February 2007

I can see that this ridiculousness is probably going to be fairly big. Already the old Da Vinci Code Blog was spammed by someone advertising the official website. (Posting twice from the same IP within minutes under different names.)

So I made up a page explaining some of the many problems with the James Cameron documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus", aka "Jesus Family Tomb". It contains links to several other pertinent resources on this topic. Click below to read it:

Feel free to pass the link around, copy it to your own site, hang it on your fridge, whatever. :) I'll work on it some more later when I have more time; this is a "preliminary" version. We already went through this once with the lamentable Da Vinci Code, and now it's started all over again …

Related reading: In addition to my page linked above, a "Top Ten" list has been posted to Christian Newswire: Ten Reasons Why The Jesus Tomb Claim is Bogus: Leading Scholars Say Discovery Channel 'Documentary' Makes for Good TV, Bad History and Bad Science

Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?Lately I've been reading Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?: A Professor And a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism & Christianity, a book that chronicles an email discussion between Dr Preston Jones (Christian, history professor, PhD University of Ottawa) and Dr Greg Graffin (naturalist, singer from the punk band Bad Religion, PhD Cornell University). Overall, it's an interesting read. I'm glad their discussion never turned into a "debate" because, generally speaking, a debate is about "winning" at all costs, not honest discussion or learning about how others view things.

I'm slightly disappointed so far with some of Dr Jones' responses, though. One of the main things that annoys me so far is the logic given to assume a naturalistic worldview. [EDIT: As Preston himself (!) points out in the comments, he does not support Gaffin's view, and in fact does support a view similar to the one I expound later on in this post. Probably the format of the dialogue made it difficult to get his view out in the open fully in the book.]

Now, I'm probably oversimplifying this, and Dr Graffin could probably kick my ass (in both the physical and intellectual arenas) but nonetheless here's how I understand the argument:

  1. Empirical observation of the universe is the 'sum of all truth'. (cf p.43 of Jones and Gaffin's book)
  2. Therefore, the only way to know the truth about God is to use the same methods used to study naturalistic phenomena.
  3. Since there is no proof of God observable in this way, God does not exist.

Now, while I disagree with point #1 (this seems to be a self-refuting argument; how can you prove this statement is true by empirical observation?) and also with point #3 (see for example What about natural theology? which suggests that we can know some things about God via observation), I'd like to comment briefly on point #2.

The idea that the same methods used to study naturalistic phenomena (that is, the physical things in our own universe) can be used to study God (who is outside of, not limited to, our physical universe) is to me a faulty assumption. I'll try not to repeat what I've already posted on this blog, so see my post Knowing God for a fuller explanation, but the gist of it is this: "I am suggesting that rigidly applying the same methodology used for studying mundane things would be in some sense deficient when considering divine things." If God is in an entirely different category than physical things, we cannot "study" Him in the same way we study physical things, so therefore concluding that God does not exist because He cannot be empirically studied is a faulty assumption. This doesn't prove that God exists, it only suggests that the naturalistic reasoning like that given above is not sufficient to conclude that God does not exist.

Further reading:

  • Lessons from a Punker Ph.D. – Preston Jones reflects on his conversation with Greg Graffin.
  • Finding Faith – Brian McLaren's book (in particular pages 102-104) were the inspiration for my line of thinking on this subject.
  • Is Faith Just a Psychological Crutch? – I hear this all the time: "You may need God, but I don't." Implicit in the statement is "You believe in God because you're weak". Besides being fallacious reasoning, I don't think this charge is true.

Shouldnít Christians just leave people alone, letting others believe what they want? After all, if all religions are basically the same, or at least are fulfilling to those that follow them, why try to get people to change their beliefs? The idea goes that there are many roads up the mountain, but they all eventually lead to the same point at the top. Thus, many paths … thus, any religion may/will ultimately lead you to God.

Ice CreamI guess it depends whether religion is like insulin or ice cream. For example, I prefer chocolate ice cream, while you might prefer vanilla, or butter pecan, or strawberry, or … great, now I'm hungry. But regardless of what your favorite flavor is, there's nothing wrong with choosing one instead of another; it's a personal preference. If someone told me they liked mint flavor best, I wouldn't respond by saying "What the heck's wrong with you?" or "How dare you choose mint instead of chocolate, you miserable heretic!"

But the point is this:

Thatís the beauty of ice cream – you can choose what you prefer. When it comes to medicine, however, it doesnít make sense to choose what you prefer. Rather, itís essential to choose what heals. It would be silly to choose NyQuil over penicillin simply because it tastes better." (Alan Shlemon, STR.org)

When choosing ice cream, you choose what you like. But when you choose medicine, you choose what heals you. Religion isn't like ice cream, where you should choose whatever "tastes best". You need to choose what's true. The truth is often tough, but that doesn't mean we should just ignore it and choose what we like.

Jesus didn't claim Christianity is true like ice cream. He didn't say "Come, follow me, it'll be fun!". He in fact claimed something very specific, contradicting every single religious (or non-religious) person who lived before him. He claimed that it's impossible to "earn" our way into heaven, and in fact need to trust in God (who Jesus himself claimed to be in human form) instead of trusting our own failing efforts.

Winding stairsBut isn't that pure arrogance? Isn't that intolerant? Doesn't it sound presumptuous for Christians to claim they have "the truth" and all other religions are wrong? Well, only if truth is like ice cream. If someone is dying and needs medicine, you need to give them what will heal them, not what they like best. In the same way, Jesus gives us what we need, and ultimately what is best for us.

There are many different paths, but they don't all eventually lead to the top of the same mountain. Some veer off to the left and the right; others climb entirely different mountains! And if God is real, truth about God is not like ice cream; it's like medicine, and only what is true can heal. Christians don't want to "force" their religious beliefs on anyone; instead, since religion is decidedly not like ice cream, it really does matter what people believe. And people who believe that we have found that truth, that medicine that cures what plagues humankind deep in our hearts, can't help but want to share it with other people.

(This article was originally written for the From Today On website, although it hasn't been posted yet.)

Related reading:

BibleApparently Amazon decided to delete my review of the book The Lost Books of the Bible by William Hone (ed). That's unfortunate, because none of the reviews seem to mention the obvious: That having a "lost book of the Bible" is impossible.

Greg Koukl examines the idea of having lost books in his article "No Lost Books of the Bible". In summary:

[T]here are two ways of looking at this: a supernatural or natural perspective. I would contend that there are no other ways of looking at this question; no other options. No matter who you are out there you either think of the Bible as being God's inspired Word … or the Bible is merely the statement of beliefs of the early church, without any supernatural content.

Is it possible that in the first sense of the word Bible that the books could be lost? Wait a minute, if God is supernaturally overseeing it, then God is supernaturally involved in seeing that His book gets written down and preserved. So we have God's supernatural protection if it has a supernatural quality to it. You may say that the supernatural element is bogus, but you can see that from this sense of the definition that it's not really possible to think that God could lose His own book.

Maybe the Bible isn't supernatural, it's a statement of beliefs of the leaders of the church. Okay, if that's the case then who has the final word on which books belong in the Bible? The leaders of the early church. Therefore, by very definition any books that they cast into outer darkness are not part of the Bible. It's their decision to decide which books represent their beliefs.

Related reading: