Tag Archives: Christianity

What helps young men resist peer disapproval?

Tough enough to not care about peer pressure
Tough enough to not care whether you approve of what he’s doing

A post by Nick Peters about young people and apologetics, at the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.

Excerpt:

Now picture a teenage youth who is a Christian. Is he on the outs with his peers in any way? Well if he’s a good and observant Christian, he’ll be a virgin (since most teenagers in high school aren’t married). Will that lead to any shame to his peers? Yep. Especially since they consider “getting laid” to be a rite of passage and a sign that you are a real man or woman.

So what happens with a boy who’s seventeen and can drive and who is with the guys who are talking about their sexual exploits and the guy has nothing to contribute? If he is asked why he’s not “getting some” he replies that he is a Christian. Is that going to win him any friends? Nope. His “friends” there will most likely mock him for believing in antiquated ideas that science has disproven and tell him he needs to get with the times. Result? The young man is shamed.

Now imagine instead if he’s told the latter part about how his ideas are antiquated and instead, he’s able to make a rational case for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Do you think he’ll be able to be shamed the same way? Sure, his friends can still mock him, but he can take the mockery as a sign that they cannot answer his arguments. The young boy has honor then, rather than shame. He might not be sleeping around, but he can hold his head high knowing he can stand up against his peers.

[…]No one wants to be embarrassed, and that includes youth, but if our young people think they can do something that none of their peers can do, it will help them to have that honor that they seek, and there is nothing wrong with seeking honor. Remember the parable where Christ told us to take a lowly position at a banquet so our host would say, “Move up to a better place” and we would be honored? He was saying that that is the proper way to receive honor. Don’t just go out and try to grab it. Let it be given to you.

There are many things that a young person can be ashamed of, but if they’re intellectually unprepared, being a Christian is something that they may be shamed for. In the face of temptation, they need a reason to be obedient rather than just, “The church says so” or “Mom and Dad say so.” Neither of those will be seen as honorable positions. They need to know for themselves why it is that they hold the stance that they do. If they are waiting until marriage, they need to know why. If they believe a man rose from the dead, they need to know why.

That youth are eating this stuff up should tell us something. Youth don’t want to be shamed in the eyes of their contemporaries. They won’t mind holding a different position as long as they can defend that position. If they cannot, then the tide of social pressure could be enough to get them to abandon that and if their emotions and wills start acting against Christianity, it is only a matter of time until the intellect follows.

That excerpt is basically a summary of my life – that’s how I started out as a teen – with apologetics. I’ve been a Christian the whole time in between then and now. I think many parents and churches are wondering how it is that you get a young man to stand up to the culture and peer pressure. The answer is apologetics, and I think integrating Christianity with every other area of knowledge helps as well. Winning arguments over and over is an excellent way to build a suit of armor against temptation and peer pressure.

And in speaking to young people who were raised as Christians then fell away, the common denominator is that they were uncomfortable claiming to be Christians in a secular environment. We have to have a plan to help our young people deal with pluralism and peer pressure. Apologetics is the best answer I can think of.

MIT physicist Alan Lightman on fine-tuning and the multiverse

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the article from Harper’s magazine.

The MIT physicist says that the fine-tuning is real, and is best explained by positing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are not fine-tuned – the so-called multiverse.

Excerpt:

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine-­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

I thought I was going to have to go outside this article to refute the multiverse, but Lightman is honest enough to refute it himself:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible. The problem is that the multiverse generator itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

We need to be frank about atheists and their objections to the progress of science. Within the last 100 years, we have discovered that the physical universe came into being out of nothing 15 billion years ago, and we have discovered that this one universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life. I don’t think it’s like that the last 100 years of scientific progress on the origins question are going to be overturned so that science once again affirms what atheists believe about the universe. Things are going the wrong way for atheists – at least with respect to science.

See it in action

To see these arguments examined in a debate with a famous atheist, simply watch the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, and judge which debater is willing to form his beliefs on scientific progress, and which debater is forming his beliefs against the science we have today, and hoping that the good science we have today based on experiments will be overturned by speculative theories at some point in the future. When you watch that debate, it becomes very clear that Christian theists are interested in conforming their beliefs to science, and atheists are very interested in speculating against what science has shown in order to maintain their current pre-scientific view. That’s not what rational people ought to do when confronted with evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

How will gay marriage affect my marriage?

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

In this post, I will get 500 words to summarize why pro-marriage men will be less likely to marry because of the successes of the gay rights movement. Then super-wife Lindsay from Lindsay’s Logic gets 500 words to respond to me.

First, I’ll quote from Robert Gagnon to set up the problem:

Unless this decision can be reversed soon through the next two presidential elections and the retirement/replacement of renegade SCOTUS judges (Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer are the first up), this will turn out to be the greatest American tragedy for the civil liberties of persons of faith, for the cause of sexual purity in the United States, and for the lives of persons struggling with same-sex attraction. Prepare for a reign of persecution and abuse of people of faith as hateful, ignorant, and discriminatory “bigots” and the moral equivalent of racists in every area of life in which people of faith intersect with the secular realm, individually and in their religious institutions, with a profound negative impact as well within most mainline denominations.

As individuals, people of faith will be aggressively indoctrinated, fined, denied advancement, fired, intimidated, and subjected to ceaseless verbal abuse in public and private schools, at institutions of higher learning, at places of employment in public and private sectors, and throughout the main communication organs of the media and entertainment industry. Their institutions and businesses will be set on a collision course with the state: denied government funding, contracts, and loans; denied accreditation and tax-exempt status; and subjected to government harassment.

Here’s why Christian men should be cautious about marrying after the SCOTUS ruling:

  1. Qualified professionals are losing their jobs, and are unable to find work, after being “outed” to their employers for making pro-marriage donations or by writing pro-marriage books, or by just expressing disagreement with homosexuality, even with NO evidence of any actual discrimination in the workplace.
  2. Donation records are being used to punish pro-marriage people. Remember how a gay activist within the IRS leaked all the names of pro-marriage donors to the Huffington Post? The IRS admitted fault, but pro-marriage donors could be exposed to severe consequences, including boycotts, coercion, business closures, death threatsvandalism, beatings and even domestic terrorism. Mark Steyn is not accepting donations for his own legal defense because of the IRS leak of pro-marriage donors. Maine is also seeking the names of pro-marriage donors. There’s a definite effort to punish people who donate to pro-marriage causes.
  3. Christian-owned businesses who decline to participate in same-sex weddings are being punished by state attorney generals with lengthy trials and six-figure fines.
  4. Powerful gay rights organizations continue to attack people who support marriage, e.g. – Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, etc. The arrest of the co-founder of the HRC shows where these groups might be headed next.
  5. According to exit polls, unmarried women voted for Obama by a margin of 70%-29% in 2008. Young, unmarried women were 77% in favor of Obama, according to exit polls. This indicates support for Democrat positions like no-fault divorce and gay marriage. It indicates opposition to free speech, conscience protections and religious liberty. Men see traditional marriage as an exclusive commitment with obligations, and favor moral boundaries to protect children, so they vote Republican.
  6. Most young, unmarried Christian women I talk to are not studying to learn how to defend marriage on their own, or speaking out about it. They are not able to help you defend marriage, it’s not important to them.
  7. Young, unmarried women do not want the responsibility of having to produce children who will grow up to be ADF lawyers or Supreme Court Justices, who could do something about gay marriage. They want the marriage to be fun and to make them feel happy.
  8. I am actually seeing young, unmarried Christian women dating non-Christians, having premarital sex with non-Christians, co-habitating with non-Christians, marrying non-Christians, having abortions from non-Christians, and even having out-of-wedlock children with non-Christians. If a woman cannot control her own feelings, she will not be able to help you defend marriage as a permanent commitment that overrides ever-changing feelings.
  9. The national debt has more than doubled since the Democrats took over the House and Senate in 2007 – from 8 to 18.5 trillion. Debt means higher taxes, inflation, or both. Either way, marriage and children are going to be much harder to support financially in the future. You can do more to defend marriage by concentrating your money on defending marriage, rather than splitting  your money between marriage expenses and defending marriage.
  10. Bigger government undermines men as leaders of the home. For example, a judge overruled a father for grounding his daughter for posting sexy photos online. And again, another judge ruled a man as an unfit parent for denying his son fast food. Bigger government means more intrusion into the home, which undermines the transmission of Christian values and disciplining of children.  You won’t have the freedom to lead your family to do pro-marriage things. It’s better to just defend marriage on your own, instead of getting married and having kids to model marriage to others.

So for these reasons, it’s best for a man to not marry, and remain free to defend marriage on his own instead. Being responsible for a wife and children puts pressure on a man to keep silent, because he is always thinking that he could lose his job, his business, or worse. Better to stay single, and be free to speak out without fear of failing to provide for his family.

Here is Lindsay’s response:

If all a man can find are the kind of women that Wintery Knight describes – self-focused, voting for liberals, thinking marriage places no obligations upon them, wishing to pursue fun and thrills, etc. – then men should not marry them. However, not all women are like that. With churches becoming ever more feelings-based and feminized, it is difficult to find a good woman (or man) to marry. I do not contest that. But difficult and impossible are not the same thing.

Marriage, even in our evil times, remains a wonderful gift from God and one of the best ways to influence our culture through the ability to work as a team for the kingdom of God and through having and raising children who will make a difference. One of the main ways we are called to grow the church is through biological growth. Christians should be having and raising children in the faith. We cannot let the evils in our culture make us retreat from the work of raising godly children to further the kingdom of God and to move Christianity forward into the next generation. If we stop marrying and having children, we will seriously hinder God’s work here on earth and Christianity will die out apart from the converts we can make. But making converts, though important, is often far more difficult than raising one’s own children to know what is right from the start.

I think a lot of people underestimate the difference that can be made by having children and raising them in one’s faith. Take a look at the Muslims to see how effective this can be. Muslims do make converts, but the bulk of Islam’s political and religious influence is made by Muslims outbreeding their opponents and raising children who firmly adhere to Islamic faith. Europeans are suffering a dearth of babies, with fertility well below replacement value. Meanwhile, Muslims are rapidly multiplying. The Muslims in Europe are quickly taking over the culture – primarily by having at least double the number of children that native Europeans do.

What if Christians would stop falling for the lies of the world that children are a burden and a liability and see children as the blessings and assets that the Bible teaches they are? What if Christians would have twice as many children as the godless liberals and raise them with a rigorous and comprehensive Biblical worldview that they could defend with reason and evidence? If we did that, we would change our culture and the world.

The church has gotten too soft. We’ve let a little opposition shut us up. We’ve allowed the values of the world for money and power and convenience and fitting in to strip us of our influence and voice. We’ve tried to be like the world, just with Jesus added in. And that’s precisely why we are failing to make a difference. We need a renewal of our thinking to value what God values and to live counter-culturally. Seeking a good marriage and raising godly children is an important part of making a difference for Christ, and one we cannot neglect if we hope to spread Christianity and influence our culture.

Of course, it is vitally important that, if we marry, we marry well. If a Christian marries someone who cares more for the world and its values than pleasing God and advancing the Christian faith, that is a bad choice. If there are no good spousal candidates available, the best choice is serving God through celibacy and making a difference in other ways. But we should not give up on God’s institution of marriage simply because it is difficult and because the world is now against us. It has been far harder on Christians in the past and they still managed to marry and raise children, even in the face of dire persecution and sometimes death. If we give up at the mere threat of losing a job or being mocked, we let the opposition win without even a fight.

Let us know who is more convincing in the comments.

Was atheism or Christianity more responsible for the Scientific Revolution?

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

First, here’s an article from the blog of the peer-reviewed journal Nature, probably the best peer-reviewed journal on science in the world.

The article is written by Dr. James Hannam. He has a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and is the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).

Excerpt:

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

But religious support for science took deeper forms as well. It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away.

Given that the Church has not been an enemy to science, it is less surprising to find that the era which was most dominated by Christian faith, the Middle Ages, was a time of innovation and progress. Inventions like the mechanical clock, glasses, printing and accountancy all burst onto the scene in the late medieval period. In the field of physics, scholars have now found medieval theories about accelerated motion, the rotation of the earth and inertia embedded in the works of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the so-called “dark ages” from 500AD to 1000AD were actually a time of advance after the trough that followed the fall of Rome. Agricultural productivity soared with the use of heavy ploughs, horse collars, crop rotation and watermills, leading to a rapid increase in population.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I am trying to find a game to play is ask “is it well designed?” If it’s not well-designed, then I will not take the time to learn the rules and practice playing. That was the situation before science started. The non-scientists thought that the universe was chaotic, that there were no rules, and so there was no point in trying to learn the rules. It was the idea that the universe was made by an intelligent Creator and Designer that made the first scientists start to do science. If there are rules to the game, then it’s worth it to learn them. But that’s a belief that’s more at home in a theistic worldview, not in a pagan or atheistic one.

Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

In this argument, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Positive arguments for Christian theism