Category Archives: Apologetics

Scientific Evidence- so what?


I wrote last week about Why God Won’t Go Away. There I touched very briefly on some of the developments in science over the last few decades which have strengthened the ‘God hypothesis’. Let’s say the arguments for a divine being’s existence are sound, and that the scientific evidence really does point to God as so how many claim. So what? What existential difference does it make to you and to me that such a divine being exists? But most of all, how does it substantiate Christianity in any way?

The first angle I want to take with this is not at all existential but is still quite important. Clearly, the scientific evidence and philosophical arguments for God’s existence deal a large blow to atheism. It goes much further, though. The scientific evidence for the universe having a temporal beginning at the Big Bang is pretty convincing. Combine this evidence with some very powerful philosophical arguments against an infinite regress of temporal events and it seems to me  like the case against a past-eternal universe is insurmountable. This actually has huge implications. This would mean that Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, most forms of New Ageism and all forms of pantheism are false, since they are all completely predicated on an eternal universe. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty significant! The only options left are one of the monotheistic religions or deism. Of course the point still stands that none of this proves Christianity to be true, but the first words of the Bible that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” have been thoroughly vindicated.

Yet this still doesn’t necessarily seem to effect the way I should live, or the human condition in general. If this God could just as likely be a distant, detached and disinterested deity then how does this affect me? Well, to be honest it doesn’t. However, it does have some important implications for Jesus’ claims and miracles, which certainly does affect the human condition. Let me explain.
If there is no God, then no matter what the evidence might point towards, Jesus simply cannot have risen from the dead. The chances of him being ‘medically’ dead and then three days later rising again are reduced to nothing. Literally none. Zero. Zilch.  Yet if there is a God who miraculously created the universe, fine-tuned the initial conditions for intelligent life and intervened to seed the world with life, then suddenly Jesus rising again is a genuine possibility. If there is good evidence that might lead us to think that he rose from the dead, then that is most likely what happened! It’s now an imperative to investigate this Jesus and see what all the fuss is about.

Is this Creator one of those lonely, impersonal gods, or is God a tri-unity of Father, Son and Spirit, three persons who are in an eternal relationship with each other of mutual love and self-giving? Has he stayed away at a safe distance or has he been willing to come to earth, take the form a human being and live like one of us? Has he suffered excruciating pain in order to reconcile us-his enemies- to him, or has he been a selfish loner, completely uninterested in any kind of relationship?

Or think about it another way. If the evidence has established the existence of an incredibly powerful, immaterial and timeless deity, then it seems unclear at best how we would be able to know him. He would be unlike anything in the universe. C.S. Lewis made this point himself, using the analogy of Hamlet. Now the character of Hamlet has no comprehension of Shakespeare, and any philosophizing he might do still doesn’t even get him close to getting to know Shakespeare on a personal level. For that, Lewis argues, Shakespeare would have to write himself into the story and take the form of a character. So it is with Jesus. We can only know God on a personal level and to the fullest extent because he wrote himself into the human story as the man Jesus. The Bible calls Jesus the image of the invisible God in one of my all time favourite little passages. It’s worth checking out, right here.

Friends, these are the questions that must be answered in light of the evidence for God. So whilst the scientific evidence doesn’t establish Christianity, it certainly does rule out most of the other options. The evidence means that it is vital that we look deeper. And looking deeper does not come at a huge cost. With so many options ruled out by the evidence, there are only a few contenders. Of those few, only one God exists has actually made himself known to us by living like one of us, living among us and living for us.  Even Islam doesn’t claim to allow for a personal knowledge of God, only to know what his abstract Will is. It’s time to come to know the God who wants to know you, and who was willing to pay the price: even death on a cross.


Four Wrong Views Christians Have About Government

This is part of a series blogging through Professor Wayne Grudem‘s new book, ‘Politics According to the Bible‘. Sentences or paragraphs beginning with an ‘*’ are my own personal comments and evaluations.

In this post I will go through four wrong views that Christians have about civil government, based loosely on Chapter 1 of Wayne Grudem’s book. For this reason I will use only biblical and theological arguments against each position.

A) Government should compel religion. This first view contends that civil government should force people to follow a particular religion. It is a view which has, unfortunately, been a very popular one in Christendom historically and whilst hardly any Christians hold this view today, it is currently quite a popular one in other religions, particularly certain Islamic countries. Grudem actually gives  seven reasons for rejecting this view but I will just present the three most important arguments here.

  1.  Jesus distinguished the realms of God and of Caesar. In Matthew 22, the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”. Jesus’ remarkable answer shows that there are two different spheres of influence: one for the State and one for God’s people. The “things that are Caesar’s” refer to things that belong to the civil government, such as taxes, which implies that the church should not attempt to control these things. The “things that are God’s”, meanwhile, refers to things that belong to people’s religious life which implies that the civil government should not try to control those things.
    *There are, however, numerous competing interpretations of this famous passage and I don’t think that Grudem gives sufficient reason for us to disregard all other attempts at exegesis of this text, even though his account may be correct. Then again, I do think that the other two reasons below are enough to show this first view to be false, even if Grudem’s interpretation of this particular text is wrong.
  2.  Jesus refused to try to compel people to believe in him. Another passage, this time from Luke 9, shows how Jesus opposed the ‘compel religion’ view. When the disciples came up with the idea to bring instant punishment against those who rejected Jesus, “he turned and rebuked them” (v55). Grudem summarises, “Jesus directly refused any attempt to try to force people to believe in him or follow him.” (P.26)
  3.  Genuine faith cannot be forced. Another reason why governments should never try to compel religion is that true faith in God is always voluntary, and can never be coerced by force. There are countless examples in the New Testament of Jesus and the apostles teaching, reasoning and appealing to people to make a personal decision to follow Jesus, with just a few examples being Matt 11:28-30; Acts 28:23; Rom 10:9-10; Rev 22:17.  This conception of faith also fits with Jesus’ condemnation of any request for “fire from heaven” to compel people to follow him. But what about numerous examples in the Old Testament laws of religious activities being clearly compelled, such as Deut 13:6-11 which ordered severe punishments for anyone who tried to teach another religion? Grudem contends, and I’m pretty sure the vast majority of Old Testament scholars would agree, that these laws were “only for the nation of Israel for that particular time” and “were never imposed on any of the surrounding nations” (p.27). Whilst the ‘old covenant’ often consisted of a theocracy whereby God would directly rule over and govern the people of Israel, Jesus established a ‘new covenant’ for God’s people in the New Testament, where a distinction was made between the role of the “things that belonged to Caesar” and the “things that belonged to God”.
    *Something I would add is that this is one reason why today Christians and Muslims have such different views about the separation of Church/Mosque and State. That’s because whilst Islam is based on rituals and superficial good works which can be forced, Christianity is based on a personal relationship with our Saviour based on Gospel grace – the very opposite of works. This is why liberal democracy has thrived in Christendom but not in the Muslim world.

B) All government is evil and demonic.  This is definitely a minority view and of course for non-Christians this is a pretty bizarre view of politics but I do actually know a few people who hold to it . This view states that the realm of government power is the realm of Satan and his forces, and therefore all governmental use of power compromises the way of life Jesus taught. Greg Boyd is probably the main proponent of this view today, arguing in The Myth of a Christian Nation that civil government is “demonic” (P.21). The main (read:only) justification for this view is found in Luke 4, where the devil says that all the authority of all the kingdoms in the world “has been delivered to me” which Jesus doesn’t dispute in the following verses, according to Boyd. So what could possibly be wrong with this view?

  1. This is simply a false interpretation of Luke 4. Jesus tells us how to evaluate Satan’s claims in general in John 8 by saying, “there is no truth in him“. So should we believe Satan when he claims that he has all the authority of earthly kingdoms, or should we believe Jesus when he says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies? The answer seems clear that Satan wanted Jesus to believe the lie that he had all the earthly authority and he wants us to believe it, too.
  2. It directly contradicts biblical teaching on the authority of civil government. There are numerous passages in the Bible which very specifically tell us what to think about the authority of civil government. Romans 13 in particular is pretty much a knock-down passage against this view, saying things such as “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”, “[f]or he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” and “for the same reason you pay taxes, for the authorities are the ministers of God“, whilst 1 Peter 2 also contradicts this view. Boyd frequently appeals to only Jesus’ teachings at the expense of the rest of the Bible, arguing that because just war theory was never taught by Jesus, it therefore isn’t legitimate. But as we have seen, there are numerous passages from around God’s Word which clearly state the authority of government among other thing things, and to just ignore them is to overlook the fact that all of scripture comes from God, not just Jesus’ teachings.

C) Do evangelism, not politics. This is a view which held by many Christians, and it essential says that Christians/the church is only called to “preach the Gospel”, not to preach about politics.  Grudem doesn’t write this, but I think there are two sub-views within this view. The first is more of a general argument that anything that isn’t evangelism is a waste of both time and money and we shouldn’t be doing it. The second is a specific argument about politics, namely that other things aside from evangelism can be valuable but politics is not one of them.

