Saturday, November 26, 2011

The 99% Atheist Challenge

A common conversation between a Christian and an atheist may resemble the following:

: I don't believe in god.


ATHEIST: There is no evidence for god.

: Really? But what about the Universe, the Big Bang, fine-tuning, DNA, the fossil record, meiosis, mitosis, chirality, protein synthesis, irreducible complexity, specified complexity, language, universal morality, intelligence, self-awareness, free will, fulfilled Bible prophecy, the resurrection of Jesus?

ATHEIST: Well, besides all of that, there is no evidence for god.

And the frustrating cycle of conversation ensues. For what it's worth, let me offer a new approach (and it's actually quite easy and fun!). Imagine the same conversation, but continued this way...

CHRISTIAN: Do you know everything there is to know in the Universe?

ATHEIST (startled): What?! Well, of course not, nobody does!

CHRISTIAN: Then, let me ask--of all the information there is to know, how much of that do you know?

ATHEIST: Well, uh, that's a bit hard to estimate...

CHRISTIAN: Well, if we say that all of the knowledge is represented by the number 100%, then what percent do you have a pretty good handle on...I mean really, really know?

ATHEIST: Hmmm..that's a good question, but I'm not even sure where to begin.

CHRISTIAN: Okay, fair enough, would you say that you know 10%, or 5%...what percent?

ATHEIST: I would not be so arrogant to assume that much, it wouldn't be that high...I mean, even Stephen Hawking wouldn't pretend to know that much.

CHRISTIAN: I agree, then would you say, maybe 1%, or maybe close to 1%?

ATHEIST: That's still pretty high, considering the Universe and all, but let's just say somewhere between 0% and 1%. 

CHRISTIAN: So, you would say that you know less than 1% of all there is to know?

ATHEIST: Yes, that is correct.

CHRISTIAN: Okay, then isn't it logical that there could be good evidence for god in the 99% of the knowledge that you have admitted that you don't know?

ATHEIST: Well,, um---but, I--

CHRISTIAN: If the police looked for clues in a crime scene, but only searched less than 1% of it, would you say that they had completed their investigation to the best of their ability?

ATHEIST: Well, when you put it that way, then, um, no..but--

CHRISTIAN: So then, by your own admission, your investigation into the evidence for god has barely started, but you are satisfied to pronounce that there is no god, period.

ATHEIST:, uh, well, I have yet to see any evidence in my investigation so far...

CHRISTIAN: Except for the Universe, the Big Bang, fine-tuning, DNA, the fossil record, meiosis, mitosis, chirality, protein synthesis, irreducible complexity, specified complexity, language, universal morality, intelligence, self-awareness, free will, fulfilled Bible prophecy, the resurrection of Jesus?

ATHEIST: Umm, yes, except for all of that, I have yet to find any evidence...

CHRISTIAN: Just to be clear, you have yet to find it in your less than 1% of the total evidence? Is the case closed then?

: Yes..I mean, no. Sorry, I have to leave now, I have read another chapter of any book by Richard Dawkins, it always makes me feel better about myself.

(In the interest of openness and full disclosure, this 99% argument concept is not original with me. I am not totally sure of the original source. I just took the concept and created an imaginary discussion based upon it)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Challenge: Why Doesn't God Heal Amputees?

It seems that different fads, or different strategies of attacking Christianity, move in cycles. One type of challenge will rise up, get debunked, then retreat into the shadows..awaiting a new time when it can emerge as "something new". Of course, it isn't new at all, usually just a re-hash dressed up in fancy new, contemporary clothing.

There seems to be an endless supply of young minds ready to swallow these left-over cold cuts, excited to become the apostles of a "novel" brand of skepticism...when in reality, it is nothing of the sort, just tired old ideas with a fresh coat of paint.

Fools gold looks like the real thing, that is, until you put it to the test.

One of these predictable and recurring challenges involves the issue of God somehow "proving" Himself undeniably through a certain type of miracle. It is usually phrased something like this:
"Why doesn't God heal amputees?"

Sometimes what you don't say is just as important as your outright declarations. Inherent to this odd challenge is actually what is
NOT said. The challenge assumes mockingly that God "supposedly" heals other types of illnesses and physical problems, such as cancer or pneumonia...but why not the plight of amputees?

Also implied in this type of argument is a strange standard of miraculous proof. Indeed, many proponents of this challenge will say that if God would do this (
heal an amputee), then that would be undeniable and ultimate proof of His existence and power, and that they would whole-heartedly acknowledge and worship Him. Uh-huh...hmmm. Right.

