Atheist Jerry Coyne explains why morality is impossible for atheists

The dominoes fall in predictable ways. This post by W. K. lines them out in a very clear manner.  http://wp.me/pqyhO-fdx

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Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories

Another great post by Ken. Here’s a good quote from it, “Unfortunately, too often people who affirm strange beliefs and conspiracy theories in particular have not considered genuine challenges to their viewpoints.”

Reflections

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As a Christian scholar and logic instructor, I often get asked about my thoughts on strange phenomena, controversial theories, and alternative conspiratorial explanations. Through the years I’ve frequently been asked about such unusual things as UFOs, the apparitions of Mary, near-death experiences, and a host of conspiracy theories such as those relating to the JFK assassination, denial of the Holocaust, the so-called moon-landing hoax, secret societies, and various speculative end-of-the-world scenarios.

Not all of these topics are on the same level when it comes to their rational or non-rational basis and their evidentiary or non-evidentiary support level, but they are all unusual and highly controversial issues. Thus, before accepting any strange and/or controversial idea these topics need to be thought through carefully—lest we affirm belief in something that is false, misleading, or possibly even harmful. Of course from a Christian perspective a believer in Christ should also ask if certain…

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An atheist explains the real consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview

Worth Reading: Wintery Knight gives an interesting perspective of atheists on atheism.

WINTERY KNIGHT

A conflict of worldviews A conflict of worldviews

If you love to listen to the Cold Case Christianity podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random…

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Diagnosis Grief is Okay

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6:50 AM – After morning hugs, I’m headed out the door to work.

She says, “How about Mexican for lunch? El Gordo’s?”

“Yes! Text me when you are ready to head that way.”, I say on my way out.

I love their El Pastor Quesadillas!

9:53 AM – Stomach growls. I eat the daily 10AM yogurt snack, and think of El Gordo’s.

11:02 AM – Still feeling snackish. I tell myself to wait. El Gordo is coming, and I can save up my hunger for the chips and salsa.

11:35 AM – It is officially early lunch time and the best time to leave work to beat the crowd to lunch. I pick up my phone to text her when it buzzes in my hand.

“Let’s save money and just eat a salad instead.”

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Noooooooooo!

I’m not sure about you, but I dial my taste buds into a certain flavor, and they can anticipate the goodness of it all for hours beforehand.

I can also be terribly disappointed at a change of plans once my taste buds have been set to a certain desire.

This is a microscopic example of the pain that comes from unmet expectations.

Most of our pain and grief comes from unmet expectations.

Let’s dive into the deep end of the pool, now.

Diagnosis Grief

  • One year ago, my sister called and told me about Ken’s cancer diagnosis.
  • In December 2016, my friend Beth Primm received a cancer diagnosis.
  • A few weeks ago, one of my Pastors received a cancer diagnosis.
  • And on and on and on…

Walking through these life-changing events with my friends and family, I have noticed a profound sense of grief following the diagnosis.

It is different than fear. Sure, fear is part of it, especially surrounding the severe treatment options of chemo, radiation, and surgery.

It is most assuredly grief.

One thing to note, here. I’m talking about Christians who are confident that death is a doorway to a restored body and soul in communion with Christ forever. Death is not the end of our “dash” as seen on a tombstone.

I have noticed, though, that the comfort of Christian hope can trigger an unnecessary layer of guilt.

I repeat, feeling guilty for grief is unnecessary.

Back to my silly lunch example.

I had set myself up with legitimate expectations. I was looking forward to lunch, to chips and salsa, and to delicious pork and pico. There’s nothing wrong with that.

When plans changed, I was legitimately sad. I won’t say grieved, because it was just lunch.

But when it comes to life – the life we expected – we grieve because we have lost something precious. It’s OK.

We wanted to see grandkids, nieces, and nephews graduate. We wanted to finish that book. We had planned to _______________________________________________________. The list is endless.

As Christians, we are not grieving the loss of life because life is not lost.

Instead, we grieve the loss of events.

It’s okay to grieve.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what has become known as the “five stages of grief”.  They are:

  1. Denial – This cannot be happening to me.
  2. Anger – Why is this happening to me? This should not be happening to me. Why is God doing this to me? Why would God allow this to happen to me?
  3. Bargaining – What can I do; what prayer can I pray; how can I pray; who can I get to pray; how many can I get to pray so that this won’t happen to me?
  4. Depression – I just do not care. At all. I’m done.
  5. Acceptance – Okay.

This is not a linear timetable. You can not put these steps on the calendar.

They pop up in asynchronous order, and each person is different.

Personally, I have flipped between anger and acceptance on a minute by minute basis like a flashing traffic light.

Knowing about these DOES help, though. It helps because it let’s us know that our emotional roller coaster is NORMAL.

Do not beat yourself up for being angry. And don’t beat anyone else up in your anger. 😉

Even the bargaining stage is not cause for guilt. Run to your Father in prayer. Jesus himself prayed all night long in the Garden of Gethsemane with tears and sweat.

[Mat 26:37-39 HCSB] 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with Me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

My point here is not to give a comprehensive post on the grieving process.

My point is to prevent you from adding a debilitating layer of guilt on top of the grieving process.

Let the Lord open your eyes to the experiences he is giving you on a daily basis in this beautiful creation with your lovely loved ones.

Shut down the “monkey brain” that chatters 24-7 about unrealized expectations.

Don’t let the inner voice fuss at you saying, “You are a Christian. You shouldn’t feel depressed. You shouldn’t be angry with God! You shouldn’t bargain with God. ”

These are lies. God can handle our emotional ups and downs. Take them to the Lord in prayer.

[Psa 6:6-7 HCSB] 6 I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night.  7 My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies.

In context, David was running for his life from enemies with swords. Still, it is comforting to call an enemy an enemy. We have cancerous enemies. We have mental enemies accusing us of guilt for feeling sad. We can pray many of the prayers of David and receive the comfort that he received.

The Path Forward

Here is a short list of perspectives and actions that have helped me over the past few years.

  1. Thank the Father for the hope we have in Christ. This is the Big Picture.
  2. Relish the miniscule moments of happiness. This is the small picture.
    The unexpected phone call/text; an encouraging email; the song of a bird; the splash of a fountain; the touch of a loved one; the smile of a stranger; familiar hymns; favorite songs; the list is infinite in every moment. “[Psa 119:18 HCSB] 18 Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction.”
  3. Give yourself as much grace as Christ gave you. Don’t put on your neck a yoke of EMOTIONAL PERFECTION that Christ does not require. “[Eph 2:8 HCSB] 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.”

It was okay to miss my El Pastor Quesadillas. And it is okay to grieve over the unrealized expectations of future plans. But by God’s grace may he open our eyes to the blessings that attend a different path.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you on every different path.

Darren

Bedrock Facts About the Resurrection

The Resurrection of Jesus is discussed in Chapters 22-23 of Greg Koukl’s book (The Story of Reality). (If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

Bedrock Facts of the Resurrection

If you consider only those facts that are granted by virtually 100% of all scholars who have studied the subject, a very strong historical case for Jesus’ resurrection can be made’. Those kind of facts are called ‘bedrock’ because any responsible reconstruction [hypothesis] of the historical Jesus must use these facts as the foundation upon which that reconstruction is built. Otherwise, it’s almost certainly mistaken.

These bedrock facts are:

  1. Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross, died, and was buried in a tomb.
  2. The tomb was empty on the third day afterwards.
  3. Numerous witnesses testified that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
  4. James (Jesus’ skeptical brother) and Saul of Tarsus (a mortal enemy of these early witnesses) both claimed to see Jesus, converted, and were martyred.

Challenges

There are many alternate hypotheses that avoid the supernatural resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Stolen body / Conspiracy
  2. Hallucination
  3. Apparent Death
  4. Wrong Tomb

Inference to the Best Explanation

The supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead satisfies all the bedrock facts (explanatory scope) and the bedrock facts are exactly what we would expect to follow from this event (explanatory power). Although resurrections are not plausible by natural means, the additional reputation that Jesus worked miracles of healing, his frequent references to his impending death on the cross, and his prediction that his body (the temple) would be destroyed and raised in three days stand in tension without the resurrection and are confirmed and expected with his resurrection. Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection removes the ad hoc-ness from the use of a resurrection to explain the bedrock facts. In fact, the Jews worried about the resurrection (or a claim of resurrection) so they asked Pilate to post guards at the tomb. Finally, the resurrection offers great illumination to many of the sayings of Jesus as outlined in the following section.

