction to the Texts, The Newton Project, http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/texts/introduction, accessed 20th July 2017.

[3] Stephen D. Snobelen, The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica: A Preliminary Survey, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/theology-of-the-principia.pdf, 7.

[4] John Lennox, Are God and Faith Anti-Science and Anti-Reason? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKzizwPwNWU, accessed 19th July, 2017, summarized.

[5] Lennox, Faith Anti-Reason? summarized.

[6] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 7.

RESPONDblog: The Cumulative Case…or God’s Crime Scene!

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I recently met up with two friends who would (probably) describe themselves as committed sceptics when it comes to Christianity. We’ve spoken about these things many times. Yet they never feel able to come close to joining me in my Christian convictions.

 

At one point that day, they reminded me, “We are not saying there is no God. What we are saying is – there isn’t enough evidence to decide about God either way. We simply cannot say.”

 

I’ve heard this perspective before. And I suspect it’s a strategy that’s used to push the responsibility for wrestling with ultimate questions of life away from us and onto God (if he’s even there!). It’s a way of divulging myself of that responsibility. If God wanted me to believe in him, he would be able to convince me that he’s there. He hasn’t. So, I’m justified in dismissing the subject altogether.

In other words – it’s God’s problem, not mine.

 

This bothers me. Not because I think this line of reasoning is correct, but because I’m concerned that this way of thinking just avoids the obvious. I’m referring to the strong cumulative case for God.

 

Jim Wallace lays this case out clearly in his book, “God’s Crime Scene”. He proposes that the universe and all its wonders has a cause found either inside or outside of the universe. If the cause is inside, there’s some natural explanation for it all. If it’s an outside cause – it’s God.

When Jim (a cold-case detective) looks for evidence that a murder has been committed, he examines the crime scene where the body is found. If there is any evidence of outside activity or objects which have been imported into the room (a foreign footprint or evidence that a gun was positioned to give the appearance of a suicide) then it is reasonable to posit there has been an influence from outside the room, and so a murder case needs to be solved.

Turning this reasoning to the bigger crime scene of the universe, Jim observes eight evidences “inside the room” that point to an outside influence:

 

Our universe had a beginning

“The universe could not have caused itself, since something would have to exist to cause its own existence.”[1]

Our universe appears fine-tuned for life

It’s fine-tuned in the following ways:

Forces governing the atom

Forces governing the matter in the universe

Forces governing the creation of chemicals

Shape, Position and Size of the Milky Way Galaxy

Position and composition of our sun

The age and mass of our sun

Relationship of planets to our sun

Earth’s relationship to the sun

Earth’s atmospheric conditions

Earth’s terrestrial nature

Earth’s relationship to the moon

Often people will quip, “We’re only able to notice fine-tuning because we’re here to see it. So, we can’t draw solid conclusions for the cause of fine-tuning.” Yet this is to commit a logical error in our thinking. We are confusing an observation with its explanation.

Others will claim this is an argument from ignorance. Yet surely, it’s precisely because we are NOT ignorant of these facts, that we are exploring this natural evidence? This is an argument from a growing competence in our understanding of nature.

Others will assume an infinite number of universes; we were bound to come up lucky with one of them. Yet a multi-verse would require finely tuned conditions itself to cause it, and the question of fine-tuning returns.

Life appeared from non-life

“’…the problem of getting all of the compounds together in a living cell is much like the problem of making a cream puff. The filling needs to be made in a pan on a stove, then put in a refrigerator, while the shell is combined in a bowl, baked in an oven, then cooled, before the two parts are put together. All of the steps need to happen to the right amounts of the right components in the right sequence using the right tools in order to form a successful final product.’ To make matters worse, the ‘icing’ on each ‘cream puff’ must also be inscribed with a message (DNA) billions of letters in length.”[2]

Biological organisms appear designed

Randomness is unable to invent, and all the complexity of life must already exist before natural selection can modify it. Life looks designed, and there’s a good reason for that.

Evil and injustice persist

This is a complex subject and there’s no one reason that can come close to explaining all the possible causes for evil and suffering.

“Yet our recognition of the existence of evil is itself a pointer back to God, not away from him. Unless there is a transcendent, Divine standard of “straightness,” evil is simply a matter of opinion. If this is the case, we can eliminate evil tomorrow. All we have to do is change our opinion of it.”[3]

Transcendent moral truths exist

Some things are always wrong. It’s always been wrong to kill other people for the fun of it. And the “transcendent, objective virtue of selflessness and virtuous reciprocity finds representation in nearly every historic theological or philosophical system”[4]

If this is simply a product of culture, then which one is right and how big does the moral majority must be before we must agree with it?