Before we dissect and logically evaluate this challenge, there is another assumption that it makes, point blank, that needs to be exposed in the light of reasonable discussion.

It ASSUMES that God doesn't, or at least, hasn't, healed an amputee.

Think about that. That's like asking:

"Why doesn't God make a pink planet with purple rings?"

Do you somehow have private knowledge that He HASN'T already made one...somewhere? This is a very important point. Can you demonstrate that in all of the vastness of space there is not a pink planet with purple rings?

The challenge: "Why doesn't God heal amputees?" is a lot like asking a married man:

"Have you stopped beating your wife?"

The question blatantly affirms guilt, and though it has the appearance of a serious question, it is merely a thin veneer covering a much deeper animosity.

With all that said, let's begin a more thorough response to this recurring attack.

1. "WHY" questions (such as "Why doesn't God heal amputees?") are often doomed to failure, because they deal with the issue of fundamental movitation, which is often impossible to ascertain.

For example, when dealing with non-intelligent entities (such as pure matter) we can often arrive at some level of understanding WHY something occurs.

"WHY does a rock fall when I drop it?" can be currently best explained through the Law of Gravity (though the WHY of gravity itself remains inexplicable).

"WHY is the sky blue?"

This answer can be found through understanding the special scattering property that the abundant Nitrogen in our atmosphere has with the different frequencies of visible light, especially blue.

That type of WHY can have fairly definite answers.

But when it comes to WHY questions about intelligent, independent beings (such as people, or God) the issue becomes hopelessly inconclusive. Reasons for actions or non-action are complex and involve nearly infinite variables and factors, with influences reaching far back into the past.

Simplistic explanations are only temporarily satisfying...but rarely hold up under close scrutiny.

Whenever we ask someone the WHY questions, be prepared for disappointment.

No one can completely understand even their own true motivations, much less the deep-rooted chain-of-causation that has been triggered within someone else.

So, our first response to this challenge is to point out the vanity of asking these types of questions.

In a very real and (usually) unintentional way, WHY questions try to go somewhere that we can't actually arrive at. The complex and multilevel series of intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual reasons that cascade into a final decision, are like clever criminals who cover their tracks.

WHY questions: They are often the proverbial dead end. Now, moving on...

2. You cannot prove that God HASN'T already, at some point in history, unknown to you, healed an amputee(s).

This has been touched on briefly, above, but it bears repeating as a major support to this argument. It is almost an insult to the intelligence of our readers to say it, goes: There is absolutely no way for us to have complete knowledge of every human who has ever lived, in all places of the globe, in all of time, to make the pronouncement that God has NEVER healed an amputee.

That statement cannot be logically argued against...for only a divine being could have that kind of knowledge. Therefore, since Point #2 is irrefutable, we could end this discussion here and now, but there are other serious issues at stake in this challenge that I will seek to uncover.

3. You cannot prove logically that it is NECESSARY for God to heal an amputee.

Think about it...WHY is God under obligation to do so? He gives life, health, breath, talents, and even every heartbeat to each of us...what is the reason that He must heal amputees? People have far worse conditions than amputism all over the planet right now. Now, some will say, "Well, it would prove He exists!"

Really? Really??? With so many other confirming evidences of His existence--such as the Universe, DNA, the big bang, intelligence, fine-tuning, self-awareness, personality, morality, justice, fulfilled prophecy, matter, time, history, the resurrection, etc:

WHY does God need to do "one more thing" to prove anything? It is illogical to suggest that "one more thing" would make any significant addition to the overwhelming weight of empirical and logical evidence for our Creator. If God did heal an amputee, right in front of you, you could rationalize it away, and then demand EVEN MORE evidence (people are exceptional at rationalizing things away).

4. You cannot prove that there aren't sufficient moral reasons for God allowing someone to remain in that physical condition during physical life here.
In other words, as an all-knowing Creator, it is completely logical that He has reasons for allowing that particular condition to remain...even though those reasons may be unknown to us IN THIS LIFE.

Think about how young children are puzzled by the actions and withholdings of their parents. Their immature little mind cannot understand why mommy or daddy will not let them play with that shiny razor blade. The toddler throws a fit and screams and cries. But it is the advanced and experienced mind of the adult that has very good reasons for withholding something that the tiny tot wants to have.

If there is that big of a separation between human child and human adult in this world, try to imagine how much higher our Creator is than us...there is not even a comparison that would do it justice. Surely God can be given the benefit of the doubt about such painful "withholdings" even when we do not understand WHY.

It is illogical to suggest otherwise.

5. If God exists, then there are logical and probable causes for acceptance of an afterlife, in which God can heal an amputee.
Think about it---this condition of the amputee is only in THIS LIFE, which is far, far shorter than eternity to come. Even if we lived to be 130 years old with severe disabilities in this life, that is not even a blip on the radar screen of eternity. No finite number can be compared with infinity.

Someone has once said that the blessings of eternity can settle the scales of time.

Now it is time to change gears, so to speak. Let's move from dealing with the possible reasons for God allowing amputism in this life, to dealing with the second part of the challenge, in short, that by healing an amputee God would establish His existence undeniably.

6. Even if God did heal an amputee, in your presence, or in the presence of many witnesses, it could always be explained away.

Imagine all the ways a smart skeptic could explain away an "apparent" amputee healing. Even someone as dense as I am can think of several good explanations. Think about these:

(a) Alien technology
Yeah, that's the ticket. Advanced, super-evolved aliens have done this amazing "miracle". Maybe it was super-advanced aliens that the writers of the Bible met with, calling them, ANGELS. Yeah...and didn't they always come from up, you know, the sky, outer space???

(Sorry to interrupt this little angelic-celestial trip, but there are so many flaws with the alien-angel theory, but that will have to wait for another blog would be surprised, though, about how many people will believe that)

(I really like this next one)

(b) Future technology (time traveled back to us)

That does make SO MUCH sense! Surely, in the future, we will easily be able to heal amputism, and also, I'm sure, someone will have proven Einstein wrong, and found a way to travel in reverse through the time stream. Excuse, Mr. Bookie---I would like to put $500 on "Lady Future Technology" in race number three!

(c) Hallucination or mass hypnosis

Why not? I mean, with all of these crazy Christians around talking about "miracles," maybe in a weak moment, we will imagine that we see an amputee healed. Maybe the government is programming us through TV or the internet, and they can make us believe that we see or hear certain things. Maybe Big Brother is turning to Big Healer. Don't drink the koolaid!

(d) Unexplained scientific phenomenon, similar to tail or limb regeneration we have documented in some reptiles 
No doubt hardcore evolutionists would claim that the regeneration of the amputated limb is an example of atavism, i.e. trait recurrence in our species as evidence of a past evolutionary predecessor who had the ability to regenerate. Why not?

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, 4 solid explanations of a supposed "miracle" healing of amputism. If there is one thing that all humans are super-gifted in, it is in the ability to find a way to believe what we want to believe. We have the capacity to ignore or dismiss a Universe full of evidence, and then hang our entire worldview and make an eternal gamble on one cute little comment like:
"Why doesn't God heal amputees?"

Amazing. Simply amazing.

To challenge God to do "this" parlor trick, or "that" supernatural event, is to only betray a disingenuous appeal for evidence. One could ask for any number of "amazing" occurrences in exchange for "real" faith. 

Therefore, the demand for God to do this or that in exchange for some type of superficial faith is merely a thin veneer for biased rejection of known truth and evidence.

The crowd witnesses the healing and cries out: "C'mon God, how bout one more, one more!"

But, don't worry, if you really enjoy this fad-type of challenge against the existence of God, it surely will take a break and then re-emerge once again. Maybe it will change form, and will say:

"Why doesn't God cure theists?" Who knows.

Here is another online resource that deals with this issue:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hasn't the Bible Been Translated Too Many Times?

When we were kids, we all loved to play "Telephone". You know, the first person whispers something quickly and quietly into the next person's ear. The second person is usually a bit confused, but the rules of the game mandate that they must pass something on to the next person. They do their best, but now the message is getting a bit off topic, and after five, six, or ten "telephone" passes, the end result can be shocking and almost always pretty hilarious. There is even a phrase we use in such cases: "Lost in translation..."

This harmless childhood game has, unfortunately, been used as an analogy regarding Bible translation. Many people think that the English Bible that we have today (whether King James version, NIV, etc) was translated from an older language, which translated earlier from an even older language, which was translated from an even older language, until, sometime in the distant past we reach the ORIGINAL languages that the Bible was written in. 

When confronted with the idea of the authority of the Bible as God's word, they will shrug and say:

"Well, it's been translated too many times, there's just no way to know what the original Word of God said, so we can't trust it." 

And they go on their merry way, not realizing that their excuse is an illusion, a magician's trick, with no basis in reality, and certainly no foundation in history.

Get ready for the shocker:
The English Bible that you have was translated DIRECTLY from the original languages of the Bible into English
(we call that a One-Step Translation). 

Honest. You are not reading a translation OF a translation OF a translation OF a translation, etc., etc.

This is one of those arguments against Christianity that has had scholars and students of history scratching their heads for decades. It isn't true, and it never has been true. Let's look at the real history, not the imagined history of the skeptic (with a predisposed bias against the Bible).

The Bible is comprised of two basic parts, called the Old Testament and the New Testament. 99% of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with two small portions in Aramaic). 100% of the New Testament was written in Greek (primarily Koine (or common) Greek). Just to put the accuracy and reliability of, let's say, just the New Testament into perspective, we have about 6000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament surviving until today. 

These manuscripts agree to approximately 99.5%. That number is not a misprint. 99.5%. And the majority of these tiny differences involve proper name spellings or simple word order. When that is figured in, we have almost 100% agreement between these many thousands of manuscripts.

When you realize that all of the 27 books of the New Testament were written before 95A.D. (about 2000 years ago), a simple comparison will show just how amazing (and miraculous) the 99.5% accuracy fact really is. Take the Book of Mormon, for instance, which was first written ("translated") around 1830. If you compare that original (which still exists) to the most recent edition of the Book of Mormon, there are about 3,900 changes. (Here is a link to just a handful of those changes) Almost 4000 changes in just 180 years...yet in the New Testament, which is nearly 2000 years old, we have 99.5% accuracy. It is absolutely astonishing. There is nothing that even comes close to the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament in all of the writings of antiquity. None.

Most Bible readers in the Western World have a copy of what is called the King James translation of the Bible. The translators worked directly from the best HEBREW manuscripts in their translation of the Old Testament, and they had access to the best GREEK manuscripts to guide them in the New Testament translation.

One step, from the original languages (Hebrew,Greek) into our languages (English, German, French, etc.)

While it is true that some very tiny languages, such as those spoken by remote tribes have a TWO STEP translation (usually Hebrew/Greek to English to (whatever language)), almost all of the major languages have ONE STEP translation methods. There are also some pre-King James translations that were at most TWO STEP translations (Hebrew/Greek to Latin to English).

But there are ways to ensure good accuracy, even in a TWO STEP method. One is called reverse translation comparison. In this method, you take the final translation language, and then translate it back into the intermediate language. If they have good match or correspondence, then the final translation (Step Two) can be considered a good, reliable translation.

If someone wants to argue that translating the scripture into different languages somehow causes the truth of the Word of God to become lost or unreliable, then consider this.

The United Nations has over 150 representatives from sovereign countries all over the globe. When meeting in the General Assembly, hundreds of live translators are hard at work, translating the speeches IN REAL TIME, to the delegates. Important decisions, involving life and death, food and energy, rights and responsibilities, all which affect millions of people, are decided there everyday, and how? Through translation. With a proper and thorough understanding of both languages, a skilled translator can accomplish remarkable accuracy, even down to minute details.

Indeed, even you, right now, are "translating" what you are reading. I know exactly what I mean as I am typing this, but you have to read it, and then your brain has to "interpret" what that means to you.

All communication involves translation at some level, even between people of the same language. 

Surely the infinite God, Who created the Universe and all life within it, Who created mankind with our amazing capacity of interpersonal communication through both the spoken and written word, can effectively get His message across to us. For those who use the "too many translations argument", they are in denial of the truth of the actual process of translation (one step) and in denial of God's ability to properly communicate with the creatures He has made.

History exposes this shallow argument to be an illusion, and a proper appreciation of the power of God reveals this attack to be unfounded logically.

The God Who created communication knows how to communicate. N'est pas?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Does the Bible Have Man-Made Errors?

There is an old expression that has been upgraded with a new twist lately. Perhaps you have heard it, too:

"To err is human, but to really screw things need a computer!"

Someone will make a mistake and they shrug with their hands up and offer: "Well, I am only human." There is even a specific category on some forms used to evaluate problems that says: "Human Error".  I think it's pretty clear that we understand that people are not perfect, we make mistakes, and a lot of them.

This realization and reality, has unfortunately, led to an illogical rejection of the Bible as the perfect Word of God. As you share your faith, it won't be long before you are challenged by someone who says something like: 

"Well, I can't really accept or trust the Bible, because it was written by people, and people make mistakes, so therefore the Bible MUST have errors in it."

On the surface, that sounds logical. I mean:

A. People make mistakes

B. People wrote the Bible, doesn't that PROVE that the Bible has mistakes???

Actually, NO.

Even though it has the appearance of a "water-tight" argument, it's actually so full of holes that it can't hold any water.

A simple example will illustrate why. Think about this:

1. People make mistakes.

 2. People take tests.

Therefore,  no one has ever scored a perfect 100% on a test.

Now, that's absolutely absurd. As a teacher by profession, I can confidently and accurately testify that I have graded many hundreds of quizzes and tests that were perfect, 100%, A+, no mistakes.

Right now, at this very instant, while you are reading this, thousands, maybe millions of tests are being sweated over worldwide, and a huge number of them will receive a perfect errors.

You see, here is the error of their logic:
Yes, people do make mistakes, but people don't ALWAYS make mistakes.  

This is a huge distinction. Think about it, if people ALWAYS make mistakes, then you shouldn't even get out of bed in the morning. You definitely shouldn't drive, because if people aways make mistakes, then the roads will be better known as highways of death, filled with accidents and carnage at every stop sign and every stop light.

You definitely shouldn't eat, because if we always make mistakes, then we will grab the poison and chemicals rather than the nutritious food that we meant to eat. We would be spending more time at the Emergency Room than the Mall, or work, or school.

Also, you shouldn't ever talk to others, because if we always make mistakes, then you can't trust the words coming out of your own mouth, and you definitely can't accept the messages coming from other people, that is, if people always err (and do I even need to remind you about not ever FLYING?!?).

But obviously, experientially, and logically, people don't ALWAYS make mistakes. If so, life would be completely unlivable. Period.

Let's take this logic and argument back to the issue of the Bible:

FACT: people wrote the Bible
FACT: people make mistakes
FACT: people don't always make mistakes
THEREFORE, the Bible COULD BE error-free

Even looking at it from a completely atheistic viewpoint, it is both possible and logical that the Bible could be error-free. The  next time someone asserts that there MUST BE errors in the Bible, try this little exercise with them:

1. Give them a piece of paper and something to write with.

2. Ask them to write down HAVE A NICE DAY.

3.  Check it for accuracy.

Now, 99% of the time, they will write it down perfectly fine, spelled correctly and all! All the right words and in the right order. Amazing! Ask them if they could probably write it down correctly a second time...a third time...ten times...or even one hundred times?!

Of course they could.

Ask them if they could write it down correctly, filling an entire piece of paper with it?

Their answer? Yes. How about TWO pages...three pages? How about ten pages? How about ONE HUNDRED PAGES? Of course they could.

Logically---if you could write it down ONCE perfectly, then there is no logical reason preventing you from writing it down correctly a thousand times, a million times, or whatever. 

Now, the entire Bible is about 1300 pages long, give or take a few pages (in English). There is absolutely no logical reason that would imply, and definitely not mandate, that there has to be even one single error in the entire Bible.

There are millions of pages of data and information created and printed everyday, with a large percentage of them being perfectly error-free.

Now, when we take into consideration that the Bible claims to be INSPIRED by God (in other words, that God wrote the Bible THROUGH people, using their vocabulary and style to pen His message) then the case for the Bible being error-free is that much stronger.

Think about it, if I told you to write something down, errors could creep in at three levels:

1. The one giving the information could be in error (me)
2. The one hearing and writing could be in error (you)
3. The actual mechanism of writing could fail

But, if God is the original author (as He claims to be in the Bible), then error #1 (above) is out of the question (God does not make mistakes).

Secondly, since God is inspiring the process, He has the power to ensure that the human author has perfect understanding and delivery of the message. So, error #2 (above) is nullified.

Finally, as the Creator of the Universe, it is illogical to imagine that God would not ensure that the writing mechanisms and media (pen/parchment/etc) would not fail to accurately record that information. So, possible source of error #3 (above) has to be "written-off" (no pun intended).

The claim that, since people make mistakes, and God used people to write the Bible, means that the Bible MUST contain errors, is patently false and embarrassingly illogical. It's odd that so many obviously-intelligent people would even attempt to use it.

Coming up soon, a look into the illogical challenge that:

"The Bible we have can't be trusted, because it has been translated so many times!"

 (this one is even worse...honest).
Click HERE to read about "Translations of the Bible"