Thursday, June 22, 2017

GOD REQUIRES EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE, BUT SO DOES THE MULTIVERSE





Carl Sagan had famously written: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This makes a lot of sense. If my neighbor claims that he had just been voted the “Man of the Year,” I would be skeptical. However, if he had merry claimed that his wife regarded him as her “man of the year,” I would be satisfied without any evidence.

However, should the same skepticism also apply when my neighbor claims that God is the explanation of consciousness, life, freewill, and the fine-tuning of the universe? Admittedly, this is an extraordinary claim, but let’s just examine one aspect of it – the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe. Some have calculated the chances of having a universe fine-tuned for life to be one chance in 10 followed by 100 zeros.

I want to argue that any explanation of fine-tuning requires an extraordinary explanation – either supernatural (ID) or a natural explanation. This consideration therefore transforms our question into, “Which paradigm is best?”

The natural explanation invokes the multiverse, reasoning that if there are an infinite number of universes, it is likely that our fortuitous universe would be one of them. However, this seems to be the most extraordinary claim:

1. There is no scientific evidence for even a second universe, let alone an infinite number.
2. There is no known mechanism that can generate universes out of nothing.
3. There is no evidence that anything has ever been caused naturally and without intelligence.
4. It can provide no answer for the elegance, universality, and immutability for our fine-tuned laws of science.

In light of these problems, rather than the ID paradigm as extraordinary, it would seem that naturalistic paradigm requires more support and represents a desperate attempt to remove God from the picture. Science writer, John Horgan, confessed that:

·       “Multiverse theories aren’t theories; they’re science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by science.”

Theoretical physicist, Paul Steinhardt, confessed the same concern:

·       “The key thing that distinguishes science from non-science is that scientific ideas have to be subject to tests. Some people are nowadays thinking, no, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.” (Regis Nicoll; Salvo Magazine; Summer 2017, 38)

Tim Folger, writing for Discover Magazine, claimed that the multiverse is the “only viable non-religious explanation”:

·       “Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life….The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non-religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life. (“The Multiverse Theory,” Dec. 2008)

Perhaps the multiverse requires even more extraordinary evidence than ID. As a naturalistic theory, it only can serve to explain the “fine-tuning problem.” In order to explain life, consciousness, DNA, the first cell, the existence of natural causal agents, the first cause, and freewill, naturalism must invoke entirely different theories for each. And with each additional theory or postulate, it makes itself even more improbable, thereby violating Occam’s Razor. However, ID has only one necessary postulate – God!

IS GOD UNJUST? DOESN’T HE HARDEN AND DECEIVE?



There are several verses claiming that God does harden hearts, even, seemingly, to commit sin. Paul had written several verses that seem to indicate that God is unjust – hardening and deceiving certain people. Let’s look at them. Afterwards, we will try to answer each:

  •   2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [see Ezekiel 14:9; Revelation 17:17]


2.    Romans 9:17-18 (ESV) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [quoting from Exodus 9:16] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

3.    Romans 11:7-10 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” [quoting from Isaiah 29:10; 6:9-10]  And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” [quoting from Psalm 69:22-23]

Let’s start with the first example. This one is relatively easy to explain. In this case, it is clear that God hadn’t deceived the innocent but rather those who were already practicing self-deception. They had refused to “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” They had committed their lives to the darkness in favor of the light (John 3:19-20).

However, as Paul explained elsewhere, this is the result of a gradual process of rejecting the truth. Only after continually rejecting the light, God gives them over to the desires of their heart to believe those things they want to believe and do:

·       Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28)

There is no indication here that they were born with “dishonorable passions” or a “debased mind.” Instead, this corruption was the result of exchanging “the truth of God for a lie,” as Paul had claimed in 2 Thessalonians 2:10: “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

Also, Paul is explicit that when we suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18), we are “without excuse”:

·       For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Instead, had we been born without the ability to choose God, we would have a perfect excuse for our rejection of God – “We just couldn’t have done otherwise, right!” However, when we fail to combat such reasoning, we mitigate sin and place the responsibility for our sin on the wrong party – God.

Admittedly, there are a number of verses that claim that we cannot come to God on our own. However, were we born with this inability, or did it result from our own choices?

This brings us to my second example – God hardening Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His purposes through him. Again, God was not unjust? Rather, it seems that He gave Pharaoh just what he wanted.

Pharaoh wasn’t a mindless puppet in God’s hands. He too had been a willful, purposeful moral agent who had hardened his own heart:

·       But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:15)

·       Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. (Exodus 7:13-14)

While some verses indicate that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, others indicate that he had hardened his own heart. If we are going to understand the justice and righteousness of God, I think that we have to accept the oft-mentioned Biblical fact that God is able to direct us, even through our freewill choices, as some have correctly commented: “Hell is God giving us what we want.”

Our natural inclination is to conclude that it was either Pharaoh or God who had hardened his heart. Why not both? Perhaps our God is great enough to accomplish His plans through our freewill choices! There are many verses that indicate that both parties are morally responsible. While Paul claimed that he had worked harder than the others, he also claimed that whatever good had come out of his life was the result of the Spirit working through him:


·       But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Admittedly, this is a great mystery, but it is also the glory of God and the message of His Word. While Scripture is entirely “God-breathed” out (2 Timothy 3:16), unsurprisingly, it also reflects the humanity of its writers – their vocabulary, associations, feelings, and experiences.

Let’s now go to the final example:

·       And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” (Romans 11:10; Paul quoting from Psalm 69:22-23)

Why had David uttered such a damning curse on Israel? Because Israel had hardened their hearts and had given themselves over to rebellion! Immediately before these verses from Psalm 69, David had written:

·       You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. (Psalm 69:19-21)

These were not innocent people. Rather, David had been cursing the very people who God already given over to the hardness of their own hearts because of their rebellion, as we had read in Romans 1. In light of this, David was merely asking God to give them the darkness that they had already chosen for themselves.

God’s justice requires understanding. If we neither understand human motives or God’s motives, how can we indict God’s justice? Nevertheless, we do.

Let’s look at one last verse that has often been quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27):

·       And he [God] said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Were these Israelites born this way or did their rebellion make them this way? In each context where the Bible teaches about Israel’s inability to come to come, there is never a hint that this inability was the result of the Fall or God giving birth to a depraved Israel. Instead, we hear the opposite message – that God had given Israel everything they had needed:

·       …My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:1-4)

Israel had accused God of many things. However, never once did they accuse God of not giving them the freedom or inclination to come to Him. Instead, Scripture is consistent in insisting that we must take total responsibility for our rebellion – that we are “without excuse.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

UNDERSTANDING GOD’S WORKINGS BRINGS CONFIDENCE





When understood wrongly, many verses can undermine our confidence that God will hear our prayers. Take this one, for example:

·       “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5; ESV)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that if we pray in order to get man’s praise, we will get just that and not God’s praise and provisions. However, this teaching can provoke self-despair and uncertainty about our Lord responding to our prayers.

Why? Because we care deeply about what people think about us! We care about whether they like, admire, respect us, or think that we are spiritual? Have we then already received our reward in the form of the esteem of others?

Not at all! There is a big difference between having exclusively fleshly motives and having a dual nature – one sinful (fleshly) and one spiritual, as we now have:

·       But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17)

We are in the uncomfortable state of having two antagonistically opposed natures. For us, life is a continual battle between the two. Consequently, in our spirit, we want to please God, but in the flesh, we crave the approval of men. Paul illuminated this painful struggle in which we find ourselves, even after we come to our Savior:

·       So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)

Even in Jesus the struggle between the flesh and our redeemed mind continues. This raises an important question: “Who is the real me before God – the flesh or the redeemed spirit?” In God’s mind, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-9). Even those of the contentious Corinthian Church are characterized in this manner:

·       Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Even though, in many regards, they were sinning, in God’s sight, they “were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” This new identity took precedence over the way that they had been and even over the fact that they were still sinning.

We struggle against sin daily. Why? Because our Lord has merely created a beachhead in our lives! Meanwhile, we are still awaiting our final redemption and even adoption:

·       And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that we still struggle mightily against the temptations of the flesh. And this will continue until our Lord returns for us (1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:12-14). Meanwhile, are we disqualified from receiving anything from the Lord, when we temporarily surrender to the fleshly desires?

Once, seeing an elderly woman fall down in the middle of a busy intersection, I spontaneously ran to her rescue. However, as soon I began to help her to safety on the other side of the street, I began to look around to see how many saw my “heroism.”

The fleshly desires will always be present. They do not sleep once we come to Christ. Sometimes, we will even succumb to them. However, our Savior knows about our weaknesses and has made provision for us:

·       If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

We therefore can trust that when we confess our sins, we are not only forgiven but cleansed of all of our past sins and their defiling effects. Meanwhile, the Spirit is bringing forth many fruits through this painful struggle. In order to trust in God, we have to first learn to despair of ourselves and our own righteousness. Even Paul had to learn this lesson by despairing of life:

·       For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

We cannot learn to trust God until we learn that we cannot trust in ourselves. We can only learn such a lesson as we struggle against our sinful temptations. Paul also learned that he could not hope in his own worthiness, which he came to see as filthy rags:

·       But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Philippians 3:7-9)

As we grow in Christ, the Spirit shows us our utter unworthiness but also Christ’s worthiness. Therefore, do not despair when you see the ugly sin within. This is part of His design. We need to see that He is our only hope, and we will only see this when we learn that we cannot hope in ourselves. And when we see this, we will adore Him all the more!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

CHRIST IS MY SAVIOR EVEN THOUGH OTHER RELIGIONS HAVE OTHER IDEAS





A skeptic had written:

·       "In this respect, do you not see that all religions are making the same narrow claims? That one has the true answer and the other does not?"

This skeptic sees all religions as the same in many ways. They all are convinced that they have the truth and the means of salvation, that they have an exclusive connection to God or the universe, and that everyone else is wrong. Underlying this assessment is the hidden assumption that they are all narrow-minded and, therefore, must be wrong, at least in part. Here’s how I responded:

“I don't blame you at all for coming to this conclusion. This is what you see - the superficial commonalities. I see them too, but I also see the substantive differences. And for me, these take precedence.

I am convinced that I am at one with God through Jesus. You will understandably point out, "That's exactly what other religions believe. You are just one more competitor among many of the same."

While superficially, this is true, it is like saying that all of the theories about cosmology are just the same thing, because they are all competing to prove that they are right.

Well, they are clearly not the same. Besides, the presence of many competitors does not deny that there is a truth or that it is knowable. Instead, the diversity of opinions might simply require us to dig a little deeper beyond the superficial commonalities.

I am asking you to consider the question of God in light of this.”