Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Review: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men

Introduction

Ever since I was a kid I have had a fascination with space, rockets, and Marvin the Martian. I have always been interested in knowing whether life could exist somewhere else in the universe, and if so, what kind of life. As a kid, UFOs caught my attention and fascination. I remember watching "Unsolved Mysteries," when they were presenting a story about someone's encounter with an unidentified flying object, on several occasions with my parents. Over the years, my interest in UFOs and aliens has gone down quite a bit, but it always been in the back of my mind as I see scientific stories about discoveries of extraterrestrial planets and research on the origin of life. I recalled reading an interesting book several years ago that addressed the topic of UFOs, and I decided to pick it up again to give it a proper review on my blog. The book is "Lights In The Sky and Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials" by Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Mark Clark, and Kenneth Samples (DVD available as well). This review will be the usual chapter-by-chapter summary and conclude with my recommendations. As always, this review leaves out a lot of information necessary to truly evaluate the authors' arguments, so if you are intrigued by the contents here, please do pick up a copy to read and analyze for yourself.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Forensic Faith

Introduction

I have to say that ever since I heard that cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace was working on a new book, I was extremely excited, especially when I heard it would be a book on learning how to be a Christian case-maker. I read and reviewed his two previous books (Cold-Case Christianity and God's Crime Scene). In those books, he brought a unique and powerful perspective, as a cold-case homicide detective, to presenting the case for Christ's resurrection and God's existence. However, many Christians are not convinced that there is even a need to make the case for the truth of our worldview. In "Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith" (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), Wallace's aim is to appeal to these Christians, who are hesitant about making the case, by presenting them with the biblical reasons for making the case and the resources to do so.

Chapter 1: Distinctive Duty

J. Warner Wallace begins by telling of his graduation from the police academy in California. As part of the graduation, the new graduates took an oath; they sore to protect the citizens of their state from all threats using the training they had received. This instilled in the new officers a great sense of duty. As an officer of the law and a detective, evidence played an extremely important role in Wallace's everyday life. When Christian officers witnessed to him, he was not impressed because they seemed to have a faith that went against the evidence. However, when he investigated the Gospels for himself, he found the complete opposite: that Christianity made claims about reality that could be falsified or verified by evidence, and Jesus and his Disciples, in fact, encouraged people to believe based on the evidence and witness to others using the evidence.

Wallace observes that every Christian believes the claims of Christ based upon the direct evidence of the eye-witness testimony of the Disciples given in the gospels, so having a faith based upon evidence is nothing foreign to the Christian. However, to make his case more powerfully, he takes the reader through the New Testament to show that Jesus encouraged people to believe His claims based on the evidence He offered, and that the Disciples accepted their duty to witness using their eye-witness testimonies (direct evidence). He observes that while Paul explicitly stated that not everyone was necessarily called to be an evangelist (Eph. 4:11), Peter explicitly stated that everyone is called to be a Christian case-maker (1 Peter 3:15). He then takes the reader through early Church history. In this he cites several historical writers at the time who provided evidence to their readers for the truth of what they were claiming about Jesus Christ. Wallace concludes the chapter with a call to every Christian to accept their biblically-established duty to be Christian case-makers for the next generation.

Chapter 2: Targeted Training

For those who have accepted their duty as Christian case makers, Wallace now moves to training. He observes that despite the fact that the Church has been teaching the Word of God, the desired effect is not borne out in culture: most adults (including Christian adults) do not have an accurate Christian worldview, and our kids are leaving the Church in droves. From Wallace's own experience as a youth pastor, simply teaching is still resulting in our children rejecting Christ. He decided from that experience that he needed to employ a tactic from his work on the police force: training. Instead of merely providing instruction in a classroom then going off to do something fun within the confines of the Church, he decided to train his students. This involved more than just instruction, and he lays out his system using an acrostic:

Test
Require
Arm
Involve
Nurture

It is important that Christians test each other's (and their own) ability to answer the tough questions from skeptics. This will reveal the focuses of training. Christians need to raise the bar and require more of themselves and each other than what we think can be handled; this encourages growth in knowledge. As we stretch our minds, we must arm ourselves and each other. Learn what is true and how to communicate it clearly. We do each of these in order to involve ourselves in culture and engage the challenges of skeptics; we must use the knowledge and skills that we have practiced. As we involve and engage, those with us will discover areas where they are weak, and we must be there to nurture them in the middle of the battle so that they can get back on their feet. Wallace explains that all these are necessary if we wish to see the trends described at the beginning of the chapter reversed. He concludes the chapter with a specific call to parents to get trained so that when their kids ask challenging questions, they will "be ready to give a reason for the hope that they have with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)

Chapter 3: Intense Investigation

In the third chapter, Wallace describes five practices that he exercises in order to investigate cold cases, and he demonstrates how to apply each one in order to have a forensic faith. His first practice is to read the case file completely and know it backward and forward. He must be extremely familiar with the material. The Christian, likewise, needs to read the Bible (Christian file) completely and know it from cover to cover. His second practice is to remember that everything can be evidence, even things that we may not usually consider. When reading the Bible, the Christian must understand that everything contained within its pages counts as evidence in one way or the other. The third practice is to take extensive notes and thoroughly analyze.

As we read the Bible, notes should be taken regarding different relationships among passages and concepts, and the claims (along with the specific words used and not used) all need to be thoroughly analyzed. The fifth practice is to organize the data and summarize it. Doing the same with the Bible will assist in understanding and recollection of the investigation. The fifth practice is to look for evidence outside the original case file. For the Christian, most skeptics do not recognize the Bible as a source of truth, so if they are to reasonably believe what it says is true, they need to have evidence from a source that they recognize as valid (which will be outside the Bible). For each one of these practices, Wallace presents an example of application for the Christian that will help in developing a forensic faith.

Chapter 4: Convincing Communication 

Of course, once we have developed a forensic faith, we cannot keep it to ourselves, we must communicate to those who must decide, a "jury" of sorts. Wallace again draws upon his experience to provide the Christian with principles for communicating what evidences have been uncovered for the truth of the Christian worldview. His first principle is to be insightful in deciding who to present the evidence to. Just as jury selection is important for a trial, so is the selection of the people to present evidence to. He explains that there are generally four kinds of people: Committed skeptics, committed Christians, Christians who are doubting, and skeptics who are doubting. Generally the ones who are most receptive to the evidence are the last three. His second principle is to instruct those you present evidence to on how to examine evidence. It is not always common knowledge how evidence is to be handled; if someone does not understand how evidence builds a case, then they will not likely see how powerful the case is when presented.

The third principle is to remember that whoever makes a claim bears the burden of proof, not just the theist (as many atheists would have you believe). Any time that someone claims something (even that God does not exist), it is their responsibility to make a case. Fourth, always remember that possibilities are not arguments against your case or the evidence presented. There will always be unanswered questions, and there always seems to be some speculative way to avoid the conclusion. However, speculated possibilities are not supported by the evidence; the conclusion you present is. Fifth, the more evidence you present, the more reasonable the conclusion. If you claim that something happened, the more support you can present, the more evidentially persuasive the case will be. Familiarize yourself with as many evidences for the truth of Christianity as you can. Finally, Wallace encourages the Christian to communicate passionately yet humbly; never overstate your case. He concludes the book with a reminder of the importance of the duties of those who are called to "serve and protect" in law enforcement, and encourages the Christian to accept the same duty to "serve and protect" the members of the Body of Christ.

Reviewer's Thoughts

I had high hopes for this book, and Wallace certainly did not disappoint. While there are numerous aspects of this book to appreciate, the one that stood out to me was his thorough use of Scripture throughout the book to make his case for providing an evidential case for Christianity. One of the principles he's learned in his career as a homicide detective is to "overwhelm" his jury with the evidence for the guilt of defendant so that there is little-to-no doubt in their minds of his/her guilt. His use of Scripture certainly follows that principle. If you have not seen a decent case for presenting evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview, this is the book that you need to read. If you have heard about "apologetics" and have been curious but do not know where to start, this is the book to get. I cannot recommend it enough as the starting point for anyone who feels Peter's call to "be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have." After this one, be sure to continue your development of a forensic faith with J. Warner Wallace's two other great books, "Cold-Case Christianity" and "God's Crime Scene."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Top 5 Books On Science and Faith

One of the major challenges to the Christian worldview is the idea that science and Christianity are necessarily in conflict with one another. This general challenge is manifested in many different ways. A few months ago, I posted my Top 5 Books that address the Genesis controversy. This list will address the more general challenge. As before, I will give the list then provide a short explanation for my choices. This list will consist of two primarily philosophical books and two primarily scientific books that are bridged by one that logically connects the philosophy to the science. So, on to the list of my (currently) Top 5 Books I recommend regarding science and faith:



Why Did I Pick These Books? 

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism

In order for discovery and explanation (science) to even take place, a proper philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) must be established. As mentioned in the introduction, many skeptics claim that science (read "evolution") and Christianity are in direct opposition to one another, and they offer that naturalism is the only view supported by science (again, read "evolution"). In this book, philosopher Alvin Plantinga looks at the theory of evolution from a merely conceptual standpoint (not an evidential one- Plantinga does not agree or disagree with evolutionary mechanisms in this book). He makes the case that the theory of evolution, by itself, merely describes a possible mechanism to explain the diversity of life, but it does not make any claims about whether than mechanism was guided or not- philosophical naturalism has to be sneaked into evolutionary theory for guidance to be excluded. He concludes that evolution is compatible with theism, so there is no conflict. But he takes it even further. C.S. Lewis argued in "Mere Christianity" that a naturalistic origin of our brains justifies doubting its ability to reason and come to true conclusions apart from survival advantage. Plantinga builds upon Lewis' argument to place it on very strong scientific grounds. He ultimately concludes that a conflict does exist between evolution and naturalism. Not only are naturalists incorrect in claiming a conflict between Christianity and science, they are incorrect in claiming concord between science and naturalism. Naturalism is simply not a viable worldview for the person who values their ability to reason towards true conclusions despite survival disadvantages of those conclusions.

Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality Of Science

For reasoning independent of survival advantage to take place, a mind that is not subject to the survival of a physical organism must exist (an agent). Naturalism not only does away with the reliability of a brain's ability to reason independent of survival advantage, it also has no room for an agent independent of the physical organism. Naturalists have attempted to explain away agency (along with free will, intentionality, design, and other concepts we take for granted) using strong and weak agent reduction. Philosopher Angus Menuge takes the reader through the scientific and philosophical claims of these proposed solutions and shows how each of them fails the test of reality. He also takes the scientific and philosophical evidence to build the case for agency (minds) actually existing. If minds do exist, then naturalism is false, and we have discovered yet another conflict between naturalism and science. Along with that, science has actually demonstrated a key feature of the Christian worldview: more than just this physical world exists.

Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolution Debate

The two previous books focused primarily on philosophical arguments that have scientific implications. But what about scientific evidence that has philosophical implications? Before we can get to the more science-focused evidence for Christianity, we need to establish the reliability of nature as a source of knowledge that we can observe and analyze. In their book "Origin Science" philosophers Norman Geisler and Kerby Anderson do just that. They look at the history of science and the history of science within the Church (drawing the conclusion that science and Christianity are compatible). They then look at how knowledge of how nature currently operates has been obtained: through observation. This connects our ability to accurately observe and validly analyze to draw sound conclusions about how nature operates today (observational science). But what about how nature operated in the past? Using the principle of uniformity (distinct from uniformitarianism) Geisler and Anderson demonstrate that the past can be known with deductive certainty. This makes the connection between the present and the past. If the past operated the same five days ago (verified by repeated experiments), we can keep adding five days to the past until we reach back into the distant past to discover how things operated back then (historical science). The knowledge of the present operation of nature and the truth of the principle of uniformity necessarily imply that we can know the operation of nature in the (distant) past. Thus, our ability to know and nature as a source of knowledge have been connected so that we can discover what nature reveals about its purposeful or purposeless history.

Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity's Home

For several decades, astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross has been scouring scientific journals for scientific evidence for the Christian worldview. The evidence is so frequently in the scientific literature that he has a blog entitled "Today's New Reason to Believe." He has written several books on what he has discovered, but his latest book examines history of our planet, and the hallmark of design for a purpose is difficult to miss. As scientists discover more about how stars, solar systems, and planets are formed, they see just how unique ours is. Numerous features of each are necessary for our planet to be able to support advanced life for the time that it has. For those familiar with Gantt Charts (used to track the progress of large and complex projects), through the entire time span of the project of the creation of our planet for high tech civilization, numerous series of highly orchestrated simultaneous phases begin and conclude at precisely coordinated times. The completion of the project is so dependent upon the plan being followed precisely that every phase, if not started or not completed at their precise time, ensures that the project will be a failure. While many projects must be flexible due to circumstances outside the project manager's control, the Project Manager in charge of our planet did not have that limitation; He was in complete control and could easily complete such a strict project. We know by analogy to human projects that when we see such a complex system come together with a specific end result that it is the product of a designer (project manager). While an argument against a naturalistic explanation would be obvious, Dr. Ross instead argues that the design of our planet positively identifies that it was created for a purpose, and a purpose must have a Purposer. Dr. Ross argues that the most plausible explanation for our planet's sustaining a high tech civilization is the product of the divine Project Manager (God), who's purpose was the redemption of as many of His Image bearers as possible.

Creating Life In The Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator

While the previous book focused on evidence from astrophysics and geochemistry for our planet being created with a purpose (thus a Purposer was necessary), Creating Life In The Lab examines the latest work in the field of biochemistry, specifically what scientists are doing in order to create life. Dr. Rana takes the reader through the history and current state of different approaches scientists have been pursuing to create life. He explains that precisely and constantly controlled environmental conditions are necessary even for the progress that has been made today. Just like with other chemical experiments, these are highly controlled reactions, ones that would not take place outside the intervention of the scientists. And much like other chemical experiments, the reactions must be stopped at precise times to prevent destruction of the product of the reaction. Dr. Rana points out that these experiments and all success they have can only be attributed to the fact that designers (the scientists) are behind the experiments with an explicit purpose in mind. The fact that the scientists have a specific goal in mind allows them to begin chemical reactions, allow them to take their natural course (according to the laws of physics) then intervene to stop the reactions to prevent destruction of the products and set them aside to be later combined with other products of similar processes. Dr. Rana makes the point that even if there is a naturalistic pathway from non-life to life, that pathway is not one that can be traversed without designers to control the conditions, start and stop reactions, and combine products that have each been created independently. He also argues that when we see products of any other process that requires precisely controlled conditions and controlled chemical reactions (say, the device you are using to read this article), we intuitively, logically, and experientially know that it is the product of a designer. Even though life has not yet been successfully created in the lab, the current status provides powerful evidence for life being the product of a Designer. And if (when) life is created in the lab, it will present powerful, positive evidence for the creation of life absolutely requiring a designer.

Bringing It All Together

I would like to add also that these last two books offer such powerful cases for design that if naturalism were true, they would actually bolster Alvin Plantinga's argument in "Where The Conflict Really Lies" with scientific evidence. If the "design" we see in the history of our planet and the creation of life is merely an appearance of design (as many naturalists contend), then arguments for true design break down. And as Dr. Angus Menuge argued in "Agents Under Fire" that breakdown is in the very concept of design- it does not exist if naturalism is true. Everything that we experience and believe to be designed (even human inventions and projects) are not truly designed; the belief that they are designed is merely a useful fiction. And since believing these useful fictions is necessary for us to even get out of bed and eat breakfast (not to mention driving [or walking] to work to perform a series of tasks designed to accomplish several purposes) there is no reason whatsoever to think that our brains were selected for by natural selection to believe what is true- they haven't been and they won't be...interestingly, if we cannot trust our brains to believe what is true (possess knowledge), then what is the point of science in the first place? If the God does not exist, neither does knowledge, and every knowledge discipline that we enjoy is the product of yet another series of useful fictions forced on us by our (naive?) desire to survive.

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