Obama’s Christianity: Details Please

When Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Robert Costa asked Wisconsin governor and presumed presidential candidate Scott Walker whether he considers president Obama to be a Christian, Walker didn’t answer the question in a way that would have made this a non-story. He instead answered it like a typical man on the street would answer such a question, saying “I don’t know,” and tacking on additional watery comments such as “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that.” That was enough for the media to blow up the story and sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds on the question of whether Walker considers Obama to be a Christian.

A simple, “Based on news reports it’s my understanding that Obama considers himself to be a Christian,” would have sufficed for an answer. And that probably would have been the end of it.

But let’s say one of the reporters would have responded, “Yes but do YOU consider Obama to be a Christian.” Counter-question: “What’s your definition of Christian?” Being so unaccustomed to counter-questions, the reporter likely would have been taken aback. But after collecting his thoughts, let’s say he would have answered, “someone who believes in Jesus Christ.” Walker then could have said, “I’m assuming that Obama believes in Jesus Christ, so according to your definition, Obama would be considered a Christian.”

And that would have been that.

Of course, simply believing in Jesus Christ does not necessarily make one a Christian. To be classified as a Christian also requires one to believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He died for our sins, that He resurrected from the dead, and that we should conduct our lives based on the teachings of the Bible and especially the Gospels.

Does Obama believe any of that? The Washington Post reporters referred to above, or any other reporters, should press the president on those and related points. Of course, they probably never will.

Amazing Display of Episcopal Tolerance

(Public domain photograph from the from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at the Library of Congress.)

Saints Peter and Paul must be quite alarmed right now after their namesake place of worship, The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, better known as the Washington National Cathedral, held an unprecedented Muslim worship service last week.

The event in the Episcopal-run cathedral was intended to “make a statement about religious tolerance that would resound around the world,” according to the Washington Post.

The implication from that article is that we’re supposed to conclude that the event shows how tolerant Muslims are toward Christians. “Other speakers said they hoped the service would help correct some Americans’ misperceptions of Muslims as extremists and reinforce tolerance among faiths,” wrote the Post.

Assuming that’s the intention, are they for real? Do they actually think that a Christian church allowing a Muslim worship service therein shows how tolerant Muslims are? To my knowledge there are no reports of prominent mosques opening their doors to non-Muslim services.

The only thing it shows is that the Episcopalians are a tolerant lot – so tolerant that they’re willing to run counter to the First Commandment smack dab in the middle of their church. It makes one wonder how firm the Episcopal leadership’s beliefs are in the teachings of the Christian Bible.

Tolerance of different religions and love for other peoples is, of course, a prized virtue. But encouraging the worship on Jesus Christ’s altar and/or within His hallowed halls a perceived deity that is radically different from the deity to which He belongs, is a different matter altogether.

 

 

Evidence for the Divinity of Christ and Authenticity of the Gospels

John 3:16 GreekNonbelievers often dismiss the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus as myths. Some say he never even lived and/or that the Gospel accounts were fabricated. Others say he did live and that he was a great teacher, but that none of the miraculous events described in the Gospels took place. They say that legends developed and that the observations of the disciples became amplified and distorted over many decades or even hundreds of years after the life of Christ.

According to a survey conducted in 2000, about 17 percent of the U.S. population considers the Bible as a collection of legends and myths, but among university professors that percentage is more than 50 percent. This is serious, because so many young people lose their faith during the college years. The number of Christians who end up falling away from the faith in college or even high school is alarming. So is the number of non-college bound young people and of people in general who fall away from the faith. The growing number of children who are never exposed to Christianity because they come from atheistic or agnostic families, is alarming. And millions of former Christians end up embracing other faiths such as eastern or new-age religions. It’s largely because they never were exposed to the strong evidence of the existence of God, of the divinity of Christ and the authenticity of the Gospels.

Writes Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, “As I speak in churches across the country, I continually meet parents whose children have left the faith because there was no one in the church to answer their questions. For the sake of our youth, we desperately need informed parents who are equipped to wrestle with the issues at an intellectual level.”

It’s one thing to accept the Gospels based on blind faith, which of course is fine. But it should be a duty for those who accept the Gospels on blind faith to become familiar with the historical evidence thereof anyway, because of pressing need to convince others of the importance of embracing Christianity in order to achieve salvation.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Given the abundant evidence of the truth of Christianity, embracing it is of infinite importance for everyone. And in today’s day and age, when “show me the evidence” is a common refrain, Christians had better be equipped to present that evidence.

Let me touch on some of that evidence. I’m drawing from several books on this topic. A seminal book that came out in 1998 is called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, who was a Chicago Tribune reporter and an atheist. When his wife became a Christian he got so troubled over that prospect that he decided to put his reporter skills to use and start investigating the claims of the Gospels, and prove his wife wrong. To his astonishment, he concluded she was right. After a two-year investigation, he found the evidence overwhelming in favor of the authenticity of the Gospels and of the divinity of Christ – the primary evidence of that divinity being His resurrection from the dead.

Another book on that topic, published in 2013, is The Cold Case for Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. Formerly a police detective, he put his detective skills to use in investigating the claims of the Gospels and, like Lee Strobel, went from being an atheist to a committed Christian. The latest book on the subject is Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel by David Limbaugh. He also was a skeptic. He started to have second thoughts when a friend of his once showed him a Bible, and how versus of Old Testament Scripture were tied to New Testament scripture in content and theme with remarkable frequency.

Considered Divine Early On

There’s an oft-heard refrain that the Gospel accounts were written too long after the life of Christ for them to have validity, or that the miracle accounts and particularly the resurrection crept into the written record generations after Christ, long after any eyewitnesses were alive. Skeptics often invoke the “telephone game” in which case each time a story is re-told, copied, or translated, the substance of the story changes until it’s practically unrecognizable from the original story.

Yet it turns out that not near enough time went by for legend or mythology to corrupt the historical record of Jesus. Biblical scholars point out that the four Gospels were written ranging from the late 40s or mid-50s AD, to around 90 AD, with Mark believed to be the first Gospel written and John being the last. For at least three of the four Gospels, plenty of eyewitnesses were still alive who could have attested to the accuracy of the Gospels, and who could have exposed them as fabrications if the claims were untrue. Paul’s letters to the Romans are dated as early as AD 48 or just 17 years after resurrection. (Note that John’s Gospel is believed to have been written by the apostle John himself, when he was quite old and when the vast majority of his contemporaries had died.)

One may then pose the question, why weren’t accounts of Jesus’s ministry written even earlier, such as during Christ’s ministry and/or within a few years after his resurrection?

They likely were. Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he sought out the most reliable sources that “were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”. It is likely that in addition to interviewing several eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry, he drew from notes and other written sources made by eyewitnesses, sources that no longer survive. Biblical scholars posit that those Gospel authors drew from a very early written text that the scholars call “Q”.

Moreover, the written word wasn’t even the primary means of scriptural dissemination back then, given that the vast majority of people, perhaps 97 percent of them, were illiterate. It was the spoken word that was the primary means. Most of the information at the time of Jesus was passed on by means of oral transmission. Memorization of events, narratives and sayings was the dominant method of maintaining historical records. In fact, it was common during Jesus’s time and earlier for scholars to memorize the entire Old Testament.

Creeds and hymns were how people learned about sacred scripture back then. Through careful analysis of scripture, Biblical scholars have concluded that the Gospels and Paul’s letters, some of which predate the Gospels, incorporated such creeds and hymns.[1] And they consistently convey that Jesus was the son of God who died and rose again.

Dean Overman, author of A Case for the Divinity of Jesus, writes, “My reading of the evidence available leads me ineluctably to the position that the worship of Jesus as divine did not develop over time, but erupted powerfully and contemporaneously with the resurrection appearances claimed by his disciples and followers.”

So it can be discerned that within a few years and no doubt a few months after the crucifixion, the disciples cited the resurrection as the primary piece of evidence that Jesus was God.

Regarding the telephone game, that’s a bad analogy. It implies linearity, whereas the Gospels were spread in a more exponential style. David E. Anderson, author of Myth? A Response to the Arguments Against Jesus’ Historicity, likens it to one person telling 10 people, and those 10 people telling 10 more, etc. There are multiple copies and translations of the original Gospels, and multiple copies of those, to the extent that there are still more than 5,000 ancient copies reportedly in existence. And even though those copies were found in a wide variety of places in a wide variety of time periods, those copies are 99.5 percent consistent with each other, writes Anderson. That tells us that the copies weren’t being changed each time, as in the telephone game. It tells us that today’s copies of the Gospels are amazingly consistent with the originals.

Compare that 99.5 consistency rate with the ancient writing that has the second highest consistency rate, Homer’s Iliad. Modern society possesses 643 ancient copies thereof, with a consistency rate of about 95 percent. The earliest copy dates about 500 years after its writing.

We don’t have original manuscripts of the Gospels; they no doubt were destroyed or lost during the early centuries, particularly during a time when Christianity was outlawed and plundering and persecutions were rampant. And the writing material used at the time, papyrus, deteriorates easily. In fact, we don’t have originals of any text from around the time of Jesus, writes Anderson, except for those literally written in stone. The earliest surviving complete copy of the Gospels dates from around the mid-300s, with fragments of the Gospels dated earlier than that.

Non-Christian Corroboration

Plenty of independent, non-Christian historical documents written by Roman, Jewish and other historians from around that time period confirm many of the events in Jesus’s life. For instance the Jewish historian Josephus, who lived from A.D. 37 to 100, wrote the following:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to the virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

The Jewish Talmud acknowledges miracles performed by Jesus, albeit puts a negative spin on them, stating that he practiced magic and sorcery.

Thallus, who lived from about A.D. 5 to A.D. 60, was a Samaritan historian. As recounted in Cold-Case Christianity, most of his works are lost, but another historian in AD 221 quoted from his account. Thallus chronicled the crucifixion of Jesus and indicated the darkness that was observed at the time of his death. This other historian writes, “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

The Greek historian Phlegon (A.D. 80-140) also mentioned darkness during the crucifixion. The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56-117) admitted several key facts – including that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in him.

Regarding accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels, a skeptic could point out the apparently erroneous claim that both blood and water came out of Jesus’s side when he was stabbed. And that he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. That may seem embellished to most of us, but not to many medical professionals. We non-medical professionals would expect that just blood would come out after being stabbed. In fact, according to Wallace, the flow of water is consistent with what happens when people are injured to the point of death. It can result in increased non-blood fluids in the membrane surrounding the heart or surrounding the lungs. There’s also a known medical condition called hematidrosis, when people sweat blood during intense stress.

Moreover, if such accounts were fabricated, we wouldn’t expect the fabricator to describe water coming of out of Jesus’s side in addition to blood, or the sweating of blood – because a fabricator likely would not be familiar with such medical phenomena.

Transformed Lives of Apostles

Among the strongest pieces of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the transformed lives of the apostles. When Jesus was crucified, his followers were said to be discouraged and depressed, given that Jews had been taught that God would not let the Messiah suffer death. And they feared for their lives based on their association with Jesus, so with the exception of the apostle John, they dispersed and hid themselves.

But something happened afterward that turned the situation around. Or as Jennifer Fulwiler, a prominent former-atheist-turned Catholic says, something “explosive” happened after the crucifixion, so explosive that it had a profound effect on the lives of the apostles and other disciples of Jesus. That something of course was the resurrection.

The risen Jesus so emboldened them that they became fearless. The apostles abandoned their occupations, abandoned established and ingrained Jewish traditions and practices, and became committed to spreading the message that Jesus is the Messiah. They endured tremendous physical and mental hardships in support of that cause, were continually chased from place to place, rejected material wealth, and endured hunger and thirst, rough treatment, and homelessness. They chose poverty in pursuit of spiritual truth. They suffered ridicule, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and finally, for 11 of the 12 apostles, martyrdom. They refused to change their testimony despite torture and the worst forms of execution. Not one of them recanted.

As J. Warner Wallace writes, “People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they are true, but won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.”

Tens of thousands of others were executed for their faith in Jesus during these years. That coincided with an extraordinary emergence and growth of the Christian church.

Paul in first Corinthians writes of 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Yet there’s no evidence or writings to suggest that any of these 500 ever recanted, or were ever trotted out by enemies of Christianity in an effort to try to expose the resurrection as false.

Messianic Prophesies

The above is powerful evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Perhaps even more powerful evidence are the Messianic prophecies. As David Limbaugh writes in Jesus on Trial, the fulfillment of the prophesies is what tipped the balance of the scales for him in favor of the truth of Christianity, and he continues to marvel at them the more he learns about them.

The Old Testament contains dozens and dozens of prophecies about an “anointed one” or “Messiah” in Hebrew who would arrive in the future and redeem Jews and non-Jews alike. The book of Isaiah, written more than 700 years before Christ, discusses a Messiah who would be born of a virgin, suffer and die for the sins of Israel and the sins of the world, who would be despised and rejected, and who would be pierced for mankind’s transgressions.

Other books of the Old Testament that contain prophesies include Jeramiah, the Psalms, and Micah. They indicate that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, be a descendant of Abraham and David, be from the tribe of Judah, would be betrayed, would be pierced in the hands and feet even though crucifixion hadn’t been invented yet, and that his bones would remain unbroken. The last one is notable because breaking a victim’s legs was a common practice during crucifixion in order to hasten death on the cross. It also was written that His body would not decay but would ascend on high.

For more on these and many other prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, click here.

A Case for Christ author Lee Strobel interviewed Louis Lapides, a Jewish believer in Jesus. Before his acceptance of Christ, when he first learned about the prophecies, he concluded that Christians must have rewritten the Old Testament and twisted Isaiah’s words to make it sound as if he were talking about Jesus. But then he looked in a Jewish bible and found the same thing. Moreover there are Old Testament original manuscripts dated prior to when Jesus was born that confirm that these prophesies were not added to the Old Testament after Jesus’s resurrection. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, were written some 200 years before Jesus lived on earth.

What about fabricating or embellishing the Gospels to make it look like Jesus fulfilled the prophecies? That relates to what this paper is all about: the Gospels, all the way down to the details, are authentic. There are no testimonies from people living at that time suggesting that the events described in the Gospels did not happen. Not even the Jews opposed to Jesus discredited those events. “Even though the Jewish Talmud refers to Jesus in derogatory ways, it never once makes the claim that the fulfillment of prophecies was falsified. Not one time,” said Lapides.

Or, could the fulfillment of all of these prophesies be just an extraordinary coincidence? Odds of that happening are so astronomical that it’s impossible. Strobel recounts that someone did the math to figure out the probability of just eight of the prophecies being fulfilled. That probability is one in a hundred million billion. Another mathematician calculated the probability of 48 of the prophecies being fulfilled. The result is one chance in a trillion to the power of 13.

Infinite Importance

The Messianic Prophecies, the early appearance of the Gospels, the transformed lives of the apostles after the Resurrection, and numerous other pieces of evidence described in the aforementioned books all point unequivocally to the divinity of Christ and authenticity of the Gospels.

Most nonbelievers probably never have heard of such evidence and have never bothered to launch their own investigation to find out for themselves. Lee Strobel writes that when he was an atheist, “That’s all I had ever given the evidence: a cursory look. I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism – a fact here, a scientific theory there, a pithy quote, a clever argument.” Upon the conclusion of his two-year investigation of Christianity, on a legal pad he listed in one column the arguments against Christ’s divinity and listed in another column the arguments in favor. It was practically no contest which argument won out. He writes, “In the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth!”

Strobel writes of Stan Telchin, an East coast businessman who embarked on a quest to expose the “cult” of Christianity after his daughter became a Christian at college. He was astonished to find that his investigation led him to the same Messiah. He later became a Christian minister, and wrote a book about it called Betrayed! Strobel also points to Sir Lionel Luckhoo, a renowned British attorney notable for his successes in the courtroom, and who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He conducted a rigorous analysis of his own for several years and became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of the divinity of Christ. His verdict: “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

The rising number of atheists, agnostics, and fallen-away Christians indicates that an increasing number of people evidently consider the Gospels to be of no importance if not of moderate importance. But as C.S. Lewis points out, the Gospels cannot be of moderate importance, because they deal with where we’ll spend eternity. And the abundant documentation attesting to the truth of the Gospels means they cannot be of no importance. That just leaves one thing: they’re of infinite importance – for every man, woman and child on earth.

 

 

 

[1] According to Overman, one way of deducing this is the presence of words and phrases not characteristic of a particular New Testament author, suggesting the material was composed by someone else. Another indicator is a preference for participles over finite verbs, suggesting an original oral provenance for the material. Or the use of verbs having to do with teaching or preaching. Moreover when one translates creeds and hymns incorporated into the New Testament from Greek back into the original Aramaic, they often translate readily back into the Aramaic language, and have rhythmic patterns and lyrical styles suggestive of oral transmission.

 

Also see:

When Protestant Ministers Turn Catholic

Richard Dawkins Isn’t Being Rational

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If you were booked to fly in an aircraft, and the plane’s mechanic told you that it “probably” won’t crash, would you still board it?

Prominent atheist-turned-agnostic Richard Dawkins has a campaign proclaiming “There’s Probably No God.” I say atheist-turned-agnostic because “probably” implies that you’re not sure there’s no God, and thus agnostic. Dawkins, who had been one of the world’s most famous atheists, is now one of the world’s most famous agnostics. He calls himself an agnostic, admitting that he can’t be sure God doesn’t exist.

Richard Dawkins isn’t being rational. Just as if someone definitively told you your plane probably won’t crash or has a decent chance of not crashing, it wouldn’t be rational to board that plane. Even if someone told you it only had a 1 percent chance of crashing – meaning of 100 similar planes taking off that day, one of them will crash – you wouldn’t board it (unless it was some life-and-death matter where you really had to fly).

For an agnostic, the rational thing to do is to accept Pascal’s Wager: If God exists, then if I follow His teachings I have everything to gain in an afterlife, and everything to lose if I don’t follow His teachings. If He does not exist then if I follow His teachings I have nothing to lose. Well, one could argue that I could lose a little bit in this life, like having to go to church on Sunday when I instead could be sleeping in, but actually, those who go to church on Sunday win in this life because churchgoers live an average of seven years longer than non-churchgoers.

Richard Dawkins and other agnostics, atheists, and non-practicing believers are taking a tremendous personal risk. An irrational risk. They’re putting themselves in grave danger – especially considering the enormous circumstantial and eyewitness evidence for the existence of God. If it turns out they’re wrong, they’re in for a rude awakening the day they die. According to the best sources of information on what happens to us after we die, someone who doesn’t follow God’s rules (i.e. the Ten Commandments, as well as others) here on earth could be consigned to be eternally separated from God after he or she dies. That essentially means being a slave and victim of some fallen angel, for an eternity. Ouch. Rationally, one wouldn’t want to remotely entertain that possibility. Even if one thinks there’s only the slightest chance that it could happen, the rational thing to do is ensure that it never happens – by repenting and by dusting off those rules referred to earlier.

Science and Circumstantial Evidence of the Existence of God

Whittaker Chambers was an American who spied on behalf of the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 30s. He stunned the world after he abandoned communism and outed Alger Hiss, a high-level U.S. government official who was a communist agent.

What made Whittaker Chambers abandon Communism? It was a newfound belief in God, given that Soviet Communism prohibited religion. What made him start believing in God? His daughter’s ear.

He wrote in his book Witness,

“My daughter was in her high chair….My eyes came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear – those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’ The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion.”

To Whittaker Chambers, his daughter’s ear was evidence of God’s handiwork, such compelling evidence that it prompted him to believe in God, become a Christian, and abandon Communism.

