Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life In the Celestial Pool Hall

It seems to me that life might be likened to a game of pool. **Note: Like any analogy, the following comparison falls apart if you start pressing all of the specifics. Even so, I believe the conclusion of the thought experiment is helpful.** When all "goes right", each ball falls into the hole when you want it to. When that does not happen, things bounce around chaotically and you have to approach it from a different angle. Now, let us imagine for a moment that the numbered balls are the possible circumstances in your life. You are the cue ball. Now imagine that there are hundreds of billions of numbered balls and billions of cue-balls coming from all different directions. There are even new numbered balls and cue-balls being being added as the game continues. Most of us are content to sit around on the comfy green felt. We may even pray to the guy holding the big stick for the circumstances and people we want to "fall" in a particular way that seems best to us. Sometimes that will happen without us having to move. More often, the only way that will happen is if our position changes. And to that end, we have to be willing to take the hit. What is more, we have to be ready for the confrontations that will inevitably arise when that happens. Notice also, with so many balls ricocheting about, it is highly unlikely that anyone will be able to remain stationary and untouched for very long regardless of their own intentions.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving "Mini-Sermon"

I am genuinely thankful for all of the difficult circumstances that are teaching me to more readily run into the arms of grace. It is a lifelong process and that means more, (probably even greater), difficulties lie ahead. It is easy to say during these times; "life is not just about being happy". In a superficial sense, that is true. But in a much more real since, I am learning that the greatest source of happiness/joy comes from enjoying God in Christ. Romans 5:9-11 makes it clear that as great as justification is -- as great as it is to be rescued from God's wrath -- even greater than these is the gift of eternally enjoying God in Christ. Too often, my satisfaction with temporary, earthy happiness gets in the way of enjoying God. All the while, thinking that I am happy, I am actually experiencing a dramatically inferior happiness. I cling so tightly to these that it is spiritually (and sometimes physically) painful for them to be stripped away. Like C.S. Lewis says: “Our passions are not too strong, they are too weak. We are far too easily pleased." So, to conclude this "mini-sermon"; I thank God for sovereignly allowing the pain, suffering and difficulties that continue to strip away any delusions I have of finding true happiness in anything but Him. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The foolishness of, "If God would just..."

I would like to argue that one of the most common complaints of the skeptic might also be one of the most foolish -- "If God wanted to get me to believe, then He could do so very easily by just doing...'X'."

The problem with this statement is that it is impossible to know whether or not the occurrence of "X" would ACTUALLY cause the skeptic to believe. For instance, let us substitute 3 different scenarios in for "X".

"If God wanted to get me to believe then he could do so very easily by just...."
       1. "Bringing my brother back from the dead."
       2. "Appearing physically in Time Square."
       3. "Causing 40 days of darkness upon my request."

I want to go through these one by one and argue why I think it would be foolish to ASSUME that the occurrence of any these miracles would ACTUALLY guarantee the skeptic coming to belief in God.

1. The skeptic is visited by his resurrected brother. His first thought will almost certainly be "How is this possible?" At this point, he will search for any way of explaining the phenomenon without accepting the miraculous. He will find multiple possible (although improbable) explanations. For example, it is possible that his brother elaborately faked his own death. It is also possible that his brother had a secret identical twin. Even more improbable, but still possible, is that someone could have gotten extensive plastic surgery, learned to impersonate his brother and studied important minutia about his life to seem convincing.

2. The first problem with God appearing physically is that we wouldn't necessarily know what to look for. Would He be in human form or would He manifest Himself in another way? A burning bush would be quickly dismissed nowadays as special effects. On a related note, the second problem is that no matter where He might appear, only the people who were there could say that they actually witnessed it. And even if you had thousands of people saying that they saw Him and something caught on video tape, there would always be an overwhelming majority of the human race (billions of people) that weren't there and would be very skeptical of such evidence in the age of computer generated effects and of tremendous illusions performed in public.

3. The third scenario seems to me like it would be the easiest for the skeptic to dismiss. Amazing coincidence? Sure. Miracle from God? Doubtful. Since it involves a natural phenomenon, there would inevitably be an abundance of scientific explanations (no matter how contrived) for the event in question.

Now, to be fair, I could envision this argument easily being turned on it's head. For instance, a skeptic might say that the only reasonable Theist is one willing to say, "If 'X' happened then I would no longer believe in God." From that point the skeptic could argue that nothing substituted for "X" would ever guarantee that the Theist would abandon their faith. It is just as likely that they would try to find ways to explain it that allow them to maintain belief in God. However, while this inverted version of the original argument may serve highlight the foolishness of many forms of Theism, I think it fails against Christianity because the Christian claims to have "properly basic" evidence for God based on experience of Him. But that opens up an entirely different discussion.

So, just to wrap up, I think that this argument demonstrates the foolishness of a very common complaint raised by skeptics. Furthermore, by turning the argument on it's head it can be observed that both sides who would seek to maintain their point of view against proposed evidence (empirical, philosophical, hypothetical or otherwise) are ultimately doing so based on faith.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Polar Bear Attacks and the Origin of the Universe

Before you read this post, let me make one quick point. The analogy that I have used here is obviously not perfect. Every analogy breaks down at some point. So it is not necessary to critique the finer details, like how there may actually be a zoo in Nebraska with polar bears. If there is, great. If not, all the better for my analogy. Thanks!

If a forensic investigator decided at the outset of his career that, "Polar Bear attack", could never be a possible cause of death, then it could be argued that he would not be doing his job to the fullest extent. Sure, maybe he lives in Nebraska and the nearest polar bear is thousands of miles away in a zoo somewhere. It is not unreasonable to think he could go his entire career without facing such a bizarre scenario. But what happens if one day all of the evidence clearly points to "death by polar bear"? Evidence like claw marks, fur samples, footprints etc. He would have to either: A) reject the evidence to maintain his original assumption (defeating the purpose of his job) or B) reject the original assumption in light of the evidence.

Unfortunately, many Atheist/Naturalist/Materialist scientists have taken this same approach. Before they ever began their research, they determined that God could never be a possible cause or explanation. Sure, they live within the finite constraints of time and space and have never been able to test God in a laboratory. It is not unreasonable to think that nothing exists that cannot be tested or doesn't fit within those same boundaries. But what happens if one day all of the evidence clearly points to, "caused by an intelligent, transcendent creator"? Evidence like specific and purposeful complexity, the incredible fine tuning of the universe for life on Earth, the laws of thermodynamics, recent discoveries that demonstrate the universe had a definite beginning etc. From there the rest of the analogy is the same as above. That begs the question, if the scientist is forced to reject evidence to uphold his premise, is he really doing science? In reality he is just as bound to a theological position (albeit a negative one) as the person who believes in God. He accuses the believer of ignorantly dismissing any evidence that seems to be against God while at the same time dismissing all evidence that seems to be for the existence of God.

The reason I use the example of the forensic investigator is that he actually has a lot in common with a person trying to understand the origin or space, time, life etc. Unlike the operation scientist in a lab performing tests that can be duplicated and analyzed, the forensic investigator must analyze evidence and determine the most likely explanation. The same holds true when trying to understand the nature of existence. If God exists, he must by definition be immaterial. That is to say that since he existed before time, space, and matter, he cannot be made of those things. Therefore, it is a misunderstanding when an Atheist argues that since God cannot be observed by science that he cannot exist. The truth is that nothing immaterial can be observed, measured or tested by traditional operation science. For example, the past is immaterial and cannot be observed. The existence of the past can not be proven. For all we know, the entire universe spontaneously came into existence five seconds ago with all of our "memories" built in. To determine what actually happened in the past, the historian is forced to draw conclusions based on the best interpretation of the evidence. The human consciousness is immaterial. I cannot prove that I am not the only real person and that everyone that I meet is not actually an artificially intelligent and biologically accurate robot. Yet, the evidence against both of these hypothetical scenarios makes their conclusions very unlikely. Morality is also immaterial, and yet ethicists can study it by obersving it's effect human existence. To study the origin of the universe and/or first life, the same principals must be applied. And if the best interpretation of the evidence is that God created the universe and is the source of life, morality, creativity, love and everything else, then it would not be a ridiculous or anti-scientific conclusion. It could not be said to have been technically proven and therefore would need to be ultimately taken on faith, but I believe I have demonstrated how the same is true of the opposite conclusion as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rebuttal of Atheist Reasoning

An Atheist worldview must be based on naturalism. That is to say, the view that there is nothing transcendent of the natural universe (or multiverse as some would argue). The naturalist says that all existence has a natural explanation even if we haven't arrived at it yet. The problem with naturalism is that it is ultimately self defeating. If naturalism were true, it would mean that the cognitive faculties (reason, logic, decision making etc) necessary for determining truth and worldview came through natural selection. If by natural selection, then the main function of the cognitive faculties is survival rather than truth. Granted, many times truth and survival go hand in hand, but that is obviously not always the case. As a result, it becomes impossible to trust ones own cognitive faculties. How would you know that your reasoning was sound? After all, according to naturalism, what is reason but an illusion created by chemical reactions in the brain? Atheists like Sam Harris and Stephen Hawking even go so far as to say that humans have no free will but that all is determined by our biological chemistry. That begs yet another question: even if your cognitive faculties were trustworthy, how would you be able to tell? If your naturalistic worldview is ultimately determined by chemistry then shouldn't the same be true of the man who has a Christian worldview? Why would natural selection produce in humanity so many conflicting points of view unless the survival of the race depended upon its own inability to determine any truth? If you are an Atheist or otherwise proponent of naturalism, you must concede that to be at least a probable scenario. But if that is true, then any claim to scientific knowledge is empty. It is just as likely that your brain is leading you to believe something in order to preserve the human race as it is that the same something actually be true. At that point all terms like truth, reason, choice, etc all become meaningless and the argument for naturalism breaks down. A transcendent explanation is required and I would even argue perfectly reasonable.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Three steps to losing a generation

1. As a child he sings, "For the Bible tells me so" and we say "how cute!" 2. As a teenager he says, "Why should I trust the Bible?" and we say "stop doubting and just believe!" 3. As a college student he says, "But how do I know what the Bible says is true?" and we say, "Because the Bible says so!" And we wonder why he stopped coming to church. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hobbits, Action Movies, And The Trouble With Suspening Disbelief

"...for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who seek him." Hebrews 11:6
            The concept of "suspending disbelief" is most commonly associated with the observation of artistic works of fiction. Consider the following illustrations. John excitedly loans a copy of his favorite book, "The Hobbit", to his friend Ben. After merely reading the jacket cover description, Ben tells John that he is not interested in reading the book. Ben explains, "I don't believe that things like hobbits, dragons, wizards and magic exist and I can't enjoy reading about something I know could never happen." Flabbergasted by the naivety of his friend, John responds, "No one is asking you to actually believe those things are real. You just have to suspend disbelief." In a similar scenario, Larry and Bill have just finished watching a new action movie. Larry did not enjoy the movie because, in his words, "in real life, no one could ever kill one thousand of the world's top assassins while navigating down a mountain on only one ski, in the dark, and manage to avoid getting hit by even a single bullet." Bill laughs and says, “it’s just a movie." The concept remains the same; Bill was able to enjoy the movie because he exercised suspension of disbelief while his friend Larry wished that he had not wasted twelve dollars.
            It seems to me that Christian evangelism has largely settled on the "suspending disbelief" model over the past 200 years and especially over the last 50-60 years. It is not uncommon to hear preachers use phrases like, "Is there any reason that you couldn't give your life to Jesus right now?" and "Just give Jesus a try." While I am not questioning the genuine motivation behind these phrases, they may be more dangerous than they seem on the surface. Anyone familiar with doing surveys or polls will tell you that carefully worded questions tend to generate predictable answers. That is to say that you can ask the same question several different ways and get a different set of answers each time.
            Atheists accuse religious people of being weak willed, ignorant, uneducated and easily lead. If we are speaking of religious people in the broadest sense, they are probably more correct than we would like to admit. People that exhibit the aforementioned characteristics are much more likely to suspend disbelief in God, miracles, Heaven, Hell, and other spiritual idea. When coupled with traumatic circumstances such as illness, family tragedy, impending death and the like, people of this sort become willing to suspend disbelief in practically anything.* 
            You will notice that I have intentionally used the phrase "suspend disbelief" instead of "believe". I think that the distinction between the two is of utmost importance. Remember when John explained to Ben that he did not actually need to believe that hobbits and dragons were real, but only to suspend his disbelief in them? John was not asking Ben to believe in these things; rather he was merely asking him to pretend as if they were real for the purposes of experiencing the novel. This demonstrates that, contrary to what one might assume, that the opposite of suspending disbelief is not "suspending belief." I would like to suggest that suspending disbelief necessarily presupposes that the person does not believe in the concept to which he is suspending disbelief. If Ben already believed in magic, then he would not have to suspend his disbelief of it in order to enjoy the book. Therefore, suspension of disbelief and suspension of belief (or simply: unbelief) are synonymous rather than opposites. So, the real opposite of suspening disblief is real belief.
            The problem is that many Christians have become content to ignore the difference between suspending disbelief and belief. Thousands of people will warm the pews of their local churches without ever moving from the place where mere suspension of disbelief for the sake of convenience, social acceptance, and emotional security, becomes actual, meaningful, concrete and unswerving belief. We must be willing to examine ourselves and honestly deal with the question "Is what I really believe true?" That question may be intimidating, but it could not be more important.
            Anyone who has worked in a church or spent any considerable amount of time around evangelism has undoubtedly experienced the following scenario. A stranger walks through the doors of a church after circumstances of his life have driven him to depression and hopelessness. After a fiery sermon asking questions like, "do you know where you will spend eternity if you died today?” the stranger walks down the aisle and prays the "sinner's prayer." He begins attending church and his motives seem sincere. However, after a few weeks he mysteriously disappears. Everyone wonders what happened to him, until one day when one of the deacons bumps into him at the local gas station. When pressed for a reason why he has not been in church, the stranger replies, "I don't believe that stuff any more."
           At this point the Christian thinker finds himself in an age old quandary. How is this possible? Is it possible to believe and then stop believing? Can a person who confessed belief in Christ just walk away from Him? These are loaded questions. Generally, the underlying question is, "Can a person lose his/her salvation?" I think the answer is obvious, no. If a person has truly been washed in the blood of Christ, there is nothing that can undo that. What sort of thing do people typically suppose could undo it? Sin. If that is your view, I would simply ask you to seriously consider the consequences of saying that sin is powerful enough to overcome the blood of Christ. Anyway, going back to the original questions, I think understanding the difference between suspending disbelief and actual belief gives you have a better vantage point from which to address the problem. Just re-word the questions accordingly. Is it possible to suspend disbelief and then stop suspending belief? Of course. Can a person who confessed a willingness to suspend disbelief in Christ just walk away from him? Again, the answer is obviously, yes. 
            Whether in our own lives, in sharing Gospel with others, or in training up new believers to be disciples, we ought not to settle for suspension of disbelief over real belief. It is not uncommon to hear Christians say things like, "God is real to me but it is up to everyone to find what is real to them", and "I believe in Jesus, but everyone is free to believe what they want." These phrases are not evidence of deep seated, persuaded beyond reasonable doubt, belief that something is true in reality. Rather, they are more likely signs of someone who, for one reason or another, has chosen to suspend disbelief.
            To be frank, it is a lot simpler than most people want to admit. God either exists or he does not. If he does in fact exist, merely suspending disbelief would be the greatest injustice. However, if he does not exist, then at some point a continued willingness to suspend disbelief becomes something more like delusion or even madness. Likewise, Jesus was either the Son of God or he was not. If he was, he deserves nothing less than complete, robust, unshakable belief. If he was not, he does not deserve even our suspension of disbelief, but rather only our highest contempt. For a multitude of reasons -- ignorance, emotion, confusion, trauma, social convention, family tradition etc -- a person may be willing to suspend disbelief, but suspension of belief does not equal belief. 
*I am not trying to belittle the way God uses difficult experiences to draw people to Himself. In fact, it is probably the most common way that He causes people to recognize their desperate need for a Savior.