Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alvin Plantinga's Ontological Argument for God's Existence

Alvin Plantinga
Some arguments for God's existence are more popular than others. Many people are familiar with some version of the Cosmological Argument (e.g., the universe began to exist, so it must have a cause), the Design Argument (e.g., life is too complex to have arisen by natural processes, so it must have a designer), the Argument from Miracles (e.g., Jesus rose from the dead, so a miracle-working God exists), and the Argument from Personal Experience (e.g., I know God, so God exists).

These arguments are more popular than other arguments for God's existence primarily because they are easy to understand. Nevertheless, we shouldn't ignore arguments simply because they are difficult to grasp. Various versions of the Ontological Argument, for instance, attempt to move from our concept of God to the existence of God. Inferring the existence of something from our concept of something can seem confusing (especially when such reasoning can only be applied in rare instances), but the main versions of the Ontological Argument are worth taking seriously.

The Ontological Argument has a long history (St. Anselm of Canterbury used a version of the argument in the 11th century AD), but it has its modern defenders as well. The following video explains Alvin Plantinga's modal Ontological Argument (where the word "modal" refers to notions of possibility).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

William Lane Craig: How Does Faith Relate to Reason and Truth?

One of the most depressing results of the "New Atheist" movement is that critics of Christianity have been able to convince a large portion of the population that "faith" means "believing something when you have no evidence." (Sadly, critics have gotten some help from certain Christians on this point.) Thanks to this view of faith, Christian claims are often misunderstood. If a Christian says, "I have faith in Jesus," many atheists will interpret this to mean "I believe in Jesus, even though I have no evidence."

This sort of faith has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. Jesus' disciples had faith in him. Did they have evidence for what they believed? Of course they did. Jesus cured lepers, gave sight to the blind, walked on water, and rose from the dead. Faith in Jesus, for his disciples, could hardly have been a matter of "believing without evidence"!

We're obviously in a different position from the original disciples, but this doesn't mean that our faith is any less grounded in evidence. We have outstanding evidence that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Based on what we know about Jesus, we put our trust in him. This trust is what we mean by "faith." (There is also a supernatural element to faith, as something produced by God, but this sort of faith isn't "blind" either.)

Here's a short clip from William Lane Craig on the relationship between faith and reason.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Were Reports of Jesus' Resurrection the Result of Legendary Development?

More than a century ago, it was popular for critics of Christianity to attribute Jesus' resurrection appearances to legend. On this view, Jesus died a natural death, but his followers continued to preach his message. Over a long period of time, legends about Jesus began to emerge. Legendary accounts of his resurrection were subsequently adopted as part of orthodox Christianity.

Modern scholarship shatters the legend theory. Even critical scholars now trace our earliest historical material on Jesus' resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) to within a few years of his crucifixion. Some critical scholars even trace this material to within months of his crucifixion.

Obviously, if belief in Jesus' resurrection can be traced historically to the very origin of Christianity, it can't be the result of legendary development decades or centuries later.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Did Jesus' Followers Hallucinate His Resurrection Appearances?

Jesus’ followers were thoroughly convinced that he had appeared to them, risen from the dead. Although scholars certainly don’t all agree that Jesus returned to life, almost everyone does admit that Jesus’ followers believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. Consider a few revealing quotations about about the core conviction of Jesus' disciples:
Gerd Lüdemann: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”

Paula Fredriksen: “I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. . . . I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know . . . as a historian that they must have seen something.”

E. P. Sanders: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact.”

A. J. M. Wedderburn: “It is an indubitable historical datum that sometime, somehow the disciples came to believe that they had seen the risen Jesus.”

Bart D. Ehrman: “We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that (a) women from their group went to anoint Jesus’ body for burial and found it missing, and (b) he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.”
But if the evidence shows that Jesus' followers were convinced that he had appeared to them, how did they come to this belief? Can we explain their belief in Jesus' resurrection appearances by appealing to hallucinations?

Unfortunately for hallucination theorists, Jesus appeared to men and to women, to individuals and to groups, to friends and to enemies, in a variety of different locations and circumstances, ruling out hallucinations as a serious explanation.

Was the Resurrection of Jesus a Hoax by His Followers?

When I was an atheist, I had a simple explanation for Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection. During his ministry, Jesus won a number of converts. When he died, his followers wanted his message to continue. So they invented the story of Jesus rising from the dead in order to ensure that his teachings would live on.

There are multiple problems with this view. The one that eventually shook me out of my folly is this: Liars make poor martyrs. Most people won't willingly die for any cause. Some people will die for what they believe in. No one dies for something they know is a lie.

