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Elgin’s Books

  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • The Ultimate Environmentalists

    Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    In one sense, critics of the Bible are the ultimate environmentalists, for they recycle everything.  Refute one of their objections, and they just move on to the next, and over time they all get recycled.  The most recent example of this was Raphael Lataster’s article in the Washington Post that asks “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up. ”

    There is really nothing new in Lataster’s arguments and these keep popping up from time to time in one form or another.    Gordon Stein, another critic, wrote in 1980 that while “at one point in time, the question of Jesus’ historicity was a much more popular one for discussion” he considered it “far from resolved.” Michael Martin, another critic writing in the 1990s wrote that “the historicity of Jesus is not only taken for granted by Christians, but is assumed by the vast majority of non-Christians and anti-Christians” and that “the very idea that Jesus is a myth is seldom entertained, let alone, seriously considered.”  Still he thought that “a strong prima facie case” could be made against an historical Jesus. (Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity, p 36-7)

    Thus when Lataster points out that numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called ‘Historical Jesus’” he joins a long line of skeptics trying to make a case that even many fellow skeptics find questionable.  It is no wonder that he begins by trying to restrict the discussion just to those who would at least accept many of his assumptions, even if they do question his conclusions.  Believers in the “Christ of Faith” he says “ought not to get involved.”

    Nor is it hard to see why he would wish to exclude them, for he assumes that a “divine Jesus who walked on water” is “implausible” and “easily-dismissed,” which it is if you start with the assumption that there is no God, and miracles cannot happen, as do so many critics. But believers do not accept these assumptions, and thus the foundation for much of his argument falls apart.

    The first “problem” Lataster cites is a good example of the importance of such assumptions in his reasoning process.  He writes “the earliest sources only reference to the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.” One only need ask, why is it “clearly” fictional?  In the  19th century such claims were far easier to make, but the weight of scholarship over the last century has tended to both strengthen the reliability of the Gospel accounts, and to push the dates of their composition far earlier than skeptics originally assumed.

    As for the evidence Lataster presents, key is his claim that “Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels… only describe his ‘Heavenly Jesus’” and that he avoids Jesus’ “earthly events and teachings.” One of his key supports for this this claim is that in 1 Cor 2:6-10 Paul taught that demons killed the “celestial Jesus.”  Now while fundamentalists are at times guilty of ripping a text kicking and screaming from its context, this is ripping it from the context, beating it to a pulp, and then reshaping it to fit a theory.  The key passage, states, “None of the rulers of this world understood it, because if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

    And here all this time I thought of crucifixion as an earthly Roman form of execution, rather than something done by demons to celestial beings.  In fact, without an earthly, and thus historical, body to put on a cross, what does crucifixion even mean?

    Later in the same letter, Paul addresses some of those in Corinth who did not believe that a resurrection of the body was all that important.  Thus in 1 Cor 15:3-8 he writes, “For I passed on to you the most important points that I received: The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures—and is still alive!— and he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Next he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and finally he was seen by me, as though I were born abnormally late.”

    Death, burial and resurrection all point to a physical and thus historical Christ. Nor is this just some minor secondary teaching, but one Paul says is most important.  Note the appeal made to these skeptics concerning the eyewitnesses and the fact that many were still alive. This an implicit challenge to go and talk to them if you doubted what he was saying.

    It is for reasons such as these, plus a lot more that space does not allow for here, that even most skeptics reject these claims when they periodically come up.  For example, in my book Christianity and Secularism, I look at the early non-Christian sources and just from these we get the following picture:

    There was a religious teacher named Jesus. We are told that His birth was not a normal birth. During His ministry Jesus did many miracles. He had a large following, and the religious leaders of the time opposed Him. We learn that while in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus was arrested. He was condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. His death was by crucifixion. During the crucifixion there was an unexplained darkening of the sky. Finally, His followers claimed that three days later Jesus rose from the dead and still lives. (pg 132)

    Again this is the picture of Jesus from the early critics. Ultimately there is the question of how Christianity got started in the first place, growing to one of the largest religions in the world, and vastly changing the course of human history. If the accounts in the Bible are true, this is what we would expect.  It is hard enough to account for this if Jesus was just a misunderstood historical figure whose follower got carried away in their claims about him. It is impossible to account for if there never really was an historical Jesus.

    I think it is pretty safe to say that we can file this one away, yet again, at least until it come up next time, perhaps in another 10 or so years.


    Giving Up on Apologetics?

    Friday, May 23rd, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Given that I am a Christian Apologist, a friend of mine was interested in my reaction to T E Hanna’s recent post on 3 Reasons Why I Gave Up Christian Apologetics. As the author of two books that would clearly fall into this category (Evidence for the Bible / Christianity and Secularism), and one who has a master’s degree in Christian Apologetics, and has been doing this for several decades, I do consider myself an Christian apologist. So at the risk of being argumentative, I thought I would respond.

    First, there is a lot that I would agree with in his post. I would certainly agree that apologetics can be misused, i.e., done incorrectly or for the wrong reasons and that his 3 reasons would all fall into that category. I would only point out that the same could be said about most things. Just think what damage a Pastor can do if they are not working as a true servant of God. In fact, just reading the last sentence may have brought to mind some examples. But that would hardly be a reason to give up on the role of pastor, rather it would be a call to do it correctly. The same can be said about apologetics.

    Hanna claims “I have yet to meet anyone that has come to know Christ as the result of an intense debate.” In my several decades as an apologist, neither have I. In fact, I have consistently taught in my ministry that the role of apologetics is not to argue people into the kingdom of heaven. The reason is simple, it cannot be done, and if this is why someone does apologetics, they are wasting their time.

    Of course this raises the question of why do apologetics? A simple one is that we are commanded to do so in passages like 1 Peter 3:15-16,

    Instead, exalt the Messiah as Lord in your lives. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak evil of your good conduct in the Messiah will be ashamed of slandering you.

    The apologetics that Hanna is critical of is an apologetics that stops at verse 15, but for me verse 16 is just as important.

    But there are practical reasons as well. True, no one is or can be argued into the kingdom, but they can be helped to the foot of the cross. One of the ways I teach this is with the metaphor of a wall. We all like to build walls to keep God at a safe distance. Christians build these wall was well, but our focus here is the non-believer who builds walls of excuses as to why they can ignore God. It is the role of apologetics to remove those walls block by block till there is nothing standing between the believer and the cross. At that point the role of apologetics in evangelism ends.

    So while no one is argued into the kingdom, some have been brought to the foot of the cross, and thus apologetics did play an important role in their conversion. I know this to be the case, for I was one of them. I was an atheist who had a long list of reasons why I could safely ignore God. But one by one over several years, Christians answered these objections.

    True, not everyone has such questions or objections, and thus for them discussions on the reliability of the Bible, etc., would be irrelevant at best, possibly even counter-productive. This is why I stress that the first and most important step in apologetics is to listen. Find out what it is that is keeping them from the cross.

    Now to be clear, I do not expect, or even believe, that everyone would be a trained apologist, ready with all the answers at their fingertips. For me the best answer is often, “that is a good question, and I don’t know. Let me find out and get back to you.” I like this answer for many reasons. 1) You don’t need to have all the answers, only a resource where you can get them. If you do not know of one, then I recommend that you start with your Pastor. Bottom line, it is a one size fits all answer. 2) It opens up a dialogue and builds a relationship. I encourage people to be a safe place where those with questions can get answers, a person someone can ask a question of without getting a full come to Jesus sermon. Perhaps it is because of my conversion experience, but I see conversion as more of a process then an event, one that can take a long time, and one in which while there are many stages, there is no set order. Everyone is different and this is why listening and building a relationship is so key to apologetics.

    I do want to say something in favor of intense debates. I have been in many. But intense does not mean disrespectful. In fact I came to the attention of my editor many years ago because he noticed me in an online forum engaging some pretty intensive debates, but remaining respectful, even when my opponents were not. At times I would wonder myself, what is the point? These people never seem to change, and at times the argument would just seem to be going in circles.

    Two things would keep me going. 1) When I was on the other side, I never told the Christians I was debating that they were right. But afterword, I would reflect on what they said and I now believe the Holy Spirit would use those arguments to work on my heart. 2) When I was really discouraged, inevitably I would get an email from someone I had never heard of, expressing thanks for what I was doing and letting me know how my responses had bless them, and helped them. This is a second dimension of apologetics, strengthening believers. It is important to note that a lie unanswered will be taken as the truth. Currently the lies about God, the Bible and Christianity are rampant and are overwhelming what little apologetics is out there.

    While I could write a lot more on this, this has already gotten longer than I intended, so let me just close by saying that as a Christian apologist I do not judge what I do by how many debates I win or souls I save, because the first doesn’t matter and I can’t do the latter in any event. My goal is to be a faithful servant, and I will leave the results to God.


    The Cult Question

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    With Romney as the front-runner, the question of his Mormon religion continues to be an issue and came to the forefront recently when a Perry supporter labeled Mormons a cult, which was then followed by calls for Perry to repudiate these comments.

    This is an issue, which if not handled correctly, could blow up in a number of directions. Romney supporters are understandably nervous that if Romney’s Mormon beliefs become an issue, it could cost him the nomination or the election. However, if the defense of Romney is to label any criticism of Mormonism bigoted that could also easily backfire and alienate many Christians who make up a large portion of the conservative base that Romney will need to win.

    One factor that makes this a huge minefield is the general ignorance of the mainstream media when it comes to religion. But the biggest problem in this whole debate concerns the word “cult.” “Cult” is one of those words that has a very large lexical domain (range of meaning) from academic/technical at one end of the spectrum to a derogatory label on the other. Those calling for Perry to repudiate the term clearly see the term in the latter sense. Because of this ambiguity in meaning I do not use the word, and have encouraged others to avoid it.

    While there certainly are some Christians who use the term in a derogatory sense, for many Christians the term cult simply refers to groups who in some fashion claim to be Christian, but who reject one or more of the key doctrines that have defined Christianity. But this gets into a discussion of just what is Christianity. I discussed this issue in my book, Christianity and Secularism.

    On these central beliefs there is very little dispute. In fact, it has been these doctrines that have defined Christianity as a religion. Groups that accept these doctrines are considered to be Christian groups. Those who do not accept these doctrines cannot be considered Christians, at least not in any historical sense.

    Some may consider it to be judgmental and arrogant to say who is or is not a Christian simply because they do or do not accept a particular doctrine or belief. First, let it be clear that we are talking about classifying groups based on beliefs. After all, if there is a difference between being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, does it not mean that Christians must have some distinct beliefs that can be contrasted with these other religions? Second we are not talking about an individual’s relationship with God. This is a spiritual matter that only God can judge, for only He knows what is truly in a person’s heart. We may be able to get a good indication by the person’s actions or beliefs but we cannot judge the heart.

    Groups do not have personal relationships with God. What defines a religious group is the beliefs of the group. If we were to be completely non-judgmental, then we would have to conclude that any group that claimed to be Christian was, regardless of what they believed. This would render the term “Christian” completely meaningless. Should we consider a group that believed in child sacrifice to be a Christian group? Would this make child sacrifice a legitimate expression of the teachings of Christ? Clearly not. So the question is not should a line be drawn that defines Christianity, but where do we draw that line.

    If no line is drawn, Christianity becomes a completely meaningless term that could be applied to any group or any action from the most divine to the most depraved. If, on the other hand, we compose a long and extensive list of doctrines that must be accepted in order for a group to be considered Christian, then we would indeed be arrogant and judgmental, restricting Christianity only to those groups that agreed with us in every little detail. The doctrines that define Christianity should be limited to those expressly taught in the Bible as essential….

    Philip Schaff, in his three volume work, Creeds of Christendom, surveyed the doctrinal statements and creeds of the various Christian churches down through the ages. He refers to their ecumenical creeds as those creeds which contain “the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation.” As to the acceptance of these creeds, Schaff points out that they:

    … are to this day either formally or tacitly acknowledged in the Greek, the Latin, and the Evangelical Protestant Churches, and form a bond of union between them.

    The differences that divide denominations are mostly peripheral issues, such as whether or not some spiritual gifts are available to be used today. (pg 76-7;90-1)

    How this applies to the current debate is that Mormons reject some of these key doctrines. For example, while both Christianity and Judaism believe that there is only one God, Mormons believe that that many gods exist. This does not make Mormons bad people, but it does mean that Mormons beliefs are different from those that have historically defined Christianity.

    It is true that Mormons use a lot of the same terminology as Christians, such as referring to Jesus as the Son of God, but what they mean by this is often vastly different than what Christians have historically meant. Thus when a Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, to name just a few, talk about the nature of God, or say that Jesus is the Son of God, and they all mean the same thing. Mormons talking about these topics may sound similar, but they mean something significantly different.

    This is not an unusual circumstance. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share a lot of beliefs. In fact they all believe that there is only one God. But they also have key differences. Thus we refer to them as different religious movements. While there are a large number of Christian groups with differing beliefs, they have historically shared a core of beliefs that has defined them as Christian. Mormons reject this core of beliefs, so the easiest thing to do is to likewise consider Mormons a different religious groups. This is not said in a derogatory sense, but merely an attempt to be accurate and precise.

    So how does this apply to the election? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The constitution is pretty clear that there should be no religious test for office. The office of the president has no religious function, and therefore the religion of the candidate should be largely irrelevant. It would only become relevant if the candidate chose to make it an important part of their campaign, but this would in and of itself raise red flags. But Romney has not done this, and nothing in his career would indicate that he would. So as a bottom line, when it comes to Romney, while I do not believe he is a Christian, I am looking for a President, not a pastor. Thus I will be much more interested in his polices than his religion.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVIII

    Friday, January 16th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached chapter 17. At this chapter Hitchens has finished his main arguments against religion, the vast majority of which were examples of religious people behaving badly. Of course this leads to a natural question of what about atheists who have behaved badly.   So here Hitchens attempts to show that same standard he has used to attack religion, somehow does not apply to atheism.

    He sums up the situation writing, “When the worst has been said about  the Inquisition and the  witch trials and the Crusades and the Islamic imperial conquests and the horrors of the Old Testament, is it not true that secular and atheist regimes have committed crimes and massacres that are, in the scale of things, at least as bad if not worse?” (pg 229)

    Hitchens begins his defense with one of his typically sarcastic and false, comments that “it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or  Nazis or Stalinists.”  (pg 230).  Hitchens “inexpensive observation” (pg 230) makes a number of errors key to this entire discussion.  The first is that the argument against secularism is not that the crimes of the secular regimes equaled those of religion, but that in a single century they far exceed those of Christianity in 20 centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition one the classic examples of the  crimes of Christianity resulted in the deaths of about 2000 people.  While a terrible crime these number hardly even compare to the 11 million dead in the concentration camps of Hitler, whose crimes don’t even compare to those of Stalin and Mao who were responsible for  the deaths of well over 100 million people.

    More importantly whereas the crimes of Christianity were the result a mixture of corruption in the church and barbaric nature of the past, the crimes of these secular movements occurred in the  enlighten modern times, and were much more inherent to these regimes, than corruptions within them. So there is hardly any equating going on. 

    Primarily such arguments against secularism are aimed at showing the problems with atheist attacks in two ways.  First, even if everything atheists said were true and characterized correctly, this would not argue in favor or secularism as secularism’s record is far worst.  Second it shows the inconsistency, and thus illogical nature of the secular arguments, for the same reasoning can equally be used against them.  Thus in reality it is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.

    Following his initial remarks Hitchens proceeds with his main line of defense  by first attempting to link these secular regimes to religion, writing, “For most of human history, the idea of the total or absolute state was intimately bound up with religion.” (pg 231)  There are a whole range of problems here, not the least of which are historical.   But there is more fundamental problem with this whole line of argument, for no matter how one attempts to make it there are tremendous problems. 

    First is the question of whether these secular movements were religious.  If these secular regimes which were strongly anti-traditional religion were in fact religious,  then one must have a definition of religion that is broader than just a belief in one or more Gods, a definition of religion that would include atheism.

    Now, as I discuss in my book , Christianity and Secularism,  I believe such a broader understanding of religion to be more accurate, and that atheism is at least fundamentally religious.  But if this is the case, then atheists are either arguing against their own views, or their arguments must only apply to some religions, not all. Either way there are problems.  The only other option would be to try and claim that their brand of atheism was not religious like these other types of atheism, but that would certainly involve special pleading.   

    On the other hand if these secular regimes were not religions, but only adopted a characteristic of religion,  there are still major problems. For such characteristic to be found outside of religion would mean that these characteristics were not and of themselves religious but rather something that could be found in religious movements or non-religious movements, and thus could not be held against religion.

    This in fact is a problem with most atheist arguments against religion, and is found throughout Hitchens’ book.   That such evils can be found in religious people, in the end is little more than a confirmation of the biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Rom 3:23)

    However if this latter line is taken, the argument against secularism remains, for while these evils can be found in both religious and secular people, the secular regimes of the 20th century rejecting religious morality, and instead looking to science as there guide committed the greatest evils the world has ever know.

    Based on Hitchens’ discussion, he seem to fall into the latter category, ultimately arguing,  not so much against religion, but against “the totalitarian mind-set” that has “‘total answers to all questions.”  While it allows Hitchens to distinguish his view of atheism from these other type of atheism, it likewise excludes all traditional religions that do not share such views. In short, we find that most of his arguments against religion have really been again something else.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIV

    Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and the question of whether religion makes people behave.   The core of his argument seems to be that religious people do at time behave very badly, while some noted atheists have behave quite nicely.  Therefore religion is not needed to behave.  

    One of the problems here is of sampling.  As the historian Jacques Barzum pointed out, any review of history will show that the acts we like to label as inhuman in their cruelty, are far too common to warrant that label, and in fact are all too human.  Yet, when they are done by the religious, they seem to stand out and thus get more notice, whereas the good that the religious do is often taken for granted, for it is just expected.  But this very expectation argues against Hitchens.