It is very clear (to me) that the resurrection of Jesus has great support as the inference to the best explanation of the bedrock facts.

Read more about the other theories here

Purpose found in the Scriptures

The resurrection was not just a magic trick. It has a purpose, just as Jesus’ death had a purpose. Jesus referred to resurrection often, and the disciples and Paul explained the meaning of the resurrection in their writings. Here are several examples:

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [Luke 14:13-14 ESV]

26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. [John 5:26-29 ESV]

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:23-26 ESV]

14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. [Paul in Acts 24:14-15 ESV]

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, … 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. … 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [1 Corinthians 15:3, 5-8, 12-15 ESV]

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3:8-11 ESV]

The above verses imply that we will also experience a resurrection, either to life or to judgement. The implications are that we are everlasting beings who will either spend eternity with or without God.

The next several verses discuss that the resurrection was an ACTUAL EVENT, not merely a spiritual experience or enlightenment. Paul and the others actually believed Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and they were persecuted for their stubborn insistence.

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. [Acts 1:21-23 ESV]

31 [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. [Acts 2:31 ESV]

1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. [Acts 4:1-4 ESV]

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [Acts 4:33 ESV]

18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”–because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” [Acts 17:18-20 ESV]

31 [The Father] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” [Acts 17:31-32 ESV]

6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” 12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. [Acts 23:6-13 ESV]

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, [Romans 1:1-4 ESV]

Now we finish with an interesting connection of the death and resurrection of Christ to the practice of baptism in the church. This sheds new light on Christ’s teaching that we should take up our cross daily and follow him. We follow him into death in baptism, and we rise to newness of life.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [Romans 6:3-5 ESV]

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV]

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. [1 Peter 3:21-22 ESV]

Lastly, as this next verse reveals, the teaching of the resurrection was seen as an elementary doctrine from the earliest history of the Church. It was not something new invented years later.

1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [Hebrews 6:1-2 ESV]

So let us rejoice with Paul that “as we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [Romans 6:3-5 ESV]

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Historiography

The very title of Greg Koukl’s book (The Story of Reality) makes the claim that we are not talking about a ‘fairy tale’. We are talking about Reality. (If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

“Here is the question I want you to consider. Do you want the right answers – that is, do you want to get clear on what actually happened that weekend in ancient Palestine – or do you merely want the right kind of answers, answers that fit your own agenda, regardless of evidence to the contrary? I think you can see the problem.

I recommend an open-minded approach. Shall we not let the facts speak for themselves? Remember, our task is uncovering reality. There are plenty of genuine obstacles to address already. Reality is challenging enough. Let us not stumble over obstacles of our own making that we arbitrarily place in our path.” Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality, p 147.

Greg is encouraging us to avoid looking back in history with a premise that supernatural events are off limits. Be open minded and look at the data.

How do we know the past? What method do we use to compile the most reasonable version of past events? Can we even agree that the past is knowable? If not, then arguing for a particular version of history is a waste of time.

Without taking a course in Historiography, it is difficult to get a concise treatment of the topic. I FOUND ONE FOR YOU, however. It was in a podcast interview with Dr. Mike Licona on www.apologetics315.com. I have included excerpts from the interview (with some paraphrasing for brevity) so you can become comfortable with the foundation of our treatment of past events.

Brian Auten (BA) is interviewing Mike Licona (ML) about ML’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In this interview, ML expands upon his historical method. My comments will be identified by DW.

BA: Well, let me ask you then a question about history. People will say, how can we really know what happened historically? Can we have, actually have, any historical certainty?

ML: Professional historians divide themselves pretty much into two camps. They’re either realists, who believe that there is a past that is knowable to some extent, or they’re postmodernists that say all of the past, any reconstruction of the past, is a narrative and its fiction. Towards the end of the 20th Century, like around 1997, you find some of the leading lights of the postmodernist historians, like Keith Jenkins, saying that pretty much, the postmodernists have lost! Now, that doesn’t mean that they’ve become realists, it just means that they concede that the overwhelming majority of professional historians today are realists. Again, this means that they believe that there is a past that can be knowable to some extent.

DW: This is where I stand. The past is knowable. This is where the Biblical authors stood as well. Otherwise, why would they argue for the actual occurrences of past prophecies, miracles, and the resurrection?

“13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” [1 Corinthians 15:13-14 HCSB]

Paul is arguing for a FACT of history. Christ either rose from the dead or he did not.

Still, this was 2000 years ago. How certain can we be that it ACTUALLY happened? ML continues.

ML: So I like to think, Brian, of a spectrum of historical certainty represented by a staircase with steps labeled:

  • Certain
  • Very Probable
  • >>Quite Probable <<
  • More Probable than Not
  • Indeterminate
  • Somewhat Doubtful
  • Quite Doubtful
  • Very Doubtful
  • Certainly Not

Historians aren’t in complete agreement as to where in the steps a hypothesis has to stand before they will award historicity to that hypothesis. But many agree that it is somewhere around the “quite probable” step. A hypothesis is on that step, when it fulfils most of the criteria for the best explanation and it significantly outdistances competing hypotheses. To that extent, we can achieve a degree of historical certainty.

Bedrock Facts of the Resurrection

If you consider only those facts that are granted by virtually 100% of all scholars who have studied the subject, a very strong historical case for Jesus’ resurrection can be made’. Those kind of facts are called ‘bedrock’ because any responsible reconstruction [hypothesis] of the historical Jesus must use these facts as the foundation upon which that reconstruction is built.  Otherwise, it’s almost certainly mistaken.

In Chapter One of the book, I [ML] discuss criteria employed by professional historians for weighing the varying hypotheses. These criteria are:

  1. explanatory scope
  2. explanatory power
  3. plausibility
  4. less ad hoc
  5. illumination

A medical example.

Suppose there is a 15-year-old young man who is not feeling well. He goes to see his family physician. He describes his symptoms:

  • he is vomiting,
  • he has a fever,
  • he’s got pain in his lower abdomen.

So the physician asks three medical students what diagnosis they would give.

The first student suggests the flu since a fever is the most common symptom of the flu, but the experienced physician points out that the flu isn’t normally accompanied by vomiting and abdominal pain. So the flu diagnosis in that case would lackexplanatory scope because it can’t account for all of his symptoms.

The second student chimes in and says, ‘Hey, OK, so vomiting and abdominal pain aren’t common symptoms for the flu but it’s still possible, though rare, that they resulted from the flu, couldn’t it be?’ And the physician agrees but, he adds that if another diagnosis is available that more easily accommodates the symptoms, then the flu diagnosis would lack explanatory power because you’d be forcing the symptoms to fit the diagnosis. And then he adds that in all of his years practicing medicine that he has never run into a case of the flu in the professional literature that included the three symptoms possessed by the boy. So the attempt by the second student to salvage the flu diagnosis would also lack plausibility because it’s not in accordance with…in accord with other knowledge that is widely accepted.

So now the third student decides to use her imagination and suggests that the boy has the flu, as indicated by the fever, and since it is the middle of the flu season the plausibility factor would be increased. And then she says that there may be reasons for the other symptoms that are unrelated to the flu. Perhaps the boy is a martial artist and he decided to push through his fever and work out, go to his martial arts work out the prior evening and during a sparring session he got kicked in the lower right side of his abdomen and then after practice he went out with a few other students who were his friends for a bite to eat and he got food poisoning and that would explain the vomiting.

So the physician at that point, the experienced one, says I agree with you – these conditions do a good job of explaining the three symptoms without forcing any of them to fit, or without any ambiguity, but it doesn’t do so without a price. And that price is that it requires a lot of improvisation involving two non-evident assumptions. One, that the boy is a martial artist and that, you know, that he got kicked in the abdomen that bruised him during a sparring session. This is a non-evidenced assumption without that knowledge. Secondly that he got food poisoning from going out – also an non-evidenced assumption. This diagnosis has a lot of improvisation and is therefore ad hoc, based on non-evidenced assumptions.

So the experienced physician then goes on to inform his three students that the symptoms that the boy has described are a classic case of appendicitis and an inflamed appendix would explain all three symptoms without any strain or ambiguity, in fact because it’s a textbook case of appendicitis, it possesses plausibility, and because it doesn’t require any non-evidenced assumptions it avoids any hint of being ad hoc, so appendicitis is clearly the best explanation of the symptoms since it fulfils the criteria far better than any other diagnosis. So based on this the physician will strongly recommend that the boy have his appendix removed.

Now, I’d want to add that it’s very worth noting that none of these other diagnoses can be ruled out as impossible. They’re all possible! But the physician is going to treat the symptoms according to the diagnosis that is most likely correct and that is determined by which diagnosis fits, or fulfills, the important criteria best.

DW: To quote J. Warner Wallace, “Anything is POSSIBLE, but not everything is REASONABLE.”

In the next post, you will find that a historical approach to the minimal facts surrounding Jesus life, death, and subsequent behavior of the apostles makes the miraculous resurrection a most REASONABLE conclusion.

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The Cross

The Cross of Jesus is discussed in Chapters 19-21 of Greg Koukl’s book (The Story of Reality). (If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

Read Chapter 19 before going further. It walks through the footsteps of Jesus’ life and sets the stage for the following Bible passages.

During his life Jesus mentioned the cross often. His death on the cross was not unexpected by him. In fact, he made it obvious that self-sacrifice is expected by all of his followers.

440px-Texas_sparky

But put yourself in the disciples’ sandals for a moment. If your spiritual leader kept referring to the electric chair wouldn’t it make you uneasy? Being in Huntsville, we are very familiar with “Old Sparky” – the electric chair that was used in the Huntsville (Walls) Unit from 1924 to 1964 to execute 361 individuals. If the electric chair makes you queasy, then the cross should make you faint.

Jesus points his disciples to the cross

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [Mark 8:34 ESV]

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Luke 9:23 ESV]

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [Matthew 16:24 ESV]

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [Matthew 10:38 ESV]

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:27 ESV]

After three years in ministry tension grows in Jerusalem. Ignoring his disciples’ pleas to avoid Jerusalem, Jesus “set his face” toward what was in front of him. (Luke 9:51)

Jesus dies on the cross

17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. … 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  [John 19:17, 19  ESV]

39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” … 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. [Matthew 27:39-40, 42 ESV]

30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” … 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. [Mark 15:30, 32 ESV]

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. … 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” [John 19:31-34, 36-37 ESV]

Read more here about the gruesome torture of crucifixion.  Even Cicero recoiled at the thought.

But the executioner, the veiling of heads, and the very word ‘cross,’ let them all be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. [Cicero, 106-43BC, Pro Rabirio Postump]

And today, the cross is a piece of jewelry. Amazing.

What would you think of a bunch of people who wore silver and gold electric chair charms on necklaces, or had electric chairs emblazoned on t-shirts and hats with catchy Bible verses? That would be so strange and weird. Right? Yet we seem to rejoice in the disgusting, horrific, and agonizing cross.

Why?

The work of the cross

The cross is offensive to the Jewish leaders who demanded obedience to rules and ordinances.

“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” [Galatians 5:11 ESV]

Christ sent Paul:

“to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:17-18 ESV]

Paul boasted exclusively in the cross of Jesus! What?!

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. [Galatians 6:14 ESV]

He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [Ephesians 2:14-16 ESV]

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 ESV]

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, … [Colossians 1:19-22 ESV]

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses …, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [Colossians 2:13-14 ESV]

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV]

The Scripture suggests that something significant happened on the cross.

  • Reconciliation
  • Cancelling of debt
  • Restoration of peace
  • New way for us to become holy, blameless, and beyond reproach

Nowhere else in history do Evil, Justice, Love, and Forgiveness converge but on the cross of Jesus Christ. [Ravi Zacharias]

The Evil we have done and the Evil done to innocent Jesus;

The perfect Justice pronounced by the Father;

The unparalleled Love Jesus displayed by drinking that cup willingly;

The unbelievable Forgiveness that is offered to us;

These converge on the cross – the horrific and beautiful cross.

 

Love to you all,

Darren

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Jesus

We are now covering a description of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth which is in Chapters 16-18 of Greg Koukl’s book (The Story of Reality). (If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

Pretend for a second that you had never heard of Jesus. For some reason you were drawn to the ancient history of Rome. Pulling the thread through your redistilled and repackaged college or high school history books you stumble upon the idea that it would be cool to look at original sources. These letters and ancient accounts of events in the first century are readily available in today’s Internet-connected society. No doubt you would come across the following influential Romans: Thallus (52 AD), Tacitus (56-120 AD), Mara Bar-Serapion (70 AD), Phlegon (80-140 AD), Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD), Suetonius (69-140 AD), Lucian of Samosata (115-200 AD), and Celsus (175 AD). You would also find some Jewish historians and writings that cover the history of the first century: Josephus (37-101 AD), the Jewish Talmud (400-700 AD), and the Toledot Yeshu (1000 AD).

All these authors and documents have two important things in common:

  1. They all mention Jesus of Nazareth or his followers.
  2. They all are NOT a part of Jesus’s following. They would be what forensic investigators call Hostile Witnesses. They have no reason to embellish the historical record to make Jesus “look good”.

This material comes from J. Warner Wallace’s blog ColdCaseChristianity.com. Read this and this for more depth on what these ancient sources say. (Read his book Cold Case Christianity for a forensic analysis of the Christian Faith. He was an atheistic cold case investigator when he turned his investigation skills on the Bible to specifically prove it wrong. Following the evidence, he became a Christian.)

 

Here is his summary from Wallace’s blog of what these non-Christian sources have to say about Jesus.

Jesus was born and lived in Palestine. He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter. He was a teacher who taught that through repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters. He led the Jews away from their beliefs. He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds. He healed the lame. He accurately predicted the future. He was persecuted by the Jews for what He said, betrayed by Judah Iskarioto. He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns. He was crucified on the eve of the Passover and this crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius. On the day of His crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake. Afterward, He was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty. He appeared to His disciples resurrected from the grave and showed them His wounds. These disciples then told others Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Jesus’ disciples and followers upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai. The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims. They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after His death.

Amazing.

In Greg Koukl’s book the Story of Reality, he takes on the so-called Jesus mythers – people who claim that Jesus was a recycled version of ancient polytheistic myths with virgin births and resurrections. This claim needs to be addressed because it is implied in nearly every social studies class in high school (confirmed by my son – a high school freshman). This tale was also promulgated in the internet film Zeitgeist. It was also completely and clearly debunked by Chris White.

What is sad is the lack of historical knowledge behind this claim. The hostile sources above are describing near term events in the first century that confirm Biblical claims about Jesus.

It is also sad to think of the tortured logic behind the Jesus-is-a-myth claim. How would devout Jews like Peter and Paul be enticed away from the Jewish religion and all-encompassing Jewish culture to follow some cobbled-together collection of Zoroastrian and other myths?

Finally, if the virgin birth and resurrection claims were made up in the late 3rd century, why do the hostile sources near the first century already have the so-called made up facts as part of their reports? Why do we have records of early Christians going to their deaths over the truth of these claims?

Greg summarizes,

“The recycled-redeemer crowd asks why we should consider the stories of Mithras, Horus, Attis, and other pagan mystery saviors as fables, yet treat as factual (what they think is) a similar story told of a Jewish carpenter. The answer is simple: There is no good historical evidence for any of the ancient mythological characters and their deeds, but there is an abundance of reliable historical evidence for Jesus. … Jesus of Nazareth was a man of history, who made a profound impact on history.”

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter did not write about Jesus as if they were making up “once upon a time” stories. They claimed that what they observed was observable by anyone present at the events they describe.

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you … [1 John 1:1-2]

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared

  • to Cephas, then
  • to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared
  • to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared
  • to James, then
  • to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also
  • to me.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. [1 Corinthians 15:3-9 ESV]

OK, so if we stipulate that Christ was an actual person in the first century who was a miracle worker and who is claimed to have risen from the dead. So what? Why is that significant?

The Person of Christ

This is so important to discuss and so timely with the recent opening of the movie The Shack – a fictional story that is full of distorted views on God and Christianity. The book was a New York Times Bestseller, and the movie is sure to attract many. And even though it is fiction, it will have a negative impact on those who do not know what the Bible actually teaches on the nature of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(For a two part series on the Trinity see Greg Koukl’s Solid Ground Articles Part 1 and Part 2.)

