Let’s Talk About Evil

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The idea of evil has been a part of humanity as far back as the notion of good has existed. But what is “evil” and does the problem of evil negate a good God? Since the time of the ancient Greeks, and possibly further, it has been thought that the idea of evil existing eliminates the idea of a good and all-powerful God. It seems to make senses that if God can stop evil but chooses not to, then he is not Good. It also seems to make sense that if God cannot stop evil he is not nearly as powerful as we make him out to be. In this post I hope to make it clear why neither of these are necessarily true statements. God can be good and evil can exist at the same time.

First let’s start with the famous Epicurus “Problem of Evil” which goes as follows:

  1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.

  2. There is evil in the world.

  3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Now for this to be a logically sound argument all the aspects of it have to be true. This is problematic because of several factors. First, Epicurus doesn’t define “good” or “evil.” To show why this is a problem one only needs to look at how different cultures regard good and evil. Epicurus himself had a very different understanding of good and evil than most modern people do. According to Epicurus’ philosophy good is what we find pleasurable and evil is what we find painful. He argued that sometimes a person will go through pain to achieve an even greater pleasure (example: exercising to have a better body) but ultimately all good is simply pursuing the greatest possible pleasure.

I don’t want to deny Epicurus his due respect, but I don’t think I could ever advocate the Epicurus moral system. What bothers me the most is morality in this case lacks any universality. Good and evil are completely subjective to the person. Joseph Stalin had a dream that one day the world would be a communist paradise free from class struggle, racism, poverty, and inequality. In his efforts though somewhere around twenty million people died. Ultimately Stalin is regarded by most as one of History’s greatest villains because after all that pain his dream never came to be. Out of fairness let’s talk about U.S. President Harry S. Trueman’s decision to drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima’s destruction killed between 90,000–166,000 and Nagasaki’s destruction killed somewhere between 60,000–80,000 people. These were men, women, and children who had committed no war crimes. These were people who’s only fault was living in the wrong city in the wrong country. In the end though, this pain ultimately probably saved more lives than it lost by preventing a full U.S. military invasion of mainland Japan.

Was President Trueman’s decision morally good? If Stalin had succeeded would he be seen as a great hero? That’s up for you to decide, but my point is that Epicurus leaves a lot open for interpretation. He assumes that evil exists, that God wants to rid the world of evil, and that if something apart from God’s will or desires exist then he ultimately cannot exist. There’s also a bit of narcissism in this argument since Epicurus defines good as what is pleasurable and he thinks that for God to exist he must ultimately provide nothing but pleasure or else he cannot exist.

Epicurus’ problem of evil is really just the first level of the problem though. The idea has been built upon, improved, and elaborated on many times. From what I can find the most current example goes as follows:

  1. God exists.

  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

  3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

  5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

Ok, let’s break this one down. It starts with the premise being tested, that “God exists.” It then goes on to define God by saying that “God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.” So far this argument is set up well. It has established what it wishes to test and it defines God so that there should be no questions as to what is being tested.

Point three is where the argument begins to fall apart. “A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.” This is once again problematic because “evil” is not defined. If we assume that God is all good and evil is the antithesis of good then this point can stand. We assume here that “evil” serves no purpose and that this perfectly good being wants to rid the world of evil at this very moment, but for some reason cannot or is not. Can a perfectly good being allow evil to exist for a time if it ultimately serves a purpose for greater good? By Epicurus’ own logic this is possible and perfectly logical. As you can see, argument is becoming a little shaky, but it hasn’t crumbled completely just yet.

Point four and five are pretty sold, but point six doesn’t work for the same reason point three fails. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil. Once again the assumption is that evil has no purpose and that God is just helpless to prevent it. Point seven and eight follow on point six.

So by this point you are probably wondering what my answer to the problem of evil is. Well, I say that evil exist because God loves us. How’s that for a contradiction! But seriously, I think evil has to exist for love to exist. I’ll explain why soon, but first let’s establish what evil is not.

thEvil is not this counter force that is equal and opposite to good. There is no yin-yang thing going on (which by the way doesn’t really have anything to do with good and evil) where there is some balance that exists where the good and evil sides are always in some constant war for the souls of man.

