Historical Details in Luke & Acts

In the next post, we will consider the census described in Luke chapter 2. Before we do so, we need to give some space to the overall accuracy of the author’s writings as a whole.

Before we can rightly consider a single question in one verse, we must consider Luke’s writings as a whole. Throughout the Gospel of Luke and his other book, Acts of the Apostles, Luke sprinkles a great number of details. The vast majority of these details are minute and have no bearing on the overall spiritual point to the story. For example, do the following really matter to the overall message of the Bible?

  • When Peter knocks on a door, the name of the girl who answered the door was Rhoda (Acts 12:13)
  • Paul was joined in one of his journeys by Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus (Acts 20:4).
  • Paul and Luke waited three months, then sailed on a ship named “Twin Brothers” (Acts 28:11)

Further, Luke gives a very large number of details that can be historically corroborated by external sources. A few of these details include:

  • Correctly named ports (Acts 13:4-5).
  • The correct family name of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7).
  • The proper port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (Acts 13:13).
  • Correct identification of the two gods associated with Lystra, Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:12).
  • Correct titles of the colony magistrates (16:20+).
  • Proper title of “politarch” for the city rulers (17:6).
  • Correct title for a member of the court (Aereopogite) (17:34)
  • Correct identification of Gallio as proconsul (18:12).

Colin Hemer’s book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History lists over 80 details like these, all of which are facts that can be independently corroborated by geography and secular history. The list includes distances, wind directions, nautical terms, local geography, and the like. (for more of the list, see here.)  In the gospel, Luke 3:1-3 mentions details purposely designed to place the reader into a specific date and location:

  • Fifteenth year of Tiberius Ceasar
  • Pontius Pilate governor of Judea
  • Herod tetrarch of Galilee
  • Herod’s brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis
  • Lysanias tetrarch of Abiline
  • Annias and Caiphas high priests
  • The region around the Jordan

If one were writing a story with a purely spiritual point about getting closer to God, these details not only have no purpose, but seem to get in the way. These details seem to have nothing to do with a spiritual relationship to God, building of a church organization, or giving pastoral advice to a congregation. Their only purpose would be to accurately record history.

The large amount of historical and geographical detail mentioned in Luke and Acts is significant. The rest of the book is accurate enough that when we encounter a question, we should give the author the benefit of the doubt, or at least begin with a premise that when we encounter a fact in Luke’s writings, we should give the author equal footing with other historians. Skeptics, because of the personal moral implications of the Bible being true, often hold the Bible to a different standard than other historical claims.

When we encounter the registration in Luke 2, we should at least begin with holding Luke on neutral footing with other historical documents, and be very cautious before we dismiss his details.

The next post will look in detail at the census in Luke 2.

Posted in Bible, Skepticism | 4 Comments

If We Communicate Meaningful Messages, Atheism is False

Atheists are fond of telling us that we do not have free will. Atheist writer Sam Harris has made a book-length explanation of why he believes all human thoughts and actions are predetermined. In his book Free Will he states “One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next–a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please–your brain has already determined what you will do.” (p.9) Further, the Center For Naturalism tells us that we are “fully caused” and “since we see that we aren’t the ultimate originators of ourselves or our behavior, we can’t take ultimate credit or blame for what we do.” (see here and here for responses)

The atheist naturalists are trying to tell us that all actions in the universe are caused by natural physical effects and forces, such as our interactions with friction, electromagnetism, heat, and gravity. There is no mind with free thoughts or free will, only a brain that is determined to do what it does by a complex series of physical and chemical cause and effect. To the atheist naturalist, we have no free will, we have no ability to originate thoughts. They tell us that we cannot begin a thought at all, for all our thoughts are merely effects of natural forces that we have no control over. Free will and free thought are an illusion. As the Center For Naturalism explains, “We don’t have souls that continue after death. Instead, we are fully physical creatures, fully caused to be who we are. We don’t have free will in the sense of being able to choose or decide without being fully caused in our choices or decisions.” (see http://www.centerfornaturalism.org/descriptions.htm)

The atheist naturalists must hold this view, for they fully understand that if we have freedom of choice, we must be responsible for our moral actions, and morality must be reduced from a moral law to a physical force. Moral laws have moral law givers, and we cannot have one of those, can we? Further, the ability of a human to generate an original thought would mean something besides physics and chemistry exists. Even a weak human mind cannot be allowed in the atheists’ world, for they want to believe that humans must be only driven by physics and chemistry, not by anything resembling a spirit.

