Do We Get Our Identity From God Or From Nature?

Question: 1) How much of a person’s identity is uniquely God-given, and how much is merely a combination of genes and environmental factors? Also, 2) how do we know that a human is not merely a highly sophisticated animal? 

Response: These questions seem to imply that if we can fully explain a person based on DNA and environmental factors, we have no need for God. We know this is not true, for if God does not exist, then only matter exists, shaped by pure chemistry and physics. In such a world there would be no abstract thoughts such as the questions given in this post. In a purely material world, we would be the result of natural forces, never able to overcome the external forces that shapes us. But our experience and our reason tells us this is not true. (For longer explanations of this, see here and here and here. )

Further, the biggest assumption in the first question seems to be built upon an either/or fallacy, namely that personality is either given directly by God or it is genetic and environmental. Personality could very well be developed by God using genetics and environmental factors. Certainly a Biblical case could be made that God uses circumstances to develop a person’s character, test one’s faithfulness, and teach us that He is dependable and wise. Theologians refer to God’s providence, which is where He works out situations through circumstances to achieve His will and His purposes. So we are safe in concluding that God brings experiences into our lives to shape us.

But Christians are more than that. The New Testament tells us that we are regenerated, that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As new creatures in Christ we have new desires, new purposes, new goals. Many Christians can give testimony that the Bible is correct in that in the new birth, they have a change of direction, a new set of wants and desires.

How much is genes and environment versus direct intervention of God? The apostle Paul tells us even he had a struggle between the old and the new. Paul gives a vivid description in the last part of Romans 7. As Christians, we are both our old self and our new, awaiting the ultimate day when we are redeemed both in body and soul.

As to humans and animals, we know that humans are highly sophisticated animals. The point is that we are not merely and only sophisticated animals. We are told this in the Bible when it says that we are created in the image of God. Animals follow instinct and do not have control over their passions without external training by people. As Vernon McGee once said, if we ever see a monkey on his knees in repentance, then we can take them more seriously as compared to humans.

Posted in Apologetics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How Are Humans More Than Mere Matter?

This is another in a series of questions about the existence of God.

Question: How are human beings more than just matter? At what point is the mind more than artificial intelligence can imitate, given the rapid progress of technology?

Response: While artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably get more and more lifelike, it will never replace the human mind. Even though AI may get so good to where we may not distinguish between the machine and a human, there will always be great differences.

I can program a computer to talk to me when I arrive home from work. I could make it say “Welcome home dear. I have missed you. I love you.” But the computer would not have truly missed me, for it was only saying what it was programmed to say. It does not truly love me as a family member would. The voice on my phone right now can tell jokes, but it does not get the humor. It is only doing what someone programmed it to say.

Here’s another way to try to explain the problem. John Searle devised an illustration that has come to be known as The Chinese Room. Here is Searle’s summary of the illustration:

Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.

In the Chinese Room, Searle seems to demonstrate to us that thinking and experiencing is more than mere mental processing. A computer can translate language, several online translators show that. But the computer doesn’t really understand, does not have consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.” The person in the Chinese Room can match symbols and correctly follow the rules, but has no idea of whether the symbols are Chinese or Martian, or know whether he is answering questions about cooking or car repair. The person is correctly answering the questions, but doesn’t really understand the meaning. Our universal experience of thinking tells us that there is something more to answering questions than merely following programming rules. A computer can follow programming rules, but it’s not thinking in a human sense of the term. A supercomputer does not truly have self-consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.”

These examples show that no matter how good the AI gets, it will never be the same as a human mind. In such things as mathematics, love, and justice, we recognize that there is something more than mere mental processing, something more than merely working out a pre-programmed problem. When my phone tells a joke, we realize that humor is more than the pure sound waves of the words. When we listen to music, we do not hear a series of frequencies in sequence. Rather, we hear a tune that is connected and flows. We know there is something more there than sound frequencies.

Further, we know that some things exist beyond mere AI. If God does not exist, than all that does exist is ultimately physics and chemistry. The universe, with us included, are merely complex machines, molecules in motion following natural laws such as electromagnetism and motion. Yet things like mathematics, love, and justice are real things that actually do exist. If God is not real, then pure atheistic materialism is true, and all that exists is matter, then justice and love are not real, for neither are material.

It gets worse for the atheist materialist, for if all that exists is matter, we would not have even developed the concepts of non-material things. The ideas would have never arisen. Indeed, as The Chinese Room shows, even meaning would not exist.  Yet they have, therefore a purely materialistic worldview becomes untenable.  This is why some Christian thinkers maintain that if God does not exist, then all meaning is lost and the world becomes absurd. Yet we know that meaning exists and justice is desired by people. Therefore something exists beyond pure materialism. This we call God.

