Can Science Explain Everything?

The current sentiment regarding science versus God is, “Surely, you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days!” It’s a viewpoint expressed by many people over the years. Others don’t even bother asking the question, stopped by their own doubts. After all, they say, science has given us such marvelous explanations for the universe. Why worry about theology when science can explain it all in pluralistic, naturalistic, a-moral, empirically-based conclusion? Belief in God, say the atheists, is so last-century. They claim we’ve come too far as a species to continue believing in a magical, omniscient, spiritual “creator.”

Stephen Hawking PicStephen Hawking, in the last book he published before his death titled Brief Answers to Big Questions, wrote, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

Hawking further said, “Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine creator.” Hawking was, of course, burdened and blessed with the mind of a brilliant scientist—his IQ was 160. He had no room for conjecture or speculation regarding the origin of the universe, or whether God (and the ethereal world of the spirit) exists. His explanation for the origin of the universe began with quantum mechanics, which explains how subatomic particles behave. Hawking held the opinion that protons and neutrons seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stuck around for awhile, and then disappeared to a completely different location.

BigBang.jpgIn fact, Hawking said the universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature. Here’s the thing, though. Even if it were possible for subatomic particles to appear out of nowhere, that still doesn’t explain away the possibility that God created the proton-sized singularity that preceded the Big Bang, then flipped the quantum-mechanical switch that allowed it to pop! Of course, Hawking kinda put all his eggs in one basket. He held the scientific opinion that black holes hold the secret to the origin of the universe. Black holes are collapsed stars that are so dense nothing, including light, can escape their pull. These phenomena represent a dense singularity. Gravity is so strong in this ultra-packed point of mass that it distorts time, light and space.

Black Hole 2It was Hawking’s contention that time does not exist in the depths of a black hole. Accordingly, he held the opinion that there was no time before the Big Bang. Hawking wrote, “For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” This argument will do little to persuade those who believe in God. That was never Hawking’s intent. As a scientist with a near-religious devotion to understanding the cosmos, Hawking sought to know the mind of God by learning everything he could about the self-sufficient universe around us. While his view of the universe might render a divine creator and the laws of nature incompatible, it still leaves ample space for faith, hope, wonder and, especially, gratitude.

A COMMON VIEWPOINT

Many today say belief in God is “old-fashioned.” Some believe religion belongs to the days when no one really understood the universe. Several noted scientists have said it is considered lazy to simply say, “God did it.” Stephen Weinberg, theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, said,

The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].

I propose this: If science and God do not mix, why do we have so many Christian Nobel Prize winners? In fact, between 1900 and 2000 over 60 percent of Nobel Laureates were self-professed believers in God. There cannot be an essential conflict between science and God because all truth is God’s truth. God has revealed Himself in general revelation (science, physics, nature) and special revelation (the written Word of God).

Militant Atheist Logo.jpgThe conflict between militant atheists and theists is not a battle of facts; rather, it is about worldviews. We must remember that all scientists have assumptions, presuppositions, biases, convictions, values, and prejudices. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions. In fact, worldview can cause us to see, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.

Frankly, I think it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. This is what’s known as “scientism.” Some notion of “truth” and “justification” is ordinarily implied by “knowledge,” which makes the science versus religion argument rather cyclical. It lends support to the concept that the mere accumulation of facts indicates a grasp of truth itself. If science were the only way to truth, we’d have to discard half the faculty members in any school or university—history, literature, languages, arts and music, for a start. Indeed, we’d be cutting out all metaphysical disciplines, including philosophy. This would please Einstein because he believed scientists make poor philosophers. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant scientist, was not much of an accomplished thinker outside of the realm of science.

SAM HARRIS AND THE “ZERO-SUM” ARGUMENT

“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God, can you?” Well, why not? Oh, is it because science has given us such convincing, all-conclusive, accurate explanations of the universe—how it got started, where matter came from, who started the ball rolling—and demonstrates that God is no longer necessary? Today’s leading atheists tell us belief in God is “old fashioned” and lacking in vision. They think theology belongs in the past; the good old days when people lacked a “scientific” understanding of life and matter.

zero sum game winners and losers.jpgThere is an alleged inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is in this book that he addresses the idea of that there is a zero-sum battle between science and religion. Zero-sum relates to or denotes a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. In game theory and economic theory, a zerosum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the others. Examples of zero-sum games include “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Matching Pennies,” “Dictator Game,” and “Cake Cutting.” Harris believes we must decide either science is right or theology is, to the exclusion of the other. Both cannot be right.

