Bishop Robert Barron on Atheism and Philosophy: “Give me a break!”

This is an excellent short video from Bishop Robert Barron in which he addresses the statistics presented in the popular media concerning theism, intellectualism, and academia. What I love about Bishop Barron’s approach is how he gets right to the core of the issue and exposes erroneous claims for what they are.  He defines the terms clearly and concisely, and points out the mistakes in reasoning frequently made by opponents of Christianity. I particularly love his utter intolerance for the farcical arrogance that has become so common in pop atheism.

A Science and Faith Resource You Don’t Want to Miss

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J. Warner Wallace’s latest book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, is an exciting recent addition to the short list of science and faith books I regularly recommend to those desiring a strong, reader-friendly introduction to the issue of science and Christianity. It contains many of the same topics that are addressed in other scientific apologetics offerings, such as the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning argument, the origin of life, and the problems of consciousness, free will, and morality. However, this isn’t your average, dime-a-dozen pop apologetics book; far from it, in fact.

What makes this book so unique (and incredibly entertaining, to boot) is how Wallace frames the entire discussion as a detective’s investigation into the question: Was the origin of the universe an “inside job,” or is the likely suspect something—or someoneGCS-Closing-Argument-Illustration-05-1024x874—outside of the “crime scene”? In other words, does the universe have a transcendent cause, and if so, who or what makes the list of likely suspects? The use of homicide case summaries as analogies for examining the scientific evidence related to cosmic and biological origins and helpful, appealing illustrations on nearly every page make this book as enjoyable as it is informative.

Wallace’s book is well researched; it presents the arguments in a comprehensible fashion and includes counter-arguments and relevant scientific and historical context for the supporting evidence. For example, in the opening chapter, he outlines the observational evidence for an ultimate beginning of the universe, including not only the better-known research of Edwin Hubble, but also the related work done by physicists and astronomers such as Vesto Slipher, Georges Lemaitre, Arno Penzias, and Robert Wilson. Readers without a science background need not be intimidated. The crime scene investigation parallels Wallace constructs greatly aid the reader in understanding the significance of the scientific evidence for the over-arching argument. 

There are several other features of the book that are both fascinating and useful. For instance, there are “Expert Witness” sidebar profiles scattered throughout. These are short bio sketches of leading scholars in the different fields being explored, including some of their scholarly achievements, key arguments, and notable publications. Among others, Robert Pennock, Paul Churchland, Leonard Susskind, Paul Davies, and Roderick Chisholm are profiled (but I must say that I especially loved seeing Dr. Mark Linville included, since he’s my dissertation director). :-)  In addition, there are other sidebar boxes, such as  “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag,” which describe crime scene investigator techniques and how they are analogous to what scientific investigators do, and “Our  Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile” boxes that sum up the accumulated evidence and preliminary conclusions as the chapters progress.

If you don’t already own a copy of God’s Crime Scene, I highly recommend it as an engaging and  worthwhile addition to your personal apologetics library. It would make a wonderful gift this Christmas season, particularly for college students, parents of teens, church leaders, and anyone in lay ministry who deals with questions pertaining to science and faith.

Check out the book trailer—->

God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace from J. Warner Wallace on Vimeo.


Mankind: The Artist, the Revolution

In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton argues that man, as a species, is different in kind,  not just degree, from all other living creatures. Man’s origin, he says, is one of the grand mysteries of the cosmos, along with the birth of the universe itself and the emergence of the first life. Mankind, endowed with rationality and free will, exploded onto the scene and “a third bridge was built across a third abyss of the unthinkable…not merely an evolution, but rather a revolution.”

Chesterton rejects the “gray gradations of twilight” suggested by materialist accounts of evolutionary gradualism in favor of a human nature that was mature at first appearance. It is important to be clear on what he was and was not claiming here. He is unconcerned with the question of whether or not any sort of evolutionary process produced the biology of Homo sapiens; he is defining human nature as the entire package, which includes our rationality and awareness of transcendentals, such as objective morality and the inherent value of human beings. 

cave art 1Chesterton points to the character of famous ancient cave art in order to support his assertion. Instead of the crude, simplistic scratchings of the so-called “caveman,” the paintings and sketches were “drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist.” Contrary to the materialist narrative that conceives of human beings as a product of gradualism in every respect (physical bodies and mental capacities) this artwork tells the story of a mind very much like contemporary man’s. “So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces of the past,” says Chesterton, “that human character is quite human and even humane. It is certainly not the ideal of an inhuman character, like the abstraction invoked in popular science.” He concludes that the common caricature of ancient man, the brutish, uncivilized caveman, is unsubstantiated legend, and that the earliest available evidence of artwork points to a distinctively human nature. 

