Brief Apologetics: Critique 2

If you missed the first post from this series, please click here and take a moment to read the introduction.

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Critique 2:
The “burden of proof” is on religious people to show that a God or gods exist, not on atheists to prove their non-existence.

Answer:
Actually, atheism is the “new kid on the block.” Humans have believed in the transcendent much longer than non-believers have questioned it. Therefore, the doubters have the obligation to prove why humans have been wrong for so many years about supernatural things.

(You may be tempted to respond to this by saying that the advent of science and technology has relieved our need for religious belief. Just hold off because that will be the next critique.)

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Brief Apologetics: Critique 1

This is the first installment in a series of 6 posts I’ll be writing regarding apologetics. In our world of social media, blogs, and the like, debating is becoming much more abbreviated and widespread. Instead of a few people writing a bunch, there are a bunch of people writing very little. My intent is to contribute – specifically to the world of religious debate – through these brief responses to some common critiques of religion/Christianity that show up in online forums. I hope they’ll help to sharpen the thinking of the religious as well as challenge the propositions of the non-/anti-religious. Comments and more critiques are welcomed, but I make no promise to respond to all of them. I will reject/delete comments that become overly abrasive, so please be civil.

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Critique 1:
Religion has produced genocidal campaigns (i.e. the Crusades) and therefore should be left behind before it can do more harm to humanity.

Response:
The problem with this critique is that an atheist has no basis to declare genocide to be wrong. In order to use this against the religious, our critic has to somehow prove that killing and oppressing a large group of people in the name of religion is morally wrong (Machiavelli, a famous atheist philosopher from the Renaissance, actually considered large-scale oppression to be good). There is no empirical evidence to show that genocide is evil and so, with a godless worldview, it cannot be denounced. In fact, with all of the talk about over-population, couldn’t genocide be a tool in the hand of natural selection?

(Side note: I absolutely believe that all genocide is a great evil. It is not my intention to talk about these atrocities as though they’re trivial. Unfortunately, atheism and disbelief in absolute moral law do trivialize such horrific acts.)


When is Enough, Enough?

Right now I’m laying on our king-size bed in the Cheshire Cat Inn in Santa Barbara. We’ve been on our little trip for almost exactly 24 hours and it’s been wonderful. Here’s a quick list with a few (not all) of the things I’ve already enjoyed in the last day:

  1. Beautiful drive
  2. Great coffee
  3. Delicious Sauvignon Blanc and hors d’oeuvres
  4. Relaxing garden with a great book
  5. Incredible dinner in the Santa Barbara harbor
  6. A warm jacuzzi tub
  7. Sumptuous breakfast accompanied by more great coffee
  8. Awesome engagement shoot with a wonderful couple
  9. Every part dramatically enhanced by sharing it with my lovely bride

There’s the snapshot. That is certainly not everything and I’m confident that there’s much more good stuff to come! As a result, my mind has also been drawn to the many blessings I enjoy day in and day out. My life is filled with innumerable treasures and joys. Oh how sweet to stop and remember them!

And yet, something keeps nagging me. There is one question which continually comes back to mind: Would I still be content without all of these blessings?

The truth is that, at any moment, these things that I’ve so contented myself with could be taken from me. My world could flip upside down in an instant – a car accident, a phone call, a conversation. Psalm 18:2 draws me back to my only constant:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

If the gospel is one blessing in my life among many, I will live an unstable life. Anytime I lose one of my other treasures, I’ll become inconsolable. The good news of Christ’s coming to live my life and die my death must be central to my existence and my joy. My earthly blessings will certainly desert me, Christ will not.

Let me illustrate this in the most poignant way I can: my wife. Kristin is the greatest blessing I have. And yet even if we live a long and happy life together, one day she’ll die. If that day comes before my death, then I will be deserted. I can’t make her the foundation for my existence or I will crumble as my foundation gives way. In light of this reality, I can’t make her the central spot from which I derive joy and find meaning. She is not enough to sustain me, only God is. And because of His mercy, she knows that.

After reading this, you may be thinking: “So how on earth am I supposed to enjoy anything? Should I just become a monk, forsaking all relationships and blessings so that I can focus all of my attention on God?” My answer is a resounding no. Let me offer a couple of suggestions that will hopefully benefit all of us.

  1. Make the gospel the seat of your joy. The good news is so good that if you continue to explore all of its facets, you will see that the wonder of it never ends. Because God is so glorious and so gracious, His loving acts in your life will never cease to amaze you. Even the age to come will have us still marveling at God’s grace toward weary sinners like us.
  2. Enjoy God’s many blessings. Continue drawing yourself back to the gospel and you will be able to enjoy your earthly blessings in a healthy way. The Preacher recommends it in Ecclesiastes 9:7 – Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Since God approves you in Christ, you may freely enjoy His blessings. If and when they are taken away, you will not crumble because your joy is in God. He never crumbles.

My prayer is that the gospel sinks deeper and deeper into your heart, captivating you more and more. As it does, you will find an anchor in the storms of our ever-changing lives.

May God’s peace reign in your heart through Christ Jesus, our Rock!

For His glory and fame,
Dustin

Guidelines for Lobbing Handgrenades

Today I saw a comment on CNN’s Belief Blog that really caught my attention. One commenter wrote:

Atheism has done more good in the last 100 years than Christianity has in the last 1900.

Now I’ll admit, my first inclination was to launch into a sarcastic response that would show the uneducated and asinine nature of this assertion. Beyond that, it doesn’t give any credibility to the thinkers in this guy’s camp who do actually have legitimate data to work with. Fortunately, I refrained from responding. It did, however, make me stop and think about an actual problem with debating in places like blog comment threads, Facebook, and the like. Social media and blogs don’t typically foster healthy, intelligent debate. Let me explain why.

  1. There are no credentials necessary to participate in discussions. You use to have to have a PhD in your field of expertise (i.e. science, philosophy, religion) in order for anyone to take you seriously enough to publish a book that would get exposure. Now you can just type something in on a popular blog and thousands of people will read it (see the quote at the top of the post for an example).
  2. There is no personal interaction. It’s significantly harder to make fun of someone when they’re sitting across a table from you. Now we can be insensitive jerks behind our computer screens and not have any respect for our opponent’s feelings. This sucks all the civility out of our debating.
  3. There is not enough room to develop an intelligent argument. All we have room for on these comment threads are brief responses. You can’t write a 200 page book defending your position or critiquing theirs. We’re forced to give oversimplified answers to very difficult questions.

Below I’ve posted a video that recommends some great principles for disagreement that we can all benefit from. Internet debate is dealt with specifically. Do your best to watch the entire thing but if you don’t have the fortitude then skip ahead to the 9:00 minute mark.

 

The reason I titled this post Guidelines for Lobbing Handgrenades is because one of the men in the video, Matt Chandler, describes internet debate in those terms. He’s absolutely right. When we engage in debates about serious issues in 10-150 words, we’re trivializing the volumes upon volumes of serious research and writing that experts have slaved over for literally thousands of years. If arguing on a Facebook comment or blog thread is a handgrenade, the real work that’s being done is a World War.

So here’s the thing: in spite of everything I’ve written so far, I actually don’t think it’s wrong to debate on comment threads. I just think we need some guidelines in order for it to become beneficial. So here are my recommended guidelines for lobbing handgrenades.

  1. Respond to one statement at a time. Instead of trying to answer every single one of someone’s critiques or points, just respond to the most foundational one. Keep your answer simple and get to the heart of the problem ASAP.
  2. Don’t engage in every debate that pops up on your newsfeed. Sometimes you need to just let it go. Don’t feel obligated to pipe in on every debate. If you’re tempted, go play Angry Birds to cool off.
  3. Don’t caricature/stereotype. Don’t trivialize someone else’s beliefs or opinions. Even if you think they’re unintelligent, at least show them the common courtesy of not making fun of their position while you debate. This provokes people to be offended instead of fostering thoughtful, constructive dialogue. If you were actually speaking in person, you wouldn’t be so crude.
  4. Don’t make broad statements which require data to substantiate. The quote at the top of this blog fits into this category. When two people are debating on a comment thread, they normally aren’t working with very good data. Most of the time you’ll have to criticize their logic not their data.
  5. Prove that you know the other person’s position before you critique it. If you watched the video above, then you heard them talk about this. Let me please express that if you don’t absorb anything else I’ve written on this post, at least put this recommendation into practice. Take the time to learn what your opponent actually believes and is espousing. When you do this, the person will not only listen to you, but your critiques will actually hit home. This will propel the debate forward instead of leaving you spinning your tires in the mud.

I hope you’ll put these into practice along with me as we continue our philosophical, religious, scientific, and political debates. We need to keep debating, but let’s work on doing it in a constructive not destructive manner.

Best wishes in your handgrenade lobbing!

Dustin

A Personal Guide to Fighting Poverty

Click here to read a great article from David and Nancy French on how Christians can better posture themselves to make an impact in local and global poverty. Let me reiterate, please go and read it! In the list of the 5 ways given as the guide for fighting poverty I was especially struck by #2:

Second, don’t just live within your means, live below them.  I know from bitter personal experience that following the all-too-typical American pattern of living exactly as prosperously as your paycheck allows not only places your family in peril in the event of job loss but also dramatically impacts our ability to be generous to those in need.  We have to understand — to the very core of our being — that our money and assets ultimately belong not to us but to God.  I have seen friends in need and been unable to help because of my own (very silly) financial choices.

This is a really important encouragement for us to understand and put into practice. Unfortunately, American culture assumes we should basically tap our paycheck every month. There’s no concerted effort by our society to encourage planned generosity. You’ll never be questioned for having a nice house, nice cars, and nice things. That’s what you should do, according to our collective cultural mentality. But is that what Christians should do? Is that how all Americans, regardless of religion, should live?

Christians: Obviously no, Christians should not accept this particular cultural norm. The Bible is replete with encouragements to give generously (Prv. 14:21), spontaneously (Lk. 10:25-37), and intentionally (2 Cor. 9:1-5). All of this giving is rooted in the good news that Christ gave generously for us and to us (2 Cor. 8:9). We give in order to show the world that Christ gave Himself for their sakes.

All Americans: Possessions are more of a burden than a blessing. You’ll only derive joy from your stuff if you commit it to the joy of others. Apart from that, there are people suffering who need your charity. More and more, the government is seeing that increased government programming does not help the poor. It’s too easy to manipulate the systems. We need people to be charitable with their time and their resources in their communities. This is a much more organic and effective model.

Let’s all take away something from the article from David and Nancy French that I posted above. Find a way to intentionally invest your resources in someone who needs them more than you do. People will continue to crumble unless you do.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin

Longing for the Wrong Thing

Numbers 11:19-20
“19You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?'”

Numbers 11 details a horrendous story of dissatisfaction, rebellion, and judgment. One part which stands out is encapsulated in verses 19-20 which I’ve quoted above and it’s this: judgment is God giving people what they want. The Israelites complain that they have no meat and so God says, “Fine, since you aren’t satisfied with what I’ve provided, I will give you what your wicked hearts want.” This shows us three things:

  1. Our natural impulses are wicked.
  2. It’s God’s mercy that He doesn’t give us what we want.
  3. If you bother God long enough, eventually He will give you what you want.

Another passage which shows this explicitly is Romans 1:24-32 where Paul says that God “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” They had these unceasing, evil inclinations and so, in judgment, God allowed their wicked desires to consume them. And so He will do the same to us if we continually long for satisfaction in things other than Himself.

How then can we be satisfied with God? It is so much easier to indulge ourselves with the things which present right in front of us and can be consumed immediately. God is immaterial and ethereal and therefore inaccessible. Things like relationships, money, and success are very accessible. How are we to be satisfied with God so as not to idolize the things of this world?

What did God send the Israelites which dissatisfied them? Manna. In John 6:41 Jesus says “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” When the Israelites refused to be satisfied with the manna, they refused to be satisfied with God. When we refuse to be satisfied with Christ, we refuse to be satisfied with God. If we continue in that, then God will do the worst thing for us: give us what we want.

So how can we find our ultimate satisfaction in God? Let me offer three ways to be satisfied with God because He has sent us the bread from heaven – Christ:

  1. Don’t despise your salvation. In Numbers 11, the Israelites show contempt to God because He delivered them from Egypt. They are cursing God for saving them from slavery. Our feet may slip into the same trap if we aren’t circumspect. We must engage our minds in seeking out the treasure of the salvation God has brought to us. The Good News has many aspects such as deliverance, substitution, propitiation, and adoption. Look into all the many facets of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. Meditate on and savor the gospel at all times lest your heart be lured away to another god and you begin to despise your salvation.
  2. Remember what He has saved you from. The Israelites failed to remember what God had saved them from. In this passage, all they can think about is the fact that they got to have meat and other good food while in Egypt. They forgot how awful slavery was – being worked to death, whipped, beaten, and trampled upon. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to long for the things you used to have when in slavery to sin (pride, envy, sexual immorality, etc.). But remember, Christ has defeated death and liberated you from slavery to sin and death. You’re not under the authority of those old taskmasters anymore, you’re a bondservant of Christ. Walk in it.
  3. Remember what He has saved you into. The Israelites failed not only to be grateful for rescue from bondage, but they also failed to see where God was taking them: the Promised Land. Though they currently only had bland manna to eat, God was relocating them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Remember what Christ has saved you from and then think also of what He has saved you into! He has repaired your relationship with God and you have eternity in God’s embrace on the horizon. Take a moment to read Revelation 21-22 and remind yourself of what’s to come. All that’s bad will cease to exist and God will be your joy, delight, and treasure in the new heavens and new earth.

This post really embodies what I want you to get out of this blog: an unquenchable longing for God. If you long for Him, you’ll be satisfied – Jesus promised (John 7:37). So if you are finding yourself distant from God, take a moment to pray and renew your commitment to Him by remembering all that He’s done for you. It’s not about working harder, it’s about knowing Christ better. So drink of the living water and consume the bread from heaven.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin