Sunday, November 8, 2009

Divine Hiddeness: A Problem?

A less popular argument for atheism, than the problem of evil, is the problem of divine hiddeness. God's existence, it is said (even by believers), is not as clear as it could be. But yet God wants us to believe in Him. This problem may be expressed more formally, as a reductio ad absurdum, as follows:

0. God exists.
1. God wants all men to believe He exists.
2. Since God wants this, He would have made Himself clearly known.
3. There are educated-rational men, who do not believe in Him.
4. Therefor, there is no God.

So then, a reduction to absurdity, such as the above, starts out assuming the truth of what is to be disproved, the zeroth premise, then shows a contradiction is derivable from the original hypothesis. The conclusion, (4), contradicts the original assumption, (0), and so, if the proof is sound, we must reject the original assumption. In other words, if the above proof succeeds, God does not exist.

But, I do not think the above proof is sound. Let's take a closer look to find out why. First, in premise 1, the term "believe" is ambiguous. According to the letter of James, in the Bible, Satan himself believes in God. But we would hardly expect that the actions of the devil are pleasing to God. There is certainly a difference between mere mental ascent, such as devils possess, and saving faith such as Christians possess. It seems that saving faith is what is in view in premise one.

The reformers distinguished three distinct components of saving faith. They even had fancy Latin verbiage to label said components. I don't recall off hand what those terms are but no matter. What is sufficient for our purposes here is that saving belief is more than mere mental ascent. The something more includes an accepting trust. It is not enough to say, "I know God exists, so I guess I'll just have to make the best of it." We have to like the fact that God exists, and willingly follow Him.

But here is where the real problem comes in. Does God want everyone to choose to follow Him? I think He does. But what if we choose, of our own free will, to not 'trust and obey'? God cannot make us freely choose to follow Him. We saw this when looking at the problem of evil. So then, if God first wants us to have free will (and He does) He cannot then make us choose to follow Him of our own free will, even against our own free will, for that is self-contradictory and, hence, meaningless.

But we can go further. Premise two is demonstrably false. God could (and "could" is all we need to defuse a deductive premise) have had over-riding reasons for not making His existence more clear. God's thoughts are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth. So maybe (and "maybe" is all we need to defuse a deductive premise) He knows something, in His omniscience, which we, in our limited knowledge, do not know.

What is more, premise two rests on a false assumption. Namely, the assumption God has not made His existence abundantly clear. At least, this idea seems to be lurking unstated somewheres within the above proof. But this assumption is patently false. The cosmological, teleological, ontological, and axiological proofs for the existence of God, individually and collectively, make it literally undeniable that there is a God. So God has made His existence unmistakable. If the people in premise three suppress this knowledge, that is their problem, not God's.

Could God have made His presence more clear? I suppose He could have, in some sense. He could have written "God exists" on every cell, for example. However, natural theology has given us apodictic certainty that God exists. Nothing can be more plain than what been rigorously demonstrated to be absolutely certainly true.

The argument against the existence of God, then, from divine hiddeness, is manifestly unsound as we have just seen. Still, it is a helpful argument. What I mean is that when we are exposed to the argument, we are immediately reminded of all the sound arguments for the existence of God. In this respect only, the atheistic argument succeeds.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shrouded in Mystery

Well, its not even anywhere near Easter time and the press is already coming out with yet another "debunking Christianity" story. This time about the Shroud of Turin.

An Italian scientist, funded by a group of unbelievers, was able to reproduce the shroud using entirely natural means, available in the middle ages (there is no earlier record of the shroud than, if I remember correctly, the late medieval period).

A few thoughts on this development:

1. Why is this news? I remember seeing an article in "Skeptical Inquirer" years ago which claimed anyone could easily make their own Shroud replica.
2. Even if the replica is sufficiently similar to the original, that, in-and-of-itself, does not mean the original was a fake.
3. Besides, I've heard that there were enough "slivers of the cross" sold by snake-oil peddlers to rebuild Noah's Ark. I mean back during the hey day of relics. Finding a sliver of wood was much easier than going to all the trouble of creating a fake resurrection cloth which baffled scientists, as to how the image arose thereon for over hundreds of years. Why go to all the trouble to create such an elaborate fraud?
4. Whomever allegedly faked the original would have to know details about the crucifixion of Jesus which, one could argue, were implausible for him to know. For example, if the nails were driven through the hands of Jesus (as they are traditionally portrayed) the weight of His body would have been to heavy so the body would have fallen off the cross. Instead, the nails went through the wrists as accurately portrayed on the Shroud.
5. Classically speaking, the case for the Resurrection never even appeals to the Shroud. So even if the Shroud is a fake that says absolutely nothing about the historicity of the Resurrection. If authentic, the Shroud is interesting and important but, at the end of the day, of secondary significance. If we have good independent evidence for the Resurrection-and we do-then the Shroud becomes apologetically superfluous. It is, if authentic, just more evidence on top of already sufficient evidence.
6. As mentioned above, the Shroud was unknown for centuries, so far as we can tell. During those centuries, Christians had no trouble believing in the risen Savior without a Shroud.
7. Authentic or not, it is hard to believe there would be a Shroud without there having first been a historical Jesus. What is more, it is hard to accept that there would be a Shroud of Turin at all, even supposing it is a demonstrable hoax, if the historical Jesus did not, in fact, rise from the dead.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Miracle of Atheism

The late J.L. Mackie published a book, right as he was at the end of his life, about atheism. More precisely, a book about philosophy of religion which favored atheism. Unlike Dawkins and other so-called new atheists, he actually knew about the arguments he was trying to refute. So the book actually wasn't that bad (though not very good either, if by "good" one means "rationally compelling"). The name of the book is "The Miracle of Theism."

So the basic outline of the book is that Mackie sets out a cumulative case for belief in God, then critiques it. He also sets out a cumulative case for atheism. He sets them side by side and concludes the latter is on much more solid ground than the former.

All the classical arguments, for and against God, are laid out critically. The heart of the case for atheism, in the book, seems to me to be the problem of evil. As I understand, Mackie died just as that problem, the problem of evil, was itself dying, so we may forgive him for overlooking the obituary. Nevertheless, he does interact with Plantinga's freewill defence. At any rate, it seems to me that Mackie's statement of the problem is fairly unique and, therefor, as well as for other reasons, worthy of examination.

As one may gather from the title of his book, Mackie views belief in God as miraculous, in some sense of the term. He does not find theism very plausible in other words. Still, various philosophers down through time have given what purport to be rational support for their religious beliefs and Mackie does take this fact seriously by giving the classical arguments a fair hearing.

He really does explain them, the arguments for God's existence, accurately, so far as I can tell. He does not misrepresent them. He then proceeds to give his concerns against their cogency. I disagree with his analysis here, but that is besides the point. If the cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments are all logically unsound, that does not mean, in-and-of-itself, that theism is a false view. It could be that there really is a God. And why disbelieve in a God Who may really exist, if all one has to appeal to is the absence of evidence?

Of course, Mackie goes beyond this by offering a positive case for atheism. But here is the problem. His case revolves primarily around the problem of evil, which, if unsound, totally destroys his positive case. What is incomprehensible is that Mackie himself admits that the problem of evil, as a deductive argument, is unsound! He admits this in his book, in the very chapter on the problem of evil! So theism is the miracle here? Perhaps the a-key was stuck on his typewriter as he was writing the book.

Here, then, is Mackie's argument:

1. It is either logically possible, or else it is impossible, that God (who may or may not actually exist) could have created human beings such that they always freely choose the good.
2. It is not impossible, that God could have created human beings such that they always freely choose the good. We know this, for example, because any human can and does freely choose the good on at least one occasion so, it is certainly at least possible that he do so on every other occasion as well.
3. Therefore, God could have prevented evil from occurring but He did not so. And this is so, even taking man's putative freewill into account.

What I think Mackie is getting at here is that invoking freewill does not nullify the problem of evil. To say that it is logically possible that God could have created humans who always freely choose the good is, I suppose, true enough, but, only insofar as it goes. It kind of misses the whole point. I mean, logically possible or not, it need not be logically actual. In other words, if a man is created with genuine libertarian freedom, then it must be possible for the said man to choose evil. So if we find evil in the world, as a result of libertarian human freedom, we should not be surprised. Even God cannot, I submit, create a truly free agent who cannot, of his own accord, choose evil in a truly free way.

It is important to reiterate, at this juncture, that the problem of evil is the major and main part of Mackie's cumulative argument for atheism (keep in mind that this argument is one of the best cases for atheism by one of the best atheists in one of the best books on atheism, to date). Yet we see here that it, Makie's problem of evil, fails miserably. So the cumulative case for atheism as a whole fails miserably. And as I said before, even if all the arguments for religious belief are faulty, that does not, in-and-of-itself, establish atheism. So why be an atheist? Could it be that Mackie, and others, have less than rational reasons?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Keep On Rockin' In the Free World... We Salute You

I've always been a bit disappointed that documentaries aren't more readily available from the movie industry. I recently had the privilege of watching "Heavy Metal in Baghdad."

I thought the metal scene where I live was bad. Apparently it is even worse in Iraq (more specifically, in Baghdad). There was only a single metal band in the entire country-that is, before all the members of this band moved to Turkey-and the documentary was just going there to chronicle their experiences and interview them.

It goes without saying that the situation in Iraq, under Saddam's regime and since then, is bad. Which goes a long ways toward explaining why the metal scene is essentially non-existent there.

The Black Scorpions, as the band is called in English (actually, their official name is in Latin, as opposed to Arabic or whatever language/s is spoken in Iraq), cut their teeth by listening to Metallica and Slayer. And the Metallica influence is very clear on their song "Massacre" which is available for listen on their MySpace page. It deals with the massacre of civilians in war torn Iraq.

My heart was really going out to the guys in this band as I was watching the documentary. All they wanted to do was to be free and express themselves through their music. For example, the bassist repeatedly complained that they were not able to grow long hair in Iraq even after the capture of Saddam.

On a more personal note, a young man (not in The Black Scorpions but friends with them) in the documentary was asked if he believes in God. Of course, that whole area is saturated with Islam and heavy metal gets a bad rap sometimes from certain religious folks. In America from ultra-orthodox Protestants but in Iraq from certain Muslims. So the interviewer discussed belief in God (presumably Allah) with the band. They all are Muslims, I think. At any rate, the gentleman not in the band said that he did believe in God but it is hard because He allowed the suffering in Iraq. Why didn't He intervene to stop it, the young man asked. You see how practical apologetics can be? Of course, a person in his shoes probably isn't looking for analytic philosophy but compassion, emotional support, and prayer. Nevertheless, if he was looking for solid intellectual answers, they are there. Thoughtful reflection on, and response to, the problem of evil is practically synonymous with apologetics.

At any rate, the program, produced by MTV, was eye-opening and informative. And I think any fan of harder music might wish to check out the movie if they are able to get ahold of it. Not for the kiddies though as there is mature content including much swearing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Blog Continues... The Vlog Begins

Greetings y'all! Now yours truly has a presence on You Tube. Be sure to check it out. "evangelical" was already taken so I am "evangelical1" there. That last symbol is a numeral one not a letter elle. I hope to eventually post a semi-professional movie there in which several people are discussing natural theology. It will be a while before that happens but, be looking for it. Shalom out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spoofernatural (NOT that Christian parody band)

I have a confession to make. One of my favorite genre's of movies is the spoof. One problem with this aesthetic preference is that there have never really been a lot of spoofs to watch. Until recently, of course. Now there are a plethora of them.

I had high hopes for "Epic Movie" and was let down. Much of fantasy literature, at least in the early days, had definite Christian connotations. Even something modern like "Harry Potter", perhaps, has echoes of the Christian influence much more explicit in "The Chronicles of Narnia", for example. Some of the Christian influenced fantasy literature of yesteryear was recently made into movie form. And "Epic Movie" satirised it. I hope they did not realise that Aslan is really Jesus because, in it, they portray Him as having sex with multiple persons at once, male and female, and all underage. That is blasphemy.

But there is not stink in all of Denmark. I recently purchases "An American Carol" at my local video retailer. It was directed by David Zucker of "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" fame. I was totally shocked as I noticed a very Christian like vibe to the flick. I am not saying that Zucker, or whomever wrote the script, was a true believer-but there was a definite odor of Christian sensibilities to the picture.

Two parts of the movie particularly stick out in this regard.

One was while Bill O'Rielly was interviewing a character, on his Fox News show, who was supposed to be Rossie O'Donnell. He showed a clip from her new documentary. It was all about how fundamentalist Christianity was, on Rosie's view, just as bad as fundamentalist Islam. Seeing as how the movie is a spoof-and 'spoof' is practically synonymous with 'satire'-the message was clear. Remember, satire is bringing something to ridiculous extremes to paint a negative portrait of it. But I guess you'd have to see the clip from the fictional documentary to really grasp the satirical force of it. That message can best be stated rhetorically. How many present-day nuns or priests have committed acts of terrorism or performed suicide bombings? In contrast, how many Muslim terrorists are there? It is politically correct to say that Islam is a religion of peace. And many in Islam are peace loving, I understand. But the idea of jihad comes straight out of the pages of the Koran itself. Fundamentalist Christians believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Fundamentalist Muslims believe "death to the infidels". These are harsh words that may hurt your ears, but somebodies got to say it.

The second part of note, of the movie, was the one musical number. The spirit of general Patton brings the main character-who is supposed to be Michael Moore-to a college campus. While the Professors are lecturing they break out into song. In the lyrics to the song, the teachers explain they were hippies back in "1968!". As they became yuppies they got teaching jobs to indoctrinate the younger generation with there liberal, left wing, propaganda. They got their dogma, as they continued to sing, from "1968!".

What is so uncanny about the song-and-dance in the secular movie, is that Bill Craig, a Christian apologist, was just talking about this very same thing on his audio blog (he presumably has not seen the movie). On his blog he was talking about the idea that the counter-culture movement of the 60's failed. But the protesters didn't give up their cause. Instead, many of them got teaching degrees so they could brainwash tomorrow's generation through the back door. A less direct, and more subtle (and successful) approach. And since many in colleges are themselves soon-to-be teachers in elementary and secondary schools, the entire educational system has long since collapsed. The prophecy of men without chests has finally become fulfilled. Once the Logos has been crucified, logic (not to mention ethics and aesthetics) is soon to follow. Looks like Nietzsche wasn't so mad after all.

