Sunday, November 29, 2015

Video Games and Miracles

A Classic!
Originally posted here. I suppose I grew up in the "Nintendo generation," having graduated from Pac-Man and Donkey Kong  to spending hours squashing "goombas" to save the princess in Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. Then there was Link, always working to save Princess Zelda. But regardless of which game I was playing or even which genre of game I played, each video game had its own consistent laws of what was possible. Mario and Luigi may be able to jump several times their own height, which is impossible in our world, but that was perfectly normal in the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Brothers. And those laws had to apply equally to each player for the game to be fair. But ... as any gamer knows, there are "cheat codes" - those little hidden combinations of movements, game actions, sequences of pushed buttons on the controllers, and so on, that allow a user to sidestep the rules of that game's reality. A cheat code may let the player get more lives, become invincible, get abilities beyond what's normal in that game's world, access new weapons or levels, or bypass difficult levels or enemies to finish the game faster.

But what does all this have to do with miracles? Well, consider where cheat codes came from, and why they're called cheat codes. These have historically been programming "back doors" for the game developers to test different parts of the game without having to play through the entire game at the intended rate. If I'm developing a game, and I need to test game play in level thirty-seven, I don't want to have to play through the first thirty-six levels that I know work well just to repeatedly test out small changes in level thirty-seven. An easy way to handle this is for me to write in a hidden jump to the higher levels, or a code for superpowers that would let me go through the tedious parts quickly. As the creator of the game, I'm outside the game, while the players are immersed in the game. I'm not limited by the rules of that game world (unless I choose to be), while the players are limited by the rules in a fair contest. With that in mind, it's not cheating for the game creator to bypass levels or grant himself superpowers to accomplish his work. However, if a player learns of the programmer's secret, and uses it unfairly, then it is cheating.

Now, this leads me to a few observations.
1) We are open to the possibility of miracles (i.e. bypassing or circumventing a world's observed physical laws) in a game world.
2) We recognize that the game's programmer isn't violating any actual real-world constraints when he alters physics inside his game - the code he's writing in his dimension is functioning perfectly in accordance with whatever programming language he used whether he writes a "normal" game scenario, or one with a secret invincibility switch in the game's dimension.
3) We recognize that these "miracles" (from an in-game perspective) tend to be the work of the game's developer as a means of accomplishing his work outside of normal game play.
4) We have an expectation that these events are not the norm, and are supposed to be used judiciously by the right person (i.e. the developer) to make the game better.
5) We recognize the right of the game developer to exercise privileges beyond our own as players.

With that in mind, I have to ask why we turn around and deny even the possibility of miracles in our physical world. Why think that it is impossible that our world had a developer - a Creator - who is not bound by our reality's constraints? Why think that such interactions between our Creator and His creation - ones that appear miraculous from our "inside-the-game" perspective - are impossible if He's simply not limited like we are? Why think that our Creator doesn't have a right to alter our world's "game" as He sees fit to make it better?

When we look at the miracle of God entering the game He created at a specific point in this game's time and space, and becoming a player like one of us. He still retained His title of Sovereign Programmer, using His power to beat what we never could. In this we see a move of unfathomable love and mercy that made the game immeasurably better. Imagine playing an unwinnable level, with the deck stacked against you, and suddenly, the game creator appears in the game next to you and says, "You can't beat this on your own, but I've got this - just follow me." That's what Jesus did when He physically appeared almost 2,000 years ago and conquered death. Will you turn away and keep playing on your own? Please don't, there's a better way.

Monday, November 16, 2015

In the Beginning

As we're starting out together on this journey into learning about apologetics I (Sam) thought we ought to start off with a couple basic parts of apologetics.  That's why the first post was an introduction to apologetics in general and why I want to introduce basic apologetic arguments one at a time for a few weeks.  Therefore, this week's post is about two apologetics arguments in the category of cosmological arguments.  First, the Leibnizian argument from contingency and the "kalam" cosmological argument made popular by William Lane Craig (here on out, "WLC").

