Category Archives: Book Reviews

Does Christianity Teach Social Evolution or Something Else?

You may think I have skipped Pt. 2 of the first post of this series, but more must be said before jumping in with both feet to answer the question posed at the end of Pt. 1.

Following along in Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, we encounter the question about the future of the “cosmos: progress or despair?”

The first answer stems from Social Evolution. This has its basis in Western thought that developed during the Renaissance with both Christian and secular roots. As science was progressing incredibly quickly, wealth and industry spreading rapidly, these ideas began leaking into social thinking as well. It progressed even more rapidly with the rise of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, as this seemed to give scientific reinforcement that the evolution of the world was unstoppable and inevitable. Progress was simply how things were.

But in reality, this is a myth. There are massive holes in the theory. First, it can’t deal with evil in a number of ways. It can’t stop it. There is nothing philosophical or scientific that tells us that at some point, evil will be eradicated because of the evolution of the cosmos. Along these lines, despite what may or may not be true about biological evolution, there is certainly no such thing as cosmic evolution. In actuality, the universe is running straight toward demise, with an unavoidable heat death at best. Second, it social evolution doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of evil. Even if utopia came tomorrow, what do we make of all of the suffering and evils of today?

And some Christians have bought into this. Rob Bell, who reached his pinnacle of “fame” with his book Love Wins, is one of them. He believes that it is humanity’s mission to bring about the restoration of this world itself. As Wright will show, this is not at all Biblical. He has bought into this social charade that says we will bring about the change, not God. In fact, this line of thought has been so popularized, that we see it on bumper stickers: “Be the change you want in the world.”

So the answer must be despair? Thanks to Plato, the idea that this whole world is evil and the only redemption is to escape it has a place in this conversation as well. This view says that material things, particularly the body, is bad and to rid ourselves of it is to reach what we were meant to be. This is the spiritualization of culture. The idea that when you die, you go “up there” to be in a “better place.”

Again, many Christians have fallen prey to this myth as well. Another view with a basis outside of the Bible, and another view that leads to confusion. Hymns talk about this world “not being our home” and how we are “just passing through.” It is these people that get labeled as those that are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” The purpose of Christianity becomes to go to heaven when you die.

So the answer is neither death and demise nor progress and redemption at our own hands. Rather, Christianity affirms “that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in his resurrection, is what he intends to do for his whole world-meaninf, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.”

 

 


Our Expectations of God: They May Be Off… Way Off

A short time ago I finished a book by Phillip Yancy called Disappointment With God. It was a great book, and one that I recommend to anybody, but particularly those who have/are in difficult times.

One of the main points of the book was to address why we can be disappointed with God, as the title may suggest. He does this by answering three questions: Is God unfair? Is He silent? Is He hidden? Instead of answering these questions and giving an explanation, as we so often do, he takes a different route. he addresses why we are asking these questions in the first place. In asking these things, we clearly have presuppositions in regards to how God should be and how He should act. If we think He is unfair, clearly we think He should be fair. If He is silent, clearly we think that He should speak. And if He is hidden, clearly we think that He should make his appearance known.

Typically, the answer to these questions revolve around philosophy and theology. using wordy responses and scripture references to show that He is fair, is not silent, and is not hidden. But to what use? For those experiencing things that raise these questions, they certainly seem to be legitimate questions. It’s more of a “Why is God not being fair now, why is He not speaking to me, and why do I not feel Him?” You can’t use the answers that we most often give to the original questions and expect people to say, “Oh, that makes sense. Ok. I’ll move on because that eases my pain.”

By addressing our presuppositions about God, we can see why His reality is not matching our expectations of how things should be.

If there are a few things that we can learn from the Bible and human history, they are that God has tried multiple methods of trying to reach out to us, and most have failed. This is not to say that God failed, but rather that we failed Him. He even knew they would fail, but tried anyway. For example, He led the Israelites out of Egypt, into a desert where He fed them every day in a miraculous way, “resided” in a tent and could be felt, and then led them into the Promised Land despite heavy opposition. Did the people continuously praise Him and act according to His will? Not by any means. They complained about the food they were provided, they doubted that they could take the Promised Land despite the fact that they had seen Him part a sea and cause the Plagues. He then tried prophets instead of interacting personally, and what happened? They were killed and hated. Then came the kings, who also failed. And finally the success of Christ. But if He knew that Christ was the answer all along, why try these other, pointless options, destined to fail?

I think He did it to show us that they fail. He wanted to be able to say, when people asked why He wasn’t making Himself clear as day, or not speaking directly to them, that it doesn’t work and that He has tried it before. He is able to say that He has spoken to people and they didn’t listen. In fact, He came down Himself as a person, a human, and we killed Him. Fortunately for us, that was the whole plan. But it still showed us that God is there, and that He does care, and that we need to trust Him.

Jesus suffered not only for us, but also with us. God wanted to be able to say, “I know the pain that you feel. I know what emotional and physical pain as a human is like. I have been there, and I made it through, so can you. Follow my example.” What a God we have that He would exhaust all options so that we could have no excuse, and then He suffered in our place and can say that and mean that, and we can know that in the end, God wins.


