RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

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).

RESPONDblogs: Why Christianity Can’t Just Be Based On Wishful Thinking

i_want_to_believeIn 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something.

What exactly did Barney and Betty claim? You can listen to an interview with Betty online[1]. It’s fascinating and familiar to those of us with the benefit of 10 seasons of Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” to draw from!

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at Betty Hills outlandish claim…which sounds very much like fiction to me…I wonder whether Christianity sounds just like it to many people today. Christianity’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead 2000 years ago  – is this any less outlandish? Does the New Testament’s report of Jesus’ resurrection belong in the fictional “X-Files” cabinet, or is there more substance to Christianity’s claim that points toward its historical credentials?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

 

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird was happening that night. They reportedly stopped the car and took a good look. But the bright lights – and the erratic behavior of the object – began to freak them out. So they hurried back to their car and drove on. Before long – it became apparent they were 35 miles further down the road than they should have been. They appeared to have lost time!

Many weeks later, following a period of disrupted sleep and nightmares, they reportedly went thru regression hypnosis. And this brought out vivid details of little bald grey captors, operating tables and medical procedures.

Actually this is only the first well documented case of Alien Abduction – throughout the next 20 years, a number of similar claims were made by apparently ordinary people with no apparent reason to lie.

 

The New Testament contains 2000 year old eyewitness reports from apparently ordinary people too.

  • Reports of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the grief and shock of his friends.
  • Reports that these grieving people then subsequently encountered their friend back from the dead at various different times and places over a 40 day period.

 

Sounds pretty unlikely – right? Dead people don’t come back. Aliens don’t abduct people driving home in their cars.

 

Whatever historical event you are trying to verify – whether mundane or fantastical – historians apply 5 criteria to test the solidity of the report.

A solid Historical claim will[2]:

1 – be supported by multiple, independent sources

2 – be attested to by enemies (hostile witnesses) as well as friends

3 – include embarrassing admissions which reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling

4 – be supported by direct eyewitness testimony

5 – be supported by early testimony making legendary development impossible

 

The problem with the Barney and Betty Hills Alien Abduction claim is – by the criteria laid out above – we do not have a solid Historical report.

The only witnesses were the alleged abductees. There are no independent sources or witnesses – either friendly or hostile – to the Hill’s claim.  While other people agreed something strange was seen in the night sky that evening in September 1961, no other witness to the alleged Close Encounter exists. We’re right to be skeptical – their case is historically unverified.

 

So – what about the Bible’s claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:24) Well – a historical case based on a minimal set of data does exist. What is this data and how solid is the case?

 

DATA POINT 1 – The Death of Jesus By Crucifixion

This fact is attested by every Gospel, and many non-Christian sources too. For example – Roman historian Josephus, Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata as well as the Jewish Talmud itself.

Jesus crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple independent eyewitnesses, early sources and enemy attestation.

Some have proposed that – maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely swooned, was then buried and was then revived in the cold tomb.

But this doesn’t work.

  • Roman executioners were excellent torturers and executioners
  • Jesus faking his resurrection goes against his moral teachings
  • There are no early reports he was wounded and not killed
  • A half dead Messiah could not serve as the foundation for a belief in the Resurrection. If his friends had encountered him bloodied and bleeding…they would not have called him the Lord of Life. They would have called him a doctor!
  • Jewish thinking said, only once at the end of human history would the dead be raised. This means that – on encountering Jesus alive again after his crucifixion –his followers would naturally have just assumed he didn’t die. Yet this is not what they claimed. It is highly culturally unusual for the Jewish early Church to proclaim him as Christ crucified and raised from death.

 

DATA POINT 2 – The Empty Tomb

All naturalistic theories that attempt to explain away the Resurrection presuppose the empty tomb. The body was reportedly gone.

From the beginning, the hostile Jewish authorities claimed that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body to fake his resurrection. But this claim gives no reason WHY they would have done so.

Further – the claim that the disciples stole the body does not work within Jewish culture at that time. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would become the suffering servant; who was executed shamefully by the Gentiles, and then raised bodily before the general resurrection at the end of time. Rather – Messiah’s were ten a penny in ancient Jerusalem. If your Messiah got themselves killed – you either gave up and went home, or you hitched your wagon to a different one. But the idea that Jesus followers stole his corpse and faked his resurrection just wouldn’t have entered their minds at that point in Jewish history.

Finally – if the disciples stole the body – this doesn’t explain the conversion of Christianity’s 1st century enemy turned Apostle – Saul who became Paul.

Surely if someone had managed to produce his rotting corpse and deposit it in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see….that would have been an end to it. But they could not.

DATA POINT 3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances

Scholars cite 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as the earliest snapshot of Christian belief about Jesus. Paul claimed to receive this creed from the original Apostles many years before he wrote his letter. Scholars date the creed to within months or weeks of the crucifixion itself.

Three of our four minimal facts are recorded there as an early statement of belief – Christ died, his tomb was discovered empty and he was seen by his closest friends. And then more than five hundred people saw him at once.

The early date of this creed rules out legendary embellishment because there simply wasn’t time for legends to develop. And besides – the eye witnesses were still alive at the time this was passed on.

Yet over hundreds of years some legends did develop; they are referred to as the 3rd century Gnostic Gospels. In comparison to the New Testament’s stark and excited eyewitness reporting, the Gnostic Gospels are full of bizarre and fanciful imagery.

 

Some have suggested hallucination as an explanation for the appearances. People saw what they wanted to see. But Psychologists have ruled this out. Hallucinations are private experiences yet crowds of eyewitnesses reportedly witnessed the risen Jesus. Remember, Jews would not expect to see a raised Jesus anyway. And finally – hallucination does not explain the empty tomb itself or indeed Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

 

DATA POINT 4 – The Origin of the Christian Faith

Within one generation of Jesus crucifixion, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. If Christianity is the effect – then what was the cause?

Well – surely the most obvious cause is the Apostles belief that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this belief transformed people’s lives. The cultural worship practices of Jewish people changed. Church moved to a Sunday.

Could the Disciples have stolen the body and made it all up? No lie or shared conspiracy or mistaken observation has the explanatory power to ignite the Christian church in human history.

 

IN SUMMARY

Jesus resurrection is based on historically verifiable evidence – it meets the 5 requirements outlined earlier in this blog. However unusual the event, there is powerful evidence of the event’s historical reliability. Even though we don’t understand how it happened – this does not preclude us from historically accepting that it did happen.

 

Really?

You’ve got to be gullible to believe Alien abduction reports – right? In the same way, dead men do not rise!

Hold on a minute –

The historical basis of the resurrection is incredibly strong. And no one claims Jesus was raised from the dead by natural means. Christians simply repeat what the Bible eye witness accounts say – that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Besides – you don’t have to understand something to accept the truth of it. Ask any Scientist to explain human consciousness; where does it come from? Then ask them what energy really is. They don’t really know. If Scientists can accept these things even though they don’t understand how and why they work – can’t we accept Jesus’ Resurrection as true based on observable and historically verifiable evidence?

 

 

[1] Betty Hill UFO Encounter Interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO6VIMPZhwA.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

RESPONDblogs: God, Morals and Steven Avery

murderer

Over the past few posts, I’ve done my best to lay out the moral argument for God as I understand it.

While doing so…I’ve also been watching “Making a Murderer” on Netflix…which has been a fascinating experience…and resonates strongly with the argument I have been making. I’ll explain why I think that in a moment.

For now – here’s what I’ve been exploring on this blog: 

 

 

1 – The claim that human morality is simply just what society does as it evolves. I’ve explored reasons why this cannot be the case.

2 – The claim that each different human society has its own particular moral code. I’ve discussed why I think this misunderstands what morality is.

3 – I’ve gone on to explore what moral absolutes look like.

4 – And I’ve said that – this state of affairs only really makes any sense if there is a God to provide the code in the first place.

 

 

But – so what? If there’s a moral code imprinted onto each human heart that urges us to look after the poor and the helpless, to care for and respect our children and our elders, to seek justice in this world…so what?

 

 

Here are a couple of thoughts.

First – I think it’s easy to forget just how strong the force of the moral code really is in our lives. The stronger something is – the more important it is to explore its cause and its reason.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Janet and I watched the Netflix series that’s getting a lot of buzz right now. It’s called “Making a Murderer” and it’s a series that documents the life and misfortunes of Steven Avery who has spent most of his life in prison. And the series lays out – using a creative mix of interviews, news clips and recovered footage during the events – that Avery has been sent to prison twice for crimes that he did not commit. And as things stand today – he may never manage to gain his release.

