We're tweeting live during the radio show and hoping to get discussions going. If you're not sure yet how to use Twitter, here's a good Twitter guide that a friend brought to our attention. You can follow STR on Twitter with STRtweets and engage in discussion with other STR people with #STRtalk.
Jossy Chako, founder and president of Empart Ministries, will be Greg's guest on Sunday. Jossy is an Indian convert to Christian who is now planting churches in India. Empart's goal is to ignite church planting movements among unreached people. It's primary goal is to plant 100,000 churches among unreached people in Asia by 2030.
Atheist Christopher Hitchens has a grasp of the central truth of Christianity. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for some who claim the name Christian. From a recent discussion in Portland, OR, with a Unitarian minister:
Maryiln Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and [sic] distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Christopher Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Apparently the answer is, yes, he does make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion. Amen.
Loathsome as Robertson's views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable 'mystery', or who 'see God' in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God 'suffering on the cross' in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.
Where was God in Noah's flood?....
Dawkins doesn't pay very close attention to the objections to Robertson's claim that God used the earthquake to punish the Haitians for their pact with the devil. The objections wasn't that God would not do such a thing or that such an idea is loathesome. It was that Robertson does not have any way of knowing God had, in fact, done so in this case.
Rather than showing up a contradiction in what Christians say and believe, Dawkins shows how little he has considered Christianity. He has no idea what the "centerpiece" of Christian theology is. Contrary to what Dawkins probably thinks, Christians take speaking for God quite seriously and only accept claims with substantial evidence, such as the Bible. Robertson was dismissed because we had no evidence to take his claim seriously. Dawkins, on the other hand, dismisses any such claims out of his presupposition and never even examines the evidence (as he admitted on a recent radio program).
Christians don't dismiss the content of the claim – the possibility that God could be behind natural events, but the validity of the claim. God has used disasters in the past, as He has told us in a reliable source, to punish people justly for their sin. God can and probably has done so in instances He hasn't told us about. The objection to Roberts was speaking on God's behalf without proper authority.
Dawkins thinks all religion is superstition so doesn’t take seriously any authority claims. He dismisses all religious claims as equally superstitious, and presumes that Christians are looking for God at work behind natural events just as in ancient mythology. But Dawkins, and other atheists, have not taken care to differentiate religious views.
Christians aren't looking for God behind events, we are looking for God in the events. What God is doing behind the scenes is not our concern unless He tells us. What we can discern is God working in events to redeem, rescue, heal, console, etc., as He is doing now through the works of many Christians who have gone to Haiti to offer aid and through His Spirit no doubt at work. Based on the sound reason we have to think God has spoken to us in the Bible, we have confidence agreeing with the Psalmist that, whatever may happen, "our times are in His hands."
Since Dawkins thinks he’s found a flaw in the Christian response, let’s turn the tables on his worldview. What has atheism to offer in response to suffering? Atheism and Darwinism can only view earthquakes in the cold, materialistic light of naturalism. Events are random, natural processes with no meaning or purpose. No redemption. No hope. No nothing but suffering and death, victims of the natural fates.
Bertrand Russel, the famous 20th century atheist, once challenged what a Christian would have to say at the bedside of a dying child where God had not intervened to heal. But what is the atheist’s response? Too bad. The only natural response from atheism is "Tough luck, Haiti." The suffering is not even tragic or evil, it just is the way it is because there is nothing transcendent. There is no good, there is no evil, there is no tragedy in Darwinism. There is only survival and natural processes that bring death or spare us for now. Nothing more.
The problem of evil is a problem for both Christians and atheists. The difference is, the Christian worldview has an answer for the human tragedy in Haiti. Atheism does not.
Creation, a film about Charles Darwin's personal life, is not a rant against God or even a story of the heroism of one man crusading for science against religion. Surprisingly, the movie is not polemical. It doesn't bother to argue against religion, nor does it spend time arguing for the truth of evolution. It's clear that the filmmakers assume this fight has already been won, and so the issues remain in the background. Instead, the story focuses on the inner struggle of Darwin who is suffering to the point of illness due to his daughter's death and his indecision about whether or not to finish and publish On the Origin of Species--a book that his religious wife does not want him to write.
Throughout this story of Darwin's struggle, the movie doesn't hurl anger at God or religion. God is merely...absent, unreal. Religion is clichés and traditions, kindly enough for the most part, but impotent. Darwin gives up on it altogether after hearing a sermon about how "not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the will of God" (a verse that got a scornful chuckle from the audience member next to me). As one who surrounds himself with things of death--dead animals hang from his workroom ceiling as they wait to become skeletons, skulls line his office, and all of nature's cruelties in the struggle for survival constantly engage his thoughts--he knows there is no God who sees the death and suffering that has been driving all the species of the world since life began. The death of his daughter is to him just one more example of the ugliness of the stark, purposeless, unfeeling truth of animal life, weak genes, and the survival of the fittest.
No, religion in Creation is simply a thing that will eventually pass away due to its lacking any usefulness. But religion is not singled out for the viewer as the only thing unworthy of the Darwins' faith. While Darwin's wife, Emma, seeks help in religion, Darwin seeks help in medicine; and we are keenly aware, watching this movie from our perspective, just how impotent nineteenth century medicine is--special water baths, bleeding, etc. We are expected, as viewers, to recognize that neither of these refuges--religion or medicine--has the power to save, and they must evolve into something better in the future if they are to survive.
As with religion and medicine, the evolutionary ideas Darwin is exploring in his research do come into the story, but the film's point is not, ultimately, about biological evolution. Darwin's atheistic, evolutionary view of the world merely forms the framework used by the filmmakers to shed light on his inner struggle. Everything moves from lower to higher, death to greater life. And as passages of Darwin's words from Origin are carefully placed throughout the story, as evolution is used to visually reflect the rise of Darwin's soul from despair to redemption through the love and forgiveness of his wife, one comes to see the irony of using this framework: In the end, Creation turns out to be the same old Christian story of sin, guilt, spiritual death, love, forgiveness, new life, and reconciliation.
At one point in the movie, a doctor tells Darwin that he must find faith if he wants to get better. Not faith in God, necessarily, just faith. I assume that by "faith" he meant a belief and trust in something real and worthwhile that would give him a reason to live. Darwin does find his "faith," regain his health, and finish his book, but exactly what the turning point consists of is not clear. The beginning of it occurs before he is reconciled to his wife and is never really explained. But one thing the filmmakers intended to say is made clear from the triumphant voiceover of (presumably) bits of Origin at the end of the movie: "From suffering and death, higher beings emerge."* The filmmakers (and, one would assume, Darwin) have found purpose in suffering. Just as struggle and death in the animal kingdom brought about "greater" beings, so too did good come out of Darwin's suffering.
Surprisingly, they alight on part of the Christian answer--that suffering brings about a greater good--despite the fact that using images and ideas of atheistic evolution to tell a story with this moral creates a curious contradiction. In a world of random molecules, there is no such thing as "greater," or "higher," or "good." Such things do not objectively exist in a universe that has neither purpose nor standard, so one can't make value judgments about either one biological creature over another or one state of mind over another.
And yet the movie persists not only in doing this, but also in urging us to rise above the base evolutionary struggle (as if there were such a thing as "above"). When Darwin and his wife reconcile, Emma says she is not sorry that she married him, her first cousin, even though they suspect the weakened genes of their children caused the deaths of two of them (the "sin" of Darwin's world)--she is not sorry, because she loves him. The film, through Emma, shows that we are more than mere animals making decisions according to "survival of the fittest"; love is a "higher" calling. The movie asserts this within an atheistic world, but how can a materialist, evolutionary world, with nothing existing higher than nature as a standard towards which we must strive, explain this?
The use of the story of materialism to show the power of decidedly non-material, spiritual things (things that are even more powerful than the science of medicine in this film) is jarring, but the contradiction couldn't be avoided. To tell a good, human story, one must speak of the non-material realities we experience. And if one's worldview can't support such things, one must borrow from another that can.
When the movie ended, I could hear people commenting on how depressing it was, and they were right. They weren't sidetracked by Darwin's perplexing personal triumph at the end. The movie spent much time bombarding us with Darwin's view of the world--the reality of the impersonal and never-ending death, suffering, and decay on which this atheistic universe has built itself for no purpose whatsoever. There is no one above the creaturely struggle who will set things right, no one out there who recognizes our grief, no standard of "higher" and "lower," no purpose or point. Death just is and will be. And despite Darwin's change of heart, no real answer is ever given to us by the filmmakers to change these facts, and the people around me knew it. Darwin overcame, yes, but for no intellectual reason we could discover.
Today marks the 37th year since Roe v. Wade gave the Constitution's right to privacy a new meaning. Abortion remains legal in all 50 states, throughout all nine months of pregnancy, and for virtually any reason.
It's strange, though, that as I speak on abortion in churches, I find many church goers uncomfortable about the subject. They would rather talk about social justice: Human trafficking, poverty, homelessness, and most recently the surge to help Haitians after the devastating earthquake. To be sure, these causes are very important. I care about them and have supported them.
But if what we believe about abortion is true (that it kills an innocent human being), then it becomes an important – if not the most important – social justice issue of our day. There are 3,315 unborn children killed each day.
