Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Atheist Divorce

Evangelist, Ray Comfort has a great sense of humor, as is demonstrated in the title of his book, God Doesn't Believe in Atheists. As it turns out, a study done by the University of Helsinki, of Finland, suggests he's right.
"We examined whether atheists exhibit evidence of emotional arousal when they dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates. In Study 1, the participants (16 atheists, 13 religious individuals) read aloud 36 statements of three different types: God, offensive, and neutral. In Study 2 (N D 19 atheists), 10 new stimulus statements were included in which atheists wished for negative events to occur. The atheists did not think the God statements were as unpleasant as the religious participants did in their verbal reports. However, the skin conductance level showed that asking God to do awful things was equally stressful to atheists as it was to religious people and that atheists were more affected by God statements than by wish or offensive statements. The results imply that atheists’ attitudes toward God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response." 
Do not presume to think that this means the researchers will be "finding" God or reconsidering methodological natural evolution (as expressed by Phillip Johnson in, Reason in the Balance, to distinguish the secular ideology that relegates God to the church house, forever banishing him from the scientific study of the origins of life and the beginning of the universe), after all, this is not Moody Bible Institute or Dallas Theological Seminary that were talking about here. 

According to the researchers: 
"There is a strong tendency in the current work on supernatural beliefs to suggest that religiosity is natural. Belief in a supernatural, intentional agent is assumed to be a cognitive default, a byproduct of evolutionary adaptations for social cognition that are present in all humans. Accordingly, Bering has argued that atheism is only skin deep: whether or not people consider themselves to be atheists, their verbal self-description may have little bearing on their implicit supernatural beliefs."
Belief in God is "natural," it is a "cognitive default," it's "implicit." The fact that the researchers presuppose naturalism just makes the claims of the study all the more interesting to me. On occasion I play the "devil's advocate" with antagonistic pseudo-evangelical atheists, by pointing out the fact that if evolution is true, than religion and religious belief is the product of evolution, and is therefore completely normal and even natural. Then I go on to argue that any attempt to discourage belief in God is an attempt to counter evolution. My final thrust is to point out that they are acting inconsistent with their views regarding natural evolution. It's a matter of cognitive dissonance. Taken into account with the study, this also implies that for the new militant atheists, their antagonism toward belief arises out of emotion, rather than bald faced facts and/or good will, as many like to use as a pretense. 

Often times this leads to the issue of whether or not religion and/or religious belief (i.e. belief in God) is a beneficial "adaptation," which generally ensues into a dialogue about the impact that Christ has made in people's lives and how that plays out in the real world. For this pragmatic argument to work, we who profess faith must pay more than mere lip service to our King. We must demonstrate his love to the world, practically and honestly, and that includes antagonists. The fact is, many, too many, believers have fallen to the way side, abandoning the faith because of a lack of grace and love in the lives of fellow believers, especially close friends and mentors. We cannot merely use the parable of the sower to excuse our own negligence. In the end, it will be your life rather than scientific data that will draw people to Christ (John 17:18; John 20:21). 

Marjaana Lindeman , Bethany Heywood , Tapani Riekki & Tommi Makkonen (2014) Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 24:2, 124-132, DOI: 10.1080/10508619.2013.771991 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Free Audiobook: Tortured For Christ by Richard Wurmbrand

For a limited time Christian Audio is offering the free audiobook, Tortured For Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. He is the founder of the ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, which provides relief and ministry materials to members of the persecuted church around the world. This is the story of his own experience of persecution under the communist regime in Romania. You can find it here.

About the book:
After years of imprisonment and solitary confinement, enduring inhumane torture, Richard Wurmbrand emerges with a powerful testimony of courageous faith. Even today, believers are suffering and dying for Christ, yet their faith will not falter under the most unthinkable persecutions. In this stirring account, Wurmbrand (founder of The Voice of the Martyrs) encourages us to remember those in chains and equips us to help our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
About the author:
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand is an evangelical minister who endured fourteen years of Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland of Romania. Few names are better known in Romania, where he is one of the most widely recognized Christian leaders, authors, and educators. In 1945, when the Communists seized Romania and attempted to control the churches for their purposes, Richard Wurmbrand immediately began an effective vigourous "underground" ministry to his enslaved people as well as the invading Russian soldiers. He was arrested in 1948, along with his wife, Sabina. His wife was a slave-laborer for three years on the Danube Canal. Richard Wurmbrand spent three years in solitary confinement, seeing no one but his Communist torturers. He was then transferred to a group cell, where the torture continued for five more years. Due to his international stature as a Christian leader, diplomats of foreign embassies asked the Communist government about his safety and were informed that he had fled Romania. Secret police, posing as released fellow-prisoners, told his wife of attending his burial in the prison cemetery. His family in Romania and his friends abroad were told to forget him because he was dead. After eight-and-a-half years in prison, he was released and immediately resumed his work with the Underground Church. A couple of years later, in 1959, he was re-arrested and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Mr. Wurmbrand was released in a general amnesty in 1964, and again continued his underground ministry. Realizing the great danger of a third imprisonment, Christians in Norway negotiated with the Communist authorities for his release from Romania. The Communist government had begun "selling" their political prisoners. The "going price" for a prisoner was $1,900; there price for Wurmbrand was $10,000. In May 1966, he testified before the U.S. Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee and stripped to the waist to show the scars of eighteen deep torture wounds covering his torso. His story was carried across the world in newspapers throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Wurmbrand was warned in September 1966 that the Communist regime of Romania planned to assassinate him; yet he was not silent in the face of this death threat. Founder of the Christian mission, The Voice of the Martyrs, he and his wife traveled throughout the world establishing a network of over thirty offices that provide relief to the families of imprisoned Christians in Islamic nations, Communist Vietnam, China, and other countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. His message has been, "Hate the evil systems, but love your persecutors. Love their souls, and try to win them for Christ." Pastor Wurmbrand is the author of several books, translated into over sixty languages throughout the world. He has been called the "Voice of the Underground Church." Christian leaders have called him a living martyr and "the Iron Curtain Paul."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Christian Origin of Earth Day

