The Problem with God’s Visibility and Invisibility

A common objection that comes up quite a bit in discussions about God’s existence is the “I Can’t See God!” objection. In other words, how can we expect people to trust in a being that can’t be seen as a material object. The argument is laid out in the following way:

  1. If we can’t see God directly, God does not exist
  2.  We can’t see God directly
  3.  Therefore, God does not exist.

First, many people assume it is irrational to believe in God unless they can use the empirical method to verify that God exists. In other words, many skeptics reject God because they cannot verify that God exists by utilizing their five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching). So for something to be real, it must be visible. The “principle of empirical verifiability,” which was formulated by the philosopher A.J. Ayer, was a dominant view in philosophy departments during the 1960’s. In critiquing this view, we need to use the principle of logic called self-refutation. In relation to empiricism, if we look at the proposition that we have to believe something is only true if it can tested by the five senses, this statement is self-refuting. The statement alone cannot be tested by the five senses. If I accepted the statement “I only believe what I can see,” then he or she would not be able to accept the statement itself, because the belief is not visible- it can’t be seen. Furthermore, there are several  non-physical things such as propositions, states of affairs,  numbers, platonic universals, our own thoughts, the laws of logic, etc. The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels.

Biblical Passages about Seeing God

Interestingly enough, when it comes to the God of the Bible we see the visibility and invisibility of God in the following text:

The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.”  Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!”  And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”  But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  Then the Lord said, Behold, there is a place  by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock;  and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”- Exodus 33: 17-23

Here we see the declaration, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Andrew Malone says the following about this text:

Of all the Old Testament passages that describe seeing God, Exodus 33: 20 is regularly emphasized. What’s especially important is that it’s invoked both by those who insist that God is strictly invisible and by those who are more comfortable with his making visible appearances. Which interpretation is correct? First, we should note that the prohibition of 33: 20 is precisely that: a prohibition. Moses is not told that he is physically unable to look upon God; he is not permitted to do so. Almost every major English Bible translates this ambiguously: ‘you cannot see my face’. There are two reasons we should interpret this as describing what is permitted for Moses rather than what is possible. (1) God gives Moses a rationale: ‘for no one may see me and live’. This implies that someone can succeed in seeing him, albeit with fatal consequences. This is an odd warning if God is imperceptible to human sight. (2) God immediately makes arrangements whereby Moses does see something of God’s divinity (33: 21– 23). Indeed, Exodus proceeds to talk unashamedly of Moses being with and speaking with Yahweh – an encounter sufficiently intimate to alter Moses’ visible appearance (e.g. 34: 1– 9, 27– 35). Secondly, we must consider what we mean when we talk about God’s ‘glory’. That’s what Moses asked to see. God responds that it’s fatal to see his ‘face’. How do these terms intersect? It’s easy to think God is using the terms interchangeably: denying Moses a glimpse of his face denies a glimpse of his glory. That’s consistent with other occasions where God’s ‘glory’ cannot be endured, even by Moses (e.g. 40: 34– 35; 1 Kgs 8: 10– 11; Ezek. 1: 28).  But this itself suggests that something can be experienced. There are many other passages where God’s ‘glory’ is manifest, often in the sight of all Israel. So we cannot automatically assume that God’s glory is unseeable. Exodus 33: 20 does not disallow God’s ability to render himself visible; it merely reinforces that he can make himself too visible for human survival.- Andrew Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament? A Fresh Look at Christophanies

It can noted that in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. This is exactly why one of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions.  Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.

The mediums God uses in the Bible are general revelation (Creation; Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20; Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special Revelation: theophanies (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ) dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ) visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7), the written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).

But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil. Thus, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we wouldn’t know our destiny.

The Inference to the Best Explanation Model

One of the best solutions to handling the issue of evidence and arguments for God’s existence is to utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. This type of explanation is commonly called “abduction” since it is a type of reasoning that is different from induction and deduction. As I just said, people assert that unless the God of the Bible is a material object that can be verified with one’s five senses, He doesn’t exist.  Since we can’t see God as a material object, one way to approach this issue is to look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences to the cause of the effect. Hence, we have to look to see if God has left us any pointers that lead the way to finding Him. To read more about this issue, see Paul Copan’s article, here:

Believe it or not, it seems that Rabbi Paul was on target when he said that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). In some cases, there has been some good arguments for God’s activity in the natural sciences (cosmology, biology, physics).

