Extraordinary Claims??

I follow J. Warner Wallace’s blog “Cold Case Christianity”.  A few days ago, the blog featured a video clip in which Wallace responded to the popular statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, a statement often used to argue against the believability or reasonableness of The Faith.

In my opinion, Wallace handled that statement quite well (as you can see here), so there is no need for me to say anything further about it.  What I would like to do, though, is say something about one part of it.  I want to question a part of it, actually.  I want to question the first part, the “extraordinary claims” part.

Obvious, whoever coined that statement took the existence of a god (either a generic higher power or the God I follow, the God of the Bible) to be an extraordinary claim.  Equally obviously, the many people who have repeated this statement over the years obviously agree.  I did as well when I first heard this statement somewhere around 1995-96 (right in the middle of my Bible college career).  When this statement was tossed as me, I immediately reacted by anxiously thinking, “Yes, the existence of God is an extraordinary claim and I must be able to give some extraordinary evidence for it.”

My immediate reaction when I saw the title of Wallace’s blog, though, was very different.  As soon as I saw that title, I thought not, “Yes, the existence of God is an extraordinary claim” but “The existence of God is an extraordinary claim?  Says who?”  I wondered what authority was certifying the existence of God to be extraordinary.  I further wondered if they were correct in certifying the existence of God to be extraordinary.  I most of all wondered if the existence of God is indeed extraordinary.

And I came to believe that it is not.  I came to believe that it is not based on the same idea I offered in the previous post on this blog, the idea that everything I see in the world around me has been created by someone I don’t now see.  If you didn’t read the last post, let me summarize this idea for you.  I live on a city park, and everything in that park was created.  Everything in that park come from someone or something else.  Whether it is the organic elements (the trees and grass which not only came from the seeds of other trees and grass but were purposefully planted where they are) or the inorganic elements (the buildings or ball fields which were clearly built by human hands).  As far as I can tell, this rule is absolute; there are no exceptions.  The organic elements are clearly not the original organic elements brought into existence at the moment the universe came into being but instead the descendants of those organic elements.  The inorganic elements are even more clearly not the product of the moment the universe came into being.  So whether you subscribe to a theist worldview or a materialistic one, you have to admit that everything I see in the park or in any other place I go to came not only to be where it is but to be itself by the agency of someone/something else before it.

That being the case, is the idea of the universe being brought into being by someone that extraordinary?  It is not.  That idea fits the pattern I see in the park and all the other places I go in my daily routine.  It fits this pattern of something being brought into existence by someone/something else.  That’s not extraordinary at all.  What is extraordinary is the opposite, the idea that the universe (the single biggest thing I see) brought itself into being or was brought into being by mindless forces or was never brought into being at all.  That idea violates the clear pattern of everything else I see, everything else I hear/taste/touch/experience.  That idea, in my opinion, is the extraordinary one.

Maybe extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence.  Maybe (as Wallace suggests) they don’t.  Maybe that is a legitimate rule, maybe it isn’t.  I don’t know.  What I do question is whether or not that rule applies to the idea of the existence of God.  I quite frankly think it doesn’t.  I think the idea of the existence of God is an ordinary as the existence of all the other unseen-but-obviously real creators who are behind everything I see every day.

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Religion Is The Dumbest Thing On The Planet

I don’t do Facebook much anymore.  The arguments and attacks which came out of the 2016 presidential election made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy the social media site.  I left at that time and never came back.  People still message me through Facebook, though, so I do check it periodically.  When I do, I see the posts at the top of the wall (or timeline or whatever; I’m not hip enough to know what these things are).  Just a few days ago, I was checking my messages and noticed that the post at the top of the wall at that particular moment was asking people to make a controversial statement.  Follow-up posters could not debate this controversial statement.  They could only say if they agreed or disagreed.  Through no fault of my own (trust me, I would have avoided this if I could), I saw this controversial statement underneath that post (I’ve done the best I could to block the statement maker’s identity):

Religion Is Dumbest

 

I did not respond to this statement on Facebook.  I was not allowed to do so, according to the rules of the post, and I would not have done so anyway; social media wars are futile and I stay out of them.

 

 

I do have strong feelings about this statement, though, feelings strong enough that I did want to respond in this (hopefully) more effective platform.  Regardless of the rules of the original post, a response is allowable.  A response is legitimate and necessary.  The statement maker (which is what I’ll call him here) not only laid out an opinion about something this is precious to billions of people on the planet, but he laid out that opinion as if it is fact.  Doing so opens the statement up to attempted verification or, as I believe it is called in the scientific method, “peer review”.  I would therefore like to attempt that verification.  I would like to provide that review.  I would like to test this statement to see if it is actually the fact it is presented as being.

