I recently heard a Christian argue against the Theory of Evolution on the basis that they find conflict between the notion that humans are descended from non-human animals, and the idea that we are made in the image of God.

I hate to break it to you but the Genesis narrative says we were descended from… DUST.

Do you prefer this? Really, how is this better?

I would’ve thought that one of the overarching themes of Christian scripture is that the origin of something needn’t have any bearing on that thing’s identity, or its future. Matthew’s Gospel highlights that Jesus was descended from a prostitute. And he turned out alright.

Incarnation (a Christmas message)

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This is something I posted on Facebook for Christmas and am now belatedly posting on WordPress for longevity’s sake, or just in case you missed it:

Just nearly two weeks ago I was in Paris, sitting at the top of a basilica named Socré-Coeur. Atop this church on Paris’ only hill, you see a marvellous view of the otherwise completely flat city – other than the Eiffel Tower sticking up like a needle off in the distance.

As I sat there I was thinking about how this vantage point enabled me to gain an understanding of the city of Paris that couldn’t be gained from walking its streets. You don’t really know what a city looks like until you’ve escaped it, risen above its walls, and seen it from the outside.

Then I thought about how life is so often like that. Things always look different when you’re in the middle of them compared to how they look from the outside. I thought about the slightly crappy situation I was going through those few days, and realised that in a few weeks or months I would look back on that situation with an entirely different perspective.

You haven’t really understood your situation until you are no longer in it. It’s only from the outside that you can examine and appreciate the whole shape of one of life’s episodes. It’s only when you’ve come through the other end that you can view it with a clear enough mind to really learn from it.

But then I thought a bit harder and realised that the exact contradiction of this idea seems equally true. If I had only seen Paris from the top of Sacré-Coeur, and never seen it from the ground, a Parisian might rightly ask, “What do you know of the real Paris when you haven’t walked it’s streets?” If I had only seen Paris from the outside, surely I would be missing some vital experiential knowledge of the city. It seems like one could equally say that you don’t know what a city is like until you have been in the thick of it, touched the walls and breathed in the air.

And likewise it seems that you haven’t fully understood a situation until you’ve seen it from the inside. This is why we are so familiar with the words, “You don’t understand,” that meet us at our attempts to criticise the addict, or console the grieving parent. Of course we never understand a situation that we haven’t been in ourselves.

And so I thought, “Which is it? Which viewpoint gives us the best knowledge of something? Is it the view from within, or from without?”

And then I realised that it’s both. We need both.

This is when I wrote these words, which you might have seen on Instagram, if you were paying attention:

“The fullest knowledge of something can only be attained through viewing from both outside and in, above and below, as both a part of it, and as the other.”

And then I thought about this world we are in.

There is only one person who has viewed our world from both within and without. You see, none of us really understand this world, because we are in it. Our exclusively interior view of the world strips us of the ability to see its true shape, to understand where it fits within reality, and to know its purpose, or whether it has one at all. Only a creator who stands outside of it, and distinct from it, has a high enough view to see it as it truly is, unbiased by this low-down, narrow viewpoint each of us has.

But then in his distant objectivity, we petition, God is missing something. He is missing that experiential knowledge of what it is truly like to be a part of this world: to be weak, limited, fragile. To know what honey smells like, what blood tastes like, what it feels like to run out of breath as you run a mile, the awe of looking up to the stars and wondering what they are, and the pain of a broken bone or a betrayed friendship. God is distant, we say. He doesn’t understand what it’s like.

But Christians worship a God who knows, who understands. Christmas is the story of the incarnate God, the God who became flesh – an insider in the very world he created. God, who had looked over the whole universe with perfect objectivity, now found himself amidst it, viewing it through two human eyes. The God who at first only knew the world in a way that we couldn’t, now also knew the world in a way that only we could.

The God of Christianity knows pain, thirst and hunger, not just because he can conceive of them with his perfect, divine imagination, but because he has felt them. There is only one person who has been both an outsider and an insider, both one of us and incomparably other, who has seen the world with the clarity of a spectator, and with the detailed empathy of a player.

No other religion in the world has ever proposed a God like this. Only Jesus knows what it’s like to be a part of our world without being limited by it, because he also sees us from above. He knows our pain, but he also sees its purpose. He can sympathise with our struggles, but he can also see the part they play in the whole story.

This is to me what makes Christmas a day of hope. God is with us. But he’s still God. As the old carol says, “The incarnate deity.”

Merry Christmas.

Anyone who would object to the notion of God on the grounds of suffering, should only do so with the knowledge that there exists one religion that conceives of a God who experienced more of that suffering than any other being in the universe, in order to rescue us from it.

If “God” is to be found guilty, then this God must be among those put on trial, as a suffering God is the only God Christians have ever proposed.

A little atheist myth about science.

Myth: Even when scientists believe in God, they become practical atheists whenever they do science; they never bring God into the laboratory.

FALSE

That is neither true historically nor conceptually.

Let’s consider the great pioneers of modern science – the scientists of the scientific revolution (who produced modern science as we know it). Believe it or not, they were not looking for “naturalistic” explanations of things. They simply looked for consistent explanations of things. The reason they believed that nature would behave consistently is because they believed that God ruled nature.

Atheists often tell us that that bringing God into the laboratory (bringing the theistic worldview into scientific endeavours) will lead to lazy inferences: that is, supernatural explanations. It is as if God becomes a conceptual crutch – an escape clause in every difficult anomaly whereby they can simply say, “God did it,” while atheists, who must assume nature causes everything, are left to do the hard work of figuring out the natural patterns and causes of things. (This is all part and parcel of the broader atheistic myth, that science and theism are essentially opposed.)

Of course, this would entail on the theist’s part an inconsistent model of nature – a nature that lacks the resources to produce the systems around us. For a scientist to invoke supernatural explanations for things would be to assume that nature, unaided by God, is unable to behave in the way that it has been observed to.

But the mistake this makes is not that it brings the theistic worldview into the laboratory; it is that it fails to consider the way in which God governs nature: rationally, consistently, and uniformly. The scientific revolutionaries – almost all of them Christians – didn’t make that mistake. They assumed that nature would behave according to intelligible patterns and laws, because they believed in a divine intelligence as nature’s lawgiver.

Thus when they came across an anomalous piece of data, rather than calling it a miracle, their way forward was not to suspend belief in a divine intelligence, but to invoke their belief in God by assuming that the anomaly must be a consistent part of a divinely designed pattern that had yet to be discerned.

Then they searched for the pattern. And the rest is history.

This myth does not seem to pass the test of history, let alone pure reason.

6 important differences between the Exodus movie and the Biblical Exodus account:

I know what you’re thinking. “Here comes another Christian complaining about the inaccuracies of a Bible movie and spoiling everybody’s fun.”

Well. Please don’t worry. This isn’t a negative film review, or a film review at all. If the Exodus movie isn’t Biblically accurate, that doesn’t make it a bad movie, or a movie people shouldn’t watch. This isn’t one of those articles.

What this is, is an appeal to watchers of the Exodus movie to be informed and educated. Everybody knows that this film is not entirely Biblically accurate, and that’s fine; it wasn’t trying to be. But what I know is going to happen for many people who watch this movie is that they will come away from it making certain conclusions about the Bible based on this movie, even though we all know that the movie doesn’t accurately represent the Bible.

No adaptation is 100% accurate. That’s impossible. But what people should be aware of with Ridley Scott’s Exodus adaptation is that it is different to the Biblical story in all the important ways, rather than being different in peripheral, secondary ways. Many people’s perceptions of God will be influenced by this film, when this film actually says some pretty different things about God to what the original Biblical story says about God.

So before you make conclusions about the God of the Bible, based on your viewing of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of this story in the Bible, be aware of the following differences between the stories:

1. In the book of Exodus, Moses is a spiritual leader; not a military one.

Ok. This isn’t a terribly important difference (not in my books anyway). But if you watched this film, thinking you were watching a faithful retelling of the Exodus story, then perhaps this fact will make you wary of assuming that what you watched is similar to what is written in the Bible.

This difference shows us that the filmmakers were not trying to simply put the same original story of Exodus onto the screen.

2. In the book of Exodus, Moses is a reluctant leader because of timidity, not because of arrogance. (Exodus 3:11, 4:10-13)

Ridley Scott’s film depicts Moses as a self-confident, at times hot-headed character, who is hesitant to lead the Israelites out of Egypt because, 1) he doesn’t yet fully self-identify with the Israelites and has residual allegiances to the Egyptians, and 2) he is unimpressed by the God of the Israelites, and tends to disagree with God’s way of doing things.

This is actually completely different to the character of Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus, who literally says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11), then points out his oratorical inadequacy (Ex 4:10), and then asks God to just send someone else (Ex 4:13).

In the film, Moses’ primary character development is a process of gradual humbling before God and before Israel. But in the Bible Moses develops in the other direction; he needs to go through a process of emboldening and encouraging in order to do what God asks of him.

Now, again, this difference isn’t terribly important in the scheme of things, and I rather enjoyed it as a piece of characterisation. But it does show us further, that the makers of this film have changed deep and basic things about the central characters of this story.

In what ways do you think they might have changed the character of God?

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Physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox said on Q and A tonight that the power of science is that it’s the only discipline that admits its own fallibility.

Seems like a really nice guy, but I’m perplexed as to why he would believe something that is so obviously false: I’ve never met a philosopher, historian, economist, lawyer, literary critic, OR theologian, who does not admit their own fallibility and the fallibility of their discipline.

And yes, I meant it when I said theologian. Theologians consider the text they work with (e.g. the Bible) – their data source – to be infallible, but they consider their own interpretations of the text to be fallible.

Note that this is exactly the same as scientists, who consider nature – their data source – to be completely infallible: never lying to us, and never changing, but constantly being misinterpreted by us.

Scientists and theologians are no different in this regard.

A Quick Thought on Abortion

There are many arguments given for the permissibility of abortion. Most of them seem to be concerned with the rights of the mother to have control over what happens to her body. I personally find these arguments to be callously cold and inhumane in their thinking towards unborn children. However there are also some arguments that appeal to the rights of the unborn child – the right not to live a life that would not be worth living.

This kind argument came out pretty loud this week with Richard Dawkins’ tweets saying that it would be “immoral” to bring a child into the world if you knew it had Down’s syndrome. I take it that he is not worried about the child being more of a cost than a benefit to society – I think he is worried about the suffering the child is expected to go through if it is allowed to be born and grow up. Of course, this argument isn’t limited to concerns about children with Down’s syndrome but extends to other diseases, as well as socio-economic conditions that would mean the parent is unable to provide what we might consider an adequate life for the child.

I just think this is the most absurd argument; it surely cannot stand up to scrutiny. Here’s what I don’t understand. We’re saying that it would be cruel to bring into the world a child whose life would be so full of suffering that it wouldn’t be worth living, right? Have we ever thought of asking the children what they want? Well of course, the children we’re talking about can’t speak; they’re fetuses. But we can speak to the millions of people who have been born with diseases, or born into poverty, and have grown up into adults. Here’s what’s so remarkable: there are millions of these people whose lives pro-abortionists say would are not worth living, and yet for some reason, the overwhelming majority of them choose to continue to live. Don’t you think that’s noteworthy? I mean, if their lives really were so much more painful than they were pleasurable that they would have been better off not to have been born, wouldn’t they just go ahead and kill themselves? But they generally don’t kill themselves, do they? In fact many of them, particularly those born into poverty, go to extreme lengths just to survive. The fact that so many people born in life’s unfair circumstances wind up living lives of crime is so often given as a reason why they shouldn’t have been born. But really I see it as a testimony to just how desperately these people wish to continue living. They will do almost anything, it seems, to stay alive.

Of course, you will probably say that this is just the result of natural instinct: it is incredibly unnatural for a person to end their own life – they generally have to be experiencing an incredible amount of suffering for them to consider it better that they should die. And I would say… Ah, yes; precisely. Maybe that should make you reconsider how lightly you are willing to end someone’s life. Let’s not forget – it’s very, very easy to kill oneself. There’s nothing physically hard about it. What makes it so rare is that people almost never want to die. It’s simple logic: If people actually didn’t consider their own lives worth living, they would kill themselves. And thus, given the enormous sample size of empirical evidence showing that people born in disadvantaged circumstances usually choose to continue living, the rational thing to do is to assume that an unborn child with Down’s syndrome will most likely prefer to live.

Doesn’t it seem tremendously paternalistic to decide, before someone has the capacity to choose for themselves, whether someone’s life is worth living? If what you’re really concerned about is the quality of life for the unborn, why not let the child be born, and then if they decide that their life isn’t worth living, let them kill themselves? How presumptuous, how autocratic, that we would think we know better than someone whether their own life has enough joy that it would be worth continuing, given that whenever we actually give a fetus in a disadvantaged position the chance to live, they almost always take it, holding on to it like nothing else! It is unthinkable to me that our assumption would be that they wouldn’t want to live when everything we know about real life tells us the exact opposite.

Almost everybody who’s ever been born with Down’s syndrome, or with difficult economic circumstances, has chosen to keep living. How about we give them a chance to make that choice.

C.S. Lewis on Death

Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’. It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Ch. 14, ‘The Grand Miracle’

On the Progressiveness of Science and Conservatism of Religion

We all know how often science and religion are pitted against each other. And it happens in so many ways. Various inherent differences are suggested between these two enterprises. They say that science appeals to reason while religion appeals to authority; science improves society while religion hinders society’s progression. We’ve all heard the fairy tales – you might not call them fairy tales, but I do. Anyway. There’s one particular difference that I commonly hear suggested as existing between science and religion, which I want to address here. And that is that science is inherently progressive, while religion is inherently stubborn or static.

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We have been taught to believe that world history turned its big corner in the late 18th Century with the birth of modern democracy and the rise of modern science.

The Christian claim is that world history turned its corner when Jesus came out of the tomb.

– N.T. Wright