Tag Archives: Evidence

Four ways that the progress of experimental science conflicts with atheism

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

When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the following four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.

Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:

  1. the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
  2. the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
  3. the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
  4. the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)

And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:

  1. An explanation of 3 of the 6 experimental evidences for the Big Bang cosmology (From an article from Caltech)
  2. Examples of cosmic fine-tuning to allow the existence of conscious, embodied life (From the New Scientist)
  3. Evidence that functional protein sequences are beyond the reach of chance, (from Doug Axe’s JMB article)
  4. Evidence showing that Ediacaran fauna are not precursors to the Cambrian fossils, (from the journal Nature)

Atheists will typically reply to the recent scientific discoveries that overturned their speculations like this:

  1. Maybe the Big Bang cosmology will be overturned by the Big Crunch/Bounce so that the universe is eternal and has no cause
  2. Maybe there is a multiverse: an infinite number of unobservable, untestable universes which makes our finely-tuned one more probable
  3. Maybe the origin of life could be the result of chance and natural processes
  4. Maybe we will find a seamless chain of fossils that explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred slowly, over a long period time

Ever heard any of these responses?

Below I list some resources to help you to respond to the four responses of atheists to the experimental data.

1) The Big Crunch/Bounce has been disproved theoretically and experimentally.

Theoretically:

Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0

The impossibility of a bouncing universe

ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†

*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.

Experimentally:

The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.

[…]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.

To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.

“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”

There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists.

2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.

Speculation:

Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.

George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.

A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”

According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.

Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.

When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. There is no evidence for a multiverse, but there is evidence for fine-tuning. TONS OF IT.

3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.

Building blocks:

The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth’s atmosphere

Dustin Trail, E. Bruce Watson & Nicholas D. Tailby

Nature 480, 79–82 (01 December 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10655

[…]These results suggest that outgassing of Earth’s interior later than ~200?Myr into the history of Solar System formation would not have resulted in a reducing atmosphere.

Functional protein sequences:

J Mol Biol. 2004 Aug 27;341(5):1295-315.

Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.

Axe DD.

The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. doug.axe@bbsrc.ac.uk

Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.

[…]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.

So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into meaningful words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them.

4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.

Science Daily reports on a paper from the peer-reviewed journal Science:

Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

[…]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”

The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. But rational people know that we need to minimize our leaps of faith, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.

Conclusion

I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan A. W. Tozer, and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science and pro-speculation like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.

The Thoroughly Rational Conversion of Michael Minot

C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you
C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you

One of the things I’ve noticed hanging around in church on and off the last 20 years or so is that it often seems to be the case the church leaders seem to value some people as leaders more than others. Specifically, it seems to me that church leaders prefer to put athletes and cheerleaders into leadership positions, and they tend to be skeptical of people who have intellectual conversion stories, and intellectual interests. I think I actually got the phrase “jocks and cheerleaders” from Dr. John Mark Reynolds when describing who churches tend to prefer, so I’m not just making this up.

But not everyone sees things that way. Of all the people I’ve met or read, I probably agree with Terrell Clemmons the most. And if I disagree with her, then I usually find out that she is right later on. Pretty much everything she writes about is not only relevant, but practical, which is amazing for a person who writes about topics related to Christian belief and practice. One of the things she likes to write about is the background stories of people who were intelligent and successful as non-Christians, who then went on to become Christians through a careful study of the evidence, and then went on to make a difference through outward-focused enterprises.

Let’s start with this article from Salvo Magazine about a successful atheist lawyer named Michael Minot.

Terrell writes:

Never in his 28 years did Mike Minot imagine he would entertain this unthinkable thought, yet lately of an evening he might easily be found pacing around his house like an awestruck research scientist muttering things like, “It just can’t be! . . . Can it?”

The seismic shift had started quite unexpectedly just a few months prior. He was three years out of law school, and life was great. After years of living on beans and weenies as a student, he had arrived on the scene of success. He had a growing law practice, money in his pocket, and a teeming social life. The world was his oyster.

Then he had received an odd phone call. Normally confident and well-spoken, Jim, whom he’d met while studying for the Florida bar exam, spoke awkwardly, struggling uncharacteristically to get his message out. Finally he got to his point. “Sharon and I have been watching what’s been going on in your life. And we decided we would give you a call and invite you to do something. We believe the Scriptures are very important. They’re very important to our lives, and they’re helpful to us. We know what you think about spiritual matters, but we want to challenge you to take some time at this point in your life and reexamine these things.”

