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Religion and Obligation – But I don’t want to obey?…

Religion and Obligation - What if we don't want to obey?

People often don’t like religion because they don’t want to obey

A lot of people react to religion and want nothing to do with it. Not because they’ve considered its truth claims but because they feel it is constricting. Interestingly, we got our modern English word “religion” from the Latin word religio meaning “obligation” or “bond.”

So, it has been recognized for a long time that religion is binding. The question is, why? Why should anyone obey a religion?

If the religion’s truth claims are accurate then there would be a good reason to obey. Otherwise, I’m not going to be bound by a religion just because that’s what my grandma believed… No. If you’re going to tell me what I can do and not do, you better offer some good reasons why I should listen. 

God demands obedience

1 Kings 8:60-61 says, “The LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD.” It is admittedly a big claim that “the LORD is God,” and He alone. But if that claim is true it seems to make sense that the LORD could demand obedience. 

So, the question it seems we need to answer is not: “Should I obey?” But: “Is it true?” A lot of times it seems we’re tempted to go at it a different way. We’re tempted to think: “I don’t want to obey, therefore I won’t consider if it’s true.” 

We can see the ridiculousness of that thinking when we apply it to a different context… 

Imagine you’re driving on the highway with me. I’m going 95 when the speed limit is 70. You’re concerned because you know there are often speed traps in the area. Also, you don’t want to die. So, you say, “Perhaps you should slow down. There could be a speed trap.” 

I, however, am rather content with the speed I am going. But you see a police car ahead. You very kindly warn me: “Um, that’s a police car… See it?! He’s right there! Slow down!”

But I don’t listen. I want to drive fast so I ignore the possibility of a cop car. 

Religion and obligation

Ignoring information that might be pertinent because we want to do what we want to do might be problematic. Just because we don’t want there to be a cop to enforce the rules does not at all mean there is no cop. 

I understand people not wanting to be obligated by a religion. We all naturally want to be in charge; we want to do what we want to do. We want to be God. But we can’t be God if God is God.

If God is, then God is in charge. He is God. If the religion is real, it necessarily leads to obligation. 

That brings up the very important question: “Is God?

Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved

Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved

Imagine I gave you a pill that made you feel morally obligated to give me money… Kinda random but hear me out. After the pill wore off, what would you think of your moral conviction to give me money? Would you regret it? Question it? Probably both.

That’s what moral conviction is if we’re simply evolved creatures. Why? How is that so?

Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved

Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved. That is, our “moral genes” just happened to make us better suited for survival, and thus those with a moral characteristic passed on their “moral genes.” And so, we have morality. But, so the thought goes, just as the Neanderthals died out, morality could have died out. Or certainly, a different form of morality could have won out. 

In fact, Charles Darwin says in The Descent of Man that if things had gone differently for humans they could have evolved to be like bees, where “females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters.” The atheist Michael Ruse in his book, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophysays, “Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.”

So, if we’re simply evolved from monkeys, morality is the equivalent of taking a pill that makes us think certain moral convictions are right. But the reality would be different. We, based on this view, only have those convictions—whatever they are: treat people nice, don’t murder and maim, etc.—because we happed to evolve that way (“took the pill”). 

Of course, just because the way that you arrived at a conclusion was wrong, does not mean that your conclusion was wrong. In a test where the answer is A, B, C, or D, I could just choose “C” because it’s my favorite letter. I may be correct in my answer, but I certainly don’t have a solid reason for believing in the validity of my answer. In fact, probability would say my answer is likely wrong. 

Another problem with wholesale naturalistic evolution is if we believe it explains everything then it in some ways explains nothing. Gasp. Yeah, that’s not a good thing.

If evolution explains morality, then I’m moral because of evolution which at least in some ways undercuts morality. Some people even say that religious people, like people that believe in Jesus, are religious because they evolved that way. Believing in a higher power brought some type of group identity which led tribes of our ancestors to be more likely to protect each other and thus survive and pass on their genes. And so, religion is the result of random mutational chance. 

In fact, you could argue all of our thinking processes are the result of evolution. We’re just matter in motion. We’re all just responding to random whims. From belief in morality to belief in evolution, we’re just evolved to think this way… We can’t do anything about it. It’s programmed into us. It’s the pill we were given…

But if all this is a pill we’re given—what we’ve randomly evolved to think—what should we think?… Isn’t all our thinking just built into us through evolutionary processes?… 

Alternatively, Christians believe that humans are created with an innate moral sense. 

So, it seems morality is either a fiction with no basis in reality or God created us and explains reality—explains why we have an innate sense that we should treat people nice and not murder and maim.

There are big implications for either view. What is your view? And why?

What explains the contradiction of humanity?

What explains the contradiction of humanity?

What explains the contradiction of humanity?

Hospitals and especially children’s hospitals are a testimony to the beauty and brokenness of our world. Humanity is capable of amazing feats structurally and scientifically. We build edifices and index illnesses.
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We build this collectively in community. Because we are mightier together. That’s the purposive power of politics and how and why societies formed. We come together because we have to. We are not enough in and of our self. We need each other. And can’t make it on our own.
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We’re frail and we fail. We’re weak and sometimes very wrong. We are both sinful and sick.
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That’s why hospitals, even children’s hospitals, exist. Because we need care. We have things that go wrong—even in our own bodies. And we do wrong. To each other. Sometimes sadly even to children.
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So, hospitals tell us something profound. They tell us something about ourselves. They tell us we are at the same time mighty—capable of accomplishing a lot. Yet at the same time monsters—capable of moral atrocities. And all the time, we are not enough on our own.
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That brings up a question. What are humans? If we are “gods” as some say, why do we so often grovel? If we are mere germs—plagues on the earth—as others say, why are we capable of such glory? What explains the dual nature of our nature?
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Which intuition is correct? What are we?
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Could it be that we are neither goo nor god, but essentially goo made in the image of God? Could it be that our duality reflects flawless design yet fallen? What if we’re all not quite what we were meant to be? What we could be?
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Doesn’t that view seem intuitive? It certainly does to me. It seems to me to be, strangely, what we see in the world.
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We’re not exactly that thing or that other thing. We’re both together at the same time. We are mixed. An ocean of motion. We’re a contradiction of commotion.
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We have the tendency of both sinner and saint, of a god and mere goo. Why?
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The Bible says it is because we were made perfect and in God’s image—formed from the dirt of the ground. But that we turned and turn from God’s way. We struck out and strike out on our own. We sin. We disobey the good way He has laid out for us.
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That, the Bible says, explains humanity’s duality. That’s how we got to be the way we are. So very capable and incapable at the same time.
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That’s the wonder of us. That’s who we are. But if that’s true. What does it mean?
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Is the cautionary contradiction the residue of what’s true? Does it point us to a past reality?
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I believe it’s one of the cookie crumb trails. It’s DNA evidence pointing back to a cold case question. It may not all at once confirm a conclusion about Christianity, but it does point in a definite direction. It fits the case that Christianity argues while bringing up questions to other philosophies.
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When I weigh the evidence and the alibis are in, there’s more mounting evidence that points to the truth of the Christian philosophy. As C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
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Christianity not only makes sense to me, but it also makes sense of the world I see. The fact that the world is both fallen and flourishing is just one example. But it’s another example that collaborates with other evidence.
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Therefore, I believe the contradiction of humanity points to the truthfulness of Christianity.
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*Photo by Ksenia Kazak

Christmas is real good news of great joy for all people

Christmas: Real Good News of Great Joy for all People

I think, no matter who you are, there has been misinformation on both sides of about everything the past year or two. Sometimes we see something on social media, Facebook, or whatever, and it grabs our attention and seems pretty possible. Then there’s other stuff like this…

Newspaper

There is no coast of Austria. Austria is a land-locked country. And there is no Whale Team 6, at least that I know of. This story, of course, is just made up to be funny.