The power of entertainment to shape a people’s thinking was eloquently captured by a Scottish writer in 1703. Andrew Fletcher said,

“if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws”

I’m not an isolationist. See movies. Read books. But realize that fiction is not fact. Don’t let Dan Brown’s fiction in the Da Vinci Code, or William Young’s The Shack be your source for knowledge about the teachings of Christianity or for knowledge about REALITY.

Jesus was truly a human, a man. He was born like us (although the Bible tells us his conception was special). He grew up like us. He had a job like us (a carpenter). He hungered, thirsted, and wept like us. He fretted about death just like us. We see that he even suffered, bled, and died like us. He was one of us.

But Jesus also made divine claims. He predicted that his death and resurrection would be a sign that his claims were true. Jesus was truly God, according to his own claims.

Saying these outrageous things often prompted the Jews to pick up stones to put him to death for claiming to be God.

30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”

33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” [John 10:30-33 ESV]

Greg summarizes,

And now we begin to see why the “Who is Jesus?” question is so important. If Jesus is not who he claimed to be, ignore him as a mad man or (if he knew his claims were false) an imbecile, since he played his charade right to its gruesome end. If his claim is true, however, that changes everything. “Aut Deus, aut malus homo,” the ancients wrote. “Either God, or a bad man.” There is no middle ground.

The Work of Christ

I cannot say it any better than Paul in his letter to the Romans:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:6-8 ESV]

19 For as by the one man’s disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19 ESV]

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23 ESV]

5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. … 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  [Romans 7:5, 24-25a ESV]

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. … 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [Romans 8:1, 11 ESV]

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35-39 ESV]

Therefore, in line with Andrew Fletcher’s comment that ballads have an outsized impact, let’s end with a hymn from Martin Luther about the Person and Work of Christ:

1 Now praise we Christ, the Holy One,
The blessed virgin Mary’s Son.
From east to west, from shore to shore
Let earth its Lord and King adore.

2 He who himself all things did make
A servant’s form agreed to take,
That he as man mankind might win
And save his creatures from their sin.

3 The grace and pow’r of God the Lord
Upon the mother was outpoured;
A virgin pure and undefiled
In wondrous way conceived a child.

4 The noble mother bore a Son —
For so did Gabriel’s promise run —
Whom John confessed and leaped with joy
Before the mother knew her boy.

5 Upon a manger filled with hay
In poverty content he lay;
With milk was fed the Lord of all,
Who feeds the ravens when they call.

6 The heav’nly choirs rejoice and raise
Their voice to God in songs of praise.
To humble shepherds is proclaimed
The Shepherd who the world has framed.

7 All honor unto Christ the Lord,
Eternal and incarnate Word,
With Father and with Holy Ghost,
Till time in endless time be lost.

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Evil and Wrath

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Greg Koukl admits in these two chapters (14 and 15) of his latest book (The Story of Reality) that the issue of evil is a thorny one.

(If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

We discussed the problem of evil in an earlier post. In this post, I’d like to branch out from Koukl’s material slightly to focus on the definition of evil and the place of wrath.

How would you define the term “evil”?
Can you define it without referring to examples of evil?
What IS evil?

J. P. Moreland has noted, “Evil is a lack of goodness. It is goodness spoiled. You can have good without evil, but you cannot have evil without good.”

Greg Koukl has said, “Human freedom was used in such a way as to diminish goodness in the world, and that diminution, that lack of goodness, that is what we call evil.”

This idea that evil is a lack of good solves a great many problems philosophically, theologically, and emotionally.

This answers the challenging claim that God created evil, for evil is not a thing. It is a lack of good.

This also informs our false intuition that mankind is basically good. I think we recognize the beauty of the image of God in mankind, but intentionally blind ourselves to the evil in the human soul. Stating that the human soul is evil is very controversial because we grade on a curve. If we are not a mass murderer, then we are “good”. But that is not true. If evil is a lack of goodness, then we are in deep trouble.

We lack a LOT.

We are not righteous. We are not perfectly good, and therefore we are evil.

[Matthew 19:16-17 ESV] 16 And behold, a man came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Jesus corrected the young man, and pointed out that “good” was a WHO not a WHAT.

Then Jesus discusses ways to follow “the Good”. He begins with the commandments. He ups the ante next by telling the young man to rid himself from his earthly attachments. Then he hits the main point:

[Matthew 19: 21 ESV] 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect,… come, follow me.”

Here’s a little quiz.

Which was the main point in Jesus advice?

a. Follow the 10 Commandments perfectly.
b. Give away everything you own to the poor.
c. Follow Jesus.

I suggest that the main point was to c. Follow Jesus. Keeping His commands and loving others is how we show we love Him. Jesus is “the good” not the deeds.

[John 14:15 ESV] 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Lack of obedience is evil, but the main evil is identified as a lack of belief.

Jesus was teaching his disciples and comforting them on their last night together when he said,

[John 16:7-11 ESV] 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
-9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
-10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
-11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

This Helper is what the Bible calls the Holy Spirit. It is what causes your conscience to scream at you when you consider your lack.

What is it that you lack?

Here are some attributes or fruits of the Holy Spirit:

[Galatians 5:22-23 ESV] 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Is your conscience not convicted by your lack of love and all these other holy and good attributes of God? Mine is. My weight is evidence of my lack of self-control. My temper is evidence of my lack of patience, gentleness, peace, and kindness. My intentional acts of disobedience are evidence of my lack of faithfulness.

But are these “evil”? If evil is a lack of goodness, yes. If God is good, then my lack will make me as incompatible with Him as darkness is incompatible with light.

I can no more withstand his presence than can darkness withstand the presence of a single candle flame. Darkness is a lack of light, and when light comes, darkness retreats.

This stark elimination of evil by God’s holiness is the proper understanding of wrath. There is no way darkness can resist light and no way evil can successfully resist God’s goodness and holiness.

Does this match what we see in the “real world” around us?

Ultimately it is not our lack of good deeds that will be our undoing. Notice that Jesus ended with “follow me” as the key to goodness. Notice that the Helper is not coming to convict us of sinful deeds, but of a “sinful lack of belief in Jesus”.

What a bold thing for Jesus to say!

  • Goodness and eternal life are tied to following him.
  • Sin is a lack of belief in him.

These are not the teachings of merely a “good moral teacher”. These are divine claims. It took the resurrection and the Holy Spirit to prove it to the disciples.

Is your conscience pricked by this? Don’t ignore it. Pray,

“God, if your Holy Spirit is truly behind my troubled conscience, please give me the wisdom to seek you. Reveal yourself even more in my conscience, my exploration of the Bible, and my feeble attempts to follow Jesus wherever He may lead. -Amen”

[Mark 9:24 ESV] … “I believe; help my unbelief!”

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Beautiful and Broken

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Chapters 11-13 in Greg Koukl’s The Story of Reality are focused on the beauty and the brokenness of humanity. These are so close to our personal experience that we need no long discourse. But rather, we can ponder these things and marvel at the heights and depths of our state.

(If you are new to this series, check out the first post and the intervening posts to put this in context.)

Marvel at

  • Our intricate design
  • Ravishing beauty
  • Creative souls
  • Range of emotions
  • Range of abilities
  • Art, music, literature, film
  • Engineering, chemistry, physics, math, biology
  • Psychology, sociology, counseling, education

To see the beauty of humanity is to bask in the beauty of God’s image stamped upon his image bearers.

Grieve at

the extent of the brokenness of mankind – a curving of man’s nature back onto itself

  • Our intricate design manipulated against its will and the will of the designer
  • Ravishing beauty twisted into profit-making tools of lust
  • Creative souls working to desecrate out of rebellion
  • Range of emotions diminished so much that little is left but fear, anger, and hatred
  • Range of abilities used to serve self with no other considerations
  • Art, music, literature, film to rebell, isolate, and exclude any mention of divine purpose
  • Engineering, chemistry, physics, math, biology used against humanity rather than for it
  • Psychology, sociology, counseling, education used to indoctrinate in evil

Ponder these deeply. Ponder not in the abstract. Ponder your own depths of brokenness.

And flee to the Father who has made a way for your restoration in Jesus Christ.

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