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: God and Space

atlantis

I had the amazing privilege recently of visiting Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It wasn’t my first visit – I’ve been there a few times before. What I discover each time – is how much there is to learn. So much to discover about what the United States of America has accomplished in space exploration (which is just awe inspiring). How mind boggling our Universe is. It is staggering, breath taking. And frankly – I drive my wife nuts talking about it after we have been there!

 

When you visit Kennedy today, you have the opportunity to visit the centrepiece of American…and frankly human…genius. The Space Shuttle. There’s a visitor complex housing this beautiful machine. And I defy anyone not to walk thru the whole experience…and not have to blink back a few tears in the process. (ok – maybe not my wife).

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is beautiful. Why do I say that? Well – it’s not just how it looks…which is kind of functional and quite familiar to those of us who have grown up in the late 20th century. She is beautiful because…when you stand beside her and gaze at her…you are looking at a machine that has survived the incredible rigors of leaving the surface of this planet…and roaring round it in orbit at thousands of miles an hour. Many many times. And if that feat was not enough – she has safely carried scientists and engineers who have taken the opportunity she has given them to do incredible work. Conducting scientific experiments that help us understand the nature of the universe, building the International Space Station in orbit at hundreds of miles an hour…the list goes on. And after each trip…she returns…is retooled…and off she goes again.

When you stand and look at Atlantis, you are looking at a vehicle that has enabled human beings to achieve wonderful things. And – personally – I found the experience profoundly moving. Also – the tour guide (who is a retired scientist who used to work at Kennedy on the Shuttle program) couldn’t get rid of me. I stood talking to him for AGES.

 

One of the founding fathers of science – Francis Bacon – said this three hundred years ago.

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” – Francis Bacon

 

It is a tragedy that so many people today have given up on the Scripture that Bacon’s generation knew so well…and instead focus solely on the book of creation. As we have done so…we have lost balance. We have gotten it into our heads that creation is all that there is. There is no creator. There is no purpose. What we see in our Universe just is. Well – I’m not surprised that our culture has ended up in that odd unbalanced place…because we’ve rejected one of God’s books in favour of the other.

 

The tragedy of giving up on Scripture…God’s words to mankind…is immense. I can only touch the tip of the problem here. Studying creation using the tools of Science gives us an understanding of function and construction in nature. Scripture on the other hand reveals to us purpose and destiny and hope. It is a grim task indeed to resort only to function and to lose the perspective that Scripture brings. Yet that is where Western culture sits to a large degree today. And we are poorer for it.

 

Space exploration is such an exciting aspect of human discovery and investigation. And I think God probably gives us a mandate in Scripture to do it. At the risk of sounding bonkers…of course it doesn’t mention the Space Shuttle or the new American Orion program directly in the Bible (!). The Chinese, the Russians…even India is exploring space today. I’m not crazily claiming that the Bible predicts this in some strange way. So what am I saying?

The Bible is a book of its time, written millennia ago. Yet it is not JUST a product of its time. It contains timeless truths from the heart of God himself. It talks in wondrous terms about the Universe that human beings occupy. Here’s a taste…hinting at gravity and the orbits of planets and stars.

“Can you direct the movement of the stars— binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion?” Job 38:31, NLT

 

But it goes further. I think it reveals evidence that God has designed people with an ability and a passion to study, to explore…and to do science in our Universe. How so? Well, look a bit deeper. In Genesis chapter 2, we read this:

“So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man[c] to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.” Genesis 2:19, NLT

 

Having created the Universe and the life forms living in it…God brings them to the man “to see what he could call them”. Why would God do that? Why would he do this at such an early and formative stage of mankind’s history? Perhaps because God wants us to know how fun and exciting it is to discover new things and give them names?

Sometimes we need to physically go and explore…and sometimes this involves leaving the confines of the planet. I think we have some evidence that God wants people to study His creation, it delights him when we do it! It is an act of worship to do so…even though many people would scoff at this notion. When we study creation, whether its animals in the rainforests, or mathematical formulae speculating about the earliest moments of the Big Bang, or looking at distant galaxies thru the Hubble Space Telescope placed in orbit by the Shuttle…surely we are doing what God loves for us to do? To investigate and to study our Universe.

 

You know what? There are many scientists, explorers and adventurers today who have not abandoned the book of scripture that Francis Bacon talked about. They hold scripture and creation together. They know it pleases the heart of God when we learn more about what He’s made.

Rick Husband was one of them. He worked for NASA as the Commander of Mission STS-107. His space ship? The Space Shuttle Columbia that tragically broke up during the rigors of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. Rick’s family have kindly donated some of his most precious possessions to the Kennedy Space Centre. And they are displayed close to Atlantis in a memorial exhibit which remembers both the crews who were lost. Challenger and Columbia. Among Rick’s possessions…his cowboy boots and his Bible…opened to an important page. A page that talks about the benefits of wisdom. Showing the verse he had carefully underlined before his death.

husband

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Surely Rick’s is the heart of the true explorer. Who longs to learn and discover just how wonderful our Universe is. Who does so holding the hand of the God who is leading him safely to his destination.

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

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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?

RESPONDblogs: An Unexplained Darkness During Jesus’ Crucifixion

CaptureIn my experience, one of the first questions that Biblical sceptics ask about the miracle claims in the Bible is this – “Is there any evidence for this event outside the Bible?” I think this is a very reasonable question.

 

During the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Bible records a miraculous sounding turn of events. The Synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew 27:45; 51-52, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44-45) all record an unexpected period of darkness which occurred while the crucifixion was progressing. Matthew goes further to give it a duration – 3 hours – and also claims it was accompanied by something like an earthquake.

 

Is there any evidence outside the Bible for this surprising turn of events? If it really happened then surely it would have been a source of shock and surprise to the wider population of Jerusalem that day? The gospel account does not give any clue as to how large an area was affected by the claimed darkness. Was it restricted to the areas surrounding Jerusalem in some way? Was it felt by people living elsewhere on the planet? The text does not tell us. Again – we can assume it…but we don’t know from the Gospel texts themselves.

 

Well – a very ancient extra-Biblical account of the 3 hour long darkness and rock splitting earthquake – does in fact exist. To find it we need to read reports from one pagan Roman historian who was a contemporary of Jesus living in Palestine, one pagan Roman historian who lived later in the 2nd century and another who lived one hundred years later in Jerusalem.

 

Thallus, est. AD50:

Roman historian Thallus, believed to be a Samaritan, recorded strange events during Tiberius Ceasar’s reign around Jerusalem. We know from Thallus’s colleague Suetonius (also a Roman Historian) that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified during the reign of Tiberius. And Thallus is mentioned by various historical sources including his colleague Josephus.

Thallus describes an “eclipse of the sun”; he gives a naturalistic explanation of an event which is dated to the time period of the crucifixion.

 

Phlegon, est. AD137:

Phlegon was believed to have been born around the time of Jesus crucifixion, and wrote an account later in the 1st century. He too mentions the darkness and even records the time and duration of the event; and it lines up with Matthew’s report – between the 6th hour and the 9th hour. He also mentions the earthquake affecting Bythinia and part of Nicea (hundreds of miles north of Jerusalem). I will quote a surviving fragment of his “The Olympiads” at the bottom of this blog post.

Neither Thallus or Phlegon appear to have made any attempt to link the events specifically to Jesus’ crucifixion. Why would they? Yet a later 3rd century historian – Julius Africanus – did just that.

 

Julius Africanus, est. AD230:

He researched the earlier Thallus and Phlegon reports…and he added some commentary of his own. I will quote Julius Africanus at the bottom of this blog…but let me pull out some threads of what he is saying – and what he is not saying – in his account.

 

1 – A Disturbing Darkness. He points specifically to the darkness, it was a well-known historical event. The three hour darkness and its associated earthquake clearly affected a large region because many people got caught up in the discussion about it afterwards. Just how large the region was, though, is hard to tell.

2 – It Could Not Have Been an Eclipse. Julius quotes Thallus’ historical mention of the darkness. But he challenges Thallus’ reasoning for its occurrence. How can this have been an eclipse of the sun when the dates and times were all wrong? There was a full moon at that point in the Jewish calendar, and an eclipse of the sun would have been impossible.

3 – People at the Time Had Many Theories for Why It Happened. It seems that there were many different conflicting explanations suggested for this darkness at the time.  This is to be expected; people are curious – and inquisitive. We aren’t talking a cloudy day or a sudden rain downpour. This was a significant event that was debated amongst learned people at the time. There must have been many theories for what had happened that day! Julius is not convinced by Thallus’ naturalistic explanation. This is not just any astronomical event that is being discussed here – this is a very specific one which occurred during the reign of Tiberius Ceasar – around the time when Jesus Christ was crucified.