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Is Christianity the Only Way?

This is another in a series of questions about the truth of Christianity.

Question: Why do we believe that Christianity is the only way, as opposed to other religions? People in other religions, such as Buddhism or New Age, claim to have found peace in their lives, to have had spiritual experiences, and even to have experienced the miraculous. Could other religions and beliefs be true?

Response: First, we must understand the nature of truth. A fundamental principle of all reason is that if two things are contradictory, they cannot both be true. They could both be false, or one be true and the other false, but two conflicting facts cannot both be true. If we were to hold that contradictory things can both be true, we would have nonsense.

The sentences “The ball is red” and “The ball is not red” are contradictory. A ball cannot be red and not be red in the same sense at the same time. If they were, then we would have nonsensical statements and we would not be able to tell whether or not the ball was actually red.

Take for example the following:
1. “Contradictory things can both be true”
2: “Contradictory things cannot both be true”

1 and 2 are contradictory statements. If 1 is true, then 2 would have to be true also, since it is a contradiction of 1. But if 2 is true, and it says 1 is false, then 1 would have to be false. Holding both of these to be true, in the same sense, is nonsense. In reality, 1 is false and 2 is true.

Therefore if we are going to have meaningful statements and be able to communicate in any reasonable fashion, then we must hold that contradictory things cannot both be true.

So take, for example, different religions. Islam says that Jesus was not God, did not die on a cross, and did not rise from the dead. Christianity says Jesus was God, did die on a cross, and rose from the dead. Both of these cannot be true.

Buddhism and most New Agers deny that there is a God who is distinct from the universe, deny Jesus is the one God, and deny that all people will spend an eternity as their distinct selves in either heaven or hell. Christianity affirms all these things, and has a similar contradiction with all religions that deny that there is one true God. The following cannot both be true:

1a. There is one true God.
1b. There is not one true God.

Anyone who would say that both of these are true is a person who is talking nonsense and not giving meaningful sentences. If one of these sentences is true, the other must be false. Therefore if Christianity is true, then all religions that deny Christian thought are false. Of course, the opposite is also true: If a religion is true that denies Christianity, then it is true and Christianity is false. Contradictory things cannot both be true.

Second, the question implies that if a person has a significant spiritual experience, then the experience gives credibility to the truth of the religion or belief. This is a false idea. We can commonly find people who claim contradictory things based on their experiences. Jews place a lot of credence on the validity of their traditions, which are experiences that give them a great sense of peace and meaning.  Mormons claim to base truth on an internal witness of the Holy Ghost. Even secular people have had significant psychological events that shape their lives. What are we to do with these experiences?

We do not deny people’s experiences, but we do not base the truth of external reality on an internal experience. I may genuinely have a significant experience, but whether or not any external fact is true is not impacted by my experience. I may have a life-changing experience, but 2+2 still equals 4, the oncoming train and I cannot both occupy the same space, and gravity applies whether or not my experience says it does not.  So we do not doubt experience or feelings, but we cannot base our decisions about reality on feelings.

Third, what about miracles? Have non-Christian religions had miracles that would validate them?

Well, no, not really, not in the same sense as Christianity. The most prominent, of course, is Jesus rising from the dead in front of many doubters, speaking to 500 people at once, then eating and being physically handled by skeptical people. Many, if not most, of the supposed miracles from other religions are either clearly myth or can be shown to be false with some investigation.

Next, often these questions are thrown around as generalities without specifics. Without a specific, credible claim, the question as stated is not giving any evidence that there are such miracle claims. Hypothetical miracles for the sake of argument do not prove anything.

What if there was another religion’s miracle claim that seemed to be genuine? Even if we encountered such a thing, we would have to look at what message was being given. If the message given by the miracle worker was contradictory or did not align with what we know about reality, we can still reject it. If a person worked a miracle and then told us the moon is made of green cheese, we could still reject it because we know it is not true. Likewise, if Joseph Smith claimed to have seen miracles, but gives a message claiming that God was once a sinful man before he became God, we can reject such claims outright, regardless of any miracles. An eternal God cannot have a beginning or He would not be eternal. One cannot be created then become uncreated. Therefore we know Mormonism is false, regardless of whether Joseph was actually part of a miracle.

Fourth, we can apply this principle to good works also. Although the question does not mention good works, many people seem to think that if a religion promotes good causes, it must be a good religion. Many think that if a religious person feeds the poor, heals the sick, and promotes peace rather than war, then the religion must be true. While all those things are commendable, good works do not attest to whether or not the religion is true. Again, even followers of contradictory systems often support good works, but the contradictions nevertheless exist. Although it is good to feed the poor, doing so does not suddenly make a false religious claim to be true.