I know that this is a popular theme in what I like to call “pop culture Christianity” where the devil and angel on our shoulders are always tempting us to make good or bad decisions. We love the idea of God and Satan are bitter rivals in some cosmic war for the world, but ultimately that’s not really the case.

For starters evil is not a force to go to war with good. In one way of looking at it, evil is not even a real thing. Now I say evil exists, but only in the same way that cold exists in the absence of heat. Evil (in my understanding) is an emptiness that is left by abandoning good that can be filled up again.

Let’s look at the popular antagonist in the character of Satan. From the few things we know of him through scripture (he’s not as big of a figure as people paint him to be) he is an angel who was created good and beautiful but chose to rebel against God. Satan’s evilness isn’t something that was innately apart of his being, it is an emptiness left by his choice to rebel against what was good.

Choice is the key factor here. Christian theology believes that God created the universe good and perfect. Sin only entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to move away from the good will of God. Evil is nothing more than the absence or perversion of good. Greed is the choice not to participate in generosity, violence and hatred come from a choice not to participate in brotherly love and empathy, it goes on and on…. every sin comes from a choice not to participate in what God created for good.

So why would God give us the ability to choose? Simply put God is love and love requires a choice. If I had no choice at all whether or not I loved someone then it isn’t really love. Love requires that a person could leave or abandon the other. If a wife could never cheat on her husband, leave her husband, or even contemplate loving another then she isn’t his lover…. she’s his slave. The same goes for all types of love. A choice has to exist and God created us to love us and to be loved by us. God is relational and seeks relationships, and yet he will not force love.

Christianity believes that God literally did all the work required for us to join him and be forgiven of our transgressions, we simply have to choose to love him. He couldn’t have made it easier and every moment that he let’s evil run rampant is a mercy shown to us by giving us even more time to come to our senses and return to love. Evil exists because we are allowed to choose between good and not-good, and God allows it because he wants to give each of us opportunity to find and return to him.

Paul, when dealing with people who demanded God be quicker in punishing evil, had this to say:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

– Romans 2:3-4

So to wrap this up my answer to the problem of evil is simply this: Evil exists so that true love can exist, and because God is patient, kind, and willing to give each of us chance after chance to repent. A day will come when no more evil will exist, where God will fill in all the gaps of his creation with his glory and goodness, but until that day let us not ignore the grace and mercy of God. Let us not grow weary in doing good. And let us not forget that the good news we believe and hold true to is for all people, and it is our job to spread the love by pointing and leading others back to God.

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What is Repentance?

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I think it is pretty safe to say that repentance is a major theme in Christianity. While we are saved by faith, we demonstrate that faith by repenting of our sins. Something I realized recently is that there are a lot of different notions about what repentance means.

Is repentance just saying sorry?

How do we know if we have actually repented?

How do we know that God has forgiven us?

I hope to answer these questions in this post and hopefully give a more clear view of what it means to have a truly repentant heart.

The Bible makes it clear many times in scripture that we are saved by our faith and trust in God rather than in simply doing good or not doing bad. This comes from the belief that man is not worthy of salvation, but that God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. God is willing and able to forgive you of your sins, but there is some ground work that needs to be done first.

Before anything can be done a person has to believe. Repentance and Belief are two cornerstones in Christianity when it comes to our understanding of Salvation. The Greek word that we translate into “Believe” is “Pisteuo” and it means “to place one’s trust in.”  When we believe in God we are trusting him, and when we believe in Christ we are putting our trust in him and the power he has to save us.

By placing our trust in God we can say that we have trusted him to save us. We can take rest and find peace in the knowledge that God can and will save us, but what about Repentance? If it is our faith/belief in God and what he did through Christ that saves us, where then does Repentance come in?

The Bible makes it clear that if we hope to find salvation then we need repentance:

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

– Luke 13:3

So what does it mean to repent and how can we know for certain that we have repented?

When we look at scriptures Belief (Pisteuo) is often paired up with the idea of Repentance (Metanoeo). “Metanoeo” is the Greek word that we often translate to mean “repent” and it’s meaning conveys a “change of mind.”  This is not a purely intellectual change, but also a change in the direction of one’s life.

When we Repent (Metanoeo) we are in a sense turning from our allegiance to self, sin, and unbelief. We are abandoning our old ways and making a conscious effort to change our direction. This is where our Belief (Pisteuo) comes in. Our new direction and focus in life shifts from the self, sin, and unbelief, and is instead is replaced by a focus on service, righteousness, and trusting in Christ.

When faith or belief is mentioned, repentance is implied (if not directly stated.) The opposite can also be said that repentance implies that belief and faith are already present.

Repentance then, is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It is a conscious effort turn from the old ways that drew you away from God and turn your life in a direction that seeks the Lord.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

– 2 Chronicles 7:14

Just like the parable of the Prodigal’s son in Luke 15:11-32 our heavenly father does not want us to try to earn his love, and he does not expect us to be able to pay for our sins. Instead he patiently waits for us to turn our hearts back to him, and once we do he is quick to run to us, forgive us, and bring us back home.

Repentance is not some elaborate sanctification ritual, but it is also goes a lot deeper than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Repentance is a heart change and a desire to come home. Just like the Prodigal’s son, we can often times wander far away from the father, but he never stops waiting for us and he is willing to run out and welcome us home when we call out to him with genuinely repentant hearts.

Is God A Megalomaniac?

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It seems like there is a lot of confusion going around recently about the jealous nature of God, and in the past week I have had the subject brought up several times in my youth small groups. The idea of a God who is both perfect and jealous is a difficult concept to understand. It is not something that can be easily grasped or ignored. Having said all that, I feel that now is probably as good a time as ever to try to tackle this theological kerfuffle.

So the first question we have to address is simply is God a jealous God? To me scripture seems to point to yes:

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

-Exodus 20:5

God is a jealous God and very few things seem to frustrate God more than when we do not give him his due place in our life. The question then becomes, can we still say that God is good if he seems to be so petty and covetous of our praise and worship? If I demanded praise like God does then people would call me prideful, arrogant, and a megalomaniac, so why is God allowed to act this way? It seems most people understand that any being who demands to be worshiped under pain of punishment is a very faulty and emotionally fragile being, right?

To this I’d say no. As with any passages that deal with God’s nature we have many obstacles in our path that can trip us up. We are confined to the limitations of our anthropomorphic and finite language. This makes it extremely difficult to describe a being that is by His own admission, incomprehendable outside of what he divinely reveals about himself to us.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”

– Isaiah 55:8

It is extremely hard to write anything about God without drastically limiting Him in the process. For example, when we say that God is “good” it is extremely hard for us not to undermine him in the process. If God is God then he must truly be the greatest thing in existence. For this reason, “good” seems a bit underwhelming when applied to God. We cannot compare God (the ultimate) with anything except what is beneath him, since anything greater than him would nullify the whole ultimate being thing. We have to use words and phrases that human being can experience if we are ever going to have any meaning conveyed in them, but by doing that we have to be careful not to give the wrong idea.

If we can establish that God is the ultimate greatest thing in the universe simply by nature of being God, and if we also know from scripture that God loves us and wants what is best for us, then by putting the two together we can conclude that if God is the best and he wants what is best for us, then he wants us for himself and himself for us.

If I had a child and I saw that he or she was striving after something harmful rather than what I knew to be the best for them, I would want to do everything I could to turn them in the right direction. For us the best direction is always going to be back to God. He deserves to be worshiped and he wants us to be with him because that is what we were made for. God made us to worship him and so that he could love us. We saw from the first few pages of Genesis and the last pages of Revelation that a life with God is the best of all possible realities. In this light God’s “jealousy” serves not only Himself, but also all others.  No other form of jealousy I know of can be said to be both self-serving and yet universally beneficial. In this way I feel it is safe to say that God is both jealous and good.

Allegorical Creation: Not Exactly Heresy

The creation story is a biblical account which has lead to much controversy over the centuries. Many critics of Christianity have used it as a starting point to launch attacks and criticisms at the faith, while those who consider themselves believers are in debate as to whether such accounts are literal historical events, or allegorical means to convey a deeper message. This is not a decision that needs to be taken lightly, since there are theological consequences that emerge no matter where you stand. The creation account is one of the most important passages of scripture in the Bible. It sets the theological foundation upon which the rest of the scriptures build upon. As a result, the debate about how one should interpret the creation account is one of extreme importance.

Some have argued for a literal interpretation, believing that unless such events occurred exactly as described the Bible, the Bible cannot be said to be inerrant and infallible. I am close friends with many people like this, and a conversation I had recently revolving around whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old or not is the reason I decided to write this post. My goal is not to attack anyone’s beliefs as much as it is that I wish to demonstrate that my belief in an allegorical creation is not as much of a heresy as some people might think it is. There are many scholars I respect who hold to the “young earth” ideas, and hopefully I will be able to be fair in giving my reasoning for rejecting that theory without coming off like a condescending tool.

I’ll be the first one to come out and say that not all scripture is infallible. I hold that all scripture has importance, be it philosophical, historical, theological, or in some artistic sense, but infallible is not the choice of words I would use. I believe that all scripture was God inspired, though I’m not going to be the one to say that God held every biblical author’s hand so that they could write down the perfect and divine words of the creator. If that were the case then I question why the book or Revelation has so many gramatical errors. I guess what I’m saying is scholars who run an “all-or-none” theology open themselves to the risk of having a crisis of faith every time a new translation, copy, or discovery reveals something about the texts, or  (as is the case with the creation story) there are two different accounts of the same event. I personally find it unnecessary to limit one’s understanding of scripture to two extremes of literalism and falsity. It is possible for some scripture to be inspired without it being taken literally. The creation account can reveal truth, just as easily as Jesus Christ spoke truth through parables that did not actually occur outside of the parable itself.

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Origen

Some of the more fundamentalist biblical scholars have tried to write off ideas of an allegorical creation as being a new idea, but this could not be further from the truth. The concept of an allegorical creation is not a means of modernistic apologetics, and the allegorical understanding predates any theories of evolution, big bang, carbon dating, or fossil records. The famed theologian Origen of Alexandria made arguments for an allegorical reading of Genesis in 230 AD when he wrote:

“What man of sense will argue with the statement that the first, second and third days, which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars? What man is found such a fool as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise like a husbandman?… I believe every man must hold these things for images under which a hidden sense is concealed.”

– Origen of Alexandria (230 A.D.)

Origen wasn’t the earliest to make such claims. St. Irenaeus argues for an allegorical creation in his work Against Hereses in the 108 A.D, and St. Augustine denies the literal seven-day creation in his work The Literal Interpretation of Genesis in 408 A.D. Such evidence provides validity too the allegorical creation theory while proving it to be more than merely a modern attempt to bend scripture in order to appease recent scientific discoveries.

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Moses Maimonides

In the 12th Century a Jewish scholar by the name of Moses Maimonides said:

“The foundation of foundations and pillar of all wisdom is to know that the First Being is, and that He gives existence to all that exist.”

– Maimonides

According to Maimonides, the purpose that the author of the creation account is trying to convey is the foundational truth on which existence is based. The author seeks to establishes the existence of a singular God, from whom the universe was created. Such a notion lays the framework for all Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology that will follow. Keeping that in mind it becomes clear that the goal of this passage is one of theological and religious significance, rather than one of historical or scientific nature.

To argue that the creation account is to be taken as a literal scientific history raises a great number of questions. The first problem comes from the contradictions that form between what science and Genesis say about the order in which the universe is formed. A study of the Astronomy reveals that the Sun pre-existed the Earth (Gen. 1:16), biological and geological records seem to contradict the order in which life appears (Gen. 1:11-12, 24), and fossils reveal animals feed on other animals before man first set foot on the earth (Gen. 1:30). Assuming that several areas of scientific study are not built upon falsities, we are left with two possibilities. Either God created the universe with the appearance of false age and misleading records, or the author of Genesis wrote the order of creation with the best ideas available at the time to demonstrating the power and wisdom of God as creator. Both options are possible with an all powerful God, and so readers are left to come to their own conclusion.

If one were to side on the opinion that God created everything in a literal seven days, and that the order of events is literal and factual, another problem emerges. There are two creation accounts (Gen. 1:1-2:4, 2:4-25) that depict a different order of events in which the earth is created. The first account has the creation of plants (Gen. 1:11-12), followed by animals (Gen.1:20-25), and ending with male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). This is not so in the second account which places the order of creation as man (2:7) followed by plants (2:9), animals (2:19),and finally ending with woman (2:21-22). The passages also suffer from differing styles of speech and structure, implying that they were written years apart, and possibly by different authors. Such questions require a great deal of explanation and theorizing on the part of the literal interpreters.

Examining the first creation story alone, does not lend itself free of problems for those who take a literal approach. The creation account shows that God existed, not in a state of nothingness, but rather in a state of darkness and chaos (Gen.1:1-2). This changes when God spoke and created the first of creation; light (Gen. 1:3-5) and the combined light and darkness formed the first day. In this act time and order seem to come into existence as every moment after this point is referred to as a day. The problem arises when one comes to question what the author meant when he mentions “a day.” It is entirely possible that the author meant to relate an indefinite passage of time, just as it is just as possible that the author was writing in the context of the Jewish weekly calendar’s concept of a day. There is no clear way to know, and such matters are confused even further when one considers that God doesn’t create the Sun and Moon until the fourth day (Gen.1:16). Because time on earth is measured using the Sun and Moon, it is difficult for humans to consider what a day consisted of prior to their existence. Such passages leave the literal reader with many questions to ponder.

The second day of creation, much like the first, has many issues when taken literally.  According to some biblical scholars, the ancient peoples saw the sky or heavens as a solid mass. In their understanding the sky was a dome like structure that separated realms, and acted as a throne for God (Ex. 24:10; Ezk. 1:26). Such theories point to the way that the sky separates the waters, which later are seen flooding down upon the earth when they are opened (Gen. 7:11). Since we today know that the sky is not a dome holding back water, the logical conclusions to be drawn are that either the creation account was written to be allegorical, the creation account was written to be literal and the author made mistakes, or the creation account was written literally and God has since altered the state of the world and universe around us.

The fourth day is an interesting day of creation, which holds special theological significance worth mentioning. It was quite common in the ancient times for societies both primitive and advanced to worship celestial bodies as deities. We see such notions reflected in various cultures on every continent all over the globe.Yet in spite of this trend, the author of Genesis seems assured in his assertion that the celestial bodies were not beings of worship, but rather aspects of the creation just like the rest of the universe. Although an astronomer might argue that it does not dismiss the notion that the sun and moon were created simultaneously, such a notion does imply unique theology on the behalf of the author of Genesis. It could be argued that such ideas lead one to argue that the creation account is divinely inspired,although it should be noted that divine inspiration does not assert a literal or allegorical translation.

The Creation of Adam on the sixth day is another point of discussion in terms of literal vs.allegorical debates. The Hebrew term for “Adam” literally translates into “man”which opens up the possibility that Adam is a representation of humanity,rather than a singular being. The first creation account makes no reference to male and female being created on separate days and is more likely to be viewed as an analogy for mankind, while the second account seems more in favor of Adam and Eve as unique individuals.  When one views Adam as an analogy for man, the reader is presented with a much broader story of humanity being given a sense of good and evil, and choosing evil. This would have occurred over a much longer time than if the accounts truly speak of a single man and woman, and raises questions as to the truth behind the doctrine of original sin.

It is worth mentioning that in the grand scale of things it doesn’t really matter whether one takes a literal or allegorical interpretation of creation account. The general themes and concepts are the same regardless of whether one believes the truths are literal or implied.

  • God is the ultimate and He creates all things that exist. God created all things good and in harmony.
  • God created mankind, and when mankind obtained the knowledge of good and evil he chose to sin.
  • Because of this mankind is out of sync with nature and the result is a broken world and a separation from God.

The book of Genesis is based around the major theme of creation, rejection, and redemption. These will be themes found in most of the books of the Bible, especially in the Gospels of Christ. In either line of reasoning, the foundation on which the rest of scripture to build upon is set, and the author fulfills his purpose in writing the account. This is not to say that both sides are on equal footing. One makes a bold assumption that throws much of the known sciences into question while the other opens up questions regarding the ideas of original sin and when did man truly become man. Neither is full proof and both interpretations need to be seriously considered.

Faith Within Reason: The Closed Minds of Free Thinkers

So one of the most hilariously mislabeled groups of all time are the “Free Thinkers.” You may know them by different labels, but the best way to identify a “free-thinker” is that they will deny any claim that cannot be backed up by empirical evidence. So heavily confined to their own logic are they that the will outright deny any reality that contradicts their ability to comprehend and logically sort out. Free Thinking is ironically one of the most binding, limiting, restraining, and mentally crippling schools of though. I can hardly think of a more close minded view than the one that says “If I cannot understand, it cannot be so.” This worship and deifying of the human mind is not only limiting in its ability to fully appreciate and comprehend life, but it is also extremely (and ironically) un-logical in its approach to denying the miraculous.

I always come across the same two arguments when ever I find myself in a discussion with a free-thinker. They love these arguments wield them like faith smashing sticks ready to bludgeon any feeble religious mind they come across. It is always kind of humorous to see these arguments flipped on their head and see their own weapons of choice used to poke holes in their own philosophy. Let me explain:

Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to miracles.
  • The Problem: If testifying to a miracle disqualifies one form being credible, how then could one credibly attest to a miracle if one were encountered?

In case that didn’t make sense, the “free-thinker” who uses these arguments to deny the miraculous creates a circular vacuums that makes it impossible for anyone to ever attest to a miracle. Testifying to a miracle makes you lose credibility, therefore no one can credibly attest to a miracle. This is not a very open-minded approach to the proposed question of miracles because it already presupposes that the denier is correct and that the one making the claim is false, as well as setting up a fallacy in which the one making the claim can never move around. It is really only a few steps above sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “I’m not listening because you are stupid and I am not.”

Counter Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to love are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to love.
  • The Problem: If testifying to love disqualifies one form being credible because these properties cannot be empirically tested, how then could one credibly attest to love for those who have  never encounter it?

You see, there are many things in life from theoretical physics to the binding love of a husband and wife that are beyond the empirical. People denied the existence of the Okapi for many years though many people had claimed to have seen it. Why was it denied? Because every credible person knew that no such creature existed. It was clearly the in the realm of fantasy, and yet we now know that it does in fact exist. Miracles by nature can only be observed by those who happen to be there to observe them, and they cannot be empirically explained and prove or else they cease to be miracles. This is not the only argument, however, that is used to attack the miraculous events described in scripture.

Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they were looking for miracles and were not observing subjective.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for miracles will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If looking for something disqualifies one from being credible then are the only credible discoveries those that are found by pure chance and happenstance?

Events of a miraculous nature have been testified throughout human existence from our very earliest records. Some miracles have more documentation to them than many ancient events we consider facts, and even today accounts of miracles in day-to-day life are not unheard of. I myself have witnessed several “miraculous” events in my years on this earth, but of course none of these are acceptable to the free-thinker.  The common dismissal of these claims is to dismiss the ancient man as a superstitious creature who lacked scientific understanding of the universe, but when one questions why we are to assume ancient man was superstitious the answer is usually that he attested to miracles. This logic is used even today every time a miraculous event occurs, one cannot attest to a miracle without being labeled superstitious and stupid based on the presupposition that belief in miracles is superstitious and stupid. This creates a circular logical fallacy where if one was to witness a miracle one could never attest to it because by attesting to the validity of the miracle one was also dismissing his own credibility.

To those people I raise this counter argument:

Counter Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the existence of scientific laws are unreliable because they were looking for scientific laws and were not observing subjectively.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for laws of nature will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If one never supposed that the universe was bound by laws of nature then would have never discovered any of the laws of physics, chemistry, or many of the mathematical principles.

Is the assumption that the universe is somehow innately bound by physically consistent laws of nature really more logical than the assumption that God could involve himself in history through miraculous means. The only reason I can find that one is readily accepted and one is so cautiously denied is because one is testable and the other is not. We cannot invoke a miracle any time we wish, but to test whether gravity is consistent, one only needs to drop something from a height. To assume that because something is not testable it cannot be true is scientism, which is one of the most closed-minded views a man could take. To assume that his senses and logical reasoning are the only masters of truth in the universe is arrogance to the highest degree. This also becomes problematic when one raises the question of why the universe is bound to certain physical laws of nature. The scientismist (if that is even a world) would most likely attempt to dismiss the question without providing an answer while the monotheist could point to a grand designer.

Notice I am not writing this to attack science, but scientism. Science is a wonderful thing that explores the inner workings of the grand design. Scientism is the denial of all empirically unprovable aspects of life. Where science would look at a miracle and say “We cannot prove, test, or recreate that instance” scientism would look at a miracle and say “This cannot be!”

So why do I claim to believe in the miraculous events attributed to Christ? Because I find the testimony of these events both credible and highly likely. After Christ’s crucifixion the twelve men who had followed Christ (that were said to have run and hid during his death and burial) somehow became so convinced that they had seen the resurrected Christ that they spread his gospel all over the world. These men would rather die horrific deaths (which almost all of them did) rather than deny the truth of the risen Lord. This is not something one does on a whim, these men believed with all their heart and soul that Christ was risen and sin defeated.

Look a the life of Saul of Tarsus who by his own account and the account of Luke was a persecutor of the faith and a killer of Christians. Saul has a miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus that convinced him that the people he was so eagerly killing were actually the proclaimers of the true gospel of God. After changing his name to Paul this “Jew among Jews” whom had lived by the Torah and avidly fought against the “heresy” of Christianity, now became its biggest avocate. He planted churches all across the world and did a complete 180 turn form a life of self-righteous legalism to a servant like devotion to God and an advocate of the spiritual freedom found in Christ.

In the first few centuries Christians were fed to lions in colosseums, crucified in the emperor’s gardens, and burned alive or stoned for their refusal to deny the miraculous and life changing power of Christ. Even today there are thousands (possibly millions) of Christians all over the globe who would rather die than deny the miraculous and radical God-man who was Jesus the Christ. Considering that only around 3% of the world’s population outright denies the existence of the supernatural, maybe it is time for Free Thinkers to free up their minds a bit.

 

Faith Within Reason: Charles H. Townes on Faith in Scientific Thought

So I’m currently reading Science and Theology: The New Consonance which so far has proven to be an amazing read. It’s a collection of essays written by theologians, physicists, Nobel Prize winners, evolutionary theorists, a former president of the “American Association for the Advancement of Science”, and even Pope John Paul II himself. Seriously though if you want a good intellectual read pick this book up. I’ll post a book review as soon as I’m done, but I can already tell you that this one’s a keeper.

The book deals with the relationship between Science and Theology from various points of view and is really a profound collection of works. I bring it up because today’s post was inspired by one of the essays found in the book: “Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion” by Charles H. Townes (a physicist). In it his essay Townes contributes a very interesting perspective on the notion of “Faith”, that being that even the most coldly logical human beings rely on faith at some point.

“Science and religion not only share common logic; they also share something else, namely, uncertainty. We must recognize that we do not know things for sure. Knowledge, even scientific knowledge, is less than absolute.”

– Charles H. Townes

The above quote came form the man who helped revolutionize the study of light and laser theories. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

Charles-Townes1

I told you he was smart!

All joking aside that’s a ballsy thing for a scientist to say considering you make a living based on the assumption that you can understand the universe around you and figure out how things work. He openly admits though that most of what he does as a scientist has grounds in faith at some point.

“The mathematician Godel proved that uncertainty is inherent even in the nature of our logic…. [He] proved that we can never be sure that the assumption with which we started are even self-consistent, let alone true. The only way we may show that they are self-consistent is to appeal to a new set of assumptions…. but of course these assumptions are subject to the same uncertainty regarding consistency, and so on. Logic and uncertainty come together in a single package and to take them seriously, there must be faith”

Charles H. Townes.

For those of you who don’t know Godel was the father of modern mathematics who also supposedly proved the existence of God using math.

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This somehow proves that God exists, but for the life of me it just looks like a bunch of numbers and squiggles. There’s a reason I didn’t major in math.

I don’t get it either, but the point made is that if we question everything, then we eventually reach a belief in nothing at all. Eventually no matter how deep down your thought goes it will eventually have to reside in an assumption. Nothing exists or can be possibly known unless an act of faith is taken at some level, even if it is simply to take on your own words that you are real. Trippy right?

For successful science of the type we know, we must have faith that the universe is governed by reliable laws and, further, that these laws can be discovered by human inquiry. The logic of human inquiry is trustworthy only if nature is itself logical…. This is the faith of reason”

– Charles H. Townes

Have you ever wondered why things always work in the same way over and over. Whether it is subatomic particles or the expansion of the universe itself science seems to be fairly reliable. Do you ever stop and wonder why that is? We assume that because gravity, for instance, always works that it always will work. This isn’t really a reason to believe other than we have no reason to think otherwise. We believe the universe is bound to certain laws and that these laws can be studied, comprehended, and understood by the human mind. If you are religious then you probably attribute the existence of these laws to designer or creator. If you are of the atheist opinion then I guess you assume these just exist because they do (I’m not an atheist so I don’t know what they think). It might just be me but I love thinking about this kind of stuff, the more I learn about the universe and the world around me the more I can see God’s handiwork in even the tiniest details.

[The scientist] must have faith that the problem is solvable, and that there is an inherent logic in nature which his or her mind is capable of reading.”

Charles H. Townes

We are all questing for truth. Some of us choose to look deep inside ourselves and other look outward. There are philosophers, scientists, theologians, logicians, mathematicians, day dreamers, poets, and deep thought thinkers but all of them have faith in something. Faith ties us all together and it is only by having faith in something that we are able to move forward.

Flatland: A Short Post About Understanding Human Limitation

Have you ever heard of a novella known as Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott? It’s a really interesting concept of a world that exists in only two dimensions. It is the story of the inhabitants of a universe that is completely flat where the notion of anything with depth is utterly foreign to them. The story features a square who comes in contact with a strange sphere that exists in three dimension. At first the square thinks the sphere is merely a circle who is pulling tricks on him since the only part of the sphere that square can see is a growing or shrinking circle that exists in two dimensions as seen here:
flatland1

Despite all his efforts the sphere can neither explain nor convince to the square that the third dimension exists or what the third dimension is. When the sphere moves in and out of the second dimension the square thinks he is a magician doing tricks to make himself grow and shrink. When the sphere rolls across the dimension the square can feel him, but not see him and does not believe. When the sphere looks onto the flat dimension of square’s house he is able to tell square what is in all the rooms before square is able to open the doors:
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Eventually, though square cannot even begin to conceive of the third dimension, he comes to believe it exists and wonders what other dimensions exist that he could never imagine.

It’s an interesting concept that was meant to open up people’s minds, but I see it as quite an elaborate and easily understood way to discuss human limitation. We perceive space, depth, and time, but any other dimensions are out of our range of perception. Even in this universe we inhabit we are limited to experience only in five senses (taste, touch, smell, feel, and sound). Just as a blind person is handicapped in perceiving and experiencing the universe, so might we be without knowing it. Had no human being ever tasted could it imagine what it would be like to taste a steak?

So when limited beings like square encounter something beyond our comprehension it seems normal to assume something is amiss. Square rarely questions the notion that something could exist that he cannot see.  How silly we are to stay in the mindset of square, to think that because we cannot sense or understand something it cannot be. Until square met sphere he thought he was the ultimate judge of truth in the universe, but he soon became aware of his own limitations. So too must we become aware of our limitations and not be so hasty to dismiss the impossible.

If God exists he is surely much more complicated and transcendent than sphere, and if he does exist I can guarantee that our ability to grasp the eternal, omniscient, all-powerful, alpha and omega in all his splendor will be much more beyond us than it was for square to understand sphere.  It’s something to think about.