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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

It’s apparently the death-knell for all theists: Parasites! Grotesque, painful, life-destroying Parasites!

Take this website for instance (from which the photo is taken). It proudly declares its content to signal “The Death of a Loving God.”

I was part of a debate on Thursday discussing “Is God worthy of worship?”  One of our opponents, crowd-sourcing his material from eager Twitter followers, spent his talk listing some of nature’s ugliest monstrosities.  Horrific diseases and deformities were rattled off in quick succession.  At points he played it for laughs, and he got them.

Which ought to make us think.  If this is really being raised as the “problem of evil” why are comfortable westerners, sipping red wine in an Oxford College, sniggering about such horrors?  Is this stuff really evil?  In which case let’s treat it seriously as a challenge to belief in a good God, recognizing that all of us face such wickedness.  Or is it not really evil?  Is it just a freak-show, an object of macabre fascination, or – God forbid – an exercise in apologetic points-scoring?  If it isn’t actually evil, perhaps the lesson we should learn is ‘Abandon all hope and adjust your expectations accordingly.’  Well, ok.  But a) drop the secret (or not so secret) glee regarding creation’s monstrosities, b) realise you’ve solved the problem of evil but only by losing the right to call it “evil” and c) brace yourself for a much harder intellectual problem: the problem of good (of which, more shortly).

In all this, the greatest mis-step in the parasites conversation is to ignore (often times wilfully) the doctrine of the fall.  To imagine for a moment that we can simply read God from creation is to engage in the kind of paganism roundly condemned in Scripture.  As Francis Spufford says in Unapologetic: 

To anyone inclined to think that nature is God, nature replies: Have a cup of pus, Mystic Boy.

The world is fallen.  It is corrupted, cursed, ‘knocked off its axis’, disconnected from its true Life-source.  To speak of parasites in the world does not put the merest dint in the Christian world-view.  It only supports it.

Think about parasites.  We’re dealing with creatures that are, well, parasitic!  In fact 5 minutes’ meditation on parasites will pretty much give you the Christian doctrine of creation and fall.

These things cause monstrous perversions, hellish corruptions, wicked deviations from what should be.  The disease and death they bring is not Right, it’s wrong.  This is not Light, it’s Darkness.  There is an original and ultimate life-giving source.  And there is a secondary distortion which takes life.

This is the Christian doctrine of creation and fall: an original good perverted into corruption and death.  Good is ultimate, Evil comes later to steal, kill and destroy. The Light is ultimate, the Darkness is a privation of the Light. First there is a straight line from which all crooked lines are corruptions.

But here’s the thing: to judge a line “crooked”, what exactly is “straight”?  And if you want to avoid the conclusion that there is an Original Straightness to things, you might say “Ok, these lines aren’t definitively crooked, it’s just that everything’s messy.” Well ok, fine, but at that point you’re not wrestling with the problem of evil any more.  You’re just saying “Things are messy.  Stuff happens.”

And then you have to face a much greater intellectual hurdle: the problem of good.  You see evil – as a secondary corruption of good – is not intellectually difficult to understand.  (It’s horrifically unpleasant and evokes understandably emotive reactions – but intellectually it’s origins are understandable).  On the other hand, Good – if it’s not original and ultimate – becomes extremely difficult to explain.  This is because Good and Evil are not symmetrically opposite to each other. They are like light and darkness – light can illuminate darkness, darkness cannot darken light.  Darkness is the absence or obscuring of Light in a way that is not true the other way around.

I’m speaking of light and darkness figuratively here, but they are powerful illustrations:  When the Christian is asked “Where does the darkness come from?”  They answer: “From a turning away from the light.”  When the atheist is asked “Where does the light come from?” the answer “From the darkness” seems absurdly improbable.  If light does exist then it needs to be there from the beginning.  But this is the Christian account of reality.

The atheists are right: parasites are powerful illustrations of the problem of evil.  But they’re also a perfect analogy for how evil works.  It works derivatively off of good.  But once you’ve said that, you’ve essentially told the Christian story of the world.  There’s something Good and Life-giving and something came along to spoil it.

From Creation and Fall, the Christian can explain both good and evil.  But if our “creation story” is effectively: “slime + struggle + selfishness” with no injection of an original Good, it’s quite a stretch to end up with “selves, sentience and symphonies.”

Parasites are horrible.  As they work their way through the eye-ball of an 8 year old boy we are appalled.  This is not simply painful, not simply ugly, not simply maladapted to life – it is wrong. 

But let’s also remember, parasites are parasites!  There can’t be parasites “all the way down“.  No, there is an ultimate and original Good by which to judge these things evil.  And the Christian can hate this evil with a holy and almighty antipathy for we are seeing the work of God’s enemy – an enemy Christ opposes with every drop of His own blood.  We do not shrug our shoulders or snigger or adapt ourselves to the inevitable.  We call evil evil and we fight it.

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On Saturday a friend told me he could never be much of a witness in the workplace because… (notice where his thinking begins)… if he entered into debate, he’d only end up losing the arguments.  I, on the other hand, would (he imagined) wipe the floor with their non-Christian reasoning and establish the unassailable right-ness of Christian truth.  And… (at this point the details became hazy)… somehow his work colleagues would then bow to the superior intellectual credibility of the gospel, and… I dunno… become Christians?

Yeah, at that point the fantasy goes completely bonkers.  But the opening assumptions are powerful.  And they shape the way we think about evangelism.  Essentially “being a witness” at work means – in the popular Christian imagination – being able to “hold your own” in discussions of stem-cell research and providing a Christian response to Euro-zone debt.  Or at least it means being able to bridge seamlessly from discussions of popular culture to gospel truths.  And, frankly, few people are up to that.  I’m not really up to that and I’m paid to be.

But here are some things I told my friend…

What if the goal is not to win the arguments in the workplace?  What if the goal is to be the kind of work colleague who others would open up to in a crisis?  Because, let’s face it, the person who’s good at winning arguments aint always the person you’d confide in when your life’s falling apart. In fact, scratch that.  They almost never are!

I think that’s a vital and fundamental change that needs to happen in our thinking.  The key characteristic of “a good witness” needs to be someone who hurting people can confide in.  Once we’re thinking in those categories, evangelism in the workplace becomes a different beast.

Now the aim is to be a person who’s known as a Christian, who seems to have something different about them, who loves people, who has an integrity, an openness, a pastoral heart and who has something different to say.  Note – it’s not that they have to be contrary, nor that they have to be “right”, nor that they have to be heard, just that when they do speak, they seem to come from a different angle than the ‘wisdom of the world.’  In other words – our aim in being a witness in the workplace is… wait for it… to be a Christian.

This is not to make being a witness easy.  It’s not (because being a Christian isn’t easy).  But hopefully it simplifies our aims.  And now, if you want some strategies for offering distinctive speech as a Christian, how about sitting down and thinking about how you’d finish these introductory sentences…

“Yeah, that’s what I love about Jesus.  He’s constantly…”

“To be honest, that’s why I’m a Christian.  What really appealed was…”

“We thought about that at my church last Sunday.  There’s this story in the bible where…”

“Actually my church is really different like that.  When such and such happened, they responded…”

“When I suffered X, the one thing that got me through was…”

If you can’t finish off those sentences, the issue is not that you’re a bad evangelist.  If you can’t finish those sentences it’s because you’ve forgotten what you have in Jesus.  And together with a Christian friend or two, perhaps you need to remind one another.  Being able to finish those sentences will do your Christian life the world of good.  And, by the by, it will also help your witness.