What affect has this had on the people of have watched it? Well – those who I have spoken to, those who I have listened to – have been full of moral outrage on behalf of Steven and his nephew Brendan Dassey. That he would be misrepresented in such a crushing way twice, leading to decades behind bars, makes people angry…and it makes them call for change. Some people take it further…and seek to punish the poor prosecutor Ken Kratz for putting Steven in prison. Kratz seems to have done a good job of punishing himself, if the reports of his impropriety are to be believed!

Director Peter Jackson has written about his feelings on his public Facebook page:

“it’s only by watching the 10 hours of riveting documentary that you will really understand how faulty the U.S justice system currently is, and how badly it needs fixing. That will only happen if you are angry enough to demand it, and “Making a Murderer” does a pretty good job of achieving that!”

This TV show has made a massive impact. Netflix hasn’t released viewing figures…but its impact on social media has been enormous between December and January 2016. The first episode was uploaded to YouTube to encourage non-Netflix subscribers to get on board…and that episode has achieved 1.6 million views since 18th December when it was posted. The official @MakingAMurderer twitter account went from 4000 to 114000 followers over the same period. This show has made a big impact on an international viewing audience, and it highlights just how important the moral absolute of “justice in court” is to the average person.

Our shared call for legal justice in a corrupt justice system points to the creator God who makes sense of our moral outrage. That’s an important point to consider here.

 

 

Second – if God has given us a humane and protective moral code, then that tells us a lot about what his character is like. Because it’s going to reflect the caring protective heart laws we have explored.

Now some would reply – “Stuart, the Bible is the most immoral work of fiction I’ve ever read!” Really? You call the Bible a work of fiction? Are you sure you read it? But I do agree it is full of immoral acts. And I think there are some reasons for this:

1 – The Bible is not completely prescriptive. It does not spend all of its time telling us how we should behave. It doesn’t need to do that because the moral law is written elsewhere (on our hearts). What it does however spend a lot of time doing – is describing the human condition. The immoral problems that humanity wrestles with. The problem is the human heart – the problem is my heart. And the Bible spends a lot of time showing us why we need God’s help.

2 – The Bible was written at a different time in a different culture. For example, the ancient near east was nowhere near as humane a society as the western countries are today. Yet ISIS seems to be trying to take us back into those dark ages. The behaviour of God’s people seems very harsh to 21st century eyes. Yet when viewed alongside the evils of the time that were wrought by other nations…Israel was always progressive in its humanity. An example of this is the way it treated slaves – who were limited in their engagement to 7 years (Exodus 21:2).

3 – When we hear non-Bible scholars accusing God of heinous immoral acts in the Old Testament, you’ve got to ask:

  • where are you getting your sense of morality from in the first place?
  • why do you think you are properly understanding these ancient texts that come from a particular place and time – and are not prescriptive today.

 

 

Humanity is capable of incredible acts of selflessness, love and faithfulness. And I suggest that they reflect the character of the God who made us, who loves us and who has imprinted his goodness onto us.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.” Numbers 6:24-26, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Pulled Towards the Light

ren

What does it mean to be a moral person?

 

This question comes up a lot whenever I talk about morality. Now – I’m not bringing up this subject to put a heavy weight of judgement on anyone else’s shoulders. I’m way too aware of my own moral failings to want to do that! And I’m not some moral crusader arguing for change. Society does need to change. But I don’t think our morals need to change.

 

I talk about morality because it is part of the body of evidence suggesting human beings are more than just a collection of atoms and molecules. We are much more than just that.

 

Now often when this comes up, we get into a discussion about what people do in society today…and sometimes we will compare that with what people did in society in the past. And the point will be made to me that – society is different now in comparison to ages past. Therefore morality must be different too. It has evolved with us. Therefore morals must also have changed.

 

But I think this is to mistake what it means to be a moral person. You cannot understand morality in terms of what people do and why they might do it. To understand what morality is – we need to look at why people SHOULD do something. It’s a discussion about obligations that press in on human beings, not how human beings behave.

The law of gravity is actually very mysterious. Scientists still have a lot to learn about what it is. But we can very easily measure the force and the effect that it has on objects in our Universe. Human morality works a similar way on the human heart. It is a force that we might not like very much – but it is there all the same.