But I digress. Back to the main point of this entry. I was so unbelievably surprised, in a good way, by "An American Carol". It was so much more than Leslie Neilson enacting corny puns. There was actually a moral behind it! A good moral!! The moral was more political than religious. Nevertheless, the moral is one that can resonate with more explicitly Christian ones. Kudos to Dave Zucker and company.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stay Tuned for Comming Attractions

Greetings one and all! I have been having major computer problems as of late. Plan to be back blogging soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review of "Terminator: Salvation"

Last night I went into that den of iniquity that is the movie theatre. I went to see "Terminator: Salvation" and was not dissappointed at all. Terminator III sucked and I'm not sure how it ties in with the most recent movie. In talking with the brother of the Simpson's comic-book guy, apparently the television series takes place after T2 and retcons right past 'The Rise of the machines' into 'Salvation'.

At any rate, the movie was certainly better than the third installment which, in case I forgot to mention, sucked. The new one tied in nicely with the first one as well. There was even a trailor truck/road flare scene remeniscent of the first installment. And when John Conner was asked what his men should be told when they find out he is gone to sky net, he replied, "I'll be back." If only he would have said, "hasta la vista, baby" as he was about to blow it up. Oh well, there is always Terminator 5: It Really Really Is the Final Day of Reconning and There Will Be No More Time Travel to Take Out John Conner's Third Cousin Twice Removed From the Past Or Future" for that gem.

But seriously, the movie was awsome. Lots of action. Good fx. The signature techno drum-beat as a nerkid Ahnold, from the late seventies of the future, steps out of the steam (if you have kiddies, or eyes, there is no need to worry as 'Mr. Universe' is covered in steam and shadow). And a very interesting plot.

For starters, the model of the terminator from the first movie to the second was incredible. From the second to the third-well let's not go there. But for the new movie, a quantum leap was made forward. There was a unique prototype, which may or may not be mass produced in the next movie.

Second of all, such phrases as'judgement day' and salvation' cannot help but bring with them religious connotations. And here is where the real merit of the film comes for me.

We are not bound by past mistakes and present circumstances but have libertarian freedom. Such a concept is essential to at least some branches of Christianity. And we can choose the right over the wrong even when authorities illigitamtely command us to do otherwise.

And we are given a second chance with God. At first, we rebelled against Him. But we all have the oppurtunity to repent and obtain salvation (the subt-title of the film). This theme of second chances, founded upon libertarian freedom, permeates the movie. One of the main characters is, in a sci-fi kinda way, born again. Also, one of the main characters sacrifices his life for his friend, which Jesus said was the greatest love, and, one may say, indirectly for the whole world. But delivering up one's life for the salvation of the world is the gospel itself.

I never tire of finding the Good News hidden in fictional stories, particularly sci-fi or fantasy. In fact, all stories, fictional or otherwise, it seems to me, are an echo of the one story. The cardinal point in all of history was the cross of Christ which split the calender in two. But I hope to do a separate post on this theme so I'll leave it aside for now.

FYI, towards the end of the picture there was a scene very reminiscent of the video game Contra. There were rumors floating around back in the day that Stallone and Ahnold were going to star in a Contra movie. Was the helicopter scence in 'Salvation' a sign of things to come? Like Nick Fury after the credits of "Iron Man" (not to mention the cap's sheild on Tony Stark's work bench)? Probably just a coincidence, in the case of 'Terminator: Salvation', but we can always dream.

At any rate, the movie was just plain good. Definetly better than the third. Probably better than the second. And possibly better than the first. I whole-heartedly recommend it to you all. Now I'm going to have to check out the television show. Don't ya just love robots?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Gospel Was/n't Restored Under Smith: A Debate

0. The format

1. Opening speech 1000
2. Rebuttal 300
3. Counter-rebuttal 200

4. Opening speech 1000
5. Rebuttal 300
6. Counter-rebuttal 200

7. Con/pro Conclusion 100
8. Pro/con Conclusion 100

You may open first or second as you wish. If you open first you’ll close second and vice versa. The resolution of the debate shall be “The Gospel has been restored under Joseph Smith.” You’ll take the pro and I the con. The numbers above are the maximum word counts of the respective speeches and must be strictly observed by us both. All eight speeches shall be in both of our possessions (in our email in-box’s) before either one of us post the debate as a whole. We both can do whatever we want with the debates so long as nothing is changed and the eight speeches are in the above order
The Gospel Was Restored Under Joseph Smith:
Joseph Smith is considered to have been a modern day Prophet. Contradictory to what many people think, I've heard everything people have said about the Prophet Joseph. They've all said that he's a fraud, that he made up the Book of Mormon, and that he's made up the entire first vision story. These are some pretty big claims to make to a church that is over 13 Million members strong, and these claims can be put to rest if people would just realize a few things.
The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, not written, but translated. It took him about 4 months or so to translate it. If you can show me one popular novel with over 13 million people that have read it that was written in less than 6 months, then I will reconsider some of my choices in this church. I'm very confident that you won't find such a book though. Because it's not possible to make up that much stuff in that little time and then make up an entire church based off of it. Also, people have found that there indeed was an ancient city known as Nahom, which is in the Book of Mormon. This city was over in Yemen, right around where the Book of Mormon said it would be.
There's nothing in the bible that says that God will not talk to his children ever again, so it's possible for Joseph Smith to have had a vision. And Joseph had a vision just like Moses had a vision. They were two different visions of course, but the fact that it happened makes all the difference. If you deny that Joseph Smith had ever had a vision, then you must deny that Moses had a vision too which would make you a non-believer in the bible because God told him where to receive the 10 commandments just as Joseph Smith was told where to find the Golden Plates.
The prophet Isaiah had said in the bible, "11) And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: 12) And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned." This is in Isaiah 29:11 - 12. Joseph Smith History 1:64 - 65 said that Joseph copied a lot of the characters from the plates and was given a certificate of authenticity by Prof. Anthon who later tore it up for whatever reason. The parallel is that it was considered a sealed book at the time. But Prof. Anthon had said that the characters were true characters. And he said that the translation was indeed correct.
In the bible, Isaiah 29:18 - 24 (emphasis added) says:
"18) And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. 19) The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. 20) For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: 21) That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought. 22) Therefore thus saith the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. 23) But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. 24) They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine."
That was from my book in the making called Why Are The Mormons Right? The book of Isaiah in the bible is amazing because it talks about the Book of Mormon all over the place. It has been said that The Book of Mormon contains many little treasures that were either removed from the teachings of Jesus Christ or not recorded.
The argument of Yanez may be summarized under several points.
1. The Book of Mormon is too elegant, and popular.
2. Nahom was found.
3. A linguistic scholar authenticated the translation.
4. Isaiah prophesied about the Book of Mormon.
5. If Moses can have a vision of God, then so could Joseph Smith.
1. In some ways the Book of Mormon is very un-elegant. Foe example, there is a ridiculously large percentage of verses that start, “And it came to pass”. The reason why so many people read/believe/follow the Book of Mormon is because it is a central tenet of their faith. This is a faith which has constantly been promoted by proseltyzers. The missionaries are well trained in the tactics of sophistry. And at the first trip to the temple, members are asked on the spot if they will agree to all the oaths they are about to make (before knowing what the oaths are).
2. As I recall, what was actually found in Yemen was a city called NHM. Apparently the vowels were left out. In that case, the city could be Noohoon or any number of different cities.
3. But that is just scholar on the side of the Book of Mormon. All Egyptologists (including Mormons) who examine the papyrus the Book of Abraham was translated from admit it is the Book of Breathings which has nothing to do with the Book of Abraham.
4. I see no reason to automatically assume that that was what Isaiah had in mind.
5. What happened to Moses is irrelevant to what happened to Smith. Even if Smith did have a vision of God it was totally dissimilar from those of Moses. The ministry of Moses was authenticated by many signs which all Israel, and all Egypt, saw.

It's been stated that the Book of Mormon has a lot of verses that start with "and it came to pass." What's wrong with that? That's being a little nit picky. For Example: Since the Quaran doesn't have book names like the bible does, should that really be a reason as to try to get people not to believe in it? The prophet Joseph had just translated what he read on the plates.
What's wrong with the how the missionaries are trained? They learn how to teach people about the gospel to those who don't know about it. Some missionaries learn how to teach it in another language as well as the language to others. And what's wrong with not knowing the oaths that they are asked to take before going to the temple?
Of course the vowels are left out in Yemen. You must really think. If this is an ancient city, will they write in English if it's far from England? If you think about it, the NHM that is talked about are syllables for each letter, much like in Japanese

The Gospel was not restored under Joseph Smith:

We know this for at least three reasons.

I. There was nothing to restore.

The idea of a restoration presupposes the prior loosing of something. In this case many plain and precious parts of the Bible have been, according to Smith, removed. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The science of textual criticism has been able to reconstruct the original New Testament with certainty save for three pages. The three pages do not amount to any significant doctrines. Often, the doubt is which spelling is to be preferred. So then, nothing of significance is missing from the New Testament as we have it today.

And it is in the New Testament that we learn of the Gospel as it was preached in New Testament times. The Gospel Smith proclaimed is different from the New Testament Gospel as we have it today which, to repeat, is essentially the same as the autographs.

If the plain and precious parts removed were only removed by misinterpretation, then that, of course, is a different matter. While the Bible is not just a book, it is a book. And any book is interpreted according to the standard rules of interpretation.

Am I arguing, thus far, that sitting on pine trees is comfortable? Of course, I have said nothing about pine trees or comfort-ability. If one really really wanted to read that meaning into the preceding paragraphs, they could do so. But that was not the authorial intent. This is plain based on the ordinary rules of interpretation. The Bible tells us, in Ephesians 2 for example, that we are saved by grace and not by works. There is no way to reconcile this with the article of faith that says we are saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. No way to reconcile, that is, without doing serious injustice to the text. No matter what certain other texts seem to say about works, this text, and many others, make it plain that salvation is by grace alone.

Bottom line, nothing was removed from the Bible physically or through misinterpretation. Joseph Smith may have corrupted the Gospel, but he did not restore it.

II. Joseph Smith is not very reliable as the Prophet of the Restoration.

A lot could be said here but let’s focus on the Pearl of Great Price. One of the roles Joseph had as the Prophet of the Restoration was that of inspired translator. He translated ancient writings into English under the inspiration of God. At least, that was his claim. Is there any way to test this claim? Yes. For if the original ancient writing is translated by the appropriate language scholar and it bears significant resemblance to what Smith said it said, well and good. If not, not. The manuscript from which the Book of Abraham, in the Pearl of Great Price, was translated has been found to be the book of the dead. Nothing like what Smith claimed. If he got the Book of Abraham totally wrong, why suppose he fared any better with the Book of Moses or the Book of Mormon? Remember, the Book of Abraham was translated under inspiration, according to the claim. Can a prophet under inspiration utter false prophesies? Not according to Deuteronomy. This brings us to our final objection.

III. Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

Even if Smith accurately predicted the future 100% of the time, he would still qualify as a false prophet if he taught the people false doctrine (particularly polytheism). All of the unique doctrines of the LDS faith are considered heretical by all of Christendom. This is not because Mormonism stands in violation of some man-made creed but because it stands in violation of the Bible itself. For example, Mormonism teaches salvation by grace plus works whereas the Bible teaches salvation by grace alone. We already alluded to that contradistinction above.

So then, we see three very clear reasons why Joseph Smith did not restore the Gospel. First, there was nothing to be restored in the first place. Second, Smith is not a reliable translator (and Mormonism stands or falls on the basis of a translated work of scripture, namely, the Book of Mormon). Finally, Joseph Smith is a false prophet for, while it is prima facie unlikely he predicted the future with 100% accuracy, he clearly, in addition, taught doctrines contrary to the Bible.

The only conclusion we may reasonably reach in light of all the above considerations is that the Gospel was not restored through Joseph Smith. QED



I would like to address the 3 points that were just made.
"There Was Nothing to Restore."
Quite the contrary. After the atonement of Jesus Christ, the Apostles had split up in hopes of keeping the church afloat, with no leader. Eventually, the priesthood authority was lost after the Apostles were killed. So not only was the church Jesus organized gone from the Earth, but so was the priesthood authority. Also, The Book of Mormon contains many precious truths that were taken from the Bible or they just weren't included. For example: We practice baptism for the dead, a practice that the Bible has evidence that shows it was indeed practiced in Corinth.
Also, if you want to whine about being saved by just grace alone, read James 2:14, 16, 17, 20, 22, 24, and 26. These 7 points are ALL about how faith is dead without works. Check out verse 18 in that chapter while you're at it. Or how about John 3:5 that says you must be baptized and confirmed to enter heaven? Or do you have a prophet that told you otherwise? Because I'm very sure that you're part of a Non-Prophet Organization.
"Joseph Smith is not very reliable as the Prophet of the Restoration."
Well, it's funny that you say that because he indeed had a professor in ancient language want to help him out until the prof figured that he wasn't going to get any benefits. Actually, the Book of Mormon was NOT translated "under inspiration," but by the power of God and he had to use the Urim and Thummim (which are mentioned in the Bible) to translate as well. I'm not sure if he used Urim and Thummim during the translation of the papyri, but still, just because a scholar said one thing,-****ran out of words at this point****



1. Merely asserting there was a great apostasy begs the question.
2. Baptism for the dead, on your view, apparently IS in the Bible so THAT was NOT a plain or precious part left out.
3. Faith IS dead without works. This has nothing to do with sola gratia.
4. At most, John 3:5 says baptized people go to Heaven. This is NOT the same as saying baptism saves us.
5. The professer is irrelevant.
6. Translation by the power/guidance of God IS inspiration.

In summation, nothing you have said in your rebuttal refutes my three reasoned points.


Con closing statement:

I made three points, with supporting argumentation, in support of my position. My opponent has not sufficiently refuted these. In contrast, his opening speech was more or less anecdotal and does not stand up to scrutiny. We may conclude, therefore, that the Gospel was most certainly NOT restored under Joseph Smith. I enjoyed the debate and thank Teddy for his participation and congeniality. I welcome comments about the debate. Thank you all for reading.


Pro closing statement:

The problem i have with limited worded debates is that you can't limit words on proving a point in Mormonism. That's the main reason why I'm writing a book.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Observation on Sagan's Cosmos

The cosmos is all there ever was, is, or ever will be. Thus begins Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I recently watched the entire series and have much to say in destructive criticism. But that is for another time. For now, I'd like to pick out one very small portion of the series for comment.

It was Sagan's philosophical (I was under the mistaken impression "Cosmos" was a scientific documentary) debunking of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Russell made the same blunder in "Why I Am Not a Christian" and countless persons, before and since, I understand, have followed suit.