Here’s what I find as I do:

Religion is not the dumbest thing on the planet.  This is the hardest part of the statement to test, as “dumbest” here is clearly subjective.  I would suggest, though, that there are many things which are far dumber than religion.  Sports are rather dumb.  When I was in Cincinnati, a new football stadium was being proposed.  Many locals did not like the proposal (nor the related proposal that they be taxed for it).  Someone wrote a letter in the opinion page of the local paper asking why we were building an open-air stadium in inclement weather territory that would only be used eight times a year to host millionaires throwing balls to each other.  I think there is a lot of logic to the first couple items in that statement, but it is the one about millions throwing balls to each other which really gets me.  That really is what sports boils down to: millionaires (in the case of the NFL, at least) throwing balls to each other or hitting balls with sticks or performing other physical feats.  It isn’t a leap to say watching such a thing, much less being as obsessed with it as we are, is somewhat dumb.  Entertainment, our other great obsession, is pretty dumb as well.  In an old episode of The Simpsons, guest star Mark Hamill sings a song about Star Wars in which he refers to the cast as “all the other puppets”.  That is what many of the characters in Star Wars were.  It is what just about everything we see in movies and on TV are: puppets or models or CGI, that is, things which don’t really exist.  Once again, the obsession with such things seems pretty dumb to me.  So maybe I can’t prove this one, but I don’t think religion really is the absolute, number one, incontestable dumbest thing on the planet.  I don’t even think it makes the short list.

 

Religion is not evil.  This is easier to test.  It is also somewhat absurd.  It seems quite illogical to me to attempt to debunk religion (as the statement maker is trying to do) using a religious term such as evil (which is what the statement maker does).  There is no such things as evil if religion is truly false as the statement maker suggests.  There is no evil in a materialistic or naturalistic universe.  There is no good or righteous either.  There is only is.  That which exists just exists without any moral qualification.  It is not evil for a bull walrus to have a harem of female walruses which he controls.  It is not good, either.  It just is.  The same is true of every reality (murder, kidnapping, slavery, assault, etc.).  If there is no religion (that is, if there is no absolute right or wrong/good or evil which transcends the natural order, as religion suggests there is), then there is no such thing as evil.

But for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the logical inconsistency and consider the claim.  The statement maker says religion is evil.  I say it’s not.  Yes, there are those who say that religion causes violence or oppression or what have you (entire books can be and have been written on this subject, many of which debunk it), but I believe I have far more experience with religious people than those who are saying these things.  Being a life-long Christian and minister, I personally know at least a thousand faithful people and have been in close relationship with dozens or more.  Not one of them was violent.  Some of them were grumpy or disagreeable (which was due more to their flesh than their faith), but not a one of them was guilty of any act which could be called evil (again, murder, etc).  Not one of them was led to commit such an act by their faith.  Not one of them would even consider committing such an act because of or in the name of their faith.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers giving to the less fortunate because of their faith.  Let me offer you just one example: at this writing, my congregation is preparing to give Christmas meals and gifts to needy families in our community.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers working for social justice because of their faith.  Let me again offer you just one example: a missionary came to our church two years ago and showed us a video of a roomful of young Filipino girls saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”; these girls had been rescued from sex slavery by Christian missionaries.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers improved by their faith.  Let me yet again offer you one example: myself.  I sacrifice for and serve my wife and daughter daily, and I don’t do it because I’m a nice guy.  I do it because Jesus has taught me to do it and (I believe) empowers me to do it.  I don’t just do those things or the countless other good things I do every day because I’m good; I do them because of Jesus.  I do them specifically in the name of Jesus.

At the very least, an outside observer has to admit that religion is not all bad.  I think such an observer, if honest, has to admit it is not even close to bad, nowhere near evil.

Religion does not live on only because of the continual brainwashing of newborns.  This part of the statement is the easiest to debunk.  The statement maker suggests the only reason anyone has faith is because they are taught to have faith at a young age (presumably an age too young to “know better” or be able to intellectually evaluate truth claims).  This is patently false.  The indisputable fact is that many people have come to faith in their adulthood as a result of examining the evidence for faith.  C.S. Lewis is one obvious individual.  Lee Strobel is another.  J. Warner Wallace is a third.  Those are names I can pull off my head mere seconds after processing this statement.  If I  put more effort into it, I can come up with thousands more.  I myself fit into this category to some degree.  Though I was raised in a Christian home, I made my own choice to have faith.  I did so through a conversion moment at the edge of twelve.  I made my own choice to be serious about the faith through a similar re-conversion moment at the age of fourteen.  I constantly reevaluate the truth claims of my faith today.  I constantly reevaluate them and constantly find that they (or at the very least something very similar to them) must be true.  What the statement maker says, then, is just plain incorrect.  It is not true that faith lives on only through brainwashing.  It is not true that faith lives on only in the young or unintelligent.  It is instead true that many older, intelligent, fully-capable people have come to and held on to faith via their own thoughtful investigations.