    A key misconception here is that religion does not make bad people good, it can however help and encourage people to be better.  Often the atheist attempt counter this by claiming that such argument mean that atheists must be immoral, and since not all are, such arguments must be false. While there is some  of truth in this argument, it somewhat misses the point. As I wrote in my book, Christianity and Secularism, “a person can be an atheist and still be a very moral person, and a person who does a tremendous amount of good.” (pg 179)

    Ultimately it amounts to a question of foundations.  Where do morals come from. For Christians, morality is grounded in God. Whether one agrees with the Christian view of morality or not, at least for the Christian there is a foundation for their moral views. Atheists are critical of this foundation because they reject the existence of God. But what alternative do they offer?  What is their foundation?  They have none, or at least no consistent foundation.

    Unlike the Christian the atheist is pretty much free to pick and choose whatever view of morality they like.   Again, since atheists often distort this point, let me be very clear, they are free to choose a view of morality that might be considered by most to be good, or one that most would consider bad, or even evil.   Many western atheists have in fact adopted a large part of the ethics of Western Civilization which is deeply infused with Judeo-Christian values. 

    But as Western Civilization moves way from Christianity, and the moral foundation that it provides, as one would expect, the moral standards have weakened.   Atheists and some others would say that this weakening of the Christian view of morality is a good thing, but even if the atheist is correct, it is still a weakening.

    One of the double standards that currently exists is that atheists  feel complete free to question Christian views of morality, and since they are grounded in a belief in God, to reject them as false because they are grounded in error.  But they are never asked to justify their beliefs, or the foundations for them. 

    For example, the current hotly contested moral question is over the definition of marriage. The traditional view of marriage being between one man and one woman, is rejected as an imposition of religion, even thought it has been the virtually the unanimous view of all of human society until the last decade or so. Even cultures like ancient Greece that encouraged homosexuality, still saw marriage as  between an man and a woman.

    In addition traditional marriage is based on a fact, though one that is often denied by the educated elites, that men and women are different.  From this fact flows the idea the best way to raise children is for them to have both a father and a mother in a committed stable relationship.  This was the reason for the government to get involved in marriage in the first place;  i.e., to promote such stable families for the raising of children.

    But deriving from false idea that there is not real difference between men and women, critics argue that the role of father and mother are completely interchangeable. It really makes no difference, as long as there is love.

    While it is acceptable to attack, ridicule and reject the traditional view, it is somehow illegitimate to question the other side, and it is considered especially unfair to point out their logical problems.   If love is all that matters, when why not three people who love each other? Why not a brother and a sister, or a father and a daughter?  Such question reveal the problem with their position.

    But that is the reason for the double standard, for ultimately there is no foundation, and ultimately everything goes. Weaken the foundation and the structure will crumble.   When abortion was first legalized claims that it would lead to euthanasia were rejected as silly, though now we have euthanasia in various forms.  Many things that were unthinkable just a few years ago, are now coming to be accepted.

    Where will it end?  As society slowly dismantles the Judeo-Christian value system, what foundation will be put in its place?  What core moral principles will be left and what sort of morality will be built on them?  It is very difficult to say.  But if history is any indication, the prospects are not good.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXI

    Friday, November 7th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” after dealing with the Old and New Testaments, Hitchens, takes on the Koran, but I will leave it to Muslims to respond, and move on to chapter ten, where Hitchens deals with the dual subjects of Miracles and Hell.  Or at least that is what the title claims, as the chapter really only deals with miracles, and even here the arguments are particularly weak, even for Hitchens.

    At its core, his argument seems to be that Hume, who he claims wrote “the last word on the subject” (pg 141), argued that we have free will to decide if we will believe in miracles or not, at which point Hitchens calls upon “the trusty Ockham” (pg 141) and his razor to decide that we should not.  Hitchens then has a very feeble, at best,  attack on the resurrection which never really rises above attempts at ridicule, then supports this with a few examples of false miracles, primarily related to Mother Teresa.

    That we have the free will to decide about miracle was hardly new with Hume, nor even a fair summary of his thought. Nor did Hume write the last word on the subject, as many words have been written pointing out the problems with Hume’s critique, including a few of my own.  Still, Hitchens’ arguments, weak as they are, suffer from the two main problems common to atheist’s arguments in this area and these center around the nature of miracles and concept of free will.

    For Hitchens and other atheists, miracles are suspect because by definition natural explanations of some sort are always going to be more likely. This is bolstered by the fact that many alleged miracles have been shown to be the result of natural forces or fraud.  Yet error and fraud exist in all areas of human experience. So that there is error and fraud in some miracles is not a reputation of all miracles, and in fact the Bible warns us to be careful about this, a warning that Christians have not always taken as seriously as they should.

