There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?
Update, 08/17/11: I’m actually getting a head start on some of my seminary reading (starts Monday the 22nd) and what do you know? The first essay we’re assigned to read and analyze talks about the age of the world and creation. There are definitely some theories and concepts I was unaware of, so I’m going to have to update this entry with these new findings shortly.
Ah, the good ol’ age-of-the-world problem. This is a very common objection to Christianity: the claim that science has already proved wrong the creation account found in Genesis 1. Scientific methods have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, and the earth is probably around 4.5 billion years old by their estimations. The traditional view found in Genesis seems to suggest that the world is only about 6,000-10,000 years old. Obviously, something is amiss.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area by any means. I’m only about to share what I’ve looked into so far and what others have found. Honestly, I think this is a subject we can never be sure about, and our conclusions are probably going to change a few more times over the years. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and that there is room for flexibility.
So without further ado, let’s move onto some observations.
The evidence seems to point toward an old-earth theory.
By current dating methods, scientists are able to conclude on a fairly consistent basis that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Geology looks at rock strata, estimates the time in between each layer, and can pretty much count up the number of years. They know that such formations are slow and take a long time, making the young-earth view implausible.
There is also the method of carbon or radiometric dating, by which scientists can calculate the age of various fossils and other substances they find. They do this by knowing the half-life of a certain element, such as carbon-14, and judging by how much is remaining, they calculate how much has decayed and how long it took to get there.
Finally, an argument for the old-earth theory is that evolution could not have taken place to form the wide variety of complex organisms we see today in mere thousands of years. (They have enough trouble as it is trying to figure out how it could have happened to this degree in billions of years without divine intervention.) **Big side note: Do I believe fully in evolution? Well, it depends on how you’re defining it. But that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open quite yet!
That is the dumbest, quickest, crudest explanation of old-earth dating you will ever see.
Does the Bible contradict what science has shown us?
The answer is no. You’ve all probably heard the popular answer to this, which is the day-age theory: the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis can be interpreted in numerous ways. It literally means a 12-hour period OR a 24-hour period OR a long, indeterminate amount of time. How do we know which one to use? Beats me, but I think comparing the usage of “yom” in other books of the Bible is ill-advised here since the creation account is a different animal altogether. Needless to say, we need to be flexible on its usage.
So if the duration of one “day” (“yom”) to another is indefinite, what can we glean from the scriptures that is actually useful in the context of comparing to science? The order by which things are formed. It is here that we find striking congruity between the Bible and what modern science has found. Tellingly, the Bible happens to be the only “holy book” in the world that got it right, even thousands of years before such knowledge was known by the scholars of the day.
(Click here for a fairly detailed breakdown: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail or regurgitate too much, but one important point to note is that in Genesis 1:1-2, it is clear that certain things were created BEFORE the first yom. What were those things? Well, it just happened to be the “heavens and the earth” (“heavens” obviously means space and the rest of the universe, as it is separate from earth, which contains our notion of “sky”). Not only that, but there were waters over which the Holy Spirit was hovering. All this before the first creation day.
Going back to cosmology for a second, we know that the very first instant of time is when the big bang occurred. It is when time, space, and matter literally came into being. Before this happened, there was no such thing as time, only a singularity, so it makes sense to call this moment of creation “in the beginning.”
Obviously, if God is eternal, there was no beginning for Him. So Genesis 1:1 is starting from the instant of the big bang.
This kind of consistency with modern science is definitely a plus, though perhaps not a must (as science is fallible and is prone to correction from generation to generation). Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, shares this in his testimony:
I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.
(Also read a detailed breakdown of why old-earth creationism may be the more accurate biblical view, not just scientific: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/animal-death-before-adam/introduction-creation-date-debate.)
Some may wonder at this point, well what took God so long? Remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable, and he is a being who can exist outside of time. Plus, God seems to like putting systems and natural laws in place and letting things take their course. Why wouldn’t he? He is the author of all things. One example of this would be after Noah’s flood where it took 150 days for the waters to finally subside. Could God have made the water disappear instantly? Sure. But why not let “nature,” His created system, handle things naturally?
What about Adam and Eve? Were they literal?
In my opinion, Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were literal human beings. Why? Because Jesus Christ himself spoke about them as if they were literal, and to my knowledge, everything rises and falls with the perfect knowledge and divinity of Christ.
How does this gel with the old-earth view? Well, quite simply, Adam and Eve were probably the first human beings according to God’s definition. They were the first ones created in God’s image, and therefore were the first soul-bearing creatures. There may have been human-like creatures before this, possibly walking erect and resembling us, but this is where the spiritual element of man was born. To God, this is where the story gets interesting.
Remember that the Bible does not include every superfluous detail, nor is it meant to explain science to us. It is simply to point us toward God and to teach us about things that are spiritually relevant.
Isn’t this day-age/old-earth theory just a modern retreat in light of science?
Fair question, but the answer seems to be no. Even Saint Augustine, in the 5th century, postulated that the word “yom” could mean something other than literal days. This was well before the world had any concept of an old earth. If you read the Genesis 1 account carefully, there are certain events that clearly seem to take longer than a regular 24-hour day.
Are young-earth (6,000–10,000 years) creationists crazy?
Well, perhaps. Organizations like Answers in Genesis don’t seem to have a ton of street cred in the scientific community. But I’m going to admit right now that there are times when I’m tempted with this view.
I know that it goes against my usual philosophy of “going where the evidence points,” but I sometimes can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the age of the world is one of those “earth is flat” type of things. One day, maybe we’ll look back and laugh, saying, “I can’t believe we used to think the earth was 4.5 billion years old!” I know, I’m destroying any credibility I have with each sentence I write here.
What possible support could there be for the young-earth view? Well, first there is the “simple” reading of the Bible. True, “yom” can literally mean both a regular 24-hour day or a long era—nothing figurative about it. But perhaps it’s just my conception of God and his timetable. This is a completely unreliable way to think, by the way, as the Bible clearly states that to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (meaning time is not felt by God in the same way as people).
But second, I also find a lot of little curiosities that individually, don’t amount to anything, but together are striking (to me anyway). We don’t have any written, recorded history before about 2,500 BC. Everything we know of seems to have happened in an amazingly minuscule amount of time. Think about it: from the earliest recorded history to today, only thousands of years have elapsed…yet we have gone from using primitive tools and walking in the dirt to flying jets and broadband internet. If the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is correct, we’ve gone from primitive to very advanced in literally one-millionth (1/1,000,000) of the time the world has existed. There are a lot of little things that nag at me like this. Then again, perhaps it is because humans—as image bearers of God—have only existed for thousands of years, and it has nothing to do with the age of everything else.
I also think that dating procedures could be prone to unseen error. I know I’m going out of my element here, but what if the half-lives of certain elements were not always at equilibrium? What if 6,000 years ago, the half-life of carbon-14 was totally different, changing a constant in the equation and affecting the outcome drastically? So anything we found that is actually 7,000 years old might be calculated completely wrong?
The biggest unknown variable in all of this, to me, is Noah’s flood. If it literally happened, which I believe wholeheartedly, there is no way to anticipate the way it could affect our dating methods. This wasn’t a simple rainstorm or flood as we know it today. This was a worldwide, biblical, supernatural event where the mountaintops were covered in water. The flood waters actually come from above AND below from within the earth, and who knows what minerals came up with it? How can we possibly attempt to simulate the effect this kind of catastrophic event would have on the earth and it’s rock layers? Is this perhaps why we have so many fossils preserved where animals seem to have suddenly died? (Why aren’t we forming fossils today, but instead, animal carcasses and bones simply decay into the earth?)
Finally, I think that it’s possible (though maybe not probable) that in creating the universe, God stretched and placed things in such a way that life could be supported. Perhaps this process gives everything the appearance of age, if we’re measuring by distances and such. To me, this is a big fat “who knows?”
I’m not saying I’m a young-earth creationist or that it’s even preferable in any way. Believe what you want; theologically, it makes little difference. But I think it’s prudent to at least acknowledge different possibilities, especially when we’re dealing in an area that can’t be fully confirmed in a laboratory.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably go with old-earth, but I don’t feel qualified to take a firm stand either way.
Hello all, I recently got back from Myrtle Beach and I will definitely resume posting the usual amount shortly. In the meantime, I decided to do a quick, easy post (i.e., no research or scriptures required) about skepticism.
The reason I decided to write about this was because it was addressed in a blog post critiquing the recent book, The End of Christianity. Here is the post I’m referring to: http://blogs.christianpost.com/tentativeapologist/2011/08/the-end-of-christianity-a-skeptical-review-part-1-07/.
I found this section particularly interesting:
Loftus’s defense of his OTF is a storehouse of outdated and indefensible claims. In closing I’ll note two here. Here’s the first:
“Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth.” (13)
Epistemologically speaking, this is a dimestore comment, the kind that you expect to hear from undergraduates who are taking their first Intro to Philosophy course and have become enamored with Descartes’ “Meditations”. But try that statement out in a graduate seminar in epistemology. To equate the pursuit of truth with skepticism alone is like rowing on only one side of the boat. A grown up approach to the pursuit of truth involves a richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief, doubt and commitment.
I found myself agreeing with the blogger’s critique, then I started thinking of real-world application. In my view, the attitude of seeking truth follows a familiar pattern.
Stage 1—Child (naive): Believe anything you are told, especially if told by an adult.
Stage 2—Teenager/young adult (skeptical): Question everything, especially if told by an adult.
Stage 3—Adult (“richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief”): Weigh options, risk, and reason, and come to a sensible conclusion.
This isn’t to say that everyone neatly follows these patterns, or that age even necessitates moving from one stage to another. Some adults are still naive, for example. But in general, I think this is the general direction we observe.
(I believe faith/Christianity follows a similar path: blind/naive faith -> learned faith –> hard questions and wrestling with truth –> reinforced and mature faith.)
What is an example of this “richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief”? Well, we can take almost any example from everyday life.
For instance, let’s say a friend of yours tells you that the national debt is $15 trillion. The “stage 1” reaction would be: “Oh really? I believe you because you told me so.” The “stage 2” reaction would be: “I don’t believe you. Show me the evidence first, then I might believe.” The “stage 3” reaction would be: “You are a well-informed person and I believe you are trustworthy, based on previous experience and your proclivity toward accuracy and non-exaggeration. So I’ll believe you that the national debt is $15 trillion.” See the difference?
As Randal Rauser says in his post, skepticism alone is not an “adult” attitude toward truth, but rather it is like “rowing on only one side of the boat.” You might think you’re getting somewhere, but in the end, all you’re really doing is going in a big circle. Until the seeker learns to take a leap of faith—reasonable belief and commitment—he will get nowhere.
Throughout the years—centuries even—this has probably been the single biggest objection to the Judeo-Christian God. Over time, I’ve learned to acknowledge the power of this line of argument and give it due respect rather than brushing it off as frivolous. I’ll try to be as comprehensive as I can (within reason), but I’m sure the war will wage on regardless. Please feel free to add and contribute in the comment section.
I’ll break this problem down into three main components:
1) Who is God anyway?
2) The Problem of Evil
3) Practical Implications
It’s important to discuss the Christian God as He actually is, rather than relying on the projections of misinformed men. So let’s start there.
1) Who is God anyway?
There are many ways to describe God and a multitude of attributes we could potentially discuss here. But I’ll try to focus on the relevant parts that normally feed into this argument.
First off, God is the creator of everything. He created every living being and the universe, including the laws and systems by which it operates. He also created angels, including those who rebelled against him and became demons.
Second, God prefers free will. Rather than creating automatons, it is clear that God holds free will in very high regard, even granting his angels the ability to leave him before the earth was even created. Likewise, He granted all of mankind free will. The Bible does not indicate whether animals have free will, but if I had to guess, I’d probably say no (judging from stories like Noah’s Ark and other examples where they seem to be controlled directly when necessary). Free will seems reserved for His higher elected creatures, and this is coming from an animal lover.
Third, God is omnipotent, or all-powerful. This point is very important. People must realize that there are certain things that God cannot do, but these “limitations” do not detract from His power and greatness. In a nutshell, God cannot act contrary to his character and essential nature, and He also cannot do some logically impossible things. God cannot lie or conduct evil himself. To say that God created evil is misleading, as evil is not a thing in itself, but rather a privation or lack of good (just as darkness isn’t a thing itself, but a lack of light).
He also cannot make a round square or create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it. Importantly, God cannot force or ensure that free creatures will choose the right way on their own volition.
Fourth, God is omniscient, or all-knowing. Now, there is some debate as to what omniscience entails. Does it mean God literally knows everything—past, present, and future (classic view and also assumed in Molinism)? Or does it mean He knows the knowable, and perhaps some things are left open and contingent on the decisions of free creatures (open theism)? Either way, it’s safe to say with certainty that God knows every possible thing of the past and the present. He also knows what he will accomplish in the future.
Fifth, God is omnibenevolent or all-good. In Him, there is no evil or darkness. This furthermore implies that God will always choose the path of the most good, rather than the way of more evil. He is the embodiment of love and wants people to come freely to him.
Finally, God is just and holy. Because God is just by nature, He cannot simply give people a free pass when they do wrong. He cannot tolerate sin. Due to his holy nature, God must remain set apart and separate from sin at all times. Of course, this is why He sent Jesus down to die for our sins, so that it’s possible for us to be clean in God’s sight.
I almost feel blasphemous trying to sum up God in such a short space, but I honestly believe that without this proper understanding of God, talking about things that contradict his nature (evil and suffering) is completely moot. Please know that God is so much more than what I’ve just described. I was also hesitant to start with the above section because much of it might give away the “answers” prematurely, but that’s OK. That being said, let’s proceed.
2) The Problem of Evil
This problem has been stated in a number of ways, but I’ll copy a couple that best describe this position.
Here’s the logical form:
- God exists.
- God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
- A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
- An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
- An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
- A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
- If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
- Evil exists (logical contradiction).
David Hume—a prominent philosopher of the 18th century—put it succinctly this way:
“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”
Now, I’ll save you the suspense and tell you upfront that this logical problem of evil has pretty much been solved already. Many modern philosophers reject the old logical problem as inadequate and accept solutions to the problem, such as Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. But I’ll rehash some of those ideas here in my own words, as well as infuse some of my own thoughts (may the Holy Spirit keep me from speaking falsehoods).
Basically, what the old philosophers failed to take into account are the fall of man and free will. These change everything. Perhaps in a sinless world, pre-fall, God would always choose to allow the path of the most good, no evil. He might repeatedly run up the scoreboard this way: +10 “good” points, +0 “evil” points. The good column would keep increasing, and the evil column would always remain at 0. This would have been possible.
But because of free will and man’s pride, it is no longer possible for there to be a zero in the evil column. Human beings are sinful, and the only way God could prevent them from conducting evil acts and inflicting suffering on others would be to infringe upon free will. God cannot (actually, will not) force a person to do good at all times, whether through manipulation of the mind or even of surrounding circumstances. Therefore, evil exists and God allows it.
Because there is no possibility of all good and no evil, God in his omnibenevolence chooses the path of the greater good (which by God’s estimation entails achieving good in light of free will). He has to allow some evil and suffering in order to achieve greater good. In order to get those +10 points in the good column, God might allow +2 evil (rather than the alternatives of +3 or +4). There is no option of +0 evil anymore, but even if there were, God might not choose it because it wouldn’t achieve as much good. Hopefully you’re seeing already that some of the premises of the logical argument laid out above are false.
The “best of possible worlds” argument is nebulous and highly speculative. How could a person possibly define such a thing? What is best for one person would be horrid to another. With God’s attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, it’s not impossible to imagine that this current world is the best that was possible with free will in the picture. Perhaps a world with no troubles would never find the necessary brokenness to come to God.
What about when God himself seems to directly inflict pain and suffering, rather than simply allowing it?
Well, let’s turn to the Bible for a couple of famous examples, shall we?
In Genesis 6, we hear the story of Noah’s ark. Around this time, humans were starting to multiply on the land, but they were also becoming very wicked. God gave mankind 120 years to shape up, but aside from Noah’s family, they didn’t. So God sent a great flood to wipe out the evildoers and to start fresh.
In Genesis 18-19, we see that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were very sinful, turning away from God. God makes known his plans to destroy them, at which point Abraham famously pleads for God to spare them. Abraham asks whether God would spare the cities if even 50 righteous men were found. God agrees. Abraham reverently pushes his luck, and asks, “well what about 45?” (I’m paraphrasing of course.) God again agrees. This goes on repeatedly; 40, 30, 20, then finally 10. God even agrees to a mere 10.
What happens? Not even 10 righteous are found in that city, so God proceeds with destroying them.
In each case, you’ll notice that God displayed great patience. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter, and like a doctor, God had to remove the cancer completely. In the real world, we know that wickedness spreads like a wildfire. Something starts out as the exception, a taboo, but very rapidly it becomes totally acceptable. Eventually, it becomes the norm. With our finite minds, we might disagree with God’s wrath, but we don’t know the whole picture. If God had spared those wicked people, it’s very easy to imagine that our world would be a much worse place today. There would much more evil, and yet people use those examples against God. He just can’t win in some people’s eyes.
Besides, God is the one in charge. Skeptics will cringe at this concept, but who are we to question Him? In Isaiah 55:9, God reminds us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If God exists, don’t you think there would be things you don’t understand or agree with? What makes us think everything should agree with our flawed preferences and sentiments?
Don’t count out the Devil!
Oh boy, I can already hear the eyes rolling. But it’s true, if there is a such thing as the God of the Bible, then there is an enemy who we call Satan. You can’t count out the devil in an argument about whether God exists because that’s presupposing the very thing you’re trying to prove. If the idea of evil and suffering bothers you, you can’t hold it against God without first acknowledging the reality of Satan and his demons.
Satan is called many names in the Bible, including deceiver, enemy, father of lies, lawless one, murderer, tempter, wicked one…and most tellingly, “god of this age” and “ruler of this world.” Does this sound like someone who might have something to do with some of the evil and suffering you see today? Perhaps! The devil presents himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and he is extremely attractive and cunning. He is smarter than you. He is smarter than all of us, and his lies perpetuate and spread, causing more grief and evil.
I’m convinced that Satan has tricked the scientific world into throwing labels at certain maladies and illnesses, when some of it is actually demon-induced. Consider the case of “Emily Rose” (Anneliese Michel…pictures and audio recordings here), whom the doctors tried to fix with every scientific terminology and concept in the book. They called her depressed, epileptic, and couldn’t face the fact that perhaps there was something else at work here. To the world, she looked like a victim of random chance and forces. In spiritual terms, she was attacked by demons. Until Jesus returns to vanquish them once and for all, spiritual warfare is a reality to consider. Not everything is explainable by natural means.
(Who knows? Maybe in 100 years, the devil will convince the world that love is simply a biological and chemical process, when it’s so much more than that.)
Speaking of natural, what about “natural evils” such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.?
I need to tread carefully here. I will say cautiously that it is at least possible that God can use these things to punish wickedness or accomplish some greater good, just as He has in past history. But let’s push this line of reasoning aside.
It has been suggested by apologists, and I agree with them, that natural disasters are a way of inspiring reverence and fear of God. It doesn’t necessarily need to target specific people, but it reminds us all that “oh yea, we’re just human…ultimately, there are forces greater than us that even our mighty technology can’t defeat.” Can you imagine a world where there were no disasters, no thunderstorms, no fearsome waves at sea? We would become even more full of ourselves as the masters of this world, and we’re already experts of pride as it is.
Furthermore, the fall of man necessitates that the world no longer functions optimally. Before the fall, we were designed to live forever. It’s hard to imagine now, but the systems and laws in place wouldn’t have been able to harm us. Gravity—a morally neutral force—would not have been able to bring us crashing to our doom from a steep drop. Thorns, if they existed, wouldn’t prick us. Animals wouldn’t carry venom. Childbirth wouldn’t be painful, and women couldn’t have serious complications from it. The plates of the earth would no longer move to create earthquakes, and the seas would probably be calm. But of course, man did sin and that all changed. Once sin entered and gave birth to death, all of the possible harms became an unavoidable reality.
OK, I know I said I would tread carefully, but I can’t help myself. As an example, let’s imagine for a minute (and I have no proof, nobody does) that God created HIV as a judgment or deterrence. Deterrence from what? Bestiality, homosexuality, and promiscuity are three possibilities (in fact, Sodom was known for homosexuality and is where we get the word “sodomy”). We know from numerous examples in the Bible that sexual sins seem very serious to God and are met with severe consequences.
Now, in what logical world would it be practically impossible for a person innocent of these things to contract HIV accidentally through blood? It is rare, but it must be possible. But rather than seeing these people as victims of God’s supposed sloppiness and negligence, we can view it in a number of ways. It is an inevitable result for a few people to befall this horrible fate because of the fall of man and because of logical possibility. It is also possible that God could be using these circumstances for the greater good. And we also know that it saddens God when people are in pain, but like a loving parent, sometimes it must be carried out.
3) Practical Implications
So what possible “greater good” are we talking about here? How could evil and suffering turn out to be good, practically speaking?
Well, the number one “good” that can result is the salvation of souls and drawing closer to God. This is not simple speculation, but rather found in the Bible over and over again. Don’t let the Joel Osteens of the world fool you; we are not meant to live on this earth in complete bliss and prosperity. In fact, even as believers, God ensures us that we will find suffering at some points in our lives. The Bible tells us to EXPECT suffering, which is the opposite of what skeptics believe Christianity should entail. When it comes, we need to have the right approach.
1 Peter 4:12-13: “12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
James 1:2-4 (ESV) says: “2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Trials and suffering make us more complete. Hardships strengthen our character and also provide a testing ground for our faith. If severe suffering never came to us in life, we might never know for certain if we are truly saved in Christ. What is one way to test if a love relationship is real and not just temporary butterflies? See how you persevere through the rough times, whether it’s long distance/separation or even arguments to sharpen each other and clean out the selfishness.
Pastor Lon Solomon of McLean Bible Church shares that having a severely handicapped daughter—who suffered from countless seizures—was the best thing God could have brought upon his life. Lon was angry with God at first, but in the end, dealing with the emergency hospital visits and intense care-taking made him a better father, husband, pastor, and a person. His daughter, who has a mental age of a child, lives a happy life. She will live the rest of her life—and die—as a child, which most believe ensures her salvation. What more could a parent hope for their children and their own lives? Brokenness can become an enormous blessing.
Sometimes, evil can be turned on its head and turn out for good, even in worldly circumstances. Consider the story of Joseph in late Genesis, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers but ended up being enormously powerful and influential. We can’t expect to always see the end result from our very limited perspective, so the best thing is to trust rather than curse God.
And do we, as Christians, believe in an indifferent God who makes us suffer while He sits on his cushy throne? By no means! We have a savior who gave up his lordship in heaven to become a lowly carpenter, to be spit on, whipped, mocked, and crucified on a cross for OUR sins. We have a God who knows first-hand much of the things we’re going through. We have a savior who rather than being a stoic who always said things like, “Oh, suck it up,” he actually wept for the death of Lazarus (John 11).
What’s the opposite of suffering on this earth? Complete prosperity, which is often represented by wealth in the Bible. And what happens to those who flourish, live a very comfortable lifestyle, and avoid the trials that many of us endure? They become lukewarm, only to be spit out of the mouth of God (Revelations 3). Just as a person cannot gain muscle without painful exercise and devotion; just as a person cannot increase in his knowledge without diligent and arduous study; just as a person cannot become patient and strong without first enduring ordeals; a person cannot truly know God without experiencing suffering.
Many of the poorer countries in the world that have experienced great suffering are the most devout and spiritual. James 2:5 says: “5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” We see this to be true in various studies and surveys. In America, many SAY that they are Christian, but as I’ve made clear in my earlier posts, the actual number of saved are probably few. Our prosperity and lack of suffering have made us soft. We have become like the rich young ruler or the church of Laodicea.
Those who suffer may turn out to be the most fortunate and blessed in the end. Perhaps as we look back on our short earthly lives from heaven, we will envy those who endured many hardships for a relative speck of time, only to be rewarded in eternity.
Matthew 19:30: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
I knew from the get-go that there would be no way for me to cover all possible areas of this topic. There have been entire books written on the subject, and even those focus on particular areas. For further insight, I suggest the following:
WLC–Problem of evil:
In the last 100 years, archaeology has uncovered a multitude of artifacts and writings, verifying the truth of what the Bible says. Science itself, with the Big Bang theory showing a definite starting point for our universe, has strengthened the argument for God.
This isn’t enough to necessarily lead people to faith, but it certainly helps to have some support for the Bible’s claims. In fact, many former skeptics (such as Sir William Ramsey, or more recently, Lee Strobel) have made it their mission in the past to disprove or scrutinize the Bible, only to become more convinced of its veracity. To them, the world’s evidence pushed them strongly in the direction of Christian faith. These stories are numerous and uplifting.
However, we must be careful not to place evidence and arguments as central pillars of our faith. Once we receive the Holy Spirit—in a genuine conversion experience—he is stand-alone, sufficient evidence to convict us of the Bible’s truth. The rest is extra support for something that is sturdy enough to stand the test of time anyway. For the true believer, additional worldly evidence can cause us to rejoice, possibly increase our zeal, and allow us to more effectively share with nonbelievers. But for our own faith, it is ultimately extraneous.
This is why William Lane Craig states in his book, Reasonable Faith, that even if arguments and evidence would fail to support Christianity (which they certainly do not), he would still wholeheartedly be a believer. This statement, found early in his book, has brought mockery and condescension upon him from his atheist opponents. I can see why, as it seems to demonstrate that yet another Christian seems to be wholly irrational in his beliefs and immune to reason and persuasion—even a top-flight philosopher, debater, and logical thinker such as Dr. Craig. But as Dr. Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame has written in his work, belief in Christ can be just as “properly basic” as our belief in the external world, which we experience with the five senses. The Holy Spirit is that compelling.
I am not trying to say that we should all stop trying to seek the truth or welcome new evidence into the arena of debate. This post is more for the already-converted believers out there. The world’s evidence is subject to the truth of the Bible, not the other way around. The main point of this post is this: Evidence can help lead us to faith, but it shouldn’t be what’s keeping us in it.
What happens when the evidence turns against us?
This is really the heart of the issue. Ask yourself, as a believer, what you would do if there were some discovery tomorrow that seemed to directly disprove some part of the Bible. What if there were a dry spell where no able and well-informed apologists could successfully hold the skeptics at bay? Would you cease to follow Christ? Would you exalt human reasoning and deem Christianity as fool’s gold?
While this would seem the “rational” response to such developments, consider the following thoughts.
– The scientific community as a whole believed that the world was eternal, with no beginning, until the Big Bang theory became widely accepted.
– People have doubted the age of biblical books for centuries, which cast doubt on chronology and fulfilled prophecies. Only in 1947 (until 1956) were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, putting to rest many of those doubts.
– Most of ancient history—whether religious or not—is lost forever, and early Christianity was only a small movement at that time within the world. The fact that we have as much as we do today is purely by the grace of God.
Depending on when people lived and died, there is a chance they may have had insufficient worldly evidence to buttress their faith in Christ. I pity the man—if he existed—who read Isaiah or Daniel and thought the proof of prophecy of Jesus’ life and death was strong, but then was dissuaded in 1946 by some scholar who claimed, “No one knows for sure when those books were written anyway. The Christians probably went back and altered the text of those OT books to fit the details of Jesus’ life.”
I believe much has been discovered so recently because God saw our dwindling faith, our “enlightened” minds refusing to believe apart from evidence, and he graciously offered us some. There is no guarantee He will continue to do so. (It is also a theory of mine that in His divine foreknowledge, He might withhold some evidence from those that would reject him regardless of the circumstances. This is done in order to spare these people some of his wrath. Ignorance may mitigate the severity of punishment, according to Luke 12:47-48.)
Right now, in 2011, I believe the arguments and evidence favor Christianity. But my advice is to not get too cozy in this, and to strengthen your faith with the Holy Spirit as your foundation. My guess is, if this world goes for another 100+ years, people will seriously start to question the human existence of Jesus Christ altogether. Science will come up with some novel, clever way of describing the beginning of the universe apart from God…until a better theory arises later.
Timothy Keller, in Reason for God, offers up strong arguments for God and some deep insights. I highly recommend his book for people of all spiritual walks. But in an honest way that I respect, he also admits that it is possible to reason your way out of any argument. There is no airtight proof.
Attending law school and completing the moot court requirement taught me that this is true. I remember, for the first go-around, we had to take either the side of the prosecution or that of the defense. We not only found ways to support our position, but we grew invested in it, fully convinced we were on the right side. The next semester/round, we swapped. It was amazing (and alarming) to me how easy it was to switch and find convincing evidence to support whatever we put our minds to.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Job 5:13: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”
We simply cannot rely on such fickle things when it comes to our eternal destiny. The world’s knowledge is subject to constant change and revision. If there is an absolute, unchanging truth out there—such as the Bible—there are going to be periods of history where the world and the word of God butt heads. It’s up to you to place your faith in the unchanging truth of God.
I really like this candid interview with Dr. Craig. He says it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ.
This video with Francis Chan, while not entirely on topic with this post, is also helpful (especially the first couple of minutes where he talks about the potter and the clay): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8.
I leave you with some more scripture to mull over:
1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.'”
Psalms 81:11-12: ““But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”
Isaiah 44:18: “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
Isaiah 65:2: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations–”
1 Corinthians 1:20: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher (NASB: “debater”) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Wait, what? Isn’t proving Christianity to be true by using the Bible completely circular? Not exactly. I’m only trying to show that more than any other religious book (or even secular book of antiquity), we have something special with regard to accuracy, reliability, and inspiration that cannot be adequately explained away.