But, there has been a lot of bad news and a lot of false news this year. But, thankfully, I have something much different for you.

I have some incredibly good news and it is not fake!

First, I want to show you that this is not false news. That’s really important. Then we’ll get into the really good news. Of course, if the news were fake then it couldn’t be good.

Real News (Luke 1:1-4; 2:1-3)

Luke, the one who wrote one of the accounts of Jesus’ life, had a fourfold approach to his task. First, we see he did an investigation. He interviewed eyewitnesses. Second, he went back to the beginning. He didn’t pick up halfway through. Third, we see that Luke was thorough. He did his homework and “investigated everything.” Fourth, we see it wasn’t done in a roughshod way. Luke “carefully investigated everything.” So, the main impact of what Luke writes is that “Christianity is true and is capable of confirmation by appeal to what happened.”[i]

In fact, one author has said, “Wherever it has been possible to check Luke’s statements, his impeccability as a historian has come to light.”[ii]

Also, the Gospel of Luke doesn’t start out like a fairytale story: “Once upon a time…” It starts out by showing us that it is a biography. Luke did his research in putting together the account about Jesus. It’s not fake news. It’s real news.

Infinite to finite
Glorious royal riches to rags
The creator sustainer—born
Oh, the mystery,
yet the truth of history
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The story of Jesus—of His birth and life—is not in the same category as fiction but history. Luke reports true historical events. Or, that’s certainly what it claims to report.

So, the issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like what the Bible teaches but whether or not the Bible is true.[iii]

The story of Christmas does not have value because it is a cute story about a down-and-out couple having a child in an unexpected setting. No. The story of Christmas has value because it is a true story about the good news of rescue through Jesus.

It’s very interesting to me that Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was the first, and many say, the greatest Roman emperor. Actually, Augustus means, “Revered one” and some worshiped Caesar Augustus as divine. But, in his day, someone much greater was on the scene, someone truly divine. And it is actually because of this other person, this person that was a crucified Jewish carpenter, that I even know the name of Caesar Augustus.

Good News

Friends, this is good news! God has provided a Savior and we desperately need a Savior. We all fail, we all sin. As James says, “we all stumble in many ways.” Sometimes when we’re not even trying to. We don’t love others or God as we should.

The coming of Jesus the Messiah shows us that God keeps His promises. His promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), David (2 Sam. 7:16), Israel (Deut. 30:1, 5), and all people (Gen. 3:15). We see this truth highlighted a bunch throughout Luke chapters 1 and 2.

And that’s really good news. God kept His past promises. He said He would send a rescuer and He sent Jesus to rescue in ways that are mindboggling. And soon we’ll have perfect joy before Him. That promise too will come true.

Brothers and sisters, through the Messiah, we have light instead of darkness. Soon pervasive peace.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,…

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ…

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,…

Brothers and sisters, we have good news even in this stinky year because Jesus came to bring good news of great joy…

for All Peoples

Who is this good news for? It is “for all the people” (Luke 2:10). “Regardless of nationality, age, wealth, fame, social position, sex, education, etc.”[iv]

Also, Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds. As a class of people shepherds had a bad reputation. They were often known for stealing. They were also considered unreliable and were not even allowed to give testimony in the court of law (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 25b).[v]

Jesus is the deliver, master, and anointed king. Yet, He is born among very common folk. He is not born with pomp in a palace. He’s born around stinky smells in a mere stable.

What an amazing irony that the most amazing event of history took place in a lowly manger. Yet, how fitting because God elevates the lowly, and He humbles the proud. We see this also through the angelic announcement. The King’s birth was not announced to other kings, though Herod hunted for news. No! The news, the amazing news, was given to shepherds. The announcement to the humble was a harbinger of things to come.

The Lord cares for all and identifies with ordinary people.

Respond to the News

Look at Luke 2:13-14: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.'”

The angels themselves are in awe of God! The angels can’t help but praise God! The fact that God became flesh and was born to a poor family in a mere manger was indescribably awesome to the angels. They had never seen the wonder of God’s love shown to such an extent. And they responded as we all should. They praised God! And they desired that others give Him His rightful praise too.

Hark! The herald angels sing:

“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic hosts proclaim:
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem’
Hark! the herald angels sing:
‘Glory to the newborn King!'”

How will you respond?

Let’s look at how the shepherds responded in Luke 2:15-20:

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

The shepherds were in the middle of something, they were keeping watch over the sheep. Yet, we see they hurried off. We don’t even know what they did about the sheep. The shepherds’ main concern was to act. To respond. To see the Savior.

Yet, we should understand why. Is there more amazing news?!

He who lay the foundations of the earth,
laid in a manger?!
The Infinite born,
a swaddled babe?!
He that holds the nations in His hand,
grasps His mother’s hand?!
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That’s news to be told, at least, if we actually believe it.

Do you really believe it?

Do you really believe this is real news of great joy for all people?

Brothers and sisters, this news is real. Jesus did come. Jesus, who deserves to be magnified forever, was born in a manger. And the good news is He came as our Rescuer, our Savior. So, treasure up this truth in your heart and praise the Lord for the real good news we celebrate at Christmas.

On a day, a real day in history, in a city, in a real place, the Savior, came to take our sin away. The Messiah came to fulfill our hopes and keep His promise. The Lord came to defeat death and make us safe forevermore.

That’s why we have great joy. That’s why Christmas is such great news.

That’s why Christmas is real good news of great joy for all people.

So…

Joy to the world
to all whom the Lord is pleased
Yes, good news of great joy
for all people
all types of people
white, black
rich, poor
Joy
inexpressible and full of glory
because Jesus, our Savior, our Lord Messiah
has come.
Go now with the good news of great joy
in your heart and on your lips.
Amen.
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Notes

[i] N. B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, 44.

[ii] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke, 141.

[iii] See Keller who makes this point in The Reason for God p. 210.

[iv] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke, 152.

[v] Leon Morris, Luke, 101.

*Photo by Tim Mossholder

Does science disprove miracles?

Does science disprove miracles?
Are miracles possible? Does science disprove miracles?
 