 

So if Christianity is true, all other non-Christian teachings must be false. There is not space in this one post to demonstrate that the whole of Christianity is true, but the rest of this blog shows reasonable demonstrations that God exists, the Bible is true, and Jesus was who He claimed to be. He is therefore worthy of our trust.

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy | 1 Comment

Was the Process for Establishing the Canon Inspired by God?

Question:  Was the process used for selecting the books of the Bible inspired by God?

Response:  The way a question is phrased, and the assumptions it makes, often determines or biases the results. This question implies that there was a process driven by humans to determine which books belong in the Bible, and unless this process exists and is valid, no one would be sure what books belong in the Bible. In one sense, it is a “do you still beat your wife?” type of question:  no matter which answer one gives, the question paints us into a box. If the process was inspired, then why was there a human process in the first place? If it was not inspired, how do we know they made the right decisions?

The assumptions behind this question are invalid. It is not the case the a group of humans went through a decision process, without which we would not know what books go into the Bible. There was not truly a process where humans determined what was included in the Bible. Instead Christians recognized and received the words that God set out to reveal to them.  The better question is “Can group of regenerated Christians recognize the word of God?” and “When the apostles knew they were giving the word of God, was it clear to the Christians in the church?”

One could make an argument that a non-Christian would not recognize the word of God, but regenerated Christians know the voice of the true Shepherd. Jesus tells us “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) and “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). For Christians to not be able to distinguish the word of God from the word of men would mean that the words of the Shepherd are hidden from His sheep.

Further, the apostles told us that they were communicating the very words of God:

  • Peter tells us that Paul’s writings were holy scripture (2 Peter 3:16)
  • Peter ranks the twelve apostles with the prophets of the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:2)
  • Paul quotes Matthew as the word of God (1 Timothy 5:18, cf. Matthew 10:10)
  • Paul tells us that his own writings were the word of God (1 Corinthians 2:10, 13; 14:37; Galatians 1:12)
  • Paul knew he had been giving out the very words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
  • John tells us he received his message from God (Revelation 1:1)
  • A heavenly being calls John a prophet (Revelation 22:9)
  • Paul knew that the word of God was now being given to all nations (Romans 16:26)

These passages tell us that from the very start, the apostles and the churches at large recognized that the writings of the apostles were the word of God, holy scripture.

We also know that the majority of New Testament books, and all of the essential teachings for salvation, were never in dispute by early Christians. Norman Geisler has created a very beneficial chart that shows the tremendous unity of all those in ancient times in regard to which books were holy scripture. (See here)

Geisler and Nix tell us “As with the Old Testament books, there is ample evidence available to confirm that the inspired books were received immediately as such, circulated, and even collected.” (A General Introduction to the Bible, 282)

We also have to consider God’s providence and direct involvement by the Holy Spirit. The apostles were directly guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Jesus also told them that the Holy Spirit will bring God’s words to their minds (John 14:26). Only in this sense is the process inspired. But notice, it is a process initiated by God and given to the twelve apostles for the purpose of giving the word of God to the church.

Therefore we have no evidence that there was some sort of doubtful process of trying to decide the books that go into the Bible. Instead, the canonical books were recognized immediately by wise and faithful regenerated Christians. By no means was the process of generating the Bible tainted by sinful men. The Bible was not determined by men, but recognized by them. We can then be assured that the Bible we now have is what God set out to give us.

 

Posted in Bible, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Do We Accept the Biblical Writers as Inspired?

This is another in a series of questions about the Bible.

Question: Why do we accept the writings of some people as inspired books of the Bible, while the sayings of other prophets, ancient and modern, are not accepted as inspired scripture?

Response: There are several facets to this answer.

First, a person’s writings are not inspired scripture merely because they are true. Someone might write a book that teaches that honesty is the best policy and feeding the poor is good, both of which are true, but this does not mean that particular book is God’s message to mankind. The telephone directory or a history book may be 100% true and error-free, but it is not God’s inspired message.  Many philosophers, religious teachers, and prophets can recognize that honesty and feeding the poor are good, or accurately report an event, but these truths can be found in the world without any special revelation from God. The theologians call the common truths that most people recognize “general revelation” because these teachings are generally available to all people. “Special revelation” is God’s specific messages that could not be discovered by observation of the world. Special revelation would be such things as predicting the future, a teaching about heaven, or how to get right with God. These things are not available to people without God telling us about them.

So any given individual teaching, from any religion, might be true. This does not mean that we should accept someone’s teachings as the inspired word of God just because the teaching is accurate.

