Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show Me the Money

Show me the evidence. Anti-theists throw down that challenge regularly in comment sections on news sites, blogs, YouTube, and Facebook posts. Apparently they think it is the final unanswerable dare. But really, is there no evidence? Consider the following. 

The Bible says there is evidence in the sky (Psalm 19:1). How so? 

When David looked up into the night sky, he could see the watercolor wash of the Milky Way splashed across a background of several thousand individual stars.  And when he reflected on that awesome tableau, he saw the glory of God displayed. But David was already a believer in the Creator who made it all. What about those who are not? 

Today we can look far, far deeper into the universe than David could. The Hubble space telescope shows us not just stars but galaxies in the millions and billions. And Hubble can take us back in time to a point close to the beginning of the universe. Can it provide us evidence for God? 

Yes. The universe provides us more evidence for the Creator than David could ever have imagined. To begin with, we know from Edwin Hubble’s observations that the universe had a beginning. Now, Hubble did not take the next step, but it obvious: a beginning implies a Beginner. 

There have been objections, of course, from scientists and anti-theists to inserting into the history of the universe’s origin and evolution a supernatural Beginner. There might be other explanations. The universe might be the result of quantum fluctuation in the void. It might be the extension of another universe or universes that were earlier and are beyond our detection. Though there is absolutely no evidence for any of those possibilities, it would be possible – if the universe were not as it is. 

And what is it about the universe that makes either of those possibilities highly improbable? The first is that the universe exists because of what we call natural laws and forces, none of which are a necessary component of matter or energy. Not only so, but those forces are so delicately balanced with each other that should one of them have been slightly different – gravity, for example, 1 part in 10 to the 40th power stronger or weaker1 – the universe as we know it would not exist today. 2  How could that have happened? 

The second is that the universe is not simple. And simple is what we’d expect from a universe that was the product of any of the simple forces proposed for a natural origin. For example, disorganized energy, which is what quantum fluctuations are, or a black hole in another universe, sometimes suggested as a possible origin in the multiverse theory, are simple. But there is no means known or imagined by which something fundamentally simple can naturally develop into the complexity of the universe we live in. Yet, “recent developments in science are beginning to suggest that the universe naturally produces complexity.”3  How is that possible?

The third is that at least our particular neighborhood in the cosmos is unexpectedly fit for life such as ourselves.4 (Scientists call this the anthropic principle, and it is recognized by scientists whose religious beliefs range from agnosticism to theism.) How unexpectedly? Well, it is computed now that about 200 conditions must pertain for the earth to be hospitable to intelligent life like ourselves. The probability of those existing together computes to far beyond the 1 in 10 to the 45th power – that is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 -  considered to be beyond possibility. How is that possible? It is not, unless the universe is designed by an intelligence. 

Astronomy and Cosmology have opened up the wonders of the universe far beyond anything David could have dreamed. And with every new revelation science provides us, the hand of a Creator seems more and more evident and necessary. Evidence? This would seem to be sufficient. 

1. Davies, Paul. The Accidental Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

2. Hawking, Stephen.  A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books,  1988, p. 7, 125.

3. "The Universe is a 'Complexity Machine' - Intelligent Life and Technology May Be Common in the Cosmos." The Daily Galaxy, January 23, 2015. 

4. Ross, Hugh. "Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity." Reasons to Believe. reasons.org. January 1, 2002.


Friday, July 22, 2016

The Fairness of God

God is not fair. That is what I hear on YouTube and read on skeptic websites. God is not fair. He favors some with salvation, but not all. He is preached in some cultures, but not all. Some have the Bible, but not all. And if salvation depends on believing in this God and obeying the Bible, then all do not have an equal chance. It is not fair.

The next step in that logic is usually to say if God is not fair then he is unworthy of being worshiped. Or even better, if God is unfair it is likely that there is no such God as you Christians have been declaring.

That sounds like a pouty teenager who decides to run away from home because she wasn't allowed to wear lipstick like her friend Jennie. But that analogy trivializes the question. Seriously, is God fair?

Anyone who bothers to look for that answer on the Internet will find two answers.

The first, God IS FAIR because he is impartially just. Because of the rebellion and disobedience of all mankind (Romans 3:23) God is just and therefore fair in condemning all.

That answer does not satisfy most skeptics, however, because they are of the opinion that some must be better  than others and that in fairness God should reward those who are better. But they fail to understand that failure is failure.

When I was teaching school a D was passing - barely. If a D was a 60-69% grade then everything below 60% was below passing. It did not matter if it was 59% or 15%. Both grades were below passing.

That is the situation for us. By God's standards we are all below passing, how far does not make any difference. We all deserve, in all fairness, an F.

"But." I love that word in Ephesians 2:4. It means that FAILURE is not the last word. The last word is GRACE. And that is the second answer you will find. God is not fair; he is gracious.

The bottom line premise of the Bible is that all are sinners, and all, if left on their own, would choose darkness rather than light. In other words, we would choose rebellion and self-interest rather than God. The result would be a forever, banned form his presence and blessing, in hell.

But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great that, while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience, he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4,5) 

God IS NOT FAIR; he is merciful and gracious. 

So, it is likely my skeptic friends really would not want fairness. They would want grace.

Stop! my skeptic friends will say. That might be all good for you, but what about those who don't even know about your God? Since it is "faith" in Jesus that is the key, if they do not know about Jesus aren't they doomed? Is that fair?

My skeptic friends have a point, and they must have been reading on in Ephesians 2 because that is what it says in 2:8. "For it is by God's grace you have been saved through faith." But the question is faith in what.

In Ephesians, Paul is talking to people who have heard of Jesus. And it is faith in the mercy and grace of God revealed in Jesus and made available through Jesus' sacrifice that is specifically in view. But what of those who have not heard of Jesus?

That is a fair question, and it is one I hear from many internationals whom I've had in Bible classes and whose families have never heard about Jesus. I'll answer that question, but first this:

All who are reading this blog have heard of Jesus. What are you doing with that knowledge? If you were asking Jesus this question, that is were he would stop. There is no point going on if you are unwilling to trust in God's grace that you now understand to be centered in Jesus. Everything beyond that is abstract curiosity and not a serious question. What will you do with Jesus?

If you, however, are trusting in Jesus and want to know, here is the answer I believe Paul the Apostle would give: God has revealed himself and his grace to all.

To the people in Lystra he said: "He [God] has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.” That revealing of himself was intended to cause men to seek him: " He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us."

In other words, God is findable. His grace may be known even if you don't know about Jesus. Certainly, the ancient people such as Abraham and Job knew God initially this way. And there are many for whom this is all they know of God. So Paul says in Romans 1 that they are "without excuse." What people, even those who have never heard of Jesus, can know is sufficient for them to know of God's grace. They cannot claim they didn't have a chance.

There is a principle in the Bible that we are accountable for what we know, not what we don't know. If everyone can know something of God's grace, it is to that they are accountable. If the question to those who have heard of Jesus is what have you done with Jesus and the gospel, the question to those who have only the knowledge of God's grace in nature is what have you done with what you know.

Can they then be saved apart from Jesus? I think that the answer is both NO and YES. But. (I know many of my brethren in the faith will object. Be patient with me.)

The "but" is that the man or woman who responds to the little that may be seen of God's grace in nature will not be left where he or she is. In some cases, God has brought that person to a knowledge of Jesus. That is, after all, what apparently God did in Athens for Dionysius and Damaris (Acts 17). These apparently were two who had a distant hope in the unknown god represented by the pedestal absent an image, and Paul directed their hope to the true and living God whose Son died and rose for their forgiveness. They then were able to focus their trust in that clearer truth. And that was certainly a pattern in the Old Testament where many trusted in a god they only barely knew and came to focus their faith in Yahweh, the God revealed to Israel. And that seems to be what is happening across the Muslim world as people seek to really know God, they are given a vision or a dream or a message that focuses them on Jesus. God is findable by those who pursue him. God does not exclude anyone from his grace.

But Jesus is the essential key, even for those who never heard of him. There is no salvation apart from Jesus death on the cross. Not at any place or time. None. There is only justice. For those who refuse him or neglect the grace and mercy of God they can know, there is only justice.

Dear reader, if you have come this far, I adjure you to give your attention to Jesus. Get to know him in the Bible. Trust in him and trust in the grace and mercy of God revealed and personified in him. He is our only hope.