Proving God exists can be done by other means. Proving the Bible is true necessarily validates Christianity to be true, as well…and for the purposes of knowing the whole truth that will lead to salvation, it’s necessary to take this extra step.
Let’s examine some aspects of the Bible that lend credibility to its divine nature. I cannot possibly delve into every topic in great detail and will even have to skip some, which may come in a later post.
Unlike other “holy” books that were typically written by one man based on supposed visions and enlightenment, the Bible is a collection of books/writings from 40 authors over almost 2,000 years.
A court of law or even common sense will tell you that multiple people agreeing on the truth of certain statements is more reliable than one person asserting something. Agreeing over a huge span of time? Well, there’s not much precedent for that, but I’d imagine it’s something to be impressed about.
Now, let’s put on our cynical caps for a minute here. Imagine you were a creative man with a knack for words and eloquent, high-sounding rhetoric. You also happen to like worldly things like wealth, power, and women. Would you try to write stories and teachings that fall exactly in line with Christian teaching and become author #41? Or would you perhaps try to establish a new religion of your own, becoming very influential, looked up to by followers, and enjoying the company of multiple women?
If you’re thinking that Jesus was essentially one of these people that established a new religion for gain, I’d beg to differ. Comparisons between Jesus and others (like Muhammad and Joseph Smith) fall woefully short. First of all, Jesus claimed to actually be God. He performed many miracles, including his own bodily resurrection as a way to prove this. Second, Jesus never opportunistically said that God’s word (at that time, essentially the Old Testament) had errors in it and that he came to correct it. He came to bring a new spiritual era, true, but only because he was God who can determine these things. Not only that, but he fell in line with dozens of Old Testament prophecies perfectly, but we’ll get to that later. So he clearly wasn’t contradictory at all. Finally, Jesus’ ministry lasted a mere three years. During that time, did he get to enjoy earthly benefits galore? No, not at all. In fact, he knew he was headed to his doom, but he had a mission to fulfill. He traveled tirelessly, faced persecution, lived a celibate life, and served wherever he went. He mingled with the poor and rejects of society, he helped those in need, and even showed us humility by washing his own followers’ feet. He then suffered excruciating physical pain, but more importantly, the intense torture of spiritual separation from God the Father on the cross.
Jesus, if he were a false teacher, had nothing of worldly value to gain. Another significant point to bring up is that Jesus did not author these books himself (at least in the practical sense). Instead, he lived a life worthy to be written about and worshiped. To me, actions speak louder than words, and that’s all those other books are…words of flawed and suspicious men.
Historical Accuracy and Archeology
If the Bible had historical errors in it, or things we can confirm as categorically false, it would admittedly cast a shadow over the entire book. What we have in reality is the opposite. Isn’t it fortunate (although not at all coincidental if you believe that God knows what he’s doing) that in the last 100 years, we have found more to confirm the history of the Bible than ever before? As the skepticism and self-“enlightenment” of people in the modern age casts the Bible in a dubious light, we are given enough to battle back and stand firm.
In the words of Pastor Lon Solomon, “the more they dig out of the ground, the more the Bible proves to be right.” If you want to hear a quick 30-minute sermon that covers a lot of the confirmations of the Bible’s claims, please listen to this: http://mcleanbible.org/media_player.asp?messageID=40403. In addition to seminary degrees and such, Lon Solomon also completed his masters in Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, so this is kind of an area of expertise for him.
Every time skeptics have pointed out some supposed inaccuracy in the Bible, later evidence has validated the Bible’s claims, not those of the scholars. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to “wait and see” before the Bible proves to be right (in one case—a somewhat minor historical detail—it took about 1,800 years!).
Some skeptics in the past have brought up these objections to the Bible’s historical accuracy:
– “King David never existed! He was never even mentioned once outside of the Bible.” Well, I’m no expert in ancient history, but isn’t there a LOT of stuff that’s missing from the past? Does that mean that only the things we find could have been real? Either way, this is moot because archaeologists did eventually find clear evidence of a King David. Somehow, I have a feeling skeptics will find something else to complain about rather than giving any credit to the Bible…
– “How could Moses have written the Bible? There wasn’t even written language during those times (around 1600 BC?) in the Near East, only hieroglyphics!” There is now evidence showing that written language was in existence, even as far back as 3000 BC. Tons of clay tablets and such have since been unearthed, even regarding very mundane details and transactions. Surely, of all people, Moses would have been able to write having been raised in a royal home. (I actually saw this old objection posted recently on some Yahoo! answers page, so unfortunately, some falsehoods never die. Skeptics seem to recycle old, dead arguments over and over after a while.)
– “We don’t even know if Jesus ever existed as a real man, let alone as God. We can’t take the Bible as historically reliable, and secular sources haven’t corroborated Jesus’ existence.” This claim, to me, seems the most far-fetched and ridiculous of the lot. Jesus has got to be one of the most confirmed people of ancient history ever, especially considering the 2000 years that have passed (and it took almost that long for this objection to even be raised without being seen as completely stupid). We have tons of secular historians who have mentioned Jesus’ existence, such as Josephus, and archaeologists have even found the ossuary of James, on which it is written: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” I mean, how much more do we need to spell it out for you? This is also why I don’t even bother addressing the Christ-mythers out there, who talk about Horus, etc. Talk about people hungry for conspiracy theories.
The list could go on and on and on, but at some point, you have to give credit where it’s due. If you’re the overly suspicious type and you constantly try to catch your spouse in the act of cheating…only to come home early to her folding your laundry and lovingly preparing your food, you’re going to feel like a jerk for suspecting anything. Do that 100 times over, and eventually you have to stop questioning her loyalty and truthfulness.
OK, so what? The Bible could have taken real history and fit it in to make it seem more true. (I still find it impressive that even when we analyze some small detail, it checks out…even if it’s a detail the author might not have had knowledge of or access to otherwise.)
But how does that prove the Bible’s theological or supernatural claims are true? Well, some of that does take some faith, but it’s a myth to say that there is no proof whatsoever that the Bible is supernaturally inspired.
Prophecies in the Bible abound, and other than far-fetched conspiracy theorizing, there’s no way to explain them away. “I am God and there is no other. I declare from ancient times things that have not happened yet.” –Isaiah 46:10.
A few examples are as follows:
– Isaiah 13 talks very specifically about the fall of Babylon 200 years before it happens.
– The Book of Daniel (for example, chapter 2 or chapter 11) talks about 500 years of the history of the ancient Near East before it happened. Critics tried to say that the book was a forgery and these details were written in after the fact, but we now know that isn’t true thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
– Although many prophecies in the Old Testament were about Jesus, 30 of the most specific ones all came true (one person claims that the chance of a man matching up to these 30 prophecies by accident rather than divine inspiration would be one in 10 with 100 zeroes after it). As a great example, read Isaiah 53 and try to deny that it’s talking about Jesus, who would come centuries later. Chapter 9 of the Book of Daniel actually predicts the exact year of the messiah’s death…and guess who died that year? That’s right, Jesus. Hundreds of years after Daniel foretold it.
Again, critics might cast doubt onto the New Testament, but its books are the closest to the described events that we have ever found in ancient literature, being circulated around during the lifetimes of the people who witnessed the events firsthand. Even the most skeptic historians date the books of the New Testament to mere decades after the events (the next-best works of antiquity, such as Homer, are centuries after). But of course, it’s never enough for some people.
In a way, it’s understandable why the Bible is often faced with such heavy scrutiny. After all, it claims to be divine in nature and inspiration. Is it so surprising, then, that the Bible proves itself vastly more worthy than any other book of its kind (or time period)? It’s no wonder why so many world religions try to piggyback on this undeniably great book.
There comes a point when people can’t keep chalking things up to conspiracies or coincidence. When the obvious truth is so plain to see and we still refuse to see it, that’s clear evidence of our unwillingness to be open to the facts.
But what about all the inconsistencies in the Bible? Doesn’t that undermine its credibility? Well, first of all, on every theological point, there have been solutions offered. Some are easy and downright silly to keep bringing up (which skeptics will do anyway), and some are a bit more difficult, but they have all been addressed. Even when there is something historical or archaeological we can’t reconcile with what we know, we can trust that scholars and historians will catch up eventually. They have many times in the past, and it will probably happen again in the future. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but God has given us enough to work with here so that it doesn’t need to be some giant leap of faith, only a reasonable one. The more you know, the smaller that leap has to be, and not the other way around.
Let’s take a look at a YouTube clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27pDmWOO73c) with atheist Sam Harris discussing the Bible’s relevance and veracity in modern times. More than other extreme atheists, I can respect Harris’ willingness to concede certain points or to at least maintain an air of respect toward believers during debates and interviews. He might be mocking us inwardly, but at least he has manners, which I think is conducive to understanding.
So per usual, I will quote from the video and comment with my thoughts. I will obviously be approaching it from the Christian/biblical perspective. I’ll try to touch upon all of the main points.
0:04: “Do atheists take a literalist approach to scripture?”
Harris, 0:08: “Well, this is a common criticism: the idea that the atheist is guilty of a literalist reading of scripture, no better than the reading of fundamentalists. It’s a very naive way of approaching religion, and there’s a far more sophisticated and nuanced view of religion on offer and the atheist is disregarding that.”
I’d pretty much agree, though I don’t think we can wholly blame atheists alone. Interpreting scripture can be a tricky thing and it takes people a lifetime of study to grasp it better (but still not perfectly). With our finite minds, all we can do is try our best.
What irks me, however, is that a lot of people encounter something difficult in the Bible and write it off immediately, as if they have figured it all out with just a glance. A lot of things that seem off or contradictory could actually be cleared up with the slightest bit of research and the tiniest crack of openness.
Harris, 0:32: “…few problems with this. First is, anyone making that argument is failing to acknowledge just how many people really do approach these texts literally or functionally, whether they’re selective literalists or literal all the way down the line, there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Yes, a lot of people differ on when things are literal, but what does this have to do with the integrity of the Bible itself? Here’s the best part of this quote, though: “…there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Does Sam Harris presume to know which is which with absolute certainty? How did he come to this level of expertise in the Bible? Perhaps he can shed some light onto theologians who have been wrestling with interpretation for many years. Even if something is literal and happens to be unsavory, that doesn’t rule out taking things into context and exploring the deeper, true meaning of certain passages. Sorry for speaking in generalities for now, but I’ll get more specific as he does.
Harris, 1:13: “It’s true that you can cherry-pick scripture and you can look for all the good parts and ignore what it says in Leviticus that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, you’re supposed to stone her to death on her father’s doorstep. You can ignore that and, to my knowledge, all Jews and Christians do ignore that….most religious people ignore those passages, which really can only be read literally, and say that ‘oh, they were only appropriate for the time and they don’t apply now.”
There are two funny things to this quote. First of all, if anyone is culpable of cherry-picking, it’s Sam Harris. Almost any debate or interview you see with him in it will have a guaranteed reference to Leviticus or Numbers in them. It’s like clockwork. He’ll ignore all the good parts and focus on the difficult, troubling sections as a way to strengthen his argument.
Second, I think it’s funny that Harris knows the answer to his qualms about Leviticus—i.e., they are not appropriate for today—but chooses to brush it off. It’s not some convenient tactic we Christians are using, it’s very obvious why some points in Leviticus no longer apply. Jesus came to us and basically unbound us from the legalism and strict rules Jews needed to follow in order to be “righteous.” The “wages of sin” are no longer death because of Christ’s victory over sin. He gave us salvation that is apart from works, and we are in a different spiritual era.
There is a strange but common misconception that the entire Bible is supposed to be directly applicable to everyone’s lives in the 21st century. Why is this? A lot of the Old Testament is supposed to serve as history and background information. When we are told the age at which someone died, that is not meant to change our behavior or shape our personalities. All the rules in Leviticus don’t apply directly to us anymore in the modern age, but it serves to show us what we would be bound to (almost impossible standards) apart from Christ. The sensuality in “Song of Songs” is intended for married couples and wouldn’t be appropriate for children. We need to get it out of our heads that either everything applies or nothing does. This is a gross simplification and oversight on the part of bible critics.
Harris, 2:10–4:36: [He goes on to describe some current state of affairs, human rights, ways modernism trumps scripture. Then he offers an example in the mother of the Virginia Tech shooter taking her son to religious leaders who performed an exorcism on him rather than taking him to a psychologist. In his view, modern science and knowledge would have been superior to appealing to God.]
I don’t have a lot to say on a lot of current events because frankly, I’m just not that informed or involved. But I think human rights activists would be foolish to ignore the profound influence the Bible has had in ingraining into us the importance and dignity of every human being. The Bible espouses love and fair treatment, and did so during a time and culture of great inequality. If modernism seems somehow more “advanced” than the Bible, it’s only because it used the Bible as a step ladder to get to where it is today. But I would maintain that modernism isn’t more advanced anyway, just more specific and catered to our current culture. I would agree that in some ways, the Bible is more general and broad.
As far as Harris’ example of the Virginia Tech shooting, I have a few things to mention. It’s simply not accurate to imply that Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, was only brought to an exorcist for his obvious issues. Mental health professionals tried to reach him, but he basically denied everything and refused treatment. It wasn’t for lack of availability of modern psychology (painted as a sort of regrettably bypassed hero in Harris’ illustration) that Cho succumbed to his evil intentions.
More importantly, I think this whole idea of religion and God failing to prove effective is misinformed. There is another widespread misconception in popular culture that ALL evil stems from Satan and his demons. While the devil may poke and prod people in a certain direction—and he is enormously clever in deceiving us into doing wrong—that doesn’t remove all responsibility from us human agents. There are a number of reasons Cho might have been inclined to murder, and it’s not something an exorcist could necessarily fix. The root of the problem may have been Cho’s personal inclinations and environmental shaping. Plus, what’s to say that a psychologist would have been able to fix the problem? Are they suddenly 100% effective?
While we humans are spiritually helpless without God’s grace, as I have said in the past, we are not his pets. We have generally been given the ability to feed ourselves, figure out some of our own problems, and to appeal to medicine and psychology. We have been given the gift of discovery and invention, and I think God appreciates the efforts of hard-working doctors and researchers who help people. Contrary to skeptics’ belief, God is not a dictator who runs every aspect of our daily lives with an iron fist.
4:38: “Is it possible God was speaking in metaphors?”
Harris, 4:41: “Let’s just grant the possibility that there is a creator God who is omniscient who occasionally authors books. And He’s going to give us a book—the most useful book, he’s a loving God, he’s a compassionate God—and he’s going to give us a guide into life. He’s got a scribe, the scribe’s going to write it down. What’s going to be in that book? I mean, just think of how good a book would be if it were authored by an omniscient deity. There is not a single line in the Bible or the Qur’an that could not have been authored by a first century person.
I beg to differ, and I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re going to read the whole thing wrong, then of course you’re going to miss its grandness and uniqueness. More than ever, I am continually amazed by the words of the Bible as they speak to me. They seem to come alive and dig into deep heart issues like no other book I’ve ever read. The teachings of Jesus far surpass the very best that philosophy has to offer.
I admit, there was a large chunk of my life when the Bible sometimes felt old, dusty, and boring. (Heck, for most of my life, I found politics and history incredibly dull as well.) But as I grew in emotional and spiritual maturity, my eyes were opened to the inspiration of the word of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 anticipates this perfectly: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”
As I read the Bible today, I find myself constantly marveling at it. The power of God can be seen in those pages if you trade in the spiritual blindfold for a nice pair of spiritual glasses. Remember when those old “Magic Eye” books were popular? They would have pages of jumbled images in them, but if you looked at them just right, you’d see a cool 3D image. Some people just couldn’t see it no matter what…
In my opinion, there is no way anyone (let alone multiple authors over centuries) in ancient times could have made up such profound and consistent truths. Some books today that seem to resemble or surpass the Bible in truth might be unwittingly using some of the scripture’s truth as a base and catering its message to a more specific audience (i.e., modern society). Christian teachings have permeated cultures around the world so greatly that it’s impossible to separate it out from mainstream thinking today.
Harris, 5:32: “There’s nothing about electricity, there’s nothing about DNA, there’s nothing about the principles of infectious disease. There’s nothing particularly useful, and there’s a lot of iron age barbarism in there and superstition. This is not a candidate book. I mean, I can go into any Barnes and Nobles blindfolded and pull a book off the shelf which is going to have more relevance, more wisdom, for the 21st century, than the Bible or the Qur’an.”
Did God not create us with inquisitive and creative minds to discover things for ourselves? Is the Bible supposed to teach us about technology? How about insights into fixing engines or leaky faucets? Why not? That would seem pretty darn useful to me.
A mechanic might find a automotive manual more “relevant” to his everyday life, but how does that prove that it’s more important and containing more wisdom? How exactly is this supposed to detract from the Bible?
The Bible does not claim to have every important fact for us to live by. It does not claim to teach us or warn us about every future possibility. But what it does claim to do is teach us about the nature of God. It also tells us how to find salvation and ensure our eternal destiny in heaven, saving ourselves from utter destruction. But yea, I guess that’s not really “useful,” right?
Harris, 6:08: “I mean, it’s really not an exaggeration. Every one of our specific sciences has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of scripture from cosmology to psychology to economics. We know more about ourselves than anyone writing the Bible or the Qur’an did, and that is a distinctly inconvenient fact for anyone wanting to believe that this book was dictated by their creator of the universe.”
Let’s not forget that much of what we know about ourselves today was kick-started by the Bible anyway. Give credit where credit is due, and that’d be a modest start.
There’s nothing “distinctly inconvenient” about any of Harris’ points. The Bible does what it sets out to do, and it succeeds with flying colors. It gives us the word of God that can be understood and digested by simple and learned minds alike. It tells us truths about love and human dignity in ways that do not go obsolete. It clearly and unambiguously shows us the way to save ourselves from perishing…
…but it has nothing to say about the economic laws of supply and demand. =( Phooey.