To say Mike was taken aback would be an understatement. He was a perfectly contented atheist, and he had no interest in interrupting his prosperous life to look at anyone’s answers to questions he wasn’t even asking. But he did value the relationship he had with Jim, Sharon, and their two adorable kids. If he were to summarily dismiss this suggestion, what would that do to their friendship? It seemed he should at least put forth a cursory effort, if for no other reason than for the health of the relationship.

First thing to note is that the people who ask Michael to give Christianity a look are successful and intelligent themselves. Not only is Jim studying for the Florida bar exam (so that he has credibility to another lawyer), but Jim’s wife has also given him more credibility by marrying him. Married couples are typically more “grown-up” than singles, and I’m saying that as a chaste single myself who has been successful in education, career and finances. Marriage requires a whole set of behaviors from people that singles don’t have to perform. The point is, though, that Michael is being approached by people from the same professional and social background. He is not being approached by a missionary or a street preacher, but by someone who has been effective in their education, career and marriage.

This really does matter – Christians are often perceived (rightly) as over-emotional, irrational, impractical, and driven more by community than by truth-seeking. It’s very important for Christians who want to produce a return that they not be living with their parents in their 20s, have gap-filled minimum-wage resumes, have $20,000 in student in outstanding student loans from an easy, unused non-STEM degree, and no achievements except zip-lining, skydiving, surfing, and fear-of-missing-out travel.

The journey starts with science:

With no predetermined plan, he delved into both the Scriptures and science. The Scriptures felt intimidating, though, and he was more comfortable with science. Not two weeks in, he found something that totally blew his mind. Ironically, it was something that had been there all along: the solar system—and the mind-boggling precision by which it operates. He marveled at the elegant complexity of it. It appeared way too precise, statistically speaking, to be an accident.

Suddenly, this was no longer a casual exercise. He had to find the natural explanation for the solar system. If he continued on his merry life without it, he would forever live plagued by lingering thoughts that he could be living a lie. Never did he want to go in for a lie, and intellectual honesty demanded that he keep searching.

So he put on his miner’s lighted helmet, so to speak, and went to work. But instead of locating the natural explanation for the solar system, he found himself turning up all manner of equally troublesome phenomena—the fine-tuning of the earth for supporting life, with its balance of nitrogen to oxygen ratios and plate tectonics; the information content of DNA; and the complexities of animal and human life, to name a few. The perplexities mounted, and the whole project snowballed. He would go looking for the explanation for one natural marvel, only to encounter two more crying out for explanation.

If I could communicate one thing to the church, it would be this: whether you agree with the old universe and old Earth timelines or not, everyone who attends church for a decade should be able to state the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the intelligent design argument, the fossil record argument, and the habitability argument, to the degree where they are naming scientists, discoveries and specific books where the evidence for these arguments are laid out.

Unfortunately, thanks to the “leadership” of many prominent fideist pastors, many Christians have adopted an attitude of outright suspicion to science, preferring instead to pre-suppose the truth of the Bible by blind faith (“the burning of the bosom”, as the Mormons say), and refusing to study anything outside the Bible that might establish the necessary prerequisites to taking the Bible seriously. Successful non-Christian professionals looking to evaluate Christianity, this blind-faith approach is rightly seen as anti-intellectualism.

More:

Other complications did follow, though. He had trustingly believed teachers and authorities who had taught that everything could be explained naturalistically. What else, now, needed to be reexamined? This went beyond science and philosophy to sociology, psychology—everything had to be rethought according to this completely new paradigm. He would later liken it to being planted on a whole new planet.

And his entire social life collapsed in a matter of weeks. But he joined a church, and it became his new social center as well as his spiritual lifeline. He volunteered to serve as a jail chaplain in the evenings, a post he filled to great satisfaction for fifteen years. He met his wife Nichole at church, and they went on to adopt five children. Life settled into a richly rewarding concert of family, jail ministry, and law. Nothing he’d ever envisioned back in his atheist days could match the prosperity of these blessings.

At first glance, it may seem ironic that an atheist committed to seeing everything through the “lens of science” would come back around to see God through the lens of science. But the truth is, it wasn’t science per se that had hidden his Creator from view. Rather, it was the lens of philosophical naturalism imposed onto science—both in education and throughout the broader culture—that had fostered and fueled Mike’s unchallenged atheism.

Naturalism is a philosophy – a philosophical assumption. It’s not science. The origin and design of the universe are science. DNA is science. Habitability constraints are science. The sudden origin of major body plans in the fossil record is science. There are no scientific arguments for atheism. There’s just speculation driven by naturalistic philosophy.