To suggest that a human being or human society is a source or an explanation of morality is to miss the mark. Morality isn’t how people behave…rather it is how people are required TO behave. It’s the moral force that pushes in on each of us.

 

And what is fascinating is…when you study a variety of ancient cultures (Chinese, Babylonian, Hindu, Egyptian and Jewish) and compare them to 21st century society, you find common expectations and obligations that press in on the people who have lived at these different times in these very different cultures[1]. This is a clue to the scope of the moral law that imposes itself on us.

  • It is generally always right for one human being to show kindness to another.
  • It is generally always right to help and provide for another human being who is suffering or in need.
  • It is especially important to love and respect members of your own family. Whether its your parents, or your siblings or your own children. These people deserve special respect and care from you.
  • Talking of children, it is always important to look after children.

By implication, anyone who does the reverse…is behaving in an immoral way. Notice something. We don’t need to have this explained to us. We just kind of know.

  • It’s always wrong to commit adultery with someone else’s partner.
  • It’s always wrong to steal, to benefit from stolen goods and to treat other people’s goods as my own.
  • You must render justice towards an individual in court.
  • It is always wrong to be a double minded person, to misrepresent oneself. It is better to be a person of integrity and good faith.
  • People who are poor or sick require mercy from us.
  • It is important to forgive people who have wronged us.

 

There is evidence of an absolute moral law that presses in on each of us…and it has done so down thru the ages past. What can we infer from this evidence? Well – the existence of a moral law allows us to infer the existence of a moral lawgiver.

 

If an archaeologist digs in the sand and finds the ruined foundations of a great city, then it is reasonable to infer a civilisation of people who built that city and lived there at some time.

 

If a philosopher or theologian digs into mankind’s nature and finds the traces of an ethical framework that is common to each person…then he is right to infer a source to that ethical framework that is located outside of these people and these different cultures. And that sounds very much like God.

 

But more than all that…look at people’s ability to talk in terms of good and evil, right and wrong. Stories and tales have been passed down thru the generations in the great myths. Here we talk in terms of what is good…and should be encouraged in people…and what is evil and should be resisted. And these great, ancient stories never go out of date! They might be updated for a modern audience and a different mindset (which is precisely what George Lucas did when he started the Star Wars saga in the 1970s…at what Lucasfilm continue to do to this day) but the core of what is good and what is evil has remained the same for millennia.

 

Moral values and obligations exist as a first principle of civilisation. You can’t deconstruct them…and like the force of gravity, it is always pressing upon us whether we like it or not.

“It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent…To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”[2]

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

[2] Ibid.

God, Martian Rivers and ET

martian

I believe that a good and reasonable case can be made that our Universe and everything in it is the result of God’s creative activity; the God who we learn about in the pages of the Bible. This particular blog post does not lay out that case (If you are interested, check my archives…generally RESPONDblog seeks to do just that). This blog post seeks to reasonably apply this conclusion to a discovery that made the news recently.

 

God and Reason

That’s an important word to a Christian – ”REASON”.

Reason is part of mankind’s toolbox. It’s what we have been given to engage with the events, the people, and the experiences we encounter in our lives. Reason is about level headedness. Reason is used when we are proposing a case for understanding something, making discoveries, constructing theories about what happened in the past and what might happen in the future.

 

Contrary to what many people might believe, reason is at the very heart of everything that Christians are called to do and say.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect 1 Peter 3:15, NIV

I always aim to be reasonable when I communicate.

 

Reason tells me that a good Inductive Case can be made that our Universe comes from God’s creative activities. An Inductive Case is basically an inference to the best explanation. What does that mean? It means:

  • we can see evidence all around us in our Universe…
  • there are lots of theories about where this evidence comes from, what caused us to be here.
  • the theory that best fits the evidence and holds the evidence all together – is the inference to the best explanation.

I believe that a good and reasonable case can be made that our Universe and everything in it is the result of God’s creative activity

And this doesn’t stop science. Rather – it fuels science. Why? Because it observes that our Universe is itself rational, it is understandable, it has laws that we can explore and understand (actually this is precisely one of the evidences that the inductive case for God seeks to explain). It begs to be explored. And we are passionate about exploring it. God created man to do science. We’re built for it. That’s why the science-y ones among us love it so much.