"If there had been no Christian experience in my life there would be no Earth Day--or at least I would not have initiated it."
-John McConnell, Jr., credited for the first governmental recognized Earth Day, March 21, 1970

You got it right. The founder of Earth Day was a Christian and he credits Christ as the inspiration for his humanitarian work. Today when I flipped open Vital Magazine I fell upon an article about John McConnell being the founder of Earth Day and his Pentecostal heritage. I remembered seeing the little Google note that Today is Earth Day. I admit that I am a bit ambivalent when it comes to environmentalism and politics. I do believe that we have a God given responsibility to take care of the earth and that we should take it quite seriously (Revelation 11:18). My problem is that I don't trust politicians (i.e. Al Gore promoted a tax on oxygen to preserve the Rain Forrest; when gasoline prices began to rise after 911, Democrats talked about raising the price high enough to greatly decrease consumption; etc.) and I don't think caring for the earth implies that we should go back to the horse and buggy days or line the coffers of political hacks. I think McConnell would agree.

As it turns out, McConnell's parents, John S. and Hattie McConnell, are listed as a founding members of the Assemblies of God according to Assemblies of God Heritage Magazine. His father was a traveling Pentecostal evangelist and his grandfather, Theodore Ward McConnell, was present at the Azusa Street Revival.

McConnell distinguishes his purpose for Earth Day as “a climate of peace and justice as a prerequisite for ecological preservation,” rather than the political protest against pollution by Senator Gaylord Nelson who hijacked his idea.

"John McConnell, Jr.’s interest in earth-care developed in part from his own lifelong study of Scripture. He explains his simple logic, stating, 'We love God ... [and therefore should] have an appreciation for his creation.' To clarify and define this logical 'appreciation,' McConnell, Jr. cites Psalm 115:16, 'The earth has been given to the children of men.' He connects this promise to the command in Genesis 1:28, that humanity is to 'subdue' the earth. 'We’re caretakers upon earth.... "Subdue the earth" — I think that meant to take care of it.... In other words, if you take care of it, it’s not going out of control.' McConnell’s call is not for earth worship, but for responsible stewardship of the earth that all people share."

"The cutting edge of freedom and order has often been people with a strong love for Jesus and what he taught." (McConnell, unpublished introduction to The New Covenant, cited in A/G Heritage)

Interview with John McConnell, Jr., Pentecostal founder of Earth Day, AGTV

The Unexpected Roots of Earth Day, Vital Magazine

John McConnell, Jr. and the Pentecostal Origins of Earth Day, Assemblies of God Heritage Magazine

Earth Day, Wikipedia entry

John McConnell, Wikipedia entry

Denver Post Obituaries, Vagabond youth led Earth Day founder John McConnell to life of peace

Pentecostal Origins of Earth Day

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Argument from Reason by C.S. Lewis

Here in this first short video clip, philosophers, Victor Reppert, Jay Richards, and Angus Menuge explain C.S. Lewis's Argument from Reason. Reppert wrote, C.S. Lewis' Dangerous idea, his blog can be found here. There is a very interesting interview with Menuge on Apologetics 315 (audio, transcript) and here's an article by Richards

Dr. William Lane Craig discusses C.S. Lewis and his argument from reason:

The Argument from Reason is what I call an argument from human experience or human nature. The basis for this argument may include any number of human experiences. Francis Schaeffer, who is noted for 'taking the roof off,' surveys the implications of naturalism/materialism in his trilogy, The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent and Escape from Reason. His main criticism against atheism is the inconsistency of atheist philosophers and how it lacks the basis for almost everything that we associate with being human, moral ethic, meaning, rationalism, love, beauty, art, justice, etc.

The Argument from Reason (AFR) is closely associated with the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG). In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains that AFR leans on common sense realism, but other philosophers such as Cornelius Van Til opt for a more Bible based premise, of which human reasoning is viewed as unreliable. It was implemented by Greg Bahnsen in his famous debate with atheist, Gordon Stein.