What upsets me even more is that unlike more trendy social justice issues, Christians are not just apathetic about abortion, some are having abortions. Alan Guttmacher reports that 27% of abortions are committed by Catholics and 43% by Protestants. Christians are killing their own children.
The most dangerous place for a baby to be in America today is resting in her mother’s womb.
Sadly, many people are pro-life, but do nothing to stop the killing. But we can all make abortion unthinkable in our sphere of influence. Besides not having an abortion yourself, you can help someone you know not have an abortion or support a local pregnancy resource center.
If you never have these opportunities, then do what you can to learn how to change minds on abortion. Yes, people do change minds on this issue.
I suggest learning our tactics and using our tools because I know they work, but I’m happy if you use any effective method. Learning to persuade others on abortion is a small sacrifice for a cause that’s well worth the effort.
If you can financially support a pro-life advocate, that’s great. It’s even better if you can become one – even part time. But never underestimate the power of a changed mind. A changed mind changes other minds. Many changed minds change public opinion. And public opinion eventually changes policy. That saves lives.
It was eighty against one. Not good odds, but when I role-play an atheist with the typical Christian students, I like my chances. But these weren’t students. They were adults. And not just any adults, but Christian leaders on the East Coast. Pastors, youth pastors, parachurch leaders, school teachers, and administrators.
I launched into my “Why I’m Not a Christian” arguments. Debate quickly followed. From the start, a number of adults appealed to their experience of the Holy Spirit—“I know God is real because I’ve experienced His Spirit.” I quickly shot back, “How do you know that’s really God? Mormons say the same thing. Do you think they’re experiencing God as well?”
One man in particular was emphatic. “I just know it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to me.” He tried to bolster the argument, declaring God had spoken to him through the Bible as well. I responded with a typical atheist challenge. “The Bible tells us that God spoke to Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his son.” Then I looked him in the eye and questioned him, “If God asked you to kill your son, would you do it?” He joked about his son sitting there next to him, but he could not answer the challenge.
In fact, there were only two leaders out of those 80 who gave me real trouble during the exchange. The first, a youth pastor, launched into the moral argument for God’s existence. I tried to take the “morals are determined by society” route, but he calmly pinned me down. The second, a deacon and Sunday school teacher, offered a design argument, articulating Michael Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity. I quickly changed topics.
Afterward, I spoke with these men who argued well for God’s existence. Do you know what they had in common? Both were huge Stand to Reason fans. Both testified to the immense impact STR has had on their lives. The youth pastor revealed he has listened to every single STR podcast. The deacon was currently taking his daughter through our Tactics material. STR’s impact was unmistakable.
Later, the man who claimed he just knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking to him approached me. He wanted my help. “My son, sitting next to me, is doubting everything.” Then he burst into tears. Embarrassed, he grabbed my arm and pulled me around the corner. As he wept bitterly, his son’s story emerged. A bright kid, grew up in a Christian home, led friends to the Lord, on fire for Christ, even preached in their church. But now, he questioned it all. He begged me, “Will you talk to him? Please, will you talk to him today?”
After my final teaching session, the son approached me, quickly launching into a laundry list of objections to Christianity. A lengthy conversation ensued, covering topics like objective moral truths, utilitarian ethical theory, Kant's categorical imperative, retributive justice, divine hiddenness, intelligent design, and the experience of the Holy Spirit. From the conversation, I guessed he was a graduate student in philosophy. Wrong. He was a high school senior.
His objections boiled down to this: “I’ve been taught that Christianity’s truthfulness is confirmed by my experience. I am no longer having powerful Christian experiences. In addition, I’m reading arguments against Christianity. I now wonder if it’s rational for me to remain a Christian.” He had just rehearsed his father’s argument for Christianity...and its shortcomings.
I listened, offered thoughts to reframe his view of Christianity’s truthfulness, put personal experience in its proper place, and introduced him to apologetics. He thanked me and we parted ways. Please pray for Nikhil as I follow up with him over the coming months and even years.
Through the entire experience, two things were clear. First, God is using Stand to Reason in powerful ways. The first two men confirmed this. Second, the truth of Christianity needs to be built on a foundation more solid than personal experience. The second two men confirmed this.
Our friend Frank Turek from Cross Examined is hosting a live web simulcast tonight, addressing what to do about the youth exodus from our churches once students hit college. The simulcast is from 7-10 pm CST. That's a start time of 5 pm for all you West Coasters (the time listed on the AFA website--6 pm CST--is incorrect). His guests include William Lane Craig, Bill Dembski, Mike Adams and Josh McDowell.