I’m not so easily convinced that the human ear was directly designed by God. I’ve always assumed that evolution designed it. That’s the consensus in this day and age. Everything can be explained by science, or so it seems. Back in pre-modern times, people attributed unexplainable or seemingly miraculous things to God or gods. They didn’t have the concept of evolution or chemistry to explain life and the origin of life. Then beginning around age of the Enlightenment in the 1700s, people frequently questioned the Church and the Bible in terms of explaining the natural world, and instead use science to do so.

So now science explains everything. Or does it? Actually things are coming full circle. Science is has progressed so much that we’re finding out extraordinary things about the natural world that science can’t seem to explain. It’s really intriguing stuff; the deeper you delve into the science of it, the more it seems that a super-intellect was involved in not only the creation of the universe, but of biological life.

To be sure, these sorts of scientific discoveries, or more accurately scientific inferences, aren’t required to form the basis of one’s faith in God; after all, billions of people are and have been strong believers even though they’ve never heard of such scientific developments. And should scientists sometime down the road produce convincing evidence that the universe and/or biological life originated through purely physical processes – which is highly unlikely – then that should by no means shake one’s faith in God. But still, for believers and nonbelievers alike, these developments in the world of science are very, very intriguing.

Custom-Designed Big Bang

One of those developments involves what they’re finding out about the Big Bang and how exquisitely fine-tuned it had to be in order to produce a physical universe that can support life.

Big Bang

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To be sure, let me put to rest the notion that the Big Bang is “just a theory”. Physicists, astronomers and cosmologists now almost universally agree that the universe started about 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. There’s plenty of evidence to support that, including Edwin Hubble’s discovery 90 years ago that the universe is expanding and Penzias and Wilson’s discovery 50 years ago of the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMBR, which scientists think only could have come from the Big Bang.

Prior to the Big Bang theory, scientists from Newton to Einstein accepted the so-called steady state theory in which they thought the universe always existed and was infinite. That theory clashed with the biblical account that the universe had a beginning.

But with the confirmation of the Big Bang, evidence was overwhelming that the universe actually did have a beginning – just as was stated in the Bible.

Robert Jastrow was a renown astrophysicist who called himself an agnostic but who struggled with his agnosticism. Here are some quotes from him:

“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

“That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”

But what is most extraordinary about the Big Bang is the incredible fine-tuning that went on. Scientists discovered that the rate of expansion during the first seconds of the Big Bang was so finely tuned that had that rate been even one quintillionth of a second slower or faster, the universe either would have collapsed in on itself into a black hole, or expanded too rapidly for stars and planets to form.

And the rate of expansion was just one of many factors that had to be exquisitely exact in order for the universe to develop and life to eventually form.

Physics expertRobert Spitzer and Catholic priest Robert Spitzer, in a talk titled “Science, the Origin of the Universe, and God”, discusses some of these factors.

One is that you need a so-called low-entropy universe. The odds of this happening as a result of the Big Bang is on the order of one in 10 raised to the 10 raised to the 123, which is for all practical purposes infinitely remote. Other factors that had to be finely tuned include our physical constants or laws of physics. They include the force of gravity, the speed of light, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and the electromagnetic force. The value of these constants could have been anything as a result of the Big Bang. But they just happened to be the exact amount in order for life to develop.

It’s truly extraordinary that all of these laws of physics happened to be exactly right for life to develop. That this happened by chance is, to take an oft-used analogy, like saying a monkey can type the entire corpus of Shakespeare in two weeks just by randomly tapping the keys. Of course that’s highly, highly unlikely – essentially impossible. The obvious conclusion is that there had to have been a superintellect, i.e. God, who designed the Big Bang.

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Sir Fred Hoyle is a famous scientist who went from atheism to theism after finding that something called resonance levels in chemistry had to be an exact amount in order to have carbon bonding. Achieving that amount was highly improbable through random chance.

Hoyle compared the development of life in the universe by pure chance to a tornado sweeping through a junkyard assembling a Boeing 747 ready for flight, and I may add, complete with the Boeing logo painted on.

Most scientists acknowledge this fine-tuning of the universe, and to come up with a natural, as opposed to supernatural explanation, they’ve proposed the multiverse hypothesis, in which ours is one of zillions of universes. Their reasoning is that if you have enough universes popping into existence, then there’s a chance that among quadrillions and quadrillions of bubble universes, each with different laws of physics, then one of them may just happen to have the right laws of physics suitable for life. But that theory is speculative, and as physicist Paul Davies quipped, “To invoke an infinity of other universes to explain one is surely carrying excess baggage to cosmic extremes.” And besides, a multiverse would need a creator, too.

Bio-Engineering the Primordial Soup

So the field of cosmology reveals strong circumstantial evidence of God. There’s strong circumstantial evidence of God in the field of biology as well.

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I’m no scientist. I was a history major and studied economics after that. But I’ve been delving into biology a lot lately. And the more I learn about it, the more fascinated I become with the amazing biological processes that go on within the cell. It’s truly stunning, especially with regard to DNA and cell replication. To get a flavor for what I’m talking about, you can see a great 5-minute animation at www.unlockingthemysteryoflife.com

Think of a factory, such as a snack cake factory or a bubble gum factory, and the complex automated processes used to mass produce those products. Human ingenuity is truly amazing.

Well those complex automated processes that humans set up pale in comparison to the complex automated processes that go on inside the cell, especially with regard to DNA and cell replication. You mean to tell me that no one conceived of or set up all of that sophisticated engineering? That everything randomly fell into place over the course of millions of years? That’s what Darwinists believe. To be sure I’ve always been a strong believer in evolution and still am, but I’m finding out that there are limits to evolution. It doesn’t explain everything, such as how DNA and protein production originated. It’s like saying all the components of that snack cake factory gradually and randomly just fell into the right place over time.

The way DNA creates new proteins is remarkably similar to CAD-CAM processes – computer-aided design and manufacturing. A 3-D model of a part, for example an automobile part, is created on a computer screen, and that information is stored with binary code. Then another computer program translates that binary code into a machine code. That in turn directs the machinery such as a robotic arm to make the part. It takes a lot of intelligence to set up a process like that, wouldn’t you agree? Well the similarities between that process, and the process by which DNA makes parts for the cell (i.e. proteins), are striking.

Doug Axe of the Biologic Institute recounted a story where in college and grad school he first studied engineering and then switched to biology. He remembers a professor in a lecture hall describing an elaborate control circuit on how the cell turns on and off a chemical called tryptophan. In a very clever way it switches a suite of genes on if it doesn’t have enough and off if it has enough. Having studied control systems theory at engineering school, he remembers sitting there and being blown away. “I realized I was looking at the product of engineering – remarkable engineering.” While things like this were given a Darwinian explanation, he didn’t find that at all compelling.

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Scientists have attempted to explain what gave rise to such biological processes from a scientific perspective. But based on what I’ve been reading, their explanations fall woefully short. Just as the Big Bang needed a designer, so did life on earth. Biologists including Michael Behe of Lehigh University and Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute are putting out some very compelling stuff on intelligent design. For a good overview of the ideas here, watch The Case for a Creator or other DVDs available at Illustra Media. If you’re willing to get into the nitty-gritty of cell biology, read Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell.

And then there’s question of how life originated in the first place. One of the most famous scientific experiments was the Miller-Urey experiment in 1953, in which Stanley Miller and Harold Urey tried to recreate the primordial soup of the early Earth to see if it would lead to life. It didn’t – it only lead to some amino acids, which are among the building blocks of life but by themselves are woefully inadequate to lead to life. Statistically, as detailed in Signature in the Cell and elsewhere, the odds of amino acids coming together to form functional proteins are infinitely remote.

Even Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA and a committed atheist his whole life, recognized this. He wrote in his book Life Itself,

“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears to be a miracle, so many are the conditions which have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

So did that shake Crick out of his atheism? No. He proposed that the seeds of life were sent here on a spaceship by some alien civilization.

Scientifically Unexplainable Phenomena

Apart from cosmology and biology, yet more proof of the existence of God, of an afterlife, and of higher dimensions are near death experiences (NDEs), which we’ll only lightly touch on here but of which there is vast literature including many peer-reviewed academic papers. Whereas the other categories can be viewed as circumstantial evidence, NDEs and other such accounts can be viewed as eyewitness evidence

Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffery Long examines NDEs from a scholarly/scientific perspective. The book lays out nine lines of evidence of the afterlife, based on evaluating NDEs from thousands of people. They are:

1. It is medically inexplicable to have a highly organized and lucid experience while one is unconscious or clinically dead. Blood doesn’t flow to brain, and brain activity stops.

2. NDEs may involve seeing and hearing actual earthly events in an out-of-body state, and what they perceive is nearly always accurate.

3. NDEs often occur during anesthesia when no form of consciousness should be taking place.

4. Blind persons who’ve had NDEs described actual visual objects and colors in earthly physical locations.

5. Life reviews are often associated with NDEs, in which the person recalls events completely forgotten.

6. Virtually all beings encountered during NDEs are deceased, and most are relatives.

7. The striking similarity of children’s and adults’ NDEs strongly suggests the content of NDEs is not due to preexisting beliefs.

8. There’s a remarkable consistency of NDEs around the world.

9. Those who’ve had NDEs often are transformed in many ways for life.

In addition to NDEs, there are many reports of other types of mystical experiences, such as seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary or seeing Jesus in a dream. Former Clinton administration official Kirsten Powers claims that she saw Jesus in a dream, in which he said, “Here I am.” That helped prompt her to go from being an atheist to a Christian. She describes her experience in an article in Christianity Today.

You Won’t Believe What People Believe

So what does the atheist comedian Bill Maher say about these miraculous or extraordinary phenomena? You may have heard of the website Beliefnet. He has a website called Disbeliefnet where he mocks believers. The website has the tagline, “You won’t believe what people believe.”

Here are some extraordinary things that people believe.

Some physical entities can:

  • go through solid walls,
  • be invisible,
  • travel through time,
  • communicate instantaneously with other things that are a billion light years away,
  • exist in many more dimensions beyond our own, and
  • a single entity can be in multiple locations at the same time.

Sounds like what we associate with angels and the supernatural, right? Yes, but that also describes quantum physics, which looks at how subatomic particles behave. So if hot-shot Ivy League scientists verify that such things happen in the quantum physics world (and they admit they can’t explain how it happens), then it’s not a stretch to believe that such things happen involving the spiritual world.

In fact, given the similarities between quantum physics and supernatural experiences, much has been published on the convergence of science and religion. See YouTube videos such as Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism or The Simulation Hypothesis. Also see YouTube lectures by Professor Keith Ward on quantum physics, as well as “Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?” by Stephen Barr.

So in a sense, science has come full circle. Previously, science explained away popular religious conceptions, such as what causes the sun to travel across the sky or what causes differences in species. Now, as our knowledge of science becomes even deeper, science is leading many to religion, such as those scientists shaken from their atheism or agnosticism, referred to above.

Let me conclude by recounting a mystical experience described by Whittaker Chambers, which took place in his Baltimore home after coming down his stairs. Here’s how he described it in Witness.

“Then there came a moment so personal, so singular and final, that I have attempted to relate it to only one other human being, a priest, and had thoWhittaker Chambers Witnessught to reveal it to my children only at the end of my life…One day…I found myself stopped. A voice said with perfect distinctness: ‘If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.’ What was there was the sense that, like me, time and the world stood still, an awareness of God as an envelopment, holding me in silent assurance and untroubled peace.”

And later he writes,

“Henceforth, in the depth of my being there was peace and a strength that nothing could shake. It was the strength that carried me out of the Communist Party, that carried me back into the life of men. It was the strength that carried me at last though the ordeal of the Hiss Case. It never left me because I no longer groped for God; I felt God. The experience was absolute.”


Also see:

Evidence for the Divinity of Christ and Authenticity of the Gospels

 

When Protestant Ministers Turn Catholic

 

The Cosmos is Neither All That Is, Nor Ever Was, Nor Ever Will Be

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Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the new Cosmos series, is great. But the Carl Sagan quote at the open of the program was a curious choice: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be”. The show contradicts that quote early on by pointing out that the universe wasn’t always here – that it started with the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago.

To say that the cosmos “is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be” is so old-school. From Isaac Newton in the 18th century to Albert Einstein in the 20th, scientists subscribed to the “steady state” theory in which they thought the universe always existed and was infinite. But now, cosmologists almost universally agree that the universe started with the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Evidence for that includes Edwin Hubble’s discovery 90 years ago that the universe is expanding, and Penzias and Wilson’s discovery 50 years ago of the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMBR, which scientists think only could have come from the Big Bang. With the confirmation of the Big Bang, evidence was overwhelming that the universe did in fact have a beginning. And there’s a widespread belief among cosmologists that, thanks (or no thanks) to dark energy, the universe will continue to expand to the point that no galaxies will be visible to other galaxies because they’ll be too far away. And that all stars eventually will burn out. And some cosmologists subscribe to the “Big Rip” theory, where everything will be blown apart by dark energy.

So it is not the case that the cosmos is all that ever was or ever will be. Moreover, to say that the cosmos is all that is, is extraordinarily atheistic.

Why the Bible Doesn’t Explain Evolution or the Big Bang

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I only got to see snippets of the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate on evolution versus biblical creationism, but upon first glance it appeared that winning over the audience wasn’t going to be as easy for Bill Nye as I would have expected.

Evolutionist Bill Nye had a disadvantage right out of the starting gate: Ken Ham is Australian. He speaks with a polished Australian accent. Most viewers I’m sure thought he was British, because most Americans can’t distinguish between British and Australian accents, even though there is a difference. Whether it’s a polished British or a polished Australian accent, people think such accents sound “smarter” or more intelligent to most Americans. That’s why when a TV or radio advertisement contains a British accent, the advertiser often wants to convey the impression that it’s coming from someone who is wiser or more schooled.

There’s tremendous evidence that the universe began with the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. Physicists, cosmologists and astronomers almost universally agree that the universe started with the Big Bang. Key evidence includes the observation that most galaxies are moving faster and faster apart from one another (except those close enough to be held together by gravity, such as the Milky Way and Andromeda), and the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMBR, which is a low-level radiation that’s uniform throughout the universe and that scientists think only could have come from the Big Bang.

Contrary to biblical creationists’ contention that the earth is 6,000 years old, the earth actually started to form about 4.5 billion years ago – shortly after the birth of the sun – through rocks and planetesimals colliding with and sticking to one another.

So why would the Bible indicate that God created the earth in seven days, and that it’s only about 6,000 years old?

Physicist and Catholic priest Robert Spitzer has a good explanation for that. He notes that the Bible isn’t meant to reveal scientific truths. In 500 BC let alone 1500 AD, readers of the Bible wouldn’t have understood anything about the Big Bang.

Says Spitzer, “Quite frankly in 500 BC not a single person would have understood the scientific account. They didn’t have the mathematics. They didn’t have the scientific methodology. They didn’t even have the conceptual basis to conceive of the scientific account of creation.” He explains that the biblical author wrote in language that the people of the time could understand.

The whole point of scripture is to reveal truths that are necessary for salvation. Back then for example, many people believed in multiple gods – gods that treat humans like mere playthings and cannon fodder for the gods.  Contrary to educating the people back then about science, scripture aimed to educate them that there’s just one God, that the whole of reality is a creature of God, that humans are created in his image and likeness, and that humans have a divine dignity that stems therefrom.

“That’s the reason why we can say in one breath that the biblical account is correct for the truths of salvation, and that the scientific account is correct – the 13.7 billion-year-old universe with all the various stages of development,” he observes.

Is it OK for Christians to believe in evolution? Of course. Spitzer indicates that Pope Pius XII developed a doctrine stating that any Catholic can believe in evolution so long as science supports it in a probative way – i.e. in a way that has enough proof to be valid or at least persuasive. So Christians can indeed believe that humans descended from non-human species such as ape-like creatures. (Remember that we didn’t descend from modern apes, but modern apes did descend from the same ancient species from which humans descended.)

As long as you don’t reduce human beings to physical material organic beings alone, evolution is fine. In other words Christians cannot deny that there’s a trans-physical or trans-material soul that survives bodily death.

In this particular talk, Spitzer didn’t address Adam and Eve, but we can draw similar conclusions to which Spitzer refers. People back then didn’t have the scientific framework to understand evolution. Moreover the Bible wasn’t meant to be a scientific treatise. It was meant to help people achieve salvation. So it was written in language to which people could relate, like the story of Adam and Eve. Few if any people back then would have understood let alone believed in the concept of evolution. It merely would have been a distraction from the Bible’s main task at hand.

Obama’s Selective Speech Police

Where’s the Obama speech police?

Saturday Night Live recently featured a skit that mocked Jesus, depicting Jesus slaying with a sword Roman soldiers. “He’s risen from the dead,” said the narrator, “and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness.” Apparently it caused enough of a hoopla to prompt Sears and JC Penney to pull their advertising from the show.

Last year the Obama administration strongly supported a U.N. Human Rights resolution (# 16/18)  that  “deplores” and “condemns” advocacy of “religious hatred”.

At a U.N. “High-Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance” last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration would use “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” against those who do “what we abhor.”

So did the Obama administration use old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming against Saturday Night Live? Did it bring peer pressure or shame upon artist Andres Serrano or those who exhibited his “Piss Christ” in New York City last fall?

No, but it certainly did against the filmmaker of “Innocence of Muslims” – the amateurish YouTube video that the administration erroneously claimed sparked the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which three Americans including the ambassador died. The filmmaker was sentenced to a year in jail. To be sure, the charges didn’t pertain to the content of the film, but it’s doubtful  he would have been arrested if not for the film.

In other words, such shame and peer pressure is only reserved for those who criticize Islam.

This is certainly not to suggest that the Obama administration should go after those who mock or criticize Christianity. Instead, it should refrain from condemning the mocking of any religion, be it Christianity or Islam – because apart from implicit restrictions on freedom of speech, it could lead to explicit ones. Condemnation should come from those outside of government.

So here we have a situation where the U.S. government vows to speak out against the mocking of Islam, yet provided funds and sponsorship for the mocking of Christianity (when the National Endowment of the Arts sponsored the “Piss Christ” exhibition).

When it comes to matters involving religion, the Obama administration is not an equal-opportunity shamer.

Vehicles of Human Consciousness

“The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed.”

Stirring words from Dr. Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon who contracted a rare bacterial meningitis four years ago and was in a coma for a week, with a non-functioning neocortex. Medically, he knew that there’s no way a person can experience consciousness when the neurons of one’s cortex are reduced to complete inactivity. Prior to his experience he was like most other scientists, who just think that science, not faith, is the road to truth. “Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself,” he writes. Yet during that coma he experienced consciousness – a consciousness so profound that it completely changed his outlook on life. Read about his account here.

It’s ironic that the number of atheists are swelling. Because they’re bumping up against more and more compelling accounts of persons who’ve experienced what it’s like on the other side. I suspect that such accounts are going to slow the march of atheism in America.

Meantime, all I can say is you’d better be good. Because there’s probably someone watching your every move.

Some Beach

Attention atheists: since in your view there’s no heaven or afterlife to look forward to, perhaps your goal is to live life to its fullest in order to achieve the closest thing you can to heaven on earth.

Have I got the thing for you.

Go jogging on the ocean beach in your bare feet. Do it close enough to the water so that the surf and foam from the crashing waves rush around your feet and ankles. And go in the early morning before the crowds come.

That’s what I did a couple of times this past Memorial Day weekend, at Bethany Beach in Delaware. And I’ve gotta tell ya, I was wondering if that’s what heaven is like.

If you’re not a jogger, going for a walk along the beach in your bare feet in the early morning, letting the surf rush around your feet and ankles, will give you nearly the same effect.