Tag Archives: Skeptic

J. Warner Wallace: why didn’t Jesus reveal scientific facts to prove his divinity?

I was listening to J. Warner Wallace’s latest podcast and he mentioned this Cold Case Christianity post because it is getting a lot of attention.

Excerpt:

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to defend the reliability of the New Testament Gospels to the students of San Jose State UniversityJane Pantig (the director of the local Ratio Christi chapter) invited me, and I was delighted to come. I’ve been working with Ratio Christi across the country to defend the Christian worldview on college campuses. If you aren’t acquainted with the work of this growing apologetics movement, you really ought to familiarize yourself with Ratio Christi and find a way to support their efforts. At the end of my presentation, during the question and answer period, a polite young skeptic asked why Jesus didn’t reveal scientific facts in an effort to demonstrate His Deity. Why didn’t Jesus describe something well beyond the scope and knowledge of His contemporaries as a prophetic proof? He could easily have described the role of DNA, the proper organization of the Solar System, or the biological complexity of cellular structures.  The questioner believed this sort of knowledge would have been persuasive to him as a 21st Century skeptic, and without it, he remained unconvinced.

I thought this was a great question, and one I often receive but seldom talk about on the podcast or here on the blog. There are a number of problems with this expectation of superior anachronistic scientific wisdom…

Here’s one of the problems that he mentioned in the post (there are three):

The Nature of the Ancient Audience

The context of Jesus’ ministry and message were defined by the nature (and limitations) of this ancient audience. Sometimes it’s easy for us to approach the gospels from our 21st Century perspective (bringing our desires, needs and expectations to the text), rather than examining them from the perspective of the first hearers and readers. In order to illustrate this point, imagine yourself as Jesus. You’ve got three years to demonstrate your Divinity to those you live with in the 1st Century. Think about what approach you might take. You could reveal yet unknown scientific facts to your audience, but would this accomplish your goal? If you describe the role of DNA or the anatomy of the solar system, how would your 1st Century audience confirm your statements? Surely claims of this nature would be unimpressive to a world without the ability to assess their veracity. In fact, any combination of such claims with other demonstrations of Deity would only serve to dilute the power of your message. There are ways you could establish your Deity in front of such a 1st Century audience, but obscure, esoteric claims are perhaps the least effective approach.

What do you think? Do you think that Jesus should have explained scientific things? Would that work better than what he actually did?

One of the things that this post made me think of is the use of sledgehammer apologetics by Jesus. I know a lot of people who really resent the idea of apologetics, and want us to just read the Bible to people and hope they are magically convinced by just hearing Scripture. But Jesus was not willing to do that. He didn’t just express opinions or give moral teachings or recite poetry. He was in the business of making his case to people, and for evidence he used miracles.

The Sign of Jonah

Professor Clay Jones of Biola University makes the case that the use of evidence when preaching the gospel was standard operating procedure in the early church.

Intro:

In 1993 I started working for Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law School) which offered an M.A. in Christian apologetics (Craig Hazen was the director). Much of my job was to promote the school and although I had studied Christian apologetics since my sophomore year in high school, I decided I needed to see whether an apologetic witness had strong Biblical precedence.

It does.

As I poured through the Scripture I found that Jesus and the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ as the sign of the truth of Christianity.

What follows are some of the passages which support the resurrection witness.

Here is my favorite verse from his massive list list of verses in favor of the evidential approach to Christian apologetics:

Mat. 12:39-40: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection was deliberately given as a sign to unbelievers to convince them. (“The Sign of Jonah” = the resurrection)

The healing of the paralytic

Consider this article from apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

Koukl cites three Biblical examples to support the idea that faith is not blind leap-of-faith wishing, but is based on evidence.