    Miracles, at least in the Christian view, are the acts of a personal God.  They are not forces of nature that can be measured and studied in a laboratory.  That one person prayed and was healed does not mean that everyone who prays will be healed, even though there are some Christians who believe this.  Such personal acts do not lend themselves to the type of evidence atheists demand, especially since the purpose of a miracle is normally not to show the existence of miracles or God.  Of course the atheist often asks why doesn’t God just perform a miracle and prove that he exists ?

    That bring us to free will.  Hitchens main argument is that we have free will to choose whether or not to believe in miracles. Free will is a good way to understand this issue, and the problem with atheistic reasoning, as it ultimately argues against, not for, free will. 

    The issues and complexities of election aside, we do at least at some level have free will.   As Jesus said of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  Now it is true that that God does not prove he exists in some undeniable way, and from this the atheist concludes that that he does not exist.  I believe, however, he does not because that would conflict with our freedom to choose.    

    Do we, for example, have the freedom to choose whether or not we will accept gravity or if the Moon exists? Not in any meaningful sense, and if God met the atheist’s demands, neither would we have any meaningful choice to believe in God.  Rather than proof, God has given us evidence. Evidence that points to his existence, and evidence for miracles.  As I argue in Christianity and Secularism  the resurrection is not only the best explanation for the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ, it is the only explanation that explains both the empty tomb and that the disciples really believed that had seen the risen Christ, two things that even some skeptic and critics of the resurrection believe need explanations.   Yet, while strong evidence, it is not proof.  God has left us the freedom to ignore the evidence and to reject the resurrection despite the evidence.

    The atheist view does not, despite Hitchens claim, allow such freedom.  In the atheist view,  barring absolute proof,  the miraculous must be rejected in favor of the natural.  For the atheist there is no weighing of evidence pro and con, a miracle is either proved or rejected, with a standard of proof so high that if met it would eliminate any meaningful freedom to reject God.

    So ultimately, this is a matter of how you frame the question.  If, as the atheists see it, this is a question of proved or rejected, then miracles, and belief in God will be rejected.  If however this is seen as a question of evidence pro and con, then the  evidence supports the belief in miracles such as the resurrection, and the belief in God.   God has given us the freedom to choose. What we do with that freedom is up to us.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XX

    Friday, October 24th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” examining Hitchens’ claim that the New Testament is more evil than Old.

    Hitchens first line of attack is to claim the Gospels are unhistorical and that they “cannot agree on anything of importance.” Now it is true that some scholars consider these accounts as mere fabrications, but it is also true that other scholars have examine these accounts, and as D.A. Carson points out in his commentary on Matthew, ” the stories have long been shown to be compatible, even mutually complementary.”

    But there is a further and deeper problem behind Hitchens claim, one that rest more with the liberal scholars he relies on then with him.  Scholars, in whatever field are assumed to be people who have studied all the relevant material in reaching their scholarly conclusions.  Yet when it come to biblical scholars critical of the Bible this is not always the case.

    This was noted by another biblical scholar, Craig Blomberg, when he wrote, ” it is strange how often the reliability of the gospels is impugned by scholars who believe them to be hopelessly contradictory yet who have never seriously interacted with the types of solutions proposed here.” (cited in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, pg 150)

    Most of the alleged problems raised by Hitchens have been dealt with and answered long ago,  and in fact I answer many of them in my two books,  Christianity and Secularism and   Evidence for the Bible.   

    As such Hitchens is simple wrong when he argues that “The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament… have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of faith.” (pg 115)  This error is followed immediately by another error, when Hitchens claims “This feebleness derives from the fact that until recently, Christians could simply burn or silence anybody who asked any inconvenient questions.” (pg 115)  While vague enough to find some support in history, this statement is really little more than a bigoted slander.   But then this, for Hitchens is what passes as rational argument.   He makes a claim, and then follow it by a slanderous accusation hoping to silence any reply.  It may be an effective debating tactic, but it does not substitute for a rational argument.

    From there Hitchens goes to what he calls the other “‘Gospels and narratives of marginal but significant figures”  such as Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Judas.  (pg 112).  His intent seems to be to cast doubt on the New Testament by pointing to the existence of these other writings.  He does argue that if these had been consider inspired rather than the four gospels in the Bible Christianity would have been far different.   True enough, but as the saying goes, if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a wagon.  

    This does, however,  reveal the different presupposition made by many critics such as Hitchens.  They start with the belief that all religions are equally false human creations.  Christianity can’t possibly be the result of God intervening into history, but rather,  it was one of many religious movements of the period, and it was just luck and chance that it happened to rise to dominance.

    Thus Hitchens probably does  see the Gospel of Judas, or Thomas, as supporting his assumption and in a small way they do.  His view requires many religions, and these other gospels do show that Gnosticism was a competitor to Christianity in the second century.  But while a minor support for his view, it is hardly a significant one, since in some of the later books of the New Testament one can see the apostles warning against other religious movements, including what appears to be a very early form of Gnosticism. 

    There is another key difference between the Gnostic Gospels and the New Testament Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels generally date from the 2nd century long after the apostles died.  The New Testament gospels were written in the first century and while there is some disagreement, there are scholars who argue they were written by the those they are named after.

    Some of Hitchens arguments are just plain silly, such as his claim that virgin birth was a man made account because “parthenogenesis is not possible for human mammals”  Of course it was not possible, that’s what made it a miracle of God.  But for Hitchens, by definition everything must be natural or it did not happen.  That the virgin birth could have been a miracle of God is not really even an option for him.

    Hitchens ends by pointing to Bart Ehrman’s views on the New Testament.  Ehrman has gained some notoriety by taking what was already known to anyone who looks at the footnotes in their bible and playing it up as if it were significant.  For a more in depth discussion of Ehrman’ views see my review of his book.

    Ultimately Hitchens critique of the New Testament is little more than a rehash of long refuted arguments,  with a generous sprinkling of invective. Certainly nothing to support his claim that it is evil.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great IX

    Friday, August 8th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” In Chapter Three, Hitchens addresses the question of why Jews and Muslims will not eat pork.  This question does not directly concern Christianity, but the overall discussion deserves some comment.


    In this short chapter Hitchens quickly disposes of the normal justification for this law, which concerns health, a justification he calls, absurd. Hitchens is correct that the dietary dangers of eating pork, even in ancient times, are at best marginal.  In fact for some of the other prohibited foods, the dangers are non-existent, or at least no different than the dangers of acceptable kosher foods.  So while pointing to health reasons can provide some explanation in some cases, it is not a complete answer, and marginal at best for pork. 


    Yet Hitchens explanations is hardly any better.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition grew out of a “simultaneous attraction and repulsion” for the pig; that the pig had very human qualities, including taste, that set it apart from other animals.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition followed a night of human sacrifice and cannibalism in which the participants clearly saw the similarities.  As Hitchens puts it, “Nothing optional – from homosexuality to adultery – is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting…have a repressed desire to participate.” (pg 40)


    This statement is one of those generalized indictments that leaves me with more question than answers.  The claim that there must be a repressed desire to want to make something punishable is hardly any better than the health explanations, i.e. it might explain a few cases but hardly explains them all. Hitchens examples, homosexuality, adultery and then later prostitution, all involve sex, where his explanation is at least possible even if still questionable as this would not even be a good explanation for all sexual prohibitions. Does one really have to have a repressed sexual desire for children to want a child molestation prohibited? 


    When you move beyond the realm of sexuality, his explanation is even less satisfying. Must one have a repressed desire for theft or murder to want them prohibited?  My guess is that Hitchens would claim that these do not match is initial qualification of “Nothing optional” but this qualification is so vague as to be meaningless.


    In the end, natural justifications such as those pointing to health benefits or that given by Hitchens miss the point, though I believe that Hitchens unknowingly touches on a much more likely explanation. Hitchens defended the lack of a health hazard in pork, by pointing to those living around the ancient Jews who did eat it, for “ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish.”(p. 39) 


    The Deuteronomy 14, which specifics some of these laws, begin with “You are the children of the LORD…you are a people Holy to the LORD your God.” The ancient Jews were God’s people Holy or set apart from those around them. This was the primary reason for the dietary laws, which included the prohibition on eating pork.  Of course there is the secondary question as to why individual items such as pork were on the list or while beef was not. But we should keep clear that this is a secondary question. Sometimes we can see possible reasons why particular items were or were not prohibited in either health, or the religious practices of other groups. But we must be careful not to focus on these secondary reasons to the point that we neglect the primary reason. 


    There is a tendency when defending the Bible to fall into trap of accepting the assumptions of the critics, and thereby seeking natural explanation for things that are inherently spiritual, as if without a natural justification, a commandment must be nothing more than an irrational superstition. The dietary laws are then explained as health oriented for a time before modern medicine and refrigerators. As health oriented we can ignore them, since the need has passed.


    Such reasoning is very convenient for Christians, since because of the teaching of the New Testament, we don’t have to follow the dietary laws in any event. But again this is to focus only on the secondary reason, not the primary, which is to be set apart for God.


    Non-Jews may look at the distinctive aspects of Judaism, such as the dietary laws and say that they are old legalisms, or even superstitions, but they have performed a very important function: they have kept the Jewish people set apart for over 3000 years, which just happen to be exactly what God said they were for.


    As Christians we are children of God. While we do not need to follow the dietary laws, we are still called to be holy, to be set apart for God (1 Pet 1:15).  Today the church seems more aimed at fitting in and keeping up with the culture, and to some extent this is a good thing, for we have a living faith and worships a living God.  If we are Holy, that is set apart, for God, what is it that sets us apart? It cannot just be our eternal destination, for we are called to live Holy lives now. So what is it that sets you apart?


    Christianity and Secularism

    Evidence for the Bible


    Hitchens – God Is Not Great VIII

    Friday, August 1st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” Following his comments on happiness and Mother Teresa that I discussed last week, the bulk of the second chapter consists of a response to an argument made by Dennis Prager. As presented by Hitchens, “I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Towards me I was to imagine I saw a large group of men approaching. Now would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were coming from a prayer meeting?”  Hitchens’ answer was that he had personal experience in places where he would not feel safe, such as Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad, just to stay in the letter ‘B.’ The bulk of the chapter then recounts the conflict in these areas.

    When Hitchens appeared on Dennis Prager’s show, an interesting discussion occurred concerning the details of this argument. Prager claimed that instead of a prayer meeting, he had specified a Bible study, and that he has restricted it to the United States.  While I was not at the panel discussion mentioned by Hitchens, this is an argument I have heard Prager make many times, and in fact I cited this argument in my book, Christianity and Secularism (pg 180). Both my memory, and the version in my book, supports Prager.


    These are not trivial details. All of Hitchens examples cite areas of active conflict, split along religious lines, and which, except for Belfast, all involve Islam.  In such places the primary source of fear would come, not so much because they had come from a prayer meeting or Bible class, but rather that they were a group of partisans in an ongoing violent conflict. In such a conflict of course you would fear a group from the side of the conflict, or where you might be mistaken as the enemy.


    This is vastly different than the situation presented by Prager.  The United States has no such ongoing violent conflict. Here crime is the main concern. With the exception of extremist Islam, few if any of those who become religious, are worst people for it, and in fact there are many examples of those who turn their lives around and become significantly better people.  So unless one was driven by some bigotry against Christianity or Judaism of course one would feel safer. So as a rebuttal to Prager’s argument, the chapter fails.


    There remains the culpability of religion in the conflicts Hitchens mentions, which is his broader point.  As I have discussed many times in the past, this is not the clear cut indictment on religion that the neo-atheists claim.  


    There is nothing inherent in the claims of Christianity or Judaism that says all religions are good. Quite the opposite, in the Bible God strongly condemns some other religions, such as the practice of the Canaanites to sacrifice their children.  Finally, it is simply irrational to claim that because some, or even most religions are bad, therefore all religions must be bad.


    In terms of the list given by Hitchens, remove the conflicts involving Islam and you are left with just Belfast. While this conflict is split along Catholic and Protestant lines, that is not the reason for the conflict. The conflict existed well before Henry VIII decided that England should become protestant, and if for some reason one side suddenly converted to the religion of the other side, that would not resolve the conflict, which is far more historical and political than religious.  So again Hitchens’ argument fails, at least in relation to Christianity.  


    But there are a few things we can learn from Hitchens. For one, Hitchens misunderstanding of Prager’s argument is something we all should be on guard against. When we hear an argument that challenges something we believe, there is a natural tendency to seek flaws in the argument, and in that process, unless we are careful, we will distort the argument so as to more easily answer it.  If we are going to correct the flaw in our own thinking we must listen carefully to the criticism of others.


    More importantly, as Christians, we must remember that we represent God. To use God’s name to justify our own personal beliefs and actions imputes our errors and folly to God. This is, I believe, the true meaning behind of the Commandment to not take the name of God in vain. (Ex 20).  It is not just to use the name of God as if it were nothing more than a verbal punctuation mark, or worst as an explicative, though this is wrong. Rather, we must not justify our beliefs and actions by claiming we are acting in the name of God, unless we are very certain that we are.


    It is one thing to be mistaken and wrong, to act in ways that we later regret.  We are human and we all do this. But when we attempt to justify ourselves by appealing to God or the Bible, we in effect make God responsible for our errors.


    To see the damage done, just look at the crusades.  So while Hitchens’ argument is false, the there is nevertheless something we as Christians can learn from the fact that it is so easy for him to make this argument.


    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.