Where to Begin?

It is well known that when a debate cannot be won by reasoning, controversialists are prone to descend to personal abuse. If arguments are lacking, mud is a good substitute.
John Stott[1]

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (NKJV)

I want to know things. I mean I really want to know things. I want to know what the appendix is for. I want to know what the extraterrestrial life is like. I want to know what dinosaurs really looked like. I want to know why bacon is so good. I want all the answers to everything. I know that one day I will find out all the answers, and see the entire history of the universe laid out before me so that I can discern the way every piece fits. Until that moment, however, I have to satisfy myself with what little can be gleaned from the annals of scientific thought and experimentation.[2] In the coming weeks and months, I will be expanding on what I present here, so this will function as a bit of a primer for what is to come. The fact is, contrary to popular belief,[3] there is a great deal of substantiated and scientific fact that points towards a universe with a Creator. While individual points can be controverted, the most important thing is to find the “theory” that best fits the available evidence. There is nothing that we believe to be true that cannot be countered by seemingly contradictory facts, adjusting the frame of reference, or dismissing the validity of some basic premise. As I have stated before, we all have our biases, and it is difficult to set them aside long enough to listen to the good sense and arguments of an opponent. The deciding factor is our true desire: do we want to be comfortable or convicted; do we want to maintain our pride or our legitimacy?

If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity – reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt – would you then become a Christian? … If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual.[4]

The fact is, there is nothing I can say or write that will cause anyone to convert, much less become a “born-again” Christian. My sole purpose is to break down some of the intellectual barriers that may prevent someone from considering the claims of the Bible due to what is perceived is a lack of evidence. You do not have to mortgage your intellect in order to discover faith; the facts are there, if you choose to entertain them. For Christians, this can serve to validate what you already believe, and fortify a defense to the questions and attacks of skeptics.[5] For skeptics (whether atheist, agnostic, or affiliated with another religion), this can at the very least give a modicum of esteem to the Christians whose position you may have found intellectually lacking, if not inferior. At the most, it will allow you to be honest with yourself about the evidence that most certainly exists. In truth, it is more often an unwillingness to consider the evidence than ignorance that it exists, or even the knowledge that God exists, and yet a conscious decision to live in denial of that fact:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!
– James 2:19 (NKJV)

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The third part of that is nearly impossible to do without any proof of the claims that Jesus made, much less the prophets and other writers of the Bible. If you ignore any part of the command, then your faith will be less able to withstand attacks from either the enemies on the outside or the doubts within. Every bit of evidence that I give should be carefully considered, and checked against reputable sources. I do not claim any perfection or divine inspiration when I write, although I do seek God’s guidance and wisdom before, during and after every session I spend at a keyboard. One last thing before I “begin”: I will surely have some people wondering why any of this really matters; if I feel that I am right, and therefore saved and on my way to heaven, why do I feel the need to share any of this. If I see someone cutting jalapeños with no gloves, then rubbing her face, I will feel inclined to warn her of the possible adverse effects. Even more so if I smell gas and see someone about to light a cigarette. When I firmly believe that I have knowledge that can make an eternal difference for someone’s soul, what could possibly prevent me from at least making the attempt to share that information? I cannot worry about how it is received, I can only plow forward[6], and now I will.

I claim that the scientific method provides the means to discover the facts that substantiate my beliefs. It is important at the outset to give the steps to this method for clarity:[7]

1)   Determine the problem or question to be addressed
2)   Research and document personal experiences and previous attempts that are relevant to the problem or question at hand.
3)   Develop a hypothesis that proposes a solution or cause
4)   Develop and perform experiments that will demonstrate any truths or errors inherent in the hypothesis.
5)   Analyze the data and draw conclusions.
6)   Publish your results (publicly or privately)
7)   Repeat steps 2-6 as often as desired or necessary.

Experiments can be in the form of mental exercises as well as physical tests, and the initial hypothesis is not particularly important as long as you are willing to repeat the steps, gradually coming closer to the truth. The following are topics I am going to discuss in greater detail, with a brief synopsis of what I will address in that discussion[8]:

–       Knowing God by faith: One of the first questions I often hear is along the lines of, “Why doesn’t God (if He exists) dispense with all the secrecy and mystery, and simply show Himself? It would be much more just and reasonable to allow people the opportunity to determine His character if they did not have to deal with the millennia of stories and confusion.” These same people often object to the idea of an omniscient God who deprives us of our free will. There is no opportunity for a choice if we are unable to deny His existence. If He forces us to choose Him, it is no choice at all. Love must be given freely, and love from us is what He desires.