However, the verification principle has broadened out to other kinds of verification tests such as experiential, historical, and eschatological. Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask WHERE and WHEN God has broken through into human history.

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The Challenge of Islam: Does Early Testimony Matter to Muslims?

Just this past week I had the opportunity to speak to some Muslims about one of the largest differences in our faith and their faith. For Christians, the death and resurrection is central to the Gospel message. After all, the “Kerygma” in the Book of Acts is the Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23) and that He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23). But for Muslims, they think Jesus didn’t die. Instead, the early disciples were deceived and Allah delivered Jesus. It says in Sura 4:156-157:

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

As historians evaluate the sources available for the resurrection of Jesus, a critical question is the dating of the sources. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) In a previous post, I pointed out the earliest record for the death and resurrection of Jesus is 1 Cor. 15:3-8.

Over the years, I have talked to Muslims about this issue. As I just said, Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years or more after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8 as well as other sources,  it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an.

Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, took on the Christ-myther issue. It should be no surprise that this book was scolded by many atheists. As I have said before, even though I find Ehrman to be very inconsistent on many issues, I still have respect for him. One part of the book I found rather interesting is the section where Ehrman discusses the kinds of resources historians look for when they are trying to establish the past existence of a person. Let me go over a few of these and see how this criteria helps make a case for Jesus:

First, Ehrman says,

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41

How does this request hold up on what we have for Jesus? Well, we certainly have some early sources (40 to 60 ad) that being Paul’s Letters. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor 15. is a very early creed about the death and resurrection of Jesus. While not extensive in scope, Paul’s Letters mention some historical aspects of the life of Jesus such as:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16) 2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3) 3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4) 4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4) 5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5) 6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7) 7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7) 8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5) 9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16) 10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9) 11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7) 12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) 13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3) 14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11) 15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14) 16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7) 17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9) 18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14) 19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9) 20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15) 21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25) 22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21) 23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3) 24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20) 25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15) 26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4) 27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4) 28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8) 29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and 30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34). To see common objections to Paul, see our post here.

Let’s look at this point. Ehrman also says:

“Moreover, in an ideal situation, the various sources that discuss a figure or an event should corroborate what each other’s had to say, at least on the major points if not all the details.”-pg 41

Do we see this in the Gospels? Mark Roberts mentions this issue in his book Can We Trust the Gospels? Roberts notes a list of some of the details about Jesus’s life and ministry that are found in all four gospels, yes, including John:

• Jesus was a Jewish man.
• Jesus ministered during the time when Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea (around A.D. 27 to A.D. 37).
• Jesus had a close connection with John the Baptist, and his ministry superceded that of John.
• John the Baptist was involved with the descent of the Spirit on Jesus.
• Jesus’s ministry took place in Galilee, especially early in his ministry
• Jesus’s ministry concluded in Jerusalem.
• Jesus gathered disciples around him. (This is important, because Jewish teachers in the time of Jesus didn’t recruit their own students, but rather the students came to them.)
• The brothers, Andrew and Simon (Peter), were among Jesus’s first disciples.
• The followers of Jesus referred to him as “rabbi.”
• Jesus taught women, and they were included among the larger group of his followers. (This, by the way, sets Jesus apart from other Jewish teachers of his day.)
• Jesus taught in Jewish synagogues.
• Jesus was popular with the masses.
• At times, however, Jesus left the crowds to be alone.
• Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God (in Matthew, more commonly the “kingdom of heaven”).
• Jesus called people to believe in God and in God’s saving activity.
• The ministry of Jesus involved conflict with supernatural evil powers, including Satan and demons.
• Jesus used the cryptic title “Son of Man” in reference to Himself and in order to explain His mission. (Jesus’s fondness for and use of this title was very unusual in his day, and was not picked up by the early church.)
• Jesus saw his mission as the Son of Man as leading to his death. (This was unprecedented in Judaism. Even among Jesus’s followers it was both unexpected and unwelcome.)
• Jesus, though apparently understanding himself to be Israel’s promised Messiah, was curiously circumspect about this identification. (This is striking, given the early and widespread confession of Christians that Jesus was the Messiah.)
• Jesus did various sorts of miracles, including healings and nature miracles.
• One of Jesus’s miracles involved the multiplication of food so that thousands could eat when they were hungry.
• Jesus even raised the dead.
• The miracles of Jesus were understood as signs of God’s power that pointed to truth beyond the miracle itself.
• Jesus was misunderstood by almost everybody, including his own disciples.
• Jewish opponents of Jesus accused him of being empowered by supernatural evil.
• Jesus experienced conflict with many Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees and ultimately the temple-centered leadership in Jerusalem.
• Jesus spoke and acted in ways that undermined the temple in Jerusalem.
• Jesus spoke and acted in ways that implied He had a unique connection with God.
• Jesus referred to God as Father, thus claiming unusual intimacy with God.
• Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, at the time of Passover, under the authority of Pontius Pilate, and with the cooperation of some Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. (There are quite a few more details concerning the death of Jesus that are shared by all four gospels.)
• Most of Jesus’s followers either abandoned him or denied him during his crucifixion.
• Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week.

As Roberts notes,

“This is certainly an impressive list of similarities shared by all four gospels. It’s especially significant because I’ve included the Gospel of John here, even though it is the most unusual among the biblical gospels. It shows that John shares with the synoptics the same basic narrative. Thus the four biblical testimonies about Jesus are impressively similar at the core. Because Matthew and Luke used Mark, their witnesses aren’t independent, but they do corroborate Mark’s account. Thus the fact that there are four gospels contributes significantly to our confidence in their historical accuracy.”- pg 100

This last week I showed this picture above to a Muslim.  They said if they agreed that Jesus actually died, they would no longer be a Muslim. So he agreed that he could not accept the facts. So yes, it is sad that I have had very little success when pointing this out to Muslims. But why? The answer is simple: Most Muslims think that Muhammad’s claim that the angel Gabriel visited him and that it was during these angelic visitations that the angel purportedly revealed to Muhammad the words of Allah. These dictated revelations compose the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Therefore, that settles it. If a perfect dictation is all we need, it doesn’t matter if Muhammad never lived in the first century nor for that matter it doesn’t matter that he never had any contact with the apostles/disciples.  It seems historical apologetics and the need for early testimony (as pointed out above) is no match for verbal dictation. Thus, the Qur’an is perfect and who cares if it came on the scene some six hundred years later.

1. Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.

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A Look at the Biological Information Theory Argument

At some stage of our life, most of us have purchased a computer at a store or online. Far be it for anyone to say they could survive without their laptop! Computers, like most purchases come with a set of instructions. If we don’t follow the written instructions properly, most likely the computer won’t perform its job properly. Thus, the computer has a specific job: perform calculations, store information, retrieve data and process information. The programmed data from the computer programmer tells the computer how to fulfill its purpose. If we take this basic illustration and apply it to your DNA, there are around 2.5 billion cells in one of your hands, but they are tiny. Each cell has a specific job, just like humans do. Our cells are also told what to do, but not by a person or a computer! Our cells are told what to do by a very special molecule called DNA (i.e., deoxyribonucleic acid) which is found in the nucleus of the cell.

Therefore, just like the programmer wrote the instructions for the computer and programmed the computer what to do, DNA are the instructions, or blueprints for the human cell. Note that before the instructions were written for the computer, the information first originated in the mind of the programmer. The same analogy can be used for DNA. Concerning biological information, DNA has only four letters: A, C, G, and T.

A living cell needs not just any DNA, but DNA that encodes functional proteins. To be functional, a protein must have a very specific sequence. Francis Crick wrote in 1958: “For any particular protein the amino acids must be joined up in the right order.” (1) Just as the information for the instructions for a computer originated in the mind, of an intelligent programmer, the information in the DNA had to originate from an intelligence as well. As Stephen Meyer notes:

The information contained in an English sentence or computer software does not derive from the chemistry of the ink or the physics of magnetism, but from a source extrinsic to physics and chemistry altogether. Indeed, in both cases, the message transcends the properties of the medium. The information in DNA also transcends the properties of its material medium.” And like the information in a sentence or a computer program, the information in DNA points to intelligence, because intelligent agency is “the only cause known to be capable of creating an information-rich system, including the coding regions of DNA, functional proteins, and the cell as a whole. (2)

A common objection from those that espouse a naturalistic evolutionary framework is that mutation and natural selection could produce the genetic information necessary to produce the first life. In response, mutation and natural selection can happen only to organisms that already have genetic information. If there’s nothing to mutate, there is no mutation and natural selection going on. Let’s summarize:

P1. DNA contains useful information (to place amino acids in the proper order to make functional proteins).