Chesterton’s point goes beyond the fact that artistic activity can only be carried out by creatures with rationally-informed will; the inherent desire to create art for its own sake—the “impulse of art” as he calls it—further highlights the distinctiveness of man. Unlike any other creature of the animal kingdom, man is a creator, not only for utilitarian purposes, but for the simple joy of celebrating the wider creation through artistry. Chesterton is convinced that, as part of a wide gulf of separation, “art is the signature of man.” With his trademark wit-laced wisdom he argues that:

The very fact that a bird can get as far as building a nest, and cannot get any farther, proves that he has not a mind as man has a mind…But when he builds as he does build and is satisfied and sings aloud with satisfaction, then we know there is really an invisible veil like a pane of glass between him and us, like the window on which a bird will beat in vain. But suppose our abstract onlooker saw one of the birds begin to build as men build. Suppose in an incredibly short space of time there were seven styles of architecture for one style of nest….Suppose the bird made little clay statues of birds celebrated in letters or politics and stuck them up in front of the nest…we can be quite certain that the onlooker would not regard such a bird as a mere evolutionary variety of the other birds…

As with the appearance of human nature, such a bird would be a true revolution, not just a slightly more advanced bird. Chesterton is not merely arguing that the lower animals don’t do what humans do, so humans must be special. He’s also suggesting that if the bird scenario occurred, we would think something dramatic had happened that had suddenly produced a very different kind of creature. This is the situation with man and any of his alleged precursors. 

The anthropological evidence that has arisen since Chesterton’s time further supports his argument about human distinctiveness and the sudden appearance of human nature. Prominent evolutionary anthropologist Ian Tattersall is convinced that no human ancestor “produced anything, anywhere, that we can be sure was a symbolic object” and “even allowing for the poor record we have of our close extinct kin, Homo sapiens appears as distinctive and unprecedented…there is certainly no evidence that we gradually became who we inherently are over an extended period, in either the physical or the intellectual sense.” The materialist explanation involves a sudden, dramatic genetic event that produced what some evolutionists have termed “the dawn of human culture,” an event which included the rapid emergence of language and symbolic activities such as art. Tattersall admits that how this “almost unimaginable transition” from hominid to human beings with symbolic capacities is a matter of pure speculation. Darwin claimed that man gained such cognitive aptitudes through a process of sexual selection followed by social and cultural evolution; but Tattersall points out that this “explains neither why the highly social apes haven’t developed a more complex theory of mind over the time during which they have been evolving in parallel with us,  nor why the archaeological record seems to indicate a very late and essentially unheralded arrival of symbolic consciousness in just one lineage of large-brained hominid.” (See Tattersall’s book, Masters of the Planet, pp. 142, 207, 213, 214.)

It seems that the materialist has only speculation to prop up a presupposition–that man is nothing more than a highly evolved animal. However, the Christian humanist can more fully account for the remarkable revolution that is mankind by way of the doctrine of the imago Dei, and this is precisely Chesterton’s point. Man alone, as the crown of creation, bears the image of the good Creator and thus has within himself unique capacities, including the ability to create beautiful, meaningful things for their own sake.

Horror and Holiness

I have often wondered why many churches do not have portrayals of the crucifixion on prominent display. I’ve heard remarks about how the empty cross (which is quite pervasive) is a symbol of Christ’s work for us and of His definitive victory over suffering and death. This is a wonderful sentiment. At crucifixionthe same time, I think crucifixion imagery is a powerful representation of the costliness and horror of sin. Prior to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of mankind, animal sacrifices were performed by God’s priests. I can only imagine the full-on sensory assault of that experience: the death of an innocent animal, the sight and smell of the flowing blood, the smell of the burning meat, the pungent smoke rising from the altar.

Ritual animal sacrifice is no longer required for atonement, but I believe we still need frequent sensory reminders of the nature of sin and its blight upon our souls. As Christians, we are indeed a redeemed people, destined to spend eternity in the presence of our Savior. Yet in the here-and-now, we’re carrying out the work of sanctification that prepares us for our place in the New Jerusalem. What am I being sanctified from? What is it that needs purging from my heart every single day that I walk the earth in this not-yet-glorified body, in this imperfect state of my soul, that I may be more like my Savior?

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis brings before the mind’s eye vivid imagery of human sins such as pride, selfishness, unforgiveness, hatred, and cruelty. The observer grieves for those who are obliviously steeped in the cesspool of sin.  One of the over-arching themes of the allegory is that Heaven and Hell cannot be married–they are fundamentally divorced. It is the cosmic contrast of the two that needs to be continually before our mind as we live out our faith, and consciousness of sin is critical, just as our recognition of God’s holiness is.

As a mainstay of our spiritual formation, we should  meditate upon the doctrine of sin and make sincere lamentation a major part of our devotional life.  We must understand the seriousness of sin and its spiritual ramifications. I’m reminded of David’s hauntingly sorrowful song of contrition in Psalm 51, how he implored God to cleanse him, to restore his soul.  I endeavor to be more repentant, and I find that a better understanding of the horror of sin is necessary.

But here’s the wondrous thing: The more deeply I meditate upon my fallen-ness and the filthy ugliness of my sin, the more acutely I sense the resonance between my redeemed soul and the Lord Jesus Christ. In contrasting the monstrosity of my daily rebellion with God’s holiness, the purity and beauty of His nature and the undeserved robe of righteousness he has enveloped me in stand out in sharp relief, so preternaturally clear in my mind that they seem almost tangible. My desire for Christ-likeness is intensified , as is my gratitude for his saving grace.

For me, crucifixion imagery has a special poignancy, and it has become more prominent in my private prayer practice as I make entreaties for forgiveness: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Thinking Outside the “Women Box”

It surprises many people to hear that my ministry work rarely involves exclusively female audiences. I think there’s a pervasive (and mistaken) assumption that women working in any theology-related field are (naturally!) active in women’s ministry. The truth is, the vast majority of the teaching and training I’ve done has been for mixed audiences of men and women, from young adults to post-retirement seniors. (After all, apologetics and worldview education are not gender-specific disciplines.) This hasn’t been an intentional thing on my part; it’s simply a direct reflection of the nature of ministry invitations I’ve received. I confess that this has led me to what I have come to recognize as an unfair conclusion: that women’s ministry leaders haven’t realized the urgent need for training women in the basics of apologetics as part of focused Christian discipleship, and that women who often participate in the women’s activities at their church aren’t particularly interested in such things, anyway. I also admit that I have experienced a measure of cynicism and pessimism on this account, but I’m glad to be able to say that God has done some heart surgery on me over the course of this year, and my attitude and outlook is being transformed.

A  few weeks ago, I conducted a 2-day apologetics training event for a large group of women leaders at a Bible church in southern California. When the invitation to teach had first come months before, I was quite surprised by the description of the event, and in the weeks leading up to it I wondered how well-received the material would be.  It turned out to be one of the most deeply satisfying ministry experiences I’ve ever had. After each of the five sessions, the women posed excellent, insightful questions and spoke about conversations they’d had with unbelievers in their families and with women they’d encountered through the outstanding community outreach ministry they’ve developed. They were enthusiastic about becoming better-equipped to defend the truth in love. They clearly understood the importance of relationship-building when it comes to authentic evangelism, but their conversational experiences in such a secular region of America has also taught them the necessity of having answers to higher level questions about things such as moral relativism, religious pluralism, science-faith integration, and the reliability of Scripture.  Hence, the reason for the training event. At the end of the weekend, I was so inspired by these culture warrior women that I honestly didn’t want to leave!

