This house believes that Jesus rose boldly (I mean bodily) from the dead!

A debate from Cambridge between Arif Ahmed and Gary Habermas.

Arguments from Arif :

  • If Gary believes the bible to be inerrant then he is not sufficiently sceptical about his historical sources and we should not trust him when he sites other sources. He mentions a guys who wrote cleaver looking papers with lots of citations undermining the historicity of the holocaust. We should not be tricked just because someone cites lots of “authorities”.
  • If water is not boiling yet the thermometer in it reads 600 degrees Centigrade then we naturally suspect that the thermometer is wrong. They do go wrong, and water never does not boil at 600oc (at atmospheric pressure). Ie its more likely that the eye witnesses must have been wrong about the resurrection.
  • 60% of cleaver people identified the wrong attacker in a (staged) attack in a university lecture. Therefore independent eye witness testimonies even from even cleaver people cannot be trusted.
  • Bodies have never been observed to come back to life. Bodies have never been observed to pass through solid rock. Therefor it is more likely that the witnesses got it wrong than the resurrection actually occurred.
  • Let’s say we had managed to rule out all the naturalistic explanation (Jesus didn’t really die, body was stolen, mass hallucination, etc – (he notes about the swoon theory that the same people who say that a body cannot survive crucifixion, also say that a body can survive death). Yet there are many natural phenomena that have no known natural explanation at the time but later one is discovered. Ie how were the pyramids made or what are meteors. It is reasonable therefore the suppose some unknown natural explanation for the resurrection.
  • Now lets suppose that there is no known natural explanation that could ever be given. The reason for this is that if we are allowed to suspend certain regularities or laws in our explanation, then who is to say which laws we suspend. For example, you could say that 500 people cannot see a hallucination at once, but why not say that that law, that regularity, could be suspended and they did in fact see a collective hallucination. That is no better as reason than the resurrection (me – except that Jesus’ claims and in fact prophetic passages in the OT t-up the resurrection miracle beforehand)
  • Christians do not believe in the resurrection because of the empirical evidence but through faith.

Habermas replies

  • Faith alone is not the basis for believing the resurrection. The evidence needs to be there.
  • I will not argue that “the bible tells me so”. I will not assume the bible is inerrant. My position is that the world was not made in a literal seven days, so I have no problem with saying that that is not true. Was there a universal flood at the time of Noah? I am willing to admit I have questions about these things.
  • I do cite the vast majority of critical scholars. But if there is consensuses among liberal, Conservative, moderate and atheistic scholars about something then probably there are some good reasons was to why they share this view.
  • I will not be arguing that the resurrection is a miracle, at least not by David Humes definition. I’m going to argue that a man named Jesus of Nazareth died and that a man named Jesus of Nazareth appeared bodily. How that happened I leave open.
  • If there was a God then it would be easy for him to raise people from the dead.
  • Several groups saw Jesus, so you would not need one miracle group hallucination but several, therefore one resurrection is a simpler possibility.
  • We need early eye witness data even though it can be wrong because its good data.
  • How much evidence would a take for you to believe the resurrection?
  • You and your buddies at the pub may not have witnessed miracles, but as you extend your sample size you will find lots of people who do say they have seen miracles.
  • What about near death experiences? 8 million people have experienced near death phenomena. I have 100 highly evidential cases. Do they count as evidence for the afterlife? Do they open up the possibilities for resurrection a little bit.
  •  The key questions are did Jesus die and was he seen later and if so in what form.
  • There is virtually no scholarly dissention on the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion.
  • Same with the notion that Jesus disciples thought they saw Jesus after he died.
  • The gospels are written 40 years after the cross. But consider that the easiest biographies of Alexander are 400 years after his death. For Julia ceases its 150 years after his death.
  • Lets just focus on an early testimony by Paul. He got his material 5 years after the cross from the disciples. The latest this formalisation of the data could be is 3 years after the cross. Some say 2 years or even 1 year. In any case this is amazing in terms of data in the ancient world.
  • Dr Arif’s arguments are good if they cause us to be cautions of evidence but they do not rule out a resurrection.

Q&A paraphrase

H confirmed that he is doubtful that a literal 7 day creation happens.

H If God existed surly he could get a body to rise from the dead?

A That’s not the issue. It’s to do with probabilities. What is more likely?

