The Limits of Science and the Transcendence of God

March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?

Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.

GOD around nature

RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES

How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.

Stephen Jay Gould rightly recognized science and religion as separate areas of inquiry, but he strictly defines science as “fact” and religion as “values”, which is a limited perspective of both. Gould maintains that these separate “magisteria” do not overlap(1), but when it comes to science and Biblical Christianity, that’s only partly true.

Science cannot explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.

Science cannot explain science because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it. Science has no adequate explanation for itself.

J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(2) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”

God CAN explain science. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.

The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.

The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(3), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(4) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(5).

The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(6)

We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(7)

TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES

If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.

While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.

Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.

This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(8). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(9). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.

Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”

SCIENCE AND FAITH

Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.

Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.

If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.

In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.

1) Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), Wikipedia contributors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria)
2) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
3) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
4) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
5) 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
6) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.”
Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011 (blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic)
7) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
8) “
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
9) My post:
“God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)

The Pope’s Capital Punishment Declaration Shows Why the Church Needed Reformation

October 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis demonstrates why it was needed. Yesterday, the Pope declared that “condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out. And [it] is, of itself, contrary to the Gospel, because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.” 

While it is true that human life is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, it is also true, based on the Bible, that God laid the foundations of capital punishment exactly because life is sacred to Him. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This was part of a series of God’s commands to Noah and his descendants establishing the foundations of human government.

Later, Israel also applied the death penalty to sins other than murder, which nations are free to do and we are now free to debate. The big picture shows that God often showed mercy when capital punishment was due, and ultimately we all deserve death as those are the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). The Gospel is in fact based on this premise, and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romand 5:8).

It’s important to know that God’s “eye for an eye” authority has been given to government, not individuals. From Rome, we read this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For qthere is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for she is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)

The Pope didn’t expressly say that God did not institute capital punishment. But to say that it is now wrong in every case is a contradiction to God’s word, and even conflicts with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church up until yesterday. Even the latest 1997 catechism on the subject morally permitted the death penalty in “cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.”

Clearly it wasn’t God’s word that changed over the millennia, but our own. Mankind established his own authority alongside God’s revealed word, and inevitably the two will not agree. This was the root of the problem Luther saw 500 years ago and the reason he saw fit to remind the Roman Catholic authorities that by Scripture Alone (“Sola Scriptura”) we know God’s infallible and unchanging rule of faith and practice.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/10/11/pope-francis-death-penalty-contrary-gospel

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (That He is vs. Who He is)

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

A_church_and_a_mosque_in_Beirut_Lebanon

From “Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?” by NPR on December 20, 2015, this recent controversy is summarized:

“Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, Hawkins quoted Pope Francis, saying that Christians and Muslims ‘worship the same God.'”

A Christian response in the article:

“‘The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the Father,’ says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. ‘And it’s Christ himself who answered that question, most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father.'” (John 6:46; 14:9; see also 1 John 2:22-23)

A Muslim response in the article:

“One theologian with knowledge of both Christian and Islamic doctrine is Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S. Born Mark Hanson, he was raised as a Christian and then converted to Islam. He quotes the Quran as saying that God is immeasurable, so to define God in some particular way is impossible. ‘God is much greater than anything we can imagine,’ Yusuf says. ‘The Muslims have a statement in our theology: Whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that.‘”

Dr. Mohler’s response has to do with knowing God by identifying Jesus Christ the Son, which Islam denies. Yusuf explains that in Islam, one cannot really have a clear definition of God. And this I think is key to why the answer to the question as posed, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”, has to be no. Christians, Muslims, and all human beings who are made in God’s image have an intuitive awareness of God. We all know He exists. We have an array of world religions because we’ve taken the general revelation of God and sought to define Him in various ways. But there’s a difference between recognizing God’s existence and worshipping Him.

Yusuf’s Muslim interpretation of the Qu’ran is not that God is “greater than” what we can imagine, but that He is “other than” what we imagine. There’s a distinction. We cannot fully comprehend the greatness of God, but the Bible assures us we can know Him (John 17:3). To say “to define God in some particular way is impossible” means knowing God is impossible, therefore worship is impossible. We cannot worship what we can’t know (though some have tried, like the Athenians in Acts 17).

Of course, Yusuf’s agnosticism about God (Allah) brings to light the Qur’an’s self-contradiction. The Qu’ran has 99 names for God, and you can’t name God 99 times without claiming to know perhaps 99 attributes of God. The description of God in the Bible differs greatly from the God of the Qur’an. They’re both Theistic in category, because we all recognize God exists, though some have suppressed this truth as Romans 1 explains. We know this without the Bible or the Qur’an. But in person, character and attributes, “God” is articulated very differently in both.

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, argues that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but that “the description of God is partly different.” I would argue that it is fundamentally different. God cannot be both trinitarian and not trinitarian at the same time; God cannot both have a Son and not have a Son; He either sent Jesus to die in our place or He did not. These are basic logical absurdities and therefore cannot be descriptions of the same God.

And as Dr. Mohler explains, Jesus was God in the flesh, and a non-negotiable in the Christian identity of God. The Bible describes a triune God who sought to redeem us from our sins and reveal Himself by sending His Son to offer Himself on our behalf. A God who isn’t this or didn’t do this is not the same God. In 2002, Baptist theologian Timothy George noted, “Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.” (Emphasis George’s)

Another voice from the NPR article:

“Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews. ‘To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God,’ Pauw says.”

Pauw touches on the crux of the debate but perhaps doesn’t see that true worship requires an accurate understanding of God. We can see “commonality” with many belief systems. Christians do share a common general knowledge of God and should share a mutual love and respect for our Muslim neighbors as fellow image-bearers of the Creator, even though we disagree over who He is. This means we can have solidarity where our common interests lie, even where they extend from our unique theologies. But when it comes to worship, something we can’t truly do without knowing the object of our worship, Christians share no altar with Muslims.

Cafeteria Faith Doesn’t Fill

April 11, 2015 § 9 Comments

Catholicism was perhaps the first or the most prominent religion to be known for its half-hearted followers, where we get the term “Cafeteria Catholics”. But I think all religions have their cafeteria believers, adherents inclined to pick and choose which doctrines to follow and which to ignore. This of course results in an incomplete theology that inevitably leads to self-contradiction and irrationality. And it acknowledges no authority but the cherry-picker’s.Buffet_Photo

In my town, just this past week, Dowling Catholic High School refused to bring volunteer track coach and substitute teacher Tyler McCubbin on full-time(1) because he is openly gay and engaged to another man. Postmodern culture is ripe for a response of surprise and dismay to a Catholic school desiring to remain consistently Catholic by insisting that its faculty hold to Catholic teaching on human sexuality and marriage. And predictably, folks were surprised and dismayed at Dowling.

As a private religious institution, this central Iowa school is protected in principal by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and by the exception for religious institutions under Iowa’s Civil Rights Act(2). Legally, they are allowed to hire or fire anyone according to their Catholic beliefs, and they can require faculty to hold to those beliefs as a condition of employment. While the applicant may claim to be Catholic, his views of sexuality don’t line up with orthodox Catholic doctrine, so that puts him out of the running. Rationally, if Dowling Catholic High School did not limit its hiring to Catholics, that would open the school up to Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists. Morally, if Dowling abandoned its Catholic principals on sexuality and marriage, it would be abandoning principals that the Church has held for centuries and the world has held for millennia—not to mention God’s original revelation in Genesis 2:24 which both Church and State have historically recognized. Legally, rationally or morally, Dowling’s stance is the only one that keeps the school consistently Catholic. Is Dowling’s cessation from orthodoxy what the surprised and dismayed crowd want?

The non-Catholic progressives objecting to Dowling’s decision probably don’t care how the school projects its faith. Their agenda doesn’t really require the pondering of theological consequences. They want to jump at the opportunity and check off another obstacle to complete allegiance to the new moral revolution, where erotic liberty trumps religious liberty, and religious freedom is synonymous with discrimination and bigotry(3) (Religious freedom laws will likely be the the next target, as the recent stink over Indiana’s RFRA law indicated).