Let's face facts. The cosmological argument has been around for a very long time. Why people can't come up to date with it is beyond excuse. In the past, Dr. Sagan informs us, people answered the question of why there is a cosmos with, God did it. But, these pre-scientific and unenlightened religionists, we are further informed, were apparently not smart enough to ask where God, in turn, came from. If we counter that God is eternal and uncaused then, why not the universe? Contrariwise, if everything needs a cause, then so doesn't God.

Apparently Sagan forgot at this point the major portions of his program he devoted to the big bang at this point. The simple fact is that the cosmos screams contingency no matter where we look. Stars die. Our own star, as Sagan himself describes in the program, is burning out. The rain slowly but surely destroys rocks on the earth. Asteroids and black holes destroy celestial-solid bodies. On and on we could go. We can never step into the same river twice. The cosmos is in continuous flux. Everything, supposing the cosmos really is everything, is manifestly contingent whether considered in part or in whole. Therefore, it must have had a beginning.

On the other hand, to avoid a causal regress, which Carl ironically seems very concerned to avoid, there must be an uncaused first cause. What is more, an eternal causal agent must ever be and cannot thus, lack existence. Such a being, therefore, always (from our temporal point of view) be. Time came into existence at the big bang. So if a creator transcends the cosmos, this being also transcends the time which is so closely knit to the cosmos. And so God, if we choose to call the first causal agent thusly, must be eternal. In other words, God cannot have a prior cause.

So what is the problem? The universe had to have a beginning and God, supposing there is one, had to lack such a beginning. The only candidate for a beginner (or uncaused first cause) would have to be some type of causal agent transcendent to the cosmos. Such a being all men call God.

Now, when I said before that Sagan ought to be up to date on this argument when speaking as an authority on it, that was not quite correct. I'd be happy if he went only as far as the high-middle ages. Aquinas, for example, had quite a lot to say about the cosmological argument. But it seems it was much easier to blow him off with a wave of the hand, at a straw man, than to actually read what he had to say.

Instead of wasting all that time and money-which, by the way, came from tax dollars, I think-looking for little green men to save us (from what?), Dr. Sagan should have been searching for God. If we search for Him with all our heart we will find Him, the Bible promises us.

While Mr. Sagan has left us there remain today many skeptics still living. When confronted with a logically valid (and I would say logically sound as well) argument for the existence of God, I hope that they would take it seriously. More particularly, when exposed to the cosmological argument they have no right, in light of the above words, to give the who-made-God rebuttal. And if that is all they have, why, they are compelled, with irresistible logic, to admit there is some kind of a God.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review of The Day the Earth Stood Still

I was really looking forward to the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Now I'm really disappointed. The original was one of the best science fiction movies of all time (of the silver era it is second only to "War of the Worlds").

But don't get me wrong. There were some good special effects. Gort morphing into metal-scavenging nanobots was a nice touch. And the whole retiming of standing still of the Earth was interesting. But the new movie came off, to my own mind at least, as mere environmentalist propaganda.

Trees, it appears, are just too hugable to allow man to survive. Good science fiction raises important philosophical questions. The answers it gives to such questions are sometimes quit less than biblical. The Earth certainly is a beautiful place. Nature is truly wonderful. What is more, man has not always treated her 'mother' in the right ways. But are lions, tigers, and bears more important than humankind? Are trees and rocks more important?

I think not. The alien race, which Klaatu (and why no 'Klaatu barrada nictu' in the remake which was the central part of the original-not to mention in the third installment of the Evil Dead trilogy?) belongs to, apparently thinks so.

While it is true the alien race was preparing an ark-or many arks-it is my impression that two, or eight, men would not be aboard. The real message of the movie, of course, is that man isn't quite so bad off as we appear at first blush. And, when the going gets tough, the tough, in this case mankind, gets going, rises to the challenge, and shows how great we really are. But the underlying context is that mankind, heretofore, has been the greatest threat to the planet.

Call me a Ptolemaist, but mankind is the planet. It is the same message repeated ad nauseum on those nature shows. When Sharks Attack! When Crocodiles Attack! When Domesticated Yet Still Wild Exotic Felines Trained for Las Vegas Magic Shows Attack! You know the shows I'm talking about. "The real monster," the narrator tells us at the end, "is man. Man has done more harm to nature than all the poisonous snakes, spiders, etc. than they have done to man." What?!?! Those are just animals. The sanctity of life is the sanctity of human life. It is we alone who bare the imago dei. Where are all the tree huggers when an innocent human child is being butchered at a 'clinic'? Strangely silent.

I know, I know. I am being anal about one side issue within a much larger narrative. The movie itself was entertaining and, again, had good special effects. Apart from its perceived leftist agenda, though, I do think it did not live up to its predecessor. Not by a long shot. With John Cleese as the professor (whose enigmatic equation was solved by Klaatu, in one of the only scenes carried over from the original original) and the to-truly-halk-a-lougie guy (from Revenge of the Nerds II, if memory serves) as a clandestine apologist (for humanity, that is, not for Christianity) the movie was not all bad. There was even a sacrificial death at the end which reminds one of Neo in the Matrix-er, I mean-Jesus in the Bible. Still, I do not feel it was a particularly noteworthy movie. If I were to even consider buying this movie, though, I would get it in the special edition, and then only because it comes with a second disc which has the original version on it. I suppose the remake disc would serve well as a coaster.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review of The Man from Earth

I recently had the opportunity's to rent my first movie from one of those dvd vending machines they have. It was a neat little flick called "The Man From Earth". It was a small, low-budget, independent film. I was therefor surprised to see so many famous people in it. Perhaps 'famous' isn't the right term for many of the actors had faces immediately recognisable but, whose names one has never known.

Like all good science fiction, it raised interesting philosophical questions. And the plot-line was intriguing. It was about a man, talking to his university colleagues. He claims that he is a cave man, still living 14,000 years later. He is a bit like Socrates in that his great wisdom, from long life, is that he does not know very much. I do not think I like the answers he has come up with, but, at least he, or the movie itself, is asking the right questions.

As one might imagine, one of the main subjects examined is that of religion. Eventually it comes out that Dr. John Oldman, as the cave man is currently calling himself, was the historical Jesus. And this is the main complaint I have with the movie. Let me explain.

John went to study with the Buddha. Then he came to Palestine to teach Buddhism there. A great deal of legend immediately grew up around him. Particularly after he revived from his crucifixion. Like Wolverine, John had remarkable powers of healing and, during his crucifixion, he explained, he was merely tied to a cross.

There is so much wrong, apologetically, with the movie at this point. I know, I know, it is only fiction. However, the claims made can be taken in a certain sense as alleged historical fact. Fact which would be devastating to the religion which bases itself firmly in objective history. If, that is, it were true. As a matter of fact, much of what is claimed for the historical Jesus in the movie has been claimed for a long time by various skeptics in the real world. Most recently it appeared in 'Zeitgeist' and 'Religulous'.

One of the claims is that the Christ of faith is nothing like the Jesus of history. Older Pagan mythology, it is said, was regurgitated by the early Christians. First of all, there was not enough time for myth to develop between the events of the Gospels and their writing. Second, despite what some people might try and tell you, the Gospels do not bear the marks of mythology. Third, what Jesus has in common with Hercules-as claimed in the movie-is a complete mystery. Hercules was half-man and half-god whereas Jesus was fully God and fully man. Also, God did not have sexual intercourse with the then virgin Mary (which woul be logically impossible) as Zeus had when he sired Hercules.

The parallelomania that is the history of religions school, as I believe it is called, I thought had died out years ago. I am always surprised when I see it keep popping up.

Another problem was that John (who was Jesus, remember) says he never claimed to be God. The Bible, which is generally regarded as generally reliable history, records Him as saying that He was God. The claims that the biblical Jesus made to divinity were implicit, but unmistakable. Who can forgive sins but God alone, the would-be stoners of the biblical Jesus once asked. I and the Father are one, Jesus said. It is common knowledge that Jesus died, according to the Bible, for blasphemy. Blasphemy is when a mere man claims to be God. Textual critics have reconstructed the autographs and, even here, we see Jesus implicitly claiming to be God.

And then, I do not like how religious persons are portrayed in the film. This woman, who claims she doesn't even believe John, is a complete shambles when she hears what Jesus was really like. I guess her faith was about a femtometer deep (like the Roman Catholic's in the remake of 'Flight of the Phoenix' who merely served as subtle propaganda smuggled in where nobody would notice). She is at one point referred to as a "Christian literalist".

Nothing boils my blood more than the L-word. It is kind of like the F-word, fundamentalist, in that it is never used in its correct sense. A literal interpretation of the Bible, traditionally speaking, is to take the words in their plain meaning. Is it not plain that "shadow of His wings" is metaphorical? Indeed it is. So "literal" and "metaphorical" are not mutually exclusive, when the terms are properly understood. What the critic apparently means by "literal" is something like, "you uneducated fool! You ignore science and think the earth is only 6,000 years old. You are so unenlightened unlike liberal Protestants and total unbelievers."

When the circle of friends is deliberating on whether to accept John's story or not, the biologist, psychiatrist, and archaeologist all get to way in on plausibility (of John's story) but the "Christian literalist" is scoffed at when appealing to her Bible scholars.

And then the Bible itself is mischaracterised. A distinction is made between the wrathful Old Testament God and the loving New Testament God which would make any Gnostic blush. If memory serves, the Bible is also portrayed in the film as being hopelessly contradictory. The genetic fallacy is committed when the Decalogue is said to derive from Hammurabi's code as if that were a bad thing.

Now, apart from the whole anti-Christian propaganda, the film was not without its flaws. But on the whole, I liked the movie. The main body of which was an extended philosophical discussion. It is rare to watch a movie which consists of just people sitting around a room talking philosophically for 90 minutes. For that reason alone, I think the movie was good. There were no cheesy special fx to take away from the dialogue either. So it was an interesting movie to watch, entertaining, and it made you think. I couldn't help coming away with the feeling that Jerome Bixby was totally out to lunch, but I give him an A for effort. I whole-heartedly recommend the movie to discerning viewers everywhere!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Big Show

There is a television series on HBO about a fundamentalist Mormon family. The husband is married to several women. You know, I never really got the whole polygamy thing. Hen-pecking in stereo and an inordinate amount of money spent on viagra.

At any rate, there is an episode coming out soon (or perhaps it has already aired) where there is a temple marriage portrayed. There are two problems with this. First, fundamentalist Mormons are not allowed in the LDS temple. Only "true Mormons" are allowed in the temple so the show is factually in error. I can appreciate how a Latter-Day Saint would be concerned about this sending the wrong message to the masses. They have made it very clear that they do not practice polygamy. If one of their number is caught practicing polygamy they are excommunicated. Excommunication is a huge deal for a Saint because the LDS church is the only game in town. They cannot become a god if they are disfellowshipped.

The second problem is that the temple ceremonies-for example, weddings-are a closely guarded secret of Mormons. They solemnly vow to not reveal what goes on inside to anyone. I believe the penalty for violation is death (though I do not think anyone would actually be killed if they did reveal the secrets). LDS bloggers are all up in arms at the sacrilege.

They would say that the temple ceremonies are not so much secret as they are sacred. The Gentiles (and even some LDS people) are not clean enough to enter the holy site. It seems to me, however, that the real reason they don't want you to know what is going on in there has more to do with public relations than with sanctity.

I have heard from former Mormons that a lot of strange things go on inside there. In the endowment ceremony, people are asked to swear allegiance to the oaths they are about to make without even knowing what the oaths are! They can leave only at this point but there is tremendous peer pressure not to. After that they are stuck.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how accurate the sealing ceremony is portrayed on Big Love once it finds its way to you tube.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tell Me What's-a-Happenin'

I recently finished the "Gospel of Judas". I mean a book of essays about the Gnostic text of the same name (including the Gnostic text itself). The Gospel itself exists in only one manuscript, a Coptic translation from the Greek autograph, as is supposed. And the manuscript is rather fragmentary. It is thus not entirely clear, taken in isolation, what is therein being said (at least to a layman like myself). But the basic idea, according to the essays, is that Jesus was a Sethian guru-Sethians were a sect of Gnostics-and Judas Iscariot was the only enlightened one of the 12. The others followed the creator God of the material world who is evil and, most certainly, not the father of Jesus. Jesus instructs Judas in the secret gnosis because he alone of all the apostles has the spark of the divine. After the impartation of the arcane metaphysics, Jesus instructs Judas to betray him to the authorities. The purpose of the betrayel is so that Jesus can die and thus escape the prison of his body. How such an exalted spiritual being as Jesus was supposed to be could die is not made clear.

Anywho, it is the essays (and other buzz about such Gnostic Gospels) which I really wanted to talk to you about today. It seems that scholars of late have been reading too many Dan Brown novels. What I mean to say, is that the picture is often painted that there were many different strands of Christianity, in the early days, and all were fighting for a voice. But then the infamous Constantine came along and imposed his peculiar brand of Christianity on the rest of us. He had his views stamped with the official status of orthodoxy.

But such revisionist history, while making for interesting fiction in dramatic novels, bears no resemblance to what actually happened. In the essays the original Gospel of Judas is dated at about approximately 150 AD. In fact, all the Gnostic Gospels are of the second century or later (unless you are John Dominic Crossan who feels the Gospel of Judas dates to the first century, but this is hardly uncontroversial). Moreover, the Gnostic Gospels bear the names of New Testament charecters but were certainly not written by them. For example, Judas died prior to 70 AD and his Gospel wasn't written until 150 AD. He wasn't even alive when he was allegedly writing!

Why all of this is important is because the canonical Gospels, and only the canonical Gospels, were written close to the time of the events they describe and were written under the authority of apostolic eye-witnesses. Not so with the Gnostic Gospels. It is incomprehensible to me why Crossan would put so much stock in Thomas and so little stock in Mark-but that's another story.

In other words, we expect the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be very historically reliable and the Gnostic Gospels to be very unhistorical particularly where they contradict the older, more reliable, Gospels. The situation is as follows. Jesus comes along and founds the Christian movement. Even atheist historians ought to admit as much. Within the pages of the Christian scriptures themselves, Gnosticism starts to rear its ugly head. As time went on ecumenical councils were convened to clearly explain what the true biblical teaching was. In this way, new or gullible saints would not be mislead by wolves in sheep's clothing.