Hence, Jesus' followers sincerely believed that he had risen from the dead. The only question that remains is what convinced them that their teacher had been raised.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Apparent Death Theory: Did Jesus Survive Crucifixion?

Jesus' death by crucifixion is one of the best established facts of ancient history, even according to scholars who are critical of Christianity. Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann declares that “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” John Dominic Crossan, of the notoriously liberal Jesus Seminar, says that there is not the “slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.” Marcus Borg states that Jesus’ execution is the “most certain fact about the historical Jesus.” Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, concludes that Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain.” According to Bart Ehrman, “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”

Of course, not everyone is familiar with Historical Jesus scholarship, so some people attempt to explain the origin of Christianity by claiming that Jesus survived crucifixion and later appeared to his disciples, giving them the impression that he had risen from the dead. There are two main problems with this "apparent death theory" (or "swoon theory," as it is sometimes called). First, all of the available evidence refutes it. Second, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus survived crucifixion. Upon seeing him in his grotesque, mangled, recently crucified state, his followers would never have concluded that he had been miraculously resurrected. They would have called for a doctor.

Can We Know Anything about Jesus' Resurrection When It Happened So Long Ago?

Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection is grounded in a number of ancient documents, several of which are included in the New Testament. However, many people today are skeptical of our ability to learn about something miraculous from documents that are so old. Can we trust the historical method in dealing with events that occurred so long ago?

William Lane Craig: The Resurrection of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

In the first century, Christianity burst upon the ancient scene, with the resurrection of Jesus as the heart of its message. How do we account for Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection? In the following video, William Lane Craig discusses attempts to explain belief in Jesus' resurrection by appealing to prior pagan or Jewish beliefs. Since nothing prior to the origin of Christianity can account for its unique message and its historical basis, the historian is left with a question: What sort of evidence can fill the hole created by the origin of Christianity?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is Richard Dawkins Leading People away from Atheism?

Some people are easily swayed by cheap rhetoric, especially when they already despise the target of this cheap rhetoric. Richard Dawkins has been saying what many atheists want to say but often can't (due to pesky things like manners and civility getting the better of them).

Other people, however, are paying close attention to arguments and evidence. Those who do are finding themselves leaving the Dawkins camp.
The Telegraph—My schoolfriend Michael – an atheist for decades – rang me the other night and told me he'd returned to the Catholic Church. "And you'll never guess who converted me," he said.

"Your wife?"

"No! It was Richard Dawkins!"

He explained that he was, and is, a huge admirer of Dawkins the biologist. (I'm with him there: I read The Blind Watchmaker when it first came out and was blown away.) "But then I read The God Delusion and it was… total crap. So bad that I started questioning my own atheism. Then he started tweeting."

Like a loony on top of the bus, no?

"Exactly!"

Funnily enough, this is the second time in a week that I've heard of Richard Dawkins leading someone to Christ. Let me refer you to an article in The Catholic Herald by Francis Phillips:
Judith Babarsky, an academic … having only a “surface level” understanding of Christianity as she admits, was recommended Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion to read. She writes that when she began, she thought she would read “a logical, sceptical, nay scientific critique of religion.” Instead, she was surprised to find “strings of pejorative adjectives pretending to be argument, bald assertion pretending to be evidence, an incredibly arrogant attitude and a stance of moral equivalence incapable of distinguishing between the possible strengths and weaknesses of different religions…”

Indeed, Babarsky found Dawkins’ arguments so unsatisfactory, coupled with his own atheistic and fundamentalist stance, that they prompted her to examine for the first time what Christianity was all about. Her examination was to lead to her conversion to Catholicism. “In reading to refute Dawkins as well as educate myself … I discovered the God-man Jesus Christ. Not only did the Catholic view resonate with me emotionally but … it was intellectually honest.”
Here is a link to Babarsky's original article, with its uncompromising title:
"Reading Richard Dawkins Led to My Conversion"
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that Prof Dawkins secretly converted to Christianity decades ago, and then asked himself: "How can I best win souls? By straightforward argument, or by turning myself from a respected academic into a comic figure fulminating against religion like a fruitcake at Speakers' Corner, thereby discrediting atheism?" (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100267804/is-richard-dawkins-leading-people-to-jesus/?fb)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John Lennox: The Origin of the Universe

Here is an excellent lecture by Oxford Professor Dr. John Lennox (session one of the Pensmore Dialogues on Science and Faith). Dr. Lennox discusses the beginning of space and time, cosmological fine-tuning, the account of creation in Genesis, and many absurd statements by scientists who try to avoid the obvious implications of our scientific data. The lecture is a little less than an hour (followed by Q&A), but it is well worth watching in its entirety.