But what about Tyler McCubbin? Or the hundred or so Dowling students who staged a walk-out to peacefully protest the school’s discriminative hiring policy(4)? Or to the Dowling alumni, presumably also Catholic, asking the school and the Church to change? Aren’t these religious folks pondering the religious implications of their protest? Here’s where Cafeteria Catholicism comes in.

McCubbin reveals his understanding of the theology relevant to his case when he summarizes the school’s position: “What’s so shocking is in an institution where they preach tolerance and love and respect for everyone, no matter what your background is, they don’t uphold to those teachings.” What’s really shocking is that he doesn’t know or remember that Catholicism preaches more than those three things about this situation. It also teaches that homosexuality, and any other deviation from God’s plan for human relationships, is a sin, that marriage is for one man and one woman, and that love actually requires speaking the truth. Those were left on the buffet, so this applicant is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

ec4908c5ca581e0f730f6a706700e400What is the ideal final goal these protests hope to accomplish? With the utmost cordiality, I respectfully posted a question like this on the new “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” Facebook page(5). A couple students and alumni responded that their pie-in-the-sky would be a gay-friendly hiring policy and a “safe space” for LGBTQ students at Dowling. I then asked if any space would be considered “safe” if the school still taught that homosexuality was a sin, and how such a change in hiring policy would settle with students when it also allowed Mormons, Muslims and Atheists to teach at Dowling. Immediately the comment thread disappeared and I was blocked from the group. Contemplating the endgame was too much I suppose; with the holes in their theology, continued rational discussion was not possible. These students and alums are apparently Cafeteria Catholics.

Openly gay Iowa Senator and Dowling graduate Matt McCoy has encouraged supporters of Dowling to close their checkbooks until the school changes its policy(6). He says of his alma mater, “They have many faculty members that are divorced. They have many faculty that have been involved in extramarital affairs, they have turned their head to other issues in society.” To that I would suggest that another wrong doesn’t make those right. IF faculty members are currently pursuing divorce or involved in extramarital affairs, the answer should be MORE consistency with Catholic doctrine, not less. Where there is hypocrisy, the solution is not to grow it. Mr. McCoy is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

The teachers and administrators at Dowling Catholic High School are not perfect. (There was at least some inconsistency evident in the screening process that allowed McCubbin’s gay lifestyle to go unnoticed when he was subbing, though arguably substitute teachers have less of an impact on students and may see less scrutiny as a result.) As an evangelical Christian I differ with Roman Catholics over some pretty fundamental doctrines because I believe they contradict what what the Bible says, particularly on matters of salvation, purgatory, the authority of the Pope, and the sole authority of Scripture.

But in terms of living consistently with one’s faith in a country founded on that right, no religious institution should be held to a standard of perfection (“All have sinned and fall short” anyway—Romans 3:23), but we should see a present pattern of striving for righteousness, systematic theology, and resistance to compromise. For those quick to speculate on the past sins of Dowling’s administrators, do they really expect a Catholic school to further its inconsistency and give up Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage? Some have expressed a hope that the Church itself will eventually change its opposition to homosexuality. But to expect a religious institution to change its theology on one or two things but keep the rest (for now) is to be totally okay with inconsistency, which is the appetite of “cafeteria faith”. Ultimately it leaves you hungry.

1) http://www.kcci.com/news/kcci-exclusive-man-denied-job-because-hes-gay/32223058
2) Chapter 216 Civil Rights Division (216.6, Section 6D)
3) http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14748/
4) http://www.kcci.com/news/alumni-students-speaking-out-against-dowling/32243568
5) https://www.facebook.com/groups/819387918148343
6) http://www.kcci.com/news/alumni-students-speaking-out-against-dowling/32243568

Islam ABC: Aniconism, Blasphemy, and Confusion from the Quran’s Ambiguity

January 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

250px-Charliehebdo

“100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” says this French cartoon of Muhammed.

