Monthly Archives: July 2011

Faith in Quotes IV

Faith and prayer are the vitamins of the soul; man cannot live in health without them.

— Mahalia Jackson

Faith in Quotes III

All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.

— Martin Luther

God: Model Teacher

When I was in eighth grade, we started learning algebra.  The teacher told us that variables stand for numbers, and we either solve for the specific number the variable represents, or treat the letter as if could be any number.

When a particularly astute student noticed that x, y, and z were always used as variables, he asked if any other letters could be used.

The teacher said any letter would work, but told us to avoid i.  We asked why, and he replied that it could be too easily confused with 1.

But, math wizards, that’s not really why we don’t use i, is it?  It’s actually a mathematical constant, defined as the square root of -1.

Like a good teacher, my math teacher gave us what we could handle.  Later, those of us that either read the sidebars in our algebra books (because we’re extra geeky) or took calculus learned the real reason why we don’t use i as a variable.  Clearly, eighth grade students learning the basics of algebra wouldn’t have been ready to learn about imaginary numbers.

My eighth grade math teacher didn’t lie.  He just didn’t give us information that we weren’t ready to have.  Later, a fuller revelation of the facts would be realized.

This is the reason that God gave the Law.  Not because he was lying or misleading us.  And he didn’t “edit” things or change his mind later.  He gave us the system that our feeble brains could handle, and now he has fully revealed the purpose and meaning of the Law, freeing us from its tyranny to live by grace in Christ Jesus.

The Law was but a shadow of the perfect reality to come (Heb 10:1).  Now that the perfect reality is here, we may rejoice in him (Jesus Christ) rather than having to follow the Law.

Faith in Quotes II

A man of courage is also full of faith.

— Cicero

Faith in Quotes I

A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.

— Victor Hugo

Betrayed by Presupposition

Presuppositions can work against our understanding in ways that aren’t usually apparent.  Let’s look at one such case.

The presupposition: Uniformitarianism.  This is the thought that everything as we observe it now is exactly how it worked in the past.  The sedimentary layers in rock are read this way, assuming they were uniformly laid down at regular intervals.  So upper layers are new, lower layers are old (sometimes much older).  All due to processes that have never changed since eons past, operating in the same way in the same amounts of time.

This is a contention of naturalism, and is not strictly held by theists.  There are a few exceptions.  Anything existing by necessity, such as God himself or mathematical constructs, won’t change (even after the Fall).  The quantity of “two” is always “two” no matter what numbering system you use to designate it on paper, and equations will always retain certain patterns and properties.  Though a hexadecimal system will differ slightly from a decimal system, and a binary system from the other two, evident patterns will still emerge in all of them (following from the base number of the system).  The Lord doesn’t change, either; he isn’t blown about by the wind.

The second exception would be universal laws.  These are built into the fabric of reality and thus remain unchanged through time.  This includes moral laws–if it’s wrong to sacrifice a child now, it’s always been wrong to sacrifice a child.  Since some cultures practiced that, it means that moral epistemology sometimes must catch up to moral ontology.

According to the Bible, there are differences between things at the outset of creation verses and things as they stand now, due in a large part to the Fall of Man.  After the Fall, some rules changed (as punishment) and creation took on new ways of functioning. Read the rest of this entry

Another Reason I Won’t Debate the Historicity of Jesus Christ

Hard as this may be to believe, there are actually people who don’t believe that there was ever a real, historical Jesus Christ.  Their arguments are on par with people who deny Shakespeare wrote his plays, Holocaust deniers, AIDS deniers, and Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory series.

But they won’t go away.  Worse, probably 95% of the Internet atheist movement counts themselves among those who deny a man named Jesus of Nazareth, described by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and many others ever walked this planet and performed miracles before being sentenced to die on a Roman cross.

I’ve decided that I won’t debate the question of the existence of Jesus anymore.  It’s really not an open question.  No serious scholar of history or of the New Testament, Christian or not, actually questions this issue.  Even scholars of comparative mythology question whether or not Jesus’ stories had their origin in pagan mythology!  In fact, it may be the other way around.

Well, Christians, historians, and non-Christian comparative religious scholars aren’t the only ones who think that the idea Jesus never existed is preposterous.  Of all people, Bart Ehrman, thinks the idea and the arguments supporting it are terrible.  And he tells the Infidel Guy so during an interview:

Atheist: Faith is NOT “Belief Without Evidence”

Finally, an atheist is as irritated as I am over the consistent use of faith to mean, as Dawkins uses it, “belief in the absence of (or in the teeth of) evidence.”  Or, as Mark Twain famously put it, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

Dr. Simon Kolstoe wrote to the editors of Philosophy Now accusing them of using the pejorative definition of faith forwarded by Dawkins et. al. to make fun of religious believers.  Dr. Kolstoe points out that even the wildest conspiracy theory rests at least on bad evidence.  We may not always agree to where the evidence points, he reasons, but let’s agree at least that there is some.

[Faith] is taking the leap from tentatively believing a theory, to using that theory as a working principle. It is not belief in the absence of logic or evidence; it is a belief based upon ‘good enough’ evidence. Such a definition seems far more useful than the impossible definition of ‘ a belief without evidence’, or the rhetorical use as ‘a belief I do not agree with’.

Read the entire letter

What is biblical faith?  Loyalty and trust based on past performance.

Atheism: The Paper Tiger

Robert Kunda has an excellent post on the futility of atheist arguments.  Excerpt:

I was [an atheist]. I joined in all the thoughtless rhetoric. I’ve since grown up (at least in some measure). And I still hear the same nonsensical rants spouted off that I used to, as if Christians have never heard the bumper-sticky slogans before. (It’s worth noting that in many of the debates mentioned, like the overwhelming majority of Christian critics, the Christianity that’s being argued against generally bears little or no resemblance to biblical Christianity. These guys put all this effort into rebutting beliefs no one holds. I believe Christendom as a whole warrants a large portion of the blame for failing to present a cogent description and defense of their faith to the population as a whole.)

Why isn’t atheism very dangerous to Christians with a firm foundation in their faith?  Because “[i]t’s hard to convince someone that someone that they actually know doesn’t actually exist.”

The real threat comes from inside the church!

Read the rest

On Originality and Divine Revelation

Peter Breitbart’s short film A Madman or Something Worse is the latest in a line of criticisms of Jesus’ teachings to carry an unspoken, but integral, underlying assumption that divine revelation must somehow be original in order to truly be divine.

So, I would like to pose the following question: Why must something be original in order to be considered divine revelation?

This criticism isn’t unique to Breitbart.  When I mention a teaching of Jesus or the Bible, the skeptic counters that said teaching predates the Bible or Jesus by centuries.  I see this especially in connection to Jesus’ ethic of reciprocity, the so-called Golden Rule.  This little gem predated Jesus by quite a bit; centuries in fact.

The implication seems to be that if the Bible were truly God’s word, that it would be 100% original.  Or, that if Jesus were the Son of God, he’d say things that no mortal teacher had ever said.

So pointing out that things like the Golden Rule existed well before Jesus is somehow supposed to mean that Jesus isn’t divine.  Or that the Mosaic Law isn’t divinely inspired because similar legal strictures existed 500 or so years earlier in the Code of Hammurabi.

So what?

We humans are made in the image of God.  While every fiber of our being is tainted by sin, the fact of the matter is that we still retain part of this identity as God’s special creation.  And that means that it is possible for us to know morality when we see it, and that means that moral teachings might come from places other than the divinely inspired texts or the words of Jesus.  It is possible that some enlightened individuals, though not divinely inspired in the strictest sense of the term, may have found part of the divine truths by means other than a word from God.  Moreover, they might have discovered them before God revealed them in a divinely inspired teaching.

Given that humans are made in God’s image, this isn’t really unexpected.

Morality is absolute and objective.  Our knowledge of morality can change, but what is right is always right and what is wrong is always wrong.  Child sacrifice is just wrong, whether or not Canaanite society believed it was right and just.  The Holocaust was wrong, whether or not 1930s-1940s German society was overwhelmingly in favor of it.

Morality, therefore, is something that we discover as our knowledge increases; not something subjective that we put to a vote.  Being made in the image of God means that this morality is written on our hearts and that we can gain a greater understanding of it as time passes.  We can find a better path than even the morality on display right now.

And we probably will.

Two thousand years from now, an enlightened society will probably look at America 2011 and think that we are as backwards and as barbaric as we in America 2011 view the ancient Israelites and their Canaanite opposition.

The Bible is the divinely-inspired and objective guidebook to finding this higher morality, but no one is claiming that it is the only source of morality or even the first source of any particular moral teaching.

Now, some folks do claim that the Bible is the source of certain teachings, like the Golden Rule, but they’re misinformed.  Since, however, there’s no reason (given that humans are made in the image of God) to believe that a teaching must be unique to the Bible or to Jesus to be true and divinely inspired, let’s just educate the misinformed person and move on.  Unless the skeptic is prepared to explain why a teaching must be unique in order to be divinely inspired.