Loftus- Why I Became an Atheist, Part: 1

Got the book for Easter, along with two of Michael Martin’s books. A little humorous, because as I celebrate the resurrection, I’m reading about why I am wrong about doing so. I will try to do a post per topic in each book, but no guarantees. So here is the first post on Loftus’ book.

I started Loftus first, as he came highly recommended. But through the first 4 chapters, I’ve actually been disappointed. He had a rough time that cause him to fall from his “faith,” but wants to entirely attribute his “deconversion” as he calls it to his intellectual fallout. But it surely appears, at least at face value, that it was in fact the emotional problem he had that aided his intellectual disbelief. For those of you who don’t know his history, he grew up a nominal Christian, and knew of nothing else. He got into drugs, but then found Jesus, who became his new high, and that was in fact how he preached it. He went to Bible college, got a few Masters degrees, even one under Bill Craig, and went into ministry as a pastor. He succumbed to the openness of a co-worker and had an affair, and instead of the Church rallying around and supporting him through his sin, they condemned him, and not his actions, and even though he repented, that wasn’t good enough. This was just the beginning. He continued to find problems at other churches, and eventually he started to stop attending.

Now as one can see, it is indeed a sad story. He found redemption in Christ and lived as best he could to please Him, and we all fail at this, and when he failed, his church did not treat him very well at all. In their correspondence, Norman Geisler apologized to Loftus for the church’s behavior, and does not at all blame him for his reaction. So while the church messed up and surely didn’t follow Christ’s example. Indeed, it is a heart-wrenching story that one, as a Christian, hates to hear. But this was not the part that I was disappointed by. This was actually eye-opening, because all I had known before hand was that Loftus was trying to follow in the footsteps of Paul Copan and become an apologetic leader for the church, and then the next thing we knew, he was promoting atheism. So this story was moving and enlightening, as I realized it wasn’t that he just looked into it and doubted, but had other reasons to doubt as well. And not only this, but that he went down kicking and screaming, for 13 years nonetheless.

The part that was disappointing was the chapter on morality. He attacks Divine Command Theory(DVC) by proposing the Euthyphro dilemma, and says that this puts the proponent of this theory in a tight place. He quotes Craig as biting the bullet. Yet, as a former Christian, it seems he should know that many theologians consider this a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility, viz. that God commands are good because He is good, that it is part of his nature. And in the same way that we are human, and can’t act apart from our human nature’s, God is good and can’t act apart from that. His response is that this begs the question, since how is God good if there is no good other than God to compare his good too? But this can be applied to us being human as well. How do we know what human; is apart from ourselves? We can call it whatever we want, the name is arbitrary, but the proposition or state of affair that hold for one to be “human” seems to be just that, the state of affairs such that one is “human.” So to say that “God is good” is more of an identity statement rather than an attributive statement. He is the measure of good, just as we are the measure of human.

But then he goes on to basically dismiss the natural law theory of Aquinas in less than a paragraph, which he admits is the most popular view in Christianity today, that says that morality is innate to us, that God has “put it on our hearts” and this is our intuition of right and wrong. He simply states that this does not make Christian morality superior to any other morality, and that if this is true, anyone can grasp it. Well, this seems to be a straw man. I know of no proponent of multiple objective moralities, so either Christian morality is true or it isn’t. There is no better than or worse than, it either is or isn’t. I also have never heard anybody say that you must be a Christian to be moral. Usually the argument from morality says that we all observe objective right and wrong, not that only Christians do. So it seems he is surely attaching a straw man.

And this is what disappointed me, and I hope improves as I continue reading. As a former Christian, I hoped that he would only look at the real issue, rather than attacking fake versions of it to make his arguments seem strong, the way Dawkins and Haris and Dennet and Hitchens often do. But that is exactly what he resorts to when speaking of morality.

So… more to come on the next few chapters. I will try to do a post per topic that he discusses and some thoughts on it.


Having your cake and eating it too

While reading Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted, I came to realize how atheists often wish to have their cake and eat it too. The sad part? It often works.

Ehrman discusses some of the contradictions that can be find in the Bible, which are mostly minor and do not cause any change in doctrine no matter how you look at them, and says this is reason to believe that the Gospels are all wrong and contrived for evangelical purposes only, and not for writing an accurate history. But for some reason, most scholars agree that when stories are too similar to each other with no variation, this is a tell-tale sign of them being forged because it shows that the authors were probably collaborating. just like if I were to ask 20 who saw a crime to describe the suspect was and they all said 6’4″, about 250 lbs, white male with a blue shirt that had an outline of a woman on it and he was wearing white Nike’s and some straight leg Hollister jeans, I would be pretty naïve to think that it was merely a coincidence that they all said the exact same thing. So some variation is necessary to be considered legitimate…

But wait a sec, isn’t that what Ehrman is complaining about? Some slight variations? At one point he even discusses how they used different wording of what Jesus said. Duh? Can we really expect them to say verbatim what He said based on their memory or even a witness’ memory? And if they used the exact wording, surely he would jump on that and say that they were working together and that they are therefore unreliable. Please people, get your heads on straight and quit being so obstinate. You can’t have it both ways.

Now that’s what I call having your cake and eating it too, which would be nice if you could, but you can’t, and we (atheist and theist alike) need to point this out when anybody tries to do so.