Posted in Christian Faith

Not enough evidence, God!  Not enough evidence!

The great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God!  Not enough evidence!'”

What this assumes is that if enough unambiguous and irrefutable evidence were presented it could, potentially, lead to belief.

I suppose that’s possible. But what people who clamor for more evidence seem never to consider is that they may be spiritually blind.

Spiritual blindness is a condition that an individual has when they are unable to see God, or understand His message. Although God is working all around us, pursuing us and showing us His glory, some people cannot perceive His divine workings (Acts 28:26–27). 

To be spiritually blind can also be translated as being spiritually undiscerning, as explained in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This means that to a spiritually blind individual, spiritual things are meaningless.

This may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, especially since most of us think we are rational and reasonable, but there are people who, despite the evidence for the faith, are simply unable to believe.

Posted in Christian Faith, God, Uncategorized

Everyone believes in something unbelievable…

This is not presented as proof of anything or fodder for an argument or debate but, merely, as something to ponder…

In his paper, Why Scientists Must Believe In God: Divine Attributes Of Scientific Law, Vern Sheridan Poythress opens with the seemingly counterintuitive claim that “All scientists—including agnostics and atheists—believe in God. They have to in order to do their work.”  The author goes on to admit that his notion runs contrary to popular American culture, that science is often thought of as antagonistic to orthodox Christian belief, and that modern science seems to sustain itself without the help of explicit theistic underpinnings.  The only time God is invoked in science at all these days is when he is necessary only to account for gaps in modern scientific explanation.  As science progresses, the author acknowledges, the gaps are explained, and the need for God increasingly diminishes.

The thesis of the paper is that God cannot be divorced from science or relegated to gaps in scientific explanation as modern culture might suggest but, instead, God must be seen as being “involved in those areas where science does best, namely areas involving regular and predictable events, areas involving repeating patterns and sometimes exact mathematical descriptions.”  The author asserts that the work of science depends constantly on the fact that there are regularities in the world and that the regularities that scientists must rely on to do their work are the regularities of God’s own commitments and his actions.  In short, without the regularities that are of and from God, there would ultimately be nothing to study.

Scientists depend not only on regularities with which they are already familiar, such as the regular behavior of measuring apparatus, but also on the postulate that still more regularities are to be found.  And it is in these scientific regularities, known as scientific laws, where God can be seen.  In order to understand the concept laid out by the author, the reader must set aside the philosophical and religious views of scientists and ponder what all scientist must expect, in practice, from scientific laws.  Or, as the article notes, “just as the relativist expects the plane to fly, the scientist expects the laws to hold.”  And laws science relies on can only hold if they are universal in time and space. 

Within the very concept of scientific law lies the expectation that they apply at all times and in all places.  Using the universally understood concept of scientific law, the author explains that, “the classic terms are omnipresence (all places) and eternity (all times).”  Thus, scientific law, regardless of the faith/lack of faith of the scientist, has two attributes classically attributed to God.  “Within a biblical world view, God is not only “above” time in the sense of not being subject to the limitations of finite creaturely experience of time, but he is “in” time in the sense of acting in time and interacting with his creation. Similarly, law is “above” time in its universality, but “in” time through its applicability to each particular situation.”

In our increasingly secular society, science is often thought of as a discipline where God is not necessary but since the universe conforms to universal laws that exist outside of space and time, as God does, it is not as easy as one might think to compartmentalize God out of the equation. It is seemingly easy to hold the opinion that it not necessary to believe in God or that removing God from science altogether might somehow make science more objective.  But since nothing escapes the dominion of universal scientific law, non-belief in God seems, with deeper contemplation, untenable. 

To boil the point down, the author argues that, in classical language, scientific law is omnipotent.  “The law is both transcendent and immanent. It transcends the creatures of the world by exercising power over them, conforming them to its dictates. It is immanent in that it touches and holds in its dominion even the smallest bits of this world.”  The author goes on to write that “the key concept of scientific law is beginning to look suspiciously like the biblical idea of God.”  Although some have tried to escape the spiritual discomfort that goes along with “knowing” that there is a God (Romans 1:20) by denying that scientific laws that transcend the world are personal, they can only do so by constructing for themselves idols that are similar enough to God to be plausible but different enough to provide comfort to the secular mind.  One cannot be certain if setting up idols stems from willful denial or not but is does imply presupposing that there is no God. 

While presupposition, bias, and cognitive dissonance seem to drive the thinking of many of us, an implicit presupposition seems absent from this article.  In fact, it seems as though contemporary ideas about science not needing God are set aside while what should be more obvious objectivity is explored.

And this objectivity, along with the simplicity of the argument, is how the author makes his case.  On its face, the subject may seem like it could easily evolve into a complex philosophical argument, the central idea that scientific laws are transcendent, personal, and have an author is as simple as the Gospel message itself and only complicated by those who have a desire to lend credibility to the notion that science and God will be forever at odds.

In conclusion, the article states in a clear and concise manner what we all know but many of us refuse, whether consciously or not, to admit.  Using the author’s words, “We experience incomprehensibility in the fact that the increase of scientific understanding only leads to ever deeper questions, “How can this be?” and “Why this law rather than many other ways that the human mind can imagine?” The profundity and mystery in scientific discoveries can only produce awe—yes, worship—if we have not blunted our perception with hubris (Isa 6:9–10).” 

And it is in this hubris, we often find excuses where, according to Scripture, none rightfully exist. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that we are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Posted in Christian Faith

Why do people lie?

Once we have a belief, we tend to cling to it, even when it’s untrue. This confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe. We do this in two important ways. First, we tend to surround ourselves with messages that confirm our pre-existing opinions. This is why, in the U.S., conservatives tend to get their news from sources like Fox, whereas liberals tune into MSNBC.

Second, we tend to ignore or discount messages that disprove our beliefs. If we’re sure that climate change is a hoax and someone shows us a research study disputing this belief, we might dismiss the study’s findings by saying that the researcher is obviously biased or corrupt. This protects us from having to change our beliefs. When our ideas are true, this probably isn’t such a bad thing. Unfortunately, it also can keep us firmly believing things are false.

While it’s clear that some people lie out of expedience or spite, most of us value the truth. We genuinely desire to accurately understand the facts and help others to do the same. As flawed human beings, however, none of us is a perfect barometer of the truth. Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to unconsciously buy into beliefs that feel right, even though they’re not. But it’s precisely when we’re sure that we’ve cornered the truth that we should take a step back, breath deeply, and open our minds as far as we can. If we were all able to take this basic truth about human nature to heart, perhaps this would allow us to more effectively come together during times of political strife.

I pulled that [emphasis added] from an article at Psychology Today while doing some research on truth, what truth is, and why people lie. Fascinating stuff but, as I mentioned in another post, most people will tell you that they are above confirmation bias when that is decidedly untrue.

What makes this problem worse these days is that cost of being wrong is higher than it has ever been.

Admissions of wrong thinking are incredibly threatening for people because they have trouble separating their their thoughts and opinions from their character. If people are wrong, they think, they must therefore be bad people, ignorant, or stupid just like the people they disagree with.

A few more interesting thoughts on this can be found here.

“Fact or opinion? It’s a distinction we learn as kids. But it turns out judging facts isn’t nearly as black-and-white as your third-grade teacher might have had you believe.

In reality, we rely on a biased set of cognitive processes to arrive at a given conclusion or belief. This natural tendency to cherry pick and twist the facts to fit with our existing beliefs is known as motivated reasoning—and we all do it.”

Posted in Politics, Quick Thoughts

Why do we believe what isn’t true?

“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition,” says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. “People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”

Problem is that far too many obscenely biased and profoundly ignorant people on all sides of political and religious debates exempt themselves this “pervasive tendency.”

How do we fix this?

Posted in Christian Faith, God

Jesus, a gun, and anti-intellectualism

Earlier this morning I read an Article by Russell Moore over at Church Leaders about a silly bumper sticker that uses Jesus to make a political point about guns.  The article was great throughout but what really stuck out to me was this. “American evangelicalism is old and sick and weak, and doesn’t even know it.”  Even though I am a proud American Evangelical, I could not agree with that point more and it’s something the Church needs to talk about and not just mention every now and then and promptly forget.

Charles Malik was a Lebanese diplomat and Eastern Orthodox Christian who, among other accomplishments, was instrumental in shaping the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1980, Malik was invited to speak at the opening of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. His address was called “The Two Tasks,” with the two tasks being to save the soul and to save the mind. His words are as incisive for us today as they were more than three decades ago:

“The greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. This cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the Gospel. They have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy. Who among the evangelicals can stand up to the great secular or naturalistic or atheistic scholars on their own terms of scholarship and research? Who among the evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? Does your mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominant mode of thinking in the great universities of Europe and America which stamp your entire civilization with their own spirit and ideas?

It will take a different spirit altogether to overcome this great danger of anti-intellectualism. . . . Even if you start now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will be a century at least before you catch up with the Harvards and Tuebingens and the Sorbonnes, and think of where these universities will be then! For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ Himself, as well as for their own sakes, the Evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that secularists have the market on responsible intellectualism cornered, when they most certainly do not. But, far too often I’m afraid, Christians aren’t doing much to win minds.

In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul implored us not to be children in our thinking but, instead, to be mature in our thinking.  And, regrettably, we are failing on that front.

If we don’t want Christianity to lose any more ground to secularism, we need to up our intellectual game so we will be seen as reasonable and thoughtful people who deserve to be taken seriously instead of hyper-emotional fanatics who checked our brains at the church door and left them there.

Posted in Christian Faith

Is it realistic to expect people to act how they ought?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The older I get, the more convinced I am that society would have far fewer problems if people lived their lives in accordance with those two commandments.

Some people reading this may think that I am being unrealistic, naïve, too idealistic, or that I don’t understand how the world works well enough.

To those detractors I would say that I see in them a sense of entrenched hopelessness that is masquerading as a good thing. In a society full of world-weary realists that seem to want everyone to fall in line and get with the times, even subtle reminders that anyone should love our neighbors as ourselves are unfortunately seen as being out of touch, preachy, and annoying.  Inherently, I think, we all know that we need to do better but, unfortunately, we also know how difficult it is to do better given our understanding of the unkind world we live in so, regrettably, we fall in line.

What people don’t understand is that they are finding comfort in hiding behind their realism and world-weariness because doing so excuses them from even trying to grow in virtue.  Saying it isn’t realistic to expect people to act how they ought then amounts to a defensive reaction that implicitly excuses their own personal failure to live toward ideals, and that is a dangerous attitude.

Whether we admit it or not, too many of us are conditioning ourselves to settle for less than we are capable of because it is the path of least resistance. To state that it is unrealistic or naïve to expect people to treat each other as the Bible commands and not tear each other apart is to indirectly say that there is no hope for the world so why should we even try.

Posted in Blogging, Christian Faith

I love you but I’m not “in love” with you.

It’s no surprise that we are so bad at marriage in this culture.

We’re bad at it because we don’t understand it, and we don’t understand it because we don’t understand love. You can’t forge a lasting marriage if all you know about love is what you learned from an Ed Sheeran song. It’s like trying to build a car when you think engines run on fairy dust. And that’s essentially how many of us approach marriage. We believe it’s fueled by some intense and mystical emotional force — a force we inaccurately call “love” — and as soon as we run out of this mysterious cosmic gasoline all we can do is send it to the scrap yard and find a new model.

This view is popular in our society because it removes all responsibility and blame from the individual. Marriage is presented as a passive endeavor, established and destroyed by forces outside of our control. Love is something you “fall into,” like a puddle, and then “out of,” like an unsafe carnival ride, and there’s not much you can really do to cause the one or prevent the other. “These things happen,” we say. Oops, I’m married. Oops, I’m having an affair. Oops, I’m divorced. Oops, I’m married again. Oops, I’m divorced again. Oops, I’m lonely and isolated and everyone I’ve ever known resents me. Oops!
But here’s the reality: these were our choices, every step of the way, and that state which we’ve found ourselves falling in and out of is not real love. Real love is an act of will. A decision. A conscious activity. It is something you do and live. Love is chosen, and if it is protected and nurtured, it grows. Love is sacrifice. Love is effort. Love is everything St. Paul describes in First Corinthians, and especially in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Love is dying to the self. Love is many things, and none of them happen by accident.

Even people who understand this will still sometimes talk about love in a way that contributes to the confusion. A married couple may describe the moment they “fell in love,” very early on in their relationship, well before they walked down the aisle. They may even claim to have experienced “love at first sight.” This is all fine fodder for Hallmark cards and Nicholas Sparks novels — which, as we know, are based on Hallmark cards — but it doesn’t actually make sense. Far be it for me to make this determination, but, no, you didn’t love your wife the moment you laid eyes on her. You thought she was hot, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

I can say with certainty that I love my wife now. I can also say that I did not love her a week after I’d met her. I surely didn’t love her the first time I saw her. I thought she was beautiful. I liked a lot of things about her. But love her? No. How could I? I didn’t know her. I’d made no commitment to her. I wasn’t sharing my life with her. I wasn’t really sharing anything with her except for an appetizer at Chili’s. Yes, I loved her as a child of God, in the same sense that I’m obligated to love all humanity, but I didn’t love her in the way that I love her now. I couldn’t have. This love, the love we have now, is defined by commitment, sacrifice, and devotion, and none of those dimensions are present when you’re just dating someone.

It’s more accurate to say, when we first met, I was infatuated with her. There was an intense, mostly selfish, attachment. I wasn’t being intentionally selfish, it just made me feel good to be around her so I tried to be around her as much as possible. That’s what I liked most about her at this stage: how she made me feel. I didn’t “love” her for her own sake, but for my sake. I think every relationship must start this way, but it can’t survive if it stays this way.

Absurdly, people often refer to this period of infatuation as the “in love phase,” but there couldn’t be a worse way to describe it. This phase, this extraordinary emotional pull that you feel early in a relationship, is supposed to be the fuel that drives you to the altar. It isn’t love itself, but it gives you the incentive and energy to get there. It’s like the thrust that jettisons a rocket into outer space. If I knew anything about astrophysics I could extend the analogy, but hopefully you get my point. The infatuation you feel for your girlfriend has no real meaning or value on its own; it is, rather, a propulsion towards something.

The trouble is, in our culture, couples experience that propulsion but they don’t go anywhere with it. They have all of this emotional energy, all of this fuel, but they’re afraid to make the journey into the great beyond. Or they wait until it’s worn off and then, by default, after years of living together, finally tie the knot. There’s a reason why those relationships are much more likely to end in divorce. The so-called “in love phase” — which really has nothing to do with love — died away long ago, but it didn’t develop into true love because true love requires commitment, and they waited far too long to make the commitment. So they’ve lived with each other without the emotional attachment, and without love, for years before finally wandering lazily down the aisle. Not a good way to start things.

More commonly, of course, people will stay together only so long as the infatuation lasts. That’s how you end up with a generation of 20 and 30-somethings who’ve never been married but think they’ve had deep, rich “love” for, like, 19 different people. In truth, they never loved anyone. They simply experienced a fleeting enthusiasm over and over again. They’ve fallen into infatuation many times. They never once chosen love.

That’s the thing about marital love: it’s willful and decisive, but it also requires boldness and courage, because you won’t have it in its realest sense until after you’ve already gotten married. You say at the altar not that you have loved or did love your betrothed, but that you will. You’re choosing love, right then and there, despite not knowing them very well. After all, even if you date for a couple of years before marriage, which I don’t necessarily recommend, you still won’t know your future spouse with even a fraction of the depth and intimacy that you’ll know them after 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years of marriage. You know them only as a separate person, not as a person united with yourself until death. Yet you choose love anyway, and you are bound by that choice forever. This is the great power and mystery of the sacrament.

This is why I wouldn’t say that I ever “fell in love” with my wife. What makes our love real and fruitful is precisely that we didn’t fall into it. We promised it, made it, built it, established it, fought for it — there are many verbs you could use, but not “fall.” A man falls because he’s clumsy and gravity sneaks up on him. That’s not at all how marital love is formed or sustained, thank God. Our love is not an careless coincidence or a product of circumstance. It is so much greater than that.

It’s especially crucial for married couples to keep this in mind because, although my wife and I have not experienced this, many couples who’ve been together far longer than us will tell of emotional dry seasons that lasted for long stretches. During this period, they felt little attraction or affection, yet they still loved. They gained no emotional benefit from being around each other, but they still had their love. They loved because they understood that love is an act of devotion, and they were not relieved from the duty of that devotion just because they no longer felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

To a lot of people nowadays it seems almost scandalous to imagine that a couple would stay together even when their feelings turn cold for a time. We can’t understand that level of fidelity and sacrifice because, to us, the whole point of any romantic relationship is to find personal satisfaction. We “love” each other only as long as we get something immediate and pleasurable out of it. Once that goes, we go. Our love is no deeper and no more real after marriage than it was 5 seconds after we met. We “love” our spouses the same way we “loved” the person we took to our 9th grade homecoming dance.

Inevitably, if we approach marriage like hormonal teenagers, we will see the emotional dry season as an indication that we’ve “fallen out of love.” We won’t fight for our marriage or remain committed to our spouses because we think the whole point of our union was the emotional high it gave us. Now it’s gone, we don’t know why, and we can’t do anything about it. We’re utterly helpless. Love was like a magical elf that stayed with us for a while then scurried suddenly away, and all we can do is say farewell as it disappears into the woods. “Wave goodbye to our love, honey, it’s leaving now. Welp, time to get divorced.”‘

Naturally, this mentality also leads quickly to affairs. If love just “happens,” then who is to say it won’t “happen” with your coworker or someone you met at the gym? And if this thing that happens is actually love, and not, as I say, mere infatuation, then shouldn’t you go and be with that person? You love them! It was was meant to be! The fact that it came to be after you’d already married someone else is an unfortunate detail that can be dealt with later. If pursuing this “love” means dissolving your current family, well, then it’s the right thing to do — the “loving” thing, even. The kids will understand!

Speaking of kids, here’s a question for anyone who thinks they have fallen, or might fall, “out of love” with their spouse: what about your children? Can you fall out of love with them? And what if you do? Would you ever say to your daughter, “Sorry, I’m not feeling it anymore. The love is gone. I’m calling the adoption agency”?

No, most of us would agree that such a thing would be horrific. Even if you don’t feel particularly affectionate towards your kids in any particular moment — every parent has been there — you still love them, and you recognize that you have a duty to them. All decent human beings understand that you can’t abandon your children just because you have some unpleasant feelings about parenting. So, why don’t we understand this about marriage? Why do we love our kids no matter what, while attaching a series of conditions to the love we have for the very person we publicly pledged to love unconditionally?

For my part, I know that I owe my love to my kids and my wife, but nobody is more entitled to it — to me, all of me — than my wife. I am in debt to her. I promised her my love and I am called to fulfill that promise. True, it’s easy now. She’s a beautiful person, through and through, so holding up my end of the bargain is not a chore. But if those were conditions for my love — if I only intended to love her as long as she can stun me with her grace and beauty — then I would not love her at all. I would be a mercenary, in it just to get mine for as long as it remains profitable. That’s a fine approach to business, but it’s just not how marriage is supposed to work.

*I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I first read that. If anyone reading this knows the author, please let me know.

Posted in Apologetics, Christian Faith, Quick Thoughts

The perfect apologetic argument

“If you’re searching for that perfect line of logic capable of subduing any objection, you’re wasting your time. There is no magic, no silver bullet; no clever turn of thought or phrase that’s guaranteed to compel belief…We have very limited control over how other people respond to us. That’s largely in God’s hands. We can remove some of the negatives or dispel some of the fog—and we ought to try to do both. But at the end of the day, a person’s deep-seated rebellion against God is a problem only a supernatural solution can fix.”

—Greg Koukl from: When Your Argument Lacks Impact