P2. Useful information habitually arises from an intelligent cause.

(C) Therefore, an intelligent cause is a valid explanation for the useful information contained in DNA. (3)

For more on this argument see the following resources:

Mysterious Epigenome, The by [Woodward, Thomas E., Gills, James P.]

The Return of the God Hypothesis | Discovery Institute

Sources:

  1. Francis Crick, “On Protein Synthesis,” Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology 12 (1958): 138–63.
  2. C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life: Information, Specification, and Explanation,” 223–85. John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (editors), Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2003); See Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gills, The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2012).
  3. Steven R. Hemler,  The Reality of God: The Layman’s Guide to Scientific Evidence for the Creator (Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press. 2015), Kindle Version, 1204 of 2100.

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The Importance of the God Question and how it relates to your worldview

Worldview is a buzzword people hear throughout their lives. But while it may be a buzzword, everyone does have a worldview, or they are in the process of forming their worldview. Here is a summary of the importance of worldview and how it relates to the question of God’s existence:

“A number of years ago, Encyclopedia Britannica published a 55-volume series entitled The Great Books of the Western World. This series presented the most important ideas that scholars and intellectuals have considered and investigated over the course of recorded history. The longest essay was on God. When noted philosopher, author, and co-editor of the series, Mortimer Adler, was asked the reason behind this, he replied, “It is because more consequences for life follow from that one issue than from any other.”4 I believe Dr. Adler’s assessment is spot on. The major issues of life are understood with the greatest clarity only after the question of God’s existence is placed in its proper context. Everyone has a certain perspective on how life works. It is the lens through which we see life. It is what most people call a “worldview.” When we are born, we begin to try and understand how life works. Over time, we formulate a philosophy of life, a worldview, and this worldview influences how we see ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we live our lives. Armand Nicholi, the Harvard psychiatrist I mentioned in the preface, and the author of The Question of God says that our worldview informs our personal, social, and political lives. It helps us understand our purpose. Further, he said that our worldview determines our ethics, our values, and our capacity for happiness. It helps us answer the big questions of life: How did I get here? How am I to live? Where do I find meaning in life? What is my ultimate destiny? Basically, Nicholi is telling us that our worldview is more telling than perhaps any other aspect of our lives. Another way to understand our worldview is to see it as a map, a mental map that helps navigate life effectively. As author Nancy Pearcey says, “…we need some creed to live by; some map by which we chart our course.” This is worldview. In forming our worldviews, Dr. Nicholi says that we make one of two assumptions about life. The first is that we live in a godless universe; we are a product of nature that has evolved over time. This is a secular worldview that emphasizes scientific knowledge and its motto is “What do science and nature have to say?” The second assumption is that there is a supernatural intelligence who gives the universe order and life meaning. This is a spiritual worldview that is rooted in Biblical revelations. It places emphasis on spiritual truth and wisdom and its motto is: “What does God have to say about this?”-Richard E Simmons III, Reflections On The Existence Of God: A Series Of Essays, pg. 15.

See our clip on the topic here.

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Theism and the Grounding of Human Rights and Human Dignity

As we celebrate Independence Day, we shouldn’t overlook The Declaration of Independence. In it, we see that God’s revelation in nature itself allows for the grounding of human rights and human dignity. As Stephen Meyer points out,  Jefferson  wrote the Declaration, asserting the inalienable rights of human beings derived from “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Also, from a Biblical standpoint, all human beings enjoy the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Thus all humans have a right to human dignity (i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or rank or any other way). NOTE: I chose to the use the word ‘ethnicity’ instead of race since the Bible doesn’t teach there are races. There is only one race which is the human race.  We also have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others.

Theism says that the physical universe is not all there is. There is a personal God who created it, sustains it, and can intervene within it in a non-natural way. While God is the primary Cause of singularities, He also uses secondary, or natural causes for the operation of the world. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions. Therefore, teleology has a goal in mind and evolution has been seen to run down dead ends many, many times. As Richard Dawkins says:

Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference-Scheff, Liam. 2007. The Dawkins Delusion. Salvo, 2:94.

A ways back, Wintery Knight posted this on his blog:

“If you love to listen to the Please Convince Me podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife. I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

And Cornell University atheist William Provine agrees: (this is taken from his debate with Phillip E. Johnson)

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Even Ron Bonteke says the following:

“Human beings cannot be deserving of a special measure of respect by virtue of their having been created ‘in God’s image’ when they have not been created at all (and there is no God). Thus the traditional conception of human dignity is also undermined in the wake of Darwin.”–Ron Bontekoe, The Nature of Dignity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 15– 16.

In his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It, author Bruce Sheiman gives a general outline of how atheists account for how we got here:

Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+luck X 3.5 billion yrs. In other words, the laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental randomness); and humans evolved by more improbable occurrences.

So if we look at these comments by Dawkins, Provine, Bontekoe, as well as the model here proposed by Sheiman, it is obvious that theism has better explanatory power in grounding human rights and human dignity. This doesn’t mean atheists and skeptics can’t treat people with respect and dignity. But for those who are so adamant about securing and protecting human rights, where does the moral obligation come from to do this, and what in the heck makes humans suddenly have so much value and dignity?

Also, see the lecture called by Angus Menuge  called, “Theism versus Naturalism as a Foundation for Human Rights”  or the online pdf called Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success by Paul Copan.

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How Did the Church Get Cut Off From Its Jewish Roots?

As I have said before, I have had the privilege of teaching on Jewish backgrounds of the Christian faith. I am not part of the Hebrew Roots movement.  But I think it is significant that when Marvin Wilson released his book called Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal, David Neff, who is former editor of Christianity Today, said the following:

“As a historical religion, Christianity must own its Jewish origins and live up to the best of that heritage. Marvin Wilson, a pioneer in evangelical-Jewish relations, makes a compelling argument for renewing Christian faith by recovering our Hebraic heritage. If only there were more like him, we could have a healthier church.”

Michael Brown has an excellent clip here called “How Did the Church Get Cut Off From Its Jewish Roots?

As a Christian, I have learned plenty of spiritual insights from my Jewish friends who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the entire world. When I became a Christian in my 20’s, I was fairly ignorant about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. What is more interesting is that as of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

Two other comments need to be noted. The first is by Philip Yancey. He says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (1)

The second is by Jaroslav Pelikan. He says,

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?” (2)

As we read through the Gospels, we see some of the aspects of the Jewishness of Jesus such as:

•Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt. 3:13-16)
•Circumcision (Lk. 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day
•Mary’s Purification (Lk. 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Lev. 12)
•Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Lk. 2:41)
•Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matt. 6:8-13)
•Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matt. 9:20)
•Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(Jn. 2:16)
•Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matt. 12); Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7); Feast of Passover (Matt. 26); Hanukkah (Jn. 10)
•Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Lk.4:14-20; Jn. 18:20)
•Jesus gathered disciples:(Matt. 8:23)
•Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Rom. 15:8)
•Jesus settled disputes: (Mk. 9:33-37)
•Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matt. 12:1-14)
•Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 15:24)
•Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 10:5-6)
•Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Lk. 24:44); (Jn. 5:39)
•Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matt. 4:1-11)
•Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-48)
•Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (Jn. 10:35)

Some suggested readings:

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A Look at Five Ways God Has Revealed Himself to the World

Christianity stresses that  the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intentions.  Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation. In this session, we discuss the various mediums God has picked to communicate to humanity.

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A Look at God’s Existence: Evidence We Want vs Evidence We Should Expect

A Look at  Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect

REMEMBER: Sometimes questions are better than answers!

Some Common Objections:

  • “There is no proof for God!”
  • “We can’t know if there is a God or that Jesus is the Son of God” (agnostic)
  • “We do know that God does not exist and that Jesus is not the Son of God” (knowledge claim)

Questions to ask:

What is “Proof”?

“Does “proof” mean we  need 100 percent, absolute, mathematical certainty — with no possible alternative explanations for the existence of God/Jesus as the Son of God?”

Does Proof mean to have “Certitude?”

  • Means it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation
  •  It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt. Note: This was adpated from Mortimer Adler’s Six Great Ideas.
  • Aside from common sense beliefs (i.e, beliefs we take for granted in the common concerns of life), we generally don’t’ get certitude with much of anything.

Therefore:

  • If someone is asking for 100 percent certainty remember that to truly know that God exists, we need to remind them this is unrealistic. We believe lots of things with confidence even though we do not have absolute certainty.

 “There is no  evidence for God or the Christian faith?”

Questions to ask:

  • “Are you asking if there is good reasons or grounds  for being a Christian?”

Evidence We Want vs. Evidence We Should Expect

Note: Thanks to Stephen Bedard at Hope’s Reason for the differentiation here.

Example: Evidence We Want

“God is a supernatural being, so I want a  supernatural sign or be handed undisputable evidence of one. If only I could see a miracle, then I will believe.”

Response:

The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  However, there seems to be other texts that indicate  people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11  Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.

Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1,  it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God  appears in various  forms. But this is not the same thing as  seeing God  directly  with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see  God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). For if they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).

Also, the demand for signs doesn’t guarantee one will believe.  For example:

Jesus did signs for people and they still rejected him: John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37).

Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37).

Jesus did the miracles for those who were Beatitude people. Are you poor in spirit? Do you recognize your poverty before God? Or do you just want a sign so you can say, “Oh, I guess that God exists, but I have no intention of placing my faith in God.”

Evidence We Want: Scientific Evidence

Questions to ask:

  • What is science? “Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm.” (Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 15.
  • Is God natural or non natural? How would science ‘prove’ or provide evidence against the non-existence of God?For example, if God created the universe from nothing (think, Big Bang), then all naturalistic attempts to explain the universe’s beginning are going to run into problems!
  • Some skeptics want to cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (he is supernatural) but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist. This makes no sense!
  • Science operates on induction (A posteriori knowledge which is dependent on experience or empirical evidence ).The inductive method entails searching out things in the world and drawing generalized conclusions about those things based on observation. The only way one can say a thing does not exist is by using a deductive method (A priori knowledge which is  independent of experience).
  • One cannot know anything inductively with absolute certainty. The inductive method gives us knowledge that is only probably true.
  • Can we observe God directly? No! But since science is a search or causes, we can observe the effects in the world and make rational inferences (i.e, is the cause of what we observe the result of natural causation or intelligent causation?
  • Does science allow for agency?  Human beings habitually understand themselves as agents. Agents have goals (things they desire), and produce behavior which they believe will achieve those goals.  They plan ahead and show intentional design and purpose.  Example: Does the universe have a goal or purpose? Is the universe set up to allow  for scientific discovery? It is set up for life to get going on earth?  Note: Natural selection has no reasons for its “choices,” and it has no goals, only selecting on the basis of past performance.
  • God of the gaps? When theists cannot explain something in nature, they will conveniently say, “God did it.” So the complaint is that when we appeal to God to plugs the gaps of our ignorance,  science will continue to provide answers.
  •  Remember: (1) The Biblical authors didn’t differentiate  between natural and non natural causes. God is the author of nature (i.e., we need to account or the existence of nature/natural laws themselves that allow science to flourish); (2) “Naturalism of the gaps: “Naturalism-of-the-gaps implies so great a confidence in scientism that ultimately no evidence for God can ever emerge, no matter how strong.  

There is evidence for God in the sciences: Note: These issues are always being debated: NOTE: Thanks to Wintery Knight for some of these resources:

Evidence  We Should Expect

We need to discuss the difference between factors and proofs

Webster’s II New College Dictionary says a factor is “something that actively contributes to an accomplishment, goal, or process.”

The plausibility factor: “Isn’t it reasonable to believe that a God who created us could, if he wanted to do so through the vehicle of inspired writing?” In other words,does it make sense that God should provide a revelation of Himself to humanity?” (see Randy Newman’s Questioning Evangelism, pg 127-128.

Analogy: As someone who is married, how do I know what my wife expects of me in certain situations unless she communicates!

Why the need for a revelation?

  • We need to know the character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of   Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons  for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a  clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind,  naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s   Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think  that this life is all there is

Going about providing Legal/Historical  Evidence

  • Testimony of witnesses
  • Hostile eyewitness testimony
  • Written documents
  • Archeological/external evidence
  • We use textual studies to show  that we have trustworthy versions of the original biblical documents.

Remember, when it comes to historical evidence: Since history is inductive, probability comes in degrees:

  • Virtual Certainty: Where the evidence is overwhelmingly in its  favor( the law of gravity)
  • Highly probable: Very good evidence in its favor (There was a man named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago and was crucified)
  • Probable: Means there is sufficient evidence in its favor (Paul wrote Galatians and 1 Corinthians)
  • Possible: Seems to have evidence both for and against (The Shroud of Turin is the cloth that covered Jesus when he was in the tomb)
  • Improbable: Insufficient Evidence in its favor (Life can come from non-life)

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

Evidence We Should Expect:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis,  The Weight of Glory. Note: see Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

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A Response to David Klinghoffer’s “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point In Western History”

David Klinghoffer is a observant Jewish man who happens to be a big advocate of the Intelligent Design movement. He also is the author of the book  Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.