Perhaps morality is all about promoting human flourishing? But the problem here is that this idea imports moral ideas in the term “human flourishing”. It proposes moral survival before explaining the source of the moral truth.

Humans are free agents

Human freedom is a right, and people are morally accountable for the free will choices they make. Some deny free will exists, pointing to the deterministic biological processes at work within us. Yet our ability to ponder these issues “presupposes we have the freedom to think independently from deterministic physical processes.”[5]

“Free will is difficult to deny (unless, of course, we have the freedom to deny it.”[6]

Consciousness emerged from unconscious matter

There’s a strong case to suppose that my physical brain is separate from my mind or consciousness. There are foundational differences between mind and brain. “Any reluctance to embrace a dualistic explanation for mind seems grounded not in the evidence but in a desire to resist answers found outside the room.”[7]

Human consciousness is so inexplicable that naturalist philosopher Thomas Nagel has reluctantly affirmed that, “On a purely materialist understanding of biology, consciousness would have to be regarded as a tremendous and inexplicable extra brute fact about the world.”[8]

 

Having laid out eight examples of crime scene tampering, Jim draws the following conclusion.

If we could identify just one of these evidences, that would be enough to point to a potential outside cause. But when you concede the strong cumulative case…there are at least eight lines of diverse evidence for outside tampering…then we have a strong reason to pursue this case.  A far stronger reason than would be necessary to trigger a police murder investigation.

 

There’s a lot of natural evidence pointing towards God. In a real sense, God’s left his fingerprints everywhere. So perhaps the real question is not “is there evidence for God,” it’s “will I choose to discover who this God is?”

 

 

 

[1] [1] J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, (David Cook), 41.

[2] Wallace, 75.

[3] Wallace, 190.

[4] Wallace, 163.

[5] Wallace, 152.

[6] Wallace, 157.

[7] Wallace, 137.

[8] Wallace, 136.

RESPONDblog: Were the New Testament Authors Biased?


Introduction

I often hear something like this from sceptics:

“Christians always appeal to the Bible. But I don’t trust the Bible because it was written by authors who were biased. If the text is untrustworthy, the foundation of Christianity is therefore suspect.” 

The sceptic claims a lack of objectivity in the New Testament record. Because the authors were Christians, the sceptic assumes they were therefore not objective in their assessment of the events. Because they weren’t objective, they must therefore make claims that are biased, suffering from “unreasoned judgement.” (1)  Let’s look at the 3 primary motives for personal bias to see whether any evidence for this exists for the apostolic authors. Is there evidence the New Testament authors were intentionally misleading their readers?


Relating the Primary Motives to the Apostles

What exactly is the cause of their supposed bias? What were the authors to gain from misleading their audience? This question can be approached by considering the three most common motives for human misdemeanour.

First, the driving force of financial greed commonly leads to wrong behaviour. Yet there is no historical evidence the apostles had financial wealth, or a motivation toward amassing it. We can appeal to both the New Testament books of Acts, the letter of James and non biblical history to support this claim.

In Acts, the apostle Peter responded to a lame man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (2)  Clearly Peter’s life as an apostle did not allow him to engage in much paid work; his priority was spreading Christ’s message.

The apostle James goes further, stating not only were the followers of Christ financially poor, but that their perspective was such that they prioritised eternal matters over financial ones; “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” (3)

We must also appeal to other sources to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the biblical claim of apostolic poverty; “All the non biblical accounts related to the lives of the apostles, whether legitimate or legendary, affirm the poverty of the disciples.” (4)

Sexual or relational desire is a second driving force for immoral action. Helpfully, we know from the writings of the disciple Clement of Alexandria, that all the apostles were men who held, “sexual purity in high regard.” (5) The record shows they were all married and some had children. While Clement suggests that they chose to deny themselves sexual contact for a time, they were known as people who would, “live their sexual lives in a manner that was beyond reproach.” (6) And their attitude to these matters is clearly seen in the counterculture requirement that men had only a single wife. (7)

The third driver is the pursuit of personal power. Often, critics of Christianity point to this as a motivating factor behind much of what went wrong during church history. To an extent, church history documents the Roman Catholic Church’s power, and its corrupting influence on the lives of some popes. It is critical, however, to distinguish this later period of church history from the earlier apostolic period. One cannot criticise the apostles for the mistakes and sinful choices made by church leaders who lived hundreds of years after they died. Rather, the apostles must be measured by their own choices.

Looking at the historical record demonstrates that during the apostles’ time, “leadership within the Christian community was a liability rather than an asset.” (8)  The extra-biblical historical record from Roman historians like Tacitus and Josephus records that the first century Christians experienced uniform persecution.

Importantly, although their leadership role led to persecution rather than power, they did not change their message to lessen their persecution. Instead, they went to their deaths preaching Christ; most of them were martyred.

I have laid out important reasons why the apostles were free from the motivating factors of finances, relationships and power. Because the apostles were free from ulterior motives, the case for them as reliable witnesses is strengthened. This gives both a clear and a thoughtful response to the sceptic who dismisses the New Testament as the product of biased sources.

The burden of proof is on the sceptic to show evidence of bias.

  [1] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, (David Cook), 245.

  [2] Acts 3:6.

  [3] James 2:5.

  [4] Wallace, 242.

  [5] Wallace, 244.

  [6] Ibid.

  [7] 1 Timothy 3:2.

  [8] Wallace, 245.

RESPONDblogs: Ghost in the Shell

The new big screen adaptation of Ghost in the Shell did a great job of entertaining me…and also of touching on an important discussion about people; what makes us human?

I loved the visual style of this movie; they laid out the world in striking, colourful and creative ways. Many interesting nods to previous cinema were in there too. One big one for me was the appearance of the Pan Am logo in various city wide shots. Are they implying this story occurs in the same universe as Blade Runner? Is it just a respectful nod to that great movie…which happens to touch on related themes? Dunno – whichever it is, I love it.

Avoiding spoilers, essentially we start with the main character’s brain being transplanted into a droid body. If Robocop looked like Scarlett Johansson, you get the idea of where we are going. And very quickly a familiar point is raised.

Major, you are more than just a robot. Even though you have an artificial body, you are more than circuits. There’s a human brain behind those eyes and we can examine the thoughts that go on in it. But more than that, you have a soul; there is a ghost in this shell.

It’s interesting that the movie raises this so clearly because, there are those in our world today who assert that there is no soul; we are nothing but matter in motion. I have a brain, and I am my brain…nothing more. If this claim is correct, then I have no soul, I am just matter. Darwinian evolution demands this conclusion. The human soul is just a nice story cooked up by the world religions and the Greek philosophers…nothing more.

Enter Leibnitz Law of Indiscernibility of Identicals. This sounds complicated…but stay with me cos it’s not. The law says this:

For anything X and anything Y

if X is equal to Y then

for all properties p

p is true of X only if p is true of Y

How does this law help me work out if I’m a brain, or if I also have a mind or soul as well?

Well, if I can prove that there’s one thing true of X that’s NOT true of Y, then I’ve shown that X is not equal to Y. X is not the same property as Y. In other words, if there’s something we know about my mental properties that we also know are NOT true of my physical brain properties, then I’ve shown that MY BRAIN is not the same property as MY MIND. I am more than just a brain. I have a mind…or a soul as well.

Actually – it turns out that there are many ways of demonstrating that my mental properties are different from my brain properties. Here’s one way.

Imagine you are a scientist studying the function of the live human brain and you touch a region of tissue, causing the patient’s brain to exhibit a particular physical property. Neurons fire; chemistry is affected; you measure and record this change on your instrument.

And because you have a good bedside manner, you ask the patient how they are doing. And they say, “That was weird. I’m feeling a bit emotional. When you did that, I immediately saw an image of my grandmother in a red dress; I could smell her perfume and everything.” I suggest that what you’ve got here is evidence of two separate things; a mental state and a physical state. The mental state is the image and smell of the grandmother; the physical state is the change in brain chemistry.[1]

Think about this. There’s nothing we can say about that image that will make it physical; we can hunt through every inch of brain tissue, and not find any evidence of a red dress anywhere. It’s not physical; but it is real because your patient experienced it.

What does this suggest? I propose that there’s a cause and effect relationship between a person’s mind, or soul, and their brain. One affects the other. Yet they are distinct. There are things true of my brain that are not true of my mind; they are both properties of a human person. I have a brain and I also have a mind.

Not convinced? Well think of it this way. Our scientist has got to ask his patient what is going on in his mind; he cannot measure what the imagined image or smells were; he can’t tell how red the image of the dress is; unless he engages his patient in a conversation about it. Yet he absolutely can measure what is going on in his patient’s brain. Mind and brain are separate yet related properties. One is material, the other is immaterial.

It seems to me that Ghost in the Shell is pointing in the right direction here as it explores what makes up a human being. There’s more to people than the material; there is the immaterial as well. I have a soul which is separate though related…and this opens up all manner of possibilities for my future…

[1] J P Moreland, In Defence of the Soul, (BIOLA University, 2014).

RESPONDblog: Is it Rational to Believe in God when there is Evil?

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to believe that God exists and he is good while staring into the face of so many distressing and disturbing things going on in our lives? The evils we face; the brutal illnesses that cut people down in their prime; the painful situations that leave us speechless with grief. Is it rational and responsible to believe in God while we are sobbing the question, “Why?”

Before his conversion to theism, Anthony Flew didn’t think so and he made a compellingly case against belief. Flew’s argument is summarised by Steve Grant as follows:

“We are told that God loves us, and the sceptic points to a child dying of inoperable throat cancer. The loving father is frantic with worry, but God does not intervene. Does God loves us? And the theist claims, ‘God’s love is not merely a human love.’…If allowing a child to die horribly when one has the power to prevent it does not conflict with the claim that God loves us, then it starts to become unclear as to whether or not the theist is really using the word ‘love’ in a way which is recognisable…’What would have to occur…to constitute for you a disproof of the love of God, or of the existence of God?’”[1]

I would agree that when investigating a hypothesis using the scientific method, that we need to agree on some way to test a theory, to establish a set of criteria such that if they were met they would ultimately falsify our theory. If we don’t allow any criteria to undermine our theory…then it’s not a good scientific theory and we are trying to conceal that.

But to apply this process to Christianity is to misunderstand the Christian’s faith in God; like so much we take for granted in life, relationships are not scientific theories; either is Christianity. Is belief in God a sound choice, even though the Christian struggles to understand the causes of evil and the answer to the question, “Why?” Doesn’t my confusion ultimately falsify my belief in God?

I think the answer is no. For a start, the test is not yet complete; all the results are not yet in.

But in a deeper way, I’ll explain why I think the answer’s no by referring to Basil Mitchell’s “Parable of the Resistance Fighter”.

The parable asks us to imagine we are fighting the Nazis in occupied France during the War. Os Guinness, a pupil of Basil Mitchell, describes the scene:

“Imagine I come to you in a bar and I say to you, ‘I hear you want to join the local resistance. Well, I’m the local resistance leader. So, let’s talk for a while; ask me anything you want to know. But if you decide to join the resistance tonight, then you must agree to obey me BLINDLY. We will never speak openly like this again because it’s just too dangerous to do so.”[2]

In a sense, the Christian has become convinced of two essential truths. First, that God is there and second that he is good.

For myself, it is the person of Jesus Christ who has led me to both of those conclusions.

  • If God is the Father of Jesus…
  • if Jesus promises God’s love to each one who believes…
  • and if God raises Jesus from the dead specifically to show that God has validated Jesus’ work…

…then I’m in. Sign me up. And having signed up – I then choose to take a crucial step. I choose to trust God in the dark; when I don’t understand what’s going on in life and why it is happening.

Think back to the resistance leader for a moment.

Let’s say that following our conversation with him in the bar, we agree to join the resistance. Well – we’ve agreed to trust the leader – even though we don’t understand everything that he will be doing during the fight. There will be times we get confused, when it looks like he is helping the Nazis…not opposing them. But we are part of the resistance…we’ve got to hold on and keep trusting both the leader and his motives blindly.

Eventually, the end of the war will come, everything that is hidden is made public. All the codes are released, the motives behind the resistance leader’s confusing actions are finally laid bare for all to see. Then…ah…of course…that’s what he was doing…it’s obvious! He was resisting all along. But while we are in the heart of enemy territory…it’s a different story[3].

In a sense – the Christian is in enemy territory right now. Awful things are happening in this world today, sceptics point Christians to unsettling passages in the Old Testament. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son? No honest follower of Jesus will claim to have all the answers to the question “Why?” She is in the dark on much of it.

Yet – the Christian is still rational to maintain trust that God is there and he is good.

Os Guinness explains why.

“We can say God – I trust you. Even though I don’t understand what is happening right now. Yet one day, perhaps we will know why. This is a faith that simply knows what it NEEDS to know right now; that God is there and he is good. So, we can trust him even though right now…in enemy territory…we are in the dark.”[4]

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to say that they believe God exists and is good in the face of so much distress? Yes. The rationality of one’s trust in God is founded on the person of Christ, and is not undermined by everything we do not understand. We’ve got to hold on, to watch this world – and the evil within it – to play out and conclude. To do what we can to resist it.

But the war is not over.

Yet.

[1] Steve Grant, Talking about God, Richmond Journal of Philosophy 9, Spring 2005, accessed 15th March 2017, http://www.richmond-philosophy.net/rjp/back_issues/rjp9_grant.pdf.

[2] Os Guinness, The Journey: A Thinking Person’s Quest for Meaning, The Veritas Forum, accessed 15th March 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXzgs7Tyys.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.