The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Matthew 12:34)

 

 

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So stimulating.  Read in full here.

Nietzsche claims, humanism won’t plug the gap [left by the “death of God”]. All humanism does is substitute one useless form of transcendence (Man) for another (God). The death of God therefore has to herald the death of Man as well. You can’t just swap one fetish for another. This is why the Übermensch signifies the kind of transformed humanity which would flow from genuinely accepting the death of God. It’s the reckless, exuberant, self-delighting existence of those who are able to celebrate a life without foundations – the cavalier insouciance of those spiritual aristocrats who have the courage to risk a life without guarantees. The Overman or Meta-Man is the one who can peer into the fathomless pit of the nothingness of God without being turned to stone.  He (never a she, for Nietzsche) is the ecstatic creature who sings and dances at the very thought that his existence is every bit as mortal, fragile, ungrounded, arbitrary and contingent as a modernist work of art.

The only problem is that all this sounds rather like Christianity, which isn’t quite what Nietzsche had in mind. For the New Testament, as for Also sprach Zarathustra, the only good God is a dead one. For Christianity as for Nietzsche, the death of God in the figure of a tortured political criminal known as Jesus means not replacing God with humanity, but the advent of a transfigured humanity. For Christianity too, God is an abyss of sheer nothingness, absolutely no kind of entity at all, a groundless ground; and to say that we are created is to say that our existence is absolutely non-essential, that we might perfectly well have never been. Such existence is pure gift, sheer gratuity and contingency, a radical end in itself, a supreme acte gratuite – self-founding, self-grounding and self-delighting. Just as God exists for absolutely no purpose beyond himself, so human beings are fashioned to live in this way too, to be at their best when they are as gloriously pointless as a work of art. A just social order is one which would allow men and women to be in this sense ends in themselves, not means to another’s power or profit. God, as Aquinas sees, is the power that allows us to be autonomous. Thinking that faith in God puts firm foundations beneath your feet, rather than shattering them, is the delusion of fundamentalists…

So Nietzsche and Christianity, those supposedly sworn antagonists, actually agree on an embarrassing amount. (Embarrassing for Nietzsche, anyway). Nietzsche believes that we can’t be free unless we can get out from under the patriarchal Nobodaddy (as William Blake calls him) known as God. But of course the New Testament believes just the same. Seeing God as judge, patriarch and accuser is what is meant in scripture by Satan – the Satanic image of God, the God who will beat the shit out of us. And since we’re all inveterate masochists, cravenly in thrall to the Law, or to what Freud knows as the death drive, this is exactly what we secretly hanker for. We’ll gladly tear ourselves apart as long as there’s enough gratification in it for us. This is the terrible, lethal nexus of law and desire – which is also, as it happens, the chief subjectmatter of psychoanalysis. Those who are eternally trapped in this closed circuit, in which law and desire feed endlessly, fruitlessly off one another, are traditionally said to be in hell. The figure of the tortured and executed Jesus is the overthrowing of the Satanic image of God, for God as friend, lover, victim, counsel for the defence, fellow accused and flayed flesh and blood. It replaces the Satanic God not with humanity at its most triumphant, as rationalist humanism does, but with humanity at its most torn and vulnerable.

And this is what Nietzsche can’t stomach. It’s here, not over the death of God, that he and the Gospel part company most decisively. Because weakness, suffering and mortality for him are simply part of a ghoulish, morbid religious conspiracy to bring low the noble, heroic and life-affirming. He forgets that Jesus never once counsels the sick to reconcile themselves to their afflictions. On the contrary, he seems to regard such suffering as evil, and is out to abolish it. Nietzsche forgets, too, that any power which is not rooted in a solidarity with human creatureliness and fragility, with the raw fact of our bodily finitude, will never prove durable or effective enough. That this is so is one of the lessons of tragedy, an art-form which fascinated Nietzsche himself for quite different reasons.

And so in the end Nietzsche is less revolutionary than the New Testament. Like some demented health-club proprietor, he can’t stop worshipping vigour, robustness and virility, or seeing failure as sickly and shameful. Like those Americans who hate a loser, he doesn’t see that what matters is failure, not success – that Jesus is a sick joke of a Saviour, that in every human sense his mission is an embarrassing, abysmal failure, that the notion of a crucified Messiah would have been a horrendous, unspeakable scandal and blasphemy to the pious Jews of his day. In the end, Nietzsche disowns the deepest insight of tragedy – that, as W.B. Yeats puts it, ‘nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent’.

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Beginnings

Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species in 1859.  Up until then, said Richard Dawkins,  atheism was “logically tenable” but from Darwin onwards you could be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (The Blind Watchmaker).  Notice that philosophy might give you tenable arguments, but biology is the place for true intellectual fulfillment… according to this biologist anyway…

With the discovery of natural selection, biologists had a naturalistic explanation for the existence of brilliantly adapted (and therefore apparently designed) species, populating an intricate and flourishing bio-sphere.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s say that the whole thing is explained according to this process (I mean it’s a bit like the old saying “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, but let’s go with the argument).  Let’s imagine it explains the whole variation and adaptation of life on the planet. What we have here is a mechanism explaining the origin of species.

Notice first that mechanism says nothing about agency – a point John Lennox makes well in places like here.

But notice, second, that we’re talking merely of the origin of species.  There are other origins questions to ask.  Like – the origin of the cosmos, the origin of life (natural selection assumes the existence of life) and the origin of consciousness.  These are not at all suited to explanations via natural selection and yet they pose even more fundamental questions for us.  So if an atheist claims to have origins questions sewn up, tell them they have, at best, a mechanism to explain one of the least interesting of the origins questions.

Before Beginnings

It’s not just beginnings that are fascinating.  What about before the beginnings?  What are we assuming pre-existed these origins questions?

As we’ve just noted, natural selection assumes the pre-existence of ‘life.’  But when it comes to the even bigger origins questions, what about the pre-existence of things like  laws of physics, logic and mathematics.  Every attempted naturalistic explanation for ‘beginnings’ assumes plenty about ‘before beginnings.’ Take, for example, Hawking’s book from 2 years ago which said:

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,”

Besides the logical incoherence of the universe self-creating, we have here pre-existing ‘laws’.  We have an ordered, self-consistent reality calling the tune for all the cosmos.  Gravity is chief among the gods as he bosses around lesser deities like time, matter and energy, which in turn war to create the cosmos as we know it.

Now Christians also have beliefs about before the beginning.   We believe in the pre-existence of Persons, of love, of minds, of purpose.  And these Persons have brought forth laws, time, matter and energy.  It was not matter that made minds, but minds that made matter.

When you consider that every minute of our waking life we’re confronted in technicolour by the reality of persons, love, minds and purpose.  In fact, everything we hold dear consists of persons, love, minds and purpose.  What should we believe about ultimate reality – about before beginnings?  Gravity reigning as supreme being?  Or love?

We shouldn’t fear questions of beginnings.  And we should positively pursue questions about before beginnings.

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Here’s a video released today by the British Humanist Association:

Below is the transcript with some comments from me:

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An Introduction to Humanism

Rumy Hasan: It’s important to realise that one can live a fulfilling life without religion – where the focus is on human beings.

Many religions do in fact put the focus very firmly on human beings.  So how is “religion” being used by you and in this video?

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AC Grayling: Humanism of course is not a religion.  It’s something which bases itself on a common-sensical view of the world. It’s an open-eyed view.  It takes seriously the facts about human beings and their experiences and tries to do the best on that basis.

From the descriptions following, humanism sounds very much like a religion.  It doesn’t sound like Christianity, but, sheesh, get a load of the moralising below.

It’s a good and right concern to want to be open-eyed, truth-seekers.  But there are some underlying assumptions here.  There’s an assumption that we can un-blind ourselves from our ignorance (through clear thinking?), that we know where our blind spots lie and can get perspective (notice how Grayling claims the commonsensical high-ground – he and the humanist fraternity are the ones who see).  There’s also an assumption about what kind of truth lies out there.  If the truth consists purely in facts to be discovered within the world by empirical studies then go for your life.  But you’ve pre-judged what kind of truth you can discover by pre-judging what kind of truth you believe already exists.

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Polly Toynbee: A humanist sees the world as infinitely precious and quite extraordinary and almost miraculous.

Of course you do.  We are all worshippers who are awed by something.  If you aren’t awed by God, of course you’re awed by the world.

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Tim Minchin: I think humanism is important because having a non-superstitious world-view allows you to go about your own business, making ethical choices based on a general desire to do the most possible good.

Having gotten rid of God, the humanist can now get on with the important business of doing good.  Again, this is not Christianity (which rather swaps “our goodness” for God), but it is distinctly religious in flavour.

There’s an excellent comment on the video from a free-thinker, Ontologistics: “As Nietzsche showed, Humanism is part of the Christian legacy. The word “good” is bandied about in this video without explanation or sanction, because it cannot be sanctioned. A freethinker will in fact adopt a Nihilist view, as this does not require belief in some supernatural, metaphysical “good”.  I.e. Humanism exchanges “God” for “good”, both of which are delusions. In this sense, it comes close to being a religion.”

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Philip Pullman: I view the world as a place where I am extremely lucky to have been born and to have a consciousness because there are so many wonderful things to be conscious of.

Well you’re either absurdly lucky or there’s consciousness behind the cosmos.  A consciousness that arises from a mindless cosmos is quite a turn of luck indeed.

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Zoe Margolis: We can be decent human beings and love and care and support each other and not expect a fantasy to fulfil our hopes and our dreams when we can actually live them in this lifetime.

Well I suppose rich westerners, if they’re talented and lucky enough, can live a few, very limited dreams.  But this comment seems to be a plea for dreaming smaller.

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Isn’t it sad to think there is no after-life?

Andrew Copson:   Some people worry that a view of death as being the total and final end of life can be depressing.  They think it would be a more comforting thought that life went on.  But I think, and many other humanists think, that, rather than robbing life of its meaning, giving a finality to the story of your life actually imbues it with greater meaning.

Or, put it this way: Either we are taken seriously as a creature of eternal significance in the eyes of One who gives everything meaning, or we are a rational animal soon to expire and become compost.

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Richard Dawkins:  If there’s something frightening about death, it’s the idea of eternity. Something about everything just going on forever and ever and ever. That’s a frightening thought.  And it’s just as frightening if you’re there as if you’re not.

If there’s something frightening about death.”?  If?  There’s a disturbing lack of reality to this approach to death.

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Rumy Hasan: It just means that we have this life and we make the most of it.  If anything that’s a positive.  So we don’t say “Ah well, you know if we muck it up in this life, we have an afterlife.”  The onus is on us to lead better lives in this life.

Spoken like a true religionist.

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How can humanists live ethical lives without religion?

Philip Pullman: The morality question is another one where people think, “Well we’ve got to have religion or we’ll all be immoral.”  That’s a very shallow and hasty way of thinking it seems to me.  There are all sorts of guides to morality.

No doubt!  Some good and some bad wouldn’t you say?  And who’s to arbitrate?  Really, who?

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A.C. Grayling: People often think that you can’t have morals unless there is a god to enforce them somehow.  Look at classical antiquity, nearly 1000 years before Christianity became the official outlook of Europe, you have people who base their morality on reason.

Sure.  They base morality on an approach to reason.  But I doubt that Grayling adopts, wholesale, their morality or their account of reason.

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Philip Pullman: There are enormous tracts, ranges, mountain ranges of meaning that our available to us without our needing to go to the Bible for them.

…and the Bible encourages us to explore them

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Tim Minchin: I guess humanism is the beginning of a life of trying to live well and be good. And the thought that, you know, some mistranslated off-translated doctrine to tell you that that’s a good way to live is not just surprising but slightly abhorrent to me.  If you can have something that’s slightly abhorrent…

Again, Minchin reveals his deeply religious outlook – “trying to live well and be good.”  If any Christians are flirting with atheism because you can’t stand the moralism of your church – take a long hard look at humanism.  The only escape from moralism is the gospel!

And it’s not so much that Christians need a divine command to know what’s good.  That’s not our position.  Far more we say, “‘good’ depends on an understanding of reality shot through with the glory of Christ.”  “Good” corresponds to “God” in a profoundly personal way.  The good life is love of God and love of neighbour and it goes with the grain of a whole universe charged with His beauty.  Nothing abhorrent here.

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Rumy Hasan: The humanist views the world in a rational manner.  It’s wondrous, it’s astonishing, awe inspiring, yes at times fearsome.  But a humanist says “well let’s try and understand the world”

Yes, let’s try and understand the world.  And in a rational manner.  But rationalism will shrink your view, not expand it.

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Why might a humanist hold science in particularly high regard?

Andrew Copson: If you believe that we live in a universe which is a natural phenomenon which behaves according to certain discoverable natural laws and norms then of course the only way of finding out true facts about reality is through the scientific endeavour.

Wow.

First notice the premise: “If you believe…”  This is an inescapable fact of all enquiries – we’re all involved in faith seeking understanding.  But it’s nice to see Copson admitting it.

Second, these “discoverable natural laws and norms” – do they ever make you think?  Especially since they correspond to that consciousness we all love?  You seem to take these as a given.  Shouldn’t you be more curious about the ways of this world, wondering at “laws and norms” as part of this “natural phenomenon”?

Thirdly – and most outrageously – “the only way of finding out true facts”?  The only way??  For a start, this sentence has not been the outcome of the scientific method – it’s the result of certain beliefs.  So what the heck??  This amounts to something like: True facts are entirely the domain of the scientific endeavour (except for these self-justifying assertions that prop it up, in which case bad philosophy will do the trick nicely).

Fourthly, we see here a humanist side-lining the humanities.  Humanism de-humanizes.

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A.C. Grayling: Humanists hold science in very high regard because science is the careful open-minded approach to trying to understand the world and human beings in it.  It’s a method of critical enquiry which is always ready to change its mind when better facts come along.

Good.  And in its own limited way it works well.  But science is set up as a naturalistic endeavour to study naturalistic phenomena.  Let’s discover all the facts we can in this way.  But let’s never think we’ve discovered the totality of reality via these methods (there’s also things like goodness, truth, beauty, love).  And if you want to pronounce on God, you’ll have to study Him via a method suited to His own self-revelation – i.e. you’ll have to listen to His Word.  If you won’t do that, I question how ready to change your mind you really are.

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Polly Toynbee: It is a method of communication from one generation to another building on layers of knowledge and layers of knowledge on a really solid foundation.

What solid foundation is that?  Or should I say Whose solid foundation is that?  The firm ground on which the scientific endeavour stands relies on the intelligibility of nature.  The self-consistency of these laws and norms.  Their consistency throughout creation.  Their correspondence with our own minds.  Humanists are glad for these  foundations, but humanism doesn’t give them to us.

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Richard Dawkins: Science is not only the way to go if you want to discover the truth about something, science is also wonderful, science actually exposes how wonderful the universe is and what a wonderful privilege it is that every one of us has the opportunity to understand the universe in which we live: where we came from, why we exist and where we’re going.  It’s just a wonderful, thrilling experience to immerse yourself in modern science. It’s a poetic experience.  Science is the poetry of reality

We begin with self-refuting nonsense about science being the way to discover truth (science didn’t tell him this!).  We end with the flourish: “science is the poetry of reality.”  Garbage.  Science is the appreciation of a poetry that’s already there.  That’s a hugely important distinction.  Because in the space of one sentence Dawkins has claimed science as the arbiter of truth and beauty.  Stunning!

But let’s get some perspective.  There’s truth that’s out there to be discovered.  There’s beauty that’s out there to be appreciated.  And science has role in uncovering it.  But the biggest question remains – and it remains beyond the scope of scientific endeavour – what on earth is truth and beauty doing out there?

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What is the humanist view on human nature?

Andrew Copson: One of the natural consequences of humanism, of the idea that the human race is one species, of the idea that every individual member of that species is a bearer of the dignity that humanity gives us, is a general spirit of inclusiveness and that’s always characterised humanist thinking.

So the human race is one species (among 15 000 other species of mammals).  And apparently this confers a certain unspecified dignity on us.  In fact, humanity itself confers on each one of us this undefined dignity….  How does that work then?  This seems to amount to the claim that we are humans and not puffins.  And every human is a human and not a puffin.  And this is our basis for equality and inclusivism.  To be honest, I can think of firmer foundations.

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Zoe Margolis: Unlike many religions which are unfortunately about repressing sexuality and having very anti-female and homophobic perspectives, humanism offers an alternative which is actually inclusive.

Without the gospel, all inclusivism works according to a certain ethic.  Some are in, some are out.  You’re not preaching a new inclusivism, you’re just preaching a new ethic.  Jesus came to bring true inclusivism – we’re invited to His table as sinners (outsiders!) and, through an acknowledgement that we’re all law-breakers, we’re brought into true community.

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A.C. Grayling: Humanists begin to think about the good and flourishing life on the basis of their best understanding of how things are for human beings. But that does not mean that it’s got a particular line, a particular doctrine, that everyone has to fall in with.  In fact it demands of people that they think for themselves.

I dunno A.C., some of your friends here seem to be pushing some quite particular lines.  And let’s face it, you all have a very firm line on the nature of humanity, the kind of truth you are seeking and the way you discover and verify it.

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Polly Toynbee: We have power in our hands to make our life and our society and our world better. We don’t stand to ask, there’s nobody else, no good getting on knees begging for someone else to do something, it’s just up to us.

 Yep.  Sounds like religion to me.  And a religion for the strong, the rich and the brave.

But if you’re not up to the BHA’s religious regime, I’ve got good news for you.  There’s a way to be a true humanist.  At Christmas we sing the line “Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”  Eternally our God has pledged Himself to man.  Forevermore our Lord has become Man – the truly inclusive Man – the man for all humanity.   And He’s for you.

Some just focus on humanity, some just focus on God-myths and after-lifes – in both cases you’ll lose a true vision for humanity.  But in the God-Man you’ll find true humanity.  He will liberate you from the self-justifying burden of being good and He’ll send you out into the world to rejoice in the truth and beauty that reflects His character.  There is a poetry to this world, and He’s the Poet.

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Have you ever heard this kind of claim from an atheist:

Unlike you theists, I am open to change.  All you need to do is show me the evidence and I’ll confess on the spot that I was wrong.  If you can prove God I will switch sides.  You theists on the other hand obstinately cling on to the God hypothesis no matter what the evidence.  You call this irrationality “faith.”

How to respond?

Do we say “No I’m very open to change, I just think the evidence is better on our side”?

That might sound tempting.  After all it has the air of intellectual credibility about it (if, ironically, you don’t think about it too long).  And it’s the least we could do seeing as the atheist has been so even-handed with “the evidence.”  Besides, what hope is there for genuine dialogue if we’re not open to change?

Well let’s slow down a second.  What kind of openness is being claimed by the atheist?

Doesn’t their claim amount to:

I, the neutral observer, will accept  the God hypothesis if and only if naturalistic evidence meets my criteria.  And of course such acceptance will be eternally tentative, since opposing evidence may arise to dis-prove the God hypothesis.

Let me ask some questions about those bolded phrases…

Are you really a neutral observer?  Is the scientific community, religious community or indeed the human race collectively a neutral observer?  How could you ever know?  What tests could you perform to figure out whether, when it comes to God, humanity suppresses the truth?

If you are assessing ‘the God hypothesis’, are your investigations being carried out in a way proper to the object of your study.  I.e. is God really a ‘hypothesis’ to be tested?  And if you think he is, the question must be asked, Which god are you talking about?  Because it doesn’t sound like the God of the Bible.  If, on the other hand, God is a Self-Revealing Speaker, doesn’t “scientific investigation” look very different?  i.e. Wouldn’t a proper correspondence to this Object of enquiry entail listening to His Word?

Who gets to decide what is “evidence”?  Does the Bible count?  Does it count on its own terms, or only when filtered through other tests?  What about encountering Christ spiritually through Scripture or worship?  Wouldn’t that be quite a  “knock-down” proof – for some even literally!  Is this evidence allowed at the bar?

Even if you are a neutral observer, even if God is a hypothesis that could be tested and even if the evidence you demand is the right kind of evidence – will you really ‘become a believer’ on the basis of this evidence?  Surely, to be consistent with your methods, you will merely line up with the God-hypothesis-camp until a better hypothesis comes along?  This is nothing like what Christians mean by “faith in God.”

Therefore in what sense are you open to change?  Admittedly, you are open to reshaping certain of your views – and that is a very laudable thing. Few ever do it, so such openness is indeed commendable.  But the openness of which you speak is set within a tightly de-limited, pre-established epistemological system (i.e. system of gaining knowledge).

And if that’s your definition of “open” then the Christian is at least as open.  If you show me convincing evidence about a pre-millennial return of Christ (to choose an intra-mural Christian dispute of secondary importance) then I hope I’m open enough to change.  I hope I am.  Obviously, people are biased, obstinate, self-justifying fools by nature (the Bible told us that long before science did), so it might be an uphill battle, but allow me to declare my willingness to change.

So there you are.  I’m open.

Of course, at this stage, the atheist says: “That’s not openness to change!  That’s just redecorating the exact same house.”  To which I say, “Pretty much!  But then, a tentative assent to the God-hypothesis is also just re-decoration.  The foundations and structure of your beliefs would remain exactly the same.”

You might rate yourself as a De-Facto Theist on Richard Dawkins’ scale, but it’s your commitments to a naturalistic method of knowledge that are really God for you.

To inflexibly hold pre-commitments about yourself, your object of enquiry, your method of enquiry and your criteria of judgement is to be “open” in only a very limited sense.   But here’s the thing… pre-commitments about Me and God and the World and how I know things are absolutely inescapable!  I can’t even begin to think without at least a shadow of an opinion on these things.

Which means none of us are very open.  There is no neutral space between the Christian position and the naturalistic position.  There is only conversion – i.e. a radical re-ordering of my view of self and God and the world.

Does this shut down all conversation?  Absolutely not!  This is the beginning of genuine conversation.  Now that we know where we all stand (and both Christians and atheists are regularly deluded about this), real interaction can happen.  How?  I say “Come on over to my house.  Let me show you around.  For a time, come in on my foundations, my vision of God and self and how to know things.  Experience the world from within these commitments.  See if life doesn’t make more sense.  See if you don’t confess that Jesus really is the deepest Truth”  And, by the same token, you can say to me “Come over to my house.  Allow me to show you the Magic of Reality as I see it.  Experience the world from within these commitments.”

There’s great hope for fruitful engagement (though this is a real statement of faith, I acknowledge!).  I believe that there is plenty to be said on the other side of an acknowledgement of our radical differences.  But let’s be honest enough to state our differences.  It’s not a case of simply assessing mutually agreed-upon evidence with the obvious tools for the job.  It’s about show-casing different visions of reality.

This doesn’t mean we cast stones at each other’s “houses” or dig into our entrenched positions.  Instead it’s a call to hospitality.  Let’s love our neighbours.

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Still in Africa, back in a couple of days.  Here’s one I first posted two years ago…

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the “rat’s rectum” comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins’ site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  “Logic” was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one – being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn’t seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what’s true because it’s proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources – ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn’t happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There’s faith for you.  Which leads to…
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for ‘evidence’.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I’d point to Christ risen from the dead, second I’d simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say “everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you.”
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it’s saying: “Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time.”
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren’t falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It’s their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of “science alone” to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn’t seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven’s 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was “beautiful” was a verdict they couldn’t make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of “the onward march of science”, demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for “evidence, evidence” were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm – to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better – a new love.
  12. The call for “evidence, evidence” in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as ‘evidence’ for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I’m ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren’t that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I’ve been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American ‘de-converted’ evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the “all Christians are bigots” tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they’ve heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I’m sure just ‘listened’.  My time at Speaker’s Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you’re aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it’s powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that’s there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we’re surprised and outraged let’s get a grip – no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the “stinking, sliding, scuttling” floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He’s the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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  1. Through Christ, the Triune God has already revealed Himself unmistakably in every aspect of creation so that humanity is without excuse.
  2. Against Christ, humanity has taken knowledge into its own hands and so barred the door against all claims from above.
  3. In view of Christ, God has handed humanity over to its chosen futility, locking the door from His side too.
  4. In Christ, God has entered this prison and manifested His eternal glory in time and space, even in human flesh.
  5. As Christ, humanity now has a perfect mind with which to comprehend God (and everything else) – one that is not only human but also in God.
  6. Out of Christ, His Spirit has been poured to incorporate us into the Man who knows.

This is what has already happened.

Here’s what happens when we forget 1:

We think:

  • That the universe is basically mute (when actually it’s preaching day and night)
  • That humanity is not really deaf – they’re listening hard but the sermon’s too quiet
  • That we, therefore, have to piece together proofs to amplify the sermon
  • That ‘evidence’ for God exists only in some limited aspects of the creation (e.g. fine-tuning)
  • That there are certain obvious pointers to “God” but ‘Jesus’ and ‘Trinity’ are actually pretty obscure
  • Therefore, that evangelism is a three-part process from creation to God to Jesus. (It’s the very opposite!)

Here’s what happens when we forget 2:

We think:

  • That humanity (or at least some humans) are actually truth seekers
  • That the mind is somehow less fallen than the rest of the person (rather than the centre of our enmity)
  • That fallen humanity is genuinely questing after the capital-T Truth when it makes its enquiries
  • That the way forward is to agree to their own systems of truth verification
  • Therefore that we need to find ‘evidence’ to submit to their systems

Here’s what happens when we forget 3:

We think:

  • Perhaps if our faulty grasping after knowledge was the problem, our true grasping after knowledge will be the solution. (Instead we should realize that the grasping was the problem!)
  • If we now reason properly we can reverse the fall. (But no, God has confirmed our decision and locked the door from His side).
  • Maybe God is pleased by our efforts to ascend to knowledge (rather than thwarting them – catching the ‘wise’ in their craftiness)
  • Maybe God will aid our efforts to shepherd an unbeliever up the mountain. (In His grace, He might aid the unbeliever but not our efforts)

Here’s what happens when we forget 4:

We think:

  • Christ is the cherry on the epistemological cake.
  • We can (or even should) reason from creation to Christ (rather than Christ to creation).
  • Christ is one relevation among many (rather than the one Lens through which all must be seen)

Here’s what happens when we forget 5:

We think:

  • There remains within Adamic humanity a capacity for knowing God (rather than realizing that this capacity lies in Christ alone).
  • That the quality of our conversion, or ongoing knowledge of God, finally depends on our own reasoned response to God.  (At base it relies on Christ’s reasoned response to God).
  • Christians are rational individuals raised to a higher intellectual plain (rather than fools united to a Person who is Wisdom).
  • Once we have come to Christ we can know God autonomously.  (No, only in Him by the Spirit can we go on knowing God)

Here’s what happens when we forget 6:

We think:

  • Maybe we need Jesus to bring us to God, but it’s up to us to get to Jesus.  (No, it’s the sovereign work of the Spirit through the gospel word).
  • Maybe there are ways and means to get to Jesus apart from the Spirit-empowered word.  (No.  While the whole universe screams ‘Jesus is Lord’, the Spirit unblinds our eyes to these things only as He shows us Christ in the word).

…………………………………..

So then, these six events have already happened.  Acting like they haven’t happened or they need bolstering by our own efforts betrays the gospel that we proclaim.

The only thing that needs to happen now and the only thing that can happen now to remedy our situation is for the Spirit to sweep the unbeliever up into the Son’s knowledge of the Father.

And, lest we divorce the Spirit from the word, the only means by which the Spirit does that is the gospel word.

So get proclaiming.

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I first published this a week after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010…

Since the earthquake – more than one million have died worldwide.  150 000 per day.  Every day without fail a Haiti-sized disaster strikes.  This is not to play down the horror of this crisis.  It’s to awaken us to a daily horror that we accept all too readily.  56 million people – that’s almost the whole UK population – return to dust every year.  And I will be one of those statistics.  Sometime this century.  I live on a fault line every bit as treacherous as the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone.  No house could ever be structurally sound enough.  This world will be the death of me.

‘Not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down’ said Jesus about the house of God (Mark 13:2).  This was just the start of a top-down judgement.  First the flesh and blood House of God was torn apart on the cross.  Then the brick and mortar house of God in AD70.  One day it will be God’s house – the whole cosmos – that comes crashing down.  The stars from the heavens, the sky torn in two, the moon turned to blood.  It’s scheduled for demolition.

Can you imagine how the disciples would have viewed the temple after Mark 13?  For the next 40 years they would visit the temple (e.g. Acts 2:46) but they would never again be taken in by its ‘massive stones’ and ‘magnificent buildings (Mark 13:1).  They knew it was about to be shaken to its foundations.

We know that earth and heaven will be shaken (Heb 12:27-28).  And in the meantime, we see portents.  Earthquakes (Mark 13:8).  This is the world that we know.  Tsunamis destroy, volcanoes erupt, plagues devour, cyclones flatten, wildfires rage and the very earth upon which we stand quakes.

But here’s a surprise.  Jesus doesn’t call these ‘death-throes’.  He calls them ‘birth-pains’. (Mark 13:8)  Because the demolition to which we are heading is, in fact, a palingenesia – the renewal of all things. (Matt 19:28)  This top-down judgement is for the sake of a top-down resurrection.

We’re heading towards ‘the end’ – the goal of all things (Mark 13:7,13); summer (v27); the cloud of His presence (v26); gathering (v27) and the power and glory of the Son of Man (v26).  We’re heading for a new heavens and new earth – a kingdom that ‘cannot be shaken’ (Heb 12:28).

May this earthquake awaken true compassion in us – (here are some places to give money).  May the Body of Christ speak boldly of the Redeemer from all evil (Genesis 48:16) and demonstrate His suffering love in the midst.

But may we also reconsider our own precarious position.  This ground is not solid.  Not right now anyway.  It will be shaken and it groans under the weight of sin and curse.  It will rise up to strike me down and swallow me whole.  Yet so often I marvel at the ‘massive stones’ and’ magnificent buildings’ of ‘this present evil age.’  I cosy up in the demolition site.

May we wake again to the reality of a whole world under judgement.  May seeing these deaths re-ignite our hatred of death.  Every day the tragedy of Haiti is repeated the world over.  But mostly we try to ignore that the last enemy is swallowing everything we love!  Let us wake up and snort with indignation at the grave the way Jesus did (John 11:33-38).

And then, through the lens of His resurrection may we look to the most audacious hope – a new Haiti, secure, prosperous, radiant, gathered under the wings of the Son of Man, every tear wiped away by the Father Himself.

The non-Christian can hope for nothing greater than ‘safer’ buildings on the same old fault line.  And as they labour admirably for this, many will ask why God does not seem to be cooperating with their desire to pretty up the demolition site.  They plan to build some lovely houses on this sand and they imagine God to be standing in the way of their saving purposes.  Of course it’s the other way around.  And of course it’s we who have a small view of redemption.

The Lord has a salvation so audacious He can call earthquakes ‘birth-pains’.  (As can Paul – Rom 8:22).  Certainly they are birth-pains.  But they are birth-pains.  Jesus has a redemption so all-embracing that it will include even these evils.  It won’t simply side-step Haiti, or make the best of a bad situation, it will (somehow!) lift Haiti through this calamity and birth something more glorious out of the pain.

We know this because Jesus began the cosmic shake-down with His own destruction.  And He was perfected through this suffering (Heb 2:10).  His death (Matt 27:54) and His resurrection (Matt 28:2) were attended by earthquakes – they were the original earth-shattering events.  And through this death and resurrection was birthed a new creation reality beyond death and decay (1 Cor 15:54-57).  Where the Head has gone, we will follow, and the whole creation with us.  And as Christ bears and exalts the wounds of His own suffering into eternity, somehow the evils of this last week will also be caught up into resurrection glory.

I don’t pretend to know how and I don’t pretend that this answers our grief or our questions.  It’s the answer of faith and not sight.  But, unlike the answer according to ‘sight’, this answer takes us deeper into the tragedy – we all face this fate (Luke 13:4-5!).  And it points us much higher to its redemption.

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My sermon on Mark 13 from last year

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It was six years ago yesterday that Stephen Fry wrote a now famous letter to a fan on the subject of depression.  You can read the whole thing here.

In the letter he likens depression to the weather:

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.

BUT

It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’S CONTROL. Not one’s fault.

BUT

They will pass: they really will.

Spoken like a true believer!  Indeed, spoken like the Christian author Tolkien: “it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer.”

But Fry isn’t a Christian and he doesn’t believe that “this shadow” is a passing thing at all.  If Fry was consistent he’d say,

‘The sun will come out and then go back in, and then explode and consume the earth in a terrifying fireball.  None of this is under your control.  But everything will, most certainly, get worse.

All the best,

Stephen.’

I really like Fry’s letter.  I think it was wonderfully thoughtful and very helpful.  Be he has a choice.  He can have his atheism or he can have an answer to depression.  He can’t have both.

And for Christians, surely this is the ground on which to engage atheism: pastoral theology!

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Does God exist? And if so, how does He fit with science?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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What happens when you die?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Why is there so much suffering?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Why doesn’t God accept everyone? (Why is there a hell?)

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Does God even exist?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Aren’t all religions basically the same?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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How can you believe when religions cause so many wars?

Audio  Text

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Why bother with Christianity (as opposed to other religions)?

Audio  Text

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This time rip-offs from Mike Reeves, Tim Keller and Alex Banfield-Hicks.

Go to askeastbourne.com for all the talks from the three evenings.

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Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Here’s my first talk from Ask Eastbourne.

I ripped off stuff from Vaughan Roberts, Lee McMunn, Mike Reeves,  CS Lewis and probably others too!

 

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Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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We’re in the middle of Ask Eastbourne at the moment – please be praying that folks keep coming and trust in Jesus.

Here’s a section of tonight’s talk I’ll have to leave on the cutting room floor.  I’m speaking about “What happens when we die?”

With Jesus we have the only gracious Judge the world has ever conceived.  I want to be very clear here: There is only ONE gracious Judge and His name is Jesus.

That’s a bold statement I know, but I thought I’d put it to the test by considering the top 5 spiritual beliefs in the world.  Let’s compare what they believe about judgement.

Christianity is number one, let’s look at the number 2 belief in the world: Islam.

Who is the Judge?  Allah.  Now Allah continually calls himself the compassionate and merciful.  But even Mohammed was utterly terrified by the prospect of judgement day.  He had no confidence that he would fare well on the last day.  Allah told him he would inherit paradise but, in the Quran Allah is known as the Best of Deceivers (Sura 3:54).  And Mohammed knew that he couldn’t trust Allah to save him.  His promise might be a deception.  So Mohammed did not trust Allah to save him.  And the Quran forbids you to trust him for that day (Sura 7:99)

Interestingly, the next in line after Mohammed was a man called Abu Bakr – the first Caliph in Islam.  When someone tried to encourage Abu Bakr that he would probably do alright on judgement day Abu Bakr said:

By Allah! I would not rest assured and feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.’”

No Muslim can presume to know how they will fare with Allah on judgement day.  And the very greatest Muslims were terrified of coming before that judge.

Let’s consider the third most popular belief in the world: No religion.  Now if you don’t believe in God, you have not escaped judgement have you?  You are still at the mercy of bigger forces than you, aren’t you?  You will be judged by decay and death.  And you will get absolutely no mercy from death.  No-one has ever avoided that judgement.  Death is, perhaps, the least merciful judge of all.  And it’s certainly the least hopeful.

What about the number 4 belief in the world: Hinduism.  Here your fate in the afterlife is determined by your Karma.  If you do good, you’ll accumulate good karma, maybe you’ll get reincarnated as a priest.  If you do bad, you get bad karma, you’ll get reincarnated as a donkey or something.  But it’s all down to you.  There is no mercy whatsoever.  It’s all about earning.

The number 5 belief in the world is Buddhism.  The Buddha started life as a Hindu, but he didn’t like the idea of continually being reincarnated.  So his hope for the future is “Nirvana” when you finally get off the merry-go-round of re-incarnation.  Then your soul is “blown out” like a candle.  That’s what Nirvana means – it means being blown out.  So Buddhism again teaches that your after-life is down to your karma – down to your performance.  And the ultimate hope is non-existence.

So have a look at the beliefs in the world and know that, apart from Jesus, there is NO MERCY from the Judge and NO CERTAIN HOPE for the outcome.

But with Jesus…

Here’s what the Judge of the world has done, according to the Bible.  Jesus is the judge who has stepped down off the judgement bench.  He’s put Himself into our shoes. He’s taken our side completely – we who are in the dock.  He has stood with us.  And then on the cross He stands for us.  On the cross He takes HELL on Himself.  He takes our Hell, to give us heaven.  And He does it so He can offer anyone and everyone eternal life.

This is the Judge in Christianity.  A Judge who is judged.  A Judge who pays the price for our sins and offers us free forgiveness.  What a Judge!  You will not find any other Judge like this Judge.  In religion, in atheism, in all the world – you won’t find a Judge like Jesus.  Run to Jesus.  He gives you immeasurable mercy and a certain hope for the future.

When you hear that Jesus judges the world – don’t hear that as bad news.  It’s GREAT news.  Jesus judges the world!  We should rejoice to know that Jesus is Judge.  He’s the Judge we want.

 

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I went into Eastbourne College yesterday to answer questions the students had been asking as part of Ask Eastbourne.

Their top three questions were:

How do we know you exist?

How come you allow so much suffering?

What about other religions, are they all wrong?

I tried to answer those briefly and then took questions from the floor.  Students were very keen to stay and chat afterwards.  Great chats and 8 people took John’s Gospels at the end to read further.  Please pray for them.

Audio (36 mins)

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Adapted from this older post.

Deconversion is essential to the religious liberty of every man, woman and child.  We must deconvert from every god that man has imagined.   If humanity is to be free from the tyrannical rule of God: God must die.  This is the most basic claim of orthodox Christianity.

Christopher Hitchens often made the following kinds of remarks about religion’s “permanent, unalterable dictatorship”:

An eternal North Korea is, he says, religion’s idea of heaven.  But it’s Hitchens’ idea of hell (probably ours too!).

But which God is he imagining ruling over this kingdom of heaven?  He’s imagining a greedy dictator, a cosmic leech, an almighty sink-hole of need.  Of course, if that were true, eternity would feel like a drain!  Our lives on earth would be bad enough.

This was the tyranny that Dan Barker laboured under – now president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  He speaks of his past in evangelical Christianity here:

I was a “doer of the word and not a hearer only.” I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.

But one day he de-converted to find liberation from this Almighty Surveillance System:

“For my whole life there had been this giant eyeball looking at me, this god, this holy spirit, this church history, and this Bible. And not only everything I did but everything I thought was being judged: Was God pleased? I realized that that wasn’t there anymore. It occurred to me, ‘I own these thoughts. Nobody knows what I’m thinking right now. There’s no fear of hell, no fear of judgment, I don’t have to be right or wrong, I can just be me.'” (Source)

Once God was dead, Barker was free.  It was “exhilarating”, he said.  You can imagine it was something of a Hallelujah moment.  The death of God always is!  Mischievously, I wonder whether Barker wishes such exultation could go on forever…

It’s interesting that Barker had this revelation while out in the beauty of nature and looking up at the ‘heavens’.  I mention his location because it’s very similar to John Bunyan’s de-conversion experience, three centuries earlier.

He too was labouring under the feeling that heaven was a spiritual North Korea.  He felt the “giant eyeball” very keenly and it was a heavy oppression.  But one day he also de-converted from his old religion…

“As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, “Thy righteousness is in heaven”; and, methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand, there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8).”

“Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away, so that from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now also went I home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”

Notice the exhilarating effect of the death of God!  When Bunyan grasps the implications of God the Lamb he finds instant freedom from religious afflictions and even from “those dreadful scriptures of God.”  Even Bunyan’s language mirrors the de-conversion experiences related so often on today’s atheist websites.

I’ve met many an atheists on the internet – especially those from the kinds of religious environments that Bunyan experienced in the 17th century.  Countless times I’ve heard de-conversion stories about finding release from a greedy god, from judgementalism, from hypocrisy, from the guilt, shame and fear of their religious upbringing.  I feel their pain.  I also grew up in church.  I also laboured under the tyranny of an imagined god.  I also felt the eye-ball in the sky.  I also found release in de-conversion.

But there’s two kinds of de-conversion.  There are two kinds of death-of-God experience.

Bunyan de-converts from a God-of-Demand and finds a God-Who-Is-Giver.  The death of God means, for Bunyan, looking to the cross.  There He sees the LORD Jesus giving Himself utterly – pouring out His life for the world.  There He sees that God is not greedy – God is Giver.  This is the vision that changes him.

Barker de-converts from a God-of-Demand and finds, what?  Only other powers.  Selfish powers.  Uncaring powers.  What lies ‘at bottom’ in this universe in the atheist vision?  ‘Blind, pitiless indifference’ if you ask Dawkins.  Barker is de-converted towards powers that will only judge and crush us in the end.

His exhilaration can only be short-lived.  He’s only traded one tyranny for another.  But with Jesus, the death of God is our salvation.  And it might just make you want to sing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 5:12).  That’s the song of heaven – because heaven is a celebration of the grace, not the greed, of God.

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I believe the Bible is the word of God because in it God speaks.  This is not an unfortunate circularity.  At the end of the day nothing could convince me it’s God’s word except that God speaks.  You could tell me it’s great history, it’s logically coherent and displays incredible internal consistency as a library of books over many centuries.  Great, I believe all those things.  But that doesn’t make it God’s word.  The only thing that could authenticate the Bible as God’s word is if God personally speaks through it.  And at that stage I’m essentially saying that it’s God’s word because it’s God’s word.

Or to shift that argument to christology, I believe that Jesus is the Radiance of the Father’s glory because in Him I’ve met the glorious Father.  Yet this Father is met only in the face of the Son.  In other words, I know that Jesus is Lord because I see in Him the kind of Lord that only Jesus reveals.  There is a self-authenticating majesty to Jesus such that I say, along with Lord Byron, “If God’s not like Jesus, He ought to be.”  Jesus is the kind of God that I believe in – the kind of God that Jesus uniquely reveals.  He’s IT.  And I know He’s IT because, well, look at Him!  Jesus is Lord because Jesus is Lord.

At this point you’ll note how inter-related these two circularities are.  And also the integral role of the Spirit in both.  He brings us God’s written word with divine authority, illuminating Christ so that, in Him, we might see and know the Father.