See William Lane Craig's answer to this question: How will God judge someone who has never heard the gospel?

Monday, June 13, 2016

It Is War

It's a new day. And it's a new war. The enemy recruits on the Internet from among people already living among us. He wears no uniforms, yet he is well trained and equipped. He follows no rules of war, and like the Kamikaze pilots of the Second World War, he expects to die for his ideology in the conflict. He is a frightening enemy. And if we hope to win or even survived, we must do something differently.

We are armed with the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution that reads thus:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

It is now time to revived that "well regulated militia."

For too long we have argued the right to bear arms. The liberals and Progressives propose that if we regulate the ownership of guns we will protect ourselves. That idea has not worked. And it will not work in this new day. Maybe yesterday, maybe in the world of make-believe where all are kind hearted friends. But not today. Not with such an enemy as we face. I wish it were otherwise. I wish we could rewind history to 1950. I wish we all lived in Mayberry. But we do not. We live in the new and deadly reality of an enemy among us. And he is not going away.

We have tried - not very successfully - defeating him in his homeland. But there is no real homeland for this enemy. And our will has been too weak. Our attacks have only succeeded in scattering him like cancer cells let loose in the body. We must do something differently. We must revived the well regulated militia.

We must have armed and trained men and women on the front lines, front lines that are not in some remote country of Africa or the Middle East but in Orlando and San Bernadino and Boston.

We have the core of that militia already. They are the thousands of men and women who have served in the military in Korea and Vietnam and Kuwait and Iraq and Afghanistan. They are trained and capable. They now need to be armed and carrying. The front lines are here.

Let's give them the responsibility of defending our nation again. Let's retrain them in the art of this new kind of war. Let's certify them and identify them as soldiers in this war. Let's arm them and expect them to be ready to act in defense of this country in the sports stadiums and night clubs and airports and public buildings and everywhere the enemy may target.

Let's add to their number others who work in our schools and colleges and public services. Get them guns, any who would step up to this responsibility, and train, identify and certify them. And let them carry their weapons openly as deterrent to any who would turn their weapons upon us. That is the well regulated militia we need for this new day and new war.

Imagine if there had been one in ten in the crowd at the nightclub in Orlando carrying weapons. That would have been thirty people who would have had weapons and the training to use them. There would not be fifty dead today. Believe me, there would not. Imagine if there had been one in ten at the Inland Regional Center party armed with a Glock.  There would not be fourteen dead today.

It doesn't take a tactical rifle to stop a terrorist. He might be better armed with his AR-15. But an AR-15 will not be enough in the face of ten men and women with  9mm Glocks and the will to use them. Yes, there will be casualties. But that is the price our men and women in uniform have always been willing to pay for freedom. And be assured, that is what is at stake here. This is war.

A well regulated militia is what we need in this war. Our law enforcement people and the FBI  have been doing a good job. And they can do what a citizen militia can't, they can identify and interdict the enemy before he strikes. But they cannot be everywhere. And everywhere is the front line in this new war. A well regulated militia of citizen warriors can.

But isn't that proliferating guns in our society? Isn't that making our world more dangerous? That  is the argument of the Liberals  and Progressives. In the old world I grew up in that may have made sense. But this is not Mayberry. It is not fewer guns that we need, it is more. But they must be guns in the hands of a well regulated and trained and qualified citizen militia.

Yes. Let's keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unfit and criminals. But those are few. And even those would be limited in what havoc they could do if we had a well regulated citizen militia.

Imagine if the office personnel and even a few teachers had been armed and trained in the use of their weapons at Newtown Elementary. There would not be twenty dead children today. Believe me, there would not. Adam Lanza would have been met by return fire as soon as he turned his gun upon Principal Dawn Hocksprung. He would not have made it down the hall to the first classroom. Imagine if the administrators and teachers at Columbine had been armed and trained, if even some of them had been, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would not have gotten down the hall and into the library where they murdered 12 students and a teacher.

Instead in each case police were called. They prevented more casualties, thank the Lord. But they were too far away and too late to prevent the deaths of the students who died. If we had a well regulated militia this would not have gone down as it did.

We know that is true. That is why most schools have an armed security officer in the hall. We do in each of the high schools in the North Thurston School District. And just over a year ago one of those officers, a friend, stopped a student who had brought a gun to school with the intention of killing kids with it. But what about the doors he could not cover. I walk through a side door every morning I work at North Thurston H.S. I am not met by a security officer. Anyone could carry a gun into the building walk down a hallway away from the front door and gun down dozens before the security officer could find him and end it. But what if half of the teachers carried a weapon and had the training to use it?

None of this is pretty. I hate the thought of it as much as the anyone. I don't like the idea of guns in schools or in night clubs or at sporting events. It seems like we should not have to have that. But we live in a new day. And this is a new war. And we must do something differently.

So let's allow, even require, a well regulated armed citizen militia. Let's keep it safe by requiring training and by responding to any and all misuse or mishandling of firearms decisively. There should be no guns let unattended for kids to find. There should be no one with a criminal record allowed to own or carry. There should be no one on drugs, legal or otherwise, certified to carry a gun as a part of the militia. But there are many thousands of citizens who  could qualify.

And let's not remove the right of all our citizens to self-defense. They need not be certified to have guns or to defend their homes and families, yes, even if they must defend their homes and families against a tyrannical state. It has happened before. In fact, our founding fathers wrote the 2nd Amendment for that very reason. It had happened, and they knew if could happen again.

Let's be ready. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Word to Christian Apologists

I have been interested in apologetics for quite a few years, dating back to my college years at Portland State University and Dr. John Whitehead’s Philosophy of Religion course. I look back with special fondness to Dr. Whitehead’s non-falsifiability argument and his “invisible unicorn” illustration. It spurred the beginning of my intellectual quest for truth and faith, though I'm sure that wasn't his intention. 

The intervening forty-eight years or so have been challenging. I have myself entertained serious doubt as I have read the ideas of atheists and anti-theists. I have purposefully sought out the challenges to Theism and Christianity. I have interacted with scientists on the subject of evolution and cosmology. And I have done personal research in both fields, trying to catch up in areas of study that my college studies in literature had not prepared me to understand.

During that time I also engaged in serious study of the Bible and history. I earned a graduate degree from a theological seminary where the grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics and exegesis was the centerpiece of biblical study and a knowledge of the original languages was expected. 

In the last few years I’ve read the books and the blogs of the new atheists and have watched as the New Atheism put on muscle as the New Anti-theistism. A current faculty member of my old alma mater Dr. Peter Boghossian, who seems poised to take up the mantle (pardon my biblical allusion) of my old professor of the 1960s, is a case in point. (I trust he will be as much as spur to faith to a new generation as Dr. Whitehead was for me.)  But there are many others.   

Recently, after playing on the fields and with the rules of the adversaries of Theism and Christianity for many years, it has occurred to me that, though Theism and Christianity have held their own, Christian apologists have too often misrepresented Christianity in the minds of their readers. 

The fact, and the point I repeatedly made to my students in Apologetics, is that no apologetic argument based on science or philosophy ever resulted in faith. Only a personal encounter with God convinces a non-believer of God or of his need for God. 

Yes, I know there are well known apologists who were formerly atheists and who speak of the reasoning that brought them to faith. Among them are people like C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell.  And I have no doubt that reason and evidence brought down the barriers to personal faith, but no genuine Christian becomes such without the experience of being born again. 
That requires explanation. Being “born again” does not mean what it has recently become, a matter of a change of mind or the adoption of a new life changing conviction. (See Merriam-Webster) “Born again” is a supernatural God encounter initiated by the Holy Spirit and is irrefutable to anyone who has experienced it. It is a change on the level of spirit not merely on the level of the intellectual or emotional, though there will also be intellectual and emotional change that follows.   

For anyone familiar with the Bible and with the testimony of men and women from the beginning of human history, that is not a surprise. Everyone who has become a genuine follower of God, in other words a “believer,”  from Abraham in Genesis, to Paul in the New Testament, to the Muslim in Pakistan who had a vision of Jesus, and to me has  become a believer in God because they met him. 

That is the playing field on which we need to play the championship game. 