Religion is not “rediculous”.  I don’t know if “rediculous” is a typo or a stylistic choice.  It doesn’t matter either way (and if it is a typo, that’s no big deal; typos do not nullify ideas and should not be picked at).  I know what the statement maker is saying.  He is saying the truth claims of religion illogical and unreasonable, so much so that they can be rejected after a second’s evaluation.  It is an accusation many non-believers make towards faith (one well-known actor, for example, once called the Christian account of creation “bananas” on the record).  I again find this to be false.  There is nothing obviously ridiculous about religion, nothing so obviously ridiculous as to make it unbelievable.   If fact, to me the opposite seems more the case.  Those who hold to a materialistic worldview regularly describe that worldview as “reasonable” or “based on reason”, but I fail to see the reason they are talking about.  In fact, what they are talking about seems to violate reason.  I live on a city park.  That park has buildings, playgrounds, trees, greens, ball fields, and various other items both organic and inorganic.  I look at these items and immediate understand that they all came from somewhere, that someone put them where they are.  Some person or persons whom I don’t know and never met and who may have died before I was born laid out the park and built those buildings and planted those trees.  Not only so, but the trees themselves came from the seeds of other trees, and the grass from the seed of other grass.  Nothing there is without a progenitor if not an actual creator.  Nothing I see when I look out my front window brought itself into being; everything I see was brought into being by something I don’t now see.  Absolutely everything.  There is not one thing I see that does not have a creator.  I know that instantly, automatically, subconsciously.  Why is it “reasonable”, then, to assume that the universe itself, of which my park is just a minuscule part, was not likewise created or brought into being by something/someone I’m not now seeing?  Why is it “reasonable” to think that the only thing which violates this obvious principle of creation-by-creator is the biggest thing in existence, the universe itself?  Why do materialistic-minded people think that such a theory, which violates everything I see and experience, is not only reasonable but obviously so?  I can’t answer that question.  It does not seem reasonable to me.  It does not seem obviously reasonable.  It seems like something a person has to work very hard at believing.  By that same token, I don’t find religion to be ridiculous or rediculous or anything of the sort.  I think it makes perfect sense.  I think it fits perfectly with everything I know about life.

There were several Facebookers who agreed with the maker of this statement.  The only allowable responses were “agree” and “disagree”, and the brief glance I gave the post showed three or more “agrees”.  But I vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree not because I’m some bitter, brainwashed religionist but because no element of this statement is factual; no element of this statements matches the facts as the statement maker claims they do.  The third one clearly doesn’t; that’s so easily disprovable that it becomes dismissable.  The first, second, and fourth don’t, either.  They might not be as easily disprovable, but there is certainly evidence against them.

People are allowed to say what they want, and always should be.  But if someone says something testable, others should be allowed to test it.  I’ve tested this statement, and I find it to be false across the board.

The Pastor and The Pappy – Episode 8

Kevin and I are back.  Kevin’s picking the cultural artifact this week, so it’s hard to tell where this one is going.  Listen, click and download, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

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Muslims, Christians, and Jesus Class

Some of the local pastors came up with the idea of combining our congregations in multi-site classes.  The classes would be hosted by a couple churches and led by people from different churches, thus bringing several groups together.  The material we chose to use for our first outing was a four-week study called Muslims, Christians, and Jesus.

Last night we held the first of the four weekly meetings in our building.  The discussion was facilitated by a lay leader from another church.  We had about twenty people in attendance.  One was a very nice Muslim man who was curious about what we were doing.

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One of the biggest take-aways I had from the night (besides the building of intercongregational cooperation and trust) was this comment: “We need God to deliver us from fear.  If you’re afraid of Muslims, you can’t talk to them.  If you don’t talk to them, how will they hear the good news that Jesus loves them?”  I thought that point about fear was a very good one, and I thought our gathering in this way (as well as another gathering on a different night at a different church with a different leader) is a good start toward becoming the unified, effective body God wants us to be.

 

Church Without Shoes Prayer Meeting

I’m a part of a group called Church Without Shoes.  Most of us in the group admit that the name is silly (it refers to the fact that under our denominational “shoes” (distinct practices and doctrines) our feet (faith) all look the same), but we love the group and the idea behind it.  The group started when several pastors/ministers from several denominations 1) became aware of each other, 2) saw some similarities in each other, and 3) began to trust each other enough to first pray together, then cooperate together, and ultimately do life/the life of faith together.

Each month the group meets for prayer.  Yesterday, we had our monthly prayer meeting at our congregation (First Christian Church – Pleasant Hill).  While we were praying, I managed to grab a couple pics.

I really need this group.  Do I have differences and disagreements with some of the pastors?  Absolutely!  Do I see those differences/disagreements as worthy of breaking fellowship with them?  Absolutely not.  What I have learned after nine years with these men and women is that their faith is as genuine as mine.  They are clearly followers of Christ.  Maybe the are in error about some things (maybe I’m am, too; I doubt I’ve got the faith perfect in doctrine and practice), but they are still clearly followers of Christ, members of His family, my brothers and sisters in the faith.  I believe I have to fellowship with them (1 John 5:1ff), and I am very happy to do so.

If there is a similar group in your area, you should consider participating.  You will get more than you lose.  If you’d like to check our group out, you can find us on our website and Facebook and Twitter.