H But let’s say God was ok with producing evidence. So we do have some evidence. Doesn’t that make it a lot more likely that it’s possible. What would it take for you to believe that Jesus rose form the dead? Would near death experiences make you more open to resurrection from the dead.

H The early disciples died for their belief that they saw Jesus so they were sincere in their beliefs. What do you do with that?

A What is the evidence that they died for their belief in the resurrection rather than something else. People change their lives for all sorts of reasons. If they believed it happened it is still a long way from knowing why they came to the beliefs that they had.

H There is evidence for their deaths. Paul Peter James and John. 3 / 4 were martyred. Their martyrdoms are reported in the first century.  We know they died for the resurrection because of the texts in the NT. The resurrection was a central belief in their thinking.

A But Paul had to write to the Christians in Corinth to tell them how central the resurrection was.

H There is no Christianity without the resurrection. It was central. There is virtually no one in history who died for something they knew to be a lie unless they had mental issues.

H There may have been people later like those in Corinth who needed correcting in terms of the centrality of the resurrection but the disciples were clear on it and they are the ones closest to the data and who were willing to die for it.

H What evidence would you accept or be more open to the resurrection?

A …

I think the motion was eventually carried, but in any case my house certainly believes that Jesus rose bodily from the dead!

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Another God debate (Hitchens vs Blair part 1)

I am listening to two debates at the moment. The first is “God or No God” with Larry Taunton and Christopher Hitchens.  The second also sees Christopher against religion but now he has a new, different sort of opponent. A political one in the form of Ex Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair. I will blog my thoughts as they lock horns over the issue of whether or not religion is a force for good in the world.

The founder of the Aurea foundation and organiser of the debate, Peter Munk comes on and highlights the difference between a debate and a straight speech or presentation. The aim of the Munk Debates is to see some of the world’s most qualified people debate some of the most significant issues. He introduces Blair as one the most influential men in shaping the last decade but saves his most positive comments for Christopher. He not only states that he is one of the greatest minds of our times but praises his courage in agreeing to participate in the debate while undergoing treatment for cancer.

He then welcomes Rudyard Griffiths, to Co-organiser of the debate and moderator for the evening and gives him the lion’s share of credit for organising and making the debate happen.

Rudyard starts by welcoming the 240 million people who have access to the debate via the BBC plus the tens of thousands watching on the internet, and finally the 2,700 people  in the hall.

Then he introduces Christopher and Tony who come on to massive applause and shake hands. A few more snippets are given about them debaters. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after leaving politics and launched the Tony Blair faith foundation to promote respect and understanding between the world’s religions. He was prime minster of the UK and is now the quartet representative in the Middle East working with the UN, the US, Russia and the EU to try to secure a lasting peace in the region. For his part, Hitchens is an author, journalist and atheist, well known for, among other things, his column in Vanity Fair.  Both have recently published memoirs. Tony’s “A Journey: my political life” and Christopher’s “Hitch 22”.

The format will be:

  • 7 minutes of opening remarks for and against the motion
  • 2 rounds of formal rebuttals
  • Questions form audience via cards, in person from younger members of audience on stage, plus the online audience will get a chance too.
  • It will conclude with 5 minutes of closing statements and a second vote on the motion.

A poll was taken on the way in of all 2,700 people:

  • 22% were in favour of the motion that religion is a force for good in the world.
  • 57% opposed the motion
  • and 21% were undecided.

Interestingly enough, 75% where open to changing their vote based on what they heard in the debate.

Christopher begins with his opening statement. I will blog my notes on it next time. I watch a ahead just a bit and its good stuff. Can’t wait.

Debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens

Be it resolved: Religion is a force for good in the world. Today Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens will argue for and against the motion http://www.munkdebates.com/home.aspx. It should be really interesting. If I get to hear it I will  blog on it .

I am still waiting for my copy of the  “God or no God” debate between Larry Taunton and Christopher Hitchens that took place on 19th October 2010. Meanwhile here is a clip of the two debaters talking about their unlikely friendship.

http://www.kulr8.com/news/local/An-Unlikely-Friendship-105232013.html?video=pop&t=a

 

On 27th Nov 2010 read this review in the guardian. Would still like to hear it myself though:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/27/christopher-hitchens-tony-blair-debate

Pray for Hitchens day

Author and vociferous atheist Christopher Hitchens, who was diagnosed with cancer this summer, has appealed to his religious fans and friends not to “trouble deaf heaven” with their “bootless cries” for his recovery.”

So wrote The Guardian on 6th Sept about Christopher Hitchens’ fight with Cancer.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/06/christopher-hitchens-asks-fans-not-pray

They were quoting from his latest Vanity Fair article (October). Christianity today had also read it and quote his repose to peoples prayers and the “pray for hitches day” on Sept 20th 2010 (today).    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/hitchens.dont.trouble.deaf.heaven.with.prayers.for.me/26658.htm

“[W]hat if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating”

I can see that, and I agree that objectively, it would not be a very convincing “miracle”. Granted his condition does not have a good prognosis but he is undergoing a lot of treatment and sometimes people do recover. A Christian in that situation would, of course, credit any recovery to the sovereign (if not miraculous) work of God while an atheist might assign no meaning to their recovery; Getting better over time, while taking strong medication, would probably not be seen as sufficiently convincing evidence to topple their worldview.

The bible, however,  seems to be full of a very different kind of miracle. Ones that are complete, instant, and occurring concurrently with a clear association to the person of Jesus. As well as praying for a long term recovery I am also praying for that kind of miracle. A miracle that not only speaks of God’s kindness and compassion but points to Jesus as the only saviour.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be happy with any kind of healing, but I’d love to move closer and closer towards those in the bible. Interestingly enough, the miracle being testified to by Delia Knox is taking place over time. First she got feeling back in her legs, then she could walk with some help, then a week later she could walk unaided for a short distance. It’s kind of half way between long term healing and instant miraculous healing. It was a miracle that she could feel and move her legs at all, and that happened at the time she was being prayed for in the name of Jesus. She was not however jumping about completely healed on that first occasion but is being healed in stages over time, hopeful towards the goal of complete recovery. Still, pretty amazing stuff.

Back to Hitchen’s though, who was at pains to say that if he makes a death bed conversion it should be rejected as being made by someone who is no longer him.

As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me’. (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumours or fabrications.)

A few weeks back when Larry Taunton from FixedPoint foundation suggested people pray for Christopher he got a very strong negative reaction from some people. He responded to that in a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJP4C1NQZPo which I will summarize here. Larry says:

Larry Taunton

1)  Christopher has never indicated that people praying for him is offensive to him. Larry himself isn’t offended by people saying “good luck” or lighting a candle for him. While these things aren’t necessarily effective they are expressions of care and love

2) The view that says the cancer is God’s judgment and that we should not pray for Christopher is “not a particularly Christian attitude”.

3) Larry did not wish to imply that Christopher was on the verge of conversion. Just that it would be good if when he recovered he would be in a debate representing the Christian position.

4) That he hopes the level of vitriol against Christopher would be lessened

5) and that we would all reflect deeply on what happens when we die.

Christopher has been well enough and bored enough (actually I think he really wanted to honour some previous commitments) to do a couple of debates recently. The first was for the Christian Fixed Point Foundation, Birmingham, Alabama titled “does atheism poison everything” against a guy called David Berlinsky. Previous debates have seen Hitchens on the attack against Christianity blaming it for many of the worlds ills. The counter argument has always come “well what about Atheism, hasn’t that also lead to even more atrocities?“. I have never been persuaded by Christopher’s response to this which is something about those atheistic regimes leveraging religion to perpetrate their crimes against humanity. However,  as I have never felt the force of this answer I wonder if I have really understood it.

Interestingly, David is a agnostic and secular Jew which meant that the debate might have given Christopher space to make his defence more thoroughly. In the event, according to Larry Taunton, the debate never really got off the ground with David simply absorbing blows and conceding ground. Maybe I won’t get the DVD after all.

Larry also pointed out that some in the audience seemed, unwittingly, to provide their own answer to the question of whether atheism poisons everything as a number of those opposing David’s view where rather unpleasant throughout the debate. One must keep in mind though that people who call themselves Christians can be pretty horrid too. (Richard Dawkins gives a number of examples of  rather unchristian ‘Christian hate mail’ in his book ‘The God Delusion’).

So, it seems the question remains open: is the conviction that God does not exist, in and of itself, detrimental to the world in which we live? I hope this is debated again some time.

Here is Larry’s blog if you want to know more: http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/blog and here is a link to the event: http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/debates/319-howatheismpoisonseverything (The second debate that Hitchen’s took part in was on the Middle East at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. on 27th Sept)

So how does Christopher feel about the “Pray for Hitches day” on 20th September?

“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”

It will make me feel better and I trust it will lead to Christopher getting better too.

"A very reasonable guy" (healing debate part 3)

Here are my notes on the last part of a very warm and friendly debate between Michael Shermer and Adrian Holloway about healing miracles. Michael is a sceptic and Adrian is a church leader.

So, if Michael saw a limb grow would it really be evidence of a supernatural God? Michael says “that is an interesting point and that we are on the cusp of doing this ourselves. If it happened he would like to know how God did it so we could understand it for ourselves and do it.” I think he is saying that in a way it would not be a miracle as we would be able to see how it happened. This is an interesting point. If you zoomed in on a miracle at what point, if any, would you see something supernatural? Would it all look normal until you got to a statistical quantum level? If so that would mean you could never identify a miracle under the microscope as you would never see anything impossible. At all times the laws of physics would be operating normally. A new limb would grow, not by molecules appearing out of a supernatural ether but by cell division. It would still be truth that God would be sovereignly behind the events, as he is behind all events in history, working things out according to his will and plan. In such a view a miracle is really in the eye of the beholders. It’s essence is in the effect of its happening on the observers. Another view is a “miracles of the gaps” theory that expect miracles to be in direct contradiction to the laws of nature. Under a microscope the cells of a leg would suddenly appear “ex nihilo”, out of nothing.

What would it take for Michael to believe in God? He quotes Woody Allen’s reply to the same question “a large cache deposit in a Swiss bank account in his name!”. “About 10 million dollars would do it!”

Adrian points out that it is harder to get to atheism as you have to rule out, beyond your experience, the possibility of God existing. Agnosticism would be more attractive. Michael says technically he is an agnostic but behaviourally he is an atheist as he acts on the assumption that there is no God. “What you do is more important than what you believe. An all powerful God would care more about what you did that what you believe. Love people etc”. Adrian agrees that people will be judged on the basis of their actions so Michael quips there may be hope for him yet. I guess he doesn’t realise that it’s not a case of weighing good against bad, but being judged for every bad thing you have done. We have all done things wrong and so all need to be forgiven. When you go into a court room to be tried for murder would you expect to be let off because you saved someone’s life a few years earlier?

Michael asked Adrian about Jews: “They believe in everything Christians believe except Jesus so what happens about them?” Adrian has asked three Jewish people, including one very senior medical  academic, if they have read the NT but none had. So he has not had much first hand experience of talking things through with Jews who have seen the evidence. He says he is very happy to talk about Jewish evangelism it’s just he is not that strong on it. Isn’t it getting away from the topic of miracles? Michael says it is connected as the Jews obviously look at the same evidence but reject it and say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Adrian says all he can do is look at it from his perspective as he isn’t Jewish. He has a history degree and when he looks at the evidence, treating the sources the same as other historical literature, he concludes that it looks like Jesus did rise. Of course you have to go along with the possibility of miracles or it may be that no amount of evidence will be enough to persuade you.

Michael thinks that C S Lewis (whose fiction and non-fiction he likes) missed out an option in his Lord, liar, or lunatic trilemma ie that people were simply mistaken in what they saw or remembered. He also says that people like David Koresh go to their deaths for believing they have heard God but didn’t.

Adrian says that the NT records are too early to have been Chinese whispers. Also think how the game works. If I whisper to one person “Jesus is really super and great” and they whisper to the next person and so on round the room and we get out at the end “Jesus is God” then I will laugh and say “no, that’s not what I said”. That’s how the game works. Everyone gets to see the mistake because the first person, the source, is still in the room. Even though some of the NT could have been written 30-50 years after the crucifixion, the  eye witnesses are still in the room! They are still alive and could have said “No, you’ve got it all wrong, Jesus was just a good man”! He points to 1 Cor 15:1-8 as a record of a very early statement perhaps even within 24 months of the events.

Adrian mentions a lady who had significant hearing loss and now after prayer in the name of Jesus has normal hearing. She even has the before and after test results. She gave back her two hearing aids. Abbey Coles had several allergies (fruit and rubber latex) and was entirely healed. Previously she had to stay with her mum and within 20 minutes of a hospital. She was healed, was able to move away and live independently, and can now live a normal life. A woman was in a wheel chair for 8 years with encephalitis and all the doctors could do was control the pain. She had a stair lift in her house. She was instantly healed when prayed for in the name of Jesus and a picture of her lifting her wheel chair appeared in the Daily Mail shortly afterwards. Her doctor said this had never happened to him before. She had trouble giving back her benefits because people don’t get well of these things. Adrian concludes “it’s worth praying for people because of the results even though some are not healed the more I pray for people the more people are healed.”

Michael points to the fact that most people who are ill get prayed for but still die. We only hear about the ones that get well – the anomalies. He talks about his girlfriend who was paralysed in a car accident. He was a Christian then and prayed and prayed and prayed but nothing happened. She is still paraplegic. I wonder how much that affected his thinking rather than the location reason he gave at the start. If so I can understand where he is coming from a lot more. Michael asks why healing is the exception, why does God withhold healing to most people? I think that’s a very good question!

Adrian says it is a good objection and why for most of his Christian life he didn’t pray for the sick. Wouldn’t it be better not to raise expectations, play safe and not raise hopes? But that doesn’t help those who actually are healed and that is an increasing number in his experience. He now thinks it’s worth it for the few (sometimes as much as 50%) that do get healed. I am very struck by the pragmatic way Adrian reasons. It’s very helpful in conducting the conversation in a realm where the other person can engage and dialogue. There is some merit in saying “because the bible says so” but it can be a bit of a conversation stopper.

For Michael though, people would probably still have got better even without prayer. That is why you need controlled experiments he says. It’s no different from approving a drug. You need clinical trials, it’s standard procedure. Why is the prayer things different?

And so the debate comes to an end. As the moderator is wrapping it up Michael interjects and says that “this was a very thoughtful conversation and Adrian you seem like such a reasonable guy“. Adrian reciprocates, and I agree. It really was a pleasure to listen to and probably shed more light on the matter for there being less heat. I wonder how often Michael finds himself interacting with people who are slightly more hostile and aggressive to him and his position. I have learned a lot from listening to the gracious way Adrian spoke in this debate and also, as Michael opened up about his experiences as a Christian,  saw something of the genuine challenges that people have to believing in a God who heals.

Does God heal today? (healing debate part 2)


http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={8B4B875D-57DD-42B3-BC5F-29D9FDD4AA38} I am writing up my thoughts on the Premier Christian Radio debate “does God heal today?” between Michael Shermer and Adrian Holloway. Both men come across really well, are respectful to one another, and it was a real pleasure to listen to.

Michael says of supposed miracles:

“What’s more likely, that the claim of a miracle is the truth, or that the person making the claim is mistaken, or deceptive or self deceived? There are lots of experiences where that turns out to be the case and no experiences of miraculous events, so in all cases the most likely explanation is that it is a hoax.”

He says when miracles seem to happen it’s just a coincidence. You were doing something and your body happened to heal itself and you assume that the healing is connected with what you were doing at the time.  He points out that cancers go into remission sometimes but growing a new limb never happens so if it did it would be a miracle. If God heals cancers and things like that why can’t he heal amputees? “None of the Christian guys in Afghanistan who lose their limbs get new ones. Salamanders can grow them so it can’t be too hard for God to grow them back“.

Adrian asks if Michael thinks there is any benefit to praying for people who are unwell. Adrian knows of friends who got prayed for and got out of wheel chairs. They would be glad that someone prayed for them!  He gives an example:

Edith (Edee) Nun, who was in a wheel chair for many years with multiple scleroses and her condition deteriorated during that time. She couldn’t walk or read properly and her coordination was virtually non existent. She had 24 hour professional care and she couldn’t speak unaided. She was prayed for on a particular day, was totally healed, went in for tests and her doctor, a man called John Crossley, who was her doctor from 1978-1988 and has been her doctor again since, wrote this: Miss Edith Nun had proven and severe MS with extreme weakness in her arms and legs and visual and speech problems. The original diagnosis was made in 1971 and there was no doubt in the opinion of several neurologists that she had the disease. From 1976 onwards there was a slow but steady deterioration in her condition. Her prognoses was poor when I last saw her in 1988 and from her notes it seems that the doctor who was seeing her in 1992 felt that this was still the situation. When I met her again in March 1994, (which was after her healing) I was astonished at her recovery which appears to be full and unexplained.”

From this Adrian simply argues that if people are prayed for and get well “that is a good thing not a bad thing“. Michael is of course not against people getting well and points to lots of other new age medicines and practices that make the same claims. “This crystal or this chant”, etc. “From a scientific perspective you need to test these claims to see if they are statistically significant and rule out things like the placebo effect. This has been done in the case of heart patients (controlled experiments in praying for one group and not for the other etc) and it has been shown that prayer has no statistically significant effect”. He goes on “that’s the only way to really tell. Anecdotes are a sample of one which tell us nothing.”

But can you put God under the microscope? Adrian says you need to distinguish between different religions. “Christianity says Jesus didn’t do many miracles in Nazareth because of people’s lack of faith. So faith is going to be a very big variable in a scientific study.” This is an interesting point. I have often wondered to what extent the scientific method is suited to investigating miracles. How does God react to testing him in this way? What does he think about us cordoning off a group of people and not praying for them while praying for others? Can you “walk by the Spirit” and “do what you see the Father” doing in a double blind trial where everything is fixed and planned in detail?

Michael brings up the amputee thing again. That would not be fuzzy. He reckons recovery from MS could be a bit fuzzy. Did Edith have it in the first place? His experience of healing meetings is that people are emotionally high and so it’s no surprise that they make various excited claims to being healed. He basically says “show me a leg reappearing! That would be something to take seriously“.

One point I would make is that the healing meetings I have been to have been very low key with little or no hype. Sometimes people are prayed for before anyone has preached. Bill Johnson is certainly very laid back. When asked if he is Charismatic, Adrian says he is kind of reluctant to embrace the term because of the associations that come with it, particularly in the States. What is often seen and termed charismatic on Christian TV is a million miles away from what he would be comfortable with. He would rather see himself as a Christian who believes that God heals people today.  Going back to Michael’s earlier statements Adrian says it is an extraordinarily bold claim to say that every recorded case of healing is psychosomatic or placebo or misdiagnoses. In the case of Edith is would be a bold claim to say that the doctors got it wrong.

Michael says why “attribute it to a deity? Why not say I don’t know what happened”?

Adrian would be happy to say that if 100 people were prayed for in the name of Jesus that in a percentage the placebo effect might play a part. “However there are clear cases where someone has zero medical prospects but they recover.” Michael is not happy that any doctors would every say there is zero percent. He presses his view that some things are just unknown anomalies. We just need to say “I don’t know, sometimes things just happen”.

Adrian says there is certainly the possibility of divine intervention, and there are enough claims that seem to be in line with that.  “The assertion of the absolute is very hard to sustain. Saying there will never be any miracles means you have to prove every apparent case is false. How do you do that? You are ruling it out ahead of time.

Michael says that science assumes that everything has a natural explanation. Supernatural explanations are no explanations at all. He reckons the word miracle is a linguistic placeholder for “we don’t know what happened yet“.

Adrian says he tends to back off using the world miracle and would rather talk about things he has seen and experienced, like people getting better or healed when prayed for in the name of Jesus. He says in the Christian world view God hasn’t made it blatantly obvious that he exists although there is evidence. There is something dignifying about us being able to make a choice for God or not. He goes on “when Jesus raised someone form the dead far from everyone believing in him some decided that they had to kill him. Judas saw all the miracles and yet decided to betray Jesus.” It seems we are not as open minded as we might think. Adrian admits “If I was a committed atheist I would find it very hard to dismantle my position and become a Christian.

Location, location, location? (healing debate part 1)

I am listening to a debate at the moment on Premier Christian radio between Michael Shermer and Adrian Holloway about the existence of miracles. Michael says he was a “born again evangelical Christian” but is now a staunch atheist and is in fact the president for the sceptic society. Why the change? Well through studying psychology and social sciences he says he came to realise that:

Michael Shermer
“beliefs, like political attitudes and religious faiths, are socially constructed and psychologically dependent. It depends on where you happen to have been born and what your parents believe and the influence of your peer groups and teachers and things like that rather than something that was absolutely true, and the study of social psychology and anthropology really reinforces that idea. Had I been born in another century or some other millennium or on some other part of the planet I certainly would not have been a Christian.

x
Obviously the fact that there are such strong clusters of religious beliefs around the world shows that the believers are largely dependent on where you just happen to have been born.  And that’s different to science where physics is physics whether it’s in India or China or North America or Europe. It doesn’t matter where you are born the physics is still the physics. And yet that is not the case with religion.”

x
Map of world religions from
http://www.worldreligiousrelief.com/?p=1
Richard Dawkins says this was a key factor in his conversion to atheism. But again I just don’t get it. What if being an atheist turned out to be very dependent on where you were born? Would that make the non existence of God any less likely to be true? What if most places in the world had Christians living there? Would that make Christianity more likely to be true because of a homogeneous spread of this belief across the globe? If everybody believed in God for centuries and centuries would that undermine the truth of atheism?

x
Let’s say Jesus did all the miracles he said he did and rose from the dead as he said he would. Does the fact that those in Jerusalem believed long before those in Australia, undermine the truth of those events or the beliefs?  Surely geographical or chronological factors are not decisive indicators of truth. They must know that. So what is the issue?

x
Perhaps it’s the injustice of it. Your eternal destiny seeming to be heavily influenced by where you happen to have been born, what parents you had, friends you knew, books you read, TV you watched, even your genes. The list goes on. All these things could have been said to play a factor in someone being a Christian and yet the Christian world view would say that those things are not ultimately decisive: God is. He sovereignly works through all events and people and places to bring, to a saving knowledge of him, those he chose before he made the world. The problem doesn’t go away of course because now we could ask if that, ie God choosing,  is really fair. That’s not easy but it does show that the problem is not location, location, location, it’s grace, grace, grace.

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The bottom line is whether we can accept that God is truly free to choose which of his sinful enemies to die for? I confess I find that hard too. But knowing the terrible nature of my sin and the massive cost that Jesus paid to sort it for me, I find myself willing to trust God that he is both good and just in his decisions. I also find myself very motivated to tell other people about this grace so they can enjoy it too.

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In the debate Adrian emphasis the importance of evidence. He says he is open to be lead where the evidence leads. If the bones of Jesus were discovered in Jerusalem he would ditch Christianity. If that sounds dodgy he points out that the Apostle Paul felt like that too. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, says Paul, our faith is useless.

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Adrian Holloway
Like Michael, Adrian too had a conversion but it was the other way round for him. He became a Christian because of a culmination of several different lines of argument that pointed towards the existence of God. He admits that our religious beliefs could be an aspect of our cultural context, but  that is no reason to throw them all out. It just means we need to think very carefully about what we believe. That is probably a better way of putting it than my ramblings above. Of course these things have an effect but we are not trapped by them. In fact the lives of both Michael and Adrian show you can change your mind by looking at the “evidence”. Adrian suggests that “instead of throwing up our hands and saying “everyone believes different things it’s hopeless I’ll never find the truth” it would be sensible to look into things a bit. Why not, he says, read the Koran, the God Delusion, Mere Christianity by C S Lewis, etc or even pray “if you are there help me find the truth” and make an informed decision.

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He goes on, there are no guarantees in life. Is your marriage going to work, will the plane you step onto crash? It’s the same with the Christian faith. Adrian doesn’t have infallible proof but there is enough evidence for him to make a decision, like a juror, beyond reasonable doubt.

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I think that’s true, although there is another aspect to faith that transcends evidence. As you meet and get to know Jesus (often through various lines of evidence) you find your foot on something even more secure than the scientific method. The eye of faith can see things invisible to the natural mind with more certainty than we know the earth goes round the sun. It’s the same with the bible, once evidence has lead you to the reasonable conclusion that it is the word of God, it can be a firmer place to stand.

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Actually evidence and faith are probably a bit more inter-woven than that last paragraph suggests. What would I do if anthropologists discovered what they claimed to be the bones of Jesus? Would any amount of evidence change my mind that Jesus rose bodily from the dead? I certainly wouldn’t close my ears to the claims and would want to investigate them. Maybe there would come a point at which I would be swayed but it would have to be pretty convincing evidence. It would be like persuading me that the person I have been married to and loved for 20 years is a spy using me for cover. Especially if my spouse protested their innocence and pointed to the evidence over the last 20 years that they have loved me faithfully. Love can be blind but it can also trust against all the odds. Christianity is a relationship with a person not a set of abstract beliefs about the world. Discrediting it to a Christian who has a living relationship with the Lord Jesus is a bit more involved than just producing some bones.

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