  1. Too narrow an understanding of the Gospel and the kingdom of God. The first view basically presents a reductionist Gospel, which is to say that proponents of this view seem to think that the Gospel only says, “repent and believe in Jesus”. Whilst that statement is certainly central to the Gospel, isn’t the Gospel God’s good news about all of life? This kind of dualistic separation of ‘spiritual’ (evangelism) on the one hand, and ‘physical/earthly’ (politics) on the other stems from a Platonic, Gnostic view of the world and not from scripture. *All of creation is God’s realm and everything is spiritual. Grudem cites Tom Minnery who gives the example of Jesus’ life. Jesus was not only concerned with forgiving people’s sin; he was also concerned with meeting their physical needs.
    *Jesus often did miracles not for the purpose of showing his power, for he told those whom he had healed not to tell anyone about what had happened! No, instead Jesus often did miracles because healing people’s physical bodies was simply a spiritually good thing to do- it pleased the Father. And our eternity will be spent not in some non-physical, Platonic heaven, but in a physical New Creation! Physical healing and societal transformation are both spiritually good, and both are a part of God’s ultimate will.
  2. It requires us not to preach on certain parts of the Bible. In the Great Commision in Matthew 28 Jesus said, “Go there and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” and it says in 2 Timothy 3 that all scripture is useful for teaching. This means that we must preach on the passages that speak specifically about Christian engagement in politics, such as Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, Genesis 9:5-6 and Daniel’s influence on the government of Babylon, among other examples. The Bible commands to teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), do “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). That means trying to influence government for good.
  3. *Political engagement aides evangelism. This argument is not Grudem’s but my own, and it seems clear to me that presenting a Christian view on politics would allow for more opportunities for evangelism. For example I recently watched a debate on the topic of abortion where Scott Klusendorf literally presented the Gospel as a part of his opening remarks! I know of people who would not go to an explicit Gospel presentation or even a debate on it, but who would go to a debate on abortion. If such a debate had not happened, people like these may never have had the opportunity to hear a Gospel presentation. And it was not a tenuous link; it was perfectly relevant to what he was saying (watch it if you don’t believe me!), and that’s because the Gospel encompasses political engagement.  Furthermore, if Christians and Christian perspectives on political issues are never heard by the public, then it’s simply too easy for the attitude of ‘out of sight, out of mind‘ to flourish for unbelievers. Politics is not a barrier to evangelism- it can often be an aide.

D) Do politics, not evangelism. This fifth view says that the church should only try to transform the political and cultural environments and should not engage in evangelism. Whilst Grudem claims that there are no prominent Christian groups who hold to this view, I think that people in the camp of Brian McLaren and sometimes Rob Bell give this message. It was also a primary emphasis of the 19th/20th Century Social Gospels and liberation theology. The causes they supported were often good ones, but they completely neglected the need for a personal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Grudem doesn’t give any point by point refutations of this but I have some of my own.

  1. Jesus commanded mission and evangelism. In the Great Commission cited earlier, Jesus clearly commands all of his disciples (including us) to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Not to engage in evangelism is really to misunderstand the whole point of Jesus’ teaching, as well as the Bible as a whole.
  2. True justice and love are found in God himself; not to preach his name is to not preach love. The Bible says that love is defined as, “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). If we do not preach that, then we do not preach true love. Social engagement without love or justice is null and void.

Thus we have seen 4 wrong views that many Christians have today about government. In the next post in this series I will look at a better and more biblical position. Later in the series I will also bring arguments against militant secularism which aims to exclude religion from the public square, but that will have to wait for now.

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Is God hardwired into the human brain?

A month or two ago I read this news story about how recent evidence suggests that God might be ‘hardwired’ into our brain. Before this study was even in the making, many of the New Atheists had already made up their mind that this was true. For example, in his book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” Daniel Dennett claims that such hardwiring is a “fiction generating contraption” (Dennett, 2006: 120). Dawkins concurs: “The irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain”  (Dawkins, The God Delusion: 184). I’m not so sure if this conclusion is warranted. If a personal and loving God existed we would most certainly expect him to make himself known to his creation in order that they might engage with him in a Father-child relationship. This evidence puts yet another nail in poor Sigmund Freud‘s coffin, who said people believed in God as a result of nurture rather than nature. The great reformer John Calvin, meanwhile, has once again been vindicated by his comments written more than 400 years earlier that, “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.3.1, P43).

Another point may well be made to those who attempt to use the scientific evidence to undercut belief in God. Many of the New Atheists seem to think that because our belief in God may have originated from the way our brain is wired, this means that the belief is false. However, this seems to a clear example of the genetic fallacy in action. It is fallacious to try to invalidate a belief by simply showing how it originated. Yet even if we did grant that belief in God is false (which I don’t for a minute accept), then what implications would this have about the reliability of our cognitive faculties,  that evolutionary and biological mechanisms tend to create parts of our brain based on entirely vacuous concepts? Charles Darwin expressed his concerns like so, “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Letter from Charles Darwin, pictured right, to William Graham, July 3rd 1881.)

Charles Darwin. 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in....

Image via Wikipedia

Unless humans possess a mind which cannot be reduced purely to physics and biology, or there is a God who designed our cognitive faculties to aim at truth rather than mere survival, then what we know about evolution undercuts belief in an atheistic naturalism. On Professor Dawkins’ view our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control, regardless of whether we’re theists or naturalists. Paul Copan has said here, “in fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).” Alvin Plantinga has written quite extensively about his ‘Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’ (if that interests you check this out), and I think his argument poses a huge threat to naturalism.

If we accept what Dawkins et al. would have us believe about our cognitive faculties, then all our knowledge of two plus two equaling four, an external world existing, rape being morally wrong and there being objective purpose in life, are thrown out.

Surely it makes more sense to accept that we are hardwired for God because he designed us so, and because he genuinely wants us to know Him.

Using the News for Apologetics and Evangelism

I know that more often than not, Christians find it incredibly difficult to talk to their friends and coworkers about God. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how to show that every day talking topics actually have the potential  to go far deeper. One such talking topic is the news.
How often has the following conversation taken place, “Did you hear about ____ on the news?”

“Yes, it’s awful, isn’t it?”

“It really is. I just don’t understand how someone could do something like that.”

From this point, the conversation could just drift to talking about other things that have been going on, maybe to talking about the weather or yesterday’s sports fixtures.
Or, it could go deeper. Much deeper.

News stories such as the ones I talked about in my previous post, ie different scandals that have occurred in recent years, actually bring up very deep questions about human nature, whether good works are enough, the problem of evil and whether or not we have a Heavenly Father. Is seems to me quite natural in the above conversation for the next line to be something like this:

“I think all these news stories about every day people doing awful things says something really interesting about what our human nature is like.”
Or, “With all this evil around the world, sometimes it makes me think that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. What do you think?”
Or, “Humans clearly can’t save themselves from evil. We can’t generate perfection from within ourselves. Don’t you think that we need something exterior to us to change us, to even change our very human nature?”

From there, the link into what you believe, what Jesus taught or what the Bible says is clear. And this is not manipulation. By doing this you are not manipulating people in order to ‘convert’ them. Most people who I’ve had such conversations with have been incredibly interested in what I’ve had to say, and were actually kind of relieved that the conversation didn’t denigrate into trivial musings about the weather, as it so often does (in Britain, anyway).

So that’s just one easy way of moving an every day conversation forward into a much deeper one, where the prospect for apologetics and evangelism are far greater.
Why not give it a go?

Check out this page for more ideas about how to share your faith with coworkers.

Why God Won’t Go Away

This is the transcript from a talk I did a few weeks ago.

The title I’ve been given today is, “A New Perspective on the New Atheism; Why God Won’t Go Away”. The first part of that title about the new atheism is one which we’ve all heard a lot about, and a lot of what Alister McGrath said last week in Big Issues helped us think through that. I’m not going to directly touch on that aspect of it; you can find his talk on the OICCU website if you’d like to hear what he had to say, instead I’m going to focus on the second bit- why God won’t go away. It was the famous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche who confidently proclaimed that, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” In the time of the enlightenment, back 200/300 years ago, there was an extremely confident belief that was incredibly widespread, which was that God would be gone from the human race within a generation or two. Hundreds of years on and God is still going on strong. Now I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, so I wouldn’t be able to write an academic paper on why certain individuals or why certain societies keep on believing in God. Instead I want to look at some of the changes that have occurred which have meant that the God hypothesis, by which I just mean God as an explanation for what we see in the universe, won’t go away.  I’ll do that first, before explaining why God as a person hasn’t gone away in my life and then looking at why Christianity in particular won’t go away across the world.