I know that our adversaries will complain. They will say evidence that is not independently verifiable is not admissible. (I recently had a serious young man who described himself as an agnostic say this very thing.) Only sound objective scientific evidence is valid. But that is true only when the debate is confined to the realm of science. However, Christianity is not proven true or false by science. We might expect that science and the scientific method will have something to say about claims that can be verified or disproven by science. But God is not one of those things. Christianity is not one of those things. 

So debating whether Jesus actually walked on water, as one anti-theist  blogger wished to do, is meaningless. It will never be accepted as a possibility by anyone who is not a believer in God. But for anyone who has actually met God it is a very viable possibility. It is something that could well have happened because God wrote the story that we live, including the “natural laws, and he can write it anyway he chooses. The laws of nature are subject to him, not he to the laws. 

That God could do this is not a debate point. It is our settled confidence based on our personal knowledge of God, and it cannot be explained to the skeptic any more than red can be explained to a blind man. 

So we can continue playing on the field chosen by the anti-theists. It is important that we do. It is good for us to know that the best efforts of our adversaries aren't decisive. But the final game must be played on our field, the field where a God encounter is the deciding play.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The People You Think Wrote the Gospels Aren't

Most Internet pieces that argue against the historical position of the church on issues of faith are not well thought out. Most demonstrate a poor understanding of the claims they attempt to refute. Most demonstrate a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Most are not written by well qualified scholars. 

One exception is the blog written by Matthew Ferguson, a graduate student at the University of California. He does have the academic skills required of scholars. So when I came upon his blog Κέλσος, I was interested in his argument for non-traditional authorship. The article is “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Author of the Gospels"  See Ferguson's article here 

But. . .

Here are my reactions and responses to several of his arguments. 

Ferguson begins with his thesis: 

The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions, in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure — Jesus Christ — to confirm the faith of their communities.
Maybe it is just a way to get the reader’s attention. But playing the “mainstream scholar” card is not a great way to win a debate. Ferguson would do well to speak from his own expertise rather than use the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

However, when he does present his own insights, he fails to be persuasive. On the issue of attribution - that is, how the author is identified - he writes:

Here, we already have a problem with the traditional authors of the Gospels. The titles that come down in our manuscripts of the Gospels do not even explicitly claim Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John as their authors. Instead, the Gospels have an abnormal title convention, where they instead use the Greek preposition κατά, meaning “according to” or “handed down from,” followed by the traditional names. For example, the Gospel of Matthew is titled εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μαθθαίον (“The Gospel according to Matthew”). This is problematic, from the beginning, in that the earliest title traditions already use a grammatical construction to distance themselves from an explicit claim to authorship.
To be fair, Ferguson admits this is much ado about nothing. The titles were appended to the gospels many years after the gospels were written and not by the authors themselves, but his last sentence is insightful. Those who added the titles were, in fact, distancing the author from a claim to authorship. The gospels were not the product of the authors, be they Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  Jesus is the author of the gospel, and he is clearly identified in the texts. 

Accordingly, the preposition κατὰ is a better representation of the fact that the writers were only the mediate authors. The conventional way of attributing a piece of writing to an author using the genitive case (or more specifically the ablative case which expresses derivation or source) implies source. That is how, for example, it is used in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus when he wishes to express the relationship of a son to a father: Joseph tou (son of) Heli  in Luke 3:26. That was the convention, but the gospels are not conventional. The gospel writers were not the source of the gospel. 

A second problem with the traditional authors according to Ferguson is that they were incapable of writing in Greek or writing a piece as complex as the gospels. 

As we will see for the Gospels’ authors, we have little reason to suspect, at least in the case of Matthew and John, that their traditional authors would have even been able to write a complex narrative in Greek prose. . . .Only a few could read and write well, and even a smaller fraction could author complex prose works like the Gospels
The reality is that the quality of writing we encounter in the gospels varies. Mark is straightforward and unpolished. Luke demonstrates a good command of the language, a well developed literary style, and the perspective of an educated man. (But Luke is not really referred to in Ferguson’s argument.) The author of the Gospel of John, if the Apostle John was the author rather than an editor compiling John’s memories, demonstrates an ability in Greek that we would not expect of a simple Galilean fisherman. But the possibility that there was a compiler/scribe working with John remains. We are well acquainted today with memoirs  written by a ghost writer for the person whose name actually appears on the cover as author.  

