Tag Archives: Love

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good rebuttal to scientific arguments for theism?

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

William Lane Craig’s secret weapon is his amazing wife Jan

My favorite painting: "Godspeed" by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900
My favorite painting: “Godspeed” by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900

I’m re-posting this classic post because it was mentioned in a recent episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast.

I want to draw your attention to a talk on “Vision in Life” given by Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is the ablest defender of the Christian faith operating today. He has done formal academic debates with all of the best known atheists on major university campuses in front of thousands of university students.

It turns out that he owes a lot of his success to his amazing wife Jan.

The MP3 file is here. (32 minutes)

This talk was Dr. Craig’s chapel address to Biola University students.

About 11 minutes into the talk, Bill describes what happened after he finished his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton:

And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.

And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.

So their reason for getting together was because they thought that they would be more effective in evangelism and discipleship if they worked as a team.

It is at this point in the talk where Bill begins to explain just how Jan molded him into the lean, mean debating machine that travels the world striking terror into the hearts of atheists.

Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:

And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”

And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

In an article on his web site, he talks about how Jan encouraged him to do his first Ph.D:

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

And in the same article, he explains how Jan encouraged him to get his second Ph.D:

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

Both of these Ph.D experiences are also described in the talk. And the talk concludes as follows:

I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.

And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages.

And now you know the rest of Bill’s story. The person you marry will have an enormous influence on the impact you will have for Christ and his Kingdom. It is up to you to decide whether that influence is going to be positive or negative, by deciding if you will marry, and if you do marry, by deciding whom you will marry.

You may also be interested in this talk given by William Lane Craig, entitled “Healthy Relationships” (National Faculty Leadership Conf. 2008) (audio here) In that talk, he offers advice to Christians who want to have a marriage that is consistent with their Christian faith.

Why I admire people in the armed forces more than famous entertainers

I’ve noticed that many Christians can tell me a lot about famous entertainers. It doesn’t matter if it’s singers, musicians, actors, athletes, etc., they seem to know details of their biographies, achievements, etc. And it doesn’t really matter if those people are Christians, or whether they have performed actions consistent with a Christian worldview in their private lives.

Anyway, speaking for myself, I mostly admire two kinds of people. The first kind is the kind I blog about here all the time: Christian scholars engage non-Christians intellectually using logic and evidence. The second kind, as you can tell from my reading list, is people who distinguish themselves in conflict with those who oppose the principles and policies that allow me to live out my Christian life. And I am especially interested when people who are fighting evil (imperialists, Nazis, socialists, communists, leftists, etc.) exhibit Christ-like character in risking their lives to save others, or in giving their lives to save others.

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

I have a war story to tell you that happened on November 10th, 1943.

Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson had flown out to USS Enterprise from Barbers Point, Hawaii, enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson’s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson’s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety.

He received the two highest non-combat medals available:

Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.

He was a well-educated and accomplished person before joining the Navy:

Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise’s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise’s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea” on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.

You can see a video clip of the rescue here, from 5:35 to 6:00. I found a colorized version of the picture above here:

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

This image was colourized from the original by Paul Reynolds.

What I thought was interesting about Chewning was how he had everything going for him in terms of his education and career, but he chose to join the Navy anyway, in order to defend his country from Japanese imperialism. Those who understand how the Japanese treated prisoners and conquered peoples will know which side of that conflict was good, and which side was evil. Chewning wasn’t some sort of loser who took risks for fun and thrills. It had to be a risk where the prize was worth the risk. And he had the humility to consider others better than himself, so that their life was worth the risking of his own. Many people on the secular left who like to talk about how generous, compassionate and virtuous they are are unable to make moral judgments against evils like Japanese imperialism – much less take self-sacrificial action against them.

I just think that it’s important for young Christians to have the right kind of heroes. The heroes who are promoted to young Christians by the cultural elites are not usually the right role models. And there is a reason for that. The secular leftists don’t want young Christians to be emulating people who excel according to the standards of the Christian worldview. We are in a religion where self-sacrificial love is the centerpiece. Taking trouble on yourself for someone else. Doing your job, when it goes against your own self-interest. Let’s not allow a bunch of godless socialist celebrities to pick and choose who we hold in high regard.