History of the Argument

WLC's amazing arguments are actually really old!  According to WLC's book The Kalām Cosmological Argument (that's a tough read, but an easier explanation, which is the primary source for this entry can be found in WLC's book On Guardthese arguments have been around since (before) the time of Plato!  WLC did much of his research on the kalām argument through medieval Islamic philosophers and chose to use the word kalām from Arabic for "speech" or "words," as a tribute to both their significant work using this type of philosophy and as a tribute to Greek philosophers' (and the biblical) use of the word λόγος - [logos] or word. (John 1:1ff).  -- Sorry more Greek, and now Arabic--can you tell I'm a linguist?  So this argument is really old and has been made by many famous (and not so famous) philosophers.  For example, G. W. Leibniz, a super smart guy in eighteenth-century Europe, wrote: “The first question which should rightly be asked is: Why is there something rather than nothing?”  We're only going to cover two in this entry so stick with me.

Argument from Contingency

WLC's version of the argument from contingency given in On Guard goes like this:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.

He later adds:

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

First let's discuss point #1: This seems reasonable and completely without question.  However, this is actually hotly disputed.  There is no simple way to explain why God is somehow exempt here except to say that God exists necessarily.  That is, God cannot, by definition, not exist.  WLC rephrases #1 as, "Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause."  God, by very definition cannot be caused--otherwise God wouldn't be God.  One of the other ways this point is attacked is that some atheists will claim that the universe itself needs no explanation of its existence (sometimes called a "brute fact"), this is a fallacy because there's no reason to exempt the entire universe from something that applies to the rest of the parts of the universe.  God is, by definition, outside the universe and exempt from this fallacious thinking.  We're not saying God is exempt from having an explanation for God's existence, we're saying that God is by definition the explanation for God's own existence.

The Kalām Cosmological Argument

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

And of course the only thing that make sense as creating the universe, is what we call God.

There are two problems with this (well, there are multiple but I'll try to work through two big problems).  First, this argument generally embraces Big Bang Theory (hereafter "BBT").  BBT claims that the universe began to exist some thirteen billion years ago, which flies in the face of groups like Answers in Genesis and other "young-earth creation" (hereafter YEC) teachers.  This does not mean that a YEC'ist has to reject the argument, just that YEC supporters cannot use the BBT to support the second point in the argument.  See, in the days before scientists came up with the BBT, philosophers had to rely on purely philosophical arguments for saying that the universe had a beginning.  But then, from various points of evidence, scientists came to agree with Christian philosophy/theology that says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Second, various people deny various levels of both points in the argument.  If you talk to pop-level atheists they will commonly point to quantum physics to say that point #1 is false.  That things "pop into existence from nothing" all the time.  However, in fact, if you listen carefully to the various discussions about these quantum particles, what we actually see is that quantum particles come from quantum foam or some other quantum thing.  I've often pointed this out, but it seems like a brick wall:

Closing Thoughts

There is much, much more to say about these two arguments, but as this is just an introduction I'll leave you with just one more thing concerning these arguments.  These arguments are just part of a much bigger cumulative case for Christianity.  If you think through these arguments you'll realize that we're not really anywhere near the Christian God.  All we have is some kind of Being that is non-physical and powerful.  (WLC also argues that this Being must also be personal, but I'll save that for another day.)

Also, a word of warning.  If you are talking with a die-hard-Dawkins-worshipping-New-Atheist type, these arguments will probably not be effective (really no arguments will work well on that type of person).  They think these arguments have been refuted.  They hang their hats on quantum weirdness that makes it seem like something can come from nothing.  They cling to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Schrödinger's cat to deny causality itself.  There's a not-so-funny irony in this.  What is science but the search for the cause of various effects we see around us?  Medical science is all about finding the cause for various diseases.  Biology and biochemistry is all about finding what causes life.  Genetics is about what causes various traits to be inherited.  And on and on the list goes.  Well, if the atheist is right, there's no fundamental cause effect relationship to the entire universe anything unexplained or any difficulty can be eventually boiled down to the indeterminacy of the fundamental particles of the universe.  This kind of science-of-the-gaps thinking is just as dangerous as crazy-fundamentalist-bible-thumping-conspiracy-theorists.  There's no reasoning with that kind of dogmatic atheist, just pray for them, and move on to people that actually have an interest in thinking through their worldview.

Photo credit here

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Intense Persecution of the Early Church: A Strange View? (So Says Bart Ehrman) - Part 2

In the first article in this series, we looked at the intensity of the persecution that took place against the apostles and the rest of the Church during the first year (to as much as 19 months—until the time that Paul was converted on the road to Damascus). During this period, the apostles (the primary witnesses to Jesus's resurrection) were arrested, flogged and warned by the same powerful Jewish court that arrested Jesus and had him crucified. This was quickly followed by the stoning of Stephen and a very intense period of widespread persecution in which many were hunted down, arrested and even put to death. Yet, in spite of this intense persecution, the apostles and the Church as a whole maintained their testimony that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.


But what happened after Paul was converted? Was Paul the sole source of this persecution? Did the persecution cease? If not, what did it look like?

First, let's just note from the outset that we do not have a lot of information about the Church for the period between Paul's conversion (34 AD) and the time of his first missionary journey (48 AD). The book of Acts is our only source for this period (other than some very minor details that we can learn from Galatians 1:17-24, i.e., Paul's visits to see Peter and James). In Acts, the only thing that Luke tells us about this period is what happened to Paul immediately after his conversion, a couple of healings, a few minor details, and two other major events (Acts 9:20-12:25).

So what did happen immediately after Paul's conversion? He “immediately began to preach in the synagogues [at Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). And this soon resulted in a conspiracy among other Jews to kill him. His response was to sneak out of the city and flee to Jerusalem (Acts 9:23-26; cf., 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). At Jerusalem the situation was the same: Paul spoke the message about Jesus, the Jews tried to kill him, and he fled for his life to Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30). So, we can see clearly that this response to severe persecution was not simply because of Paul. Paul himself experienced it from other Jews after his conversion.

Then Luke tells us that the persecution did generally cease for a period of time: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:32). How long was this “time of peace”? Luke does not specify. It may have been for as long as nearly a decade (until 44 AD). Or it may have been much shorter. My educated guess is that it was probably about 5 to 7 years. But we don't know. What we do know is that during King Herod Agrippa's reign (41-44 AD), there is more intense persecution. King Herod arrests some believers to persecute them. James, brother of John, is put to death by the sword. Herod sees that this pleases the Jews and Peter is arrested with the intention of putting him to death also, but Peter escapes. (Acts 12:1-3, 21-23).

Here again, the pressure is put on the apostles. Among the Twelve (the preeminent of the apostles), there were three who comprised Jesus's inner circle: Peter, James and John. All three of these experienced the severity of this persecution. James was put to death. Peter was arrested with the intention of putting him to death, also. And John, no doubt, experienced this persecution quite personally on many levels. Not only was he the third of this inner circle but watching his brother (with whom he was apparently very close) being put to death and his close friend Peter's life being threatened would have certainly been a grueling test of his profession of Jesus's resurrection. Once again, in the face of severe persecution, the primary witnesses of Jesus's resurrection do not recant.

This closes our look at this period of persecution. In the next article, we will examine the period of Paul's three missionary journeys (48-56 AD).

(Note: If you wish to download the timeline, you will want to watch for the last article in this series, as I hope to make a few revisions/additions--if time permits).


Brad Cooper's bio: I began passionately following Jesus Christ as a young child. And I am so thankful that in Jesus God has provided such a clear revelation of himself that a young child can understand. Yet the more one seeks to understand that revelation, the more he realizes he is just beginning to glimpse the greatness of God's love and wisdom and power.

I have been teaching the Bible and apologetics for 35 years. I have a B.A. from Fort Wayne Bible College and an M.Div. from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. I was a full-time pastor for nearly a decade and have pastored part-time for nearly another decade of the last 30 years.

I'm also husband to a wonderful woman, and a proud homeschool dad and grandpa. :)

And since 1997 I have been working in a factory to support all of this--currently building RVs. And I sell on Amazon and eBay focusing on used books and vintage items that I find at auctions and other sales.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Deep Conversations With My Nine Year Old

I was in the car last night, driving back from a boy scout event with my middle child. Now, in my family, any trip longer than a half hour is usually filled with spiritual questions, and given that my kids are as weird as I am, those questions are generally pretty deep.

The ride back from Alaflo last night was just shy of an hour! ;-)

Usually, it's my oldest daughter, the eleven year old, that asks the question, but being as it was just me and the boy, that duty fell to him. Like a trooper, he delivered ... and it was a doozy.

I don't remember how we got on the subject -- I'm sure it had something to do with Halloween, and fear, and the like -- but he told me that he sometimes doubts that God exists, not so much because he doesn't see Him working in this world and in our lives, but because he can't understand Him. The example he gave is "Who made God? Where did He come from?"

Like I said -- we go deep. I mean, my kids get their weirdness from me, so I can't recall them EVER asking me an easy question.

Of course, I told him that God was never made, that He didn't "come from" anywhere or anyone, but that answer didn't satisfy him. He brought up how scientists think the universe started with a Big Bang, and how it produced all this gas that came together to form the stars and planets and stuff, and maybe that gas made God too. So I asked him if that was true, where did the materials for the Big Bang came from? He said, "I don't know. It haunts me."

His words. Seriously. What nine year old talks like that?!?

Anyway, it occurred to me that some aspects of our conversation might have good apologetic value beyond me and my son. Granted, this thought is not on the level of my more learned apologist brothers, but it's the best a shade-tree like me can come up with.

The thought is, actually, pretty simple. My argument to Caleb was that God has always been -- ever existing, without beginning. That's what scripture teaches, and it's perfectly in keeping with ancillary truths in scripture regarding the nature of God, so that's what I believe.

Atheistic thought -- as represented by Caleb's argument, the question that "haunts" him -- is that the whole universe was created by a Big Bang. This Big Bang COULD be seen as the beginning of reality, or as simply the continuation of a previous reality. The Big Bang singularity point explodes, throwing out the boundaries and materials of the universe. But where did that singularity come from?

The atheistic community addresses this question in myriad ways, but all of them come back to the same theme -- the universe has no beginning. Kinda like God, ya know?

Oh sure, the universe might've started with a Big Bang, but where did the singularity come from? A previous universe, or a parallel universe, of course. So where did THAT universe come from? Another universe ... and another ... and another, ad infinitum.

Or maybe the Big Bang is the next step that follows a Big Shrink? This universe stops expanding, and winds up contracting, falling back in on itself until it once again becomes that singularity point, ready to explode and do it all over again.

Or maybe time itself is a continuous loop (the central theme to the AWESOME Wheel of Time series, by the late Robert Jordan)? In simple terms, yesterday feeds into today which feeds into tomorrow -- the essence of linear time -- but at some point in the distance, tomorrow loops back around and feeds into yesterday.

There are other arguments, but they all seem to end the same way -- the universe created, and creates, itself. Like a phoenix, this universe rises anew from its own ashes, a paradoxical child ultimately becoming its own parent.

The thing is, the atheistic community finds a self-creating universe perfectly reasonable, and yet they find an UNcreated God complete nonsense.

Ultimately, neither argument can be truly and empirically substantiated, not even the scientific one, as we are caught in the box of THIS universe and totally incapable of looking outside the box into any other universe. All we have available is what we see, which we use to inform our beliefs on what we DON'T see.

Funny, there's a passage of scripture that sounds that way...

Hebrews 11:1, 3 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.... Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."

Usually, when speaking of faith, people stop at verse one, and that's perfectly fine, but I found verse three particularly applicable to this question that "haunts" my son. Watch what happens when we substitute God for nature....

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the worlds before, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."

With just that small change, the argument for God becomes the argument for nature ... and both of them perfectly and inexorably linked to faith. For all of the atheistic community's arguments, for all the evidence and logic and math problems that they work through, their argument comes from the exact same place in their thought process that ours comes from. They see what they CAN see, they believe about what they CAN'T see, they argue from faith. Just like us.

So once more, we find that the argument against God is no more logical than the argument for God, and ultimately, our faith comes down to a choice, a leap of logic from what we DO know to what we CAN'T know (with any certainty) -- whether an eternally uncreated God created the universe, or whether an eternally self-created universe created the universe. Both possibilities are far deeper than we can fathom, but it's remarkable to me that one might be considered more inherently believable than the other.