The atheist pays a high price to hold this view.  The atheist tells us that all human sense of having a choice is an illusion. You just think you have a choice of whether to continue reading this paragraph, when in reality whatever you do is predetermined. If you decide to stop or if you decide to continue, you were caused to do so. You do not have a choice as to whether to eat that chocolate cake or pass it up, for all your actions are caused. Your choice to do an act of kindness or cruel torture is actually just an illusion, for whatever you decide is actually not your choice, but a result of physical and chemical forces beyond your control. The Center For Naturalism tells us “responsibility for their character and behavior isn’t ultimately theirs, but is distributed over the many factors that created them. And after all, were we given their environmental and genetic conditions, we would have become what they are, and acted just as they did: there but for circumstances go I.”

But the price gets even higher and the bill harder to pay.  If none of our choices are due to free will, but all determined by the many factors that caused them, then all the messages in the thoughts are not truly messages at all, for they were never thought in the first place.

A bit of communication theory is in order. Standard communication model goes something like this:

  1. A sender conceives a message.
  2. The sender encodes the message. (puts it into language, symbols, words, etc.)
  3. The sender sends the message.
  4. The receiver receives the message. (reads the book, listens to the words, etc.)
  5. The receiver decodes the message.  (understands the message)

This communication model of sending and receiving a message is used to explain all communication.

However, the atheist now has to tell us that through all the communication that we think we are doing, there is no message there at all. No communication can happen, for there is no meaning at all. The “message” that we thought we were thinking is not truly a message, but merely the equivalent of an electromagnetic force. If indeed we do not have free will, then we cannot even do step 1 of the model. If we have no free will, we cannot conceive of a message, for there is no message there to conceive. If all of our choice is actually an illusion, a predetermined firing of neurons in our brain, no message can exist because no meaning is there. One domino falling and knocking over the next domino creates no data — it is just an effect.

I am reminded of the atheist I once knew who was a PhD candidate in biology. I asked him if there was information in DNA. His response was “It is sort of information.” He was fudging. Well, there is no fudging in Sam Harris’ book, for he makes it quite clear that our brains determine what we will do, and free thought is an illusion. If this is so, then the mind can think of no message, but is actually just outputting what it was caused to output. One neuron fires because the one before it fired, and there is no true meaning there at all. If our choices and thoughts are caused by genetics and physical forces, as Harris so quickly tells us, then there is no thought there to encode into a message.

The atheist naturalist has spent quite a bit of ink and warm air trying to convince us that nature has no intelligent design because the design is simply not there. Richard Dawkins tells us that we must continually remind ourselves that nature has but the appearance of design, but design does not actually exist.

The trouble is that in communication, the message has design by definition. Everyone knows that messages have information. Books, phone calls, drunken arguments, love letters, and computer code all have information, and we know that they do. There is no real denying that messages have information and that humans communicate meaning to each other. You may disagree with my conclusions, but surely you will not  hold that the sentence you are reading has no information or meaning at all. We all know that information exists and is communicated in a variety of forms. This is undeniable, for to deny meaning is to make a sentence that communicates meaning.

Well, if communication happens, and information exists to be communicated, then something exists besides physics and chemistry. If we do indeed communicate messages, then there must be a message to communicate, a meaning generated somewhere, and encoded into language or Morse code or smoke signals. Atheist Richard Dawkins tells us that we dance to our DNA and have no real control over our actions. He tells us plainly that there is no meaning anywhere in the universe. He gave a speech on the mall in Washington where he told us “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

Richard, Sam, really? No purpose? Nothing but blind, indifferent forces? Such a large price to pay, giving up all communication. But we all know there is meaning — to deny there is meaning is to make a meaningful denial.

Therefore if communication, then atheism and naturalism are false. It is much more reasonable to read the words that God has communicated to us in the Bible: “ Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

 

Posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Philosophy | 6 Comments

The Problem of Beauty

Most Christian apologists and skeptics have heard of the problem of evil. Almost all people at one time or another scream out in pain asking “If God is real and good, why did this evil thing happen?” Many have also heard of the argument that the existence of any morality anywhere is a demonstration that God exists and materialism is false.

Less common is the argument from beauty, or more precisely the problem of beauty. Beauty being a problem is counter-intuitive. If evil is a problem, would it not be the case that beauty was expected, perhaps the norm?

If God does not exist, then all is reduced to matter and energy. Things just are, and have no transcendent qualities. We might have the idea that something is farther or closer, or redder or bluer, or louder or softer, but beauty and ugliness are qualities that do not come from physical or chemical facts about the object. Beauty is altogether other. It must come from a source that is other than the physical or chemical facts about the thing.

Of course we may disagree on what is beautiful, and some may be so overcome with ugliness that they do not see beauty at all. Ugliness, however, is a lack of beauty, and if we admit ugliness exists at all, we are back to the existence of beauty.

While we may disagree on what is beautiful, if we hold that anything is beautiful, we have admitted that the world contains a quality we call beauty. Beauty in a mountain, flower, or music does not help us reproduce, feed ourselves, or stay warm in winter. Therefore what purpose is beauty?

Since few will admit that no beauty exists in any form, and if we admit that something is indeed beautiful, we now have an external standard or quality that is wholly separate from pure physics, chemistry, matter, or energy. Further, since we can recognize more beautiful and less beautiful, we now have an external standard of beauty that is separate from ourselves and the thing that contains the beauty. This we call God.

Keep in mind we are not measuring length, counting decibels, comparing frequencies, or comparing hues and shapes. Such things are ultimately dry. Telling me that you have counted the number of shades in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does not tell me that it has beauty, for beauty is something different than any calculation. I will not argue with you what is beautiful, but I will challenge you to give me a source for beauty that is pure fact and measurement. From where comes this concept we call beauty? Not from calculations in physics.

We are saying there is something more, something real we call beauty. If God did not exist, then we are left with physics and chemistry. We are left with measurements of hues and frequencies and lengths. We all know there is more, something qualitative that contains an element of beauty. The materialist has no source for beauty, and to say it is a psychological illusion is not convincing, for we all know beauty and ugliness exist. The materialist has no source for beauty, and therefore beauty is a problem.

The Christian has a very reasonable answer for the source of beauty. Just as the beautiful mind of a painter works beauty into a painting, or the great mind of a composer works beauty into a song, a beautiful Creator worked beauty into the fabric of creation.

 

dscn5078

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Can Science Truly Enrich and Liberate, or Is Something Else Needed Also?

In David Berlinski’s book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, the author attacks some of the sacred temples of science. He quotes the summary of science given by the National Science Foundation: “Science extends and enriches our lives, expands our imagination, and liberates us from the bonds of ignorance and superstition.”

This is a grand claim. Science, when it claims to exist purely and entirely within the bounds of naturalism, has no external context outside of pure naturalism. Yet in the statement above, pure science can cause subjective value changes such as enriching one’s life and expanding (and presumably stimulating) people’s imaginations. We must ask a few questions:  What categories of science we must study to learn about enrichment and imagination?  How can the measurement of facts and data cause this enrichment?  Are there no external, non-scientific facts that are influencing the goals of science?  It would seem that the atheist scientist is sneaking something very large into the side door without very many people realizing it.

Berlinski points out the following:

Why should a limited and finite organ such as the human brain have the power to see into the heart of matter or mathematics? These are subjects that have nothing to do with the Darwinian business of scrabbling up the greasy pole of life. It is as if the liver, in addition to producing bile, were to demonstrate a unexpected ability to play the violin. This is a question that Darwinian biology has not yet answered.

Berlinski then notes that the eleventh century philosopher Al-Ghazali recognized such problems well before the modern movement of atheists with attitudes on parade, before the so-called enlightenment or age of reason. The point made by Al-Ghazali was that the naturalists’ system is limited to what we understand about the world. Yet the human intellect is dependent on the  body while our understanding of the body is dependent on the intellect, and all this in a purely physical and chemical world. Is not our understanding of the natural world limited by the natural world itself? How is the atheist scientist to get out of this circle into a realm of objective, non-brain dependent areas such as enrichment and imagination? Somehow the atheist scientist must start with a world of measuring quantity by observation and eventually get to the concepts of better and worse, and place them on a standard that is independent of anyone’s opinion. A very large set of values has been snuck in the side door.

To most of those in science, these are questions that do not fit into the world. The reason the atheist scientist does not ask them is not due to a preconceived determination to avoid such questions, but because the values attached to such things as enrichment and better and worse are so engrained into our world that they are just assumed to be true. Who would question the values of enrichment, imagination, better, and worse?

Yet these are the very concepts involved in religion, the very thing that the atheist scientist has set up to destroy with the code words “liberates us from the bonds of ignorance and superstition.”