Modern-day wolves in sheep's clothing repudiate the councils (and their creeds) as being an addition to the Bible. Not so. It is the redressed heresies of the cultists that are additions to the Bible. These cultists misinterprate the Bible and deny creedal orthodoxy as an addition to the Bible. I was recently talking with an LDS gentleman online. He tried pulling this on me so I challenged him to produce a single historical quote which established (implicitly or explicitly) that the Mormon charicature of the creeds was correct. He gave an irrelevant qoute from the 19th century-long after the time of the councils-and said, contrary to what all Mormons have always said, that the councils were merely to clarify the Bible after all (though apparently, because of the alleged apostasy, they were misinterprating the Bible and purported modern-day prophets give the real meaning of the Bible).

But I am getting away from the main topic. Namely, there was, is, and always shall be one, and only one, Christian faith. I don't care what Elaine Pagels, Bart D. Ehrman, or Dan Brown says to the contrary. The Gnostics were not Christians. We know this because Gnosticism contradicts Christianity at important points. The God of the Old Testament, for example, is the Father of Christ. This is made clear in the canonical scriptures. The later Gnostic scriptures were an attempt of Johnny-come-latelys to sound Christian to fool the gullible Christians of the patristic period. The ecclesiastical fathers were wise to convene councils and craft creeds to help their brethren out.

There is at bottom no distinction between orthodox Christianity and Christianity pure and simple. And Gnosticism ain't it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Review of Ridiculous

No, I didn't misspell the title of the movie. Bill Maher did. Complete rubbish. Don't waste your time or money on this "documentary".

Bill Maher goes around to different people and talks to them about their faith. Or, at least, offending them and laughing at them while he pretends to be rational. It is very interesting his choice of interviewees. The only intellectual person of faith he consulted was Dr. Francis Collins. However, much of the interview with him was about the historicity of the New Testament. And Collins field of specialization is in genetics. So it seems like Maher set the deck at the beginning so that all people of faith would appear to be dumb.

Let's recount the faith's represented. As I recall, Christians are represented more than any other faith. This is understandable because that is the most popular religion, I think, in this country. He visits a trucker's chapel, a messianic Jew (who apparently converted to Catholicism), an ex-homosexual (which is possible despite what Maher would have us believe), Frances Collins, and the Holy Land Experience theme park. While at the theme park, the person playing Jesus asked him what would happen if he died. That is a really good question. New atheists like Bill tend to blow this off by saying, "if God wants me to believe He would make Himself more obvious." More obvious! How could anything be more obvious than the existence of God. Of course, if one refuses to look at good solid apologetics (and Bill did not look at any) it is easier to tell oneself that they do not really believe.

Now onto Judaism. He interviewed two Jewish persons. One who looked like an orthodox Jew but was anti-Israel. The other a man who invented gadgets to work on the Sabbath without violating Rabbinic tradition. For example, a steam powered wheel-chair (for example, a telephone which, I think, you select which numbers aren't dialed so you avoid dialing numbers but you can still make calls. This hardly represents Judaism accurately.

For Mormons, he went to Salt Lake City. He interviewed two excommunicated Mormons but no actual Mormons. Apparently he couldn't find any willing to talk to him. How likely is that? Not very.

For Islam, he spoke to, apparently, a tour guide at the Dome of the Rock. This man was about the only person Bill treated with respect. A young Muslim man in the mosque said, in Arabic, that Bill was not funny and his show sucks. That is about the only part of the entire movie that was actually true.

Then he talked to some weird guy who worshipped marijuana.

Is this very representative of mainstream religion? I think not.

If one does not heed my warning and actually watches "Religulous" then one will definitely need a close pin for their nose and hip-waders up to their pits because the bull crap is piled so high in this movie. On top of the propagandizing, Bill is very disrespectful to people of faith and blasphemous against faith.

But perhaps my biggest problem with this movie is the call to arms. New atheists are getting way much more attention than they deserve. Religulous is riding the coat tales of the movement. Even worse, it is encouraging people to become proactive in their disbelief. For the uneducated masses, they may even think the new atheists are on to something. However, the not-so-new atheists lost very badly a generation ago and now agnostics, who refuse to accept defeat, conveniently forget those who have gone before them and pretend they are saying something new. Well, theists have been successfully defending their faith for at least the last 2,000. We've heard it all before and have provided answers to it all before.

For example, Mr. Maher thinks that faith is a bad thing and reason is a good thing. But faith, ideally, is based on reason. They are not mutually exclusive at all. That is the kind of propaganda we'd expect to find "Religulous" or "The God Delusion" but not in the real world.

By the way, nowhere in the entire movie to Maher offer an argument for atheism. He just laughs at individual faiths and assumes atheism is true. Who is the one using faith and not reason here.

If somebody is gullible enough to be taken in by Samuel Harris, Richard Dawkins and others, then they may find "Religulous" enlightening and informative. For those of us in the know, however, it, like all the rest of the recent flood of fundamentalist atheist hogwash will see it for what it is. A piece of PR totally lacking in substance.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Update on Ben Stein's 'Expelled'

A while back I did a post on the Ben Stein movie 'Expelled'. Well, just the other day I heard that Ben Stein was uninvited from giving the commencement speech at a particular college. Apparently the institution wanted to be "a marketplace of ideas" and "inclusive" of everyone. Everyone, of course, except for people like Stein who are willing to stand up and challenge the status quo. This is exactly the kind of behavior I've come to expect from secular educational institutions and secularism in general. Secularists claim to be so tolerant, o Athenians, but if you disagree with them, their true colors show loud and clear.

Monday, February 23, 2009

O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

When we are very young, the concept of death has not occurred to us. But then, a goldfish, gerbil, cat, or dog dies. Perhaps a grandparent. When we first learn of death it is quite a shock for us. Almost too much for our little minds to take.

As mature adults, perhaps, we learn to ignore death and push it to the back burner. We become busy with work and family. Still, at the back of our minds, we know it is coming.

It has often been said that the problem of evil is the major intellectual objection to Christianity. What the problem of evil ultimately boils down to is that we don't like death. We don't like it when we, or a loved one, dies.

While the problem of evil in general has some superficial plausibility, it does not really carry much weight logically/philosophically. But I wanted to talk to you all today about something much more specific. In particular, the anti-death aspect of the problem of evil.

Do not get me wrong, theodocists don't like death anymore than anybody else. It is a hard concept to reflect upon or 'accept'. However, death is not quite so bad as it may first appear (it is still bad though). In a sense, we even see the merciful hand of God in death. Let me explain.

Where did human death come from in the first place? I take it on faith that we die today because of the sin of Adam. In this context 'Adam' is not only a particular individual but all of mankind en toto. So then, we ourselves were faced with a choice. And libertarian freedom is itself a great good, by the way. Our choice was to obey God as He wanted or to do as we wanted. We were warned very clearly by God that if we ate that forbidden fruit we would die. We were told, "don't do it; you won't like it." It was against God's will for us to rebel against Him and He likes the inevitable consequences of sin-death-even less than we do.

After our Fall in the garden, we were expelled. Even though the garden was paradisaical, it was merciful of God to expel us. Why? I answer that we were expelled from the garden so we could not eat the fruit from the other tree, the tree of life, and live forever. If we stayed in the garden we would live forever in our sins which would be very bad. Moreover, if there were no human death, then Christ could not have come and willingly suffer just like the rest of us and ultimately die for us. If Adam can not die than neither could the second Adam die for us and redeem us.

Immediately after the advent of death, God is already pouring out His mercy on us. Our dying is ultimately our problem. Even after we ignore His guidance, He is still bailing us out of our problems He told us not to get ourselves into.

All of the above is accepted on faith. I do not expect unbelievers to accept it. What unbelievers can however accept is that death is, in a sense, not so bad as it could be. What do I mean?

To see what I am talking about, let us reflect on how people die. It seems to me that there are two main ways in which most people die. First, sometimes a person will die unexpectedly all of a sudden. I had a young friend (about 45 years old) who was driving along a few years back, hit a moose, and died instantly. And we've all heard the horror stories of a high school athlete who drops dead of an unknown heart problem in the middle of a game. Such events are very sobering to the loved ones left behind. But at least the person who died did not suffer.

Alternatively, a person may not be cut down prematurely but grow old gracefully. As we age our bodies progressively work less and less over time. "The mind is the first thing to go." The closer a person gets to the age of death, the less coherent they normally seem to become. When my beloved grandmother was dying I read through the stages of death information provided by the visiting nurses. One of the things mentioned was that the body's metabolism moves slower and slower until it stops. In the process the patient becomes more delusional and less coherent. Since they are not in their right minds they are presumably less aware of the dire straights they are really in. So while they should be worrying about their own death they are reliving the joys of their childhood. They are "in another place" or "somewhere else" than on their deathbed.

I cannot stress strongly enough that some persons, even children, do have drawn out, pain filled, slow deaths. And all of the above words would be little comfort to them and, perhaps even less so, to their parents. I do not wish to paint a false picture here. I am fully aware that death sucks.

Still, as a popular series of melodic-metal compilations says, death is only the beginning. And as C.S. Lewis wrote in "The Last Battle" (the final volume in the Chronicles of Narnia), this life is only the title page, whereas the next life (i.e. for the Christian) is the whole book!

Only one life
Twill soon be past
Only what's done for Christ
Will last

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Wanna Know What Love Is

Saint Valentines Day is once again upon us. But just who was the saint that put the "saint" in saint valentines day? In case you don't know the story (it is supposed to be a true story) there was, in ancient times, a law that soldiers were not allowed to marry. Family life would have been a distraction in wartime. Well, a Christian man, named Valentine, would perform underground marriages for fellow Christians in the army.

Fast forward to today. We celebrate this man today, or, more accurately, the love he epitomised. We give chocolates, roses, and Vermont Teddy Bears to our significant others, or, if we are children, we exchange valentine cards with our Platonic friends at school.

If we are celebrating love, it would certainly behoove to pause for a moment and reflect on what "wuv... twoo wuv" weely-er-really is.

Before doing that, I remind us all that the original lovers in question, as we said above, were Christians. This is important to remember because "love" is different for the Christian than for others. This is not to say that an atheist mom, say, does not love her children. I think she does.

So then, what is love exactly? How shall we define it? Well, Aristotle distinguished two different sorts of definition. The first is that of description. We may define X by saying what X is like. Alternatively, we may define X by giving the essence of X. Let us take a look at "love" from both of these standpoints.

When describing what love is like, certain key components are necessary. First, love is directed primarily towards others. It is not selfish. Second, love is sacrificial. You have to look out for number two! And for a healthy love, there really ought to be both grace (and mercy, which is different from grace) and truth.

This brings up the concept of a grace/truth relationship. In a grace/truth relationship, when one party wrongs the other, the other is to respond, in turn, with both grace and truth. The truth is to confront the first party with open acknowledgement of the wrong done. The grace is the forgiving and-so much as it is possible-forgetting. A truly deep and healthy relationship ought to operate on this program. It goes without saying that the first party will also be operating on said program and not take advantage of the second party because they know they can get away with it. Grace/truth in reality makes interpersonal sin more difficult, not less, to commit. Finally, if just grace, or just truth, is present without the counterbalance of the other, the relationship shall be out of kilter and not really work as it should.

But all of this is rather dry. Isn't love supposed to be dynamic? Indeed it is! And this brings us to the second sort of Aristotelian definition. What is the very essence of love qua love? In a word: Jesus.

Christian apologetics is all about religious proof. And God proves His love for us by sending Jesus. If you look up "love" in the dictionary you'll see a picture of the "Old Rugged Cross."

Some time ago, Jessica Simpson and her hubby talked about how much they were in love. By the by, being 'in love' is ridiculously over-rated. Shortly thereafter they got divorced! "The Beatles said all you need is love, then they broke up!" Popular music is, of course, filled with the tired cliches of love that moves mountains and the like. In reality, love appears rather shallow, at least, in the lifestyles of most of the rich in famous. And so, on that note, I leave you today with some lyrics from my favorite song. It is 'Love Song' by Third Day. I'm not a huge fan of Third Day, or CCM in general for that matter, but 'Love Song' is my favorite song. The person speaking, in the song, is Jesus Himself.

I've never swam the deepest ocean, but I walked upon the raging sea...
I've never climbed the highest mountain, but I marched the hill of Calvary...
Just to be with you I'd do anything.
There's no price I would not pay.
Just to be with you I'd give everything.
Yes I'd give my life away...
Just to be with you I've done everything.
There's no price I did not pay.
Just to be with you I've given everything.
Yes I gave my life away.
Just to be with you.
Just to be with you.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Got a Kick outta This

God Has Not Left Himself Without Witness

Another year is through. A new year has just begun. And even in these post-post-modern days we live in, all the way into 2009, God has not left Himself without witness. We have just celebrated the birthday of God the Son. Isn't it amazing that 2000 plus years after the fact, even atheists celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ?

I am both perplexed and upset by the fact that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas. I was into a snowmobile store on Christmas Eve day and the clerk wished me a merry Christmas. I was so ecstatic. If I hear "happy holidays" one more time in my life I am going to puke. I guess they don't want to offend anybody, besides Christians of course, and so when everyone is especially cheerful and good willing, celebrating the birth of Jesus, they aren't allowed to actually mention Him.

So then, much to the consternation of both myself and Stan Smith, Christmas is not as Christ-centered as it perhaps used to be. Still, as I said above, God has not left Himself without witness. Where does the goodwill and good cheer and peace on Earth and so on ultimately derive if not Jesus of Nazareth? I can think of no other place. I believe in total depravity, after all. Since Jesus has made such a difference, even in the lives of atheists, He must have really existed.

Speaking of Christmas, do you like Christmas music? I know, I know, a lot of people don't like it because "you can only listen to it at a certain time each year." Aside from that being irrelevant and false, I myself do enjoy it quite a bit. A while ago, I got hold of a Twisted Sister album of traditional carols, of all things. Not a bad album. More punk than hair metal, the album has, alas, only one religious carol. Still, coming from Twisted Sister, that is rather impressive. After all, Twisted Sister is said to be a Satanic band which glorifies rebellion and disrespect against parents. Apparently they're not going to take the secularization of Christmas either. "O come all ye faithful! Joyful and triumphant! Come ye oh come ye to Bethlehem! Come let us adore Him! Come let us adore Him! Come let us adore Him! Christ the Lord!" Dee Snider screams as the guitarist plays the same three power chords-apparently the only ones he learned-over and over.

And who could forget good ol' Charlie Brown? As a child growing up, almost all of my religious instruction was limited to Pig Pen (or whomever it was) explaining the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown. By the way, the album of that cartoon is a pretty good Christmas album too. Smooth jazz.

The beginning of the new year, the rebirth that is Springtime, the metamorphosies of butterflies, natural theology, and blogs of apologists all witness to the existence and bigness of God. God has not left Himself without witness!

Peace on Earth.
Good will to men.