4 – He Corroborates Claims in the New Testament Gospels. He also points out Phlegon’s precise timing of the darkness and rock splitting event. This lines the account up with the claims in Matthew’s Gospel. He goes further and mentions the “resurrection of the dead” – a claim that Matthew’s Gospel specifically makes as having occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:52-53). Julius is writing a hundred years after these events. But his report seems to refer to events that were known from the time.

5 – Africanus Stuck To the Facts. Julius is not specifically arguing that a supernatural event occurred that day. I will sometimes hear sceptics talk down to those who lived in 1st century Palestine. “Oh, they would have believed anything back then!” But these people were not stupid – and not as naive as many folks assume. Julius’ focus here is on recording what happened that day and when. He is also very focused on arguing what did not happen – this event could NOT have simply been a natural eclipse.

 

 

Is there a Naturalistic Explanation for the Unexpected Darkness?

By the way – people still have naturalistic theories why the darkness occurred. Most still tend to repeat the argument that Julius Africanus refuted in the 3rd century…that the unexpected darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion was simply an eclipse. And the population of the time were so gullible and naive that they didn’t realise that was what it was. But modern scientific analysis shows that this darkness CANNOT be explained away as a natural eclipse; it cannot have been either an expected Lunar or Solar Eclipse.

A Lunar Eclipse did happen in AD33 during the night time, so it would not have been visible to the population…because it was already dark by then. Check here for more information.

Two Solar Eclipses happened in AD33. Check here for more information. But neither fit the time or description or location of the events reported during Jesus’ crucifixion.

  • The first one (Cat #04856) happened on 19th March, but only people in a boat floating on the Southern Ocean would have seen it. It would not have been visible in Jerusalem.
  • The second one (Cat #04857) happened on 12th Only people in the Northern Hemisphere would have experienced a total solar eclipse on that day. Jerusalem is so far south, that a fraction of the eclipse would have been visible to them that day; probably hardly noticeable and certainly not worthy of lots of discussion and theorising by learned people of the time.

 

 

Summary

In summary, we have independent, extra-Biblical witnesses of an unexpected and specific 3 hour period of darkness on the day Jesus was crucified.  And we have historical evidence of a debate for the cause of this unexpected astronomical event.  We also have the Phlegon account of the earthquake felt as far north from Jerusalem as Nicea.

So the answer to my question is – YES. I think we DO have corroborative evidence outside the Bible for another of its miracle claims – the unexpected darkness and the earthquake that accompanied the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

 

References

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (The Extant Fragments of the five Books of Chronography of Julius Africanus XVIII.1)

 

In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occured in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicea. (The Extant Fragments of The Olympiads of phlegon)

 

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Doesn’t Order in Nature Provide Circumstantial Evidence for God?

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I listened to a great discussion between James Croft and Calum Miller recently on the highly recommended “Unbelievable” Podcast. The topic of the discussion was, “Does theism or atheism best explain the universe?”. You can find and listen to their episode of the podcast here…  http://tinyurl.com/nxbqoxm

 

During the discussion, an interesting quote from Cosmologist Paul Davies was mentioned:

People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature – the Laws of Physics – is simply accepted as given … as brute fact. Nobody asks where the Laws come from. However – even the most atheistic Scientist accepts as a point of faith the existence of a law like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So Science can proceed only if the Scientist adopts an essentially Theological world view.” – Paul Davies

 

James Croft, who describes himself as a Humanist community leader (and he’s a jolly nice chap to boot!) responded to this quote with a fascinating rebuttal to it. He said…

 

Interesting arguments. But I think they rely on some false premises. The person said that Scientists accept as an act of faith the law like regularity of nature without which they couldn’t do their work. I think this is flatly false. I think our ability to construct models which bring order to our experience…we do not discover order in the universe…we construct models to bring order to our experience. That does not speak to a faith in the inherent intelligibility and ordered-ness of the universe. Scientists can proceed in their work without assuming at any point that the Universe is ordered or inherently intelligible.

 

If I rephrase what I think James is saying here – he is proposing that Natural Laws and order in our Universe is the last thing on the mind of a Scientist. Rather – Science is all about OBSERVATION of phenomena and CREATION OF A MODEL which helps Scientists understand that phenomena. This is a completely human centric perspective.

 

Well – this is very interesting to me and I’ve got some thoughts on the subject.

 

I think that – in a very real and practical sense, James is absolutely right. But – in my humble opinion – I also think he is proposing a form of circular reasoning that takes us back to an assumption that our Universe is ordered. Let me explain.

As James says, an important and creative task for Science is first to observe something in Nature (a phenomena). And second, the construction of abstract models to help Scientists understand and make future predictions on that observed phenomena.

I think a great example of this is – weather forecasts. In the UK, the Met Office has constructed complex models to help them interpret weather patterns today for the purpose of predicting what the climate might do next Wednesday (and every day). They also use these techniques to better understand our planet’s unfolding climate change. The models help them understand what is happening now, and help them predict future outcomes. So that they can warn us what might be coming. Of course this all depends on how good the model is and how well they are interpreting the model. (I’m not going to mention Michael Fish…woops, sorry…I did!)

All this is true and necessary. And – frankly – the Met Office’s practice assumes the order and predictability of the planet’s climate. For the Met Office model to be useful in predicting outcomes (the weather next Wednesday), the climate IS assumed to be ordered and predictable. If the planet’s weather patterns were truly random (and British weather so often gives a convincing impression of this) then there would be no need for a model at all. Because you cannot predict random. That’s the nature of random. If weather is random then we are all just at the mercy of what it decides to do next.

I think James is right – we do construct models that bring order to our experience. And the models we construct are complex ones.

But I think James might be missing an important point. Surely the underlying reason for thinking in terms of models…not to mention the reason for people’s sheer hard graft of programming them…points to an underlying assumption of the order and predictability of nature?

Moving on from the weather – Science is discovering all the time that its models are simplistic at best and only apply in certain conditions. As James and Calum mentioned during their discussion – the Newtonian Laws of Physics might apply when we are driving a car, but not when we are watching the behavior of sub-atomic particles; like Mesons and their Quarks which are hard to understand. Yet we are able to build models and principles. For example, Schrodinger’s Cat points to problems we face when understanding Quantum reality. And Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle describes the effect of wave particle duality at the subatomic level.

I imagine both Mr Schrodinger and Mr Heisenberg came to nature just as they observed it…and I imagine they decided that, “I’m going to give my life to understand the Quantum reality whether or not it is understandable”. But I’m pretty sure they bet their life on an assumption that the Universe IS actually and truly ordered and understandable; not random. Why? Because if Quantum Mechanics turns out to be ultimately unpredictable then the end of their life’s work will simply be a confused shrug of the shoulders! I suspect they and many Scientists working today are betting on their ability to discover some order amidst observable and apparent Quantum chaos. And some will be driven by the hope that they will be recognized for discovering that order.

So – what I am saying is – I agree with James that Science builds models to bring order to our observations and experience. But for those models to hold up in the real world – and for the models to be ultimately useful to us – surely there must be a natural order in our Universe to begin with?

So we are back where we started… “Science can proceed only if the Scientist adopts an essentially Theological world view.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Is belief in God Reasonable? Kalam says YES.

football

Imagine you are walking thru a forest with a friend. And you come across a ball sitting on the grass. It’s a football. And as you pick it up…you realize it’s not just any football. It’s finely stitched together and covered with signatures from the victorious England squad who beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup!

 

What would your reaction be? Hey – wait a minute. This is valuable. The way England are playing these days…I can’t foresee us winning another World Cup soon…we need to treasure this and look after it!

 

You might also wonder – who does this ball belong to? They must be gutted that they lost it!

 

And as these thoughts are running around your mind…your friend says to you…”Just leave it. Let’s keep walking.”

 

Any reasonable reaction to that would be – “Huh? Wait a minute. We can’t just leave it here. Someone carefully stitched this together. And it’s so valuable…it MUST belong to SOMEONE.”

But your friend goes on – “It doesn’t belong to anyone. It wasn’t stitched together it just happened in the forest all by itself. Let’s not look into the reason this football is here and who it belongs to……”

 

Now – in your mind, please expand the size of that football. Let it grow to the size of the Universe itself.

These strange responses from your friend about the football are so familiar to me. Because I hear them and read them all the time.

  • The Universe just happened.
  • It doesn’t belong to anyone
  • It wasn’t carefully stitched together

 

In the same way that these reactions are pretty strange and unreasonable when applied to the football…they are also strange and unreasonable when applied to the universe. Only much more so.

This is the essence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. You can learn a bit more here:

 

 

Is it reasonable to believe that God exists? Well – the Kalam Cosmological Argument says this:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause

 

Are the premises of this argument reasonable? I would say – YES absolutely! Our own life experience tells us that Premise 1 is true. Things don’t just appear! There is always a cause behind them.

 

What about Premise 2? Well Scientists have been telling us that the Universe exploded into being at a point in the past – the Big Bang. I’m not going to argue. Many have…but their theories have not really stood the test of time. Big Bang Cosmology is the predominant scientific understanding.

 

So if Premise 1 is true and Premise 2 is also true, then it follows that Premise 3 must be true.

The Universe has a cause.

 

The only way we can prove the Universe didn’t have a first cause…is to find a way to reject Premises 1 and 2. Personally – I wouldn’t reject them. And I’ve not read or heard any convincing arguments to cause me to want to reject them. So this means that Premise 3 stands.

 

Strikes me that…if the Universe has a cause…that cause must be incredibly powerful, outside of space and time. And for anyone who has ever taken a cursory glance at a Bible will tell you…that sounds very much like God.

 

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.” Isaiah 40:28, NLT

Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God. Psalm 90:2, NLT

 

Now…speaking of miracles…if we can just get England to play better in the next World Cup!

RESPONDblog: It’s Bigger on the Inside

doctorwho-8144-2

“It’s bigger on the inside!”

This is generally the reaction when someone first steps into the famous blue Police Box; the outer shell of the best ship in the universe. When you enter, you are stepping into a humming time and space machine with an interior sitting in another dimension, and an engine powered by an exploding star time-locked in the act of becoming a black hole. No wonder the Doctor’s latest companion starts out on their journey with a shocked expression.

There is something that fires the imagination when we suddenly get a sense that things are not necessarily what they seem. Whether we encounter it in fiction, or we sense it during of one of our own personal and very ordinary days. The realization that – ‘It’s bigger on the inside’ – can spark curiosity and excitement in some, perhaps even fear or cynicism in others.

But what if?

What if there really is something we have been passing by and ignoring in our lives. We’ve not taken any notice of it because it’s so mundane. Yet all the while, it is actually bigger and more striking than we could ever imagine. But we’ve got to look inside to realize it.

The average British man on the street wouldn’t blink twice at a blue Police Box in the 1960s. That’s one reason why it was a genius move for the BBC to make the Doctor’s TARDIS look like one. We’ve lost the sense of it a bit now, but Doctor Who posed a provocative statement to the people who first encountered it. The TV show declared that the mundane can be the door to the extraordinary! You might think you know all there is to know. But even the most ordinary and unexciting thing can be a door to stuff you just would not believe!

Now – I reckon you’ve lost count of the number of hotel rooms you’ve slept in that had a Gideon’s Bible in the drawer by the bed. Many times – you probably didn’t even open the drawer in the first place! But it was there. You have probably walked or driven past countless churches in your life. And you didn’t give them a second thought. Well – what I am saying today is this. ..

God and church might seem mundane – even out dated and as irrelevant as a 1960’s Police Box standing on the corner of a 21st century street. But guess what – there is adventure waiting inside. Christianity is the door to a future that you could never anticipate or imagine. Yes, you expect your eyes to fall on to the cramped space, 4 bare walls as you swing those doors inward. But what you actually get – blows your mind.

What I am saying  is this. There is a God…

Who crafted our Universe so that we could enjoy it

Who stepped into time so that we could know him (that’s who I and countless other Christians have discovered that Jesus is)

Who hand crafted us to achieve great things in the years we are alive on this beautiful planet

 

In fact – here’s a little bit of what he says on the subject:

“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11, The Message

Perhaps we’re thinking today – God show up? Yea right! He’s had plenty of opportunity to make a difference in my life already – and I’ve seen nothing of it. God show up? Give it a rest.

Well – maybe he’s actually been closer than you’ve realized. In the days, months and years that have led us to this point, we’ve thought that we were the master of our own destiny. But maybe he’s been waiting in the wings for longer than we knew. Maybe even in the midst of the tragedies we have suffered, he has been there.

And maybe – he’s just waiting for us to enter thru his doors. He’s not going to force himself on us. But he longs to travel thru life together with us. Caring for us, our special friend…on a journey full of the unexpected. A journey that will give us real…and perhaps unexpected hope.

I think Jesus knows what he’s doing. And adventure with him is just a step away.

But even more than that – at the end of the journey when our time aboard as his companion is drawing to a close…as we face our life’s end…he will take care of us and bring us safely back home. He promises it. He’s committed himself to it.

Our future will be better because there was a day when we personally and honestly discovered that God and church…the mundane …was actually completely extraordinary.

Wait a minute – “It really IS bigger on the inside!”