We must first ask, ‘What even is a miracle?’ We must also consider our assumptions as we ask the question. Then we’ll be in a better position to consider miracles.
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What is a Miracle?

David Hume, a skeptic philosopher believed a miracle is a violation and even a transgression of a law of nature. That view assumes the impossibility of miracles at the outset. It makes sense that someone who doesn’t want to believe in God, or God’s interference with our affairs, wouldn’t want to believe in the possibility of God’s intervention.[1] So, I understand where he’s coming from. 

His view, however, is not the only option. People have explained what miracles are differently. And not all of them think miracles violate the laws of nature.
 
C.S. Lewis said a miracle is “an interference with nature by supernatural power.” Lewis’ approach allows for the possibility of miracles. Lewis explains that when God performs a miracle He does not suspend “the pattern to which events conform” but instead feeds “new events into that pattern.” Just as an airplane does not violate the law of gravity but instead nullifies its effect with its power.[2]
 
Though it seemed impossible for a long time to a lot of people we know now that airplanes can fly. And airplanes do not violate or momentarily do away with the law of gravity. Instead, they in a way ‘overpower’ gravity. Airplanes don’t suspend gravity but exert force to overcome the effects of gravity.
 
It seems to me to make sense that God can “interfere” with or “overpower” the regular operation of the world. It would seem God is able to affect His own creation since He is simply, as Lewis said, writing in “small letters something that God has already written… in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvas of Nature.”
 
Some people object that they’ve never seen a miracle or that miracles don’t agree with what we know about the universe in which we live. John Frame says, “In almost all our experience, things happen in regular patterns, to some extent describable by scientific law.” That is true. “But,” Frame goes on, “there is nothing in this experience to persuade us that irregularity is impossible, or that everything always behaves naturally and regularly. Experience tells us what is happening; it does not tell us what is or is not possible, or what ‘always’ happens. We have not seen what everything always does, for we have neither seen everything nor seen things always.”[3]
 
So, different people think about miracles differently. Augustine, instead of saying a miracle was a violation of nature or contrary to nature, said miracles were something outside our knowledge of nature. Thomas Aquinas explained that a miracle is not contrary to nature but goes beyond the order that is typically observed in nature.
 
Why do people think about miracles so differently?
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The Importance of Starting Places

If you start with just nature you end with just nature. If we start without God, we end without God. And if God is not, then He’s not able to act in the world we live in. So, if all there is, is natural, there is no supernatural. No miracles.
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Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe? How we answer that depends upon the assumptions that we have before we answer. Our starting place matters.
 
If God is, then He is not constrained to rigid patterns but is free to carry out His intentions.[4] Who or what is there to constrain the Creator? As Peter Kreft has said, God has more power in one breath than all the winds of war, all the nuclear bombs, all the energy of all the suns in all the galaxies.[5]
 
The laws of nature beginning in space and time are limited and finite. God, however, as the Creator of space and time and the laws of nature is infinite and unlimited. God certainly is not limited by His creation. If God made the Big Bang bang, He can certainly make miracles.
 
If, as Greg Bahnsen has said, the “God depicted in the pages of the Bible actually exists, then it would be preposterous to try and rule out the possibility of miracles.”[6]
 
Also, if a person believes in a competent Creator that is wise and involved, then it makes sense for them to believe in the consistency of the laws of creation. If, however, that is not one’s belief about the Creator, then it doesn’t seem like it makes sense to expect that consistency. Instead, profound surprise would be in line. Why is the world controlled, not chaotic?!
 
For a person that believes in a competent Creator, it would also make sense that they would believe that the Creator could intervene with the laws of nature. Again, if that’s not one’s belief, it would not have to be intervened with for things that seem out of the ordinary to happen because in that case, there wouldn’t be reasons to believe in ordinary. If there are no laws of nature, no ordinary, then how could one have an idea of what a miracle would even be? If there are laws of nature, wouldn’t it make sense that the Law Giver could supersede those laws?
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Is Science able to Disprove Miracles?

As we think about science and miracles there are a few questions we should ask. What science could disprove miracles? How? By what proof?[7]
 
Science can neither prove nor disprove miracles. “Science is unable to investigate unique events. Because science depends upon repeatability, and unique events don’t have repeatability, science is, in a certain sense, powerless to prove the presence or absence of a miracle.”[8]
 
“Science does not tell us what always happens. It certainly does not tell us what can or cannot happen. Science’s laws are only generalizations from our observations of how nature usually works. They do not forbid exceptions. Miracles do not contradict the laws of science any more than a gift of extra money contradicts a bank balance. It is an addition, not a subtraction… Supernatural events do not contradict natural events.”[9]
 
Therefore, no. It seems science does not rule out the possibilities of miracles.
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Should we Believe every Miracle Claim?

Although airplanes can fly, we still know that it is not the regular pattern that objects fly.
 
No. We should not believe every miraculous claim. Just because science does not disprove the possibility of miracles doesn’t mean they’re common. The existence and effectiveness of science in some ways prove that miracles are uncommon.
 
Christianity gives us reasons for both believing in miracles and being hesitant at claims to miracles. Christianity gives us reasons for believing in the incredible even while making us only believe things if they’re credible. How so?
 
First, the Bible gives actual reasons for believing in incredible things like Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. You can count the reasons. And it doesn’t say we should just have faith in random outlandish things. Second, we should only believe things that are credible because many people, and certainly the wicked one, would have us blinded to the truth. So, we should only believe things if they prove to be credible. Faith is never to equal foolishness.
 
In the time of the Bible, people didn’t just willy-nilly believe everything without question. Jesus’ first followers often doubted Him and had to be shown proof. Things in that day seemed too fantastical to believe too. Even if they didn’t have the scientific method as we know it today, it doesn’t mean they had no sense of the way the world typically worked.
 
Jesus’ followers knew it was not typical for a person to die and rise from the dead. They didn’t expect to see a person walking on water. There were a whole host of things that were confusing and unexpected surrounding Jesus.
 
Yet, if Jesus was truly God as the Bible states, then it makes sense that miraculous events accompanied Him. Jesus’ original followers had doubts. I sometimes have doubts too.
 
One of the most difficult things for me to believe is that God is going to remake the world. He is going to fix every wrong and make everything right—physically, emotionally, spiritually. That’s hard to fathom. But, that’s what the Bible says (e.g. Revelations 21). 
 
Yet, as I think of what God must be capable of if He made and sustains the world, it bolsters my faith.
 
It may blow a one-year-old’s mind that after they eat and wildly enjoy one “smash-cake-cupcake” I can pop another one out of the fridge and into their face. They certainly don’t have categories for how I could do that, but just because they, with their limited capacity cannot comprehend, does not mean that I cannot do it.
 
In the same way, I honestly cannot comprehend how God could rework and remake the world and fix every wrong and make everything right—make a new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth in which perfect rightness just always is. But, I’m the equivalent of a little baby with a happy birthday bib on. So, it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense to me.
 
God, I have to believe, is capable of more than I can fathom.
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Does Science Disprove Miracles? 

So, no. Science certainly doesn’t disprove miracles.
 
Honestly, for me, I think it proves God is certainly capable of intervening. He is always upholding the very laws that allow for the very existence of science. If there weren’t typically regularity, we wouldn’t possibly even notice irregularity. It wouldn’t exist.
 
If God didn’t uphold the laws of the universe with His power, randomness would reign. In which case, we wouldn’t observe miracles but instead complete unpredictability. Sometimes light is X speed, sometimes light is Z speed. Sometimes gravity is crushing, sometimes we float off into an endless void. 
 
Science is actually more and more showing the vast extent that is required for intelligent life to exist in the universe. Thus, if anything, science is showing us that God has been intervening the whole time.
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Notes

[1] See e.g. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, 51.
 
[2] Michael F. Bird and James G. Crossley, How Did Christianity Begin?: A believer and non-believer examine the evidence, 22.
 
[3] John M. Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2015), 146-47.
 
[4] Frame, Apologetics, 73.
 
[5] Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 105.
 
[6] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith ed. Robert R. Booth (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 226.
 
[7] Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1988), 64.
 
[8] Ian H. Hutchinson, “Miracles and Science” 6 in The Dartmouth Apologia: A Journal of Christian Thought [2019 Spring Edition].
 
[9] Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith, 65.
Photo by Casey Horner

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Newton, a scientist that also happened to be a fish, was a keen observer of the ecology of the fishbowl. He was surprised to observe regular patterns in his fish universe. But he did. 

For example, Newton observes that food daily falls upon the surface of the water at the same time each day. It is a law of nature. It’s just the way the world is. 

Newton observes other natural phenomena like the temperature of the water. He further notes that each death of a goldfish results in a distant flushing noise and then in reincarnation of that goldfish. Newton, awestruck by his discoveries, publishes his findings in his magnum opus entitled Fishtonian Laws

Many read his groundbreaking work and are convinced that the laws of the fishbowl are unassailable. After all, the patterns observed have always been that way and so always will be that way. No outside source can act within the fishbowl. The reality is food appears every day and as a goldfish dies, a new one appears. That is the unbroken chain of events we observe. That is the way it’s always been. How could it be different? Who or what could act on these laws of nature? 

We are in a closed system; the aether of the universe—in which we live, move, and have our being—is constrained by an invisible force. There is an unknown unobservable wall that keeps us from knowing what is outside nature, what is outside the physical universe. There is no way for us to know the metafishbowl

In the post-Fishtonian world, there were still whispers of the metafishbowl—of the supernatural hand of God—but most of those stories were dismissed as baseless dreams. After all, even if there were a God that set up the fishbowl, he no longer acts in the fishbowl. Such a being is wholly other and transcendent and would not care about lowly fish. 

Everything just goes on swimmingly by itself. We shouldn’t expect an outside hand, right?… There is no reason to think an outside being or force could act within our world. 

Or, does something smell fishy about this story?

Doesn’t science show that the scriptures are stupid and inaccurate? 

Doesn’t science show that the scriptures are stupid and inaccurate? 

Doesn’t science show that the scriptures are stupid and inaccurate?

Scripture is in line with science in various important ways.

Science has found Scripture to be correct in various regards way before its time. The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Yet it is accurate scientifically. That is, it concurs with all sorts of scientific discoveries. The Bible also, as we have seen, lays the groundwork for scientific research to be carried out.

The Bible is also accurate or predictive in connection with science. For example, the Bible clearly says that the universe came into being at a finite time. “Not until the twentieth century did any other book—whether science, theology, or philosophy—even hint at”[1] this reality. We now know that the universe is accelerating at ever faster speeds. If we were to reverse the accelerating expansion of the universe we would see that there was a point at which it did not exist. That is, the universe came into being—ex nihilo—out of nothing, as the Bible says. The “big bang” demonstrates empirically what the Bible has said for hundreds of years.[2]

So, although many people ridicule the Genesis creation account, the Bible’s accuracy in fact predates many scientific discoveries. It’s almost like the Bible had access to special information. There is currently debate regarding the days of creation. I do not currently have a dogmatic answer to that question, however, as we have seen, there are various plausible explanations.

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has said,

“The Bible accurately and uniquely described the major features of the origin, structure, and history of the universe thousands of years before any scientist discovered them… The predictive success of biblical cosmology affirms the reliability of Scripture’s message about why the universe exhibits the characters it does.”[3]

Also, the Bible talks about the expanding universe. It doesn’t quite say “the universe is expanding” but that’s the picture we get. The Bible says that God “stretched out the heavens.”[4] The Bible talks about what we know as the “laws of nature,” it refers to the “fixed order of heaven and earth.”[5] We now know, as the informed modern people that we are, that the world is made up of a bunch of tiny things that we cannot see (atoms). The Bible does not contradict that truth but states nonchalantly that “the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

The Bible explains the “happenstance” that trillions upon trillions of electrons have the identical electrical charge as one another. It explains the many “Goldilocks,” just right, factors that are necessary for life, such as, the earth’s position in relation to the sun.

Therefore, the Bible, far from being out of line with science, fell in line with scientific discoveries before they were discovered. Further, the biblical worldview provides a framework for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. So, when we consider the Bible’s relationship to science it ends up lending credibility to the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Christianity and Scientists

We should also understand that there have been many good scientists who are Christians, and they didn’t see a contradiction between their science and Christianity. If anything, many of them believe the two are complementary.

Christianity far from being filled with hacks has had a history of cultural contributions. Sophisticated calculations, diatribes on causation, and beautiful cathedrals are part of the Christian legacy. Christianity is based on the word made flesh and the words of the Bible, so, not surprisingly, it is a life philosophy with a rich history of books. Christianity even talks about two main books known as general and special revelation. That is, Christians believe that God reveals Himself and His will through both His word and His world. Christians have a long history of believing both matter and both are good. Christians have a long history of supporting literacy, scholarship, and science.

Here are some scientists that have had a massive impact that seemed to have believed in at least part of the Christian view of the world. Or “Christians of various stripes,” as Eric L. Johnson put it.[6]

  • Blaise Pascal was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, and philosopher. He is behind Pascal’s principle, the syringe, and the hydraulic press.
  • Robert Boyle is “the father of chemistry.”
  • Isaac Newton is one of the greatest and most influential physicists and scientists of all time.
  • Andre Ampere is where “amp” and our language of electrical measurement comes from.
  • Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction.
  • Gregor Johann Mendel was an Augustinian monk whose work led to the concept of genes.
  • Louis Pasteur was a chemist and microbiologist famous for pasteurization, principles of vaccination, and research that led to greater understanding as to the causes of and prevention of diseases.
  • Lord Kelvin is where we get the Kelvin scale of absolute zero and why we say the sun is 6000° Kelvin.
  • George Washington Carver was born into slavery and yet became one of America’s greatest scientists.
  • Francis S. Collins recently led the Human Genome Project.