In the end, Minot turns his life around 180 degrees, and puts his intellect and professional abilities to work for the gospel. You can read about all the ways he is making an impact in Terrell’s article in Salvo Magazine. Always remember stories like these when you are making decisions about your own education and career. God is still working, still reaching out to people through science and history, appealing to their minds for a fair hearing, and then asking for their best efforts for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

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).

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Are Mormon doctrines supported by philosophy, science and history?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[…]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[…]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[…]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Should Christian men expect a wife / mother candidate to know how to defend the Christian worldview?

Is the Christian worldview an accurate picture of the world?
Is the Christian worldview true? Can we know that it is true?

A while back, I was debating some Christian feminists about what men want from a wife and mother. At one point, I asserted that Christian women ought to have some knowledge of how to defend their faith using scientific and historical evidence. Some women asked me: “are you joking?” In this post,  I’ll explain why I’m serious, and then I’ll ask them some questions of my own.

Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus set an example by showing the importance of knowing how to answer questions and challenges from skeptics in the New Testament. His favorite way to answer a challenge was by using evidence to support his truth claims.

So, take this story that’s in Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26. This story is accepted even by skeptical historians because it’s in three different books, and one of them is early (Mark).

In each version of the story, there are 4 steps:

  1. Jesus forgives the sins of a paralyzed man
  2. The Pharisees say that he doesn’t have authority to forgive sins
  3. Jesus miraculously heals the paralyzed man
  4. Jesus explains the evidence of the healing supports his claim that he has authority to forgive sins

And this is an example that you will find repeated in many places in the life of Jesus. You can see it in the Old Testament as well, where God performs miracles so that people who don’t believe in his existence or respect the Scriptures can still be convinced.

Christian apologetics is the skill of being able to give a defense for the Christian worldview when presented with a challenge from a non-Christian.

So, who has to be ready with a defense?

Look at 1 Peter 3:15-16:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This passage applies to every one who claims to be a disciple of Jesus, whether they like to prepare a defense or not. How much work must you put into it? It depends on the sophistication of the challenges you get. In the mountains of Pakistan, you don’t need to know much because there might not be a sophisticated challenge. In an American society filled with college graduates, the challenges are more difficult. So you will need to prepare a lot more, because the challenges will be a lot harder.

Those who take this passage seriously are doing something difficult, and time-consuming, in order to serve Christ. Buying books costs money. Reading books takes time. Debating with non-Christians can make you look bad to others. But the Bible commands us to be ready with answers for the people around us. Sometimes, doing what the Bible says makes us feel bad, or look bad to others. But we have do what the Bible says anyway. Part of being a real Christian is being obedient even if it feels bad or makes you look bad.

William Lane Craig on apologetics and the culture
William Lane Craig on apologetics and the culture

What’s in an apologetics book?

So, with that said, let’s look at the table of contents of my favorite introduction to Christian apologetics, which is “Is God Just a Human Invention?” written by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow.

In that book, you will find 18 topics.

  1. Is Faith Irrational? (Commentary by: Gregory Koukl)
  2. Are Science and Christianity at Odds? (Commentary by: John Warwick Montgomery)
  3. Are Miracles Possible? (Commentary by: Gary R. Habermas)
  4. Is Darwinian Evolution the Only Game in Town? (Commentary by: William A. Dembski)
  5. How Did the Universe Begin? (Commentary by: R. Douglas Geivett)
  6. How Did Life Begin? (Commentary by: Fazale R. Rana)
  7. Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Commentary by: Jay W. Richards)
  8. Has Science Shown There Is No Soul? (Commentary by: Dale Fincher and Jonalyn Fincher)
  9. Is God Just a Human Invention? (Commentary by: Garry DeWeese)
  10. Is Religion Dangerous? (Commentary by: Douglas Groothuis)
  11. Does God Intend for Us to Keep Slaves? (Commentary by: Paul Copan)
  12. Is Hell a Divine Torture Chamber? (Commentary by: Frank Turek)
  13. Is God a Genocidal Bully? (Commentary by: Clay Jones)
  14. Is Christianity the Cause of Dangerous Sexual Repression? (Commentary by: Kerby Anderson)
  15. Can People Be Good Without God? (Commentary by: Mark D. Linville)
  16. Is Evil Only a Problem for Christians? (Commentary by: Randy Alcorn)
  17. What Good Is Christianity? (Commentary by: Glenn S. Sunshine)
  18. Why Jesus Instead of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (Commentary by: Darrell L. Bock)

Prominent atheist scholars are quoted in each chapter to introduce the challenges, and then scholarly arguments and evidence are presented to defend the Christian worldview. The language is simple enough, but the material is solid enough to use in a real debate. I would say that introductory books like this one are more than enough to equip you for everyone who will challenge you.