Here’s number two:

[I]n Mark 2 you see Jesus preaching in a house, and you know the story where they take the roof off and let the paralytic down through the roof. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And people get bugged because how can anyone forgive sins but God alone?Jesus understood what they were thinking and He said this: What’s harder to say, your sins are forgiven, or to rise, take up your pallet and go home?Now, I’ll tell you what would be harder for me to say : Arise, take up your pallet and go home. I can walk into any Bible study and say your sins are forgiven and nobody is going to know if I know what I am talking about or not. But if I lay hands on somebody in a wheelchair and I say, Take up your wheelchair and go home, and they sit there, I look pretty dumb because everyone knows nothing happened.But Jesus adds this. He says, “In order that you may know that the Son of Man has the power and authority to forgive sins, I say to you, arise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and he got out. Notice the phrase “In order that you may know”.

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific (e.g. – fine-tuning) and historical methods (minimal facts case for the resurrection). I think if Jesus had explained DNA and the Big Bang to the first century people, that would not have worked as well as the kinds of things he actually did.

I really want you guys to look through the Bible and see Jesus’ approach to convincing people. You should read the gospel of John to see how Jesus uses miracles to get people to believe that he was who he said he was. This is was his whole modus operandi. Today, none of us can do miracles on demand to convince people – at least I can’t. But that’s why we can use the evidence from science for miracles in nature, like the cosmic fine-tuning and the origin of biological information. And the resurrection is still a good historical argument to make, as well.

I’m going to be summarizing the podcast where Wallace mentioned this question in my 6 PM post, and I urge you to listen to it with my summary at hand. When he was talking about this question, his response made me laugh out loud at what people would think if Jesus had started explaining the fine-tuning argument or the Cambrian explosion. He’s very reserved in this post, but in the podcast he is pretty funny when he role-plays how the first-century people would respond.

The long war: a history of the conflict between religion and science

Let’s start with an example of a famous battle in the long war between science and religion.

Canadian science writer Denyse O’Leary writes about the history of cosmology at Evolution News.

Excerpt:

What help has materialism been in understanding the universe’s beginnings?

Many in cosmology have never made any secret of their dislike of the Big Bang, the generally accepted start to our universe first suggested by Belgian priest Georges Lemaître (1894-1966).

On the face of it, that is odd. The theory accounts well enough for the evidence. Nothing ever completely accounts for all the evidence, of course, because evidence is always changing a bit. But the Big Bang has enabled accurate prediction.

In which case, its hostile reception might surprise you. British astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) gave the theory its name in one of his papers — as a joke. Another noted astronomer, Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), exclaimed in 1933, “I feel almost an indignation that anyone should believe in it — except myself.” Why? Because “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”

One team of astrophysicists (1973) opined that it “involves a certain metaphysical aspect which may be either appealing or revolting.” Robert Jastrow (1925-2008), head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, initially remarked, “On both scientific and philosophical grounds, the concept of an eternal Universe seems more acceptable than the concept of a transient Universe that springs into being suddenly, and then fades slowly into darkness.” And Templeton Prize winner (2011) Martin Rees recalls his mentor Dennis Sciama’s dogged commitment to an eternal universe, no-Big Bang model:

For him, as for its inventors, it had a deep philosophical appeal — the universe existed, from everlasting to everlasting, in a uniquely self-consistent state. When conflicting evidence emerged, Sciama therefore sought a loophole (even an unlikely seeming one) rather as a defense lawyer clutches at any argument to rebut the prosecution case.

Evidence forced theorists to abandon their preferred eternal-universe model. From the mid 1940s, Hoyle attempted to disprove the theory he named. Until 1964, when his preferred theory, the Steady State, lost an evidence test.

Here is a a quick summary of some of the experimental evidence that emerged in the last few decades that caused naturalists to abandon the eternal universe that they loved so much when they were younger.

The importance of having a narrative

Now I want to make a very, very important point about Christianity and the progress of science. And that point is that it is very important that Christians present the evidence in exactly the way that Denyse presented it in that article – in its historical context, featuring the conflict between naturalists and the experimental evidence.

All Christians should be familiar with the following basic pieces of evidence which fit the war between science and naturalism narrative:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life (biological information)
  4. The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
  5. The habitability/observability correlation

When you talk about these evidences as a Christian theist to non-Christians, you have to have cultivated a genuine interest in reconciling your beliefs with science. You have to accept that there are two books that reveal God’s character and attributes. The book of nature, and the book of Scripture. And you need to be flexible about getting these two books to fit together. The book of nature gives us natural theology (see Romans 1). It tells us that God is Creator and Designer. The book of Scripture tells us that God stepped into history as a man to save us by taking the punishment for our headlong rush away from God, which the Bible calls sin. Science is one way that humans can recover some of basic knowledge about God. Knowledge that is only possible because God created and designed the universe (and us) in such a way that we are capable of making discoveries, and that the universe is capable of being explored and understood.

It’s very important to present these five basic evidences to non-Christians in the historical context. And here is the story you must tell: “In the beginning, there was the naturalism, and the naturalism tried to argue from ignorance that God was not Creator and God was not Designer. And then came the science, and now people have to give up their naturalism in order to not be crazy and irrational”. That’s the narrative you use when talking to non-Christians about science.

In the beginning was the naturalism:

  1. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
  2. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
  3. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
  4. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
  5. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon

But then science progressed by doing experiments and making observations:

  1. Scientists discovered redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation and more!
  2. Scientists discovered the fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant and more!
  3. Scientists discovered protein sequencing and exposed the myth of “junk DNA” and more!
  4. Scientists discovered an even shorter Cambrian explosion period and the absence of precursor fossils and more!
  5. Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!

And now rational people – people who want to have true beliefs about reality – need to abandon a false religion (naturalism).

Now naturally, science is in a state of flux and things change. But you have to look at the trend of discoveries, and those trends are clearly going against naturalism, and in favor of Christian theism. No one is arguing for a deductive proof here, we are simply looking at the evidence we have today and proportioning our belief to the concrete evidence we have today. People who are guided by reason should not seek to construct a worldview by leveraging speculations about future discoveries and mere possibilities. We should instead believe what is more probable than not. That’s what a rational seeker of truth ought to do. Proportion belief to probabilities based on current, concrete knowledge.

It is very important that Christians keep abreast of the progress of science, and give proper respect to science when forming our worldviews, and keep in mind what is really going on with atheism. There is a lot of loud worshiping of science by people like Dawkins and Atkins and Krauss, but if you dig into things a little, you’ll find that they are actually filled with rage and enmity against what science has revealed about nature. And not just in one area, but in many, many areas.

Atheism, as a worldview, is not rooted in an honest assessment about what science tells us about reality. Atheism is rooted in a religion: naturalism. And the troubling thing we learn from looking at the history of science is that this religion of naturalism is insulated from correction from the progress of science. Nothing that science reveals about nature seems to be able to put a dent in the religion of naturalism, at least for most atheists. Their belief in naturalism is so strong that it repels all scientific evidence that falsifies it. Atheists simply don’t let science inform and correct their worldview.

It falls to us Christian theists, then, to hold them accountable for their abuse and misrepresentation of science. And that means telling the story of the progress of science accurately, and accurately calling out the religion of naturalism for what it is – a religion rooted in blind faith and ignorance that has been repeatedly and convincingly falsified by the progress of science in the modern era.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Atheist Massimo Pigliucci gives helpful advice on how to be a skeptic

From Rationally Speaking blog, some good tips from a skeptic named Massimo Pigliucci on how to be skeptical. (H/T Ratio Christi Ohio State University via J Warner Wallace)

Excerpt:

I have been an active member of the self-described Community of Reason since about 1997. By that term I mean the broad set encompassing skeptics, atheists and secular humanists (and all the assorted synonyms thereof: freethinkers, rationalists, and even brights). The date is easily explainable: in 1996 I had moved from Brown University — where I did my postdoc — to the University of Tennessee, were I was appointed assistant professor in the Departments of Botany and of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. A few months after my arrival in Knoxville, the extremely (to this day) unenlightened TN legislature began discussing a billthat would have allowed school boards to fire teachers who presented evolution as a fact rather than a theory (it is both, of course). The bill died in committee (though a more recent one did pass, go Volunteers!), in part because of the efforts of colleagues and graduate students throughout the State.

It was because of my local visibility during that episode (and then shortly thereafter because I began organizing Darwin Day events on campus, which are still going strong) that I was approached by some members of a group called “The Fellowship of Reason” (now the Rationalists of East Tennessee). They told me that we had much in common, and wouldn’t I want to join them in their efforts? My first thought was that an outlet with that name must be run by cuckoos, and at any rate I had a lab to take care of and tenure to think about, thank you very much.

But in fact it took only a couple more polite attempts on their part before I joined the group and, by proxy, the broader Community of Reason (henceforth, CoR). It has been one of the most meaningful and exhilarating decisions of my life, some consequences of which include four books on science and philosophy for the general public (counting the one coming out in September); columns and articles for Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, The Philosopher’s Magazine and Philosophy Now, among others; and of course this blog and its associated podcast. I made many friends within the CoR, beginning with Carl Ledendecker of Knoxville, TN (the guy who originally approached me about the Fellowship of Reason), and of course including the editor and writers of Rationally Speaking.

But… yes, there is a “but,” and it’s beginning to loom large in my consciousness, so I need to get it out there and discuss it (this blog is just as much a way for me to clarify my own ideas through writing and the feedback of others as it is a channel for outreach as an academic interested in making some difference in the world). The problem is that my experience (anecdotal, yes, but ample and varied) has been that there is quite a bit of un-reason within the CoR.

He’s got a little list, he’s got a little list:

The list, incidentally, features topics in no particular order, and it would surely be nice if a sociology student were to conduct a systematic research on this for a thesis…

Click this link and read the full list. You will find yourself in agreement with much of what he says. In fact, this observation that skeptics can believe weird things was even highlighted in the Wall Street Journal a while back, and I wrote about it.

Just look at some of the items:

Philosophy is useless armchair speculation. So is math. And logic. And all theoretical science.

The notion of anthropogenic global warming has not been scientifically established, something loudly proclaimed by people who — to the best of my knowledge — are not atmospheric physicists and do not understand anything about the complex data analysis and modeling that goes into climate change research.

Science can answer moral questions. No, science can inform moral questions, but moral reasoning is a form of philosophical reasoning. The is/ought divide may not be absolute, but it is there nonetheless.

Science has established that there is no consciousness or free will (and therefore no moral responsibility). No, it hasn’t, as serious cognitive scientists freely admit.

Feminism is a form of unnecessary and oppressive liberal political correctness. Oh please, and yet, rather shockingly, I have heard this “opinion” from several fellow CoRers.

Feminists are right by default and every attempt to question them is the result of oppressive male chauvinism (even when done by women). These are people who clearly are not up on readings in actual feminism (did you know that there have been several waves of it? With which do you best connect?).

All religious education is child abuse, period. This is a really bizarre notion, I think. Not only does it turn 90% of the planet into child abusers, but people “thinking” (I use the term loosely) along these lines don’t seem to have considered exactly what religious education might mean (there is a huge variety of it), or — for that matter — why a secular education wouldn’t be open to the same charge, if done as indoctrination (and if it isn’t, are you really positive that there are no religious families out there who teach doubt? You’d be surprised!).

About the author:

Massimo Pigliucci (born January 16, 1964) is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at CUNY-Lehman College.[1] He is also the editor in chief for the journal Philosophy & Theory in Biology. Pigliucci was born in Monrovia, Liberia, although he was raised in Rome, Italy. He has a doctorate in genetics from the University of Ferrara, Italy, a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. in philosophy of science from the University of Tennessee. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Massimo Pigliucci even debated William Lane Craig in 2001 at the University of Georgia:

Here’s the review of their previous 1998 debate from Common Sense Atheism:

Craig vs. Pigliucci
Another typical debate in which Craig’s skills totally smash his opponent. Atheists seem to think they need not prepare for a debate with Craig because he is just another wacko with an invisible friend who grants him magical wishes. I think they are all surprised by how plausible Craig can make such an absurd idea sound.

