Something Other Than God–A Journey from Staunch Atheism to Christianity

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something Other Than God is a dramatic, brutally honest conversion story from a woman born to and raised by atheist parents. Ms. Fulwiler describes, in great detail, the role apologetics (including the work of J.P. Moreland and Lee Strobel) had in pointing her towards the ultimate truth of Christianity. In an account that reads like a well-written novel, she walks you though her personal journey from hostile atheism to Roman Catholicism. Her fascinating story, intelligent insights, and dry witt made the book a real page-turner.

You can watch a great short video of Ms. Fulwiler by CLICKING HERE.

 

William Lane Craig Responds to Victor Stenger

How to Debate a Christian ApologistI highly recommend Dr. William Lane Craig’s latest Reasonable Faith Podcast, in which he masterfully demonstrates the impotence of Victor Stenger’s latest rant, “How to Debate a Christian Apologist.” As usual, the anti-theist’s counter-arguments collapse logically (not shocking) or else fail to address the theist’s actual argument (also not shocking).

You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 2

Dear Readers,

This is part 2 of a 2-part series from my guest contributor, Ken Mann. Click here to read Part 1

—MCT

In this second post considering the Resurrection as a topic of natural theology, we will consider the approach found in The Resurrection of Jesus. Because the history and the study of ancient manuscripts are not normally associated with topics in natural theology, we will look at Licona’s thesis in more depth.

The first chapter looks at the nature of history and how it is practiced outside of biblical scholarship. We learn that after a certain dalliance with post-modernism, historians as a group are overwhelmingly realist. That is to say, “They maintain that the past is knowable to a limited extent and that narratives constructed of the past correspond to the actual past to varying degrees.”[1] Because of the tenuous nature of the data historians use, this is an important conclusion. The study of the natural world that laid the foundations for modern science started with the belief that knowledge of the natural world was possible. In addition to the philosophy of history, the philosophical views held by the historian are also discussed in depth. Licona refers to this as a historian’s horizon, which he defines as, “how historians view things as a result of their knowledge, experience, beliefs, education, cultural conditioning, preferences, presuppositions and worldview.”[2] This is by far the most significant recurring theme in any discussion related to natural theology or Christian apologetics. (Sadly, in the other fields of study, the “horizons” of physicists and evolutionary biologists are never discussed.)

Chapter 2 focuses on the question of whether or not a miracle can be the subject of an historical investigation. Licona defines a miracle as event that defies natural explanation and occurs in a context with religious significance. Miracles defined in this way are not generally the subject of natural theology (as the religious significance could only be supplied by special revelation). However, if we focus on the first part of the definition, a miracle is an event with a cause beyond nature, beyond the material universe, a cause that is super-natural. In other words, a miracle is an event where the best explanation is God. Clearly this is simply another way of describing what the origin of the universe or the origins of biological information point toward, a cause beyond the natural realm.[3]

Chapters 3 and 4 explore the historical evidence that is available for the resurrection. Licona surveys all of the ancient writings within an adequate timespan of Jesus’ life for any references to the crucifixion and the resurrection. He further assesses the various sources for their credibility (e.g. when were they written and did the authors have access to eye witnesses). In a similar manner, the effectiveness of natural theology arguments relies on selecting the most relevant and widely accepted data. Licona argues for three facts that “are acknowledged as facts by a nearly unanimous and heterogeneous consensus of scholars who have studied the subject.”[4] These are: (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) the disciples had experiences that led them to believe that Jesus had been resurrected, and (3) Paul converted after experiencing that he believed was a post resurrection appearance of Jesus.[5]

Finally, in chapter 5 Licona discusses and evaluates six different hypotheses that are representative of what scholars offer to explain the accepted historical facts surround the death of Jesus. Each hypothesis is analyzed to determine which is the best explanation of the historical bedrock. Four of the criteria used: plausibility, explanatory power and scope, and least ad hoc, are perfectly at home in the discussion of any natural theology argument.[6] Under the scrutiny of these criteria, against five other theories, relying on only three facts the resurrection hypothesis stands out as the best explanation.

The powerful case Licona has created for the resurrection has a great deal in common with arguments for God’s existence in natural theology. There must be a sound method, which includes a deep understanding of the discipline in question, typically from the philosophy of that discipline. A sound method also includes an understanding how worldviews impinge on how any subject is approached. There must be solid evidence or data. If you are going to make an argument from within a discipline, whether in cosmology or history, you must use evidence or data that is accepted within that discipline. This is a crucial element of natural theology arguments. By using the knowledge accepted in a given field the argument becomes an explanation of what the discipline tells us about reality. Finally, an inference to the best explanation or abductive reasoning is the best way to argue from the evidence to a conclusion. Such arguments cannot yield the certainty of a deductive argument, but such limits are diminished when compared to the power of finding arguments for God in ostensibly secular domains of human knowledge.

Why is it important to portray a defense of the resurrection as a natural theology argument? Historically, when Christian doctrines are attacked, especially those derived directly from the Bible, the nominal response has been to either surrender or fight back. Arguably, there are ample reasons to push back against many criticisms. As Licona amply demonstrates, there are many fanciful interpretations of Bible based on mythical source documents or anti-supernatural bias that deserve to be discredited. However, Licona’s book also demonstrates that many of these have been discarded by peer review (by historical scholars and biblical scholars). This may lead us to another tact that relies more on our trust in Christian theism than our ability to dispatch the critics or their arguments. Given sound methodology, credible evidence, and a reasonable search for the best explanation, almost any field of human knowledge can be turned into a tool of apologetics. Rather than circling the wagons and defending every “jot and tittle” of God’s word or Christian doctrine as being perfect and beyond criticism, we can engage the skeptics in their own disciplines, on their own turf, and we can have confidence that God’s truth will be shown.

 

[1] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, Kindle Locations 6316–6317.

[2] Ibid., Kindle Location 420.

[3] While Licona’s discussion focuses on historical assessment of miracles, the subjects addressed, especially a discussion of Hume are also found in R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1997).

[4] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, Kindle Locations 6379–6380.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Locations 3036–3038.

[6] For that matter these criteria are equally comfortable in any scientific setting as well.

Cambrian Fossils, Biological Information, and Countering Naturalism

Cosmos, the latest attempt at materialist indoctrination of the public, recently finished its 13-week television run. A reboot of the 1980 miniseries co-written and presented by the late Carl Sagan, it was a spectacle of historical misinformation and blatant atheistic propaganda that even included Sagan’s famous declaration, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” The worldview implication is evident: that there is no mind behind the material world and that mankind is nothing more than a cosmic accident, a bi-product of purposeless, undirected physical processes. This sharply conflicts with the Judeo-Christian worldview in which man, intentionally made in the image of God, is the crown of creation.

Some viewers of Cosmos may have wondered: does science truly point to a godless universe? Is there no evidence of a designer’s hand in the natural world? That’s what the creators of the program set out to communicate it seems, but one glaring omission was any attempt on their part to answer one of the most important scientific questions: how did the biological information necessary for life originate? The answer is fundamental to determining the correct worldview. Are blind material processes sufficient to explain life, or is there evidence of a mind behind the matter?

Darwin-Doubt PicThankfully, not all theorists avoid the biological information question like it’s some sort of plague. In Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, Dr. Stephen Meyer tackles that issue head-on and (as the title states) makes a compelling argument for intelligent design. The book’s release in June, 2013 shook the evolutionary biology and paleontology communities, and the aftershocks persist. Darwin’s Doubt made an impressive debut at the number seven spot on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction and has been hailed as “an accurate and comprehensive review of the evidence” and “a game-changer” by credentialed scientists in fields such as paleontology, genetics, and biology. Meyer’s central thesis stands in direct opposition to the materialist view by claiming that open-minded scientific evaluation of living things and natural history strongly suggests a transcendent intelligence.

In his book, Meyer explores the history, mystery, and current scientific state-of-affairs surrounding an event known as the Cambrian explosion. In a geological blink of an eye, the vast majority of animal phyla appear in the fossil record without viable evidence of evolutionary precursors. Charles Darwin was acutely aware of (and troubled by) this conundrum. In the ensuing century and a half since his Origin of Species was published, the Cambrian dilemma has only intensified. It presents a grave problem for evolutionary theory—the problem of the origin of the biological information needed to launch such a monumental zoological revolution.

Meyer contends that unguided natural selection acting upon random genetic mutations cannot explain the influx of biological information necessary for the Cambrian explosion. What makes his case particularly powerful is that it is built upon a broad range of respected, peer-reviewed scientific publications. He examines the latest evidence from evolutionary and developmental biology, genetics, and epigenetics in order to highlight the severity of the problem and demonstrates that materialist attempts to explain it away often beg the question, miss the point, or rely upon phantom “data.”

The new, expanded edition of Darwin’s Doubt includes a substantial epilogue in which Meyer offers a thorough response to the book’s critics. Unfortunately, the vast majority of detractors never addressed the central arguments of the book. In fact, even the writers of some high-profile, oft-cited negative reviews seem to have not engaged most of the material. But a few scientists did, notably UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, who wrote a respectful rebuttal to the book in the September 10th edition of the prestigious academic journal, Science, last year. A wonderful BBC radio debate soon followed. 

Marshall argued that new animal body plans could arise through the rewiring of gene regulatory networks, the genetic programs that guide early animal development. Meyer’s response is that the experimental data have demonstrated that mutations in these genes are always fatal to the organism, and that moreover, Marshall hasn’t offered an explanation for the origin of the pre-existing genetic and epigenetic information his explanation presupposes. Meyer explains why Marshall’s (and others’) counterarguments not only fail, they inadvertently offer extra support for Meyer’s thesis.

Ultimately, the materialist theories offered by critics of Darwin’s Doubt have done nothing to diminish the problem of the origin of biological information. Experience has made it clear, Meyer argues, that only minds produce information. Thus, intelligent design remains the best explanation, not only for the Cambrian information explosion, but for all of life.

We are no accident.

For more information, visit www.darwinsdoubt.com.

 

 

Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 1

Dear Readers, I bring to you another excellent 2-part series from my guest contributor, Ken Mann. 

Enjoy!

MCT

Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 1

           The resurgence of Christian apologetics over the past 50 years has been a wonderful development for the Church. The growing presence of orthodox Christians in fields such as philosophy, biology, and physics has essentially resurrected the intellectual roots of the Church. At its core Christianity is a worldview, a view of reality that can withstand any challenge from any quarter of human knowledge. The response to such challenges does not always come from Scripture. In fact, many fields of human knowledge present arguments for the truth of the Christian worldview. Such arguments are usually referred to as natural theology, which simply refers to finding evidence for God in what is revealed in nature. A rubric for grounding this enterprise is the “two books” approach to God’s revelation. As the single author of creation and scripture, God cannot contradict himself.

The power of arguments from natural theology is in their capacity to draw upon the knowledge we glean from nature. Many times the very knowledge we rely on to survive and thrive in a modern, technology-driven society, can lead us to profound clues about the existence and nature of God. Structured in this way, these arguments are not burdened with the misunderstandings and cultural baggage that a secular society attaches to religious doctrine. In effect, these arguments take the knowledge secular society accepts and exposes implications that support a theistic worldview. This conclusion is a long way from the “foot of the cross,” but such an expectation misses the point. Whether building confidence in God’s existence or undermining confidence in metaphysical naturalism, natural theology can move one closer to God. If nothing else, as Austin Farrer reminds us, we must contend for the rationality of our belief:

It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.[1]

In these posts I argue that the form of arguments drawn from natural theology can and should be expanded into areas of Christian doctrine that are typically left to purely hermeneutic defenses. The real foundation for natural theology is not merely the sciences, but what human beings can learn about reality apart from special revelation (Scripture, the Church, or direct revelation to individuals). This view has been informed by Michael Licona’s book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. The Bible and other ancient texts are the raw data that are interpreted by historians to determine what happened in the past, and when possible, why those things happened. Licona draws upon the development of historiography, the philosophy of history, and the study of ancient manuscripts to create a robust defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

I will examine natural theology arguments from cosmology and show how core tenets, practices and difficulties from these fields are also demonstrated in Licona’s approach to defending the Resurrection. For each, we will consider the goal of the argument, what each argument can actually accomplish, and the data and intellectual tools used. This comparison will demonstrate that the truth of Christianity has nothing to fear when the data, tools and worldviews involved are all clearly understood.

Let us begin with an overview of cosmological arguments.[2] Cosmology is the study of the origin and development of the universe. The definition of the term concedes part of what cosmological arguments seek to demonstrate: that the universe (all matter, space, and even time) had a beginning. A second goal is to demonstrate that whatever caused the universe was something that transcends matter, space and time. While the goal of such arguments may seem modest compared to the scope Christian theism, it is still significant. They establish that the material universe is not an eternal, self-existent entity. Further, they demonstrate that the universe could not “create itself.” Assuming their conclusions are accepted, what do cosmological arguments establish? They argue for the existence of a being that has many of the characteristics of God found in the Judeo-Christian traditions of the Old and New Testaments. They establish that the existence of a being like the Christian God is more plausible than a purely materialistic universe.

Cosmological arguments are played out in the realms of physics and philosophy. At least those are the two disciplines that should be involved. For millennia, the dominant view found in science, philosophy and most religious traditions, was that the universe was eternal. The lone exception to this view was the creation narrative found in Genesis that argued that God did not organize or manipulate existing matter, but that God created everything.

In 1964, empirical evidence of the universe having a beginning in the finite past was discovered in the form of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). This was only one in a long series of empirical discoveries supporting a beginning to the universe based on a cosmic singularity[3]. The establishment of Big Bang cosmology has cemented in the scientific realm that the universe had a beginning. The debate since then been a sometimes-convoluted wrestling match between philosophy and very obscure disciplines within physics (e.g. quantum mechanics and string theory).

In Part 2, we will turn our attention to Licona’s defense of the resurrection and the connection his approach has to natural theology.

 

[1] “Austin Farrer Quotes,” http://www.sourcedquotes.com/Austin-Farrer-Quotes, (accessed April 22, 2014).

[2] For the sake of space and avoiding excessive technical depth, we will not go into details of any given argument. There are of course different specific arguments within this category. The goal here is to provide an overview that allows the reader to connect this argument with what Licona has done regarding the resurrection.

[3] What has come to be known as the “Big Bang Theory” was originally proposed by Georges Lemaître in 1927 as a consequence of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1915). The discovery of the CMBR eliminated any models of an eternal universe from serious consideration.

Natural Theology: What It is and Why You Need It

The enterprise of Christian apologetics incorporates a broad range of intellectual disciplines, such as history, philosophy, theology, physics, ethics, mathematics, fine arts, biology, and literature. It’s a beautiful and remarkable thing that virtually every avenue of mankind’s scholarly exploration has yielded significant support for Christianity. The result is a spectacular mosaic that, unless Christianity is actually true, should never have materialized, much less in such high definition. The picture that has emerged over the past two thousand years, the product of man’s attempt at a comprehensive study of reality, is an argument itself, I think.

Notice, however, that when some of these relevant disciplines are taken individually, the evidence they provide doesn’t get you all the way to Christian theism. It may get you to a rather vague theism, or even a theism with strong Christian flavor, but no further. We don’t see the creeds spelled out in nature. We should be mindful of this so as not to overstate a claim and in order to hold the non-theist accountable when (not if) they try to argue against the existence of God in general by criticizing Christian theism in particular. We must not underestimate the value of these disciplines; they are crucial for the foundation upon which our broader project depends.  They constitute what some have called our pre-apologetic.

A subset of these disciplines make up what is referred to as natural theology, which is, for me, an area of keen academic interest. Natural theology explores the questions of the existence and nature of God without examining Scripture or other forms of alleged divine revelation. Instead, the practitioner philosophically reflects upon observations of the natural world and draws metaphysical conclusions–i.e., that God exists and has certain attributes. This stands in contrast to revealed theology, which is wholly dependent upon special revelation (Scripture, for example). Historically, natural theology has been employed by some adherents of all the major monotheistic religions–Christianity, Judaism, and Islam–as well as some prominent thinkers who rejected all of those characterizations of God (think Voltaire and Spinoza).

You’re probably familiar with at least a few of the arguments developed by natural theology, even if you haven’t heard them labeled as such. The Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, which incorporates logic and astrophysics, is the poster child. The fine-tuning argument and the argument from consciousness are other better-known examples. While science often factors in, it doesn’t always. For instance, natural theology also includes the moral argument and the argument from the existence of evil.

There is much debate over whether intelligent design arguments based on biological observations qualify as natural theology. Dr. William Dembski, a key figure in the contemporary intelligent design (ID) movement, says that they do not. Specifically, he says that the ID program is not a theological endeavor, although he notes that its conclusions have implications for theology. I agree with Dembski on this careful delineation. There are indeed supporters of ID research who are not theists and some who see ID as evidential support for fringe-science hypotheses, such as life having been engineered and seeded on earth by a distant alien civilization (directed panspermia).

But, I am convinced that we can and should use the positive arguments for design from biology in the practice of natural theology. By “positive arguments” I mean the characteristics of life that indicate, often by analogy, the activity of a Designer. To be clear, such arguments do not rule out evolutionary common descent, they only point to things like planning, guidance, and purpose in biology. Materialists are highly critical of this approach, saying that the appearance of design in living things is illusory, the product of blind, purposeless processes. This actually boils down to philosophical pre-commitments, because science, as such, cannot prove or disprove a metaphysical claim. However, I believe the case for God based upon natural theology is much stronger than the case for the absence of God based on natural observations, hence the value of this approach.

Ultimately, our dialogue with non-theists must begin with the logical first thing, which is the existence of God. If someone has dismissed the validity of Scripture wholesale, we can’t use special revelation as the starting point. Our common ground, then, must be the observation of the world around us. I see natural theology as a powerful first stepping stone in the cumulative case for Christianity. I also believe that Scripture endorses it. Romans 1:20 says, “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” And Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.”

For further reading, I recommend The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. J.P. Moreland and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment edited by Dr. James F. Sennett and Dr. Douglas Groothuis.