Friday, January 31, 2020

What is the positive reason for your atheism?

Atheists, and especially those I call 'the village atheist' seem to be long on critiques of theism, particularly Christian theism (because no other theism is really a world-view threat), but very short on reasons why their belief is credible, has justifiable warrant, or even interest.

Next time you meet one, ask "Why atheism?" And don't accept a 'no evidence for God' argument. They must have a positive reason for their belief. Don't let them get away with turning the tables.

It will probably come down to the explanatory power of Evolution getting rid of a need for God. But that itself is in adequate. Evolution has to explain how it all started from nothing (there can be no 'big bang' without a 'big banger'; and I'm not accepting the 'big bang' by this remark), and how life arose. Then, how life-information arose, and how self-conscious mind arose such that our belief in other minds is warranted.

Tough call,  in my view, such that a non-personal origin is less credible than a personal one.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Hi to dead people

Some churches in Australia have taken to the habit of opening their services, not with a call to prayer, such as this Advent text:
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. (Isaiah 40:5)
but with this one:
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land we meet upon and their Elders past, present and future.
Future? How does one 'acknowledge' someone from the future? I can only imagine this came from watching too much Dr Who.

But that bit of grammatical humour is not the worst of it. This is a paean to an anachronistic view of the European settlement of Australia and is a highly politicized statement that seeks elevate one group of Australians over the rest. It also reflects a pagan world view completely at odds with the revelation of God.

I think of:
  • Psalm 8:9 O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
  • Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.
When we meet as a church, we meet in terms of:
  • Hebrews 10:19-25  encouraging one another
  • 1 Corinthians 11:20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, (castigating them for Not meeting to join in the Lord's Supper)
  • Matthew 18:20: For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst
The last one throws the 'paean' into sharp relief. We assemble in the name of our Lord; when we gather together Christ is in our midst (irrespective of our tribal, ethnic, racial or political location,  we are all one, humbly worshipping our creator; no one is 'privileged' in any way before him), but then we 'give respect', not to the Christians who've gone before us, not to the witness of the Spirit in the Word, not to our Creator and Redeemer, but to the spirits of dead people (this would be akin to dedicating your wedding service to your previous girl-friend while your bride is next to you), and we acknowledge their idolatrous beliefs about land (the land in Australian Aboriginal lore is not just an area of habitation, but a living spirit), when no land is sacred; but all a gift of God to us. Thus we really assemble in the name of the dead who's animistic beliefs we laud.

I can only regard this as blasphemous...and as rejection of our Lord. Not Christian! Separating people, not bringing them together.  Again. Not Christian!

Other commentators: Pellowe and Powell

Just wondering...did Joshua paid his respects to the Canannites, the traditional custodians of the Promised Land, and their gods and priests? I do note, however, that whenever the Israelites tried to bunk down with the Canaanite religion, they ended up in Babylon. 

What the welcome to country is (translated from the Noongar by Richard Walley):

May the good spirit watch over you. You’re looking at the land of my people, we call Whadjuk. Later on when you go home to your country, may the good spirit take you safely home. May the spirits of my people and the spirits of your people watch over us now.
If that's not paganism....

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The sermon after the reading

The sermon after my reading was not on murder; but something more interesting: the Sabbath.

The  picture gives it away; the Sabbath is the pivot in the 10 Commandments between knowing God, and behaving in consistency with knowing God; behaving in a God-like, or God reflective manner, congruently with us being in Gods image (Genesis 1:26, where he defines our relationship with the rest of the creation, and it is not for worship, but for 'ruling') : that is, made to be God-like, and in relationship with God.

Just for clarity:
1. Don't worship other gods
2. Don't misrepresent God
3. Don't slander God

4. Remember the Sabbath

5. Honour your parents
6. No murder
7. No adultery
8. No stealing
9. No lies about others
10. No lust after others' things.

The first three are about God and our understanding of and relationship to him.

The fourth is part of our being like God. When God finished creating, he 'rested'. As Genesis 2 shows us, as the account zooms into man's creation detail, the resting is for relationship: God walks in the Garden seeking his creatures. Genesis 3:8. Alas, broken!

