History of the Church Part Five: Colonialism and Evangelism

Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

SO FAR WE HAVE explored how the Christian church began, the “marks” and underlying doctrine of the Christian church, Islamism and the Crusades, and the impact of dissension and the Protestant Reformation. In Part Five, I will expound on colonialism and evangelism. Of concern to many individuals over the life of the Christian church is whether colonization deliberately included forcing Christianity on indigenous peoples. Whether missionaries were agents of imperialism or a separate activity meant only to share the gospel. And whether these “lesser evils” are of no concern given the spreading of the gospel.

Colonialism is defined as “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” A good example of this concept is how three major powers occupied Afghanistan over the centuries: the British, the Soviets, and the United States. Colonization is sometimes done for the sake of increased security in a region, as in the case with Afghanistan. Rashid writes, “Afghanistan’s geo-strategic location on the crossroads between Iran, the Arabian Sea and India, and between Central Asia and South Asia, has given its territory and mountain passes a significance since the earliest Aryan invasions 6,000 years ago” (1). Regarding Medieval expansion Mumford notes, “When these limits were overpassed, the medieval town, as a functioning organism, ceased almost by definition to exist; for the whole community structure was a system of limitations and boundaries; and their breakdown in the city revealed an even wider dismantling through the whole culture” (2).

Gonzalez writes, “In the Western world, the attitudes of Christians toward colonialism were widely divergent,” adding, “Many Christians of profound convictions protested against the treatment of people in some colonized areas [yet many] were convinced that their enterprise was justified by the benefits the colonized would receive” (3). Some have objected over the years to the concept that God placed the benefits of Western civilization and Christian faith in the hands of white people. I certainly understand this objection; in fact, I wrote in the margin of my copy of Gonzalez, Why say “white people?” Without malice or prejudice, some Christians believe God placed the gospel in the hands of Europeans and North American settlers as “…the so-called white man’s burden: to take to the rest of the world the benefits of industrialization, capitalism, democracy, and Christianity” (4). To the extent that this is likely true, I pray that “white” men and women always share the great news of the gospel with respect and without any air of superiority.

Liew and Segovia write about, “…the process of theological (political-liberationist) as well as critical (imperial-postcolonial) engagement with the relation between the colonialist project and the biblical tradition,” adding, “Worthy of note in this regard is the formation of a network of theologians devoted to the formulation of a Christian theology with poverty and oppression at its core” (5). To me, this approach aligns with the life and ministry of Jesus, who came to minister to the poor, the captive, the homeless and hungry, and to set people free from hopeless oppression (see Luke 6:20-21, 16:19-25; Mark 12:41-44). Yet, the main focus of the story of Christianity is not about “social justice,” but salvation. (See my article Identity Politics in Social and Biblical Justice, June 27, 2021.)

There was an anti-colonial reaction to the work of colonizers whether or not they came bearing the good news of the gospel. Modernity, an intended benefit of colonization, often brought about the dislocation of vast masses who became landless, the destruction of many of the endemic cultural patterns that had sustained societies for centuries, and growing disparities in living conditions between rich and poor. But this is more a result of racial and cultural arrogance than the efforts of missionaries. Gonzalez notes, “The church was deeply influenced by all these circumstances and ideas, but the relationship between colonialism and missions was very complex” (6). Unfortunately, it has often been alleged that missionaries were agents of colonialism, but this was not always true. Further, there were many cases where missionaries reached regions that had never been visited by white traders or colonizers.

The “Mission” of Missionaries

It is true that the colonial expansion of the West—particularly the Protestant West—coincided with its missionary expansion, with the two sometimes impeding each other. Gonzalez said one of the most remarkable characteristics of the missionary movement during the nineteenth century was “…the formation of missionary societies.” Forerunners for the movement were the Society of Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.), founded in 1698, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.), founded in 1701 (7). Many such “societies” were formed from this modest beginning. It is important to note that during this time most Western settlements had little or no official relationship with missionary enterprises. This was the “official” position in the new colonies of North America.

Spencer addresses the positive and negative aspects of Christian missions. He asks, “What if we had empirical, long-term, statistically significant evidence that Christianity increased the general well-being of surrounding populations? It turns out we do.” The basic assumption of many in our culture is exactly the opposite. They claim the Christian ethic is repressive, and that it detracts from human flourishing. Nineteenth-century history is considered by some scholars to bring the legacy of colonialism, which is far from positive in most cases, and is blended with the history of Protestant missionaries. Christian missions are sometimes described as a form of cultural imperialism, viewed as negatively as economic and social colonial oppression. Spencer writes, “This confusion of missions and colonialism, though, appears to be in error” (8).

Samson writes, “Perhaps the most obvious problem, one which has attracted revisionists in recent years, is the dilemma raised by traditional critiques of Christianisation [sic]. If missionaries were always racist colonialists, how did they make converts?” Samson adds, “Instead of being the dupes of colonialism, whose actions must be limited to the subjectivities of victimisation [sic] or resistance, they can be regarded as active agents in their own histories” (9). Etherington said, “…writing[s] about the relationship between colonialism and Christianity [are] still permeated by disputes about the role of organised [sic] religion in sustaining white supremacy, despite an emerging consensus among historians that Christianity was a two‐edged sword that could undercut as well as sustain domination” (10).

Gonzalez leads us on a necessary quest to understand missions to the original thirteen colonies. For example, colonists were not “…free…cultivating their own land, but indentured labor working the land [now] owned by a colonial company” (11). As to religious freedom, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania led the new world in that direction. Yet, Gonzalez notes the evils of colonization in the New World included mistreatment of Indians. The British wanted their land, and to reach that goal the British followed a policy of extermination and confinement. Thankfully, others (including true missionaries) thought religious tolerance was best because it was God’s will. Conversion to Christianity must be accomplished through an apologetic and evangelism that serves only to provide a defense (a reason) for the hope that is in a believer in Christ to anyone who asks, but to do so with gentleness and respect” (see 1 Pet. 3:15).

Concluding Remarks

It is unfortunately true that abuses and ulterior motives lurk in nearly every corner of human endeavor. I think it is interesting to track and analyze historical, social, and theological developments. The “birth” of Christianity did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, its roots are in Judaism. During the first century of the Christian church, most people considered it a heretical sect of Judaism and not necessarily a “new” religion. The progressive thread of salvation and redemption can be seen throughout the entirety of Scripture. Judaism and Christianity have “rolled with the punches” so-to-speak, developing alongside cultural diversity, colonialization, and purposeful evangelism. Obviously, there are pros and cons to missions achieved alongside global expansion.

Numerous Christians in academia and the church see globalization as a two-edged sword. Some of the more egregious actions taken in the name of conquest or expansion included domination of indigenous peoples, the taking of land in the name of expansion, and forceful servitude (slavery). It would be nice if this had not occurred specific to the world in which missions were conducted, but it was likely unavoidable. Consequently, it can be difficult to see the “good” impact Christianity has on new populations under such circumstances. From a positive perspective, the missionary movement necessitated a spirit of cooperation that seemed to bring churches and denominations together in pursuit of the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20). Gonzalez stated that missionary societies often pulled members from more than one denomination. This helped curb “competing” messages and rivalries among witnessing missionaries.

I think it is necessary to separate the sociocultural impact of colonization from the religious impact of missions. Certainly, most Christian missionaries who bring the gospel to remote parts of the globe have a singleness of purpose: to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I would conclude that colonization was not specific to evangelism. Of course, globalization was not always undertaken with pure motives. It seems the lion’s share of colonizers intended to benefit from expansion, industrialization, increased labor forces, additional sources of raw materials and minerals, agriculture, hunting and trapping, and eventual resale of real estate for profit. Of those colonizers, some intended to bring indigenous peoples out of their primitive state of existence. A smaller percentage, although their prime objective was economical, were practicing Christians who brought the gospel with them. I see no reason to pitch the baby out with the bathwater.

References

(1) Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2000), 7.
(2) Lewis Mumford, The City in History (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1961), 313.
(3) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christiantiy, Vol.II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 417.
(4) Ibid., 417.
(5) Tat-Siong Benny Liew and Fernando F. Segovia, Colonialism and the Bible (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2.018), xiii.
(6) Gonzalez, Ibid., 418.
(7) Ibid., 418.
(8) Andrew Spencer, “How Christian Missionaries Changed the World for the Better,” Institute for Faith, Works & Economics (Feb. 10, 2014). URL: https://tifwe.org/the-truth-about-missionaries/
(9) Jane Samson, The Problem of Colonialism in the Western Historiography of Christian Missions, Vol. 2 (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishing, 2021), 511.
(10) Norman Etherington, “Recent trends in the historiography of Christianity in Southern Africa,” Journal of South African Studies, 22:2, 201-219, DOI: 10.1080/03057079608708487.
(11) Gonzalez, Ibid., 276.

Podcast Just One Week Away!

I am excited about launching the podcast. Due to some orthopedic issues, I had to delay the launch. Now, I am waiting for delivery of an adapter I need to plug my Blue Yeti USB microphone into the XLR port on the mixer panel.

Podcast episodes will be posted on this WordPress blog. I will let you know where to click as soon as I figure it out on this end. Thankfully, WordPress chat tech support is remarkably spot on, so I expect no issues.

Yay! Podcast!

Religious Pluralism and Post-Christian Society

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

  • Religious pluralism says all religions are equally valid paths to God
  • The Law of Non-Contradiction says two mutually exclusive claims to truth cannot both be true
  • Religious pluralism fails this Law of logic
  • Two mutually exclusive religious claims cannot both be true

THE VAST MAJORITY OF Americans believe in God or some “higher power.” God is a familiar concept even in twenty-first century America. The 2008 Religious Landscape Report by the Pew Forum, which addressed the religious beliefs of Americans, claimed that 71 percent of Americans were absolutely certain of the existence of “God or a universal spirit.” Seventeen percent were “fairly certain”(1). According to a Pew Research Center report dated May 12, 2015, the Christian share of population in the U.S. fell from 78.6% to 70.6% (2). In a 2019 interview, Robert P. Jones said, “If you go back to just 2008, the country was fifty-four percent white and Christian. When I wrote my book, The End of White Christian America, I was working on 2014 data. And that number had dropped from fifty-four percent to forty-five [which was] a significant drop… we’ve been continuing to track data since 2014, and that number [is] down to forty-one percent now” (3).

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and a plurality of religions have flourished as a result. Is this a good thing? It depends on what you are evaluating. For me, it is good that as Americans we are free to believe however we choose. Moreover, we are free from the tyranny of state-sponsored religion. The Church of England and Islam are two such institutions. Increasing globalization is importing beliefs, faiths, and philosophies along with goods and services. Unfortunately, this diversity has impacted Christianity, causing doubt, apostasy, and defection. The Pew Forum found that 57 percent of evangelical Christians believe “…many religions can lead to eternal life,” while 70 percent of the general public held this same belief (4).

Naturally, adherents to these various faiths claim that their beliefs are objectively true and essential for their spiritual growth and liberation (5). It is not surprising that religious pluralism has led many skeptics to doubt the concept of only one path to salvation. It appears to give much ammunition to militant atheists whose goal is to eradicate Christianity. When Christians, siding with others, decide religion in general is good and no one religion should claim objective (universal) truth, then the biblical worldview will not be taken seriously. Groothuis said, “Religious pluralism therefore poses a significant challenge to historic Christian apologetics, which claims that Christ alone is the way of eternal salvation and that other religions cannot reconcile sinful humans to God” (6).

“It is a daunting task to commend the Christian worldview as the one thing that matters most. To esteem Jesus as the unique and supreme revelation of God is taken by many to be theological chauvinism. The most powerful apologetic for Christianity will be ignored by anyone who simply—and probably ignorantly—accepts all religions as equally spiritual.

Douglas Groothuis

Cultural Impact

We are not fond of being told our existence is not predicated upon our own authority; that we are not free to do as we please. Man has always detested admitting the need for spiritual redemption from his sinful actions; or, that, as a result of the price paid for his redemption, he must turn outward and away, looking to God rather than within. “How can this ‘god’ exist and operate outside the laws of nature?” “There can be no such thing!” These thoughts are the impetus of a gathering storm of disobedience, disorientation, and estrangement that began with the first act of defiance in the Garden of Eden. Such thinking has led to man looking away from God, desiring to be self-sufficient and self-determining, setting his own agenda; deciding the parameters of purpose and behavior for himself. Of course, this sentiment has an impact on one’s religious beliefs. Rampant moral relativism is causing a dilution of “religious proscription” regarding behavior. Religious pluralism has nearly nullified the concept of one way to salvation. Post-Christian culture suggests that Christianity is no longer the dominant religious belief; the citizenry gradually assumes values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.

Sociologists and anthropologists often use “Post-Christian” to refer to the loss of Christianity’s hegemony in historically Christian societies. Post-Christian culture in the twenty-first century has become increasingly hostile toward Christianity: threatening faith, theology, and the community of believers (see The Angry Atheists for more information). At the core of this post-Christian worldview is the idea that no written philosophical text exists (regardless of its affiliation) that contains ultimate truth, meaning, or purpose. Of course, refusing to fix ultimate meaning in this manner is to refuse God. The resulting secularization of knowledge removes God from the center of reality. Opponents of belief in God have become increasingly hostile toward Christianity, thereby setting the tone for personal attacks on those who hold a Christian worldview.

Although Christian apologetics involves demonstrating the basis for why a believer gives credence to the gospel as truth, it also involves explaining how faith must dominate reason. Faith is far from mere ignorance; moreover, it does not include dogmatic rejection of empirical truth. Rather, apologetics involves a defense of one’s frame of reference.

There is a term in computer science called metadata, which refers to “underlying” or “supporting” information for a photograph, text, or other graphic information often used to identify the time and place of its creation, and the origin of the data. Proponents of a post-Christian society speak out against metanarrative, which is a large-scale theory of transcendent meaning and upward progress of mankind throughout history. Postmodernism denies any single narrative that claims to support or explain reality. Interestingly, the postmodernist believes, instead, in a myriad of micronarratives, any or none of which may or may not be true. This concept reminds me of Sire’s definition of worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move, and have our being” (7). The human heart is the location of one’s bias, preconception, misunderstanding, value, or conviction. Entwistle said, “What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see” (8).

God set the tone for basic design as consisting of a unique distinctness between opposites: light and dark, good and evil, above and below, water and land, and so on. It was on the sixth day that He created the first man and the first woman to carry on with His act of creation. This is often referred to as God’s “cultural mandate.” Adam and Eve were to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential (Gen. 1:26-28). Indeed, this is the beginning of culture.  Charles Colson believes there is scriptural justification for culture building, stating “it starts with Genesis” (9). Christianity is more than a private belief in salvation of the one. Yes, the believer is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but this is simply the beginning. Christianity is a comprehensive ideology that holds answers to all of mankind’s endless questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have meaning and purpose?

A Matter of Epistemology

Where does knowledge come from? Hart says, “Truth is more than a matter of ‘the way things seem from where I stand.’ For in practice where I stand—the world as I see it—is also where everyone else stands” (10). He adds that the universal categories of human reason function to provide and underwrite an agreed upon perspective from which questions of truth and falsity may be posited and answered and claims of truth demonstrated. Hart indicates that secularism demands of the Christian that before any investment is made in a “claim to truth, or before we can reasonably expect them to do so,” (5) he or she must provide factual or logical evidence that renders such “belief” reasonable. From the vantage point of logical positivism, it is argued that only two types of statements can be true: (i) analytical statements, such as definitions, and (ii) factual statements that are empirically verifiable (6).

“I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.”

James W. Sire

Reformed apologists like Alvin Plantinga have taken an epistemological approach to Christianity. Epistemology concerns itself with the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope; it is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. Plantinga and others argue that secular thought has placed an undue burden on Christian apologetics. It demands that Christians offer proof for their beliefs to the point of being irrational (11). Sire writes, “Human beings can know both the world around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating with them” (12). The apologetics of Jesus included a well-established epistemology, crucial in supporting truth, that states non-contradiction (see above) is a necessary test for truth; that the truth Jesus reveals has experiential factors; that the imagination is a key for presenting truth (consider parable, allegory, metaphor); and that one’s ability to know truth is closely tied to one’s moral rectitude (13).

And Yet…

Prior to His ascension, Christ presented the church with the Great Commission, telling believers all authority is given to them; commanding them to go forth, making disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching as He did (Matt. 18:18-20). This involves every believer, regardless of calling, gift, talent, or church office. Christians are meant to be salt and light among the post-Christian culture of this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Indeed, the body of believers stands between darkness and light at the threshold between forward progress and cultural annihilation. Believers are instructed by Peter, “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Apologetics is necessarily paired with theology and evangelism. Because apologetics requires being able to defend what Scripture teaches, apologetics can only be effective when the apologist is well-grounded in Scripture. One cannot defend something without having a firm grasp on its tenets. Further, one would not want to defend something not supported by Scripture. Groothuis, noting the critical importance of being able to defend one’s beliefs whatever they may be (essentially, the investigation of significant truth whether in theology or philosophy) believes a good Christian apologist must be a good philosopher. He or she must possess solid logical and persuasive skills. But there is certainly more to Christian apologetics than giving abstract logical arguments (see Apologetics: Defending the Faith, Part One; and Part Two).

References

(1) Pew Forum, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2008), 116. URL: http://religions.pewforum.org
(2) Pew Research Center, 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. (Washington: Pew, 2015), 3-4.
(3) Robert Jones, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Interview by Benjamin Marcus, The Religious Studies Project, Feb. 28, 2019.
(4) U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Ibid., 58.
(5) Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 567.
(6) Groothuis, Ibid., 568.
(7) James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant, 2nd. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 19.
(8) David Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd. ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 93.
(9) Charles Colson, How Then Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 295.
(10) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 43.
(11) Groothuis, Ibid., 64.
(12) James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 36.
(13) See Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus’ Epistemology,” in On Jesus (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2003).

Upcoming Podcast!

I am in the process of starting a podcast regarding the same categories and issues discussed on this blog. I have not yet decided the frequency of postings, but ideally I would like to do one every day. The podcast episodes will be hosted by WordPress, and possibly one other mainstream host site. I am pitching to my board of elders at church for placing a link on the church website and Facebook page. Please watch for additional announcements.

I am very excited about expanding my ministry to include podcasts.

The Practical Application of Narrative Apologetics

Written by Steven Barto, BS Psy

STORIES OFFER APOLOGETIC possibilities that are more effective than approaches that rely on rhetorical argument. Certainly, this is because stories engage audiences that would otherwise choose to pass on logical discourse. C.S. Lewis believed a well-told story opens the imagination to new ways of thinking and believing. He believed this approach allows the Christian story to be put forth in its “real potency,” allowing it to sneak past the watchful eye of rationalism.

Christian apologetics has three crucial tasks. First, it must engage cultural objections to religious belief that dominate public discourse in today’s post-Christian society. Second, it must show the ways in which Christianity connects with the lives and concerns of everyday people. Third, it must present Christian beliefs in a way that contemporary culture can relate and understand. Using the medium of story to achieve these goals should be considered by all who engage in evangelism and apologetics in the twenty-first century.

With the proliferation of “non-religious” theories on origin, morality, purpose, and destiny, the early twenty-first century has presented Christianity with a challenge like no other. The evangelistic and apologetic approaches that worked well in the 1950s and 60s do not fit the culture of today. Postmodern writers are attempting to move public discourse forward in a way that uses the best insights of the past without being trapped by it. Postmodern theologians stress experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. But this orientation can be taken too far, leaving Holy Scripture in its wake. Over-stressing such thinking when sharing the gospel tends to lean more toward liberalism. Today, experience is valued more highly than reason, which causes truth to become relative. This often leads to heresy and dogma outside the scope of truth.

But please realize there is no need for Christian evangelists or apologists to panic over the rise of postmodernity. It certainly brings some real challenges, but the Christian faith possesses many resources for meeting such challenges. The faith was able to thrive during the first century, when Jewish leaders persecuted Jews who joined “the way” of Christ. Christianity continued to grow during the rule of the Roman Empire despite torture, beheading, and crucifixion. Certainly, the negative mood today toward theism in general, and Christianity in particular, requires Christians to alter their methods. It is important to connect with people where they’re at rather than telling them where they should be.

Kevin Vanhoozer (1) suggests that postmodernity can be summarized in terms of four major tenets:

  1. Reason. The modern approach of reasoning by argument is viewed with suspicion by postmodern writers. Where modernity believed in a single universal reason, postmodernity holds that there are many different approaches to rationality. Postmoderns deny the notion of universality; reason is merely a context, a relative affair.
  2. Truth. Postmodernity is suspicious of the idea of truth because of the way in which it has been used to legitimize oppression, or give justification to vested interests. Postmoderns see truth as a compelling story told by persons in positions of power in order to force their way of seeing and organizing the natural and social world.
  3. History. Where modern writers tried to find universal patterns in history, postmodernity is “incredulous towards narratives that purport to recount universal history.” From the standpoint of Christian apologetics, this means any attempt to see universal significance in the narrative of Jesus Christ will be viewed with intense suspicion by some in today’s culture.
  4. Self. Postmodernity rejects any notion there is “one true way of recounting one’s own history” and thus concludes there is “no true way of narrating one’s own identity.” All ways of understanding the individual are open-ended and partial. Postmoderns decry universal answers to the question of human identity.

Alister McGrath said apologetics is not about inventing the rationality, imaginative power, or moral depths of the Christian faith. It is about pointing them out, and allowing people to see them clearly and appreciate them for what they are. He writes, “This means the apologist must be able and willing to develop a deep and informed appreciation of the Christian faith. Yet this is not enough: it is also important to develop an outsider perspective” (2). In other words, it is helpful to understand how the great themes of the Christian faith can be defended and explained to people who are not familiar with its vocabulary or practices. This “cultural” engagement involves establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying.

A Theological Approach

J.R.R. Tolkien did not refer to Christianity specifically as a metanarrative, but he conveyed the same sentiment when he said Christianity is a story of a larger kind. He suggested that “myths” are ubiquitous, appealing primarily to the imagination and reasoning. Man relates naturally to story. No doubt, this is due in large part because man is created in the image of God (imago Dei), the Great Creator. Man possesses the unique ability to create stories that tend to reflect the divine nature of creation itself. Tolkien referred to this concept as “sub-creation” in his poem Mythopoeia. Accordingly, his theology of religion is grounded in Christianity’s metanarrative. Myth elicits a strong sense of wonder and imagination that fuels man’s longing for meaning. Myth contains deeper truths that otherwise might remain unspoken. Moreover, it creates intellectual and imaginative space for stories.

Tolkien’s position regarding myth persuaded C.S. Lewis to move from a general theism to Christianity itself. Lewis was finally able to see the Christian story as more than a set of doctrines or moral principles. Instead, he regarded it as a grand narrative that ultimately generated and supported such ideas and values. Lewis decided myths offer at least a gleam of divine truth. No longer did Lewis see Christianity as one myth among many, but as representing the fulfillment of all myths. What he called the true myth toward which all other myths merely point. In other words, Christianity tells the true story about humanity that makes sense of all other myths humanity tells about itself. As “dim dreams or premonitions” of the greater and fuller truth of the Christian gospel, Lewis believed the biblical narrative gives rise to a clear and complete vision or ontology of things. He said, “It is like watching something come gradually into focus.”

The writings of C.S. Lewis feature an invitation for his audience to decide if the story of Christianity rings true to life experience, and whether it weaved things together in a more coherent manner. He challenged his readers to consider whether they would like to enter into such a world. This approach is quite useful in apologetics and evangelism. He said we do not need to somehow rise above our “finite” mind in order to discover the “real world” of creation and redemption; rather, it has come to us through the incarnation.

Narrating the Incarnation

Jesus Christ is not merely the object of theological and doctrinal discussion. He is a person who is to be known and loved; to be understood and worshiped. This approach is refreshing given the usual debate regarding His deity and His humanity. Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) insisted upon the unity of the person of Christ while distinguishing the proper functions of His humanity and divinity. He essentially considered the incarnation to represent an amalgam (such as when two metals are fused together). Others during Tertullian’s time attempted to distinguish two beings in one person: saying that the Son is the flesh, the human being that is Jesus, while the Father is the spirit, or the God “part” of Christ. Of course, this approach served to divide rather than unite Father and Son.

The Word was not transformed into flesh, as this would imply destruction of what originally existed. Rather, the Word became clothed with flesh. Origen (A.D. 185-254) taught the necessity of a mediator between God and humanity, noting the respective importance of Christ’s divine and human natures in relation to His work. He wrote, “Therefore with this soul acting as a mediator between God and flesh (for it was not possible for the nature of God to be mingled with flesh without a mediator) there was born the God-man, that substance being the connecting link which could assume a body without denying its own nature” (3). Jesus had to be “without sin” in order for “God and man” to co-exist through the incarnation.

An integral element of Christian evangelism and apologetics is an effective explanation of the significance of Christ. Yet, words like “incarnation” are not well-received outside the theology of Christianity. It is important to accurately and faithfully translate theological terms into cultural dialects. For example, the apostle Paul views man’s condition regarding sin as spiritual slavery, from which mankind has been redeemed by Christ (see Gal. 4:5). For Paul, the analogy is not necessarily about moving from bondage to freedom; rather, it is about moving from the domain of fleshly servitude to the law to a new domain: that of belonging to God. Such concepts are heady and require an explanation that can be easily grasped. Narrative apologetics attempts to communicate the remarkable significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through telling stories.

The Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) emphasize the transformative impact of Jesus upon those who believe in His ministry. God chose to enter into human habitation. The Word became flesh and lived among us (see John 1:14). God’s compassion for humanity is clearly expressed by the incarnation. Jesus taught us about our sinfulness, and provided the means by which we are able to rise above spiritual death. The narrative of Jesus Christ makes us want to turn our backs on the sinful past and embrace the gospel. The story itself does not save us. There is no incantation, memorization, or recitation that takes the place of redemption. What happened to Christ on the cross is the means by which we are saved. Faith in His sacrificial death can make us whole; allowing us to be healed by God’s grace. Not only does the incarnation help us understand the paramount importance of Jesus Christ, it also tells us something about the kind of God we love and worship as Christians. Yet, we must never misuse the grace of God.

Philosopher and historian R.G. Collingwood wrote, “The chief business of twentieth-century philosophy is to reckon with twentieth-century history” (5). Some argue that the best apologetics is a good systematic theology. Stephen Wellum says, “We cannot defend the faith (apologetics) without systematic theology” (6). Systematic theology is the exegetical discipline that seeks to grasp the entirety of Scripture as the unfolding of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. It is through systematic theology (from the patristic era until now) that doctrine is preserved and the message of sin and redemption is shared. McGrath shares Charles Taylor’s thoughts concerning how to best do apologetics in today’s post-Christian culture: “Taylor persuasively argues that there is a need to move away from the traditional believers-nonbelievers paradigm to a new seekers-dwellers paradigm” (7). Taylor recommends this approach because of numerous alternate beliefs found where modern secularism abounds.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the days of fire-and-brimstone preaching are past. Systematic theology and dogma may speak to the heart of the “dweller,” but a different approach is required for engaging with “seekers.” Essentially, the same fundamental concepts are featured in theology and apologetics; the difference between them is the manner in which these concepts are presented. It is far easier to reach a non-believer through an organized discussion about their doubts and counter-arguments than it is to say unless you believe, you are going to hell. We should not engage in apologetics until we fully know God (including the Godhead), know ourselves as redeemed creatures, made new through the blood of Christ, and plug in to the Body of Christ through a local church. Gathering together, we come to understand our gifts and our calling. We must know the gospel truth as an entire worldview over against the errors of the world.

Apologetics and Evangelism

Apologetics and the Great Commission are complementary. Jesus clearly said we are to go forth, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He has taught (Matt. 28:19-20). McGrath says apologetics allows for sustained engagement with others, answering questions raised, and showing how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers, but evangelism moves in a different circle. Where apologetics aims to secure consent, evangelism aims to secure commitment (8). Apologetics aims to establish the plausibility of salvation in Christ. Evangelism is inviting someone to become a Christian. Apologetics involves clearing the ground for that invitation. McGrath believes evangelism is like offering someone bread; apologetics is persuading people there is bread to be had and that it is good.

McGrath says, “Apologetics can be likened to drawing curtains to one side so people can catch a glimpse of what lies beyond, or holding a diamond up to the light and allowing its facets to scintillate and sparkle in the sunlight” (9). It is about building bridges, allowing non-believers and skeptics to cross over from the worldview they already have, and to experience the Christian faith. But the task of an apologist is not simply to win arguments or to establish the “rationality” of Christianity. Instead, it is critical to establish “true God” as a God who may be relied upon. It is also important to share the passion, beauty, and mercy of God. C.S. Lewis was attracted to the gospel story because it offers meaning, not merely “propositional correctness.” He said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning” (10).

For Lewis, belief in God was neither a distraction from life’s hardship, nor a psychological “band aid” for what causes us grief. Instead, discovering God involves discovering our “true self” and redirecting our lives toward that end. God is not a tangible object, but that does not mean He is not Him. He is, in fact, I am. Admittedly, when we first approach the gospel we do so with rational argument in mind. Lewis believed religious faith is grounded on rational norms that are not identical to those governing scientific theories. He wrote, “[The existence of God] is a speculative question as long as it is a question at all. But once it has been answered in the affirmative, you get quite a new situation… You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence” (11).

NOTES

(1) Kevin Vanhoozer, “Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity, ” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 73-75.

(2) Alister E. McGrath, Mere Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 47.

(3) Origen, “On the Two Natures of Christ,” in The Christian Theology Reader, Ibid., 230.

(4) Alister E. McGrath, Narrative Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2019), 97.

(5) R.G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), 70.

(6) Stephen Wellum, “4 Things You Can’t Do Without Systematic Discovery,” TGC (Dec. 26, 2017). URL: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-things-you-cant-do-systematic-theology/

(7) Charles Taylor, in Narrative Apologetics, Ibid., 99.

(8) McGrath, Mere Apologetics, Ibid., 22.

(9) Ibid., 127.

(10) C.S. Lewis, Rehabilitations and Other Essays (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1939), 158.

(11) C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church (London, UK: HarperCollins, 2000), 213-14.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Apologetics Interview

After some delay, I am able to share my final paper in “Apologetics” as part of my master’s in theological studies at Colorado Christian University. Instructions were to interview someone who was an atheist or skeptic regarding Christianity. I hope you will find this paper beneficial. I really enjoyed doing this assignment.

Introduction

The primary reason for Christians to engage in apologetics is to better prepare them for giving a defense for their faith, and to do so with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:15, NRSV). Koukl, author of Tactics, believes proper defense of the gospel begins with a game plan. Apologetics consists of three primary elements: defending the truth; defeating false ideas; and destroying speculation raised against God. And yet, this is not done through a frontal attack. Rather, the prudent plan is to proceed as God’s ambassador.[1]

Groothuis believes Christian apologists should offer answers for skeptics and non-believers based on rational arguments. The apologist’s method of arguing for Christianity will unavoidably be rooted—at least to some degree—in his or her personality and style of argument. Groothuis advised that apologists are often met with belligerent response. Such vehemence stems from atheists’ and skeptics’ belief that Christianity is indefensible. In addition, non-believers build their objections on a mantra that simply says, “…religion rests on blind faith and not reason for so long that many even within the church have actually come to believe it.”[2]

R. C. Sproul states that believers are to answer all inquiries—even the abusive ones—with gentleness and meakness. Indeed, this describes the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable that many Christians today believe they should not participate in trying to “prove” the veracity of the gospel. Sadly, they base this assumption on their conclusion that faith and proof are incompatible. Additionally, as Sproul notes, an apologist may present a response to a non-believer that proves the argument for Christianity, but “[I]n their bias they refuse to be persuaded.”[3]

The Interview

This writer was able to secure an interview with Dale, a skeptic at best. When he agreed, he remarked, “You’re not going to like what I have to say, but sure, why not?” At times he shared rather determined and caustic comments about God and Christianity.