Matthew, however, is different. Ferguson goes to lengths to characterize Matthew as an illiterate and social/religious outcast who we would expect incapable of the complex narrative of the Gospel or of the knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture evident throughout the the Gospel of Matthew. I would respectfully but strongly differ. 

 Matthew was a Levite. That is the strong implication of his name Levi, the name the other gospel writers give him and the name Clement of Alexandria uses of him. As a Levite he would have been well educated and capable of speaking and writing Hebrew and Aramaic. It would also have prepared him with both a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture and a knowledge of the rabbinical hermeneutic that is obvious in the gospel.  

Being a tax collector in the polylinguistic region of Galilee would have required knowledge of Greek. It was probably the predominate language of the region. Matthew would have at least known street Greek. But Matthew’s education would have included  more than street Greek; it was the language of the Septuagint which was the Bible used by many Jews, not all of whom spoke Hebrew. 

Ferguson was right, however, about the rhetoric of the Gospel of Matthew. It is complex and carefully organized. The argument that Jesus was the Messiah presented by Matthew is very well argued and supported by the evidence Matthew includes. It is uniquely targeted to the Jewish reader who lived in a very Jewish culture.  It is an extraordinary piece. But there is no reason Matthew/Levi the disciple would not have been capable of that level of writing. In fact, of all the people close to Jesus he is the only one with that capability.
Dr. Hector Avalos in his blog (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2015/08/why-david-marshall-is-not-biblical.html ) critiquing the qualifications of anyone claiming to be a scholar states that "in general, a scholar is one who, at minimum has the equipment needed to verify independently the claims made in the relevant field."  Though Ferguson may have the academic qualifications, he is “indolent.” He accepts the “mainstream scholarly view [s]” without independently verifying them.
An example in point is this statement:
Once more, for the Gospel of Matthew, the internal evidence contradicts the traditional authorial attribution. The disciple Matthew was allegedly an eyewitness of Jesus. John Mark, on the other hand, who is the traditional author of the Gospel of Mark, was neither an eyewitness of Jesus nor a disciple, but merely a later attendant of Peter. And yet the author of Matthew copies from 80% of the verses in Mark
Ferguson is simply repeating what amounts to an urban myth in the academic world. It is true that Matthew and Mark share many pericopae in common. But it is an uncertain and debated idea that Matthew copied from Mark. A better solution to the shared material is that both drew upon an earlier source, which scholars have come to call Q.
I argue here that Q was likely the collection of the Apostles’ teaching and since Matthew was one of those Apostles, Q represents his own recollections of the sayings and works of Jesus. But that thesis is not unique to me. Why does Ferguson neglect to go deeply enough into his sources to uncover this possibility?
I end with this reaction to Ferguson’s statement that "the author of Matthew does not 'rely' on Mark rather than redact Mark to change important details from the earlier gospel." (What Ferguson means is that Matthew edited Mark.)
Matthew and Mark had different rhetorical purposes. They had different intended audiences. It would be reasonable for there to be differences in use of the source material. Clearly Matthew is writing for a Jewish reader. He did not have to explain Jewish customs or idioms as Mark who is writing for a Roman audience does. Matthew had a better knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture (and the Septuagint) than Mark, or even Peter, so he is able to be more precise than Mark in his use of the Scripture.
The evidence points, then, not to a rude copy or a redaction of Mark but to knowledgeable use of the source for the purpose of arguing that Jesus was the Messiah to a largely Jewish audience. Again Ferguson relies on urban myth. He does not engage the biblical material in a scholarly way.  And he cherry-picks his secondary sources to prove his thesis. He does not engage counter arguments from qualified scholars, but chooses to reference people who are not scholars but Christian apologists for whom he has personal disdain.  That is not acceptable scholarship.
So the bottom line is that Ferguson’s opinions are interesting but are far from persuasive.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Where's the Logic In It?

In America Atheism seems to be on the rise. A recent Pew poll found that about 3% of Americans describe themselves as Atheists.  Another 4% describe themselves as agnostic. Those would be folk who believe that there is no God or who believe it is not possible to know.  I would call them intellectually lazy because the logic is greatly on the side of there being a Mind behind the universe. 