Summer is finally upon us and for many of us it’s the best part of the year, when we go away on holiday to enjoy the Sun. It’s up there with as one of my favourite times of the year, along with Christmas. Everyone loves the summer because of great weather, ice cream and holidays. Apart from the obvious reasons of food, lots of food and more food, why do people like Christmas so much? Well we all know that Christmas is particularly magical for kids- almost all of them believe that Santa Clause personally visits their house, comes down the chimney and leaves them personalised gifts for free. If only life was that simple! When they grow older they quickly shed that belief in Santa Clause and move on. There is no sane and rational adult who maintains a belief in Santa Clause. We’ve been to the North Pole countless times and we have found no barns full of presents. Most chimneys are now closed off and we would expect Santa to have to break windows to come in. We would expect flying reindeers to come up on all the different defensive radars we have around the country. If such a man as Santa Clause existed, we would also expect better presents in our stockings than useless black socks which only mothers would buy! No sane adult still believes in Santa Clause as every place we would expect to see evidence, there is no evidence to be found.

So why is it that the God hypothesis won’t go away? Why are there top physicists who maintain that the God hypothesis has incredible power? Well one reason is the advances in science over the last few decades which show strong evidence not only for the universe having an absolutely beginning, known as the Big Bang, but also that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself, and I have many examples of this which I’d love to go through with you another time. In such a short time, I think the best I can do is provide a quote for you from a man who was arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of the 20th Century, Anthony Flew. He said this, “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”

So how about for me? Why does God still play such a large role in my life? Well it would be worth just giving some of back story so you can get the picture. I actually had the privilege of growing up in Turkey. I went to Turkish school as well as a small international school, and all of my friends were either Muslims or Christians. That was all I knew. We moved to England when I was about 9 and a half, and I ended going to 5 different schools within 5 years as we tried to find somewhere permanent to live. That was incredibly hard and sometimes I would wonder why God would put me through that. But then I joined my local secondary school, which was huge, and it was a place where I was one of the few Christians in a year of 250. Almost all my best mates in my neighbourhood were committed atheists and they would challenge me on a daily basis about God, Jesus, the Bible etc. Surely, from all of what the New Atheists have said, I would be the perfect candidate to abandon my belief in God as deeply irrational. I embarked on quite a long journey of reading, questioning and discussing and long story cut short, I found that Christianity really wasn’t that irrational. It would have been far easier to just give in to the peer pressure and become an atheist, but atheism just wasn’t as intellectually satisfying as Christianity was. The God of the Bible made far more sense of the world around me than the idea that this is all one big accident,  for no meaning or purpose with no personal Lawgiver from which to base the morality that we all hold to. So my basic answer to why God hasn’t gone away in my life is that He answered all the big questions in life better than anything else, and that in all the difficulties I went through he didn’t let me down.

So that’s for me personally, but why is it that Christianity, which was on the back foot during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, in particular has flourished around the globe? Whilst in Europe and increasingly America, the prominence of Christianity has greatly receded, evangelical Christianity, which holds to the Bible as God’s infallible Word to mankind, has either stayed about the same or in some places even grown. Whilst Islam grows across the world almost completely as a result of high birth rates, one of the reasons Christianity is growing at the moment is because of large numbers of adults becoming followers. Did you know that Christianity has more than twice the number of adult converts every single year than all the rest of the world’s religions combined? In countries that used to be incredibly atheistic all across East and South-East Asia, Christianity is growing in swathes. China in particular is estimated to almost be at 100 million Christians, with many of them worshipping God illegally. India and Iran are also having large amounts of conversions to Christianity despite the considerable costs to followers of doing so, with Christianity also now playing a very large role across Africa and Latin America. Why is it that Christianity in particular is growing so much around the world? I have one very simple yet profound answer to that, “Jesus is extraordinary”.  I have met numerous Muslims from the middle east, as well as former atheists from around the world, who have basically all said that when they read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels, their lives changed. There is not much that I can say about this Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago yet today remains more influential than ever, other than the fact that he is indescribable. His mind-blowing teaching cannot be dismissed as that of a good teacher, for he claimed to be the divine Son of God. Either he was lying about that, or he was telling the truth. I’d really like to encourage you to read an account of Jesus’ life for yourself and see which one of those Jesus looks like. Does he look and sound like a mad man, or a deceitful liar, or does he seem to be exactly what you’d expect to see and read if God took human form?

These are the reasons why God just won’t go away: he makes best sense of the universe and life’s big questions, but also because he showed himself to us  2000 years ago and continues to show himself today. Why not read about Jesus life for yourself and see what you think.