The statement made by the National Science Foundation has the end of science being enrichment, expansion, and liberation. These are excellent goals and certainly we should support the advancement of them in the spirit that science intends. We should vote to increase these goals and not vote for ignorance and superstition. Science has helped to bring us all the comforts of modern technology.  Yet these goals are not scientific concepts, not things that can be attained without the values that are introduced by something outside of science. The atheist Darwinian certainly has to do mental gymnastics to get them into a system purely filtered by survival. Science therefore is not a be-all, end-all system that answers all questions, but is rather a very valuable area of study that fits into a larger system that studies such things as enrichment, expansion, and liberation.

So we must conclude that the world of values exists. We also know that the values that Jesus introduced are still the best, those of putting God and others above yourself.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

If We Accept Transgender, Must We Accept Transspecie?

I have posted previously on the irrationality of accepting someone’s internal mental state that is contrary to external reality. The list I have documented includes the following:

  • Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who self-identifies as black. She was fired from her job at the NAACP.
  • The Norwegian woman who believes she is a cat accidentally born in a human body.
  • The increasing numbers of people such as Miley Cyrus who self-identify as gender fluid, being neither a fixed male nor female, but moving between genders.
  • The natural born biological man at a psychiatric hospital who believed he was pregnant.
  • The people who believe they are male or female even though they are biologically the other gender.

You can see more about these here.

To this list we now add the man who was born Richard Hernandez, who claim to have changed to a transgendered female, who has now changing himself into a reptile. See the articles here and here.  The extent of body modification has crossed the line to self-mutilation. The list includes removing the ears, removing the nose, turning the whites of the eyes green, splitting the tongue, scarring the skin to look like orange peel, implanting horns, and full body tattoos to look like scales.

Further, he says on a blog that he prefers to be called an it, and also apparently is consciously “leaving my humanness behind and embracing my most natural self awareness as a mythical beast.” Apparently we are to believe that one can consciously leave human behind and become a beast. It’s new name is Eva Tiamet Medusa.

Why would someone do this? Its response is that the purpose was for “sexual pleasure, the shock value, and most important of all, personal gratification and spiritual significance.”

So we are now expected to humor this confused person to gratify their odd sexual desire. Added to the list above, we now have enough actual cases of confused people that the issue is no longer a theoretical one, but a practical situation where peoples’ internal mental states clearly do not align with reality. Clearly, dragons do not exist. Equally clearly, this is a man who is mentally confused.

As a society, we should not be expected to accept a group of people’s internal mental states that do not align with external reality. Let us call transgenderism, and transpecieism, for what it is: mental confusion.

We are not doing these people any favors by accepting their world as if it were a healthy expression in society. In fact, a human is not a cat nor a dragon, white people are not black, men do not get pregnant, men are not women, and women are not men.

Without clarification, we have no basis for firing one of the people on the list, locking another up in a mental hospital, and accepting others with official recognition. Our society is in a grand social experiment to see if it can withstand redefinition without any working compass or map.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nothing Cannot Cause Any Thing

If ever there was a time when absolutely nothing existed, there would still be nothing, for nothing cannot cause any thing to exist. All effects must have a cause, as even the king of the skeptics admitted, David Hume. To say that something could arise without a cause is to admit absurdity, for one of the most basic principles of reason is that no effect can come to exist without a cause. No one has ever demonstrated an effect without a cause, not even in the shadowy, partially-known world of theoretical physics commonly referred to as quantum physics. Most quantum-laced responses can be summed up by the adage  ‘they did not explain it, they quantumed it.”  Some have given absurd answers similar to saying that the universe does not need a cause since it came from fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. This is nonsense, for if we can speak of fluctuations and vacuums such that our sentences have subjects and predicates, attempting to meaningfully predicate something to the quantum world, we have not started with nothing, but something. What caused the fluctuations? What was the situation that defined the quantum vacuum? These are things, and if ever there was a time when absolutely nothing existed, there would still be nothing, since nothing cannot cause any thing to come to exist.

Therefore something has always existed. Many have tried to say this something was matter, but matter is subject to the laws of thermodynamics which tell us that the universe would have died a heat death eons ago. Further, all instances we have observed of material things show us that they are limited. Limited things have potential that has not been actualized, and are therefore composed of potential and actual. All composed things have been caused to be by a prior cause. No one has ever demonstrated a composition that came to be on its own, and with the cumulative experience of all mankind, the burden of proof is therefore on the skeptic to demonstrate that composition can come to be without a cause.

So the thing that is the cause of what has come into existence must be non-material, uncomposed, and without a prior cause. This we call God.

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Skepticism | 6 Comments

What Will it Take For Us to Realize We Are at War?

We have lost the lesson that was learned from the mistakes of Neville Chamberlain. How long will it take for us to learn it again?

 

Posted in Culture | 2 Comments