 

Martian Water and ET

NASA announced recently that they have gathered the evidence and built a good and solid case proposing that water exists on Mars. This is a triumph of reason! Actually…getting the space craft and the rovers onto the surface of the planet itself in the first place…is a wonderful result of human reason too. It’s inspiring.

 

NASA has only observed evidence of salty water on Mars. Nothing more. Yet human imagination and creativity has burst into overdrive. This discovery has fuelled speculation in two different directions.

 

FIRST – that there might be life on Mars right now. There’s life on Earth…why not on Mars?

SECOND – that in the future, mankind might be able to build a sustainable habitat on Mars for people to live and work and play there.

 

The Second speculation is exciting…and Ridley Scott’s new movie “The Martian” explores how dangerous yet exhilarating such an enterprise might turn out to be! I hope I’m still alive to see such an achievement come about.

 

Turning to the First speculation…this one has proved contentious for some people in the Christian community. There are those Christians who don’t have a problem with life existing on other planets. Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig has responded,

“I’m puzzled by folks who seem to think, that if life, intelligent life, were discovered somewhere else or that if it were to come here that somehow this would be a disproof of Christianity… that seems to me to be a complete non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow, because Christianity simply doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not God has created life elsewhere in the universe….the scripture is addressed just to life on earth and so it wouldn’t speak of whether or not there’s extra-terrestrial life at all. So I would say that theologically it’s just an open question.”[1]

 

Craig makes an interesting observation there! Yet what is fascinating about the Bible is that, even though it is focussed on the life on Planet Earth, it has a much wider perspective when it comes to discussing the Universe that God created. Look at Hebrews chapter 1, for example, which talks about the other-ness of God in comparison to the Universe he has made.

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will fold them up like a cloak and discard them like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will life forever.” Hebrews 1:10-12, NLT

 

The Bible is unique in that it contains truth that will bring hope into our lives that will resonate in our lives forever. It connects us to the God who loves us. Only the Bible does that. But the Bible does not contain all the truth that is to be known in the Universe. What do I mean? Reason tells me that there are some important things that the Bible lets us in on…but there are many things it does not talk about. For example, as John Lennox is fond of saying with a twinkle in his eye, “I do not teach algebra from Leviticus.”[2] The Bible is not a textbook on Mathematics. To learn these principles we must look elsewhere. The Bible is also not a textbook on life beyond the confines of this Planet. But notice this. Everything that it teaches…it does so with an eye to the majesty and the splendour of our wider Universe and the God who created it.

 

By the way – if you know me, you’ll know I love space stories best of all. If there are spaceships – I’m there. You’ve got me. But coming down to earth, the head of SETI (the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Paul Davies is brutally frank when he talks about alien life. John Lennox sums up his position, “As a human being I like to feel we’re not alone, but as a scientist I have to be honest and I think the science goes to show that we are essentially alone.”[3]

 

So where does this bring me? Well – this is just my opinion – I am open to having the discussion. But it seems reasonable to me to choose not to get stressed out and emotional about the ET issue! Why don’t we just leave the question of “life on other planets” in God’s capable hands, while focussing on our task at hand whether it’s doing science on this planet or exploring another one? Our Universe is a staggeringly complex place. We can see that in the quantum realm, in the study of biology and human consciousness. We sense it in the speculations around dark matter and the discovery of Exoplanets. YET – given all of that – God wants to engage with us in our lives as we do the exploration of our Universe. And surely this is the more amazing thing?

 

You sometimes hear people claim that meeting ET really would transform everything. Well – I’m not so sure. Who knows how disappointing, or threatening ET might turn out to be if we ever came face to face? (I still cry when I watch the movie tho) Surely the bigger issue is this:

That the God who created this whole glorious complex and beautiful show…our Universe…and who will one day bring the show to a close…wants to know little old us as we live our lives today?

[1] William Lane Craig on Romans 8, Ezekiel 1, extra-terrestrial intelligence, and UFO, https://kitesintheempyrean.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/william-lane-craig-on-romans-8-and-ezekiel-1/

[2] John Lennox: the Discovery of Water on Mars, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IloVR-zgDNk&list=TLR2X-u73_mtIxMjEwMjAxNQ

[3] Ibid.