God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Monday, August 19, 2019

Is It Biblical To Have An Evidential Faith?

Introduction

Is biblical faith blind or reasonable? This is one of the most hotly debated questions between believers and unbelievers. While most who say that faith is blind are unbelievers, I have also heard many Christians claim this as well. The claim is that faith and reason are at odds with one another, and that the more evidence or reason that you have to believe something, the less faith that you need. 

Is Faith Blind or Evidential?

In his book "Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes The Case For A More Reasonable Evidential Faith," J. Warner Wallace emphasizes the evidential nature of Jesus' ministry on earth. Jesus never asked people to believe His claims without a good reason to: the miracles that He performed. He performed miracles to demonstrate that His claims to be God (such as is found in His claim to be able to forgive sins in Matthew 9). Based on His followers' witnessing His miracles (eyewitness evidence), He asked them to have faith in Him. This was not a request for blind faith, but an evidentially-based faith. 

In the book, Wallace not only appeals to the entire ministry of Christ on earth but also to specific passages of Scripture where Jesus explicitly identifies this specific purpose for His miracles and where other New Testament authors also encouraged their readers to test claims: 


John 10:25- "'I did tell you and you don't believe,' Jesus answered them. 'The works that I do in My Father's name testify about Me.'"
John 10:37-38- "If I am not doing My Father's works, don't believe Me. But if I am doing them and you don't believe Me, believe the works."
Acts 1:3- "After He had suffered, He also prested Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God."
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21- "Don't stifle the Spirit. Don't despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good."
1 John 4:1- "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 
These passages do not ask for someone to believe just anything based simply on the word of the person making the claim ("...because I said!"- a blind faith) but based on the actions of the person making the claim. Notice, too, that in the 1 Thessalonians and 1 John passages, the authors are so confident that the claims will pass evidential tests that they openly invite testing! None of these passages ask for blind faith; in fact, they encourage the exact opposite: a faith that is not blind rather a faith that is grounded in evidence and reason.

A Biblical Faith And The Resurrection

Biblical faith, correctly understood from Scripture, is not blind; it is tested and firmly grounded. In fact, today, we can test the central claim of Christianity: that Jesus rose bodily from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). As we investigate the evidence, based on tried and true investigative methods (as outlined in J. Warner Wallace's book "Cold-Case Christianity") and historiographical methods (as outlined in Gary Habermas' books "The Historical Jesus" and "The Risen Jesus and Future Hope"), we discover that the only explanation that consistently explains all the evidence is that Jesus rose from the grave, as is claimed in the gospels.

Conclusion

Because this central claim passes the evidential test, a faith in Christ is not blind or because "the Bible tells me so;" it is firmly grounded in proven methods used for discovering the truth of claimed events of the past. There simply is no reasonable reason to reject the Resurrection. While we certainly are free to reject the conclusion of the evidence and arguments, we should not fool ourselves into believing that the rejection is anything more than an emotional leap of blind faith despite evidence to the contrary.

To Investigate Further, See the Links Throughout This Post And These Additional Ones:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Do Humans Have Intrinsic Value?

Introduction

Whether humans possess intrinsic value or instrumental value is a debate that often runs parallel to discussions about the true worldview. This debate also often fuels the passion behind worldview discussions because it has implications for ethics and morality, which are directly tied to how people ought to live and how people ought to hold each other responsible to those expectations. Such accountability can take a range of forms from personal and private conversations to legal and very public repercussions. And because one's politics are an extension of their ethics, the passion associated with politics is also added to the mix.

Because all the emotions that accompany ethical and political discussions can easily cloud the issue, it is important that it is approached more objectively and philosophically, if we are to have a calm and reasonable discussion. Today, I want to take a few minutes to examine the philosophical implications and examine some scientific evidence for one side to assist with bringing calm to this important debate.

Intrinsic Value

If humans are intrinsically valuable, then there are a set of objective (and even absolute) duties that cannot be violated. This view holds that humans possess objective value regardless of their situation, condition, social or economic status, skin color, sex, location, beliefs, or any host of other characteristics that people try to judge others' value. This allows for objective condemnation and consequences of particular choices and behaviors, which many people do not appreciate, especially if they are accused of committing the atrocities. This view also makes even government and governmental officials responsible to the greater reality of this moral law, which justifies political reform- something that certain rulers and politicians do not appreciate.

Instrumental Value

On the other hand, if humans are merely instrumentally valuable, then treatment of them (regardless of the particular treatment- including murder, rape, torture, or any host of traditionally unthinkable treatments) can only be judged based on their utility towards a particular goal. This view permits the affirmation of the "goodness" of even the most egregious behaviors if a "greater" goal is in view. This view allows for anyone to be able to justify any behavior if they can make their goal sound good or acceptable. There is no objective standard by which to judge the morality of a behavior, only to judge its utility. There is also no objective standard by which to judge a particular goal. Since the goal is subjective, so is the behavior, and no moral judgement is actually permitted. This ultimately reduces to "might makes right:" whoever holds the power to punish holds the power to dictate what is "right" and what is "wrong." Political reform has not justification other than a differing opinion of someone who may be able to challenge the power of those currently in power. If one holds to this view, they often confuse legality with morality.

The Christian worldview traditionally has held that humans possess intrinsic value in virtue of being created in the Image of God. If this is true, then the first set of implications described above are features of reality that all humans are subject to. Any worldview that cannot justify intrinsic human value is left with the second set of implications described. And, by necessary logical implication, if one wishes to appeal to intrinsic human value, they must justify that appeal by grounding intrinsic human value outside the human race.

Origins Of The Image of God

If humans have intrinsic value, it had to come from somewhere (or Someone) outside of the human race. Otherwise, the value that is ascribed to humans is merely subjective and instrumental. As I have described in a previous post (Why Is The Image of God So Important), this discussion is tied to one's view of human origins. If someone wishes to appeal to intrinsic human value, they must accept some type of connection between humans and an eternally existing, absolute reality that is outside of (and is not) this universe. The only thing that fits this description is the Creator God of the Bible.

In order to argue for the intrinsic value of humans, Dr. Fazale Rana offers several lines of evidence for the sudden appearance of the Image of God in life's history (which happens to coincide with the sudden appearance of humans on the scene). He calls this sudden appearance a "cultural big bang":


These pieces of evidence include:

  1. Advanced cognitive ability
  2. The capacity for symbolic thought
  3. A powerful imagination
  4. Superior craftsmanship
  5. Inventiveness and superior adaptability
  6. A driving desire for artistic and musical expression


He goes into great detail about the anthropological discoveries of scientists over the years in his book "Who Was Adam." In the third section of the book, he addresses modern challenges to his conclusions and brings in the latest discoveries over the past decade. The cumulative, scientific case presented in the book for the Image of God coinciding with the appearance of the human race, by extension, is a powerful evidential case for humans possessing intrinsic value.

Conclusion

It is vital to a proper theory of ethics (and even politics) that we know whether humans possess intrinsic value or not. Ultimately, if humans are created in the Image of God, as argued by Dr. Rana, then the idea that humans possess intrinsic value accurately describes the reality of our species. If humans are intrinsically valuable, that serves as the foundation for how we ought to treat one another (ethics) and that further guides how we should govern one another. If humans are not created in the Image of God (do not possess intrinsic value), then all sorts of heinous treatment of them are permissible even by those who wield the most power (governments and politicians).

For more on the topic of the evidence for the Image of God and its implications, see these posts and books:



Monday, August 5, 2019

4 Questions to Ask Before You Hit SEND

Introduction

As someone who loves to engage people in deep worldview conversations and steer unbelievers towards the truth of Christianity, my ability to communicate is vital. Whether I am conversing in person or commenting on a post on social media, it is important that the words I speak or write glorify God and work towards the end of bringing more people to the Truth. In 2018 I read and reviewed an important book that helps the reader to accomplish this goal. Communication expert Dr. Emerson Eggerichs (known for Love and Respect) published his book on general communication, called "Before You Hit Send: Preventing Headache and Heartache" to challenge his audience to exercise wisdom and discernment before "hitting send" on their communications to others- whether verbal or written. Because of the insight offered throughout the book, it was included in my Top 5 Recommended Books for Productive Conversations. Eggerichs encourages people to ask four questions of what they are preparing to say or write to ensure that the words will accomplish the goal of the speaker or writer. Today, I am going to highlight those four questions and their importance for the Christian apologist. 


Is It True?

Because the Christian worldview is true and people's eternal destinies depend upon their recognition of this truth, ensuring that as we defend the truth of Christianity we also speak truthfully about other matters is of utmost importance. It is natural for us to doubt someone's truthfulness when they speak something false. I have written many times about the importance of apologists' studying and defending non-essential doctrines, and in those posts, I emphasize this very concern of unbelievers.

For instance, many people have issues with origins and the Bible, and while not all aspects of origins are essential issues, it is important that the apologist be able to speak truthfully on the origins issue. If we speak falsely and the person knows that we are speaking falsely (whether we mean to or not), then we give them a good reason to doubt our trustworthiness when it comes to the more important matter of the Resurrection of Jesus.

Is It Kind?

One of the big issues that I see with Christians, especially on social media and when discussing hot-button issues such as origins, is the unkind attitude with which the Gospel is presented. While we defend the truth, we cannot defend it with contempt for the person we are presenting it to. They are created in the Image of God and are worthy of our love, respect, and kindness no matter what they have done or how frustrated they make us. If we truly wish for them to repent from their sins, accept Christ's sacrifice, and live with us for eternity, would we not want to present the truth in the most kind and loving way so as to encourage them to accept the truth we speak?

Unlike what many think about speaking kindly, it does not require that we speak untruthfully. "True" describes the content; "kind" describes the attitude with which content is presented. If we present true content unkindly, we do damage to the truth by making it appear repulsive.

Is It Necessary?

The necessity of what we speak has two sides. The first is that we must speak what is necessary, and the second is that we must refrain from speaking what is unnecessary. Many Christians refrain from speaking what is necessary because they are fearful that they are not equipped to defend what they believe. They know that the time is right and that it is necessary to say something. They want to defend the truth of the Resurrection and the Christian worldview, and they know that they need to. Doing so is necessary in many of our conversations with friends, family, and coworkers. This is why studying the defense of the Christian worldview (asking the question "Is It True"- apologetics) is important for all Christians.

The second side is that we also tend to speak unnecessarily. For instance (I have to really watch out for this one), if an unbeliever is not struggling with science/faith issues, then bringing up the whole creation/evolution debate is unnecessary and may actually introduce a stumbling block for the unbeliever. No Christian ever wants to introduce more reasons for an unbeliever to reject (or even delay accepting) Christ. We need to listen carefully to the unbeliever's concerns and address those with truth and kindness and do our best to not bring more unnecessary matters into the decision-making process. This is not to say that these issues are not important; they are; but that particular conversation may not be the time to discuss them with a particular person. If the person brings up a non-essential matter, then it is now necessary to address, and we need to be prepared to do so or to refer them to a resource that can address it (all the while reminding them that it is not an essential issue and not a reason to reject Christ).

Is It Clear?

While everything that we speak can be true, kind, and necessary, we may still fail in our communication by not communicating it clearly. Many Christian apologists are familiar with the work of Greg Koukl. In his book "Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions" he encourages Christians to engage in conversations by asking questions. When we ask ourselves "Is It Clear?" we are essentially taking Koukl's questions and asking them of ourselves: "What do I mean by that?" and "How did I come to that conclusion?" When we answer these questions for ourselves, we are more likely to be able to clearly communicate to others.

We must also not resist if others ask the "Columbo" questions of us. If the questions are asked, it is because we are not speaking clearly enough for a good understanding. In this situation, it should not frustrate us to have to clarify, it should excite us that the person values what we say enough to ask for clarification. When we are given the opportunity to clarify, we are given the opportunity to get the unbeliever intellectually (and many times, emotionally and spiritually) closer to accepting Christ.

Conclusion

As evangelists (Matthew 28:19) and defenders (1 Peter 3:15) of Christianity, it is vital to our purpose to be able and willing to communicate the Gospel in the most effective way possible. And in today's culture, stopping to think carefully about what we say or write is not necessarily encouraged. However, that is what is necessary to be successful ambassadors for Christ. I encourage you to pick up a copy of "Before You Hit Send" and make the decision to consciously exercise the advice provided within it pages, for the benefit of Christ's Kingdom.