Thus our Sabbath is for relationship: for relationship with the ones God wants us to relate to (him: 1-3) and those around us (commandments 5-6, telling us what it is to relate in reflection of God).

God 'rested' to enjoy his creation; we are to 'rest' to enjoy God...and his creation; that is each other.

Reading for Sunday 26 Jan 2020

I'm reading at our service today: Exodus 20:2-17.

Note, it is 'you shall not murder', and not 'you shall not kill'. Big difference, particularly in the light of Romans 13:4.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The let people down project.

When I was in high school, the school Christian club was great fun. I was on the committee when in senior years, and participated in conducting meetings.

What we didn't do was equip each other to defend our faith, to understand and deal with the questions, to develop rhetorical skills and understand how to debate by questioning, for the serious detractors, and how to flick off the fools.

Still the same, based on what my younger friends tell me.

Apart from understanding the issues that interest young people and their illumination with biblical and faith information, the opportunity needs to be taken to give Christian young people knowledge about such issues as:
  • the reasonableness of belief in God
  • the unreasonableness of atheism
  • why being a Christian is existentially rational and indeed, essential
  • the popular propaganda that distorts church history and its rebuttals
  • the popular misunderstandings of Christian faith and their corrections
  • the asserted conflict between 'science' and Christian faith (really, evolutionary materialism and Christian supernaturalism).

The Bible doesn't have verses

I was pleased to come across a talk by Greg Koukl (he called it an hour of "mentoring"; being Australian, I'd call it an hour of talk....Americans and their terminology! One mentors another in a dyadic relationship, it's not a 1:10,000 thing) where he pointed out that the Bible doesn't have verses.

Good call, Greg. It doesn't. At least, the Holy Spirit didn't inspire 'verses'. They are just a handy reference system applied to the text retrospectively, by a fellow with the bright idea in the 1550s. Good idea too. We have systems of references in legal documents, legislation, textbooks. In some legal documents, you will even find every line of text numbered, so a reference system is a useful feature for the Bible.

But the point is, the verse and chapter divisions mean nothing to the meaning of the text. Some people, even some Christians, seem to think that the Bible is a collection of 'verses', of sayings just strung together. It is not. Its a collection of literature: regular literature as in history, narrative, poetry, correspondence, instructions, declamations, (there's even some humour, 'rule the fish' sticking in my mind for that one) you just don't go verse harvesting to suit your immediate need.

As Peter says,  there is no 'private interpretation' of Scripture, Stanley Fish's reader-response theory is out the door as far as the Scripture is concerned (indeed, as far as any text is concerned).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Why anything exists

One of Craig's 5 reasons from

One of a series following this post.

God makes sense of the origin of the universe
Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said the universe is just eternal, and that's all.
But surely this is unreasonable. Just think about it a minute. If the universe never had a beginning, that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions.
For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, states, the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea. [1]
But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can't go back forever; rather the universe must have begun to exist.
This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics.
In one of the most startling developments of modern science, we now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about 13 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang.
As the physicist P. C. W. Davies explains, "the coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing." [2]
Of course, alternative theories have been crafted over the years to try to avoid this absolute beginning, but none of these theories has commended itself to the scientific community as more plausible than the Big Bang theory.
In fact, in 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have an absolute beginning. Vilenkin pulls no punches:
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now made, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning. [3]
That problem was nicely captured by Anthony Kenny of Oxford University. He writes, "A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing." [4]
But surely that doesn't make sense!
Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.
We can summarize our argument thus far as follows:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows.
From the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we've seen that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless—at least without the universe—because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.
Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect.
For example, the cause of water's freezing is the temperature's being below 0˚ Centigrade. If the temperature were below 0˚ from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. So if the cause is permanently present, then the effect should be permanently present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions.
For example, a man sitting from eternity could freely will to stand up. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator.
Isn't it incredible that the big bang theory thus confirms what the Christian theist has always believed: that in the beginning God created the universe?
Now I put it to you: which makes more sense: that the Christian theist is right or that the universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing? I, at least, have no trouble assessing these alternatives!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Hi, and what to do you do?

The typical introductory question of the lame of conversation. But it happens.

If you are a paid Christian: a 'minister' or 'pastor', that is, the reflexive answer is often "I'm a minister (which could be confused with a being a member of the government), or, I'm a pastor.

In most cases, a conversation stopper. I suppose you could continue. 'And I'll bet you have no idea what my typical day brings.' That might ignite a conversation.

A better way is one I've used. It's easy to give a title: can sound pompous, and can be a conversation stopper. So I describe, briefly, what I do (e.g.' I help organizations improve their capability').

If I were a paid Christian, I'd describe my work, making it a conversation opener:
  • I'm a community facilitator/educator/worker...
  • I help people learn about personal growth
  • I'm a kind of personal coach; I help people work out their life goals
  • I help people have conversations about life
  • I help people deal with life, etc.
  • I help people live forever.
Try it next time, see how it goes.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

First God, now Jesus?

A little while ago I started a series on reasons for God, care of William Lane Craig.

But, even the devils believe in God and shudder (James 2:19)

What we want to know is why you are a Christian.
  1. Jesus mission on earth was to connect us to God, the creator of the cosmos, and nothing is more important and I think he demonstrated his ability to do this
  2. Jesus deals with the most significant existential dilemma of humanity (evil), and brings us into relationship with God our creator.
  3. Jesus holds out the promise that I will be a better person for others, enjoy live more deeply, and live forever in the company of our Creator.
  4. Jesus shows us that reality is at bottom about love and relationship, not about mere matter bumping into itself. Thus we do not have an existenial/cosmic aloneness, but rather secure certainty: the hope that we have through faith (see Hebrews 11). It underpins the significance of life that we all live under the asumption of.
  5. Often people talk about 'the problem of evil' as though this invalidates belief in God, but they fail to deal with the problems of joy, peace, beauty, care of others' that invalidate their rejection of God. Jesus connects us with these because they are from him. 
  6. He tells us that it doesn't all end here; that our lives are for more than a brief few decades, but for life forever with the maker of love, or without I choose love. 
  7. He integrates live around values of peace, love, relationship, not as fiction in a messy world, not as failed opportunities, but as what really is, and will be forever when we are with him in the new creation.

Other answers I've heard:

  • Because its true (this can go somewhere, or it can sound naff, if not in a relevant context)
  • He saves me from being separated from him
  • He gives me new life through his Spirit that he's given me.

Secret Protestant Bible

There's a secret protestant Bible, I'm sure there is.

There are a number of verses translated differently to the regular Bibles.

Here's one:  1 Corinthians 14:40

NASB:  But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner

NIV: But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

But the SPB?

SPB: Most things may be done sloppily, without preparation and slack-handed.

I attended an evening service at a local formal Anglican church recently. I expected polish, even in the informalish Anglo-Baptist evening service (No, not Evensong, alas, not even based on Evensong).

This is what I got: the precentor (lay reader, or joker at the front) stumbled over the most basic transitions: lost for words when there are simple formulae for offering and dismissal (both where mangled) and as usual, the projected song lyrics lost synch with the music and we the singers stumbled in confusion.

Clearly, no (or inadequate) preparation, rehearsal or coordination between musicians and the projector operator.

Folks, we show respect for the congregation whom we serve, honour for the Christians who've gone before us and love of God in doing things properly, showing that we care about what we do.

We rehearse the service. We run through every transition, check lyrics slides against music and with the precentor. And the precentor must direct this. The precentor knows what each transition is and how to conduct it. Prepares the words and strings them with casual elegance. We assure this by a production walkthrough with the precentor to iron out any wrinkles.

The experience I had shows the wisdom of the  Prayer Book authors. BCP for its time was a wonderful work, even a dopey country parson could use it and still sound half good. And his congregation would feel honoured and respected and that their faith was worth something to him. That this was collective worship, not an ad-hoc post game stumble.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Now we all know what 'subdue' means

Fires rage across eastern Australia; particularly south eastern NSW and eastern Victoria, possibly the worst such fires in recent history (although Victoria's 1939 fires were very bad too). They come after a long drought, possibly a 1 in 100 year drought, and many decades of romantic environmentalism that puts 'nature' and 'wilderness' on an unwarranted, and as we now know, unwise pedestal.

The result is best expressed in this photo:
Now, at last we understand what 'subdue' means in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Subdue, rule, do not mean 'exploit' as some have complained, but rather it means to manage for human habitation.

The bush, 'nature' unmanaged becomes unmanagable, dangerous and unfit for humans.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

There's no evidence for God's existence!

The most common claim of the village atheist.

Dr WL Craig suggests a quick answer:

I can think of 5 reasons for belief in God:
  1. Gd is the best explanation for while anything at all exists rather than nothing, for the beginning of the universe
  2. Gd is the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life
  3. Gd is the best explanation for objective moral values and duties in the world
  4. Gd is the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth
  5. Gd can be personally known and experienced

I'd add two more:
  1. Gd is the best explanation for personhood within the universe that has self-conscious being
  2. Gd provides the best explanation for man's (humanity's) existential condition.
In true biblical fasion, 7 good reasons.

And there's one more: God makes joy, beauty and peace real.

I'll seek to enlarge on these over coming weeks. Craig says that in his experience many people are satisfied that you have reasons.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Why did God make a world where there could be 'evil'?

The first step in this question is the misunderstanding of 'evil' as a 'thing' with its existence independent of actors.

It is not, it is a quality of acts that are not loving: acts reflective of 'not-god'.

There is no such thing as 'evil', as a source of acts against others, these come from the human heart! (Matthew 15:19). Rather, it is a description of acts not for others, but against their interests. Acts not loving, acts of  'not-god'ness.

But why did God make us such that we could be 'non-god' in our thoughts and behaviour...and ultimately, in our relationships, our love?

Because God made us for relationship with him ('in his image'). For there to be a relationship, there has to be the possibility of no relationship, otherwise it is not a relationship (of love), but an inherent unavoidable 'given'.

But why did God make us for 'relationship' when this entails the possibility of no relationship? Was it for his pleasure, for a game he was playing with us?

No, it was for our pleasure. He made us for relationship with him because we would enjoy it...more than it is possible to enjoy anything else. That's what love is. It is for the other.

See also my post We're all basically good...aren't we?

Friday, January 10, 2020

How to get your bearings...biblically

The Good News Bible edition that I read last year had a very helpful set of guides and lists of special passages and accounts in the Bible.

Part of this was a 'first 100 days' of readings, to give a view of our salvation, and a one year's readings to give a perspective on the whole sweep of Biblical content.

I can't recall having a systematic introduction to the Bible when I was a young person, indeed, when I 'officially' became a Christian at the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade ('officially' because I can't recall a time when I did not fully believe in our Lord), I vaguely remember having a booklet of studies to work through, along with a 'counsellor' who operated by mail. But no systematic view of the view at all, come to think of it.

So  I look forward to reading these both and make notes as I go: like starting the adventure of faith.

I'm looking forward to reading the Bible slowly this time.

Oh, at the same time I'll be reading the Heptateuch rather quickly, starting with the New English Bible, I think.

Heptateuch? Pentateuch plus Joshua and Judges (If we called Jesus Joshua, we'd get a better picture of the flow of salvation history than the Greek usage).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

We're all basically good...aren't we?

Denis Prager got into strife with the media mob for stating the obvious about human peccancy (also at Townhall).

He said that he didn't take (moral) advice from 16 year olds.