Regarding belief about God or an ultimate reality, Dale said,

God is a crutch. He doesn’t exist. I can’t see him and he hasn’t answered my prayers. I cried out to him hundreds of times while I bounced from house to house in the system.[4] He didn’t answer my prayers to stop my mom from abusing heroin. She died of a heroin overdose. What kind of God is that?

Dale was asked how he views humanity in general. He did not mince words: “People suck! I hate people. I’d rather live deep in the woods somewhere.” Dale added, “I can’t relate to the “essence” of people you asked me about.” This writer explained, stating, “Essence is basically the core nature of a person.” Dale does not believe humans are made in God’s image. He believes the basic problem concerning mankind is rampant evil. He noted recent violence in America over racism, and said, “There have been lots of wars, and people taking what others have… there is way too much selfishness and me first.”

When asked about Jesus Christ, Dale responded,

You believe in Jesus, so that’s your higher power, like it says in the 12 Steps. My higher power is not a specific god. I get my power from the universe. I don’t believe God is looking down on me and judging me. If he is, well then it sucks to be me, I guess. I see no evidence of God or Jesus. In fact, the opposite. Guys in jail, or people struggling with addiction, buy into Christianity and go to Bible study in the prison to look good. They “find Jesus” while in jail.” Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.

Given Dale’s harsh remark about hypocrisy in the Christian church, it was important to address duplicity. Decidedly, hypocrisy is partially responsible for keeping people from attending church services. This writer shared with Dale his struggle with hypocrisy over the years. One’s personal life and character have a direct effect on efforts to share the gospel. He addressed Dale’s concern about evil in the world, quoting Grudem: “We must never blame God for the evil men do. Secondary causes, such as the actions of human beings, bring evil upon others.”[5] He told Dale it is impossible for mankind to have free will to literally choose anything at any given moment and not expect wrong or evil choices to be made.

Dale’s hope for eternity, salvation, or redemption is vapid. He said there is nothing for him to “hope about.” He denied the existence of heaven and hell. When pressed, he said his spirit will leave his body when he dies and become (or return to) the ultimate spirit in the universe. He stated, “To me, that’s god or a higher power.” He believes in an unnamed higher power, as demonstrated by the beauty and magnitude of the universe.

Dale’s concluding remarks:

I don’t think our morals came from “up there somewhere.” Maybe Heaven and Hell are right here. I always thought American Indians had a clear idea of the grand spirit. Other religions too. If God exists, then he must be in everything. But thinking about evil, how can we work that in with God? I told you flat out when we started, belief in God is a crutch. And God has an evil side. It bugs the crap out of me that he punishes everyone for the sake of a few. You can’t tell me all those who drowned in the flood were bad people. So why be God if you’re doing evil. A loving God? Come on man.

In closing, this writer said,

I lived a life of complete disobedience. My own motives and desires fueled me. I had to come first, even at the other person’s expense. I got into booze and drugs, ending up in prison. I kept struggling for four decades with no concept of compassion or trustworthiness. Yet, inside I believed in ultimate truth and salvation. I decided to hit my knees and ask Jesus to renew my relationship with him and to forgive my rebellion.

Dale’s final rebuttal:

When I think about religion, I think of 9/11 right away. Religious fanatics. So, I’m on the fence. One thing the Bible got right about man is his deceitfulness.

Analysis

As is often seen in 12-step programs, Dale has a rather vague idea of spirituality. He reiterated his belief in an ultimate power somewhere in the universe but cannot provide a concrete description or identity of that power. He believes this power has “always been.” He said mankind would “…not need Jesus to die for sin if God just outlawed evil. I can’t believe in a benevolent God in the face of terrorism, murder, cancer, wars, rape. Why can’t God stop evil?”

A key criterion underlining this writer’s approach to evangelism and apologetics can be summed up by Colson and Pearcey: “As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”[6] There is a bit of Christianity’s social mandate.

Chandler believes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry was “…to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth.”[7] He believes salvation includes a real world reconciliation. He says, “For the reconciliation enacted by the cross to be cosmic, then, it must encompass more than just our individual relationship with God.”[8] In other words, Christians are reconciled “to reconcile.”

Christians are not simply “the recruited,” nor are they to merely be recruiting others. Certainly, the entirety of creation is out of sorts with the effects of sin. God expects Christians to participate individually and corporately in reversing the curse by setting things right. Christians are the eyes, ears, feet, and hands of the Body of Christ, and are commissioned to help bring about redemption and reconciliation.

Conclusion

Apologetics and personal evangelism are certainly intertwined, with personal testimony about faith in Jesus Christ being narrower than the broader discipline of apologetics. Regardless, it is not possible to genuinely engage in evangelism or apologetics while harboring an anti-Christian or hypocritical worldview. It is critical to ask one’s self, “How would I behave in the world if my outward actions matched what I claim to believe in my heart?” This question was a substantial factor in this writer’s change of orientation toward God and others. Once this has been established, the real work of evangelism and apologetics can begin. 

Footnotes

[1] Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 19-20.

[2] R.C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 8.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Dale was a ward of local child services for 7 years.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, IL: Zondervan, 1994), 328.

[6] Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), xii.

[7] Matthew Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 136.

[8] Ibid., 143.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Arguments for God’s Existence

The following is from Apologetics, my most recent class at Colorado Christian University in pursuit of my master’s degree in theological studies.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

This Week’s Question: Assuming we believe in God,

  • Why spend time studying arguments for God’s existence?
  • Why not just go with the belief and move on?
  • What benefit could there be in spending time thinking through this belief and analyzing the evidence?

defending the faith

This week’s discussion prompt made me think of the importance of apologetics. Clearly, every religion has its own liturgies, doctrines, rites, practices, worldview, and history. Unfortunately, this can complicate theological study. The question this week is Why spend time studying arguments for God’s existence? I believe such studies are especially critical for those who wish to engage in sharing and defending the gospel. If we’re not prepared before going out the door to share the Good News, it will be more difficult to withstand the wiles of the devil. Today’s New Atheists constantly attack Christianity on multiple levels. The standard question, What caused the universe? is answered with a generic remark: Something.

The Teleological Argument (or “design argument”) states that God’s existence is evidenced by order and design in nature. The Anthropic Principle falls under the category of teleological. Factors associated with this Principle are: (i) constant oxygen level at 21% of the atmosphere; (ii) critical atmospheric transparency that permits just the right amount of solar radiation to reach earth’s atmosphere; (iii) moon-earth gravitational interaction at the precise level needed to maintain appropriate tide cycles and orbital changes; (iv) carbon dioxide level at the exact amount to avoid runaway greenhouse gases and to sustain plants and trees (earth’s lungs); and (v) a constant level of gravity needed to sustain life on earth. Christian doctrine regarding the existence of God is based upon more than faith, but we must be prepared in this pluralist post-Christian society to present “evidence that demands a verdict.” Anthony Flew writes, “A discussion about God’s existence should start with the presumption of atheism, that the onus of proof must lie with the theists” (1). Challenge accepted!

The Cosmological Argument states that things in nature depend on some other thing for their existence; e.g., dependency on God, who exists necessarily and independently from the cosmos. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins is in good company (so to speak). He and Lucretius hold the belief that it is not necessary to suggest or assume the existence of God as fact, or as truth to formulate a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief as long as nature can be considered a self-explanatory entity (2). Hoover believes it’s difficult to believe in spontaneous creation of the universe given that the Second Law of Thermodynamics states “entropy is irreversible.” Our universe is admittedly expanding and will wind down at some unknown point in the future. Yet we often hear, “If God made the universe, who made God.” This is really an attack on the aseity of God—He exists in and of Himself, from Himself.

The Ontological Argument is a priori in nature—i.e., justifications, or arguments exist independently from experience. This is essentially the belief that God exists and has always existed independent of the presence of matter, time, energy, or empirical evidence. Anselm’s understanding of ontological proof of God’s existence is this: “If God is a being than which none greater [sic] can be thought and to exist in reality, and to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone, then God must exist in reality, for if he existed in the understanding alone, he would not be a being than which non greater can be thought” (3) (italics mine). Anselm’s writing style is a bit cumbersome, but the depth of this conclusion is not lost.

I find all three arguments useful when doing evangelism or apologetics. Things in nature depend on God for their existence. This is the Cosmological Argument. I believe in the unadulterated existence of God absent physical proof. This is the Ontological Argument. There is none greater than God that can exist in reality. I also believe in universal (ontological) truth and morality. I do find teleology to be rather convincing and thoroughly amazing. I have a decent grasp on the theory of macro evolution and the many scientific holes in Darwin’s origin theory. (Actually, he provides no theory for the origin of matter, energy, or life.)

The mathematical probability regarding gravity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, moon-earth gravitational interaction, thermodynamics, general and special relativity, creation of matter and energy, and DNA (the information of biology) is mind-boggling. Genetics consists of a four-letter alphabet (A, C, G, T) that functions as “code” for every living thing in the same manner that there is a code (zeros and ones) for every computer. Laptops and the beings that use them both have a designer/coder.

Responses from Classmates

Steven,

I think you did a great job on this post, and you broke down the arguments very well. I enjoy the argument of Teleological because creation is always one of the most talked-about battles between Christians and atheists. I find it funny that people can believe all of these things just happened to work out perfectly for creation to exist, but they cannot believe God created it all. To me, it takes more faith to believe in the chance of evolution than it does to believe in a creator. In fact, I believe creation speaks to the fact that there is a Creator. I love the Psalmist who says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psa. 19:1, NLT). I find it impossible to look up at the stars and think anything but a Creator took the time to make [it]. What do you think proves creation the most?

Justin

My Reply to Justin

Thanks for your comments. I see the proof of God’s existence everywhere. Regarding the arguments for Creation and the existence of God, I have a difficult time choosing one over the other. The Teleological Argument says we can prove God’s existence through observation of the natural world—this is God’s general revelation. Teleology includes the Anthropic Principle, which is very compelling. It speaks of the unfathomable accuracy of several critical constants in the universe: (i) the oxygen level on earth is constant at 21% of the atmosphere, any deviation being cataclysmic; (ii) the degree of atmospheric transparency is constant, allowing the precise amount of solar radiation to get through, any deviation and we’d either cook to death or freeze to death; (iii) the moon-earth gravitational interaction is constant, at a degree of pull that allows for regulated tide cycles and a flawless and constant rotational period which permits regular climatic cycles; (iv) the carbon-dioxide level on earth is constant, allowing for just the right level of CO2 or we’d experience a runaway greenhouse effect—too high and we’d be subjected to enormous humidity and temperature that would be lethal, and if too low photosynthesis would not operate properly; and (v) gravity is constant, permitting the proper “pull” that keeps things on earth from floating into the air (if not into space) or to be “crushed” under tremendous pressure. It is noteworthy that if the gravitational force were altered by 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and neither would we (4).

The odds concerning random formation of life on earth will also blow you away. Donald Page (Princeton University) has calculated the odds against random development of proper cellular form and operation needed for life to develop at 1 out of 10,000,000,000124 which is a number that is unimaginable. Further, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe determined the odds for random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids on earth’s surface as 1 in 1020.  They add, “The trouble is there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 in (1020)20,000 or 1040,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup” (5).

I see tremendous value in the Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument. I love your question of what I think “proves creation the most.” The teleological school of thought says creation (the act and the end-product) can be proved by how precisely the universe is tuned. For it to be tuned at all, it must have a “tuner.” If these precise values imply design, then there must be a “designer.” I’ve answered a number of atheists and skeptics on my blog with these principles. I’ll say this: Before I brought out the “mathematical proof,” it seemed dialog with these skeptics was going nowhere.

I think the Ontological Argument is too rich in theology/philosophy to be the first arrow I’d pull out of my quiver. The Cosmological Argument is a great tool for preparing to do apologetics. Here’s my final thought on these “arguments” and “principles.” Each is quite valuable, but not every atheist or skeptic can go straight to these issues and come away believing. I think that’s because many of them are looking to not find the proof, so they look right past it. Again, though, whatever works. All we can do as Christians is plant a seed. God gives the increase. We must remember that not all soil has been prepared for the more “heady” arguments and principles of creation.

I hope this helps. Please look at the suggested reading list below.

Blessings!

Suggested Reading

The End of Reason, Ravi Zacharias
Foresight, Marcos Eberlin
Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe
Signature in the Cell, Stephen C. Meyer
Undeniable, Douglas Axe

Footnotes

(1) Anthony Flew, There is No God (New York: HarperOne), 2007.
(2) A.J. Hoover, “Arguments for the Existence of God,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 348.
(3) Leslie Allan, “Plantinga’s Ontological Argument”. <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/plantinga-ontological-argument.html&gt;
(4) Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 102.
(5) Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickremasinghe in Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to New Atheists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 35.

Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020)

We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right” (Ravi Zacharias).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Ravi_Zacharias_250_291

I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER THE first time I heard Ravi Zacharias speak. Unfortunately, it was not “in person,” but that did not matter. His words were so captivating it was as if I were sitting in the front row. Learning of his organization, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (“RZIM”), I hoped to one day interview for a position on staff. I was leaning toward a ministry of apologetics before I began listening to Ravi, but I was so impressed by the clarity and passion with which he “defended the faith” that I decided to move headlong into that mission.

I was first introduced to apologetics in an undergraduate class at Colorado Christian University (“CCU”) in 2018. It was called World Views. I have been studying philosophy, psychology, comparative religion, and Christian theology for a number of years, but CCU is preparing me for a purposeful examination of these fascinating and vital disciplines. I learned that “worldview” means 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 (1). James Sire issued a caveat: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world” (2).

I am totally convinced the Christian faith is the most coherent worldview around. Everyone, pantheist, atheist, skeptic, polytheist has to answer these questions: Where did I come from? What is life’s meaning? How do I define right from wrong? What happens to me when I die?—Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi suggested one role of apologetics is “seeing things God’s way.” The apologist must take what he or she has learned about the Christian faith (through a God’s eye view), then present it in a manner conducive to the intended audience. Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22, NRSV). If there is an intellectual (theoretical) barrier, start there. If there is a sensory (aesthetic) barrier, start there.

When sharing the gospel, I find it useful to start where there is common ground: In the beginning. It is better to open your Bible to Genesis 1 than John 3:16. One’s understanding of God must be rooted in origin, sovereignty, immanence, and aseity (“from self”) before the concept of “God in the flesh” and the crucifixion of Christ can be grasped.

A Christian Worldview

Amy Orr-Ewing said, “By its very nature the the postmodern worldview is difficult to define, and some would resist calling it such. It is an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture, and philosophy. A postmodern perspective is skeptical of any grounded theoretical perspectives. It rejects the certainties of modernism and approaches art, science, literature, and philosophy with a pessimistic, disillusioned outlook.” (3). Postmodernists reject any clear meaning of truth, citing discontinuity, suspicion of motive, and an acceptance of logical incoherence. This pervasive worldview makes it hard to engage in evangelism and apologetics in today’s post-Christian culture. However, it is not necessary to understand and evaluate other worldviews in order to have a personal faith in the gospel.

According to data published by George Barna in 2002 “…just 9% of all born again adults and just 7% of Protestants possess a biblical worldview” (4). This study notes that only half of Protestant Pastors in America possess a biblical worldview. Ronald Nash defines biblical worldview as believing “…human beings and the universe in which they reside are the creation of God who has revealed himself in Scripture” (5).

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man… If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about.”—C.S. Lewis

A biblical worldview rests solely on the revelation of God to His creation, which is activated by the Holy Spirit to those who adopt it. A theistic worldview and a biblical worldview are not synonymous. Here’s the difference: the biblical view begins where the basic acceptance of God leaves off, compelling the Christian to seek God (“Yahweh”) through His written Word, and apply to everyday life what Scripture teaches.

Ravi’s Profession

Ravi Zacharias was indifferent to “all things religious” early in his life, and as a result had no “good options” for his misery and existential angst. He was born in southern India and raised in Delhi. He played a variety of sports growing up, including cricket and tennis. He focused too intently on sports and began failing his courses, leading to complete shame and despair. He attempted suicide by ingesting a cocktail of dangerous chemicals, but was found by someone who immediately sought medical attention. Lying in his hospital bed, he saw how empty his life was at seventeen years of age; essentially, he was at a loss regarding the purpose and meaning of his life. Someone brought a Bible to him and he began reading. He came upon John 14:19: “Because I live you will live also.” At that moment Ravi’s life became defined, and Jesus Christ transformed his life.

“You see, there is an intellectual side to life but also a side to life where deep needs are experienced. We falsely think that one side deals with truth and the other with fantasy. Both need the truth, and the elimination of one by the other is not the world in which God intends for us to live.”—Ravi Zacharias

Ravi’s biblical worldview was simple and elegant. He began with “what is truth?” His evangelism and apologetics were rooted in “helping the thinker believe and the believer think.” We tend to doubt what we cannot see. Ravi said, “Truth is generally measured in three ways: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and and experiential relevance” (see above video). Also, “Truth that is not under-girded by love makes the truth obnoxious and the possessor of it repulsive.” Jesus plainly stated who He was with these critical remarks: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Ravi spoke many times on the impact of secularism and relativism in Western civilization, stating that the world’s religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance. Pluralism by design features a competing number of worldviews to choose from with no one viewpoint being dominant, let alone “correct.” Moral relativism completely discounts universal and ontological points of reference for right and wrong. Instead, morality is seen as contingent upon any number of variables: cultural, historical, situational. Of paramount importance is that none of these worldviews is able to solve the sin problem. Ravi said, “The points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic. Indeed, they are foundational” (6).

“The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world.”—Charles Malik

With Gratitude

I close my eyes and remember. I can hear a voice from my early teens, someone I’d come to admire: confident and moving. This voice was particularly compelling one a Sunday morning in 1972 when I got up from my seat in the pew and answered the call to come down front and accept Jesus Christ as my Messiah, my Lord and Master. I was thirteen. I can also remember sitting in my room on occasion listening to Billy Graham. Reverend Graham’s voice was compelling, bold. It rose above everyone in that auditorium, above every earthly concern. He asked the audience, “What’s wrong with the world?” 

There is only one other man of God who has moved me like Billy Graham has: That man is Ravi Zacharias. Ravi opened the door to a deeper walk with Jesus. To a compassionate “living” theology. He took on the many isms of this world, graciously explaining where they miss the mark. He compared the “secular gods” (pluralism, naturalism, secularism, and moral relativism) to Christianity: the Way,  the Truth, and the Life. Ravi’s distinctive voice and emphatic apologetic pierced my heart. He confirmed God’s call on my life—evangelism and apologetics. 

I could not be more grateful to Ravi Zacharias and Billy Graham, mighty men of God, who came into my life. Each of these men impacted me at major crossroads. I must thank the living God for men such as these.

Suggested Additional Reading

The Holy Bible (New Revised Standard Version)
Beyond Opinion: Living the Truth We Believe, Ravi Zacharias
The End of Reason, Ravi Zacharias
Jesus Among Secular Gods, Ravi Zacharias
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek
Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey
There is a God: How The World’s Most Notorius Atheist Changed His Mind, Antony Flew
The Universe Next Door, James Sire

Footnotes

(1) Phillips, Brown, and Stonestreet, Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd ed. (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 2008), 8.
(2) James Sire, The World Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009),20.
(3) Amy Orr-Ewing, “Postmodern Challenges to the Bible,” in  Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Ravi Zacharias (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2008), 3.
(4) George Barna, “Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview,” (Jan. 12, 2004), Barna Research. https://www.barna.com/research/only-half-of-protestant-pastors-have-a-biblical-worldview/
(5) Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 47.
(6) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: FaithWords, 2017), 6.

Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life

“What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. Oh, look—the deep, wide sea, brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon”

(Psalm 104:24-25, MSG).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

CHRISTIANS TODAY ARE FREQUENTLY looked upon with suspicion as a subculture that holds strange, old-fashioned, narrow-minded views on the origin of the universe, the nature of man, and the existence of a supreme being. In certain circles, especially politics and academia, there is a degree of condescension, suspicion, and contempt. The world sees Christians as “haters” or “bashers,” labeling us  elitist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, and delusional. Unfortunately, this is due in part to the words Christians use when taking on today’s culture. Still others say Christians are on the opposite side of science, believing in a fairy tale God, holding irrational beliefs as to the origin of life and the universe. Although Christians are called upon to be ready to defend the Gospel at any time, 1 Peter 3:15 provides a clear admonition that when doing so we are to show courtesy and respect.

Darwin Portrait

In Darwin’s time, few, if any biologists talked about biological or genetic information. Today, they routinely refer to DNA, RNA, and proteins: carriers or repositories of information. Biologists tell us that DNA stores and transmits “genetic information,” that it contains a genetic message, including instructions—a genetic blueprint or digital code—regarding how the life it “represents” should be assembled. Biology has recently entered its own information age. Scientists seeking to explain the origin of life have taken note. Life is not made up of mere matter and energy, but also information. Since matter and energy existed before life, this critical aspect of living organisms is now center stage. Inanimate matter cannot write the information necessary for life. At some point, biological information came into existence. Consequently, theories that claim to explain the origin of life must answer the genetics question.

It’s a Matter of Information

What exactly is “biological information?” Beginning in the 1940s, mathematicians and computer scientists began to define, study, measure, and quantify information. They made distinctions between several types of information. What kind of information does DNA contain? What kind of information must origin-of-life researchers explain the origin of? DNA contains specific information that deepens the mystery surrounding life. Most of us use the term information to describe some piece of knowledge. According to the standard definition, information holds two distinct meanings: (i) facts provided or learned about something or someone; and (ii) what is conveyed or represented by an arrangement or sequence of things. The second definition is on point regarding our discussion on the origin of biological or genetic information. It refers to genetically transmitted information. The specific “code” of life itself. It is a rather dubious claim to state that genetic information came from nothing; that it “wrote” itself. Moreover, information specific to the second definition equals an arrangement or string of characters that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a function of communication.

Indeed, DNA contains alternative sequences of nucleotides that can produce some specific effect. This certainly indicates that DNA contains information or, if you prefer, instructions, regarding life. Neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that uses its information is conscious. As an appropriate comparison, neither does software “code” comprehend the existence of the software program itself. Yet clearly software contains a kind of information or instruction. Strikingly, its code is made up of some combination of zeros and ones: yes/no, left/right, this/that. How much more complex is the genetic code of a living organism?

Information theory was developed in the 1940s—81 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which he claimed explained the development of the rather complicated and sometimes messy process of speciation. In was in the 1940s that MIT engineer and mathematician Claude Shannon was studying an obscure branch of algebra. Few people were paying attention. He had taken nineteenth-century mathematician George Boole’s system of putting logical expressions in mathematical form and applied its categories of “true” and “false” to switches found in electronic circuits. I am reminded of my study of basic electronics and electrical systems in the 1970s as a high school student, wherein the movement of energy through a circuit was determined by whether a switch was “open” or “closed.” Shannon’s master’s thesis has been called “possibly the most important, and also the most famous, master’s thesis of the century.” It eventually became the foundation for digital-circuit and digital-computer theory. Today, structures exhibiting specified complexity in living organisms are completely unknown and unknowable apart from the DNA, RNA, and proteins that establish their genetic features.

Applying Information Theory to Life

Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of variation between species. Species—groups of similar organisms within a genus—are designated by biochemical and other phenotypic criteria and by DNA relatedness, based on their overall genetic similarity. You may recall from ninth-grade biology class that living organisms (whether animal or plant, zebra or zucchini) are divided into seven levels: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.

Classification System.png

There are five kingdoms, which are determined by how living organisms obtain their food, the types of cells that make up their body, and the number of cells they contain. Phylum gives us a grouping of physical similarities. Class designation narrows similarities even further. For example, the reason man is considered a mammal is because we too drink milk from our birth mothers. Order is based on taxonomy—a checklist of characteristics that determines how organisms are grouped together. Orders are then divided into families. Because they share much genetic information, organisms in a family are said to be related to each other. Genus is a way to describe the genetic name for an organism. Species is the most specific classification of living organisms, hence the word used to label the category. The root for this term comes from the Latin specificus meaning “constituting a kind or sort.” Accordingly, when we identify a subject in conversation, we are said to get specific.

Consider species with which we are familiar. We recognize zebras by their stripes, elephants by their trunks, giraffes by their long necks, bald eagles by the color of the feathers on their heads, and monarch butterflies by the patterns on their gossamer wings. Species are defined by their traits. This is true across all life. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, starfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms of all kinds, shellfish, octopi, snails, corals, jellyfish, sponges, mosses, ferns, grasses, orchids, fruit trees, fungi, algae, bacteria, and all the life forms on earth possess unique combinations of traits. The origin of species is a question of the origin of traits. If you want to know the origin of zebras, you need to discover the origin of stripes. The origin of plants is bound up in the origin of trunks. Giraffe origins are inextricable from the origin of long necks. The origin of any species is found in the origin of the traits that define them. Examination of traits must include microscopic observation.

Let’s Get Specific

Somatic cells (i.e., non-reproductive cells) divide through a process of cell division termed mitosis. In both animals and plants, before the nucleus breaks down, structures that look like flexible noodles (called chromosomes) appear during a period termed prophase. Through prometaphase, the membrane surrounding the nucleus breaks down. The process continues through a complicated sequence of events. Because the process of nuclear division is so complex, it suggests a functional role for chromosomes. If chromosomes were inert and irrelevant to heredity, why would cells take such care to pass them on via such a unique and detailed cycle?dna helixThe answer to the how of DNA function is intricately bound up in the structure of DNA. Any potential structure for DNA must show how it could carry complex hereditary information. The architecture cannot simply repeat unchanging units. Chemically, the structure of DNA would need to be stable over many generations in order to pass traits along to future generations. For example, elephants produce more elephants each generation, giraffes more giraffes, bald eagles more bald eagles, and so on. The stable framework of DNA is the only explanation for this phenomenon. In addition, DNA must suggest a method by which it can be replicated. Without consistent transformation of genetic information, hereditary traits would become diluted and, ultimately, extinguished. Theoretically, this would result in a gradual fading of features familiar between parent and offspring, and, consequently, between homo sapiens.

Biologists eventually discovered the double helix, the structural relationship between DNA and chromosomes. DNA doesn’t exist in chromosomes as a long, straight stretch of helix. Rather, chromosomes represent dense forms of DNA. This is accomplished by packaging of DNA—cells wrap these helices around proteins in progressively higher levels of concentration to form the familiar chromosome shape. When sperm and egg fuse, the chromosomes of the sperm join the same nuclear compartment as the chromosomes of the egg. Interestingly, these paternal and maternal chromosomes exist as individual entities, carrying coded information from each parent. In other words, since both the father and the mother provide an equal number of chromosomes, both parents make an equal contribution to the features of the newly conceived offspring. Given the intricate science of heredity, it is simply impossible for the DNA of a giraffe to morph into the DNA of a chimpanzee. An offspring mimics its parents, period.

Remarkably, the physical basis for heredity—the nature of the very code of life—was not uncovered until nearly 100 years after Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. This is indeed a significant bone of contention. Without this genetic information, Darwin could not have accurately argued for the origin of species. If he had no concept of how traits were written in a genetic code, he could not have identified the origin of any particular trait. In addition, he had no biogenetic knowledge that giraffes cannot become buffaloes. Moreover, reptiles cannot develop into mammals. It is simply not possible—not even through mutation. In other words, Darwin could not logically argue that through survival of the fittest a salamander became more adept at surviving in trees, leading them to eventually become birds, flying from tree to tree in the acquiring of food. This violates the very code of speciation.

What Are the Odds?

Carl Sagan Photo.jpg

The arguments presented by today’s New Atheists fly in the face of logic and probability. They espouse their theory on the origin of life amidst a vacuum of proof. Indeed, despite mathematical probability. I was a huge fan of Carl Sagan. My father and I used to watch his weekly television program on PBS. I loved hearing him utter those famous words, “…billions and billions.”  Sagan went to his grave viewing the universe as nothing more than molecules in motion. Granted, we and everything around us are comprised of molecules. Looking at the atom, we see a tiny universe unto itself—protons and neutrons orbiting a nucleus. Stepping back, we can see each atom orbiting other atoms in myriad combinations specific to the type of substance it is—air, water, carbon, hydrogen, grass, trees, the family dog, the food we eat, even the screen on which you are viewing these words. In fact, molecules of light are making it possible for you to see your computer screen.

BigBang

Sagan, and others, would have us believe this finely-tuned orchestra of atoms circling atoms, planets circling the sun, the Milky Way circling other universes, just “happened” at some indiscriminate point in the observable past, when the universe just burst forth from a singular point of extremely hot and extremely dense matter. Matter, incidentally, which they claim popped into existence out of nothing. They fail to explain why it is okay for their theory to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Something cannot come from nothing. Energy cannot create itself. Further, prior to the Big Bang (which, by the way, is a term that does adequately describe the point when the universe began) time, space, and matter simply did not exist.

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000124 which is a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are one in 1020 and, in addition, that there are about two thousand enzymes. The probability of these enzymes assembling randomly in a pattern that could define life is only one part in (1020 ) 20,000 or 1040,000. This is an outrageously small probability that could not be achieved even if the entire universe consisted of a dense organic soup. This is just one step in the formation of life. Nothing has yet been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists say cannot even be numerically computed.

Scientists have yet to thoroughly explain mitosis and meiosis. The first term mitosis refers to a cell dividing into two clones of itself, each with the same number of chromosomes. On the other hand, meiosis describes cell division that produces four cells (called gametes). These gametes are more commonly called sperm in males and eggs in females. Unlike in mitosis, the gametes produced by meiosis are not clones of the original cell, because each gamete has exactly half as many chromosomes as the original cell. A chromosome is a thread-like object (scientists literally called them threads or loops when they were first discovered) made of a material called chromatin.

dna

Chromatin is made of DNA and special structural proteins called histones. One way to think of a chromosome is as one very long strand of DNA, with a bunch of histone proteins stuck to it like beads on a string. Chromosomes are stored in the nuclei of cells. If you compare the diameter of a cell nucleus (between 2 and 10 microns) to the length of a chromosome (between 1 and 10 centimeters, when fully extended!), you can see that a chromosome must be scrunched up into a very small package in order to fit inside a nucleus. The average chromosome is about a thousand times longer than a cell nucleus is wide. The situation is a bit like how a very long snake can coil up into a tight ball. This process is known, but the mechanism is not understood.

Joey Lagarbo, a scientist who works in the field of genetics, stated, “I completely understand where [this] comes from but at the end of the day it will only confuse you more. There are 46 chromosomes in a diploid human cell or 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes. Each of these 46 chromosomes do replicate but are still attached to each other by a centromere (that’s how we get the prototypical X shape of a chromosome). Each replicated chromosome is composed of two sister chromatids that are attached at the hip by a centromere; they are NOT completely separated. In other words, we went from 46 ‘I’ shaped chromosomes to 46 ‘X’ shaped chromosomes.” Someone responded to Lagarbo’s explanation by saying, “I understand this, but if someone could explain [the] conceptual problem it would be very much appreciated.”

A Change of Worldview

Jean Paul Sarte.jpgI want to share something about Jean-Paul Sartre. He was a French atheist and existential philosopher, most noted for his 1943 Being and Nothingness. Sartre promoted an anti-deterministic philosophy. In other words, science not based on causality. That’s scary! This is a type of existentialism based on the “logic” that existence precedes essence, and that matter is only defined by what man thinks it is. Man, according to Sartre’s initial philosophy, first materializes into the world, encounters himself, and only afterwards defines himself. There is no “definition” of anything outside of man’s opinion as to what it means to him. This is an anti-materialistic worldview that stands at odds with the scientific basis of existence. He wrote, “The effect of any form of materialism is to treat all men—including oneself—as objects, which is to say as a set of predetermined reactions indistinguishable from the properties and phenomena that constitute, say, a table, a chair, or a stone.”

The problem is that man is said to be free to choose—to invent himself and the physical universe. There would therefore be no genetic code for anything, let alone ethics. No ontological proscription for how man should behave. This is the very essence of moral relativism: The view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to culture and the zeitgeist of each historical period. No standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. Amazingly, Sartre underwent a deathbed conversion espousing the grace of God and the “creatureliness” of man. Reversing himself, he said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God” [emphasis mine].

Divine Design

The astronomical evidence for God must be strong when atheistic scientists admit that the universe exploded out of nothingness. Agnostic astronomers now claim that supernatural forces were at work in the beginning, leading them back to a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. But the scientific evidence for God does not end with the Cosmological Argument. For many, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This evidence, technically known as the Teleological Argument, derives its name from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”

The essence of the Teleological Argument is this:

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

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.” William Paley (1743-1805) made the now-famous argument by his commonsense assertion that every watch requires a watchmaker. 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? Perhaps some combination of natural forces? Not at all! There is absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it in the woods.

Our universe is, in fact, even more complex than that watch—containing a planet with a myriad of improbable and independent life-supporting conditions that make it a tiny oasis in a vast and hostile universe. Odds noted above that Princeton’s Donald Page put forth, and which astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe added to some time later, support intelligent design. These highly precise and interdependent conditions (which are called “anthropic constants”) make up what is known as the “Anthropic Principle.” In essence, the Anthropic Principle states that the universe is extremely fine-tuned (designed) to support human life here on earth. But this concept is more than a mere supposition. It is dependent on particular conditions:

  1. Oxygen Level. On earth, oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. That precise figure is an anthropic constant that makes life on earth possible. If the oxygen level was just a few percentage points higher, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were a few percentage points lower, human beings would suffocate. We know this is true from numerous summits at Mount Everest that require climbers to gradually acclimate to lower levels of oxygen higher up the mountain. Typically, climbers must supplement their need with bottled oxygen or risk dying from high-altitude cerebral or pulmonary edema (HACE or HAPE).
  2. Atmospheric Transparency. The small window astronauts must hit reflects the exacting standards by which the universe has been designed. While the atmosphere presents a reentry problem for astronauts, its present qualities are absolutely essential for life here on earth. The degree of transparency of the atmosphere is an anthropic constant. If the atmosphere were less transparent, not enough solar energy would reach the surface. If it were more transparent, we could be bombarded with a lethal amount of solar energy. Moreover, the atmospheric composition of precise levels of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and ozone are in themselves antropic constants. (This is why we’ve heard near-doomsday warnings about a thinning of or a hole in the ozone layer.)
  3. Moon-Earth Gravitational Interaction. If the gravitational interaction between the moon and the earth were greater than it currently is, tidal effects on the oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. If it were weaker, orbital changes would cause serious climate instability. In either event, life on earth would be impossible.
  4. Carbon Dioxide Level. Precisely the correct amount of carbon dioxide is maintained naturally in the earth’s atmosphere. In fact, forests play a critical role in the global carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, storing carbon above and below ground, and producing oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Consider the danger of increased “carbon footprints” created by various forms of pollution, including transportation and manufacturing. The phrase  greenhouse gases is based on the increased “greening” of our trees, which is causing higher concentration of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere.
  5. Gravity. The gravity that is pulling earth’s inhabitants to the surface is also an anthropic constant. Its strength may be frightening and mysterious, but it couldn’t be any different for life to exist. If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we. Now that’s precise design!

Typically, atheists respond to the concept of an Anthropic Principle in one of two ways. Some admit there’s some kind of Designer. Astronomer Fred Hoyle had his atheistic beliefs shaken, responding to this concept by agreeing that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, chemistry, and biology. Although he was vague, Hoyle recognized that the fine-tuning of the universe requires intelligence. Other atheists admit design but then claim there is no Designer. They say this precise tuning “happened by chance.” This flies in the face of basic logic. How can the universe be designed (indeed, finely-tuned) without a “tuner?” Pianos cannot possibly tune themselves. Nor could the universe have “designed” itself.

Concluding Remarks

John Glenn, on his return to space in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.” Nearly 2,000 years ago Paul wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20, RSV). Evidence of a heavenly Designer is clear, but man often takes it for granted or, more typically, sets out to prove a negative: There is no God, therefore God did not create the universe. C.S. Lewis, in his iconic book The Screwtape Letters provides great insight into this tendency we have to take for granted the amazing world around us. It seems that in our empirical world we are too busy to slow down and contemplate the universe and our place in it.

All instruction, all teaching, all training, comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Every cell in our bodies contains a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program. A computer program is written in the language of ones and zeros: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. When mapping genomes, scientists abbreviate these chemicals A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell similar to the following: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT. I find it remarkable that there are approximately three billion letters arranged in code for every cell in a living organism. The very function of each cell is determined by how the code is written.

We’re often told by “scientists” that God does not exist. They don’t leave it there. They also add that science cannot prove the presence of a metaphysical concept or an ephemeral being. Of course, the “logical” conclusion they come to is God is not real. The irony is not lost on me that they are trying to prove a negative by using the same science that actually points to several critical points: (i) the universe began as a very hot and very dense singularity; (ii) energy and matter cannot create itself; (iii) the universe is expanding, and will ultimately cease to exist due to entropy and chaos; (iv) all physical elements, from from the subatomic level to the the endless expanse of the universe, orbit each other in an extremely well-tuned dance; (v) the Anthropic Principle provides a critical examination of five major factors which, if altered even one tittle, would cause the extinction of all forms of life on earth.

The laws of physics, when applied uniformly and fairly, indicate that the universe could not have created itself. The scientific principle cause and effect fails to support the birth of our universe from nothing, as there is no known explanation for the cause of the singularity or the cause of the “explosion” that formed everything. Scientists who accept that the universe was formed from the Big Bang believe their assumptions are true. However, they too rely on “faith” to conclude that that the universe was born at the precise moment of the Big Bang from an infinitely small point of hot, dense matter for which they have no explanation of its original source. Simply stated, they have absolutely no theory for the original source of this matter and energy. William Paley’s logical conclusion was that every watch requires a watchmaker.

Evolution: Augmenting God?

Evolution must now be understood and explained at the molecular level.

Evolution is a rather malleable term. It can be used by me, for example, to mean something as simple as change over time. You might use it to mean the descent of all life forms from a common ancestor. In its full-on, biological sense, however, evolution means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and ultimately culminated in an estimated 8.7 billion species on Earth. Approximately 1 to 2 million of those species are animals.

Not surprisingly, Darwinian evolution is being stretched to its limits by recent discoveries in biochemistry: the branch of science concerned with chemical and physiochemical processes and substances that occur within living organisms. This field looks at the molecules that make up our cells and tissues and those that catalyze the chemical reactions to digestion, photosynthesis, immunity, and more. Biochemists mainly study the structures and functions of enzymes, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, process of metabolism and the molecular basis of the action of genes.

EVOLUTION BY NATURAL SELECTION

When Darwin published On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. It is assumed by many that Darwin was the first to theorize evolution, natural selection, and the development of species. However, scientists were kicking around the idea of evolution before Darwin. Darwin’s contribution was specific to natural selection—organisms vary, and sometimes these variations can better suit individuals to their environment, thus boosting their chances of passing down these traits to future generations. Even if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that life did begin as a single cell [of course, I’d be of the belief that God created that original single cell], the chief defect of Darwin’s theory is that it throws no light on the origin of that primitive organism. 

Darwin’s theory is basically quite simple. He observed variations among species: some are bigger or taller; some are slow while others are fast; some live under water and some live deep in the Amazon. He reasoned that since food supplies are limited, the ones whose chance variation gave them an advantage in the struggle for life would tend to survive and reproduce, beating out others of their species. His theory, as taught in high schools across the country for decades, is a biological “explanation” of how creatures have supposedly evolved or developed progressively through natural selection and variation (now known as mutation) over eons of time from a tiny cell to the largest creatures on earth today.

What is taught in classrooms is not mere micro evolution—small changes within a species—but macro evolution, the change from one type of creature to another quite distinct life form. And it is being taught in most schools as the only plausible explanation for the origin of life itself.

John M. Wynne wrote in The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon,

“Given the historical consequences of Darwinism—namely, its foundational role in the ideologies leading to World War I, World War II, the spread of communism, the humanist takeover of public education and the judiciary, the legalization of abortion and the on-going culture of death, as well as much confused theology and various attacks on the family—continued belief in human evolution constitutes a tragedy of immeasurable proportions and is arguably the most harmful deception in the history of the world since the Fall of Adam and Eve.”

CHANCE—AN INTEGRAL PART

We can’t deny that chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process. Mutations—capable of leading to hereditary variations—often arise completely at random, independent of whether they are beneficial or harmful. This random process comes up against natural selection. Typically, the end result is preservation of those traits that prove useful and elimination of those that are harmful. There would be no evolution without mutation. Natural selection plays a key role in the mutation process—keeping things from becoming disorganized and out of hand, which can ultimately lead to mutations. Most mutations are disadvantageous. As a rule, they tend to degrade genetic material.

Chance variation did not originate with Darwin. William Paley (1809) argued in Natural Theology that living things and most everything about them are the products of design, not chance.

Paley wrote,

“What does chance ever do for us? In the human body, for instance, chance, i.e. the operation of causes without design, may produce a wen, a wart, a mole, a pimple, but never an eye. [Never was] an organized body of any kind, answering a valuable purpose by a complicated mechanism, the effect of chance. In no assignable instance hath such a thing existed without intention somewhere” (Paley, 1809, pp. 62-63).

Randomness remains the disturbing center of Darwin’s theory.

According to Curtis Johnson, political theorist at Lewis and Clark College, the central controversy in Darwin’s work is not the theory of natural selection itself, but Darwin’s staunch reliance on randomness to explain natural phenomena. Perhaps not wanting to “water down” his science, Darwin tried to cover up this issue by replacing the words “accident” and “chance” with terms like “spontaneous variation” in later editions of his work. Nevertheless, the change was a matter of semantics. Darwin would argue that chance stood in for unknown laws—consistent rules which were not yet known, but would [eventually] explain why individuals, both within and across species, were different. Amazingly, it is reported that in his more private and less guarded moments Darwin suggested that “the cause of at least some variations is unknowable, even in principle.”

Darwin put it this way,

“[Evolution by natural selection] absolutely depends on what we in our ignorance call spontaneous or accidental variation. Let an architect be compelled to build an edifice with uncut stones, fallen from a precipice. The shape of each fragment may be called accidental; yet the shape of each has been determined by the force of gravity, the nature of the rock, and the slope of the precipice—events and circumstances, all of which depend on natural laws; but there is no relation between these laws and the purpose for which each fragment is used by the builder. In the same manner the variations of each creature are determined by fixed and immutable laws; but these bear no relation to the living structure which is slowly built up through the power of selection, whether this be natural or artificial selection” (1875, 2:236).

Attributing variation to chance leads to a rather sticky theology. If God is all powerful, how can he roll the dice with each infant, doling out disadvantages and, at worst, crippling, painful, terminal birth defects? Please realize, I do not believe God is responsible for deformity, deficiency, weakness, flaw, or imperfection. I don’t hold the opinion that God gives birth defects to babies or causes the birth of albino deer or cats with two faces. Incidentally, Darwin had no answer for this issue, which led to his loss of faith in God. Some have suggested it is likely he kept his commitment to chance from his God-minded colleagues and the public. Eventually, Darwin adopted a full-blown materialistic determinism. Darwin concluded that because unknown laws of chance were responsible for individual character and appetites, there was no space left for free will. Matter determines.

There was a problem with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He had no idea how it worked. Offspring had a mix of their parents’ features, sure. But how? What was the mechanism at work at the exact moment of conception? This was a huge hole in Darwin’s theory.

WHAT DARWIN DIDN’T KNOW

New aspects of evolution have come to light with the introduction of advanced technologies that didn’t exist during Darwin’s era.

What would it take for the accidental spark of a single living cell? Before you respond, remember even the most elementary form of life is more complicated than any man-made thing on earth. The entire workings of New York City are less complicated than the makeup of the simplest microscopic cell. Scientists say the structure of a single cell is unbelievably intricate. The chance for a proper combination of molecules into amino acids, and then into proteins with the properties of life, is entirely unrealistic. Charles Eugene Guye, a Swiss mathematician, computed the odds against such an occurrence at merely one chance in 10 to the 160th. That means 10 multiplied by itself 160 times—a number too large even to articulate.

Frank Allen, PhD, Cornell University Professor of Biophysics, expressed it this way,

“The amount of matter to be shaken together to produce a single molecule of protein would be millions of times greater than in the whole universe. For it to occur on earth alone would require many, almost endless, billions of years” (The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, p. 23).

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—which he tried to parlay into an explanation for the origin of all species—had been considered settled beyond challenge by the majority of biologists and other life scientists, as well as public school teachers and college professors, until recently. So what has changed?

Nathaniel T. Jeanson has claimed in Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, “…the events of the last 130 years have rewritten the history of life on this planet” (pg. 9). Frankly, this was inevitable. We’ve come to see the substance of life as being made up of billions of interconnecting jigsaw puzzle pieces. I remember my first IMAX movie at the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. It was called The Power of 10. The premise of the documentary was a look inward (inner space) then outward (outer space) by units of ten for as far as technology allows us to see. I was struck by how the molecular level of all matter—whether living or not (air, water, or solid)—is tenaciously yet remarkably cohesive.

This is true across all life. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, starfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms of all sorts, shellfish, octopi, snails, corals, jellyfish, sponges, mosses, ferns, conifers, grasses, orchids, fruit trees, fungi, algae, bacteria, and all the other life forms on earth possess unique combinations of traits, which are stored at a molecular level. DNA is the code that allows us to read those combinations. Jeanson believes the question of the origin of species is rooted in the origin of traits. He writes, “If you want to know the origin of zebras, you need to discover the origin of stripes…” He says, for example, the origin of eagles goes hand in hand with the origin of white feathers. The origin of the rest of the species is found in the origin of the traits that define them.

It’s been said that since species are defined by their traits, the origin of traits constrains the picture of the origin of species. Any attempt to understand the origin of traits must include an explanation of how DNA controlled the behavior of traits. And if we got to the mystery of the how—if we cracked the code for the mechanism by which traits got coded or programmed—could we then learn to cause a complete shift in the program? Could we cause leopards to become whales, for instance? Is it possible to use CRISPR technology to create our own spotted whale? CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are sections of DNA.

The point of all this conjecture is to spotlight the complexity of DNA and genetic traits. 

I Though Darwin Didn’t Know Genetics!

If Darwin had no background or understanding in genetics, how could he write a book he brazenly claimed to explain the origin of species? Moreover, if genetic data were absent from his thesis, then how could he have made any semblance of a scientific argument for the origin of species? It was agreed by most scientists of that time period that offspring did indeed get their physical characteristics from their parents, but how and in what ratios was unclear. This was one of the main arguments opponents of Darwin at the time had against his theory. He was unable to explain how inheritance happened. Sadly, because the field of genetics did not exist until the 1900s, scientists of Darwin’s time did not know to look for the molecule that carries genetic information from generation to generation.

Further, consider the weakness of the data available to him. Fossils don’t directly record genealogical relationships. What’s worse, fossils can only tell us about ancestry after a model of genetics has been assumed. Accordingly, any great insights into the question of traits and ancestry must follow the discovery of genetics. Of course, Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species before genetics was even a scientific field. Consequently, for Darwin fossils were unable to unilaterally answer the question of traits and ancestry, which he didn’t admit in his writings.

Darwin never addressed the concept of epigenetics: heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. An epigenetic change can be caused by factors such as age, environment, lifestyle, or disease. Simply, epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off.

Convergence

I am a proponent of the convergence of science and religion. Additionally, I am hoping to have an impact on aiding the integration of psychology and Christian theology. I believe truth is truth; further, all truth is God’s truth. We know truth—that which has been settled as verifiable fact—cannot contradict truth. Scientific and religious truths, by their very definition, are reconcilable. Moreover, science and faith can enrich each other. They tell the same story, albeit from different perspectives. This is not a problem. Believers and theologians need not adjust their thinking about God because of Darwin any more than they did after Copernicus disproved the church’s theory of a geocentric universe.

Interestingly, many Christians and followers of other religions have been enthusiastic about the advent of evolution. For example, immediately after On the Origin of Species was published, the learned Anglican priest and theologian Charles Kingsley publicly thanked Darwin for demonstrating how ingenious and creative evolution is, and how this exciting new picture of life had enlarged his understanding of the Creator. He said, “A God who can make a universe that can make itself by way of natural processes is much more impressive and worthy of worship than one who is always tinkering with the world or keeping it tied to divine puppet strings.” And where would the free will be in such a universe?

NATURAL SELECTION IS NOT EVOLUTION!

The fossil record gives no support to the idea of one species gradually changing into a completely distinct and other species. Ten times in the book of Genesis we read God’s decree concerning the reproduction of each of His creatures—”after its kind.” The word kind refers to species, or family. Each created family was to produce only its own kind. Natural selection cannot generate brand new genetic information. It simply doesn’t work that way. Instead, it filters information that already exists. Darwinian evolution holds the basic tenet that single-celled organisms gained new genetic information over millions and billions of years, and eventually arrived at higher life-forms such as man. For this whole “microbes-to-man” evolution to be true, evolutionists should be able to point to thousands of examples of information-gaining mutations, an uphill process, but they can’t.

Genetic variants may cause differences in survival, but that has nothing to do with explaining their design. What requires explanation is the origin of the biological apparatus with the ability to generate, save, and pass on variations in the first place. Darwin’s argument was circular: nature’s designer is nature itself. Attributing design to natural selection is also circular—but at a deeper level—making it harder to spot.

It is worth noting that God did not create all the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, insects, and other animals in the beginning. (Varieties of animals are different than kinds of animals.) For example, there were no Labradoodles in the Garden of Eden. There were male and female of each species, with many changes occurring over the centuries to produce a wide assortment of varieties within the family. But let’s be real: cats have always remained cats; dogs are still dogs; men are still men. Mutation has only been responsible for producing a new variety of the same species, but never originating a new species. In addition, selective breeding has brought tremendous improvements such as hornless cattle, white turkeys, adorable puppies, and seedless oranges. Regardless, all organisms continue to reproduce exactly as God decreed at Creation—after its kind.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I would be remiss if I did not admit that at the core of this argument between evolutionists and creationists lies a struggle between opposing worldviews. It’s not a matter of their facts versus ours. Actually, it has never been about the facts. As I’ve stated, all truth is God’s truth. All facts are available to scientists of both camps; all scientists have the same data available to them. The data is identical, but the “lens” through which it is viewed is not.

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute. If not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics mine.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like eyeglasses. When you put on your eyeglasses for the first time the rims can be quite distracting. In a short time you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. It’s as if you forget you’re wearing glasses. A worldview is like that.

Regardless of dueling worldviews, according to standard evolutionary theory today, evolutionists look to mutations as being the process responsible for generating the new genetic information evolution requires, which is then acted upon through natural selection. When pressed over the years, evolutionists have been unable to give specific evidence of mutations that increase the information in the genome. Natural selection is essentially an observation about genetic variants and how they play a role in survival and nothing more.

As a tool for explaining design, natural selection is completely worthless. Darwin seems to distort the design process by falsely attributing power to the environment to “select” traits. In fact, the ability to generate traits is a property of living things enabling them to diversify, multiply, and fill environments. Whether or not these traits fit an environment is what determines survival. Darwin further failed to explain how the ability to generate traits in living things—the real source of information for design—originated. He simply said this capacity is simply assimilated into nature.

References

Monsma, J. (1958). The Evidence of God in An Expanding Universe. New York, NY: Putnam.

Paley, W. (1809). Natural Theology. Philadelphia, PA: John Morgan Publishers.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Wynne, J. (n.d.). The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon. Retrieved from: http://kolbecenter.org/fossil-record-and-fall-of-darwins-last-icon/