Now “circular arguments” get a bad name.  For one thing it sounds like buying into them will trap you.  Actually, if you find yourself in the right Circle, you’ll finally be free.  The Circle of Father, Son and Spirit doesn’t limit you.  No these ultimate realities (because they really are ultimate) enable you to move out into the world all the wiser for knowing their Lordship.  With the Spirit-breathed word, and the Lens of the Father’s Son… then you can really get somewhere.  From this knowledge you’ll find all sorts of other things illuminated by God’s Light.

But still, people will cry foul.  “You can’t reason in a circle” people will say.  But hang on, we all employ circular reasoning whenever we make claims about ultimate reality.  Didn’t your mum ever justify her pronouncements with “Because I’m the mummy”?

It’s inevitable that your ultimate ground of authentication must authenticate itself, or it isn’t ultimate.

Now this plays out in all sorts of areas.  But think, for instance, of the naturalist assumption that the “natural” realm is best placed to judge any hypothetical “further realm”.  If a “further realm” exists, they say, it must play by the rules of naturalism.  This, of course, radically limits the kinds of realms the naturalist would be willing to admit and means that the gods they consider can only be superbeings within the world.

Now the naturalist cannot establish such a priority via naturalism.  It is, by definition, beyond the ability of the natural sciences to pronounce on the existence of realms beyond their scope.  Yet naturalists assume that the “natural” realm is all there is, was, or ever shall be.

Naturalism, they say, is the best explanation of ultimate reality because other explanations fail naturalistic tests.  Or, to put it most simply, naturalism is true (or our best bet) because naturalism says so.

Now let’s be clear – belief in naturalism is not a groundless leap of faith.  It’s a faith commitment that springs from compelling evidence (true faith always does).  The evidence is this: trusting our own powers of perception and reasoning has produced great success in the natural sciences.  I.e. it works, it explains things, when we move out into the world on its basis things make sense.

But,

1) The Christian does not deny the explanatory power of the naturalistic sciences.  The Christian believes that such sciences have sprung from a broader Christian world-view and rejoice in the fruits of the gospel here.  Christians simply deny that such knowledge is the only or surest knowledge.

In fact,

2) The Christian sees that naturalism is horrifically reductionistic and harmful when seeking to be applied beyond the natural sciences.  As the old saying goes, If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To treat human personhood and relationships, ethics and aesthetics, to say nothing of a relationship with God, as a mere interplay of matter and energy is to misunderstand these things greatly.  The explanatory power breaks down here in a catastrophic way.  And yet, these things – love, forgiveness, beauty, goodness etc – are the most precious realities in human existence.

In the discussion between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams the other day, Dawkins said he “believed” we would find naturalistic explanations for consciousness – explanations which we do not now possess.  That is a consistent faith position within his world-view.  Naturalism has produced the goods in many spheres of enquiry – he trusts that consciousness will be one more success story for the natural sciences.

Yet all the while an explanation for personal reality presents itself to Dawkins.  One which does not rule out science but underpins it.  And one which accounts for the priority of the personal which is the most blindingly obvious reality which we encounter moment by moment. Nothing else accounts for it like this accounts for it…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.   (John 1:1-4)

I honestly don’t know why Dawkins – or anyone – can’t see it.  How can there be darkness when the Light of Christ is so dazzlingly obvious?  But then I would say that.  I’m in the grip of the ultimate Circularity!

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Brian Cox – dream-boat physicist, not craggy-faced actor – recently said this:

 Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face. (here)

Well now.  Them there’s fighting words.  Therefore, I thought it was time to repost this from two years ago (see how cutting edge CTT is?  Discussing Cox two years ago!)

……

Just watched this documentary on the Large Hadron Collider: “The Big Bang Machine.” (BBC4) presented by Brian Cox.

Here’s an extract from around 4:20 – 7:20.

Physics is stuck and the only thing left to do is recreate the universe as it was a fraction of a second after the big bang.  That’s what the LHC is designed to do.  To smash bits of matter together at energies  never before achieved so that we can stare at the face of creation…

So here’s the aim – to stare at the face of creation.

And this is the means – to smash particles together.

Notice the disjunct between the stated aim and the means!   Cox excites us about the scientific quest promising us a ‘face’ to creation.  Of course “face” says communicative, conscious.  It says personality.  It’s no wonder that Cox wants to reach for this kind of language because at bottom it’s personal reality that we long to see.  But all Cox can give us is particles.  This is the trouble.

What do you say of a person who promises you a face but gives you only particles?

What do you say of an enterprise that can describe a face only in terms of its sub-atomic particles?

He continues…

…Every civilization has its own creation story.  The ancient Chinese, indian mystics and Christian theologians all place a divine creator at the heart of their creation stories.  Science too has an elaborate story that describes the universe’s genesis.  It tells us how the fundamental constituents of the cosmos took on their form.  The difference with this story is that we can test it.  We can find out if its true by tearing matter apart and looking at the pieces.  All you need is a machine powerful enough to restage the first moments after creation…

This was the sentence that made me sit up and take notice: “Every civilization has its own creation story.”  And Cox puts ‘science’ in there among Indian mystics and Christian theologians.  Ok good.  We’re all telling stories about the world around us – scientists included.  But what does Cox say is the difference with science?  Answer: “we can test it.”  Hmm.  How will science be tested?  Tearing apart matter and looking at the pieces.

Well now that’s a very sensible test if you think that matter is what explains everything.  If you have a story about the world that says everything came about via material means then test matter.  Yes indeed that’s testable.  But it’s not the only thing that’s testable.  What if your story about the world says ‘Everything came about via the Word who was with God in the beginning and then became flesh and dwelt among us.’  Is that testable?  You betcha!  Every bit as much as the ‘science’ story.  It’s just that you test this story in ways appropriate to its nature.

All science works by testing its object of study in accordance with its nature.  You don’t do astronomy with a microscope – your means of testing is adapted to the thing tested.  So if you think it’s all about matter, you study matter.  But if you think it’s all about the Word then you study the Word.  Theology in this sense is completely scientific.  It is taking its Object of enquiry completely seriously and pursuing thorough investigation according the nature of the Word – ie it is listening obediently to Him.  That’s good science.  And it’s our only hope of actually seeing the Face that explains our world.  Particles won’t get you to the Person – but the Person can help you explain particles…

Cox continues…

In the beginning there was nothing. No space, no time just endless nothing.  Then 13.7 billion years ago from nothing came everything.  The universe exploded into existence.  From that fireball of energy emerged the simplest building blocks of matter.  Finding experimental evidence of these fundamental entities has become the holy grail of physics.

Notice first that this creation story is just as miraculous as any other.  “From nothing came everything”.  No explanations are given.  None ever could be.  This is the astonishing miracle at the heart of our modern creation story.  It is not the case that only primitive ‘religion’ believes in miracles.  The ‘science’ creation story is equally miraculous.

And again do you how science proceeds?  It proceeds like theology.  The scientific worldview says there must have been simple building blocks of matter that existed after the big bang.  Of course we’ve never observed these.  Nonetheless the worldview tells us they must have existed.  Therefore science seeks after evidence of what it believes to be true even without the evidence.  It has faith (an assurance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1f)) and from this faith it seeks understanding.  That is the scientific pursuit and it is no more or less a faith-based enterprise than theology.  And that’s no bad thing, it’s just the way things are.  It would just be nice if scientists came clean about it!

The point is this – don’t let anyone tell you science is about matter not miracles or fact and not faith.  The truth is we all have our creation stories.

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