Also, merely because someone claims that their teachings are from God, it does not follow that they truly are from God. False prophets have existed in every generation, even in the old testament and the new. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, spoke against false prophets who claimed “thus says the Lord” when the Lord did not indeed speak through them (Ez. 13:28). Jeremiah similarly spoke against false prophets who were deceiving the the people, saying false things as if they were from God (Jer. 27:14-15). Modern examples can be found of similar people who claim to have heard from God.

Second, we must consider how God spoke in times past. A few of the writings of the Bible are directly spoken by God, such as when someone heard God speak audibly. In Exodus 3 and 4, God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. Later in Exodus God writes the ten commandments directly onto stone tablets. Samuel heard God’s voice directly, such that it woke him from sleep (1 Samuel 3). At other times God would speak to someone such that others around would hear sounds (Exodus 19:9, 16; Acts 9:7). In Jude 1-3, the writer tells us that he had started to write about one subject, but “felt compelled” to write about something else.

So God would speak to people in various ways, as Hebrews 1:1 tells us.

Third, what makes a writing inspired is God, for He determines His message to mankind. God decides what He wants to communicate, then works through mankind to communicate it. It is not the case that inspired writings are inspired in the same sense as a talented human artist, such as Shakespeare or Rembrandt might be considered inspired or inspirational. Prophetical writings are inspired scripture because God communicated a message, not because humans decided one prophet was inspired and another was not. The books of the Bible are included because these were the messages God determined to communicate.

Fourth, we must consider how people are expected to distinguish that a teacher is a true prophet and not a false prophet. True prophets provided a sign to the hearers that proved they were from God. The people who received messages from prophets were able to determine true prophets from false ones because of the signs that followed the prophet. Here are but a few examples:

  • Moses showed his credibility because of the ten plagues in Egypt which he predicted in advance.
  • Moses’ authority as a prophet was challenged by Korah’s family, and Moses responded “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” God destroyed all those who challenged Moses, thus giving a sign that Moses was God’s true prophet. (Numbers 16:28-35)
  • Joshua was given signs that he was God’s prophet. Joshua predicted that the Jordan river would dry up to let Israel cross, and it did (Joshua 3:7-16)
  • Samson was given supernatural strength, beyond what any human would have been capable of.
  • Elijah commanded the rain to stop, giving proof that he was a true prophet (1 Kings 18)
  • In Isaiah’s day, Assyria was capturing every city it attacked (Is. 36:1) and came against Jerusalem. Isaiah gave signs that showed he was a true prophet, foretelling that not even one arrow would come against the city. God then destroyed the entire Assyrian army, giving approval to Isaiah’s words (Is. 37:30-36)
  • Jonah was raised from death in the great fish, giving divine approval to his message from God.
  • The apostles of Jesus did signs and wonders that showed they were true prophets. “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4)
  • Jesus did miracles to show His message was from God. Even Nicodemus recognized Jesus was true, for “no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2)

Thus all true prophets had a message from God that was accompanied by miracles that were signs the prophet’s message was true.

Fifth, the miraculous signs ceased when God stopped giving new messages. In the Old Testament, the leaders clearly recognized the end of God’s messages. Geisler and Nix in their book A General Introduction to the Bible quote five ancient rabbis who state that inspired prophets ceased in ancient Israel after the deaths of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, corresponding with the destruction of the Jewish temple (p.206). So the Jewish leaders recognized when God’s messages stopped being given through the prophets.

In the New Testament, the signs of an apostle ceased when the apostles died. Regardless of one’s view of the continuation of spiritual gifts to common believers in modern times, the signs of an apostle are not found today. Many times in the book of Acts the apostles did signs specific to apostles, signs that could not be denied (2:43; 5:12; 6:8; 8:13, etc.)

Sixth, prophets’ teachings must align with any writing telling something about God that His people already knew to be true.

Seventh, God gave His people a way to tell whether a prophet is true or false:

And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—  when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Duet. 18:21-22)

Geisler and Nix give several tests that were employed by the people of God when recognizing whether someone’s message was truly from God. It had to be confirmed by acts of God, align with truth about God that was already known, come with the power to impact people using the Holy Spirit as God’s word always does, and was it accepted by the people of God. From the very start, the inspired books in the Bible had almost universal acceptance by God’s people. There were very few disputes in determining the canon of scripture. (see their chart on p.294, which I have copied in one of the links below)

Eighth, to anyone familiar with the tone and message of such books as those accepted by everyone into the New Testament, picking up a false book becomes obvious that it is not inspired. Reading a book like The Gospel of Thomas becomes evidently clear that it is not inspired. The nature of the books are vastly different, in doctrine and in ability to impact lives.

For a very lengthy treatment of how our Bible came together, see Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible.

In conclusion, the people of God have not, nor do they now, accept writings as part of God’s word unless the writings come from a prophet of God, telling the truth about God, in the power of God. No other so-called prophets or religious teachers meet the high standards required to be recognized as a true prophet of God. As such, we can trust our Bibles to be the true word of God.

Also see other posts on the Criteria Used to Discover the Canon and Were the New Testament Books Widely Disputed.

Posted in Bible, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

What is the Proper Way to Do Apologetics?

We are living in what can be considered the golden age of Christian apologetics. There has been more information published defending Christianity in the last twenty five years than in most of the previous twenty centuries. During that time Christian apologists have made a great impact on many people’s lives.

I maintain, however, that many of us in the apologetics community are “doing it wrong.” To be more effective, we must do apologetics more wisely.

When I started this blog, the first time I mentioned the Kalam Cosmological demonstration for the existence of God, the first response I received was very telling. The Kalam demonstration basically says that everything with a beginning has a cause, the universe has a beginning, therefore the universe has a cause. One commenter said that 1) causality is a subjective perception, 2) causality may not be a universal truth , 3) logic might not apply to everything, 4) the physical matter in the universe is actually a projection of meaning. The commenter summed up by saying this:

All beginnings and endings, particles and measurements, feelings and experiences are part of the show but the show itself has no cause and all cause. It’s completely random and it’s perfect fate. It’s everything: it’s the universe.

Now, most of us in the apologetics community can immediately see the flaws in such an explanation, which is more contradiction than sense. Our typical reaction would be to do what I did, which was more explanation of the reasonableness of the Kalam. But here’s the rub: I had already done that. The reader did not need more explanation of the points, for I had made them already in the first post, which was ignored and filtered through a lens of a worldview. I should not expect to make much progress via a computer discussion using logic, for they had already denied that logic applies to reality. Indeed, they had already denied the common explanation of reality itself.

In the book A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics by James W. Sire, the author makes the following point:

Apologetic arguments take place in a variety of contexts. One of the reasons they often do not work–that is, do not persuade–is that they are cast in ways that are inappropriate to the situation. There’s a great difference between an apologist’s presentation of a case for the Christian faith to a large audience and that same apologist’s chat with a small group around a table at Starbucks or one-on-one dialogue with a friend. The tone and temper of the atmosphere, its openness or hostility, its formality or informality, its time constraints or lack thereof are all significant. (p.55)

I think Sire is right, and this is a point that is largely missed in apologetic circles. I attribute the key problems of Christian apologists’ effectiveness to the following:

  • Applying debate principles to personal encounters.
  • Becoming increasingly shaped by electronic, distant communication that is impersonal
  • Not communicating respect to those with whom we are communicating

We apologists tend to take the methods used by men such as William Lane Craig in his on-stage debates and use them with personal encounters with people. We tend to use pure logic in a harsh way to prove other people wrong because that is what we have been shaped to do by the computer medium and studying arguments. Using these techniques in one-on-one conversations are mistakes, and they reduce our effectiveness.

I view this blog as more educational than evangelistic or persuasive because it is via an online web page. Few people take things they read online to heart. Therefore discussions are shut down if they get argumentative or repetitive.

People are much more receptive when a live person is sitting in front of them, someone to whom they have come to know and have some respect. We simply cannot do apologetics the same in an online educational format, a public debate, and in one-on-one encounters. These are all different situations that require different approaches.

Many apologists think that the arguments themselves are persuasive. Perhaps they are to some, but more effective is the way the arguments are communicated. As Sire points out in his book, we must show our audience that we respect them or they will not listen to our arguments.  Only by shaping our communication to the situation and the audience will we be effective in doing apologetics.

 

 

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Two People Raised Jehovah’s Witnesses Tell Their Story

A Lesson for Apologists and Members of the Watchtower

Here is the personal account of two people who were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses, spent a great deal of time working for their kingdom hall, and lived a life expected by that religion. They continued this way until one day the husband knocked on one particular door.

In this message is a great lesson to Christian apologists trying to reach out to those outside the faith. Often we apologists simply do it wrong……we argue with people even though we tell ourselves that we cannot argue people into the kingdom. If you are a counter-cult apologist, please listen carefully to this account and you will learn a great lesson on how to reach people with apologetics.

If you are currently a member of a kingdom hall, please take the time to listen to this true story of two people who were raised in good standing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses since childhood. It is merely them telling their story.

Posted in Apologetics | 3 Comments