Friday, February 6, 2015

Logic, History, Statistics, & Astronomy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Truth Claims of Christianity

Before we get started today I have some prayer requests for my readers.  First I'd like to ask for prayers for my friend Amiri Ally Mdee.  He is 19 years old and lives in Tanzania, a country ravaged by AIDS and poverty.  Please pray for him and his mother, who are under the care of Compassion International.  Pray that their needs are met, and that they would prosper in the loving care of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  Please also pray for a missionary named David, he is an indigenous missionary to his people in India.  I can't be more specific than that given security concerns, but it is related to the work of the organization Gospel for Asia.  Pray that David is strengthened and encouraged in his efforts.  Pray that his food, water, and shelter needs are met.  Most importantly pray that God speaks boldly through David, and that the hearts of the people hearing him would be turned to the gospel and the blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  And finally, one more prayer request, much closer to home.  Please pray for my dear friend Kyle S. who struggles with drug addiction.  He's an old friend who I've stayed in contact with.  Please pray that his heart is turned to Jesus Christ, and that he would choose a life of recovery from drugs and alcohol.  Pray that he would step into a new phase of hope, healing, and flourishing in life in liberty from addiction.  Thank you very much.  I pray for these three people a great deal, but I know your prayers as well could help swing the balance.  Actually I have one more prayer request:  Please pray for my friend John M.  He has cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Please pray for powerful healing through the Holy Spirit, and pray for his wife Tina and her children, that the Spirit of the Lord would be close to them in this difficult time.  

Praises to the Lord for the many blessings he's given and that I've received.  Truly I don't deserve such a prosperous life, but it has been given freely to me.  It has been two years and three months now since I was the slave of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and self destruction.  Thankfully in God's mercy he directed me to call on Jesus Christ for help, and his help came swiftly.  Back in October 2012 I had nothing.  No job, no car, dropped out of college, depressed and addicted.  God has moved me from that, to a new day.  Recovery through twelve step groups.  Then college at Liberty University.  Then ministry opportunities.  This blog.  Eventually being hired at the Salvation Army homeless shelter.  And now preparing for a two year ministry internship in preparation for a career in the SA as a minister.  All thanks to Jesus Christ answering a call for help.  Praise be to God. 

So today, as we often do here, I'd like to build a case. Let's see how we can approach the truth claims of Christianity from an interdisciplinary approach.   

I like to look at Christianity from several different angles.  Those angles are logic (specifically logical fallacies), history (tests for historicity), mathematics (statistical probability), and science (astronomy, fine-tuning).  Those are the primary approaches I like to make to the claims of the Christian faith.  Secondary approaches that I also like to make are in the areas of empirical verification (adherence to reality), textual criticism (biblical document credibility), archaeology (discoveries verifying recorded history), philosophy (the teachings of Jesus Christ in practice), and personal experience (how I've witnessed life first hand).

I'm not going to dive too far into any one area of verification today, but at least browse through some of the major areas of inquiry.  

First up, logic.  Many have claims that challenge the validity of Christianity.  Let's look at four major objections and see if they are logically coherent.  There are certainly others, but these are some I've dealt with more recently:

1. "I don't believe in God, and I don't believe in unicorns or leprechauns either!"
2. "Yeah Christians are so great, but their priests are pedophiles.  Bunch of nasty pedophiles."
3. "Your view on homosexuality says it all.  Christians are bigots."
4. "Christianity has caused so much destruction in the past, like the crusades and the inquisition."

1. The first objection is a sort of combination of two fallacies.  The first is a logical fallacy called "ad hominem."  What it means is the person challenging the claim is throwing out insults instead of answering the argument.  In addition I would say that the objector is committing a logical fallacy we might call "appealing to absurdity."  This is a false appeal where the person appeals to the "absurd notion of a czar of the heavens" instead of making a logical argument.  Claiming something is absurd is not an argument, it's a variation on "ad hominem."

2. Objection two is what you call a "Hasty generalization fallacy."  It is reasoned that when one or a few people do something bad, then all people in that group are bad.  If one atheist commits a crime, are all atheists criminals? Of course not.  If one priest claiming to be a Christian molests a child, are all Christians child molesters?  Of course not.  One must never judge a worldview by how it is abused.  Every person has free will.  Anyone can claim to follow a teaching, but their actions tell us who they are.

3.Embedded in this objection are multiple fallacies.  First we have "the bandwagon fallacy" and an "appeal to popularity."  Because the latest trend in the past few years is that homosexuality is good, therefore since Christians believe in traditional marriage they must be bad.  The objection ends with "ad hominem" by calling the person a "bigot" in place of a solid argument.  A fourth issue is that the question is "loaded."  A "loaded question fallacy" is a question that is impossible to answer because the answerer appears guilty before even answering the question.

4. When one points to the past tragedies of a worldview, like President Obama did recently at the annual prayer breakfast, we have to ask ourselves first: What really happened in the events of the crusades?  After Muslims invaded Europe, all the way to the capital and beyond.. finally a Catholic Pope called for a counter attack, to defend Europe.  Should Christians fight wars of offense?  Certainly not.  But wars of defense against invaders?  It's debatable.  But even then, we still find a logical fallacy.  It's called a "Genetic fallacy."  Just because something bad happened in the past in regard to Christianity, does that mean that Christianity is basically bad?  Of course not.  

So those are some looks at how logic can be applied to deal with objections.  But what about a positive argument?  

I think a very powerful argument is one called "The Kalam Cosmological Argument" championed by Dr. William Lane Craig.  

It goes like this:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Simple and very effective.  (Click here for a short video describing the Kalam argument.  Another interesting argument is called the Moral argument, click here for a short video describing that one.)

Next, history.  There are two ways to approach Christianity from the angle of history: the historical Jesus and the historicity of the Biblical documents.  I'd like to focus on the historicity factor today.  We'll start with a quote from Time magazine:

“After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived—and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critics' own terms—historical fact—the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.” –TIME Magazine, December 30, 1974.

The Bible has certainly faced a lot of attacks over history.  We have to ask ourselves, how is ancient history confirmed?  Ancient historical documents are verified by comparing manuscripts to one another for reliability.  Such findings are also tested against archaeological findings for confirmation.  Currently there are 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Compared to other historical documents, the Bible has the best manuscript evidence of any historical document.  Click here for a chart comparing ancient manuscript quantities.  In other languages like Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic there are over 25,000 manuscript copies of parts of the NT.  When compared to one another their accuracy is 99.5% which is virtually unheard of.  It's ironic how much skepticism there is toward the Biblical documents, generated by fictional novels like "The Da Vinci Code."  It truly shows the ignorance of many in the modern world.  I can't speak to that though, I used to be one of those people who thought the Da Vinci code was non-fiction and the Bible was fiction. Oh irony of ironies.

I'll close this section with a quote from the famed writer H.G. Wells: “I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” 

Next we have mathematics, or more specifically: statistical probability.  We know that the possibility of one person winning the lottery is very remote.  But it is certainly possible, however unlikely.  For example the approximate chances of winning the Powerball are 1 in 175 million (source).  

But eventually probability becomes so remote, that the chances actually drop to zero.  Not possible at all.  When dealing with the possibility of intelligent life arising from rocks and puddles of fluid the probability becomes exceedingly unlikely.  When considering how perfect the settings of gravity and mass had to be tuned to allow for the big bang to occur the way it did, we're coming up on not just improbability, but impossibility (that it could happen by random chance.)  

The need for an intelligent designer is underlined so intensely it's a wonder how anyone can argue for random chance.  Adding billions and billions to time changes very little.  Given the second law of thermodynamics, that complex systems tend to break down, how could we assume that life would grow increasingly complex?  Or as the astronomer Fred Hoyle put it: "Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate … . It is therefore almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect … higher intelligences … even to the limit of God … such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific."
  • Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1981), pp. 141, 144, 130
Or stated in this scenario: "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein."
  • Fred Hoyle, Hoyle on evolution, Nature, Vol. 294, No. 5837 (November 12, 1981), p. 105

Good stuff, but how about some positive statistical evidence?  Absolutely.  Fritz Ridenour said it best:

“The Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Computations using the science of probability on just 8 of these prophecies show the chance that someone could have fulfilled all 8 prophecies is 10 (to the 17th power), or 1 in 100 quadrillion.” –Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference?, p. 28. 

Next up, we have science.  I recall watching an interview where a reporter was talking with Christopher Hitchens, a renowned atheist (now deceased.)  The reporter asked Hitchens flat out, "Is there anything that causes serious doubt of your atheism?"  Or something to that effect.  He replied quite quickly, that the one thing that gave him pause was the fine tuning in the universe.  The universe appears to be finely tuned to allow for life to existence.  There are immutable laws within that universe that govern it's functions.  In fact the universe appears to be designed.  So much so that scientists arguing for their naturalist worldview must say that the universe "only appears" to be designed, but this is in fact due to the possibility of multiple universes.  Which seems like a long stretch to defend a presupposition like "naturalism" (the idea that all things must be described within natural terms.)  

Fine tuning to me makes the existence of God near total certainty.  It's only logical that if there is a design (the universe) there must be a designer (God.)  Click here to watch a short video description of the argument from fine tuning

Logic, history, math, and science.  We've really only grazed the surface of the wealth of information in these disciplines when examining Christianity.  But I hope exploring some of the key points within these disciplines was helpful to you.  

We always have to remind ourselves that we're in search of the truth, no matter what it might be.  Sometimes we begin the journey with certain preconceptions.  We have ideologies that we want to defend.  One great thinker said:

"I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political." --Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946), pp. 270, 273.

The search for the truth is not always an easy one, and we sometimes have a desire for a certain outcome.  I know that I did.  But I think deep down we all want to know the real, actual truth.  For me, Christianity is that truth.  Not because of blind faith, but because of reasonable faith.  

I don't just believe in the God of the Bible. I know he is real. I've seen it first hand. Or I wouldn't be doing any of this. The evidence to me was clear.  Once again, everything that begins has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe must have a cause. That cause has to be immaterial, all powerful, and personal. 20% logic. The biblical documents are cross referenced by over 25,000 manuscripts, which makes them above reproach in tests of historicity 20% history. The universe is finely tuned to allow for life to exist, and macro evolution is statistically impossible given how complex life is (the human eye for example) 20% science. So there is 60% of my intelligent belief in God. Add another 10% of the empirical fact that Christianity has grown from 12 disciples to 2.1 billion people. Then 15% of my own personal experience with calling on Jesus and recovering from drugs and alcohol.. and I've past a shadow of a reasonable doubt. In any court room, the reasonable doubt is gone. And I can truly believe without any reservation. So many other proofs too. Like the problem of evil in the world.  Or fulfilled prophecies.  Science in the Bible.  Archaeological discoveries.  There are so many ways to approach it!

So it makes good sense.  The existence of God makes sense.  Jesus Christ in the scriptures is a perfect teaching of love and truth.  Storing up treasure in heaven seems.. wonderful to me. Plus it feels so great to do. The saying is true that you have NOT LIVED until you have done something for someone who can do nothing in return. The feeling, and presence of God at that moment is indescribably wonderful.

Truth, at the end of the day, is what best describes reality.  The problems of the world tell me that sin is real.  The majesty of the heavens tell me there must be a designer.  The love from my friends and family tells me there must be a first lover.  The scriptural accounts of the life of Jesus Christ show me that the philosophy of loving god, and loving others is practical and leads to peace and harmony for mankind.  

How does it seem to you?  Search it out.  Pray and ask for the truth to be revealed.  Pursue God with all your strength.  He will reveal himself to you, or more to the point: He will show you his son, the blessed savior Jesus Christ.  We all need a savior, forgiveness for our sins.  We all feel the weight of it.  Freedom from that guilt is not found in pretending life has no meaning, but in embracing the clean slate provided by Jesus Christ.  He has provided for our malady, through forgiveness and spiritual rebirth.  He filled the empty spot in my chest, that could never seem to be filled by anything in this world.  Let him do the same for you.  God bless you, and may you find Christ in the quiet moments of this life... staring off at the stars and the sunset wondering in peaceful contemplation... Why am I here?  Amen.

Some Quotations from Great Thinkers to Reflect on:
“They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. “In Him,” say the Scriptures, “dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, “I am the truth.” He did not just show a way. He said, “I am the Way.” He did not just open up vistas. He said, “I am the door.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the I AM.” In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message 

"All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth." -Baptist Faith and Message (2000) Chapter 15 The Christian and the Social Order 

 “Only when holiness and worship meet can evil be conquered. For that, only the Christian message has the answer.”
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message 

"Jesus doesn't explain why there is suffering, illness, and death in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn't allow the problem of evil to be the subject of a seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life."
~ N. T. Wright, from Simply Good News

"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody." -Martin Luther King Jr.  

“The Christian in the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”
Francis A. Schaeffer, Art & the Bible 

Other Articles on this Website for your Further Consideration:
  1. Resources for Seekers
  2. Video Presentations
  3. How do I become a Christian? 
  4. What is the Gospel?
  5.  Does man need God in Western Civilization?
  6. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
  7. Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian on Worldview
  8. Quick Fact Sheet: Four Points to Consider
  9. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
  10. Nine Documentaries & Presentations on Atheism, Intelligent Design, and Society