–       Evolution: This could be (and for many apologists, is) an entire series of books instead of blogs. Regardless, I am going to cover a wide range of topics in this category. The Theory of Evolution is a hot topic, but relatively simple to dispute. The fact is, the story of Creation found in the Bible fits the reality we live in now and are aware of from the past much better than any part of evolutionary theory. To begin with, there is absolutely no evidence of a single instance of macroevolution (large-scale evolutionary changes above the species level, required to produce new species). The proponents of Darwin’s evolutionary theory (and the modern version) use an a priori faith in the theory to fill the gaps in our knowledge. This is similar to how Christians use the fact that they believe the Bible and trust in God to help them face their doubts. I am a follower of Christ, therefore I have no choice but to believe that there is justice in what seems like atrocities in the Old Testament, because the overwhelming nature of the Bible is such that justice, love, and mercy override all else. In the case of evolution, there are actually much larger leaps of faith required.

–       Laws of Nature: The laws of nature are not laws in the sense that we normally define them. They do not prescribe the behavior that matter should strive for. Rather, they simply express what actually does, in fact, happen. Scientists find new amendments and corollaries all the time that force us to redefine how we look at nature. Much of our science is, in fact, historical. We make judgments and decisions based on what we think probably happened, because we cannot see what actually happened in the past. The Principle of Uniformity, which essentially states that things work now as they’ve always worked, is of utmost importance in science, because without it no experiment is repeatable, and thus no discovery is valid. While there is no proof that this Principle is true, it does not weaken any arguments for God or Christ, so it is certainly acceptable.

–       Creation: There is a plethora of data that point to the Big Bang being the most likely (by far) cause of the universe. The Big Bang also fits perfectly with the idea of a divine Creator. For too long, many Christians viewed the Big Bang Theory as in opposition to the Bible, and thus rejected it out of hand in the face of overwhelmingly compelling evidence. When studying this evidence, it becomes readily apparent that a Creator is most certainly behind it. Also, the idea of irreducible complexity, combined with William Paley’s “Watchmaker” analogy, exhibits all the traits of a created universe, in spite of the objections made by Richard Dawkins, et al.

–       Logical and Philosophical Issues: Too often there are intellectual errors committed in the defense of atheism. Whether begging the question, creating straw men, or using a priori biases (as mentioned above), proponents of atheism and agnosticism do not regularly practice the intellectual honesty they claim to be lacking in Christians. They tend to ignore any and all evidence based on the fact that they have discounted the possibility of the evidence at the outset. For example, you cannot find evidence for miracles if you have initially claimed that miracles are impossible; any evidence that points toward a miracle must have a natural cause, even if we fail to find any notion of it.

–       Morality/Sin: There is a Moral Law that can be found in all of us and that transcends culture and society. There is also a missing element in our character where we all fail to live up to even our own standards of righteousness. We have no need to teach selfishness to our children, because they are obviously born with the trait. To write off such behavior to inherited instinct only takes us so far, and then we must face the truth of who we are and the substance of which we are made.

–       Love: In a world without God, love is merely the result of the random firing of neurons, and desires raised throughout our evolutionary history in the most animalistic parts of our brains. To feel “love” for a spouse, child, or friend is merely to covet his or her usefulness in the extension of our lives. There is no love, beauty or even anger that has any meaning. Even thought itself (such as constructing the argument that every thought and feeling has a root in our evolution) is not real, but rather the result of electrical currents.

–       Worldwide Apostasy: There is a belief that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is fading out as scientific and technological advances make them obsolete. In fact, both religion and atheism are on the rise; it is the middle ground that is disappearing. The unbelievable number of new Christians in Africa and Asia alone create exponential growth in the worldwide Church. Science is, in fact, constantly providing new evidence that backs up the claims of the Bible.

–       Historicity and Accuracy of the Bible:  The Bible is proven to be a historically accurate set of documents, and the vast majority of seeming inconsistencies is readily and fundamentally discounted. The few remaining issues have as many positive explanations as negative counters. Also, the sayings of Jesus Himself are so philosophically and logically sound, not to mention brilliant and unassailable, that they befit only a world that has His salvation available and within its grasp.

