Born Bound Together

Crosses

According to the Bible, the sinful choice of one man and his wife thousands of years ago profoundly affected the course of every human life after theirs, including your own. As Romans 5:12 puts it, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” I Corinthians adds simply, “in Adam all die” (15:22). We are not told the precise mechanics of the Fall and how it influences us today, but the Bible makes it clear that it had debilitating effects on every one of Adam’s race. We still make real, meaningful choices whether to sin or not, but there is something ugly in us now; something which draws us to sin and keeps us from the innocence and freedom that Adam and Eve enjoyed, and squandered, in the Garden.

It’s easy to feel this isn’t especially fair. Why should the rebellion of the first humans have any effect whatsoever on their descendants? Why should we be tied to our first parents by metaphysical cords which pull us down after them?

On one level, the answers to these questions are simply a mystery. Perhaps we will understand more in Heaven, or perhaps not. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which God’s ways are not our ways, and our finite understanding cannot plumb the depths of divine wisdom. But that does not mean we cannot understand at all. As we consider why the Fall had such a morally crippling effect on the rest of the human race, something which appears at first glance to be another, different “problem” with the biblical account is both clarifying and comforting.

Read more

Sin Cannot Justify Sin: A Response to the Charlotte Riots

Charlotte riots over Keith Lamont Scott

I am hesitant to write a critical word about the Charlotte protesters against a backdrop of centuries of sin against people who look like them by people who look like me. I am hesitant to mention a speck in the eye of black America when white America has not yet fully dislodged the log from our own. If I was merely writing as a white person addressing black people, I would be silent. But our Savior tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), so I write as a Christian addressing Christians.

We have all seen the now-familiar images of broken windows, looted stores, and angry rioters these last few days. They come with a sad sense of familiarity after Ferguson and Baltimore and the other protests-turned-riots of the past couple years. But I am actually less troubled by the violence and property damage of a few—often agitators arriving from out of town, causing damage that affects the black community more than anyone else—than by the permissive attitude taken by many others, both black and white.

Read more

Evidence for God, Part 6: We Have Minds

The Thinker

As I wrap up my Evidence for God series today, I wanted to finish with an argument which is a perfect illustration of what I said in my first post, more than a month ago: that natural theology arguments weigh the scales in the direction of theism, but by themselves cannot offer an absolute proof. There are always “what ifs” when we are dealing with fallible human observation and induction. If a skeptic is determined to evade the force of any one of these arguments, he will be able to do so. Our job as apologists is not to kill every possible what-if, but to point to the evidence, let the evidence point to God, and pray that our Father would engender saving faith where we and our arguments cannot.

So far, we’ve considered evidence from the existence of the universe, from the appearance of design at the universal and biological levels, and from morality. If even one of these arguments is persuasive, then we need to grapple with the existence of a supernatural, creative being. But there is an additional category of evidence pointing to the existence of a Creator God: what we might call mind, or soul, or consciousness.

Why are jokes funny? Why do we respond to and create beauty like Michelangelo’s paintings or Bach’s music? Why do we fall in love? Why do we wonder about ultimate meaning? And why are we aware of ourselves—a central personality which experiences all our hopes, dreams, fears, desires, ideas?

Read more

Denying Sin and Rejecting Facts Left Us with Baskets of Deplorables

That's racist

A week ago, Hillary Clinton set political alarm bells ringing by consigning “half of Trump’s supporters” to “the basket of deplorables” in what was either a monumental gaffe or a brilliant strategic coup, depending on who you ask. (Time will doubtless tell, but he hasn’t yet.) Less discussed was the second half of her quote, as she elaborated on the nature of the “deplorables”: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic…”

Personally, I liked the quote. It was neither gracious nor accurate, but the imagery is perfect. For many on the political left, these assorted phobias and ugly -isms function exactly as Clinton described—a basket into which any unwelcome sentiments can be cast and ignored. Worried about the potential of unlimited immigration to change Western culture? You’re a xenophobe. See some value in the definition of marriage which has been assumed for thousands of years? You’re homophobic. When “That’s racist” is a joke in high schools across the country, it may be a sign that your favorite condemnatory labels have been a bit overused.

Which is a pity, because racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia really do exist; are even, in fact, bigger problems than many on the right might like to admit. But instead of serving a useful purpose by calling out true wrongs, these labels and those who use them often just muddy the waters. The reason our phobias and isms are so imprecise and overused is because we have jettisoned the two most necessary criteria for moral condemnation: the categories of sin and objective fact.

Read more

Evidence for God, Part 5: We Know Right from Wrong

Man holding baby

In chapter 6 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asks, “Why are we good?” and offers an explanation for the origin of morality without God. He, like most modern atheists, attributes human morality to an evolutionary process which favored altruistic behavior. We try to be “good” because we evolved in an environment in which helping our kin group made it more likely that our genes (either in ourselves or in relatives) would survive long enough to reproduce, carrying this instinctive altruism into the next generation. Today, in a more complex and interconnected world, those inherited ethical instincts still drive us to “do unto others” even when those others are no longer related to us.

So, Dawkins concludes, “our Good Samaritan urges,” such as “the human urge to adopt a child,” are really just evolutionary “misfirings.” However, he immediately adds, in possibly the two most striking sentences in the book, “I must rush to add that ‘misfiring’ is intended only in a strictly Darwinian sense. It carries no suggestion of the pejorative.” What is surprising is not that Dawkins wanted to quickly dispel any thought that he might be dismissing the value of moral behavior, but that he failed to see that those two sentences dynamited the carefully constructed argument which preceded them.

Read more

Stop Worrying and Pick Something

Happily Ever After sign

I had a conversation recently with a young woman who was agonizing over whether to go out with a fellow who she felt was likely to ask her on a date soon. She was pretty sure she wasn’t interested in him, but she was concerned: What if she said no, but he was actually The One?

Her look of concern mirrored the one I’ve often seen on high school students and their parents whom I’ve advised as they made college plans. What if they don’t get into the right school? Or don’t even apply there? Or don’t even know about it?

Making wise and informed decisions is important, of course, but our preoccupation with selecting the right option, whether we’re talking about a spouse, a school, a career, or any other important life choice, is the unhelpful product of bad theology. It misunderstands both God’s role and ours in our decision-making and it misdirects our focus, treating the lead-up to a decision as more important than its aftermath, when in reality it’s usually just the opposite.

Read more

Evidence for God, Part 4: Biology Which Evolution Cannot Explain

This week, my Evidence for God series will take a second look at arguments based on the appearance of design, sometimes called teleological arguments, from the Greek word telos, which means “design” or “purpose.” Last week, we looked at how the essential structure of the universe makes life possible through “fine-tuning” which cannot be explained through mere chance. Today, I want to move beyond the possibility of life to consider the actual life forms we see around us. There are two ways in which biology demands a designing intelligence: First, the complexity of biological information contained in even the most basic life form, and second, the “irreducible complexity” of biological structures which cannot be explained through evolutionary processes.

What About Evolution?

When we talk about the appearance of design in biology, we have to start by considering the theory of evolution. Every scientist would agree that living creatures seem to have been uniquely designed for their environments. In fact, the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins defined biology as “the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” The key word in that definition, of course, is “appear.” For the last two hundred years, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has offered a way to explain the appearance of design without requiring a designer. Evolution postulates that natural processes mold species over time, through adaptation and the pressure to survive, so that animals look like they were designed for their particular ecological niche. In reality, though, this “design” is merely the result of a process of natural selection whereby the best-adapted survive and reproduce while the rest perish, removing their less-fit genes from future generations.

Read more

Rooting Faith Deeper than Intellect or Emotion

Young man sitting by a river

Most of the young people she knew who had left Christianity did so after participating in academic debate during high school. Competitive speech training was supposed to prepare them to combat the world, she observed dryly, but apparently the world won. It was just one anecdote, but the counterintuitive observation from a friend of a friend stuck in my mind because it is not very different from what I’ve noticed in the dozen years since I graduated from the world of Christian debate and apologetics training. I would never have guessed how many of my friends in those circles would go on to drift away from evangelical Christianity or leave the faith altogether.

But when I turned my musings into a short post about the dangers of a faith that is only intellectual, another friend with a similar background disagreed—in her experience, young people left Christianity because for them it was only an emotional experience without enough intellectual content. And right there, in that assumed dichotomy between emotion and intellect, I think we find a key part of the problem.

Read more

Evidence for God, Part 3: Universal ‘Fine-Tuning’ for Life

Equations

Last Thursday we considered how the sheer fact that the universe exists at all is evidence for the existence of a supernatural creator. Today, as part of my continuing Evidence for God series, I want to move from the existence of the universe to its apparent design; what scientists have described as “fine-tuning.”

Arguments that there must be a God since the world appears to be designed are called teleological arguments, from the Greek word telos, which means design or purpose. Such arguments come in multiple flavors. Next week, I’ll look at evidence for design in the development of life and in biological complexity, but first we need to consider design so large-scale, so integral to the fabric of existence itself, that it is easy to miss. In fact, scientists and theologians alike only stumbled upon this evidence for God within the past century.

Read more

This Election Would Matter Less If We Respected the Law More

The Constitution

On both the left and the right, the 2016 election is promising to be the most intense, passionate, and fearful in recent memory—which is saying something, because the sense of potential catastrophe and dangerously high stakes seems to grow with each new election. Every four years, both sides dread the possibility that the other will get hold of the levers of presidential power, with their potential to massively shape economics, immigration, education, foreign policy, the courts, and a thousand other things. It feels as if we have quadrennial mini-revolutions, as conservatives and liberals skirmish over who gets to set the course for our nation.

To some extent, this political tension and conflict are an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. No system is perfect, and democracy’s regular elections stir up partisanship and politicization in a way that a more authoritarian system (for all its other faults) would not. But our fraught elections aren’t just the fruit of democracy; they are what happens when a democracy forgets the importance of the rule of law.

Read more