open-cardboard-boxI keep imagining the revolution that could happen in other communities across the nation if more senior pastors were persistently outspoken in their exhortation to women congregants towards developing the intellectual skills that have become indispensable to the evangelism of unchurched, well-educated women. The fact is, many of today’s non-Christian career women and mothers on a career hiatus are seeking knowledge of higher truths…but perhaps their search is not always emotion-driven and perhaps they have no deficit of close, loving relationships in their lives. How do we appeal to those who are instead drawn to rational, thoughtful dialogue about God, religion, morality, and hot social issues?  As ambassadors of the greatest teacher who ever lived, we need to be able to meet these women where they are, in a manner that honors their minds. This requires focused training in the context of women’s ministry, yes; but simply offering educational opportunities isn’t sufficient. There needs to be an ethos of intellectualism in the church as a whole, fostered by higher leadership, with emphasis on the need for both genders to develop their minds as a living sacrifice.

Yearning for Artistic Beauty and Sacred Space

Earlier this month, my family visited western North Carolina to spend some time with my dad and to enjoy the cooler temps and mountain scenery. Despite the fact that my husband and I both grew up in NC, neither of us had ever been to downtown Asheville, so we chose a hotel a few minutes from the area. Though most of our sightseeing involved mountain views and waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we made time to see some of the city, as well. At the top of my “To See” list was the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, a century-old Roman Catholic church designed by one of the architects who contributed to the design of Asheville’s Biltmore Estate (largest residence in America).

This wasn’t my first time inside of a Roman Catholic church; I’ve attended Mass here in Houston, and I’ve toured stunning historic Catholic churches in Israel. Nevertheless, the few minutes I spent sitting in the back pew of Saint Lawrence’s were no less spiritually profound: the reverent silence; the stunning beauty; men and women kneeling in prayer amid flickering candles; the majestic crucifix suspended above the ornate altar; the sublimity of the domed ceiling. I let it all wash over me, realizing once again how much my soul longs for the experience of sacred space. Here are a couple of photos of the church’s interior. It features the largest self-supporting elliptical dome in North America:


Basilica 2

These images don’t do it justice. It was breathtaking.

In the Protestant tradition, the statement is often made, “The church is not a building, it is a people.” I understand the point, and I realize that the material things of this world, including stones, bricks, and tiles, will pass away while the body of Christ endures. However, I have a deeply-held conviction that God values human artistry, and that design and craftsmanship are a vital form of worship and glorification of the Creator. As beings made in His image, we are unique among all other creatures in that we can reflect Him in our creative endeavors–visual arts, music, architecture. Contemplating the Basilica was an intensely worshipful experience, one that drew my mind to the transcendent. This is what objective beauty does, as the standard of the good, true, and beautiful is the very character of God himself.

I lament the utter lack of artistry in many Protestant church buildings. While some have architecture and interior design that is aesthetically pleasing (and practical), they typically do not visually convey a sense of the sacred, they do not inspire an elevation of the soul through unusual beauty. I subconsciously long for these things, and I know this to be so because of how strongly I am affected when I do experience a place like the Basilica.  I’m not saying that a building can have any mystical powers; I’m saying that consecrated spaces designed to reflect God’s majestic beauty as well as humanly possible fulfill a universal spiritual need. We long to be closer to His beauty, and sensory experiences give us glimpses of Him that are not achieved through other means.

In his book, Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts, Philip Ryken argues that “God is a great lover of beauty, as we can see from the collection of his work that hangs in the gallery of the universe. Form is as important to him as function.” Ryken discusses the exacting beauty of the Tabernacle, right down to the colorful embroidery on the priestly robes, in an effort to emphasize this. Obviously, aesthetic considerations were of the utmost importance, and artisans were selected and inspired by God Himself. The beauty conveyed the holiness of God. The best artistry, says Ryken, will “satisfy our deep longing for beauty and communicate profound spiritual, intellectual, and emotional truth about the world that God has made for his glory.” These were, to be sure, major goals of the Tabernacle structure.

After (reluctantly) exiting the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, my father, who is a Baptist minister, turned to me and asked: “Why don’t the Baptists build churches like this?” I think more and more American Evangelical Christians are awakening to this need and are making efforts to recover what has, to a great extent, been lost.

I encourage you to make a point of experiencing and contemplating human art and architecture that has been set apart and purposed to communicating the sacred. You may be surprised by how much it enhances your devotional life.