If you can’t see the video, read the debate transcript at Leadership University or download the MP3 from Apologetics 315 (where else?). I would love to have such an intelligent skeptic as my friend, and you will too after you read his post. This is a must-read. You MUST READ IT. It is a great joy to have skeptics like Dr. Pigliucci out there, and I think that we should respect them and pray for them. These are the ones like Anthony Flew who interact with us in debates, and they can be persuaded if we have the right evidence and arguments to convince them.

New study: global warming skeptics know more about science than alarmists

ECM posted this Fox News story on Facebook.

Excerpt:

A study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that people who are not that worried about the effects of global warming tend to have a slightly higher level of scientific knowledge than those who are worried, as determined by their answers to questions like:

  • “Electrons are smaller than atoms — true or false?”
  • “How long does it take the Earth to go around the Sun? One day, one month, or one year?”
  • “Lasers work by focusing sound waves — true or false?”

The quiz, containing 22 questions about both science and statistics, was given to 1,540 representative Americans. Respondents who were relatively less worried about global warming got 57 percent of them right, on average, just barely outscoring those whose who saw global warming as a bigger threat. They got 56 percent of the questions correct.

“As respondents’ science literacy scores increased, their concern with climate change decreased,” the paper, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, notes.

It reminds me of the debate between theists. On the one hand, you’ve got the theists with their Big Bang, fine-tuning and biological information. On the other hand, you’ve got the atheists with their eternally oscillating bouncy universe, their unobservable multiverse and their hypothetical aliens seeding the Earth with life. It’s science vs. religion, all right. Or perhaps I should say science vs. science fiction.

How to respond to an atheist who complains about slavery in the Bible

I often hear atheists going on and on about how the Bible has this evil and that evil. Their favorite one seems to be slavery. Here are three things I say to atheists when they push this objection.

The Bible and slavery

First, you should explain to them what the Bible actually says about slavery. And then tell them about the person responsible for stopping slavery in the UK: a devout evangelical named William Wilberforce.

Here’s an article that works.

Excerpt:

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free.

In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-inemployee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament.3

Second, inform them that moral values are not rationally grounded on atheism. In an accidental universe, there is no way we ought to be. There is no design for humans that we have to comply with. There are no objective human rights, like the right to liberty (that would block slavery) or the right to life (that would block  abortion). Although you may find that most atheists act nicely, the ones who really understand what atheism means and live it out consistently are not so nice.

Atheism and moral judgments

Second, inform them that moral values are not rationally grounded on atheism. In an accidental universe, there is no way we ought to be. There is no design for humans that we have to comply with. There are no objective human rights, like the right to liberty (that would block slavery) or the right to life (that would block  abortion). Although you may find that most atheists act nicely, the ones who really understand what atheism means and live it out consistently are not so nice.

Dawkins has previously written this:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

(“God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85)

When people like Dawkins talk about morality, you have to understand that they are pretending. To them, morality is just about personal preferences and cultural conventions. They just think that questions of right and wrong are arbitrary. Things that are wrong in one time and place are right in another. Every view is as right as any other, depending on the time and place. That’s atheist morality.

What’s worse than slavery? Abortion!

Third, you should ask the atheist what he has done to oppose abortion. Abortion is worse than slavery, so if they are sincere in thinking that slavery is wrong, then they ought to think that abortion is wrong even more. So ask them what they’ve done to oppose the practice of abortion. That will tell you how sincere they are about slavery.

Here’s Richard Dawkins explaining what he’s done to stop abortion:

That’s right. The head atheist supports killing born children.