An extended quote below, in case the link target disappears
On your most recent Fireside Chat, you said that people are not basically good. We’ve heard you discuss this topic before. Anne Frank is quoted as saying, ‘Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.’ How do you respond to her quote?”
 Here is my response (this is a word-for-word transcription, except for the words in parentheses added for clarity): “She wrote that in her diary, the most famous Holocaust document. (She was) a teenage girl, a Dutch Jewish girl, who hid with her family until they were betrayed by someone to the Nazis, who then shipped them to death camps. And she died, murdered by the Nazis in the death camps. She was about 16 years old, maybe 15. Her diary is very famous. It gives a face to the horror of the Holocaust.
“I know she wrote that, and my answer is it doesn’t matter that she wrote it. I don’t get my wisdom from teenagers. That she was a wonderful young woman and wrote an unbelievably powerful document that will last forever is beside the point. I don’t expect 16-year-olds, unless they grew up in a religious Jewish or Christian home (where it is taught as basic religious doctrine that people are not born basically good). She was a secular Jew. Most kids believe that (people are basically good). But it is not true. So, it has never been an issue for me — ‘Well, you disagree with Anne Frank.’ So what?
And Prager is right: along with Jesus (Matt 15:19) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

and Jeremiah (17:9) "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

The question for anyone, indeed, for oneself, is what are you doing about the evil in your own heart? Best answer is 'turning to Christ in repentance'. Worst answer is 'trying hard.'
Guess which one is the most effective, and which is the most popular.


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Genesis 1: nothing here folks, move along.

I heard a preacher say "a historical approach to Genesis 1 is not good sermon material. What can you say about it, if the history happened precisely as it is written? You might as well just read out the text".

Hard to think of anything that could be more mistaken.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us many things about God, his creation and our relationship with each other.

For instance, that God creates in terms of the time he has made for us shows him active in the space-time that constrains us. He is not a god remote from the reality we know, he is not an imaginary god, our world is not imaginary or an is a place where our ethical decisions are grounded in God's being, and our wilful intention is amendable to rational reflection.

And that's just the start of the theological riches in Genesis 1 and 2 as history.

It tells us that the  'first move of reality' is the God who is love and is in eternal relationship; his making us in his image joins us to the 'relation-in-love' mode of existence; we are thus not existentially adrift, but existentially secure in the love of God.

Of course, if its not history, then it allows none of this; if the creation 'just is' then it does not participate in the relation of creator and creature as the place that is made for that mutual fellowship and grounds all our being....

Thursday, January 2, 2020

7 in one go!

Over the past few months I've read the New Testament in 7 versions:
  • Phillips
  • New English
  • New Revised Standard
  • New American Standard
  • New International Version
  • Contemporary English Version, and
  • The Good News Bible, Revised Australian edition
Wonderful experience. I read them all quickly; I mean that I read as one reads a novel, not in little slices of a few verses at a time.

I commend that approach to you.

But, I've have a few versions yet to read.

My plan is every year to spend Advent reading the gospels, Acts between Christmas and New Year's day, thence the rest of the NT to see me through January.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Getting like the English civil war days

Firearms instructor took out gunman at Texas church service

Jack Wilson, a former reserve deputy, fired a single shot, quickly ending the attack that killed 2 people Sunday
Yesterday at 3:13 PM

Jake Bleiberg
Associated Press
WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas — A man who trained others in his Texas church to use guns to protect the congregation fatally shot a gunman seconds after he opened fire during a service, the Texas attorney general said Monday.
Jack Wilson fired a single shot, quickly ending the attack that killed two people at the West Freeway Church of Christ in the Fort Worth-area town of White Settlement. More than 240 congregants were in the church at the time.
Former reserve deputy and current firearms instructor Jack Wilson shot and killed an armed shooter who killed two congregants during a Texas church service Sunday, December 29. (Photo/Jack Wilson)
Former reserve deputy and current firearms instructor Jack Wilson shot and killed an armed shooter who killed two congregants during a Texas church service Sunday, December 29. (Photo/Jack Wilson)
Wilson’s bio on Facebook listed him as a former Hood County reserve deputy and a firearms instructor. He posted about the attack a few hours after it happened, saying the event “put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in. But evil exists, and I had to take out an active shooter in church. I’m thankful to GOD that I have been blessed with the ability and desire to serve him in the role of head of security at the church.”
Speaking outside the church, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said authorities “can't prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can't prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun. But we can be prepared like this church was.”