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Friday, March 2, 2018

I'm an equal opportunity opponent of despots!

I heard a few days ago that Lt. Governor, Casey Cagle, threatened to use his position as president of the state Senate to kill a proposed sales tax exemption on jet fuel. The move was aimed at Delta Air Lines after their recent announcement they would no longer offer discounts to NRA members. Then, this morning, I hear that lawmakers officially struck down the exemption yesterday. From, we read the following:

Delta said it was ending a discount program for NRA members and had asked the gun rights group to remove its information from the group’s website after the Feb. 14 slaying of 17 students.... Georgia Republicans had criticized the airline’s move to cut its ties to the NRA. They were led by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, president of the state senate, who vowed to kill any tax legislation that benefited Delta. The bill that passed the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday had previously included tax exemption language that had been projected to save Delta some $40 million a year in jet fuel tax.

Really, people?  OK, I know this isn't rocket science but come on!  The first amendment is supposed to protect us against government retribution when we speak out on certain issues. If the NRA speaks out against gun control, people have the right to protest them. If a company like Delta Air Lines decides not to offer discounts to members of the NRA, that's their right. I don't have to like it. I don't have to fly on Delta. I can go on social media and tell everyone who will listen that they should boycott Delta because of their actions toward the NRA. That is what freedom looks like. When government officials use the power of their office to punish a company exercising its God given rights of speech and association, that is what tyranny looks like.

A straightforward reading of the First Amendment shows that it specifically forbids the government from infringing on our right to free speech or association. In other words, the First Amendment doesn't restrict what Delta can do or what the NRA or what I can do; it restricts what the government can do. I will also remind you that we're talking about gun control – a heated political issue. So GA Republicans are specifically punishing Delta Airlines because of its political speech! How much more blatant of a violation does this have to be before more conservatives speak out against it?!

It was just a few years ago when I spoke out against my own state of KY for trying to take away a sales tax exemption from the Ark Encounter. How is this any different? It was Democrats then but I'm an equal opportunity opponent of despots. As they say, "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."  I do not overlook tyranny just because the tyrants have a little “R” after their names.

People have the right to be stupid and Delta has the right to offend millions of NRA members. They will have to live with their decision when the offended members stop flying on Delta or start calling for boycotts. But when they suffer political reprisal because of their position, they will have an ally in me. I do not want the government choosing sides in political debates, even if they happen to be on my side this time.

Further reading:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Even extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how some critics of Christianity use demands for “evidence” as a way of dodging tough questions rather than dealing with them. In that post, I described a hypothetical example of two strangers: one tells me he has a pet dog and the other tells me he has a pet sloth. In these cases, I would be apt to believe the claim to own a dog but be skeptical of the claim to own a sloth.

A few people have tried to point out to me that my heightened suspicion of the claim to own a sloth actually contradicts a point I made later in my post. Carl Sagan made a famous claim that, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” By me being more critical of the claim to own a sloth than a dog, they say I'm engaging in exactly the kind of skepticism Sagan said was necessary before believing an extraordinary claim. I don't think so, but since a few people have accused me of the same thing, I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to expound my earlier point.

First off, Sagan's claim is self-contradicting. If it were true, then where is the evidence for Sagan's claim? I'm not even asking for extraordinary evidence, mind you. I mean any scientific evidence whatsoever to justify the claim that claims require evidence? If Sagan were here and I asked him to present the evidence for his claim, I'm sure he would resort to logic and reason which proves my point. Through logic and reason, we can make judgments about the truthfulness of a claim – even a claim for which there may be no scientific evidence! In my example about the sloth, you will notice that not once did I demand to see the sloth. My point in asking more questions was so that I might judge the truthfulness of the claim using only my skills of logic and reason.

But let's examine that a little but further. What if I were an especially stubborn skeptic and demand to see a picture of the sloth? If he pulled out a photo of him holding his sloth, that really still wouldn't prove anything. How do I know he didn't have that picture taken some exotic petting zoo somewhere? How do I know it's not a Photoshop? Maybe he could take me to his home and show the sloth in person. It's still not enough because, if I were especially bullheaded, I could ask for proof that this was his home. You say he has the deed? So what?! Maybe he's leasing part of his property to someone else who actually owns the sloth! No matter what evidence he shows me, I could sit cross armed and skeptical saying, “That's not enough evidence!”

This is my frustration with many unbelievers. I try to give reasoned arguments and ask they consider them objectively yet they respond only with a demand for more evidence. For some people, I could say that it would take God appearing to them personally to make them believe but I know even that wouldn't be enough because they could still dismiss God's appearance as a hallucination. For someone who truly doesn't want to believe, no amount of evidence – not even extraordinary evidence – is sufficient.

Now back up a minute. Remember about the person claiming to own a dog? If I were just as skeptical of his claim, what evidence might he produce that is different than the evidence that I demanded from the owner of a sloth? In other words, how is the evidence that proves someone owns a dog substantially different than the evidence that proves someone owns a sloth? If I am truly a “blank slate” and will never believe something unless I have evidence for it, then the evidence necessary to prove someone owns a dog need not be any different than the evidence necessary to prove someone owns a sloth.

To prove conclusively a person owns a dog or a sloth or even a stegosaurus, it would take roughly the same evidence: 1) look at his address on his ID, 2) drive to that address, and 3) see if the animal is there. One claim may seem more extraordinary than another, but the evidence to prove any of the claims is rather ordinary. The critic might ask, “what if he doesn't really own the animal? Maybe he's caring for a friend's or relative's pet.” Regardless, whatever could be said of a pet sloth could also be said of a pet dog. The evidence to prove either is still the same.

What if I claimed to own a Big Foot? Simple – drive to my house and see it for yourself. What if I claimed to own a unicorn? Drive to my house and see it for yourself. What if I claimed to have a flying saucer in my backyard? Drive to my house and see if for yourself. What if I claimed to have created a to-scale model of the Grand Canyon in my backyard? Drive to my house and see it for yourself. What is so “extraordinary” about the evidence that could prove any of these extraordinary claims?

Besides the famous quote we've discussed here, Carl Sagan also left us the analogy, The Dragon In My Garage. In that story, he pretended to have dragon in his garage and invited his skeptical friend to see it. Of course, the garage appeared to be empty. Sagan explained the dragon was invisible. The friend thought of ways to see if the dragon was there: spray paint the dragon to make it visible, sprinkle powder on the floor to see its footprints, or use a sensor to detect its flames. One by one, Sagan explained why none of these would work. A subtle irony here is that the skeptic only seems to be looking for ordinary evidence: he wants to see the dragon! Owning a dragon is an extraordinary claim. According to Sagan, it should require extraordinary evidence to substantiate that claim but in this analogy, merely seeing the dragon seems to be enough. So even Sagan, who made this famous quote, seems to understand that the proof for owning a dragon really isn't any different than the proof for owning a dog.

In Isaiah 1:18, God says, “Come now, and let us reason together.” To have the clearest picture of reality requires that we employ our God given gifts of reason and deduction. For someone to set the ridiculously high standard of evidence before believing anything is a guarantee to have a distorted view of reality.

The word “extraordinary” is enormously subjective. It describes more about the person hearing the claim than the nature of the claim itself. When a claim is labeled, “extraordinary,” it means the person hearing the claim has a hard time believing it. Maybe he just doesn't want to believe it. But even extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence. To say one claim requires “extraordinary” evidence simply means the skeptic is likely to reject most of the evidence you present because of his own incredulity.

Further reading:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Because there cannot be a married bachelor, there is no God. Um... what?

A while back, I came across a forum with a thread titled, A Library Of The Best 40 Atheist Arguments Against God. I wrote about the first argument then and had intended to visit the thread from time to time and discuss more of the arguments. However, the thread failed miserably to live up to its title and I didn't feel any urgency to get to the other arguments. It's been 2 years now and I happened across the same thread so I thought I'd look at the second argument on the list. It goes like this:

The paradox of omnipotence

We agree that a "married bachelor" can not exist because it is contradictory and self-refuting. An omnipotent God is self-refuting and contradictory.
-Omnipotence is the ability to do all things. To have all abilities
-However, some abilities are contradictory to each other. or some actions negate each other
-To sleep means you are not awake, for instance. You cant be alseep and awake at the same time.
God has the ability to live for ever. Eternal life. However, that means that he can not die and he doesnt have the ability to kill himselfy
God has the ability to be everywhere. he is omnipresent. However, that means that he doesnt have the ability to leave a certain place or the ability to be absent.

The author's point is that, since we can imagine things that God cannot do, there cannot be a God that can do all things. This is called, “the omnipotence paradox” and has been put forth many times, although, usually not so clumsily worded as above. A more succinct example is to ask, “Can God make a rock so big that even He can't lift it?” Either He can't make a rock that big or He can't lift the big rock He created – either way, there's something He can't do.

As we consider an answer to this, we have to consider what does “omnipotent” mean? The author above defines it as “the ability to do all things” but I couldn't find a mainstream dictionary with that definition. defines it as, Having unlimited power. Having great power and influence.” Merriam-Webster has, “Having virtually unlimited authority or influence.” defines it as, “Almighty or infinite in power, as God. Having very great or unlimited authority or power.” You can see that the ordinary meaning of omnipotent is having all power and/or authority. To redefine it to mean, “able to do anything” gives a critic the opportunity to create a strawman, then suggest some logical absurdity that God can't do.

There are certainly things that Christians will admit that God cannot do and still be omnipotent. Here are some examples: God cannot lie, God cannot be wrong, and God cannot stop being God. All of these things can be true of God and yet God could still be described as omnipotent. Indeed, if God could lie or be wrong, it would diminish His omnipotence; how could someone lie or be wrong and still have “all authority”?

To justify their unusual definition of omnipotent, some critics will point to Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Their claim is that this verse seems to say Christ should be able to do anything – even create a married bachelor. As usual, though, the verse is taken out of context. Paul suffered many things throughout his ministry – shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, and even imprisonment. Through it all, he learned the secret to bearing all the ups and downs – the power of Christ. Here are verses 12-13 together: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. What Paul is saying is that he knows he can prosper whatever his circumstances because Christ strengthens him. Clearly, he is not saying the “all things” he can do through Christ would include an ability to make a square circle!

The omnipotence paradox is a sort of logical gimmickry. Think about this: by asking if God can make a rock so big even He can't lift it, critics want you to believe that God should able to become unable. That sounds sort of ridiculous when it's put that way. It's a classic strawman argument. Critics redefine omnipotence to mean, “able to do anything,” invent logically impossible scenarios, then say there can't be an omnipotent God because He can't do what is logically impossible. Just as I don't believe God's omnipotence is diminished by saying He cannot lie, neither do I feel it's diminished by saying God cannot do what is logically impossible.

However, I don't want to sell God short. On many occasions, the enemies of Jesus would attempt to trap Him using clever arguments; in every case, Jesus would turn the table on them and they would look the fools. It became so bad that Luke 20:40 says eventually, no one dared asked Him any more questions. Perhaps God, who is also omniscient, would know a clever way to solve what seems to be logically impossible. I don't expect Him to have to, but I would laugh my head off at the skeptics if He did!

Christians should be glad the straw god of atheists doesn't exist. Their god would be able to lie. Their god would be able to err. Their god offers no hope. But there is hope in the God of the Bible. Because He cannot lie, I know I can trust His promises. Because He cannot err, I know I can trust His judgments. Because He cannot sin, I know Jesus was the spotless Lamb who was able to take my sins. Because He cannot change, I know my future is secured.

Praise the Almighty God!

Further reading:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

When asking for evidence becomes a red herring

When I discuss the existence of God or creation with unbelievers or evolutionists, I'm often confronted with demands for evidence. I understand. Some things are harder to believe than others. If I were talking with someone I'd just met, and he told me he has a dog, I would tend to believe him. In my 50+ years of this life, I've known lots of people who own dogs. Based on my experience, owning dogs is usual and a claim to own a dog is reasonable.

If, on the other hand, a stranger told me he owned a sloth, I might be more suspicious. I know sloths exist but it's not usual that people own them as pets. I might ask him where he got a sloth and where does he keep it? If he says he found it as a stray and took it home, I would likely conclude he's lying. If he said, instead, that he operates an animal rescue, the sloth was recovered from a smuggler of exotic animals, he lives on a large piece of land outside of town, and now he keeps the sloth there in a secure enclosure, I would not be as quick to dismiss his claim. Now what he is saying is plausible. I could ask him more questions like, what does he feed the sloth and what does he do with it during the cold months? How reasonable his answers are will lend credibility to his claim to own a sloth.

My point is this: we make judgments about the truthfulness of claims all the time. Sometimes we have evidence that helps us make a judgment but often we don't. In fact, usually we don't. An employee is late because, “There was an accident.” Your son says, “I'm spending the night at Johnny's.” A student tells the teacher, “My dog ate my homework.” As soon as we hear claims like these, before we have a shred of evidence, we already begin to form opinions about whether they are true. We're not “blank slates” who approach every question with complete objectivity. We all have biases, experiences, and prejudices that influence our judgment. What is my history with this person? What do I think of his character? How plausible is what he says?

Over my years of studying apologetics, I constantly encounter skeptics who demand “evidence.” They will ask me what evidence do I have for a recent creation? What evidence do I have that the Bible is true? What is the evidence for God? I understand why someone would ask questions like these. It's like me asking questions to the person claiming to own a sloth – he's trying to decide how likely it is that what I'm saying is true. I welcome sincere questions. However, it's my opinion that most of the time, people who demand “evidence” before believing anything about God or the Bible, are using their demand for evidence as a red herring to derail the conversation.

Following are some statements I often hear from skeptics about evidence. I'm sure you've probably heard most of these too. I'm going to use them to illustrate my point.

I don't believe anything without evidence.”

When I hear people say this, my first response usually is to ask them, “What evidence led you to believe that you must have evidence to believe anything?” I ask this to try to get them to see that they really do believe some things without any evidence. Of course, I can't recall a time anyone conceded that point. They usually respond with a lot of bluff and bluster but I've never had anyone actually show me evidence to support this belief.

Here's the case: most people aren't scientists. They don't conduct experiments. They don't have laboratories. They don't do research. They haven't seen any evidence for evolution. Instead, they've heard the secular theories and explanations of the evidence and have chosen to believe them. So they do, indeed, believe some things without evidence. Their demand to creationists to provide evidence is essentially special pleading aimed at forcing creationists to play by the arbitrary rules of the evolutionist.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Carl Sagan made this famous quote but, just like the quote above, it doesn't stand up to its own standard. Some might say Sagan's statement is an extraordinary claim; where is the extraordinary evidence that proves it's true?

The fact of the matter is that even extraordinary claims often require only ordinary evidence. Take a resurrection, for example. To prove someone has risen from the dead, you need only to show he was once alive, that he died, and that he was later alive again. When we discuss the resurrection of Christ, we talk about the written accounts made by people who knew Him intimately during His ministry, who were witnesses to His death, and who later saw Him alive again. They talked with Him, touched Him, even ate with Him after they saw Him die. Yet, instead of trying to impeach this compelling evidence, many critics simply dismiss it saying the Resurrection requires “extraordinary” evidence. So you can see that the demand for extraordinary evidence is a gimmick that allows skeptics to dismiss much of the evidence for God, the Bible, and Christianity without really having to rebut any of it.

Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

By now, you can probably already see the flaw in this statement. Saying, “claims made without evidence cane be dismissed without evidence,” is itself a claim and, so, must have evidence to support it. The critic who makes this claim is basically giving me a free pass to ignore it!

Even though the statement contradicts itself, critics still employ it as a way to excuse themselves from having to answer logical arguments. Let me give you an example: nothing can create itself. Are we agreed? So for nature to exist, it had to be created by something outside of nature – something “super” natural. Logically speaking, this is a valid argument for the existence of a supernatural Creator. It's so simple, yet so obvious that many critics have difficulty refuting it. Instead, they say, “Well,... do you have evidence for a supernatural Creator?”

Something can be true and have no evidence. Where is the evidence for Washington's crossing of the Delaware? No amount of scientific inquiry will discover it. The only reason we know it happened is because people who lived at that time wrote about it. Much of what we know about God is also what has been written down by the apostles and the prophets.

But besides the historical evidence, we do have compelling logical arguments for God. If we know scientifically, that matter/energy cannot be created naturally, then it must have been created supernaturally. We know that complexity and purpose are the characteristics of created things and so point to a Creator. We know that objectivity morality can only exist if there is a transcendent Lawgiver. I'm not asking for anyone to believe in God with a blind faith. I'm asking them to confront the many arguments that have already been made and quit hiding behind a flimsy demand for more evidence.

Further reading: