Total Truth Study Guide : Chapter 1 Questions 5-9

Since these are shorter questions, I am posting them in one article.

God Substitutes

  1. “An atheist professor once told me that the Bible teaches polytheism because the first commandment speaks of ‘other gods.’” This claim is made frequently on atheist Internet sites. Practice explaining what the first commandment really means to someone who claims that it teaches polytheism.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3)

The Hebrew phrase translated “before me” means “in my sight/presence.” In other words, “Get out of my face with your idols.” It does not mean, “I am to be first among many.”

  1. The text says that the easy-to-diagnose, surface-level sins are often driven by the more hidden sin of idolatry. Think of examples in your own life. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

While we no longer bow before statues of gods made of wood, stone, silver or gold, when we live as though something other than God has the most important position in our lives. Anything we want more than God is our idol.

For many years, I turned to food for comfort because it was easier than seeking God and relying on him for comfort. Sometimes my workout routine can become the distraction that serves the same purpose.

When Good Gifts Are False Gods

  1. How can even good things become idols? Describe something good that you have been tempted to turn into an idol. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

There was a time in my life when I accepted the demands placed on me that required that I relinquish my leadership role in order to keep “peace” when the only result was one of my children being mistreated. “That’s all I got to say about that.”

Idols Have Consequences

  1. What does the Greek word nous mean? How does that give richer meaning to scriptural verses such as these: “God gave them up to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28); “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2)? Add your own examples.

The sense of the word is broad enough to encapsulate the idea of worldview. On this understanding, it is not hard to see how those who ignore God’s general revelation live in cognitive dissonance to the point where they have to do mental gymnastics to hold their worldview. Moreover, since this tendency to allow our thinking to direct our lives as a whole can be renewed, it has the effect of transforming our lives. Finally, when we direct our intelligence to the service of God, we truly love him with all our mind.

  1. In debates over moral issues such as homosexuality, most people today use the word nature to mean behavior patterns observed among organisms in the natural world. What is the older meaning of the word nature, as in the phrase “human nature”? How is this traditional meaning expressed in Romans 1?

The older meaning of the word “nature” was that for which we were designed. We were intended to behave in a certain way such that we would reflect God’s character. As such, sin is behavior that is contrary to our nature. Paul lists a number of examples of this behavior by which we defy God and degrade ourselves.

Evil, Suffering, and Eternity

It seems like every time I turn around, the topic of evil and suffering keeps coming up. Whether it is the mid-week Bible study on it, or apologetics podcasts I listen to that discuss the Problem of Evil, or the fact that my father-in-law is suffering from cancer, even when life is going well for me the issue is inescapable.

The Problem of Evil (POE) is one of the most difficult to address of all the challenges to the Christian worldview. This is not because the Christian does not have valid answers so much as navigating the emotional issues that the challenger may be dealing with. Let me say at this point that if you are suffering now, whether from an illness or injury, or from the illness, injury or death of a loved one, it is likely you will not find what I have to offer here satisfying. In the middle of these times, you don’t need an argument. You need someone to come along side you and suffer with you. You need to know I hurt for you. For those of you who are suffering, I pray for you that you will be comforted. I also pray that if I have the opportunity to relieve that suffering that I am effective in that effort. I also encourage you to come back and read this when the sting of the situation has eased.

The POE has been presented in a number of forms. Since others have covered these in depth, and much better that I could, I will offer a brief survey below, and links to further resources at the end.

One such form was known as the Logical POE. This took the form of the following syllogism:

  1. If God were all-good, he would want a world without evil and suffering.
  2. If God were all-powerful, he would be able to make a world without evil and suffering.
  3. There is evil and suffering in the world.
  4. Therefore, either God is not all good, or he is not all-powerful, or he does not exist.

No philosopher of religion still offers this because as Alvin Plantinga pointed out, all you need to do to defeat this is to show that it is possible that God could have morally justifiable reasons for allowing evil and suffering and still be all good and all powerful.

Another way this issue is raised is in what is called a Probabilistic POE.

William L. Rowe, in an essay in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, argues that there are cases of evil and suffering that God could have prevented, and would want to prevent. He then goes on to argue that this is probably the case. He offers examples such as the faun that is caught in a forest fire started by a lightning strike and horribly burned. This suffering happens entirely unobserved, and therefore there is no greater good that could come about as a result of this animal’s suffering. I think this example overlooks several things. For example, it assumes that animals suffer in the same way humans do, which is not uncontroversial. Moreover, the pain felt by the faun is the result of a physical mechanism that has a good purpose. Pain is the body’s alarm system that tells us something is wrong. Additionally, as Clay Jones points out, the world needs to operate according to understandable and predictable laws such that actions have consequences in order for our actions to have any meaning. If God were to intervene every time there was a case of suffering, these laws would be indiscernible and our actions meaningless.

A third category has been called the Religious POE, or the Pastoral POE. This is basically the response of the sufferer that in their suffering cannot see how a loving God would allow this to happen. This is the form that is the most difficult because it requires far more sensitivity and patience with the one who raises it. I will not attempt to address this directly here since the best response must be tailored to the needs of the sufferer. It is not a complete waste of time to offer these philosophical answers to the POE. If we have studied these before we enter a season of pain, grief, or suffering, we will be better prepared.

There does seem to be one aspect of this issue that I hear little about. I will call this the Temporal Defense. I realize that for the person who is watching their child die, or their spouse, or who has just experienced some evil act that talk of eternity can sound like “pie-in-the-sky” but it is a relevant issue. Since these problems are offered as a critique of the Christian worldview, it is important to remember that any critique must be done on the terms of that worldview. On the Christian worldview, human beings may live only a few decades in this life, but we will live forever somewhere after this life. If this is the case, our natural physical life only counts as the tiniest fraction of our total existence. If I live for 80 years, all of which in constant pain, but I place my trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, when I die, I will enter a blissful intermediate state, followed by a resurrection to painless, blissful life. I will continue in that condition forever. What is 80 years of suffering compared to that?

A related issue to this is the death of children. I once attended a memorial service for a two-year-old who had died after a long illness. It was the most heart-wrenching experience of my life, and I pray I never have to do that again. I am a father, and I can think of no worse nightmare than burying one of my children. However, in the case of children like that two-year-old, they will also enjoy that blissful state. For those who would ask, “How can God allow that child to die?” for God, that child is not gone. She has just changed the mode of her existence.

Finally, I would like to note that God is not distant and unconcerned. He experienced severe suffering through the crucifixion. He knows what it means to suffer. He did that so we could be reconciled to God. That is proof enough that God is all-good.

For more on this issue, see:

The Logical Problem of Evil, http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H4

Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. rev. and expanded ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, ©2004.

Craig, William Lane. Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: ZondervanPublishingHouse, ©2000.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 4

Willful Blindness

 

  1. What is an “epistemological sin”? Do you agree that at the heart of the human condition is an epistemological sin (i.e., sin related to knowledge)? Why or why not?

According to William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, in their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that tries to make sense out of knowledge, rationality and justified or unjustified beliefs.
(71.) Pearcey argues that to fail to acknowledge what we know (that about which we have true beliefs based on good reasons) and conform our lives to it we commit epistemological sin. Putting aside trivial counter-examples, Paul shows us we have ample evidence to show God’s existence and some sense of what is right and wrong. Moreover, God has revealed himself to us in his Word, and by that we have more detailed revelation of God’s character and what he requires of us. The mental gymnastics some people engage in to avoid the implications of these facts shows the problem is really volitional rather than rational.

Pascal once pointed out “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.[1] For those who do not know or understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s existence is bad news. If life is what I want to make of it, and I wish to pursue pleasure my way, the idea that there is a just, holy, powerful God who will judge me is terrifying. It is no wonder that belief in God, apart from the Gospel, is unattractive. However, the undeniable level of evidence produces cognitive dissonance. We have to ignore or deny the evidence, or raise the bar higher than we would for anything else in life. That there is a holy, just God who stands ready to judge us is only half the story. He has also provided for a substitute to bear our punishment in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a supremely attractive idea that ought to be believed, not the least because it is true.
[1] http://izquotes.com/author/blaise-pascal/13?q=attractive&x=9&y=11

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 3

Atheists’ Children and Their God

  1. Explain the concept of common grace. What are the implications for apologetics?

Theologians speak of the grace of God in two categories; common grace and special grace. Special grace is that which is given to those who receive the gift of salvation. Common grace is that which God gives to all regardless of their spiritual condition. Farmers grow crops whether they are believers or non-believers because the rains come at the right time in the right amounts. The world operates according to predictable laws such that it can be studied and technology can be developed. Moreover, since actions have predictable consequences, they are meaningful. All of this points to a creator and sustainer of the world. Even children intuitively recognize this whether their parents believe or not.

What this means for apologetics is that we do not need to point out new information to the skeptic, but point to that which they already know. I once heard a college professor claim that people believe in God because they are socialized to do so. However, it seems to me that the opposite is true. Children seem to recognize God’s existence and need to be socialized to disbelieve (by skeptical professors.)

As Pearcey points out, Paul wrote about this in Romans (28):

We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.

Romans 1:18—[They] suppress the truth.

Romans 1:21—Although they knew God, they did not honor

him as God or give thanks to him.

Romans 1:28—They did not see fit to acknowledge God.

Pearcey rightly notes that this is a clear case of denial.

Denial is understandable for the one who notices the signs that God exists, yet does not know the Gospel. God’s existence, and his holiness, is terrifying news to someone who does not know that mercy is being offered.

We have our work cut out for us.

Finding Truth: Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 2

The Problem of Personhood

  1. What are the philosophical meanings of the terms personal and non-personal? How does the fact that humans are personal beings function as evidence for God? Do you find that evidence persuasive? Why or why not?

Pearcey reminds us that Paul said God could be known through the things that were made, and that includes us. The fact that we are persons is evidence that we are the created by a personal being. William Lane Craig defines “person” as a self-conscious individual with free will. (See Defenders Podcast, Doctrine of Christ, Part 4) This idea is related to the argument from the origin of the universe. In question 1 I mentioned that the cause of the universe had to be an agent with a will that could have willed not to create. Agent is synonymous with person.

The reason this is evidence for the existence of God is because persons do not come from non-persons.

At this point, some might object, “If persons cannot come from non-persons, then how is it the physical can come from the non-physical.” (I have never heard this objection, but it occurred to me as I thought through this.) I think the distinction is that there is adequate evidence that all matter came into existence at a point in the finite past, and requires a non-physical cause to account for it. On the other hand, it is possible for a non-physical being to exist in a timeless state.

The alternative is to say that human beings are not persons in that they have no free will.

Because I know where this book is going, I will hold off on a more detailed response to this later when we get to evaluating competing worldviews and applying Pearcey’s principles.

Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 2

Origin of life:

Having begun to exist, and having the constants mentioned in the book and elsewhere, that means life’s origin and development are inevitable, right? Not so fast. Pearcey points out the necessity for massive amounts of information found in DNA for even the simplest life forms. Moreover, in every other experience we have had, information comes from an intelligent source.

This is a huge problem for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, but there are other nearly insurmountable hurdles that prebiotic chemistry must overcome before you even get to the level of DNA.

Many genes code for the production of proteins. In living systems, these proteins are formed from 20 amino acids. Amino acids form in three-dimensional shapes that form right-and left-handed structures. Those that form in living systems are left-handed (and the sugars that bind with them are right-handed.) When these same amino acids form in nature outside of living systems, or are produced in the lab, they form in equal mixtures of left- and right-handed forms. This is called a racemic mixture. In the presence of a racemic mixture, proteins cannot form. This is not merely a case that we do not know how amino acids could form proteins for the first life. It is a case where natural chemical processes prevent such proteins from forming. As Fazale Rana writes, “…without preexisting reservoirs of exclusively left-handed amino acids and exclusively right-handed sugars, the naturalistic assembly of proteins, DNA and RNA is prohibited.”[1]

Some astrobiologists (the only field of science completely devoid of data) have suggested that life could be based on some other element than carbon, such as silicon. However, as Rana points out,

Silicon belongs to the same chemical group as carbon and should display similar chemical properties, prompting some astrobiologists to propose that life could be based on this element. But while silicon does form rings and chains, these structures lack the stability and the range of complexity found in carbon-based compounds. Silicon-silicon bonds are much weaker than the corresponding carbon-carbon bonds, and unlike carbon-carbon bonds, they are susceptible to oxidation.[2]

This leaves carbon as likely the only element from which biochemistry can arise. It also explains why the search for habitable planets begins with planets that could possibly sustain liquid water, since carbon is most reactive in the same range of temperatures in which water is liquid.

Some have accused theists of appealing to “god-of-the-gaps,” saying we are invoking God to explain what we do not understand. This is not the case. We have numerous reasons to think God exists and that he has revealed himself. Part of that revelation is that he created the universe and life. Natural obstacles to undirected processes and information that requires an intelligent source are evidence that this is so.

[1] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011), 34-45.

[2] http://www.reasons.org/articles/strange-new-worlds-life-based-on-silicon-arsenic

Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 1

Nancy Pearcy’s Finding Truth includes a study guide. Since my Sunday school class will be studying this book, I decided to blog some thoughts on how I would answer the questions. Today’s post will address the first part of the first question from Chapter 1.

Training Manual for Today’s “Romans”

  1. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died, stood before God, and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” Summarize the evidence from physical nature described in the text:

Origin of the universe[1]:

Paul wrote to the Roman church:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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 people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

Pearcey notes that this is born out by science in the areas of the origin of universe and the origin of life. However, instead of unpacking the evidence of the origin of the universe, Pearcey changes focus to the fine-tuning of the universe for life. She mentions five of the constants that are exquisitely fine-tuned. (A list of 93 such constants can be found at http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe.) The fine-tuning argument is powerful, but I would like to say something about the origin of the universe itself.

The 18th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The only options are either that there has always been something, or that things began to exist.

To say that something (like the universe) has always existed is philosophically unsustainable, scientifically falsified, and contrary to Scripture. Philosophy helps us see that if the universe were eternal, that would mean the universe would have to have passed through an infinite number of moments of time in order to arrive at the present. But, you could never get an infinite number of things, (events, minutes, hours, years, widgets, zombies, bananas, take your pick) by successive addition. In other words, you can’t count to infinity because you never get there. Scientifically, we know from the Second Law of Thermodynamics that if the universe were eternal, it would have long since run out of usable energy. Moreover, the work of Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble shows that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. Scripturally, Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” The phrase “the heavens and the earth” in Hebrew is what is called a merism, which is a pair of contrasting words that express a totality or completeness.

If the universe is not eternal, then it must have had a beginning. Leibniz formulated an idea called the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR.) This was the idea that anything that exists has a reason for its existence that can be found in something else, or itself. In other words, there is no effect without a cause.[2] Moreover, as William Lane Craig has shown in his work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, anything that begins to exist must have a cause. Since the universe (by which I mean all of matter, space and time,) began to exist it must have a cause. The universe could not have cause itself to exist, since this would mean it would have to exist before it existed. For the materialist to appeal to a natural cause for the beginning of the universe would be absurd, since the universe just is nature. To say they will someday discover how nature caused itself to begin to exist is like saying someday I will discover how I gave birth to my grandmother. The only option left is that something or someone outside the universe would have had to be the cause. Could it be something or does it have to be someone? What’s the difference? Either what cause the universe was sufficient conditions, or an agent that had the ability to exercise will which means the agent had the ability to not cause the universe to begin.[3] As noted above, there could not have been an infinite succession of moments during which the necessary conditions existed and for some reason produced the effect that is the universe. That leaves someone. That someone would have to be immaterial, non-spatial, timeless (at least without creation) and extremely powerful and intelligent. That sounds like the kind of being we would call God. Therefore, the beginning of the universe is powerful evidence of the existence of some kind of God. It is not enough to get to the God of the Bible, but it shows that an atheistic worldview is false.

Tomorrow I will address the issue of the origin of life.

[1] Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015), 333.

 

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz/#PriSufRea

[3] For more on this, see J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City.

Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home by Glenn Sunshine A review

Glenn Sunshine is a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, while also serving on the faculty of the Centurions Program of the Colson Center, and as the faculty advisor for Ratio Christi at CCSU. He has a BA in linguistics from Michigan State University, an MA in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an MA in Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in Renaissance-Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a Christian and a historian, Sunshine has a passion for helping Christians see how worldview affects culture, and vice versa.

The thesis of Why You Think the Way You Do is that the history of Western Civilization can be traced according to its changing relationship to Christianity. Moreover, the successes and failures of Western culture can be linked to its acceptance or rejection of a Christian worldview.

The book opens with an explanation of the idea of worldview, and how it affects individuals and societies as a whole. It then traces the trajectory of Western culture from the Roman Empire, its transformation by the spread of Christianity, and the periods that followed. The chapters address major periods from the Middle Ages to the renaissance, to the modern “enlightenment” era, to the post-modern period to today. Sunshine shows how changes in worldviews impacted major events such as three great revolutions in England, France and America. This section was especially helpful to understand why the American Revolution succeeded where the Glorious Revolution, and the French Revolutions failed.

As history unfolds in more recent decades, we see the consequences of elevating personal autonomy to the point where ultimate freedom for all means little freedom for some. We see where the only thing considered immoral is considering something immoral. Moreover, we see how struggles for equality have become struggles for privilege by claiming victim status. We see tolerance become meaningless since tolerance entails disagreement, but disagreement is considered intolerance.

Sunshine has painted a clear picture of the consequences of the absence of the Christian worldview in the public square. While the history of Christendom is checkered with its wars of religion, Sunshine gives fair treatment of the issue, acknowledging excesses while noting where these diverge from Christian teaching.

It is not only society, however, that has lost a conscious Christian worldview. This is also missing in much of the Church. We in the church need to read this book and take its lessons to heart if we hope to have an impact on our culture.

This book is accessible to middle-school students, while being rich enough to not bore those with advanced degrees. Church youth leaders and students would do well to study this book. Our future as a nation may well depend upon it.

Lydia McGrew’s review of The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John Walton

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/review_of_john_h_waltons_the_l.html

John H. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

WINTERY KNIGHT

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

View original post