Monday, September 30, 2013

Reanimautomaton (A Short Story)

"You can do what?" Jamie asked, choking back her tears.

"We could potentially bring your husband back," the surgeon replied.

            "How is that even possible?"

            "Through recent advances in brain mapping technology, we have developed an experimental new procedure that could theoretically allow us to re-animate your husband's brain."

            "Is it safe?"

            "Well, we have not tested it on a human subject, but we have had success with a variety of small animals. And frankly ma'am, you've nothing to lose. As you know, your husband has lost all brain function. His heart and lungs are still functioning via life support, but that's only a temporary solution."

            "What exactly would you do to him?"

            "By carefully inserting a series of tiny electrodes into his brain, we would be able to simulate normal brain function. At the very least, we should be able to open his eyes and have him speak."

            Jamie wiped her eyes and said, "I would love to look into his eyes and hear his voice again. Even if only to tell him how much I love him."

“Shall I schedule the procedure then?" replied the surgeon. "Time is of the essence in your husband's case."

Jamie took a belabored breath and nodded, "Yes."

            After twelve hours of intensive surgery, the surgeon returned to the waiting room. Jamie was positioned nervously on the edge of the couch, clutching a cup of cold coffee.

“Well?" she asked.

“The surgeon smiled. "The procedure was successful. Would you like to talk to your husband?" Jamie instantly broke into tears. She took the surgeon's arm and stood up.

            When Jamie entered the room, she could hardly believe what she saw. Her husband was sitting up in the bed, and for the first time in nearly three years, his eyes were open. In a hesitant sounding voice, he said, "Hi Jamie."

Jamie broke into a run and threw her arms around his neck. In between sobbing breaths, Jamie managed to say, "I love you so much."

"I love you too," her husband replied.

            Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and looked in astonishment at her husband. But after a few emotional moments, she began to grow disconcerted. His eyes seemed strangely distant -- locked in a vacant stare. Jamie placed her hands on her husband's face and asked, "Honey, can you see me?"

After an awkward moment of still silence, he hesitantly replied, "No, I cannot." 

            Jamie turned to the surgeon. "Why can't he see me?" she asked in a frustrated tone.

            "The nature of the process does not allow us to simulate vision yet. Because his brain is technically still dead, his eyes are not able to communicate with his brain."

            "What do you mean he is still brain-dead? He is here talking to me."

            "Well, yes, he is able to speak. But his ability to communicate depends on manual stimulation."

            Jamie looked at her husband, who sat silently on the bed. His eyes were still disconcertingly empty. 

“What does that even mean?" she asked increasingly irritated.

            "It means that your husband's ability to speak relies on information that we input through the electrodes in his brain. It is an amazing process really. But we are not yet able to simulate functions that depend upon stimuli external to the brain itself."

            Jamie asked in a terrified whisper: "You're controlling him?"

            "Only in a manner of speaking ma'am. It is still his brain, causing his mouth to move, and his vocal chords generating sound. We are simply helping his brain to do what it would normally have done on its own."

            "It's really me Jamie. I love you," said her husband. 

            Jamie let out a short scream, and simultaneously whirled around and slapped her husband across the face. As soon as she realized what she had done, she started caressing his face and apologizing profusely.

            "Don't worry ma'am. As I just explained, his brain cannot receive external stimulation. He didn't feel a thing," said the surgeon. 

            Jamie's hands were shaking. She stood up and walked toward the surgeon, wiping the tears from her eyes.

            "So you are telling me that he can't see, he can't feel, and, and… how are you controlling him?"

            "Not me ma'am. I simply performed the surgery. The impulses are actually controlled wirelessly. There is a technician in the next room entering the information."

            The surgeon gestured to his right. With that, Jamie stormed out into the hall. She began pounding her fists on the unmarked door.

“Open this door! Now!" she screamed frantically.

No response. Jamie fell to the floor in a heap, covering her face with her hands. The surgeon approached Jamie and tried to console her.

“Ma'am," he said, "I know that this is all very sudden and unusual."

            "That's not my husband!"

            "I assure that it is."

            "You said you could bring him back. You didn't say that you could turn him into a puppet."

            "I think you greatly misunderstand."

            "No, I think you misunderstand," she said quietly, feigning composure.

            Jamie picked herself up and walked back into her husband's room. She sat down on the bed and placed her ear against his chest. She could hear his heart beating.

“I'm sorry that I overreacted," Jamie said. "You are right. I am just emotional because this is all so new and surprising."

            The surgeon relaxed his posture, folding his arms over his clipboard.

Jamie asked, "Do you think I could be alone with him for just a minute?"

The surgeon nodded compassionately and said, "Certainly, ma'am." He quietly closed the door as he left the room.

            Jamie glanced around the bed and spotted the thick black cord coming out of the breathing machine. She reached for the cord with her leg, kissed her husband, and jerked the plug out of the wall.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

William Lane Craig Doesn't Live In Your Neighborhood

One of the most important lessons that I learned from my time in a band, is that the primary ministry happens when the band is gone. Let me explain what I mean. There are Christian bands that jump on stage, rock a couple of songs, and then share the Gospel before launching into the rest of their set. The trouble is that the venue is rarely conducive to such a presentation. The sound system is not set up for a speech, but for music. People are cheering, milling around, crowded and sweaty. Of course, there are people in the crowd who would react negatively if the band chopped out this portion, but the truth is that it is rarely effective. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I am simply speaking generally. The other reason it is problematic is that after the band signs a few autographs and takes some pictures, they load up and leave town. Even if someone is genuinely moved by the Gospel presentation, the band is not there to do any follow up. It is the local impact of the people who buy the albums, memorize the words, and wear the t-shirts, that is really powerful. They are there to develop lasting relationships when the band is off doing a tour in Africa. In short, the real ministry happens after the band is gone.

How does this have anything to do with everyone's favorite suspender clad apologist, William Lane Craig? I would like to suggest that what happens with bands is analogous to what happens with Christian case makers. There are what J. Warner Wallace calls, "Million Dollar Apologists", and then there are the rest of us who aspire to contend for the faith. J. Warner calls us "One Dollar Apologists." The truth of the matter is that million dollar apologists rarely (if ever) approach seven figure salaries. I would actually suggest that most one dollar apologists have considerably more resources to invest in the cause of apologetics than their more recognizable counterparts. And that is where I want to draw the parallel. 

I would actually be willing to go even further than J. Warner's claim that we need more one dollar apologists. I would say that the real ministry happens when Dr. Craig is not around. He speaks in venues that are much more conducive to presenting the gospel, but often in front of even more hostile audiences. In any event, he does not live in your neighborhood, hang out with your co-workers, and eat pizza with your friends. And most of them will never read anything that Dr. Craig puts out or watch any of his videos. They don't know him and he doesn't know them. But they would probably read something that you wrote, watch a video that you made, or come to hear a presentation that you were giving at the local college apologetics group. The largest impact made by the Craig, Geisler, McDowell, and company is not in their physical appearances or even in the books that they write. The larger, more lasting impact comes from the people who buy the books, memorize the words, and wear the t-shirts (I am sure they exist somewhere. If not, there is a lot of money waiting to be made from William Lane Craig "suspender-defender" t-shirts. Just saying.)

Of course, we need people doing research, writing books, and doing speaking engagements. We can't survive with out them. It is a symbiotic relationship. The ministry of the one dollar apologists depends on the ministry million dollar apologists and the ministry of the million dollar guys depends on the ministry of the one dollar guys. It is admittedly presumptuous of me to say so, but I think most of the million dollar guys would probably agree that even if they were selling thousands and thousands of books to Christians; they would hang up their suspenders in a heartbeat if they knew that the readers would never pass along the information. They would retire their argyle sweaters; even if they were selling out stadiums to believers; if it was entirely certain that every person who attended would take a vow of silence immediately afterward.

I say all of this to encourage those of you who, like me, are deeply indebted to the big names out there. Find some way to start sharing what you have learned. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking "I won't say anything new" or "I can't say it as well as Dr. Craig." Your friends probably haven't heard it before and they don't care how well someone else can say it. Do not stay on the sidelines because you think, "I don't know all of the answers." Wanna know the shocking truth? Neither does Dr. Craig! And even if he did, he does not live in your neighborhood.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Smartest Guy in The Room (A Short Story)

No matter where he was, Tim Callahan was always the smartest guy in the room. All through college and grad school, his professors doted on him for his outstanding academic contributions. No one in the sociology department -- including the teachers -- could hold a candle to Tim's knowledge on any given topic. He graduated at the top of his class with a PhD in sociology.

Tim's academic reputation practically guaranteed him a high profile career in the field of sociology. Within mere months of graduation, he had accepted a position as a research professor at a top tier university. He was only 24 years old and poised to revolutionize his field -- or so he thought. 

Tim struggled as a teacher from the very first day. He always presented the information clearly and thoroughly. He had PowerPoint presentations and handouts filled with excellent points. Even so, Tim could never seem to connect with the students. He might have noticed that he was having a problem when more than half of the students in his classes withdrew. He might have suspected something was amiss when many of the junior and senior level sociology students opted to change their majors and left the department altogether. But Tim did not notice. 

That is, until he received an email from the concerned parent of one of his most promising students.

Hello Dr. Callahan, 
   My son James is a senior sociology major. He really respects you. I can tell that he has learned a lot from your classes. Even so, I am becoming concerned. I have noticed a dramatic change in James' attitude since he began taking your classes two years ago. He has become cold, distant and frankly, rude. It is a side of him that I had never seen before. He was always such a considerate young man. I can hardly talk to him anymore, and when we do talk, it's like we don't even speak the same language. James has gotten so smart that trying to show him the error of his ways is actually sort of intimidating. He always has a complicated sociological response for everything that I try. He has learned so much from you, so please do not think that I am complaining. It is just that I know James considers you a mentor. If there is anything that you can do to encourage him, that would be greatly appreciated.
   Thank you, 
      Janet Peterson
The words of the email sounded eerily familiar. The situation reminded Tim of the tension plaguing his own family in recent years. His mother had used nearly all of the same adjectives: cold, distant, rude. For the first time since his own family struggles began, Tim suspected that he might be the problem. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Conveeeenient! The Church Lady Tactic

If you are older than 25, you probably remember Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" character from Saturday Night Live. For those who are not familiar, I will provide a brief (and totally unfunny) synopsis. The church lady interviews various celebrities for her "Church Chat" television program. Every interview begins in fairly mundane fashion. That is, until the church lady starts grilling her guests. She inevitably asks a question about some questionable behavior attributed to the guest. When the guest shows no sense of shame, the church lady smugly replies, "Well, isn't that special?" Then, the church lady rhetorically asks the audience, "Who do you think could be behind this bad behavior?" Without skipping a beat, she emphatically answers her own question, "Could it be; oh I don't know; Satan!?" At this point, the guest usually tries to offer some excuse for his behavior, but the church lady simply will not let him off the hook. She quickly rejects the excuse and employs another of her comical catchphrases; "How conveeeeenient!" she quips. The crowd erupts in laughter and applause. Sometimes, when the church lady is feeling especially triumphant, she does a little dance -- a magnificent sight.

Never mind the obvious irony in the title, but I have recently noticed many critics of Christianity utilizing what I would like to call, "The Church Lady Tactic." Here is how it generally looks. First, the critic calls into question some perceived Christian doctrine that he finds inconsistent, illogical, or immoral. Next, the Christian responds by explaining how the critic has grossly misrepresented and/or misunderstood the doctrine. Then, the critic simply dismisses the explanation by saying, "How convenient!" Much like the church lady, the critic feels victorious. Often times, he will even gloat over the perceived absurdity of his opponent's response.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I think the best strategy for answering the church lady tactic is to agree with the critic. You can say something like, "You're right, it is convenient, but what does that have to do with anything?" You might also ask, "What do you mean by convenient?" The obvious implication is that he thinks your explanation is contrived and unworthy of an intelligent response. Even so, you do not have to take the bait and get defensive. Simply ask him to explain his problems with your argument. If he is willing, great, then you are back on track to an intelligent conversation. However, if he is unwilling, then you simply have to move on.

The truth is that many critics resort to moves like the church lady tactic because they are afraid to face the explanation that you have provided. Dismissing it as "convenient" keeps them from having to deal with the implications. And that principle does not only apply to issues of religion, but also to friendships, marriages, families etc. When I am obviously and loudly convinced that I am right about something and my wife confronts me with clear evidence to the contrary, I naturally want to find a way to dismiss it. The more obvious my shortcomings, the more negatively I am inclined to react. What happens next is an even uglier secret. That is, if I react smugly to her comment and then she snaps back at me, I subconsciously feel like I have dodged the bullet. Now we are both upset and we are not even talking about the original issue anymore. It is a vicious cycle, all perpetuated by a form of the church lady tactic. I pray that you can learn from my embarrassing admission how to better maneuver in these circumstances, regardless of which side you find yourself on.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

No Such Thing As Faith Without Reason

 I have recently heard/read a lot of people claiming that faith and reason are opposed to one another. Sadly, the sentiment is not only advanced by non-believers but often by Christians as well. Recently, I have been considering whether this claim even makes logical sense. Are faith and reason polar opposites? That is, does faith necessarily decrease as reason increases and vice versa? Or, to put it another way, are faith and reason inversely proportional? That is the question I want to consider here.

I think the best way to handle the question (and many similar questions) is to "de-spiritualize" it. That will help to unload some of the religious baggage and see the core principles at work more clearly. To do this, I will use marriage as an analogy. I have faith that my wife loves me. That is to say, I trust that she loves me. Of course, I cannot know with complete certainty, but simply have to take it on faith. It is entirely possible that she is deceiving me. However, that seems incredibly unlikely. Why? The answer is because of reason. There is a great deal of evidence that gives me reason to trust (by faith) that she loves me. What is more, as reasons for thinking she loves me increase, so does my faith that she loves me.

Are there any counter evidences that might make me think she doesn't love me? Of course. Any (honest) married person will testify to this. I often struggle to understand why she reacted a certain way or said a certain thing, and if I only analyzed my emotional response to those particular moments, I might say "there is no way she loves me." But are these isolated incidents -- the highly subjective, emotionally charged moments of confusion -- enough to overthrow the wealth of evidence that points to her love for me? Absolutely not!

Now, let us consider how absurd it would be if I reassessed my marriage using the formula that faith and reason are inversely proportional. In order for my faith in my wife's love to grow, I would actually need less reasons for it. The less she showed her love and the more she voiced her contempt, the greater my faith that she loves me would become. Stepping back from the analogy for a moment, that would mean a person of faith would be in the awkward position of actually wanting his beliefs to be disproven in order that his faith might reach its greatest potential. That is totally ridiculous. 

At this point, I can imagine that someone accusing me of having grossly misrepresented the "faith vs reason" position. They would likely argue that the absence of reason simply makes more room for faith. That is, I do not have to express very much faith in my wife's love since there are abundant reasons for knowing it is true. In the absence of reasons, I would have to exercise a tremendous amount of faith in order to believe that she loved me. My question at that point would be: is faith the sort of thing that changes size to fill gaps? I do not think so. Faith can certainly increase or decrease, but I do not have any reason to think that the supply necessarily responds to the demand. It seems to me that when a  person has no apparent reasons for faith in something or someone, he usually has less obvious reasons that he finds just as, if not more compelling. These might be emotional or psychological reasons rather than emperical. Maybe the reasons come from experience. Or maybe they come from the perceived trustworthiness of an authority. These are all legitimate sources of reasons for faith. Granted, someone might say these are not good reasons. But they are still reasons! In the end, I would argue that no one expresses faith in the absence of reason. That idea is just false. There is no such thing as faith without reason.

Proponents of the Christian "faith vs reason" crowd generally want to argue that no reason is necessary beyond the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. To that I would simply say that they need to re-phrase their position. They do not actually believe that faith is opposed to reason but simply that the testimony of the Spirit is reason enough for faith. In which case, they maintain my claim that no one believes without reason. I would even agree with them up to a certain point. I affirm that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is necessary for faith in Christ. However, I do not think that in any way logically precludes the possibility that faith can be increased by additional evidence. I also do not believe there are compelling reasons to think the testimony of the Holy Spirit cannot work through the presentation of evidence. In fact, I think there are biblical reasons to think he often does. If we want to be strict about our soteriology and argue that "no one is saved based on the presentation of evidence", then I think we have to say the same about the presentation of  the Gospel. Do we want to go there? I really hope not, but strictly speaking, people are not saved by the act of evangelism. I believe the same way the Holy Spirit uses the presentation of the Gospel as a tool, He also uses the presentation of evidence. Come to think of it, why should we assume that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is some kind of ethereal feeling completely detached from reason? I don't know of any biblical reason for thinking that. But I will leave that for now and address the other side of the "faith vs reason" coin.

I would argue that advocates of the atheistic "faith vs reason" crowd also need to re-phrase their objection. In my estimation, when they say, "faith is opposed to reason", what they really mean is, "people of faith lack any good reasons for belief." But that is a completely different argument and a highly subjective one. Who decides what constitutes good evidence? Are emotional and psychological evidence always misleading? Of course not. What about beliefs based on experience or the perceived trustworthiness of authority? Should these always be rejected? That would be ridiculous. In reality, the majority of beliefs held by human beings (regardless of their worldview) come from experience and authority.

More importantly, what really matters is not the goodness or badness of the reasons Christians have for their faith. What matters is whether or not what they believe is true. The question is not, "Does the random Christian on the street have any good reasons for his faith?" but, "Do any good reasons for the Christian faith exist?" After a lot of study and skepticism (contrary to popular belief, Christians are often the harshest skeptics of Christianity), I am absolutely convinced that they do. What is more, I am convinced that anyone who is genuinely seeking the answer to that question will find the same to be true.