Just glancing at the title alone may lead a reader to conclude that the Jewish people at the time of Jesus rejected him. Let’s look at the evidence:

In the Book of Acts (Acts 2:41) we see 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7). “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul, “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands”; Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. Now I know not every single Jewish person accepted him as the  Messiah. But then again, where does the Bible say a sign that the Messiah has come means that He accepted by every single Jewish person (including all of the religious establishment)? The prophets were rejected by their people and Jesus is the ultimate prophet who is the one like Moses spoke about (Deut 18:15-18).  I won’t offer a full blown review of the book here. But I want to mention one major issue:

Klinghoffer summarizes Israel’s messianic expectation, articulated in the prophets such as Ezekiel, in the following list: (1) gathering of Jewish exiles; (2) the reign of a messianic king; (3) a new covenant characterized by a scrupulous observance of the commandments; (4) eternal peace; (5) a new temple; and (6) the nations recognize God. Klinghoffer argues that these criteria disqualify Jesus for any messianic claim because none of them was fulfilled during Jesus’ lifetime.—David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 36.

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “heads, I win, tails you lose approach.”  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.”

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment.

Also, the other problem with the assertion by Klinghoffer is that it ignores the contingent element to messianic prophecy. In other words, the covenants that were made between God and Israel both have a conditional and unconditional element to them. Obviously, we see for Klinghoffer and Jewish people, the redemptive work of the Messiah is a one act play that isn’t broken up into different time periods.  Thus, when the Messiah comes to bring his kingdom, it is to this world that he comes and in this world that he establishes his reign. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness.

But what can be forgotten is that while God made unconditional promises to Israel in both of these covenants, Israel has to do their part to obtain the fullest blessings of the covenant. Because of the conditional nature of the covenant God made with Israel through the Torah, Israel was judged and sent into exile. Thus, there is a delay in the blessings. But even Israel’s failure to obey God’s commands doesn’t negate the promise. Therefore, the prophecy of restoration follows every message about the prophecy of judgment and doom. Hence, there are several passages that speak to the issue of a restoration of Jewish people back to the land (Isa.11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12:14-17; 16:10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14; 32:36-44; Ezek. 11:14-20; 20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16, 23-31; 36:16-36; 37:1-28; 39:21-29).

 Notice that Klinghoffer says two of the messianic qualifications are that the nations recognize God and  there will be a new covenant characterized by a scrupulous observance of the commandments. It is true that the Jewish Scriptures say that Gentiles (goyim) will be restored to God as a result of Israel’s end-time restoration and become united to them (e.g., Ps. 87:4-6; Is. 11:9-10; 14:1-2; 19:18-25; 25:6-10; 42:1-9; 49:6; 51:4-6; 60:1-16; Jer. 3:17; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 2:11).

Regarding what Jesus has done, even Jewish scholar  Michael Kogan says:

Has Jesus brought redemption to Israel? No, but he has brought the means of redemption to the gentiles—and that in the name of Israel’s God—thus helping Israel to fulfill its calling to be a blessing to all peoples. A Jewish Messiah for the gentiles! Perhaps, as I have suggested, an inversion of Cyrus’s role as a gentile Messiah for the Jews. Israel is redeemed by engaging in redemptive work. Perhaps redemption is not a final state but a process, a life devoted to bringing oneself and others before God. To live a life in relationship to the Holy One and to help the world to understand itself as the Kingdom of God—which it, all unknowingly, already is—is to participate in redemption, to live a redemptive life. This has been Israel’s calling from the beginning.”–Michael S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity (Oxford University Press. 2007), 68.

Because of the finished work of Jesus and the nations of the world have been allowed the opportunity to participate in the New Covenant, we need to heed the words of Paul who said that in the future God will fulfill his promises to Israel. For Paul, while Gentiles are experiencing spiritual blessings during the state of Israel’s “stumbling,” this will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). Hence, while Israel that has been hardened, in the future, all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:26–29, quoting Isaiah 59:20–21).

In conclusion, Jesus has fulfilled these messianic qualifications. The issue is that it isn’t a one act play. Part two will happen in the future. This post isn’t meant to be a full review of the book. But I felt compelled to respond to this issue. Grace and peace!

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