To say that science and God are incompatible—that either science is right or God is right to the exclusion of the other—is to write off any chance of science proving God’s existence. As I noted in my blog post “God, Science or Both” (Jan. 10, 2019), science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom—the Middle Ages and Early Modern period during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power that was juxtaposed with both the pagan and Muslim world. Pope Benedict XVI has gone on record saying reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

If science and God do not mix, there would be no Christian Nobel Prize winners. To the contrary, 60 percent of all Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2000 were Christians. It is not science that divides these men and women; rather, it is their worldviews. Science is science; truth is truth. Carl Sagan was noted for saying, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Of course, this is not a statement of science, to be put in the same category as the scientific statement that gravity obeys an inverse-square law. Sagan’s statement is merely an expression of his atheistic, naturalistic worldview.

SCIENTISM

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But is science the only way to truth? That idea, which even today is widespread, is a belief called “scientism.” The working definition of scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. From the standpoint of normal English word usage, any attempt to reduce knowledge to some variant of “justified true belief” is an artificial specification of what is considered knowledge, in which belief is planted within us—privileged creatures with a conscience, or consciousness, as knowledge-bearers. Science is certainly focused on the accumulation of knowledge vis-à-vis making observations, determining an explanation for conditions, and conducting experiments to prove the experimenter’s conclusions.

In other words, science should be the end-all regarding all questions. Okay, but how does that work? What exactly does science explain? For instance, what does the law of gravity explain? Surely, that’s obvious, right? The law of gravity explains gravity. You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t, actually! Rather, it gives us a proven mathematical way of calculating the effect of gravity so that we can work out the amount of thrust needed for a Boeing 737 to leave the ground, or do the calculations needed for a rocket to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. That’s it. The law does not tell us what gravity actually is. Only how it operates.

The laws of nature describe the universe; but they actually explain nothing. In fact, the very existence of the laws of nature and the mathematics of the universe is a mystery in itself. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, wrote,

…the fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.

Amazingly, the very fact those laws can be mathematically formulated was for Albert Einstein a constant source of amazement and pointed beyond the physical universe to some spirit “vastly superior to that of man.” Perhaps this should help promote the concept that a scientific explanation of something is not necessarily the only rational explanation that is possible. There can be multiple explanations that are equally true at the same time. Stephen Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain why the universe exists in the first place—why there is something rather than nothing. He believed science would provide all the answers. These so-called “laws” of nature are not capable of causing or creating anything, nor do they convincingly answer the pesky questions about life and the universe. They can only be applied to things that already exist.

C.S. Lewis understood this. He wrote,

They produce no events: they state the pattern to which every event… must conform, just as the rules of arithmetic state the pattern to which all transactions with money must conform—if only you can get hold of any money… For every law, in the last resort, says: “If you have A, then you will get B.” But first catch your A: the laws won’t do it for you.

WHAT IS SCIENCE?

Science is not very easy to define. Its roots rest firmly in the term “natural philosophy.” When most people hear the word scientific they deem it to be synonymous with rational. In other words, science and reason go hand-in-hand. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is erroneous to decide science is the only path to knowledge. All the disciplines listed above—history, literature, and so on—require the use of reason, as do most things in life. Actually, reason has a far larger scope than science. Linguistically, natural philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom about nature.” So at its base, science is a way of thinking about the natural world—making observations, looking for explanations, and doing experiments to test them. Aristotle, almost 2,500 years ago, was among the first believers in natural philosophy. He was famous for his observations of living things, with many regarding him as the father of the science of biology. Aristotle, like Plato, often preferred to reason about nature from philosophical principles rather than empirical observation. Curious, right?

Thinking philosophically about the observable realm can lead to erroneous conclusions. Plato, for example, is said to have believed that heavier objects (e.g., a canon ball) when dropped would reach the ground before lighter objects (e.g., a feather). When using natural philosophy to explain and predict nature, thereby giving less credence to the observable part of an experiment, results can certainly become skewed. We need to remember that science is a progressive human endeavor to explain the often inexplicable.

Scientific Method Chart 2

There is no science without systematic observation, measurement, and experiment. The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. The approach must be systematic and logical. Obviously, science concerns itself with numerous types of inquiries. Of course, the goal is always the same regardless of the category being studied. Not surprisingly, some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. The scientific method is critical to the development of scientific theories, which explain empirical laws in a scientifically rational manner.

The scientific method has four main steps:

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

Experimental tests will lead either to the confirmation of the hypothesis, or to the ruling out of the hypothesis. An hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Science requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. No matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every branch of science, “experiment is supreme.” Experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary.

Experiments can be used to test the theory directly (by observation), or researchers may test for consequences of the theory using mathematics and logic. A theory must be testable. If not, it cannot qualify as scientific. Remember the old-school theory that our universe was geocentric? In other words, Earth was the center of the entire universe and everything revolved around it. This concept was overthrown by Copernicus when he determined the sun to be at the center (heliocentric) of the universe, featuring a series of concentric, circular planetary orbits. This theory was later modified to accommodate an elliptical rather than circular orbit of planets.

Common-Sense Rational Thinking in Scripture

It is fascinating to learn that common-sense rational thinking is found everywhere in the Bible. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, he said the first was to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Notice Jesus mentions “mind” in this list. God is not anti-reason. He specifically highlights use of our mind for evaluating the natural world. 

Francis Bacon Close up.jpgFrancis Bacon (1561-1626) believed that God has written two books, not just one. God provides us with special revelation (the Bible, or “Book One”) and general revelation (nature, or “Book Two”). Relative to general revelation Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” In other words, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator. A “watchmaker” if you prefer.

In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis,  tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes. In this way, hypotheses serve as tools by which scientists gather data. From that data and the many different scientific investigations undertaken to explore hypotheses, scientists are able to develop broad general explanations, or scientific theories.

Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. — James Tour, Nanoscientist

Does the Big Bang explanation contradict the Creation explanation? It does not. First, the Big Bang is not an explanation at all. It is more akin to a characterization; a conclusion that there was a beginning. It says nothing about how the universe came to exist in the first place. Scripture does provide the “why” of the universe. God created the universe: there was a beginning caused by God. So, Big Bang courtesy of God, perhaps? For me, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This is the so-called teleological explanation. The phrase derives from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”

The teleological argument states that the existence of God can be determined from the evidence of order and design in nature. The argument goes like this:

  • Every design has a designer
  • The universe has highly complex design
  • Ergo, the universe had a Designer

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” It was William Paley (1743-1805) who proposed the argument that every watch requires a watchmaker. The argument goes like this:

Imagine you’re walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground. What do you conclude is the cause of that watch: The wind and the rain? Erosion? Some combination of natural forces? Of course not! There’s absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it there.

Rolex Gold and Silver Watch.jpg

Scientists are now coming to understand that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. It’s been said that the universe has been fine-tuned to enable life on Earth—a planet with countless of unlikely and interdependent life-supporting condition that make it a tiny oasis in an endless, vast, hostile universe. For example, the conditions necessary for life to be able to spring forth on Earth, include exactly the right recipe of Earth’s oxygen level (21 percent), atmospheric transparency (relative to solar radiation reaching the surface of the planet), and a precise gravitational interaction between Earth and the moon.

Donald Page, theoretical physicist, focuses on the study and explanation of quantum cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics. He was a doctoral student under Stephen Hawking in addition to publishing several journal articles with him. Page is  a Christian. He calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power—a number that exceeds all imagination. Moreover, there are about two thousand known enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is one in 10 to the power of 40,000. This is such an outrageously small probability that could not be met even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Additionally, there are questions regarding DNA—where it came from, or the transcription of DNA to RNA, which many scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In a 2008 article in The Guardian (UK), Richard Dawkins wrote in regard to teachers who believe creation is an alternative to evolution, “We are failing in our duty to children, if we staff our schools with teachers who are this ignorant—or this stupid.” The real battle is aligned with the fact that these people do not want to accept Christianity because they will not accept that there is a God to whom they are answerable.

The public has been misled relative to Darwinism, creationism, and the existence of the spiritual realm. Our children are taught in public schools that evolution is only scientific and belief in God is only religious. This pigeonholing has the effect of placing truth and knowledge squarely on the shoulders of science. Interestingly, Sam Harris’ zero-sum approach to the Bible versus science screams loudly that either science is right or Christianity is right. It leaves absolutely no room for science being able to prove the biblical account of creation, life’s meaning and origin, the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. Unfortunately, militant atheism and evolution is causing many people to stumble and not listen whenever a Christian wants to discuss the concept of a Divine Designer and a message of creation over evolution.

It’s important to note that secular evolutionists must oppose biblical creationists because if what Christians are saying is right—that God is the Creator and man is a sinner in need of salvation—then their entire philosophy is destroyed. The basis for their philosophy decrees there is no God and ultimately man is not accountable to anyone but himself. If evolution is not true, the only alternative is creation. That is why evolutionists will cling to the Darwinian philosophy even if the evidence is totally contradictory.

It is truly a spiritual question.

 

 

 

 

Prenatal and Early Childhood Brain Development in Mom’s Using Drugs

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From the blog of Dr. Nora Volkow
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
March 11, 2019

The National Institutes of Health HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative, which was launched last April, will support a wide range of studies aimed at improving prevention and treatment strategies for opioid use disorder and pain, including efforts to enhance treatments for infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome/Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome. Specifically, HEAL funds will help support an ambitious longitudinal study—The HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study—co-funded by NIDA and several other NIH institutes and offices, to better understand the impact of early exposure to opioids, other substances, and social stressors on brain development in children.

The HBCD study will follow a large population of children from the prenatal period to age 10 and utilize some of the same assessment methods and imaging technologies used in the 10-year Adolescent Brain Cognitive Behavior (ABCD) study. HBCD is expected to enroll women during their second trimester of pregnancy or after birth of their baby. The study will gather data on potentially important factors about their environment, including drug and alcohol use, and follow them and their children over the subsequent decade.

The potential fruits of a longitudinal cohort study of this magnitude will include much new knowledge about the effects of opioids and other substance exposures during fetal development.  It will also yield a better understanding of the effects of genes that are driving brain development. The study additionally will look at many other exposures, including social interactions, environmental toxins, nutrition, and physical activity. Medicine has thus far lacked detailed baseline standards of normative brain development in childhood, and HBCD will help produce such standards. The information gained from the study will create an invaluable reference for pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, and psychiatrists.

The ABCD study recently accomplished its baseline recruitment of close to 12,000 nine- and ten-year-olds, and already the data gathered from the initial neuro-imaging is yielding interesting findings, such as associations between neuro-development and screen time. Likewise, the HBCD study will gather a rich data set that will be freely available to the wider research community to answer a wide range of research questions. For example, researchers can use the data to investigate how the human brain develops and characteristics that might be associated with the early manifestations of brain diseases, as well as those [with an] underlying resilience to adverse environments. As the data are being collected, they will be released so that discoveries can start well before the completion of these 10-year prospective studies. 

As with ABCD, the HBCD study will have multiple research sites across the country to ensure the study population is representative of the larger population, including all ethnic groups and demographics and even including women who use opioids. Exposure to many substances in the womb or through breast milk may have significant developmental consequences, and a study of this magnitude will greatly clarify the effects of prenatal and early opioid exposure on children. It will also greatly increase our understanding of the developmental consequences of environmental stressors like neglect, abuse, economic uncertainty, and the influence of parental opioid and other drug use during the post-natal period.

As you might imagine, there are many potential challenges to conducting regular brain imaging on young children—being able to remain still in MRI scanners is just one of them. There are also special legal and ethical challenges involved in recruiting and studying opioid-using mothers. In September and October of last year, NIDA in partnership with other NIH Institutes and Centers, hosted two expert panel meetings to discuss, respectively, the methodological challenges of studying neuro-development in children and recruitment and retention of high-risk populations in the study, including bio-ethical questions.

Based on input received during these expert panel meeting, it was determined that before soliciting grant proposals for the HBCD study per se, an initial planning period would be necessary. Thus, NIDA along with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) issued two funding opportunity announcements, one for individual research sites and one for linked, collaborative applications.

The planning grants will be awarded for a period of 18 months, during which time we expect to determine many critical facets of the experimental design. These include how to conduct neuro-imaging in prenatal and early postnatal stages, how to address the legal challenges associated with recruiting opioid- (and other drug-) using participants (which vary by state), how to form partnerships with state agencies and substance use treatment programs, how to retain the mothers in the study, and other practical and ethical issues. Applications are due in the last week of March, 2019. Researchers interested in applying for one of these grants can find more information on RFA-DA-19-029 and RFA-DA-19-036 from grants.nih.gov.

It is a very exciting time for all the sciences that study child health, human development, and the roots of mental health and psychiatric and neurological illnesses. We now have the tools to characterize human brain development in the transition from infancy into adulthood, a time when many of the medical conditions that afflict us later in life originate. The data from the HBCD study will ultimately lead to scientific solutions to addiction, pointing the way to new prevention and treatment interventions and thereby reducing the impact of opioid and other substance use disorders on American families.

The Learned Humility of Paul

Sociological studies of the early Christian church indicate that the vast majority of Christians during the first three centuries belonged to the lower echelons of society, or at least did not fit well in the higher ranks. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent most of His time with poor, ill, and despised people. Paul, who belonged to a higher class than most of the earliest disciples and church leaders, does say that the majority of Christians in Corinth were ignorant, powerless, and of obscure birth. He spoke of them in this manner not from a lofty position or attitude; rather, he wanted to point out the lack of social and cultural connections of common Christians in the first century.

Paul was aware that these “lesser” individuals placed a great deal of hope in the vision that Jesus would bring to the earth a Kingdom that would supplant the present Roman order—a New Jerusalem where God would wipe away the tears of those who were suffering under the social order of the Empire. Certainly, worship was one point at which Christians of all social standing could have a common experience as brothers.

“I am a Jew, from Tarsus.”

Paul was born and spent his earliest years in the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews outside the borders of the Holy Land. As a Pharisee, Paul was a Jew From Tarsus in Cilicia—a citizen of no ordinary city (see Acts 21:39, NIV). Tarsus was a city of half-a-million citizens on the southeastern coast of Turkey (ancient Asia Minor). In addition to being near an abundantly flowing river, a great international highway, connecting the west coast of Asia Minor to Syria-Palestine and points east, ran through Tarsus. It was the most important city of Cilicia, which brought the influence of many cultures and languages. It was an important educational center in the ancient world.

A large part of the prosperity of Tarsus was partially based on the manufacture of a material woven from goat hair and known as cilicium—the name given to the province. Cilicium was used mainly in the manufacture of tents. Although Paul has been identified as a tent maker before turning to religious study and leadership, it is more likely he was a leathermaker. At some point before he was born, Paul’s family became Roman citizens. This likely occurred during the lifetime of his grandfather or great-grandfather. McRay (2003) notes in Paul: His Life and Teaching, posits that Paul’s ancestors may well have provided Mark Antony or Julius Caesar with tents for the Roman army, a service that might have been rewarded by a grant of citizenship.

In any event, it is clear that Paul’s father was a Roman citizen because Paul was “born a citizen” (see Acts 22:27-28). Luke affirms that Paul was not only a Roman citizen but also a citizen of Tarsus (see Acts 21:39). We know Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage on three occasions. The first of these was in Philippi where he and Silas were imprisoned unjustly (see Acts 16:37). He initially allowed himself to be beaten without revealing his citizenship, which would have prevented it, we do not know. I would suggest it had something to do with Paul’s humility as a servant of Jesus Christ. The second incident was in Jerusalem after the completion of his third missionary journey (see Acts 22:25-29). As Paul was about to undergo public whipping, he made his citizenship known, thus avoiding the beating. The final occasion when Paul asserted his citizenship was at Caesarea, when he stood before Festus stopped his extradition to stand before the Jews in Jerusalem.

Of greater importance than his Roman citizenship was Paul’s Jewish heritage. He mentions in Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5 that he was from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained faithful to God after the death of Solomon, when other tribes broke away and began worshiping idols. King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin; this was considered a matter of pride. Paul remained humble following his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He called himself a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” (see Philippians 3:5). However, he was emphasizing the fact that he was Hebrew in the sense that he was a Jew who maintained the traditional Hebrew culture rather than being puffed up by his immersion in Diaspora Hellenization. Rather, he remained loyal to the Jewish faith and to being a servant of Jesus Christ rather than “modernized” by Greco-Roman culture. In other words, he remained a Jew rather than “made Greek.”

PAUL, A PHARISEE

Paul was likely born around the time of the birth of Jesus. We know this because he is described as “a young man” in Acts 7:58 at the time of the death of Stephen and shortly before his conversion. Most chronologies of Paul date his birth just prior to that of Jesus, at the same time, or shortly thereafter. Paul is said to have been a member of the Sanhedrin when Stephen was martyred. Accordingly, he would have met the minimum age requirement for membership in that religious body. The Talmud notes the minimum age as forty for ordination of a rabbi. Paul, as we know, was a rabbi who learned at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Traditionally, Paul would have learned to recite the Shema. From the age of five, he would have begun memorizing at least parts of the Hallel—the portion of the Psalms used at the Feast of Passover. When he was about six, he would have been sent to synagogue to learn reading and writing. At that time, the only textbook was the Scriptures, which the Jews believed contained everything one needed to know about the world, whether in the realm of science, religion, or law. Paul had a bar mitzvah or its ancient counterpart at age twelve or thirteen. He was now qualified to be one of the minyan of ten required to constitute a synagogue and made him accountable as an adult for violation of the Law of Moses. At age fifteen, Paul began studying the oral traditions that were later codified in the Talmud.

PAUL’S HUMILITY

Interestingly, Paul’s opponents at Corinth referred to his bodily presence as “weak” (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). The Greek word used here (asthenês) often means “weak,” “feeble,” or “without strength,” but can also mean “sickly,” referring mainly to bodily disability. Paul uses this same Greek word in Galatians 4:13 when he reminds the Galatians that it was because of a “weakness of the flesh” that he first preached to them. He is also quick to point out to the Galatians that “…you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). Paul may have chosen this particular imagery because there was actually something wrong with his eyesight. This gives some credibility to the idea that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a physical disability.

And he saw Paul coming, a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.—2 Timothy 4:19

In Romans 1:1, we read, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (NIV). Paul was noted for describing his converted life as the opportunity to live out, to incarnate, to speak, Christ into the lives of those he was called to reach. He arrived at this position or station in life with no regard for his life as a Roman citizen, a rabbi, a Pharisee who learned at the feet of the famed Gamaliel. He considered himself no more than a servant of Christ. He seeks to promote this very attitude in his ministry to the Gentiles. This is so different from our highly individualistic culture today. In America, competition is much more the norm, rather than cooperation. Everyone seems to feel compelled to stand out from the rest, to be different. This is unfortunately true even in the Christian church.

Paul indicates that he was from Tarsus, which we’ve learned was a city of importance. It was cosmopolitan in antiquity, and, as a melting pot, it was “the place” where the exchange of many diverse ideas commonly took place. Hellenization was alive and well in Tarsus. That Paul was exposed to views that arose beyond the borders of his own home town is something we can take virtually for granted. It is likely that Paul’s thinking was shaped to some degree by his great mentor Gamaliel. We know that Paul was immersed academically in the content of the Old Testament from a young age, as well as in the writings of the rabbinic scholars of his day. But to interpret Paul solely on the grounds of the teachings of the rabbinic scholars of antiquity would be to negate critical factors of influence in the development of Paul’s thought. It would seem to belie his humility.

Paul himself claims Jesus as the key influence in shaping his thought—not Gamaliel or the rabbinic scholars of antiquity. Obviously, when Paul writes his letters, he does not identify himself by saying, “Paul, a bond servant or slave of Gamaliel.” Instead, he says, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ.” It is the teaching of Jesus Christ—who revealed His perspective and His own mind to Paul—that stands as the very rock of the foundation for Paul’s theology. This is what makes Romans 6, 7, and 8 (the very crux of Christian doctrine) so powerful and so important. His words in these three chapters of Romans has absolutely nothing to do with Paul, or his rabbinical education, or the influence of a great teacher like Gamaliel. Moreover, Paul does not mention his Jewish heritage, or his bloodline (from the tribe of Benjamin) as qualifications for his ministry to the Gentiles.

ARE YOU HUMBLE?

Woman and Cross in a Field.jpg

Are you modest? Are you sure? To fit the mold, you’d need to be meek and totally lacking in pride. You must be unassuming, humble, lacking in vanity. In other words, you’d have to hold a low view of your own importance. I’ve heard it said that if you think you have humility—if you’re convinced that you’re humble—then you might not be. Etymology of the word is of Latin origin, humilis. Paul would have used the Greek word which is equivalent to the English humble or modest. Certainly, humility is an important character quality in the Christian life. Although most of us know this, we also likely know that humility is one of the most difficult qualities to develop and consistently live out in our Christian walk.

We have a tendency as Americans to be envious, competitive, self-absorbed, prideful, and decidedly self-motivated. Much of this comes from today’s pluralistic, humanistic, morally relevant culture. Social media has taken this drive and given it a worldwide stage on which we can cultivate a meme we want to be known by. I’m guilty of trying to script my every move and explain my moral shortcomings in a light that hopefully makes me look less guilty of pride than I am. I truly have no human comprehension about humility. As a thirteen-year-old new Christian, I was hopeful that I would be used by God in a great way because, after all, wasn’t I great? I fell away from the Gospel shortly after high school graduation. The minute I discovered marijuana and Miller Genuine Draft, I lost all concept of selflessness, empathy, love, friendship, forgiveness, and putting others first. I became the most selfish, self-centered person I knew.

Highlighter Concepts from Luke.jpgAlthough this may sound like something you haven’t done since Sunday School, the Holy Spirit is ready to speak to us when we dive into God’s Word. There is so much we can glean from how Jesus taught and acted in the Gospels that can help us to cultivate humility. Pay attention to how He lived out his humanity in a humble way, even though He was fully God. The Gospel of Luke is rich with things we can learn and apply to our own lives—from studying how Jesus interacted with people and what and how he taught them. Jesus came not only to take on the sins of the world; He came to provide us with an example of how we should interact with others. He was God Himself, yet He described Himself as a servant. He said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He washed the disciples’ feet! (John 13:5-9). First John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (NIV).

It is important to note that humility and submission go hand-in-hand. This is precisely why humility did not come easily to me. I was inspired and motivated as a new Christian in my teens, but when my family “fell away” from the church, I began to get my validation from other sources. I began to doubt the existence of God in my third semester of college when I started studying psychology and philosophy. God became a “magical being” (and just one of many “religious” roads to paradise) rather than the Creator and Sustainer of the world. The road back was blocked by active addiction and ego. The further I got from God, the more carnal I became. When we cater to our flesh—when we give in to our mind, will, and emotions—we cannot hear the voice of God. We cannot see  what we need to see. It’s like the line from Strawberry Fields. McCartney and Lennon wanted us to understand this critical precept: “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

I couldn’t help but wonder who is the most humble man in the Bible? According to Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (NIV). Paul is one of the most humble people in the New Testament. Something even he does not take credit for. He wrote in Philippians 3:3-7, “…though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (NIV).

10 Identifying Characteristics of a Humble Christian

  • Trust in the sovereignty of God
  • Thankfulness and Gratitude
  • In awe of God’s goodness and grace
  • Able to rejoice with others
  • Preference of seeing unity with others through salvation
  • No longer “wise in their own eyes”
  • Easily forgiving others because of what God has forgiven of them
  • Possessing a “teachable” spirit
  • Focused on building others up
  • Possessing the heart of a servant
There is nothing that will put you in your place, nothing that will correct your distorted view of yourself, nothing that will yank you out of your functional arrogance, or nothing that will take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness like standing, without defense, before the awesome glory of God.—Paul David Tripp

References

McRay, J. (2003). Paul: His Life and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

The Angry Atheists

When Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked the caustic atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) for his reaction. Cooper said, “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?” Hitchens held nothing back. He took a deep breath, smirked, and said, “No. And I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” Cooper was taken aback. “What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?” Hitchens said, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.” Hitchens told Cooper he thought Falwell was “…a bully and a fraud” who was essentially a Bible-thumping huckster.

I was introduced to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza in my World Views class at Colorado Christian University. One of the weekly assignments included watching a debate between D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked at the amount of venomous, loaded, sarcastic language Hitchens kept throwing his opponent. Hitchens always came across as a bombastic bully better at delivering witty zingers than compelling arguments. D’Souza writes, “A group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice.” He notes a comment made by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, displaying Dawkins’ anger at God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infaticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In a Christianity Today article dated March 13, 2008, Tony Snow writes, “There are two types of Christian apologetics. One makes the positive case for faith; the other responds to critics. Dinesh D’Souza’s delightful book, What’s So Great About Christianity, falls into the second category. It sets out to rebut recent exuberant atheist tracts, such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.” Snow notes that these so-called militant atheists tend to combine argument with large doses of bitter biography. Hitchens has gone so far as to state, “…religion poisons everything.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his book I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, said, “When I write of the anger of the atheists, I am not primarily referring to the classic atheists such as Bertrand Russel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The atheists I am writing about are the ‘New Atheists.’ The term ‘new atheism’ was first used by Wired magazine in November 2006 to describe the atheism espoused in books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Victor Stenger’s The Comprehensible Cosmos, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great.

WHY ALL THIS ANGER?

How can people  be so angry with God if they do not even believe He exists? Moreover, why would those most indignant about God feel such compulsion to literally preach their anti-God religion with the type of zeal we typically see from evangelists? Do they consider atheism to be their religion? Today’s front line atheists have truly ramped up the volume of their objections. They once held private their personal opinion that God does not exist. Today, they find it necessary to go on talk shows and lecture circuits announcing their belief in loud, shrill, militant voices.

The Pew Research Center (2019) published an article indicating that in the United States the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism. Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years. The average age group when most people decide they do not believe in God is 18-29 (40%). Theodore Beale declared, “”…the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but and emotional one.” The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes, “It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child-like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish emotional reactions toward the idea of God.” It is likely some great trauma or loss has caused the young atheist to not only reject God but to be filled with anger and resentment.

Men such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are known for taking a look-back-in-anger, take-no-prisoners type of atheism. They, and most other active but not-so-famous atheists, reject the term “militant,” and refuse to explain their anger. Antony Flew, atheist-turned-believer and apologist, said, “What was significant about these [men’s] books was not their level of argument—which was modest, to put it mildly—but the level of visibility they received both as best sellers and as a ‘new’ story discovered by the media. The ‘story’ was helped even further by the fact that the authors were as voluble and colorful as their books were fiery.” Their delivery sounds a lot like hellfire-and-brimstone preachers warning us of dire retribution, even of apocalypse.

It’s obvious that atheists in the West today have become more outspoken and militant. The “average” atheist balks at the term militant, claiming it has no place in non-belief; only in radical, violent extremists like the Christians of the Crusades and Islamic terrorists. Fine. Let’s take a look at the meaning of militant: “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.” No, these new atheists do not seem to be violent, but you don’t have to be violent to be militant. They are surely combative and aggressive, often using rude, brutish, insulting confrontation in lieu of substantive comebacks. Dinesh D’Souza says what we are witnessing in America is atheist backlash. The atheists thought they were winning—after all, Western civilization has adopted pluralism and moral relativism—but now they realize that, far from dying quietly, Christianity is on the upswing. This is precisely why the new atheists are striking back, using all the vitriol they can command.

For example, consider the title of some of the books the new atheists have written:

  • The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
  • The End of Faith—Sam Harris
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis—Victor Stenger
  • God is Not Great—Christopher Hitchens

SOMETHING IS LACKING IN THIS NEW ATHEISM

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of whether God exists. None of them even address the central grounds for positing the reality of God. Flew notes Sam Harris makes absolutely no mention of whether it’s possible that God does exist. Moreover, these new atheists fail to address the pesky question Where did the matter come from that forms our universe? They don’t discuss rationality, consciousness, or conceptual thought. I’d love to know where they believe our intellectual capacity, as well as metacognition—thinking about thinking—and who we are and what life really means came from. Neither do they present a plausible  worldview that explains the existence of law-abiding, life-supporting, altruistic behavior. They have no plausible explanation for the development of ethics and truth.

Flew goes so far as to comment, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents. In fact, the ‘new atheists.” it might be said, do not even rise to logical positivism. Hold on. Let’s take a minute to look at positivism so we’re on the same page as Flew and his argument. Simply stated, it is a Western philosophy that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculation. It has also been known as empiricism and, later in the 20th century, analytic philosophy.

WHAT THEY WANT

For the militant atheists, the solution is to weaken the power of faith and religion worldwide and to drive religion completely from the public sphere so that it can no longer have an impact on academia or public policy. In their view, they believe a secular world would be a safer and more peaceful world without the concept of religious faith. D’Souza writes, “Philosopher Richard Rorty proclaimed religious belief ‘politically dangerous’ and declared atheism the only practical basis for a ‘pluralistic, democratic society.’ These ideas resonate quite broadly in Western culture today.”

Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?—Richard Dawkins

Dinesh D’Souza writes, “It seems that atheists are not content with committing cultural suicidethey want to take your children with them. The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.” In other words, militant atheists are more concerned with indoctrinating our young students against their parents’ religious influence through promoting an anti-religious agenda. It’s been said that Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Christopher Hitchens, who was an ardent Darwinist, wrote, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Hitchens accused religion of preying upon the uninformed and undefended minds of the young. He did not take kindly to Christian parochial schools. He boldly stated, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”  Sam Harris likened belief in Christianity to a form of slavery! Biologist E.O. Wilson recommended using science to eradicate religion by showing that the mind itself is a product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion.

Sam Harris goes further, saying atheism should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. Harris says, “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” Dawkins believes faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to small pox virus but harder to eradicate. He writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Sigmund Freud regarded religion as a illusion (rather than a delusion, which is a psychiatric term), but he was by no means militant, combatant or completely closed-minded on the subject. In fact, he often invited religious leaders to his home to discuss the merits of their faith. He at least seemed open-minded, albeit not convinced.

Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities are out to “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” It’s as if these atheist professors intend to discredit parents in the eyes of their children, trying to strip them of their fundamentalist beliefs, making such beliefs seem silly rather than worthy of discussion. D’Souza writes, “The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As children, we certainly spend a great amount of time in school. Basic psychology tells us early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between birth and age 8. A continuum of care—from preconception through the formative years—is needed to safeguard and maximize children’s developmental outcomes. Indeed, the first five years of a child’s life effect who a child will turn out to be. The beliefs, emotions, and action-tendencies represent the accumulated experiences people have had while trying to get their needs met, which plays a key role in personality development. Accordingly, personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals). Children of Christian parents who grow up in an environment that consistently presents and lives the Gospel enter public school with an understanding of Who and What God is. This is more pronounced if they attended a parochial school prior to entering college. Secular professors want to dismantle that belief system in the interest of empirical science and truth.

Militant atheists have come out of the shadows of private belief with the intention of attacking theism in general and Christianity in particular. They are no longer content with deciding for themselves that there is no God. They feel compelled to poison the minds of young college students, steering them away from their faith, by bombarding them with science, logical positivism, Darwinism, pluralism, and moral relativism and… well, whatever works. Just as long as they can convince the world that God is dead one college student at a time.

Praise God that He lives so that we may live.

References

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press.

Jeremiah, D. (2011). I Never Thought I’d See the Day! New York, NY: FaithWords.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Age and Distribution Among Atheists. Retrieved from: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/

Snow, T. (March 13, 2008). “New Atheists are Not So Great.” Christianity Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html