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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10th Annual Global Multicultural Concert

I had the opportunity to go to an interesting worship service last night.  It was billed as a “Global Multicultural Concert”, but Pastor Paul Chung, the driving force behind it, described it to me as an “international worship service”.

The concert/service was held at a local Lutheran church.  I got to open with prayer.  After I did, several groups from local ethnic churches (and some as far away as San Jose) brought special music selections.  A group of Korean ladies played a classic hymn and a modern chorus on the autoharp.  A large group of Indionesian believers played “10000 Reasons” on the angklung (or is it angklulngs?  I don’t know.  They work kind of like hand bells, so there are a lot of them, one for each note).  Then a Latino church group got up and brought some really energetic worship song.  I don’t know what it was; it was in Spanish.  But it was really rocking.

I had to leave at that point because I had my six year old daughter with me and it was getting to be her bedtime.  I didn’t get to see the choir perform or the African music.  But as you can tell from these photos, we had people from many nations worshiping the one Lord together.  And in this divided world, there are few things better than that.

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.

Wasted Space?

In a recent episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast, Dr. William Lane Craig addressed a question on “the wasted space” of the universe.  The suggestion behind the question was that the presence of wasted space argues against the existence of a divine creator.

I can understand this question/suggestion.  I have questioned this wasted space and pondered this suggestion of this wasted space myself.  I’ve been threatened by this wasted space, actually.  I remember learning about this wasted space as a preteen in middle school and thinking that it did not match my Christian worldview, a worldview in which earth and the residents of the earth are the center of creation.  How could we be the center of creation, I wondered, when creation is so huge, containing way more than little old us?  How could there be a creator when so much of creation is empty and seemingly pointless.  It seemed to me at the time to be fairly persuasive evidence against theism in general and The Faith in particular.

Dr. Craig answered this question in the podcast, of course.  He answered it beautifully.  You can find that beautiful answer here (I highly suggest you do, in fact).  But I had a few answers for it myself, or at least a few thoughts about it.  They may not be as scientific as Dr. Craig’s.  They may not even be that good, valid, or effective.  But I felt like writing them down anyway.  Here they are in numerical fashion:

1.  Is this space really wasted?  That’s a legitimate counter question.  This space seems empty and thus we conclude it is wasted, but is it really?  Can we say with certainty that this space contributes nothing to the universe and/or the earth and/or life on earth?  Isn’t it true that this space could be contributing many things to us, thing which we simply aren’t aware of?  I believe it is.  In fact, I can think of a few things it might be contributing to us.  One of those things is the stars which have been so beneficial (i.e., they have been the  basis of naval navigation for centuries) and enjoyable to humans (and a good creator who loves us and wants to bless us would give us things that are enjoyable to us).  But they require a lot of space.  I’m not an astrophysicist.  I’m not even sure what I’m talking about fits in the field of astrophysics.  But I am fairly confident that the stars, the suns, the moons, the planets, and all the other “wonders beyond our galaxy” which are so enjoyable to many and beneficial can’t all be crammed into a small space, fairly confident that they must have expanses of their own to exist in, expanses which are far apart from each other.  Thus the space may have a purpose.  It may not be wasted.

If this idea about the stars needing space that doesn’t work for you, then let’s compare the universe to a watch.  This comparison seems apt to me, maybe because the creator, whether real or imaginary, is often compared to a watchmaker (as in Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker), or maybe because of this early Sci Fi Channel bumper.

The important part of a mechanical watch is the hands on the face, maybe even just the axle in the center of the face on which the hands turn.  That’s where the time-telling value of the watch can be found, the part that literally tells the time.  Underneath the face, though, on the underside of the watch beneath the hands and the axle, are a whole host of gears and springs and parts, the importance of which is not immediately obvious to someone unschooled in the art of watchmaking.  There is also empty space in there as well, usually not a lot but certainly at least some, enough to give the gears room to move and also to give the watch its shape (a shape which is sometimes aesthetic and sometimes pragmatic).

Couldn’t it be that the “wasted space” of creation is much like the empty space in a watch?  Couldn’t it even be that this wasted space is actually more like one of those gears and springs, something whose purpose we just haven’t figured out yet?

2.  Art often requires empty space.  I don’t know if this is true of all art, but it is certainly true of my art, of writing.  Every writer, particularly every fiction writer, creates a universe which he or she does not entirely fill.  Every writer lays out a large canvas only to focus and develop just one section of it.  For example, I love the Robert B. Parker Spenser series.  Most of these books take place in a Boston which is largely fleshed out in the books.  Some of them take place in other locales (I think at least one happens in California, and one in Europe as well).  Those other locales are present in Spenser’s universe, but they are not fleshed out as well as Boston; they are roughly sketched at best.  There are other locals which are hinted at (for example, Spenser mentions Africa at one point in one book, but he does not go there).  These aren’t fleshed out at all.  It can even be assumed that there are further locales which are not mentioned and thus not fleshed out at all but do exist (Spenser’s Boston is presumably part of a globe with an Antarctica and an Australia which play no part in Spenser’s stories but which do enable them, i.e., Spenser’s stories could not take place if his Boston was not part of a fully-functional globe).

If that analogy doesn’t work for you, consider the movie The Thirteenth Floor.  In the film, programmers develop simulation worlds inside a computer.  The don’t fully develop these worlds; they just develop one city.  But they do lay out a larger space in which these cities sit.  This actually gives us one of the key moments of the film, the moment when the developers come to the edge of these cities and see this space.

That space is there in these computer simulations.  I think we can assume that space had to be there for the cities to be developed.  It had to be there even though it wasn’t used.  In the same way, it is likely the larger space of the universe had to be there, that the story which focuses on planet earth required a space larger than planet earth.

Again, Dr. Craig answered this question differently and certainly better.  I think these ideas I’ve laid out, though, are still worthy of consideration.  They are less scientific and more philosophical, to be sure, but still worthy of consideration.  I think they may in some small part counter the threat which “wasted space” plays to theism and/or The Faith.  I think they may show that this wasted space isn’t really wasted at all and that rather than being a point against a divine creator is actually a point toward a divine creator.