RESPONDblogs: T2 and the Free Will Dilemma

36202201321_fe156ab502_h

 

I sat in a packed cinema tonight to watch the newly restored 4K/3D release of Terminator 2. I know this movie so well – its over 25 years old now – yet it looks and sounds like it was just made last week. I genuinely appreciated the 3D conversion on the film – combined with the new sound mix – it really brought out details that I’d simply never seen and heard before.

The experience has never been better. And the various messages contained within it have never seemed more relevant!

It struck me tonight that – this story is about free will. Specifically, the struggle to regain the free will that’s been lost. It vividly illustrates how important it is that people are given the option to choose our future, rather than have it cruelly and inevitably determined for us.

 

The Importance of FREEDOM in the Terminator Universe

John Connor is destined to lead the fight against the machines in the year 2029. There appears to be no choice for him in this. The machines will inevitably trigger the nuclear fire that will exterminate the majority of the human race – leaving John to lead the human resistance against them. This is a future that mankind is hurtling toward with no seeming hope of rescue.

But the movie doesn’t dwell so much on this future struggle. Rather, it focusses on the inevitable and impending nuclear holocaust we face in the here and now (actually…in the 1990s. T2 is now a period piece…). The movie asks whether or not this awful fate can be averted? And if so…how?

 

This is a story about the battle of wills – the machines against the humans – and the battle ground is free will vs determinism. The freedom to live one’s life and to make choices…verses the tyranny of a determined existence. I hesitate to call spoiler alert on a 25 year old movie…but spoiler alert if you’ve not seen it yet:

The future machine army is trying to regain their future freedom by sending back Robert Patrick’s T1000 Terminator to kill John Connor in the past (makes perfect sense to me). Using the T1000, they plan to be free of John’s annoying resistance.

Meanwhile, the core family of John, his mother Sarah Connor and Arnie’s ageing T101 fight for the present freedom of humanity. They are fighting to somehow achieve freedom from the inevitable, horrifying nuclear fire that…if it occurs…will act as a prelude to the future man-machine war that John will lead. Yet perhaps freedom from this impending future is possible? And if so – this could mean that the holocaust is averted and the machine uprising is prevented?

 

Everyone is trying to regain their freedom in this film. Does the family succeed? Perhaps – with the awful cost of Arnie’s T101. Man – this scene tugs at one’s heart strings even more in 3D!

 

The Importance of Freedom to the Christian Worldview

James Cameron’s T2  has endured for many reasons. One of them – is the theme of human freedom that runs deeply through it. “There’s no fate,” Sarah Connor carves in a tabletop. There’s no fate but what we make. The future’s not set. At least it shouldn’t be set…

This is all a very Christian perspective on life. We are made with free will, the Bible tells us. We are urged to choose a life of obedience to God and his ways, going all the way back to Adam in the garden. You’re free to eat from any tree…except that one, because the results will be bad for you.[1] But the fact Adam…and we are urged to obey, tacitly assumes we have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to and we’re free to choose. God doesn’t set the future for us. We are not determined – we are free.

 

Whether or not God knows who WILL choose to obey him in the end or not (Molinism) we are free to choose now…and rightly so. We are built to exercise our free wills.

 

That’s why movies like T2 resonate so strongly. That’s why news reports where people have their human rights curtailed – and their freedom denied to them – provoke such outrage in people. Freedom is a core human value

 

The Problem of Human Free Will and the Consequences to Evil

What a shame then that this world contains so many examples where people exercise their freedom to curtail and remove the freedom of others. Nations threaten and intimidate other nations by firing missiles at them. Individuals find themselves being trafficked as a sexual commodity that is bought and sold to the highest bidder. Populations are wiped out in genocide.

 

Why doesn’t God do something about it?

If he’s there…and he cares…wouldn’t he intervene and rescue the suffering people now? Wouldn’t a loving God step in? Not necessarily. God created us with free will. He clearly wants us to exercise it. He wants people to have the freedom to live their lives…whether those people accept him or reject him. He’s not interested in coercing us. Rather, He’s looking for those who freely choose him and his ways.

 

Clay Jones makes the point that, when people ask why God doesn’t intervene in this world, they are not considering the outcome of that sort of intervention. If God somehow supernaturally intervenes every time someone begins to outwork acts of evil…causing others to lose their freedom….life would be very different for all of us. Actually, no one would be free any more.[2]

 

Yet as T2 reminds us…freedom is part of the core of who we are. We demand it – and rightly so.

What does this mean?

 

Imagine you are sitting at home with your partner and children, working on your laptop, and a pornographic image flashes up in your web browser…with a link urging you to explore further. What do you do? Your family are sitting there with you. At that moment – your freedom is curtailed. You might want to explore further – but you cannot. You aren’t free to do so because of the negative impact this would surely have on your partner and your children at that moment.

 

Now – perhaps in this instance, that’s a good thing. You’ve been given an easy way out to avoid the pornography. But if you lived every moment of your life with the gaze of a controlling deity…you would not ever be free in ANYTHING.

 

So it would be if God intervened miraculously every time someone began to cruelly remove someone else’s freedom. Everyone would be forced to acknowledge God whether they wanted to, or not. We would resent being coerced into worshipping him.

But that’s not what God wants. That’s not the way God works. He gives enough evidence for people to find him and engage with him if they wish to. But he doesn’t give himself away too much. One reason is, He wants to protect our free will.

 

That’s not to say there won’t be a final accounting for our use of our free will…because the Bible warns of a final judgement when everything concealed will be revealed…when justice will be seen to be done by every person. We’re accounted to live once…and then there’s the judgement.[3] Judgement Day is real…but it’s not Cameron’s proposed nuclear fire. It happens subsequently. (Aside: 4Ward’s VFX work showing the nuclear fire consuming LA really SHINES in the new T2 release. Chilling…yet you have to watch it.)

 

But in the here and now, in the same way we are free to exercise our wills, God’s also free to exercise his. He is free NOT to intervene…to ensure our freedom in the here and now. Yet whether we like it or not…it seems that our future is bound up with him. There are positive and negative consequences to the free will choices that we make in our lives now.

 

Image courtesy of Phil Cooden, https://flic.kr/p/Xa4KbR.

[1] Genesis 2:16-17.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 109-158.

[3] Hebrews 9:27.

Advertisements

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.

RESPONDblog: Galaxy Quest + My Limited Worldview

The movie Galaxy Quest tells the story of a group of washed up actors, tired and bored of living with the enduring fandom around their old space opera TV show from 20 years ago. It introduces us to Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the captain on the NSEA Protector space ship in the space opera. And he’s signing autographs at a fan convention…when suddenly and finally he explodes in a “Shatner-istic, get a life” way. Who does he explode at? Branden – a geeky fan who is asking for an autograph, while also pressing him on a tricky episode plot hole that Nesmith couldn’t care less about.  
Nesmith roasts him.

“It’s just a TV show. You got it?!”

The movie also tells the story of a group of alien beings – the Thermians – who have been watching Nesmith’s old TV Show from outer space…and have come to believe that the stories told in the show are actually real, rather than just hokey entertainment.

Now, in addition to their viewing habits, we learn the peace loving Thermians are facing an oppressive and controlling space gangster called Sarris who wants to oppress them. They fear Sarris…yet are actually quite technologically advanced. So they decide to emulate their heroes on the TV show and build an advanced space ship to fight Sarris…and they make the ship look and behave just like the NSEA Protector.

They make it work in exactly the same way as the ship on the show. So…the computer will only work if the girl on the bridge repeats all the data the computer provides the bridge team. And the controls for the ship’s pilot are laid out just as the actor playing the pilot pretended to fly the ship.

BUT – the Thermians have a problem – they cannot use their cool spaceship technology to defeat Sarris. They are smart enough to build their ship. They aren’t brave enough to use it.

Their solution? They decide to naively travel to earth…find their heroes from their favourite space TV show…and take them back to their planet to pilot the ship and defeat Sarris for them! After all…these guys are their heroes…and have defeated evil many times on the show. They’ve watched it on their equivalent of TV. They think its all real.

And for some cool and interesting reasons – read pride and boredom here – Nesmith and his crazy, LA based actors from the cast say “yes” to the Thermians’ request…and travel to their alien planet to man the new and very real NSEA Protector space ship. What they don’t bank on, however, is the very real jeopardy this puts them in. And so these actors must work out a way to cope in this conflict…and survive.

I’ve been sitting in a class at BIOLA University taught by PhD professor John Mark Reynolds this week. And he reminded me of the coolest part of Galaxy Quest.

What’s the coolest part?

During their conflict with Sarris – Nesmith and his crew find themselves running through the bowels of the ship to find the engine room…so they they can diffuse the reactor and stop the ship from exploding. While doing this, they realise that – in the course of the original TV show run – they never did an episode of the show where they visited the bowels of the NSEA Protector. So – they have no idea where to go to find the reactor to diffuse it. Worse – they have no idea what do do if and when they get there.

That’s a big problem. So what do they do?

Genius idea. They contact the geeky kid Branden that Nesmith roasted during the fan convention at the start of the movie. The kid who had grown up watching the show, who bought and pored over the deck plans of the NSEA Protector. Who knew this show and the ship inside out.

Nesmith contacts Branden…but before he can ask him for help finding the engine room…Branden stops him. Not realising the very real jeopardy Nesmith is in, Branden blurts out…”Look. About the convention. I know its just a TV show. I understand completely that’s its just a TV show. There is no ship…I’m not a complete brain-case…you know?”

And Nesmith responds with three words that transform Branden’s life.

“It’s all real.”

And without hesitation…and with a whoop of confident delight…Branden explodes. “I knew it. I just knew it!!!”

Here’s what’s cool about this scene. It poses a question to us.

What if my settled view of reality…actually is more about me just settling for a narrow perspective…the little bit that I understand. And dismissing the notion that there is so much more to know! Right now – I simply don’t fully understand everything that could be known about life and reality. But there’s a future awaiting me…

Further – what if that future reality is bigger…and more amazing than I could understand today. What if it truly is bursting with goodness, with truth and beauty in a way that I’ve yet to know on this planet…so its greater than I can fully comprehend right now. So much so…that when I finally DO experience it…I might just go slack jawed…and then burst with something like…

“I knew it!! I just knew it.”

Just like Branden.

And maybe then we will reflect back…and remember. We had a suspicion that there was more to life than just this one…we had this inner sense of it…maybe from our time as a child. But we’ve grown up since then. We’ve allowed other people to convince us otherwise. We’ve cooperated as others have systematically robbed us of our hope for ultimate goodness, truth and beauty.

What a shame that has happened.

One day – we will know. We will know it for ourselves in a fresh and wonderful way. And we’ll just exclaim, “You know what? I knew it!”

I’m looking forward to the day when I begin to really experience the full wonder of creation. In the here and now…I’m living in just a fraction of it…I sense that that’s true. But there is SO much more to come in the reality that’s to come.

Why do I think that? Well…because there’s this person in history called Jesus who transformed the world with his goodness, his beauty and the truth he brought to this planet. His beauty…in what he did and said. And it all culminated in his defeat of death and his invitation to join him in the bigger reality that is to come. This points to a future reality, a bigger sense of knowing reality as it truly is in all its goodness, its truth and its beauty…in a sense that I can only imagine today.

What a shame so many of us have been duped into thinking that our narrow view of the world is the right and only one…when we haven’t given ourselves the chance to consider that there is so much more that is awaiting us.

Do you know what? My anticipation is rising…there’s going to be a whoop of delight that’s going to burst out of me that day when I see that which I confidently expect to see in the reality to come with Jesus.

I knew it. I just knew it…!

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.

RESPONDblogs: Is the Christian Claim of Jesus’ Resurrection Just Wishful Thinking?

i_want_to_believe

In 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. It has cemented them and their claims firmly in pop culture.

 

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at the Hills’ outlandish claim, I wonder whether the New Testament’s report of Jesus physical return from the dead is any less outlandish and fanciful?

 

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!

 

What exactly was Barney Hills claim?

 

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:

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?