Wikipedia's entry on the Transcendental Argument:
They are also distinct from standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning. Where a standard deductive argument looks for what we can deduce from the fact of X, and a standard inductive argument looks for what we can infer from experience of X, a transcendental argument looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X. Thus, "I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects insofar as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, VII). 
The transcendental argument attempts to prove that God is the precondition of all human knowledge and experience, by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary; in other words, that logic, reason, or morality cannot exist without God. The argument proceeds as follows:
  1. If there is no god (most often the entity God, defined as the God of the Christian Bible, Yahweh), knowledge is not possible.
  2. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).
  3. Therefore a god exists.
Notice the quote by Kant. As you can see, the argument goes back a long time; Alvin Plantinga pointed out that Charles Darwin himself recognized the dilemma he was placing himself in. Plantinga has developed his own argument, the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), in which he demonstrates that "the probability that our minds are reliable under a conjunction of philosophical naturalism and naturalistic evolution is low or inscrutable." Wikipedia now has a full page entry devoted to the argument (here). There is also a lecture that Plantinga gave that is available in mp3.

Glenn Peoples devotes several podcasts explaining Plantinga's philosophy of Properly Basic Beliefs, Presuppositional Apologetics and EAAN (1, 2, 3 & 4), they are well worth listening to. Plantinga's argument is subtle and can be confusing to people, including atheist, Daniel Dennet, who thought he was trying to disprove naturalism and evolution with his argument. EAAN is actually quite modest, in that it only questions the underlying assumption of our ability to think rationally if our thoughts are in fact derived from natural evolution. It is a defeater for believing in the philosophy of naturalism and evolution together, but not necessarily some form of evolution such as theistic evolution.

Angus Menuge has put together what he calls the Ontological Argument from Reason. He develops a three step argument for theism providing the only basis for knowledge. First Menuge offers the following requirements for reasoning and argues that all are incompatible with materialism:
A) A conscious self that is united at a time.
B) A conscious self that persists over time.
C) Subjectivity.
D) Teleology.
E) Intentionality.
F) Libertarian free will.
The second step is the Summary of the Ontological Argument from Reason:
(P1) Reasoning requires a unified, enduring self with irreducible subjectivity, teleology, and intentionality, and with libertarian free will.

(P2) None of these resources belongs in a materialistic world.

(C) Reasoning cannot be located in a materialist world: if materialism is true, there is no such thing as reasoning.
His conclusive statement sets up the reasons for holding to Christian theism:
1) Reason cannot be located in a materialist world.

2) If reason did emerge from matter, it could not be relied on.

3) If we are made in God’s image, yet live in a fallen world, we can account for reason, its reliability, and its limitations.
(Menuge also presents a logical argument for #3 in his power point presentation and goes into more detail about his premises.)
Wintery Knight put together a pdf version of a paper Menuge gave at the Evangelical Philosophical Society (paperdebate with P Z Myers).

Here's another helpful resource page that I discovered while putting this article together: Reasons for God.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick and Western Civilization

Growing up in a fairly prominent Christian family, in Roman Britain around the 5th century, Patrick was kidnapped at 16 yrs old, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to a farmer. It wasn't until then that he really began to get serious with God, and God began to do a deep work in his life as he spent long days alone, as a shepherd.

After six years as a slave, he heard a voice* tell him that he would soon go home and that his ship was ready. Not knowing where he was or which direction to go, he was able to miraculously escape, find the ship, make a 28 day track across a desolate wilderness on the verge of starvation, and return home safely. Having arrived home, he studied Christianity and became a bishop, but then God gave him a vision to return to Ireland and share the Gospel with his former captors. With virtually no support, Patrick became the first Christian missionary to Ireland.#

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill lends a whole new perspective on the impact St. Patrick has had, not just in Ireland, but the Western world as a whole. Cahill traces their mass conversion to Christianity and with the development of monasteries, how the Irish preserved Western culture by learning Greek and Latin, copying manuscripts, both pagan and Christian, while the rest of Europe was being overrun by barbarians who seemed to rather enjoy torching every library they could find.

Thus, Ireland grew up as "the isle of saints and scholars." For those of us who appreciate Western civilization, we can thank God for saving and rescuing Patrick, and sending him to evangelize our heathen ancestors, if you're an atheist, well, you can just thank your lucky stars, and maybe consider what your life might have been like, without all the pesky Christians!

*Come on, who are we kidding, we all know it was God talking to him, not the sheep. :)

#Thomas Cahill does an excellent job connecting St. Patrick to Western civilization, but his book is not 100% accurate in some of the minor details, for example, he claims that Patrick was the first missionary since the first century, but Wikipedia, lists at least five other Christian missionaries,  Ulfilas (311 – 383), Pantaenus (died 200), Frumentius (383), Denis (third century), and David of Basra (300). This list is probably not a complete one, but it is enough to show that there were others.