               We’ve all heard the debates. If you poke around Internet sites like YouTube or read the comments following any semi-religious topic on news websites, you know that there are a lot of vocal opponents of religion or belief in God.  Most of the talk is simply mindless trash talk. Though occasionally someone puts forth a reasonable argument. But often the argumenters are simply debating the details. Few get to the core of the issue.

               The core of the issue is this: Either a Mind exists behind the universe or there is only mindless matter/energy. And that Mind or mindless matter/energy must be eternal. There does not seem to be any other alternative.  What is the logic? 

There has to be something that is eternal for there to be anything.

               Some years ago I was conversing on the topic of God and science with several guys on a New York Times website. I brought up the simple observation that nothing comes from nothing. That reminded them of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and they all had a big laugh.  But the observation is not funny. It has been around for a good long time, at least since Parmenides in the fifth century B.C.. And it is still valid.

               Some today argue differently, of course. What fun would we have if we all agreed? Physicist Lawrence Krauss, for instance, argued in a recent book that the universe might have come from quantum fluctuations in empty space. But as mathematical physicist Amir D. Axcel counters in his book Why Science does Not Disprove God, space is something. Space is not empty, and quantum fluctuations are energy waves. They are something. Anything that comes from quantum fluctuations comes from something.

               Others have been suggesting that this present  universe came from a prior universe and perhaps that universe from an even more distant prior universe. But anyone with any sense can see that only leads to an infinite regression of universes. And that still supports, if it were true,  the proposition that something, be it matter or energy, is eternal. 

               Or the Mind we call God is eternal. 

               I sometimes hear people say if God made the universe, where did God come from. Let's put that to rest. Something must be eternal for there to be anything.  Where did God come from is as unanswerable as where did matter/energy come from. 

               Those are the two choices.  

               Which is the more reasonable? 

               The Atheist must say that it is more reasonable that matter/energy is the ultimate reality. And logically we must admit that is a possibility. But is it reasonable given the evidence? 

               The universe we know is an amazingly complex interactive thing.  It operates on consistent principles we call laws. It is described by complex but entirely logical mathematics. It is predictable and understandable.  That is what makes science possible.

               Is it reasonable to conclude that this universe is the product of mindless matter and energy? Okay, that is still possible, but it does stretch the boundaries of the possible. How could such complexity be the natural product of what is essentially the most non-complex thing we know of? That would be the singularity where all energy and undifferentiated matter was concentrated in a single very small point?

               But there is more. The earth we live on is even more complex than the universe beyond.  

               Is it reasonable to conclude that the world we live on, with its complex and interactive systems and with the life that teems upon it, is the product of mindless matter and energy? 

              Regarding life, there have been many debates. Could life come from non-life when entropy rules the universe? And entropy moves from organization to chaos. Could the sun’s energy could drive the evolution of life and reverse the process of entropy? Maybe. But evolution is only a small component of the system that is our earth. We know now that not only is energy essential but the placement of our earth in the solar system, the placement of our solar system in the galaxy, as well as many dozens of other conditions must pertain before the energy of the sun could possibly have any influence on the product that is our world and all the living things upon it. Is it reasonable? That stretches the definition of possible to the breaking point. 

               There is still more. We ourselves are at the apex of complexity. The DNA in every cell of our bodies is the most complex thing in the universe, and yet it is readable by our science and understandable by our minds.  Is it possible that we, the earth on which we live, and the universe that contains it all are the product of mindless matter and energy? At this point logic leads us to the conclusion that such is fantastically impossible.  

               The evidence for a Mind behind the universe, on the other hand, is an irresistibly compelling and exceedingly simple answer.  Only a mind can put together such complexity.  It would be irrational to conclude otherwise.

               At this point someone always brings up Occam's Razor and complains that we are adding entities unnecessarily. I like that. It makes sense. But in this case the operational word is unnecessarily. An eternal, mindless matter/energy entity is not sufficient to explain the universe. But a Mind is sufficient, and we can stop right there. No other entity is required.

               The greater puzzle is that minds that can think logically would choose to believe in the irrational.  It would seem to make more sense to use the power of the mind to discover the nature of the Mind that must be behind it all. Perhaps theology really is the Queen of the Sciences after all. And Wisdom her sister.