Why are these 18 topics important? Because these are the questions that atheists ask. These are the questions that cause Christians to leave the faith. These are the questions that your children will face in high school and college, which might cause them to leave the faith.

Let’s start with chapter one. One of the most prominent arguments by atheists is that faith is irrational. This chapter allows you to define faith using the Bible’s definition of faith, which relies on logic and evidence.

Atheists also say that Christianity is at war with science. In chapter 2, they discuss the history of science and how Christianity provided the framework that allowed scientific method to take root and flourish.

Atheists like to claim that miracles are impossible. Chapter 3 defends the view that God, if he exists, is capable of interacting with his created world.

Atheists love to put forward Darwinism as means to deny that God is the designer of life. Chapter 4 explains the concept of intelligent design, and why intelligent design is a better explanation for the history of life.

Atheists love to talk about how the universe has always existed, and there’s no need for a Creator. Chapter 5 contains a philosophical argument that is supported by mainstream science to argue that the universe had a beginning, just like the Bible says.

Atheists love to argue that life can emerge from non-life, and the process is simple. Chapter 6 is written by a biochemist, and it takes a look at the real complexity of the simplest living cell.

Atheists like to argue that the universe itself is just an accident, and there is no need for a Designer. Chapter 7 introduces the scientific evidence for fine-tuning and habitability.

Atheists like to say that there is no soul and no afterlife. Chapter 8 gives some arguments for the existence of the soul.

Atheists like to argue that Christians invent God because God makes them feel good. But chapter 9 explains that having an all-powerful God who can hold humans accountable is the last thing any human would want to invent.

Atheists like to talk about how religion, with it’s habit of teaching to believe in things that can’t be tested, causes religious people to do a lot of harm. Chapter 10 takes a look at the real record of Christianity as a force for good in the world.

Atheists like to talk about slavery in the Bible. Chapter 11 talks about what the Bible really says, and provides some rational responses to the accusation.

Atheists like to talk about eternal punishment in Hell isn’t a just punishment for just getting a few questions wrong on a theology exam. Chapter 12 provides an explanation and defense of the concept of Hell.

Atheists love to talk about how God commanded the Israelites to attack their enemies in the Bible. Chapter 13 explains who their enemies really were, and what was really happening in those wars.

Atheists feel that unrestricted sexual activity is very healthy and normal, and that the Biblical prohibitions outside of male-female marriage are repressive and unhealthy.  Chapter 14 explains why God has these rules in place, and supports his rules with evidence.

Atheists love to assert that they don’t need God, because they can behave morally on their own. Chapter 15 explains how to answer this claim by talking about how well atheism grounds objective moral values, objective moral duties, free will and moral accountability: the minimum requirements for objective morality.

Atheists think that the mere existence of natural disasters and human immorality are incompatible with the God of the Bible. Chapter 16 explains why this argument doesn’t work, and why even the concept of evil requires God to exist.

I had an atheist co-worker who couldn’t really defeat the scientific arguments for God’s existence, but he would say that even if God exists, why would that matter to my life? Chapter 17 explains what difference Christianity makes in a person’s life.

Atheists think that the life of Jesus has no relevance to their life, and that he has nothing to offer them anyway. Chapter 18 explains the uniqueness of Jesus and explains why his resurrection is relevant to our lives today.

I guess that many people think that reading a Christian book means reading Christian fiction or Christian devotions – things that are entertaining or produce feelings. But fiction and devotions do not equip you to answer realistic questions from non-Christians.

Dr. William Lane Craig says churches aren't preparing Christians to give an answer
Dr. W. L. Craig: churches don’t prepare Christians to answer skeptics

Wife candidates ought to know apologetics

So, back to my original point about how some Christian feminists responded when I said that during courtship, I ask women questions about how much preparation they have done to answer objections from atheists, like the ones answered in this book. Am I joking?

Well, I think the problem is that Christian feminists don’t understand how Christian men view marriage. Christian men are interested in marriage because they think that their marriage will be an enterprise that produces a return for God. They like the idea of having a clean, comfortable home to host debate viewings and discussions over dessert with skeptics. They like the idea of raising children who will be effective and influential. Men don’t see marriage a means of making us feel better, or having fun, or getting our peers to approve of us. We see it as a way to promote Jesus’ agenda in the world. Men are looking for a woman who think that Christianity is true, so that they will have a wife who will act like a Christian when it goes against her self-interest. Men want a wife who knows how to persuade others that Christianity is true – first the children, then others.