While we recover from the recent Charlie Hebdo shooting by Muslim extremists over pictures of Muhammed considered blasphemous, there’s a lot of talk about what Islam teaches about creating images of Allah or the prophet Muhammed. There are actually two Muslim laws that come to mind here, one that prohibits the creation of images of any person or animal and one made to protect the image of Allah, Muhammad or the Qur’an. Beyond this, there is enough ambiguity in the teachings of Islam that leaves a door wide open to Muslim violence like what we just saw in Paris.

ANICONISM 

Aniconism is the Muslim prohibition of drawing, painting, weaving, carving, etc., of pictures of any sentient (non-plant) life. This is not taught in the Qur’an, but comes form the Hadith, a collection of writings, sayings and deeds of Muhammad compiled a few hundred years after his death. While there is some disagreement over the role of the Hadith among Muslims, it carries high authority in Islam, below the Qur’an, but is often used to interpret the Qur’an, and provides the basis for Sharia Law (Sharia is how is Muslims live out Islamic law in society).

The Hadith states, “The painter of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, Make alive what you have created.’” (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, No. 646-647). The exception seems to be the making of dolls for children, most likely because Muhammed married a 7 year old girl who played with dolls. The prohibition of creating (not necessarily owning) images of people and animals is very general with no specific attention to the image of Muhammad, and according the the Hadith it is an offense punished by Allah at the later “Day of Judgment”, unless the creator can bring his artwork to life. Perhaps a puppeteer or videographer might get by with this, but I would guess that stipulation is intended to expose a fraudulent creator as only God can create life.

One interesting thing about this law is that it seems to be followed by only conservative Muslims. Most Muslims have TVs, photos and artwork displaying people or animals in their homes, and Muslim history is loaded with paintings and miniatures, even some depicting Muhammed. The impetus of this law seems to be an interest in avoiding something that could become an idol.

BLASPHEMY

Simply put by the well-known Muslim cleric Anjem Choundry in a recent USA Today article, “the Messenger Muhammad said, ‘Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him.'” The Qur’an states, “Who can be more wicked than one who inventeth a lie against Allah?” (Surah 6:93) and “Lo! those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah hath cursed them in this world and the Hereafter, and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained … Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.” (Surah 33:57,61) The Hadith states: “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?’ Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?’ The Prophet said, ‘Yes’…” (Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, No. 369)

But moderate Muslims tend to disagree with a death-to-blasphemers interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith, despite the fact that many Muslim countries have very harsh penalties for insulting a prophet of Islam. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, paints a more gracious view in his book Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues: “Islam goes one step further than any other religion in granting man the freedom of speech and expression. Blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world.”

QAMBIGUITY LEADS TO CONFUSION

It is no secret that the Qur’an is a difficult book to read and understand, and it isn’t just a matter of reader presuppositions, but marked ambiguity. It’s literary style is fundamentally confusing. The Qur’an’s mystical, non-linear structure seems to have no beginning, middle, or end, with few breaks or markers to provide historical context. Some maintain that this literary rule-breaking amounts points to an underlying profound complexity that demonstrates its divine origin and amplifies the rewards of intense study. Many Muslims say that to truly understand the Qur’an, you must learn Arabic. One might conclude then that Allah only intended his message to be accepted by those proficient in Arabic. However, here is one testimony of a former Muslim with a university education and proficiency in Arabic who still abandoned Islam after he found the Qur’an to be nonsense.

It’s no wonder that such opposite interpretations (or Tafseer, the Arabic word for exegesis) of the Qur’an exist, i.e. “And kill [disbelievers] wherever you overtake them…”– (Surah 2:191-193). Some say these verses apply today and some say they don’t. The top tier of Muslim scholars known as the Ulama seek to provide Islamic jurisprudence, laying out the law under Sharia. But not all Muslim sects accept Ulama authority and interpretation of the Qur’an.

In any case, the Qur’an’s perplexing structure leaves NO ONE with a clear path to understanding whether these kill-the-unbeliever/blasphemer verses are description of history or prescription of behavior. I think this is a big part of the problem with Islam.

Of course there are varying interpretations of the Bible. But a straightforward reading of, for example, the wars God commanded of Israel against wicked nations in the Old Testament reveals a cultural setting and historical context that doesn’t signal believers to pattern their behavior after this. In the Qur’an, this message is muddled and confusing. And without a clear message, power-hungry or militant-minded followers are free to inject their own.

This botched restoration attempt by a well-intentioned Catholic parishioner of a century old fresco of Jesus may have earned the death penalty under Sharia if it were of Muhammed.

This botched restoration attempt by a well-intentioned Catholic parishioner of a century old fresco of Jesus may have earned the death penalty under Sharia.

Back to Islamic beliefs about Muhammad cartoons and other depictions of the prophet or Allah: Any image of Muhammad or any sentient being is prohibited, but this rule is seldom enforced in Islam, and the judgment belongs to Allah in the hereafter. Insult Muhammed, on the other hand, and under Sharia law it’s blasphemy with penalties that range from fines to beheading. And how do we define blasphemy? Is artwork offensive if it’s drawn poorly, or its meaning misunderstood? Serious or satire, it most certainly will offend someone, so in reality any depiction of Muhammed could be viewed as an insult to him and therefore blasphemy. You just never know.

Obviously the Islamic worldview regarding blasphemy and other out-workings of Sharia law present big problems for global society, and they have throughout the religion’s 1,400 year history. Moderate Muslims who don’t agree that capital punishment fits these crimes, or the crime of refusing to convert to Islam, are not the immediate problem. But the confusion and ambiguity of what relevant Quranic teaching means for Islam’s detractors leads to a lot of violence by many Muslims who do decide these texts call for Jihad. It isn’t a matter of just a few isolated acts by fringe groups, but by some estimates the Charlie Hebdo attack was the 24,823rd Islamic terrorist attack worldwide in the 13.3 years since 9/11. These adherents to the “honor religion” that is Islam feel duty-bound to protect their God from slander or misrepresentation. I don’t know of any other faith, including Christianity, that requires the defense of their God’s honor. (According to Psalm 18, God is OUR defender.)

Christians are required, however, to give a defense of the truth that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and explain the hope He provides (1 Peter 3:15) that Allah does not. But we are to do this “with gentleness and respect”, not the sword. We can’t look to secular governments for the answer. The only thing that will stop the spread of militant Islam is a fundamental change of heart brought forth by the Spirit of God. To be sure, terrorism must be met with physical resistance, but the confusion and irrationality of Islam that fuels it should be met with fervent prayer and faithful witness for Christ, including sound Christian apologetics (Related posts: Three Challenges for Muslims and Sword or Peace? Debating Jesus’ Mission with a Muslim).

Pope Francis Redefines Both Creation and Evolution

October 29, 2014 § 2 Comments

As a recent article in The Independent reports: Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God isn’t ‘a magician with a magic wand’. 2v2-francis-popeSpeaking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope made comments which experts said put an end to the “pseudo theories” of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Does the Pope present a good argument for God’s hand in the Big Bang and evolution? The Pontifex’s points, and those of his applauding “experts” actually don’t hold holy water.

Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

It’s true that The Big Bang and Evolution would require a Creator like the one described in Genesis. But does that Creator require either the Big Bang or evolution? Not at all. In his argument, Pope Francis is not starting with the Bible, he is starting with the assumption of the Big Bang and evolution.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

How does the idea of God creating the Big Bang or Theistic Evolution appear any less “magic” (to anyone wishing to call ex nihilo creation “magic”) than God creating in six literal days? Either way, God created the universe from nothing. If someone wants to call that magic then they will regardless of the processes He used along the way.

He added: “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfilment [sic].

“He created human beings and let them develop” into what? Human beings? If God created human beings and we end up with human beings, where’s the evolution?

Adding to the confusion, here is an “expert”: Giovanni Bignami, a professor and president of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, told the Italian news agency Adnkronos: “The pope’s statement is significant. We are the direct descendents from the Big Bang that created the universe. Evolution came from creation.”

He’s right about one thing: The Pope’s statements are significant, reflecting a significant departure from sound Biblical exegesis. In Matthew 19:4, Jesus reminds the religious teachers of the first century what they should have already known: “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’…?”. So according to Scripture, revealed by the very One who created, God didn’t create human beings billions of years after He made the universe, but “at the beginning.” Unless Jesus be a liar or a fool.

The Catholic Church has long had a reputation for being anti-science – most famously when Galileo faced the inquisition and was forced to retract his “heretic” theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

This may be a motivation for the Pope to make peace with “science”, but in doing so he is duped by the straw man that is the entire “science vs faith” parody. This is a false dichotomy. Christian faith has no quarrel with science done scientifically. Some muddled understanding of The Big Bang may fit in with God’s first creative act, but most of the theory’s developers had no vision to include God in their models, and the purists of any secular theory of origins will reject any participation by a deity. The same goes for macro-evolution. In order to meet Scientism half-way, Pope Francis must redefine both the historic teaching of Creation and secular theories of origins, and neither side will be willing to accept the accommodation he proposes.

We can force some divine-infused form of Naturalism into a watered-down allegorization of the Bible’s historical creation account, but when we do, we are clearly not beginning with the Word of God as our authority. Pope Francis should know better. “Haven’t you read…?” (Mat. 19:4a)

Batman, Jesus, and the Returning Theme of Superhero Sagas

August 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

After seeing the latest in the Batman series, Dark Knight Returns, I noticed what seems to be a pattern in human storytelling that is particularly prevalent in superhero movies. In varying degrees, you can find this pattern in Superman Returns, Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles (yes, The Incredibles), Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Watchmen, Green Lantern, The Avengers, and perhaps others. The pattern is this: Hero departs, evil threatens, hero returns.

The heroes in these films are usually subjected to some kind of public scorn and rejection, forcing them to leave the scene. In the absence of the hero, the presence of evil grows until there is the need for the hero again. Society realizes they need rescue and hope for the hero’s return to save the day.

Maybe it’s obvious by now that I’m drawing a parallel from the hero’s rejection, departure, and eventual reappearance to that of Jesus Christ. He was despised and rejected of men. He died and was raised, and now resides at the right hand of God the Father. The part of the narrative yet to unfold, His imminent return, is a future promise in which believers place their hope. Some stories written by theologians depict this in a more intentional and obvious way, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, anticipating the return of Aslan.

But among those writers who aren’t trying to tell the story of Christ, I think the returning savior theme still shows up in a lot of cinematic presentations because it’s a story written on our hearts that just spills out when we imagine greatness. Romans 1 says we’re all familiar with the story. Whether we are a fan of Jesus or not, I believe we all have some kind of longing for a super-someone to show up in the midst of the evil that’s taken over planet earth. Our imaginations are a hint of hope, not realizing that the Hero we are expecting is the same One we’ve rejected.

The outcast hero’s return to the fight is not the only piece of the Biblical story that comes out in our own. The yearning we all seem to have to read and write happy endings to our stories actually doesn’t exist in our real world experience. Disney-like “happily ever after”s are found in real life and in books and movies only when we choose to conveniently end the story after some joyful or resolute event, and then all seems right with the world. But in reality, happiness is temporary; misfortune strikes again within weeks, days or moments of the final credits rolling. Then sometimes there’s a sequel. But why do we imagine happy endings that don’t really exist in this world? Maybe because the story of God’s redemption, the only story that truly ends in never-ending happiness, is written on our hearts as well as Scripture.

We say a lot about our Creator when we create. Even summer blockbusters can offer a lot in the way of transcendent clues of what the original Author wants to tell us about Himself, salvation and hope, and the rest of the story.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has gone away to heaven, and some day, just as He went, He will return!” (Acts 1:11)

[See my more recent post, Lance, Thor and Ideal Heroism, and also J.W. Wartick’s blog, Always Have a Reason. He writes some very insightful reflections on heroes of the big screen.]

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