Thus, we can see Christians have a rich history of thought and scientific discovery. Of course, that does not at all mean that Christianity is true. But, I do believe it means that it deserves thoughtful and honest consideration.

And no. Science does not show that the scriptures are stupid and inaccurate.

Notes

[1] Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the way It Is, 133.

[2] The phrase “big bang” makes it sound as if the beginning was just a disordered explosion. That is wrong. Instead, “there must be an incredibly precise amount of order at the Big Bang. We know that the universe is moving from a state of order to a state of increasing disorder (this is the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and it is the case that you needed a lot of order at the beginning for the universe to be able to produce… the ordered structures we see” (Rodney D. Holder, “Is the Universe Designed?” Faraday Paper number 10).

If I’m shooting pool and I want one ball in the pocket, there is some complexity. I must hit the ball at roughly the precise spot for it to be knocked into the pocket. With every additional ball the complexity and thus precision is more crucial. If I was breaking up all the balls and wanting all the stripes to go in and none of the solids it would take a phenomenal amount of both calculation and precision. And it would be the initial hit that set a chain of cause-and-effect reactions into place.

[3] Ross, Why the Universe Is the way It Is, 15.

[4] Job 9:8; Ps. 104:2; Is. 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Zech. 12:1.

[5] Jer. 33:25 see also Ps. 74:16-17; 104:19.

[6] Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care, 63.

Photo by Kitera Dent

What are humans?

Humans?

What are humans?

Are we mere mammals, slightly more evolved than monkeys? Are we ourselves divine, known or unknowingly gods ourselves? Or are we made to know and reflect the Creator God? Are humans nothing more than evolved hydrogen? The chance outcome of random processes with no significance?

Do humans have spirits that go beyond or are we merely matter in motion? Simply an ocean of cause and effect?[1] Do humans have a choice and a voice or are we just in a cosmic Ping-Pong game?

What explains the nature of humans? What are we and why are we what we are? Why are humans capable of almost unbelievable feats of both good and wickedness? What explains our dignity and degradation?

The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”[2]

Nick Bilton said, in an article about the eccentric and amazing Elon Musk, “when we eventually end up on another planet, humanity is most likely to do there what we’ve done here: destroy whatever wonder we have built. Nowhere is that more on display than with Musk himself. Humans are capable of great things. Every once in a while, a human comes along and propels us forward by leaps and bounds. A human like Musk. But, at the same time, those humans are imperfect, even if we don’t want them to be.”[3]

So, once again, what explains humanity’s propensity and desire for perfection but yet our inevitable and abysmal imperfection? What view of the world or philosophy makes sense of this? What hypothesis explains the conflicting nature of humans?

There seem to be three main options. We’ll look at each. You can decide which view you think makes the most sense.

Are we divine?

One view of the world is that “we are saved not by trusting a transcendent God who reaches down to us in grace but by realizing that God is within us, that we are God. Salvation is not a matter of recognizing our sin; it’s a matter of raising our consciousness until we recognize our inner divinity.”[4]

There are a number of people and sources that say that we ourselves are divine. Shirley MacLaine, for instance, asserts: “You are everything. Everything you want to know is inside you. You are the universe.”[5]

This type of view often posits that there are no ultimate distinctions. When it comes down to it there is no true differentiation. All is one. Everything is divine. You too are divine.

This brings up a few questions.

If we—each and everyone—are divine, why do we all not know of our own divinity? What accounts for our cosmic amnesia?[6] “If, when I was asleep I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, how do I know when I am awake, I am not a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” How can one distinguish between fact and fantasy?

Is the tragedy of the human race that we have forgotten that we are divine? Is that what’s wrong with the world?

Also, if distinctions, whatever those distinctions are, are illusions, then how do we know what is real? Further, how can we actually say that there is right and wrong? We can’t. There is then “no basis for human dignity and meaning… No basis for morality. If God is in everything, God is in both good and evil; therefore, there is no final difference between them.”[7] Helping and healing and maiming and murdering would all be the same.

Can we take seriously a view of the world that denies the existence of good and evil? That does not distinguish between death and life, between pain and pleasure? Can we do away with scientific discoveries so easily? Can we sore 35,000 feet in the air while googling arguments in favor of vegetarianism on our iPhone and also say logic has no real bearing on life?

How do we know we are divine? We cannot reason our way to this conclusion because it is beyond reason. Therefore, it would seem clearly unreasonable to hold this view, would it not? There can literally be no reasons or arguments in favor of this position.

I get the appeal of the view of enchantment that we are all gods. I get the appeal of spirituality without the ties of restrained morality or doctrinal commitment. But, are there actually legitimate reasons to believe the view that we are all gods? That question is often not asked.

We also have the question of why humans pivot towards perfection in one area and then revert to a pale and poor reflection of what we could be in other areas. Perhaps it’s because we just randomly mutated into our present form?

Are we evolved?

What can “explain the phenomenon of mind, consciousness, reason and value?”[8] Where did consciousness come from? Do we inherently matter or are we just matter?

There have been countless books arguing for and against the claim that humans are merely evolved matter. Various topics could be considered. It is not the place here to go into the merits of those arguments; although, I encourage you to check out some books on those topics.[9]

Here, instead, I want to ask what follows if we are evolved? What implications does it have for us if there is no enchantment? No beyond? No meaning?

If we’re evolved and we just follow our inner urges because that is what made us fit to survive does it mean there’s any meaning in what we do?

Yuval Noah Harari is a naturalist and popular author. In his book Sapiens he says there is no meaning if we as humans are evolved. “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose… Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”[10]

Is there a basis for morality? Is there a basis for logic? The late William Provine, once historian of science professor at Cornell University, apparently didn’t think so. He said, “no inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.”[11]

If we are merely evolved then that perspective seems correct.

“If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by Homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. Human beings are just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.”[12]

If we are no more than evolved animals, is all life no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again?[13]

If we’re not magnificently divine is it right to say we’re merely dirt? What explains the complexity of the human character? Courageous and caring conquers and quivering and cranky cowards? Why the walking talking contradiction called humans? What explains our glory and gloom?

If we’re merely evolved how can we account for the fine-tuning of the universe? For example, why is the earth we inhabit inhabitable? Like Goldilocks’ potage why is it not too hot or too cold but just right to allow for life (also consider gravitation, the nuclear force that binds proton and neutrons, and the electromagnetic force)?[14]

And what about the existence of matter? Where did it come from? Doesn’t it make sense to say that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence? And hasn’t it been shown that the universe had a beginning? What is its cause for existence? How did it happen?

Are we created in the image of the Creator?

What explains what seems to be the dual nature of humanity? Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it, but why is it here?

Christianity teaches that humans have dignity because they are made in the image of God but that they also can be devilish because they are rebellious (humans don’t always live and love according to God’s good design). “Our being made in the image of a personal and good God enables us to affirm objective goodness and reject evil.”[15]

As much as we are great, we bear God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bear Satan’s. Human greatness split the atom; human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchill, will lead a nation in their defense. Ashok Gadgil,[16] with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison.

Humanity is fallen, however. So we cannot neatly divide the line between good and evil. We cannot say all the bad people on the left and all the good people on the right. We’re all mixed together.[17] We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.

Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, our image of God, and distorts it to evil ends. How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humans are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read, for example, that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn to read.[18] This surely should not be!

The world is a weird place. And, if the Christian view is the correct view, it must account for the weirdness of the world. It must best describe “the contours of the world as it actually exists.”[19]

Again, the world is a weird place. Did you know it’s not just the Christian scriptures that say the first humans were made out of mud?[20] Also, the Bible isn’t the only account that explains the origin of diverse languages connected to a huge tower.[21] Why is that?

Why is the world so strange? And what accounts for that strangeness? And why are humans so conflicted?

One hypothesis alone makes sense of who we are: “creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.”[22] Sin, resulting in the fall, explains humanities wretchedness and yet greatness.

The Bible does not teach that we are gods but that we are to be like God. We image God.[23] For the Christian, “Everything is not the result of the impersonal plus time plus chance, but that there is an infinite-personal God who is the Creator of the universe.”[24] The Bible gives us a reason for believing in a lot inner in us. And a lot out there in the otter world. So, if you sense you have a lot of untapped ability, if you sense that the world is enchanted and spiritual, you’re correct.

It’s hard to consider these questions without also asking whether or not God exists. So, it’s important that you consider that all-important question: does God exist?

Notes

Read More…

If God created the universe, what created God?

If God created the world, who created God?

We, as sentient and at least somewhat intelligent humans, exist. That’s not debated by most people. How, however, did we get here? Where or who did we come from? And if God created us, who or what created God? 

Panspermia 

Some have speculated that we got here through panspermia or even directed panspermia.[1] Panspermia is the hypothesis that microorganisms were seeded to our planet through meteoroids, comets, asteroids, or even from alien life forms. That just moves the question back. Where then did life come from (to say nothing of matter)?

Interestingly, some have speculated what it would take for us to seed life to another planet by blasting off a rocket with microorganisms onboard. Some believe we could carry out a “Genesis” mission to an uninhabited planet within 50 to 100 years.

Of course, the mission would require a lot of really smart people working in coordination with a lot of really smart people. And it would cost a lot of money and use things like ion thrusters and really advanced robots. So, starting with life and intelligence, it may be possible to seed life to other planets (assuming they are fine-tuned to support life). But again, this just pushes the question back and proves the need for intelligent design.

Multiverse or many worlds hypothesis

Another hypothesis to explain the origin of life on earth (specifically intelligent life on earth) is the multiverse theory.[2] Yes, this should remind you of all the crazy stuff that happens in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This theory is interesting and problematic for a number of reasons. It’s more science fiction than fact.

  1. It is, by far, not the simplest explanation. This is problematic (see: Occam’s razor).
  2. It’s nonsensical. One could then postulate that there is a near-infinite number of you, or of Loki. Loki was a cool show but the questions multiply as the “Lokis” multiply.
  3. There’s nothing that we have observed that would lead us to logically conclude that there is or is likely a multiverse (it seems, rather, that those arguing for this position are just frantically trying to get away from the reality of the existence of God[3]). 

If God created the universe, what created God?

Here are the options:

  1. The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.
  2. The universe inanimate has existed eternally and that something somehow exploded and eventually led to the life forms we have now.
  3. The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.

Each of those options is honestly hard to fathom. Which makes the most sense?

The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.

This is not something we really observe. In our experience and observation, something does not come from nothing. If even a simple pool ball is rolling on a pool table we assume it was set in motion by something. We don’t assume it moved although no force whatsoever acted upon it (What about quantum particles?[4]).

There’s a story about a scientist making a bet with God. The scientist bets God that he can create life. The scientist grabs some dirt and sets off to work. When a voice from heaven said, “Get your own dirt!”

“It is a vain hope to try to give a physical account of the absolute beginning of the universe. Not only must the creation event transcend physical law, it must also,… transcend logic and mathematics and therefore all the scientific tools at our disposal. It must be, quite literally, supernatural.”[5]

The universe has eternally existed.

If the expansion of the universe were an old VHS video that you could reverse, you’d see the contraction of the universe into an infinitesimally small singularity—back into the nothingness from which the universe sprang.[6] Thus, the Big Bang actually matches with what Scripture says. That is, the universe—all the matter that is—came into being at a finite time, ex nihilo, out of nothing.

The universe has not existed eternally.

The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.

It makes sense to say, doesn’t it, that anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence?[7] I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean a pool ball on a pool table isn’t going to move unless someone or something causes it to move.

This is especially the case when we consider the extreme fine-tuning necessary to allow for life, especially intelligent life. “On whatever volume scale researchers make their observations—the universe, galaxy cluster, galaxy, planetary system, planet, planetary surface, cell, atom, fundamental particle, or string—the evidence for extreme fine-tuning for life’s sake, and in particular for humanity’s benefit, persists.”[8]

God is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover. God is. He is the Creator.

But then, who or what created God?

Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. The thing with God is, He did not begin to exist. He has always existed. Therefore, He needs no cause or creator. He is the Creator.

“The Cause responsible for bringing the universe into existence is not constrained by cosmic time. In creating our time dimension, that agent demonstrated an existence above, or independent of, cosmic time… In the context of cosmic time, the causal Agent would have no beginning and no ending and would not be created.”[9]

This is, in fact, what the Bible says about the LORD God. It says, “the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Is. 40:28) and it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 cf. Ps. 136:5; Is. 45:18; Col. 1:16).

The universe has not always existed. Instead, “the universe was brought into existence by a causal agent with the capacity to operate before, beyond, unlimited buy, transcendent to all cosmic matter, energy, space, and time.”[10]

God revealed Himself to Moses as: “I Am who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). God is the One who Is. He is the Existing One. He is the One who is beyond and before time and matter. And as such, He is able to create time and matter.

If God’s existence doesn’t need an explanation then why should the universe’s existence need an explanation? 

“This popular objection is based on a misconception of the nature of explanation. It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation to be the best, one need not have an explanation of the explanation (indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that everything becomes inexplicable). If astronauts should find traces of intelligent life on some other planet, for example, we need not be able to explain such extraterrestrials in order to recognize that they are the best explanation of the artifacts. In the same way, the design hypothesis’s being the best explanation of the fine-tuning does not depend on our being able to explain the Designer.”[11]

How should we respond to the One who created the universe?

That’s a big question. But, I’ll take it further, how should we respond if the Christian understanding of God is correct? What if the Programmer coded Himself into the program like the Bible talks about?

If what Scripture says of the Creator entering His creation is true, as I believe it is, then I think it clearly follows that we should be amazed and submit to the One who has shown Himself to be the Lord.

We must all, however, make that choice on our own. I can’t make it for you. But I, for one, am awed and astounded that the Creator would enter His creation to rescue His creation.

Not only that but the Creator was crucified (see Col. 1:15-20). As Jesus was making purification and propitiation for sin by bearing our sin on the cross, He was simultaneously upholding the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:2).

How should we respond to the One who created the universe and yet loves us?! I believe we should respond in reverent worship:

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
and by Your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
“Worthy are You…
for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Notes

[1] E.g. Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Nature and Origin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981).

[2] See: https://reasons.org/explore/publications/questions-from-social-media/is-the-existence-of-a-multiverse-a-problem-for-christianity

[3] “The many worlds hypothesis is essentially an effort on the part of partisans of the chance hypothesis to multiply their probabilistic resources in order to reduce the improbability of the occurrence of fine-tuning” (J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003], 487). Ironically, “the many worlds hypothesis is no less metaphysical than the hypothesis of a comic designer” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 487).

[4] “There is no basis for the claim that quantum physics proves that things can begin to exist without a cause, much less that [the] universe could have sprung into being uncaused from literally nothing” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 469). Even if one follows the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, “particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the subatomic vacuum, which constitutes an indeterministic cause of their origination” (Ibid.). This very brief explanation is helpful: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/quantum-field-theory-what-virtual-particles-laymans-terms-javadi/ and also see: http://atlas.physics.arizona.edu/~shupe/Indep_Studies_2015/Homeworks/VirtualParticles_Strassler.pdf

[5] David A. J. Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks: Our Place and Purpose in the Universe, 114.

[6] A better illustration would actually be a balloon losing its air. When considering the expansion of the universe it’s amazing to consider that eventually the universe will grow dark because the speed of the expansion of the universe will eventually be too great for us to observe our cosmic surroundings.

[7] “Everything restricted to the cosmic timeline must be traceable back to a cause and a beginning” (Hugh Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132).

[8] Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 124. See e.g. Hugh Ross, “Fundamental Forces Show Greater Fine-Tuning” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/connections/fundamental-forces-show-greater-fine-tuning, Fazale Rana, “Fine-Tuning For Life On Earth (Updated June 2004)” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-on-earth-updated-june-2004, and Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks, 121-127.

[9] Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132.

[10] Ibid., 131. 

[11] Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 487.

*Photo by Tyler van der Hoeven

Is the world enchanted?

Is the world enchanted?

Is the world enchanted? Or merely natural? Deterministic? Are we just chemical processes that have been wound up and will wind down? Or, is there a “ghost in the machine”?

Is there something before and beyond? Can everything be coolly explained or is there the Unexplainable? Could it be that fantasy and fiction are tapping into something true? Something fantastic and far beyond us?

Are there spells and spirits? Or are we mere decomposing skulls with sinews?

And the world we inhabit is it wondrous; consisting of beauty, mystery, as well as sad irony? Or is the world a mere and meaningless blip before the heat death of the universe?

Is “the cosmos,” as Carl Sagan has famously said, “all there ever was and all there ever will be”?

If so, what explains the wonder and wild nature of life? What explains the rhinoceros and the beauty and rapture of art? What explains those moments, those brief moments, with family or friends that feel so right?

I believe there are subtle hints all along the road of life that point us to something out of sight. Markings or tracings of something; distant echoes of a not distant presence; the quiet speech of the spirits.

Those moments of silence under the glow and vastness of the sky, the moon reflecting the glory and splendor of the sun, speak. These types of moments speak not to our heads but reverberate in our hearts. These moments awaken. They call us beyond. They say there is more.

So, we must ask, what if there is more? If so, what good, what beauty, and yet what hideous evil might there be? And, if there is more, if there is the equivalent of witchcraft and evil, what spells might be possible and cast?

Perhaps a sort of blindness? A dullness to what is real?

If there is more, and evil, beyond the great beyond, might there be a battle? A cosmic battle? A Saruman and Sauron? A Voldemort? A Frodo? An Aragorn?

Could our lives have cosmic significance?

Is the world enchanted?

There are many ways to answer this question. And we all answer it one way or another. We may just not truly ask it. That is, really think it through. I propose that’s not a good way to go forward. If the world is “enchanted” in some way it would be good to know. Perhaps very helpful to know. Because, to use The Lord of the Rings as an example, what if we are in the equivalent of hobbitian, but there is a hoard of raging orks on their way?

If the world is enchanted, it is more wondrous and wonderful than we could possibly know. But, it may also be more dangerous too.

That’s actually what the Bible teaches about the reality of the world we live in. It is, so to speak “enchanted.” It is “under a spell.” Similar to the witch in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia that made an enchantment over the whole country so that it was always winter and never Christmas.

What if there is a spiritual realm? What if there is more than the merely physical? Curiously, the Christian Bible talks about fiction made real. It talks about a hideous dragon set to destroy and deceive. It talks about an enemy that crouches low like a lion ready to pounce and attack. And it talks about a god of this world that is subtly influencing the world.

Evil is more multidimensional, nuanced, and complex than science alone can suggest… In addition to systemic injustices and personal ignorance and physiological imbalances, there really are forces of spiritual evil in the world—and behind them all there is a singular supernatural intelligence.[i]

The influence of the “god of this world”[ii] is often less perceptible than the wind.[iii] Yet, with all the devastation of a furious tornado.

The world, not just the hills, are alive with the sound of music. The universe roars with echoes of life. Sometimes we are just not quick to notice. Perhaps because we’ve become callous to the call of creation.[iv] G.K. Chesterton says, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”[v]

A quick google will return wonder: Walakiri beach sunset, Halong Bay, Huangshan. Most images will do. Or, think of the amazing ability of a chameleon. What a world we inhabit. What a surprising and often beautiful world we live in. “Reality is very odd, and… the ultimate truth, whatever it may be, must have the characteristics of strangeness.”[vi]

Consider this, someone in a one-dimensional reality would have trouble conceiving of a two-dimensional reality, let alone what that reality would be like. Someone in the two-dimensional reality would have a greater likelihood of conceiving of and pondering a three-dimensional reality though because they already know that there are more than one-dimensional realities. They already know that things that would seem impossible to the one-dimension reality are very much possible.

We live in a reality that is sometimes so much not like reality, should we also not at least speculate that there may be a spiritual reality; something different than the dimension that we are currently in? And what if that reality is more real than our current reality, and what if that reality is actually more present than we can now conceive?

The Christian story—the true myth—is similar to so many amazing myths in literature. But with a big difference: The Christian story claims to be true. C.S. Lewis said, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.”[vii] Similarly, Nancy Pearcey says, “The great events of the New Testament have all the wonder and beauty of a myth. Yet they happen in a specific place, at a particular date, and have empirically verifiable historical consequences.”[viii]

And is it not clear, that in most myths the evil person/force of the story would be happy if people thought that evil did not really exist? It seems to me that would be a worthy goal of evil, to make people think evil and enchantment weren’t real. Imagine the spell one could wield on the world if the world couldn’t imagine that there was such a thing as spells?! As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

The world is enchanted. In the original use of the world enchanted. The world is “under a spell; bewitched.” The world is “utterly delighted, captivated, fascinated, and charmed” by someone or something. This someone is Satan and the spell is sin. The curse and fall of humanity have long since happened.[ix] The fall was not just the fall of humans but encompasses the fall of angels. We are in a cosmic story. The Christian Bible teaches us that the myths are not magical enough for the reality of the truth.

We may not wish for the world to be this way. But, that is not for us to decide. As Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Of course, that’s not to say that all is bad. The story of the Bible is actually a wonderful, almost unbelievable story, that starts with a beautiful couple in a bountiful garden paradise and ends with a host of their decedents in an eternal paradise. The Bible is a comedy, not that it’s funny—though it has its funny parts—but because it has a U-shaped plot. That is, it starts out great but then a terrible seemingly insurmountable problem is introduced. But, thankfully doesn’t end in that sorry state.

As any good fantasy, there is a hero. And, as any good hero, He has many names: Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Son of God, Savior. Jesus is the true mythic hero. Jesus is Aragon and Frodo. He is Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Aslan, and Ransom. He is Iron Man, Black Panther, and Captain America. And He is Avatar Aang. The God/Man, the Hero, offers rescue to the whole world.

The Bible is a big amazing story. It rivals and even surpasses Marvel and the Lord of the Rings. It tells us about God making a world. The Bible even tells us about angels rebelling against God and starting a cosmic battle. And it tells us about deception and romance.

It tells us that God became man and that this GodMan—Jesus Christ—had superpowers. And He used His superpowers for good. And He fought the evil enemy. He defeated and cast out the great dragon’s evil hitch men.

It looked like the GodMan was going to win. He was going to defeat all the bad guys and even rule the world. He had a large loyal following.

But, something happened. The GodMan, the all-powerful One, died. He died. He that brought people back from the dead, died.

That, that was unexpected.

With the GodMan’s death, hope died.

The GodMan’s followers fled in fear. They didn’t know what had happened… And they hid in fear. They hid for three days.

But the GodMan returned. He defeated death. He rose from the dead.

The Bible claims and shows us that this all really happened. It’s not a “once upon a time” story. Although, for all those who trust Jesus as the Hero and Lord that He is, they will live “happily ever after.”

From Genesis, the very beginning of the Bible, until Revelation, at the end, we see one unified true cosmic story. We see God making a very good and beautiful world. But we see the serpent enter the scene and we see humans depart from God’s good plan and we see the devastation it brings. The world is torn in two. Relationships are ruined and rebellion spreads. The whole world whirls.

But, as God promised, He was not done. He loved the broken world and would be broken Himself to fix it.

So, the Bible tells the story of a terribly fierce dragon set to destroy the whole world. It’s really not so different from the Marvel myths in some ways. But, it claims to be true and it recounts the tales of one hero. A hero that loves the planet, the whole world, so much that He died for it. He, however, didn’t stay dead. He was so great and powerful that even death itself couldn’t defeat Him.

The story of Scripture is different from Marvel and other myths in various other ways too. For example, the Bible was written over the period of fifteen-hundred-years, by more than forty authors with varied backgrounds (e.g. king, herdsman, fisher, tax collector, physician) and literary styles (e.g. historical narrative, poetry, law, biography), on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and yet it tells one unified story.[x]

Yet, the overarching narrative continuously declares Messiah Jesus. The Bible’s unity among diversity is for me a profound witness to its glory and trustworthiness.[xi] I believe its significance can never be fully known and yet the storyline of Scripture can be beautifully and briefly portrayed such that even a child can understand its main points.

As you read, study, and contemplate Scripture you are struck not by the number of contradictions in the text but by the overwhelming unity of the story. The Bible, from beginning to end, explains the amazing work of the hero, Jesus the Messiah. It uncompromisingly explains reality, the way things are, should be, and will be, whether it tickles our ears or not. The Bible far from being fixed on shambles is fixed on an amazing interlocking bedrock of truth.

So, is the world enchanted? If you have suspicions that what you see in the physical world is not all there is, the Bible says that your suspicions are correct. The Bible says there is more. A lot more.

There are practical reasons for believing in enchantment. Because there are good reasons for believing in the existence of God. As the philosopher Alvin Plantinga has said, there are some very good arguments for believing in the existence of God, “arguments about as good as philosophical arguments get.”[xii] “If God is, what he is has far-reaching consequences for our lives—who we are, how we live, and what happens after death,”[xiii] and I would say, what’s possible.

Jesus’ resurrection tells us, proves to us, that the world is indeed enchanted. There is more to the world than we can see with our mere eyes.

In other words, if God exists then it seems clear that spirits and thus the spiritual realm exists. If this is true, as it seems to be, then there is a whole lot unseen and unknown that can act in and on the world, as we know it. This, at least in some ways, is a rather frightening reality.

Just as there was fear and trepidation by the first brave souls aboard a boat, there is a healthy type of fear that we should have. These are very uncharted seas.

Life is not something to take lightly. This world is enchanted. There are spirits, and angels, and fallen angels. A dragon set to defeat us all. We may see him breathe fire but what comes out of his mouth are deceptive lies.

The enchantment of this world is all the more dangerous because it’s allusive. We don’t see the spell. Many disbelieve. But, the reality is, there is more than meets the eye.

Christianity gives an answer for the strangeness that we sense in the world. Christianity gives a solid reason for believing in the spiritual realm and for us ourselves having a spirit.

Humans are not robots or automatons. At least that’s what the Bible says. Our actions matter. Our lives and our decisions matter, even eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter. That, at least, is true from a Christian perspective. If, however, as Carl Sagan said, “the cosmos is all there ever was and all there ever will be” then this would is not enchanted and meaning is limited to what you make it.

I believe, however, if we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives we’d be moved to wonder and crippled by the significance of it all. Our lives and our every action have significance because this world and this life are not all there is. So, friends, let’s live fierce purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can know.

If there is more than the material, more than meets the eye, then what are we? What then are humans?

Notes

[i] Timothy Keller, The Great Enemy (Encounters with Jesus Series Book 6).

[ii] 2 Corinthians 4:4.

[iii] Ephesians 2:2.

[iv] Psalm 19.

[v] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

[vi] C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture.”

[vii] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock.

[viii] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 211.

[ix] Genesis 3.

[x] See .e.g. F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, 88.

[xi] “To have 27 pieces of [New Testament] literature written by eight or nine authors contemporary to the events, all of who were giving the same basic message—about Christ—is unprecedented. Nothing like it exists for any other book from antiquity” (The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible, 133). I like the way J.I. Packer says it:“To the man enlightened by the Spirit, Scripture is no longer a bewildering jumble of isolated items… Part chimes in with part, Scripture meshes with Scripture, and the unified bearing of the whole Bible becomes apparent. The accompanying experience of the ‘taste’, or ‘flavour’ of spiritual realities is immediate and ineffable” (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 92

[xii] Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief, x.

[xiii] Esther Meek, Longing to Know, 17.

*Photo by TOMOKO UJI

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