–       History of the Church: Although I have already discussed some of the issues with the fallibility and frailty of Christians, I am going to go more in depth on the growth and development of the Church, and how it affects our faith today.

This could be enough to talk about for the rest of my life, or I could get on one topic and that could be the focus of this page for some time. I have ideas, theories[9], knowledge and experiences that I want to share with whomever stumbles upon this site, and I hope to get responses and criticisms that will help us all to strengthen our wisdom as well as our faith. In the end, it is truly for His glory and in His name that I do this at all, and I hope to share with you the mysterious peace, the immense joy, and the immeasurable mercy that comes as a result of a relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord. I also hope to add this coming week a section on how you can receive His gift of salvation. In the meantime, please check out this link to the website of my home church: http://fbct.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=18549

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Stott, John. Basic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971. Chapter 3.
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[2] By scientific thought here I mean anything that can be discerned by following the steps of the scientific method, which I will deal with later. Although every type of study does not necessarily fall into the category of science, per se, I am going to put it there anyway, since even processes of thought and speaking can be categorized as experiments in their own way. Science in this regard is anything that can be discovered by general revelation (as opposed to specific revelation) – anything that we can figure out for ourselves, rather than having it explicitly revealed to us. I am extrapolating these typically theological terms for use with a wider definition, although the end result is, in fact, the conclusions of general revelation in the stricter sense.
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[3] This is popular belief by both secular and religious people. There are plenty of Christians who believe, in spite of the fact that they do not feel there is any concrete evidence that supports their faith. Part of my intent with this blog (by which I mean the continuing, organic site, not just today’s writing), is to help those people see that they can have two strong legs to stand on when it comes to philosophical and theological debates.
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[4] Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004.
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[5] A word of caution: If you cannot defend your faith with grace, humility, and love, then you are doing a disservice to the message of Christ. 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to “[s]anctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (NKJV, emphasis added) This final part is difficult any time you feel strongly about your position, regardless of which side of the fence you inhabit.
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[6] This is not to say that I do this at every opportunity. Unfortunately, I have shied away from the possible conflict more than I care to admit, often with the idea that I do not want to offend someone. I am reaching the point, however, where I feel that there can be very little more important than that conflict, and I seek it as much as I simply allow it to happen.
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[7] There are various forms of the scientific method, some of which split these steps into smaller, more precise steps, and some which lump two or more together into a smaller number of more comprehensive steps. This is my interpreted format.
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[8] This list is not in order, and is not necessarily comprehensive. Due to discussion and debate, not to mention quantity and quality of information, some topics may be longer and even spread over a few blogs. In addition, I am still studying and learning, so I may revisit topics in order to add some new insight. I welcome any strong ideas and opinions on them all, regardless of whether they’ve yet been covered!
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[9] One particular theory of mine to which I am very eager to hear responses is on why God acted in different ways with respect to humanity in different ages, and why there are no longer prophets and miraculous acts and appearances regularly experienced today.
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2 Responses to Where to Begin?

  1. Meredith says:

    Barry, I liked this one, especially the sections that were broken out by topic – they were easier to read. : ) I agreed with most everything you said except “The fact is, there is nothing I can say or write that will cause anyone to convert, much less become a “born-again” Christian.”. Maybe I was reading this wrong but I believe that Christians are here to plant seeds with words and actions and, that each time our Faith is reflected, it gets noticed. Sometimes it takes many “seeds”….

    • ajfits7 says:

      I agree completely with you. I heard a part of a sermon where the pastor discussed this very thing, and the different roles different people may play in the salvation of just one person. It is actually the basis for a blog I want to write at some point. My point here was that the knowledge that God exists, or even that Jesus was and is who he said he was, is not enough to save anyone.That requires work on the part of God to enter a willing heart. Knowing that the truth of the Bible is possible, even probable, can only serve to open the door; it can be a seed, but knowledge alone cannot cause the seed to grow. In fact, my whole purpose in this is to help plant seeds, so that someone can then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, nourish those seeds into an amazing faith in our Lord. I want to remove the initial obstacles that keep some people from considering it, and also to help current Christians realize that their faith is backed up by some amazing truth that is eminently knowable. And thank you always for commenting!

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