Mar 272015
 

Evidence for the resurrectionAs we are approaching Easter and I am also continuing in my series on Apologetics, I thought I would combine the two themes and look at the evidence available for the resurrection of Jesus. As this event is probably the most important aspect of the Christian faith, many opponents of Christianity have constantly sought to undermine it and come up with alternative explanations. But the case I am going to present to you today is well attested by many people and has never been successfully refuted. The case is a strong one and just as for the evidence for God, the facts are formed one upon another until a very compelling case has been built

Even secular historians will admit that there is enough evidence from history that a man called Jesus actually existed, that he was a Jewish teacher and that he died under the hand of the Romans. There is also plenty of evidence for the claims that three days after he was crucified, he somehow came back to life. His followers then spread Christianity throughout the whole Roman empire and His teachings are still followed today.

The first question to consider is “Is the New Testament reliable?” Many critics during the 19thcentury doubted its authenticity but as more and more archaeological discoveries have been unearthed, the more they have supported what was written. This adds a lot of weight to its authenticity. Also the sheer volume of the various manuscripts that are available support it. This has also led to the evidence that these accounts were written at the time or shortly afterwards, rather than hundreds of years later. To put it simply, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus has more evidence for it than any other event in all of ancient history.

The New Testament witnesses were fully aware of the background against which the resurrection took place. The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen cloth. This was covered by about 100 pounds of aromatic spices. The body was then placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone weighing approximately 2 tons was then rolled against the entrance of the tomb. This tomb was then guarded by well disciplined Roman guards who ‘sealed’ the tomb with a Roman seal. To break the seal would have incurred the wrath of Roman law and the punishment would have meant crucifixion for the perpetrators. This was one of the first facts of the crucifixion: The Roman seal was broken.

The second fact was; The tomb was empty.Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the “Toledoth Jeshu.” Dr. Paul Maier calls this “positive evidence from a hostile source, which is the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favour, then that fact is genuine.” Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement was God’s doing; he could not have done that if the tomb were still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of Christ’s body.

The third fact was; That the large stone was moved the most likely ones to have done this were the disciples, but they had all fled in fear. They certainly weren’t capable of overcoming a crack squad of Roman soldiers, neither would the Jewish authorities who would have no reason to move the body. The Roman soldiers would have no reason either. It is highly likely that an empty tomb would have led to their execution for not fulfilling their duties. But the clear fact was that the next day the stone had indeed been rolled away from the entrance, the seal had been broken and no guards were to be seen (which was the fourth fact).
A fifth fact is a small point but not insignificant and that is that the grave clothes were lying in the tomb, obviously with nobody inside them. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes—undisturbed in form and position.

The sixth fact of the resurrection were the numerous sightings of Jesus by many people over a number of days. The more witnesses, the more likelihood of the truth of the claims. One of the earliest records of Christ’s appearing after the resurrection is by Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience’s knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those people were still alive and could be questioned as witnesses.

Another factor crucial to interpreting Christ’s appearances is that He also appeared to those who were hostile or unconvinced. No author or informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus as being a follower of Christ. The facts show the exact opposite. Saul despised Christ and persecuted Christ’s followers. It was a life-shattering experience when Christ appeared to him. Although he was at the time not a disciple, he later became the apostle Paul, one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the resurrection.

Next week I am going to look at a few arguments and objections people have put forward against these facts of the resurrection and see how believable they are.

 March 27, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics, Resurrection 2 Responses »
Mar 202015
 

Existence of God part 3This is now the third week in our huge subject on the existence of God.

As I have mentioned previously, each argument builds upon each other, until we have a very compelling case for God’s existence.

We have already looked at the Cosmological argument (everything, including the universe has a cause). Then last week we looked at the argument for the existence of God based on the evidence of the amazing and intricate design of the universe and the things within it.

This week we will be looking at the argument of the existence of God from morality.

We are not looking at subjective morality (what individuals believe to be right or wrong) but objective morality. This is that there are absolute moral standards which exist outside our own personal opinions and beliefs.

This argument is stated as follows;

  • There exists an objective morality.
  • The best explanation for the existence of that objective morality is the existence of a moral law giver (we call God)

Some will try to argue with the first premise and say that there is no objective morality. They will say that different cultures have all sorts of different standards and I agree, yes they do. These are what we stated earlier as ‘subjective’ moral standards. But there are certain things in all cultures we know to be wrong from the very core of our being. Things such as; rape, murder, child abuse etc, these are ‘objective’ moral standards, universally accepted, which we automatically know to be wrong. If you don’t believe that these are inherent, just look at the reaction of even small children to things like; lying, cheating and unfairness. They know instinctively that these things are wrong.

Atheists seem to differ on whether there is an objective morality or not and they are in pretty deep trouble no matter which way they lean.

Those who do believe in an objective morality (i.e. admitting that some things are bad and some things are good) will have a hard time trying to justify an objective moral law without a moral lawgiver. You can’t have one without the other. If you admit that there is evil, you have to admit there is good. If there is good and evil, then there is an absolute and unchanging moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. Given an absolute moral law, there must be an absolute moral law giver, but that would be God – the one whom the atheist is trying to disprove.

There are atheists on the other side who don’t believe in objective morality at all, such as the famous Nihilist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche who said “You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist “. Another leading modern atheist is Richard Dawkins who said “Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

The problem with saying there is no good or evil and that everything is subjective, leads to justifying things like the holocaust. After all, Hitler was only trying to make sure the strongest survived; he wanted to annihilate what he (subjectively) considered the weakest part of society. Isn’t this the basis of evolution ‘the survival of the fittest?’ Taken to its logical conclusion, anybody can do anything and it is neither good nor evil. Really? We instinctively know that is not true.

You will find that people can be very hypocritical in this regard, because we all make moral judgements without even thinking about it. People will say one thing but act in a very different manner. Try doing something bad against someone who only believes in subjective morality and they will soon objectively judge you!

Click on this link to watch a short video which explains this argument really simply http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral

We have now looked at 3 of the most common and compelling arguments for the existence of God. I will just finish with a few others, although there are many more.

The argument from miracles. People will try to tell you that these can all be explained away and that they don’t fit in with science. But you just can’t dismiss extraordinary well attested miracles. Miracles such as; whole limbs growing in front of people, eyes growing into empty sockets and people who have been dead and laid on the slab for many hours coming back to life.

The argument from consciousness. The fact that we are self aware, intelligent etc is a strong indication that God has put that awareness there. We live in a physical universe and it is really difficult to explain an immaterial ‘soul’ without referring to God.

The argument from personal experience. I know that God exists. I can’t necessarily explain it all to you and be able to convince you, but I know from all my experiences of walking with Him for 40+ years that He is real. His reality is as strong as anything else in my life.

The argument from desire There is a desire in us that nothing on earth satisfies, we can spend our life chasing after the things of this world, such as; money, sex and power, but ask rich famous people and many of them are still sad and dissatisfied. We all yearn for something to fill that void within us. As someone once said “We were born with a God shaped hole that only He can fill” In my experience, people who have ‘found’ God and walk with Him closely are the most satisfied and peaceful people I know.

I hope you have found this little series useful and it has caused you to think that actually there are some very convincing arguments for the existence of God. Of course, some people, with an agenda, will always find a reason or excuse not to believe. But I hope I have showed you that belief in God is very reasonable.

 March 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Mar 132015
 

universeLast week we looked at the cosmological argument for the existence of God and we simplified it by establishing the assertion of the following premises

  • The universe had a beginning
  • Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.
  • Therefore the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

As we saw last week, people are desperate to try and deny the belief in God, because admitting there is a God means that they have to submit to a higher authority and that of course is one of the main problems of mankind We always prefer to do our own thing! However, if we look at these arguments purely at face value and logically, we will see that these arguments are quite reasonable. They may seem a little complicated at first but don’t get too bogged down in the detail.

This week we are going to look at the argument from God’s existence based on the assumption that a designer (i.e. God) must exist since the universe contains countless evidences of design, in its very existence. From tiny atoms and DNA to living organisms and planets etc. Our world is full of order suggesting evidence of design by an intelligent source.

The most famous explanation of this is the “Watchmaker Analogy” given by William Paley in 1802. Paley stated that if you found a watch in an empty field, you would of course conclude that it was designed and didn’t just randomly form itself. In the same way, when we look at the universe and life, it is natural to conclude that there is a designer since we can see how precisely formed everything is.

This was the accepted belief until 57 years later when Charles Darwin produced “On the origin of species” which sought to explain the development of all life through natural selection. This groundbreaking work has since that time been the universally accepted theory by biologists, scientists and of course society in general.

Just about everyone acknowledges that many aspects of the universe and life have at least the appearance of design. Even the famous atheist Richard Dawkins implicitly acknowledged this when he said, “Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” (The blind watchmaker) The arguments debated over, are whether it is just an appearance of design or an actual design itself.

There is a growing movement now of scientists and others who are standing against Darwinianism. These scientists don’t specify who or what the intelligent agent is, but state that some features of the universe and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by an undirected natural process. This is compatible with a Christian view, but is based entirely on scientific evidence rather than scripture. Intelligent Design refers to a scientific theory, not theology.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why people are convinced by the Intelligent design argument;

(1) Irreducible complexity

Irreducible complexity essentially states that there are biological structures that could not have evolved from a simpler state. A cell, for example, is composed of hundreds of complex molecular machines. Without any one of those machines, the cell would not work. So the cell is irreducibly complex: It couldn’t have evolved from a simpler state because it couldn’t have worked in a simpler state, and natural selection can only choose among traits that are already functioning.

The biochemist Michael Behe who devised this theory, offers the example of a mousetrap, which typically has five parts: a wooden base to support the contraption, a metal hammer to pound the mouse, a spring to power the hammer, a catch to release the spring and a metal bar that holds back the hammer. Without any one of these parts, the device is useless. Therefore, a mouse trap is irreducibly complex.

(2) Specified complexity

Specified complexity in a system means it could not have occurred by chance and it is not the result of any natural law that says it must be the way it is. A biological system exhibits specified complexity if it meets three criteria:

  • Its makeup is not merely the result of a natural law.
  • Its makeup is complex.
  • Its makeup reflects an “independently given pattern or specification.”

(3) Law of Conservation of Information

The Law of Conservation of Information was created by William Dembski and involves some very detailed and complex mathematical equations. At its most basic, Dembski’s law states that nature cannot create new information (as in information contained in DNA); it can only work with the information it already has. Therefore, a more complex species (one that contains more information) could not have evolved from a less complex species.

(4) Fine-Tuning of the Universe

Fine-tuning refers to the surprising precision of nature’s physical constants. To explain the present state of the universe, scientific theories require that constants like the strength of gravity have extremely precise values. If they varied in the slightest, the universe could not even host life. Again, even most atheists agree that the universe at least appears “finely tuned” for life.

If you want to see how amazingly fine tuned the universe needs to be, have a look at this page which lists 34 kinds of finely-tuned values and what would happen if they varied slightly.

I find it comforting to know that scientists who are prepared to be open minded and have not just dismissed obvious evidence of design, may not believe in the God of the bible, but at least they have followed the evidence to its logical conclusions. As with last week’s argument, this evidence does not necessarily point us to the God of the bible, but at least it provides a reasonable, rational and intelligent argument for God’s existence. I may be biased, but for me this argument is better than just believing that this remarkable and complex universe just happened for no reason.

 March 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Mar 062015
 

The existence of God part 1We are going to spend a few weeks on this very important question. It is one of the most fundamental questions that will be asked to those of us who believe in God. How do you know He exists? How can you prove it?

Have you ever been asked these sorts of questions? It’s important to consider how you would respond because if we just say we don’t know we will just appear a bit silly.

In this increasingly secular culture, the existence of God is becoming an ever more irrelevant issue. Until we tackle this issue, it can cause a stumbling block to belief in God.

Most people aren’t even aware that there are perfectly rational and logical explanations for the existence of God, but indeed there are a number of significant arguments that God exists and we will cover 3 of the main ones over the coming weeks.

I liken these different arguments to gathering evidence at a crime scene. Just one clue on its own is not very convincing, but if you gather eyewitness evidence, DNA, physical and forensic evidence it all adds up to a very strong case. That is what it is like with the existence of God. Each argument for the existence of God builds upon the other until I believe you have a very compelling case.

The three main arguments for the existence of God are the argument from creation (also called the cosmological argument) the argument from design (also called the teleological argument) and simply the moral argument.

This week we will look at the cosmological argument. Don’t be put off by the lofty sounding title, the basic premises of this argument are essentially very simple and can actually solidify and cement your own faith.

There are three main parts to this argument which are set out in statements using the logical principles we have covered in recent weeks. They can be adapted slightly but basically they are:

· The universe had a beginning.

· Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.

· Therefore the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

A very simple but powerful argument and one with huge implications if you can agree with each statement. As you can imagine people don’t agree with every statement, but there is a logical reason to agree with each of them, which we will now look at briefly.

(1) The universe had a beginning

It sounds like an obvious statement and something that is natural to our existence. Everything we see around us had a beginning, what we would call a ‘cause’. The trouble with people fully accepting this argument is they would either have to admit that the universe caused itself or that the universe had another cause, leading to the obvious assumption that the cause would have to be a higher power (God). This trying to wriggle out of admitting that there is a higher power has led to some very illogical conclusions, one of which being that the universe is eternal (A logical impossibility!).

The general consensus now from the majority of scientists and astronomers is that the universe did have a beginning. This was because in the 1920’s came the development of ever more powerful telescopes to look into the night sky and astronomers such as Edwin Hubble used these telescopes to discover galaxies beyond our own. He also discovered the fact that the universe is actually expanding (rather like spots on an inflating balloon). It was this discovery that birthed the now popular concept of the ‘big bang’ the fact that if the universe is expanding it must have expanded from one central point.

(2) Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.

This would seem to be a straightforward argument too, but in order to try and disprove God some people have attempted to prove that things can just pop into existence out of nothing. They will use the example of subatomic particles (virtual particles) which appear to pop in and out of existence due to a fluctuation of energy contained in a vacuum. But clearly that is not ‘nothing’ the fact there is fluctuating energy shows that is something. We are talking about absolutely nothing (the absence of anything!) The question would be if the universe just suddenly popped into existence, why do we not see other things just randomly pop into existence? Almost everyone agrees that things with a beginning are caused by something or someone else.

(3) Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

So proceeding from the almost universally accepted scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning and the accepted fact that anything with a beginning is caused by something else, this leads us to the conclusion that the universe had to have been caused by something else.

So what was it that caused the universe? To use logic again we can come to quite a few conclusions to determine the thing that created the universe. Logic would dictate the following attributes:

· Personal (i.e. able to choose to create)

· uncaused (not having a cause of its own)

· Eternal (having no beginning or end)

· Unchanging

· Immaterial (not being made of any matter – spirit)

· Spaceless

· Infinitely powerful

· Infinitely intelligent.

That description sounds very much like the God of the bible!

Have you noticed the flaw yet that people will immediately raise as an objection?

So what caused God?

A derivative of the cosmological argument called the ‘Kalam cosmological argument’ asserts that this is not important. The argument does not say that everything needs a cause; it says that “everything that has a beginning needs a cause” Something without a beginning doesn’t require a cause it has always existed. God is the original “uncaused cause.”

Everything we have looked at in this post is a powerful argument for the existence of an uncaused first cause but it doesn’t necessarily point to the God of the bible, in fact the Kalam argument was originally developed by Muslims (Al-kindi in the 9thcentury AD)

But as I said at the beginning, it is just one foundation alongside many others that build together to form a strong argument for the existence of God. I have found this excellent short video which clearly demonstrates what I have been saying

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam

Next week we will look at the argument for God’s existence from design.

 March 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »