Monday, March 31, 2008

Comment Section

I realize that I haven't posted in awhile, and part of the reason is that I've been spending time responding to comments. That's been fun in its own right (and, I hope, time well spent for all involved). So, here's inviting anyone who doesn't already to check out the recent comments (and even to add some of your own).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Beauty

In the last post, I suggested both that we find the creation itself full of beauty and that the Bible presupposes--as have most thinkers throughout Western history--an objectivist view of beauty. Let me here share the counterargument that is most frequently offered.
People--and even cultures--differ on what they perceive as beautiful. Some people even do things to themselves (for the sake of looking more beautiful) that I (we) find very unattractive.
I grant that this is true, especially when we're discussing shades of beauty. There are, nonetheless, some things that every right-thinking person ought to find lovely and other things that everyone should agree are ugly. But all of such quibbling really misses the point.

If the subjectivist view is right, then the beauty--of, say, the glamorous supermodel--resides not in her but only in our thoughts about her. There is no beauty in the sunset; rather, beauty is the sort of thing that dwells in my own feelings about sunsets.

This seems rather absurd, and that's why most people (until recently) have rejected the subjectivist view of beauty. The postmodernist is not the first to discover that people have different aesthetic tastes. He's merely the first to focus too closely on this obvious fact and to follow it to an invalid conclusion... that objective beauty doesn't exist.

My friend (and fellow apologist and blogger) Bob Perry tackled this difficult subject awhile ago. Go here to read his excellent argument for objective beauty.

He ends that article with a challenge to Christians (and Christian apologists). It's very good, so I've copied it here...
While we have good reason to address the lack of respect for Truth and Goodness in our culture, it seems that we are less adept at understanding, or even noticing, that same culture’s lack of respect for Beauty. Everything we value in this life has its basis in one of these three or their combination. Even the technological gadgetry that so easily distracts us owes its design to the mathematical order, trustworthiness and beauty of the Grand Designer’s mind. We would do well to stop, look, and listen to the art, music, literature and poetry that derive from the same fundamental Source as our iPod. And we would do well to honor the beauty of this creation with all the respect, reverence, awe and honor it deserves.

But I think our call is greater than to just appreciate the beauty in this world. If we really believe we are made in the image of our God, I think that fact lays a great responsibility on us to be the best musicians, artists and authors — the best representatives and re-creators of beauty that human beings can be. For in our effort to do that we are best able to reflect the beauty and majesty of the Maker in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Objective Beauty

I didn't really want to find myself in the position of defending the existence of objective beauty, knowing how unsympathetic our culture has become to this basic concept. Further, I admit that I made the claim (that there is an objective foundation (in God) for beauty)--it is, after all, my blog. But it should be kept in mind that up until just a few decades ago most civilized people (Christian and otherwise) believed in objective beauty. So ultimately, it seems to me, the burden in this argument ought rightly to fall upon those who deny it. While it is easy to say
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
and even to accept this bromide uncritically, it is another thing entirely to demonstrate that no objective foundation for beauty exists.

Nonetheless, I'll offer up a couple of suggestions.

And first, let's think about the beauty in creation. What God has made is unfailingly beautiful. That's not to say that all living things and all landscapes are equally lovely. Some, indeed, take one's breath away, whereas others may not impress. But think about it... have you ever found yourself saying critically,
That bird clashes with the trees it's in.
That butterfly just doesn't fit there.
That particular nebula doesn't bear observing at that telescopic power.
I think not. Even things of which you might be afraid (think snakes or sharks) nonetheless have a beauty all their own.

My second offering is this (for those of my readers who accept the Bible as the Word of God). God declares that there is beauty, and even asks us to align our tastes to conform with His. In the letter to the Philippians, He tells us (through the apostle Paul),
Whatever is lovely... whatever is praiseworthy, think about these things.
Much of the last part of Exodus is taken up with very specific designs on God's part for how the tabernacle was to look, and the artisans He named to carry out this work were
filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.
The Bible presupposes the existence of objective beauty, and I could produce verse after verse to support this.

I'll save another couple of suggestions on this issue for my next post...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Resurrection

So, I think it's fitting here and now to lay out an argument for the factuality--the historicity--of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago. The argument I will lay out is a "minimal facts" approach, one taken by Gary Habermas. (For more detailed accounts of this argument, the reader is referred to Habermas' books The Risen Jesus and Future Hope and The Historical Jesus.) This argument does not assume that (as Christianity claims) the Bible is the inspired word of God and free of error (in the original autographs). Rather, for the sake of argument, this approach uses only those facts about Jesus that are widely acknowledged by scholars of all metaphysical stripes, even those who begin by rejecting any supernatural interpretations. That is, we are here treating the New Testament accounts about Jesus as merely the writings of fallible human beings to which can be applied all the skeptical scrutiny we may choose.

[I myself believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I have chosen to shelve that belief for the sake of this argument. It should be pointed out, however, that if this argument leads to the conclusion that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead in fulfillment of prophecies (including his own) and in vindication of his overall teachings and claims, then acceptance of the inspiration of Scripture would be a very reasonable inference following from that conclusion.]

Here are some of the facts upon which virtually all scholars agree:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.
3. Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.
4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his internment.
5. The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.
7. The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history.
8. The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
9. The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
10. Sunday became the primary day for gathering and worshipping.
11. James, the brother of Jesus and a former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus.
12. Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
We can use these established facts--accepted even by most skeptics and atheists--as a test for the explanatory power of the various ideas about what really happened. That is, any explanation for the alleged resurrection and for the rise of Christianity can be examined to see whether it corresponds to and satisfactorily accounts for each of these facts.

It should be obvious that each and every one of these facts fits perfectly with the Christian explanation. Jesus died, and remained in the tomb until the third day. He was raised from the dead, and really did appear to the disciples and others before ascending to heaven. On this view, the resurrection vindicated—even more than had his (alleged) healings and other miracles—his claims to being Messiah, God, and Lord. The question is: how well and completely do other hypotheses fit these facts?

One alternative explanation that has been offered is the hallucination theory—the idea that the disciples and others each had hallucinations that they took to be the risen Christ. When compared against the list of accepted facts, this theory fails to account for points 4, 11, and 12. That is, this idea doesn’t explain the empty tomb or the conversion of either James or Saul, two men with no emotional motivation to see a risen Jesus in whom they did not believe in the first place. The disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise, either before or even shortly after they first saw him. Moreover, the different people, times, and places involved in the circumstances surrounding these appearances argue strongly against the idea that all involved hallucinations. In addition, hallucinations do not usually account for life-long transformations of an entire group of people. Subjective visions do not explain the willingness of so many people to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. Other problems with this hypothesis could be demonstrated, but these are enough to show why scholars have abandoned it.

Every other naturalistic theory likewise fails to account for all of these facts in the satisfactory way that the Christian explanation does. Such theories include the wrong tomb theory, the unknown tomb theory, the swoon theory, the Passover plot theory, the ideas that the body of Jesus was stolen by the disciples or by the authorities, and others. One of the most popular—at least in American university courses—is the theory that the resurrection was a legend that developed in the decades following Christ’s life. Despite its popularity, this theory fails to account for any of the twelve historical facts in the list, and further fails to account for the fact that belief in a bodily resurrection of Jesus can be traced to within two-five years of the crucifixion event. All of these naturalistic theories have been abandoned by serious historical scholars, even liberal ones.

Obviously, that Jesus actually rose from the dead cannot be shrugged off as merely an unexpected conclusion of an academic exercise. Rather, it comes with several ramifications, some of them both important and personal. This is especially true since Jesus’ earthly message related his resurrection to the existence and activity of God. Indeed, a reasonable conclusion that flows from his resurrection is that it was God who raised him and that this raising represented God’s approval and vindication of Jesus’ overall teaching. Since a central part of what Jesus taught had to do with the “Kingdom of God,” including salvation and eternal life and how to obtain them, the conclusion that these teachings were approved by God has universal application, and demands the serious consideration of anyone seeking to understand the meaning of life. The power of resurrection that transformed Jesus’ early disciples and radically altered the course of human history continues to this day to change lives, to offer meaning, purpose, and life that is both abundant and eternal.

(This post first appeared 9 April 2007.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

First Day of Spring

Today's the Spring Equinox, and I love spring. I spent the day (as most days) outdoors, and saw some neat things. These included my first (of the year) Long-billed Curlews (Numenius americanus), large shorebirds that spend most of the year on the coast but nest in shrub-steppe habitat, and the nest of a pair of Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris), a ground nest containing four eggs. But the pic I chose for the Spring Equinox blog photo is of the new leaves of a White-leafed Lupine (Lupinus leucophyllus) "springing up" through the skeletal remains of last year's stems.

Monday, March 17, 2008


In my recent talk, I shared that postmodernism involves a subjective understanding of truth and of goodness (morality), and demonstrated the falsity of that understanding. I also suggested to my audience--composed mostly or entirely of Christians--that each of them had allowed such subjectivity to creep into their own understanding of these things. Time did not permit, but if any were unconvinced that they were influenced by subjectivity, I could have raised another issue...


Virtually everyone I know would uncritically accept the idea that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," that while truth and goodness may be objective, beauty is a subjective kind of thing.

And yet it has not always been understood thus. It used to be that truth, goodness, and beauty were each considered objective things, laws of the universe against which one could not argue. Indeed, it used to be that the goal of a liberal arts education was to create gentlemen and ladies by training men and women to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly.

And whenever a culture loses its sense of an objective foundation for truth, goodness, and beauty, it is beauty that is the first to be viewed subjectively.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Coop Recap

This Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) was in the pigeon coop today, trying to get an easy meal. As I grabbed her, I realized that she was already wearing a band. Turns out she tried the same ploy fully four years ago. I originally caught and banded her on 1 March 2004! At that time, she wore the different plumage of an immature hawk, and her eyes were yellow rather than red-orange. I imagine she's seen a bit of the world between then and now.

Also today, though it was spitting snow, I caught my first snake of the year, a Common (Valley) Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Postmodernism Presentation

You can listen to the audio of my talk last week on Postmodernism by going here. If you'd also like to view the powerpoint, email me at

Monday, March 10, 2008

Religious Pluralism

At Antioch yesterday, we had a child dedication service. It was wonderful.

In his sermon, Pastor Ken discussed the all-too-common view among even Christian parents in our day that
Our children should each be allowed to find their own way spiritually.
What a different view this is from the one God commanded of the Israelites...
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise... (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
There are (at least) two factors that allow American Christian parents to take the view they do. One is the radical individualism of Americans in general. The other is, of course, that they have accepted a postmodern view of religion, the fallacious view that "all religions are equally valid."

If they really believed--as the Bible clearly teaches--that Jesus is the only way to salvation, redemption, forgiveness, and right relationship with the true and living God, then you can be sure they would want their children to know this. Indeed, if the Bible's claims are true, then teaching our children a right understanding of who God is and what He has done is far more important than the many other things about which we are more intentional in teaching them.

Has muddled postmodern thinking kept you from helping your kids learn the truth about Jesus and His love for them?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Unlivable Subjectivism

I suggested in the last post that the Postmodernist's subjective approach to truth is unlivable. In that post, I used an example that did not involve a life-or-death situation. But it should be even more clear when truth really matters, that everyone lives according to the objectivist view, whether they realize it or not.

Let's say you're the passenger in a car that is approaching a set of railroad tracks. You see and hear a train approaching at great speed, and worry because your friend, the driver, doesn't seem to realize it. You tell him about the train, but he says, "Naw, there's hardly ever a train at this crossing." "Well, there is now, and we're about to be hit by it!" you say. "Naw, I'm not believing it" says your Postmodern friend, as the locomotive races closer and the conductor lays on the warning whistle.

Seems unrealistic, doesn't it? Of course it is. And it highlights the fact that we all know--though Postmodernists like to kid themselves into thinking differently--that the truth value of the statement
There is a train approaching from the left!
depends not upon the observers but upon the train. When life is on the line, no one can afford to take a subjectivist view of truth, and no one does. We live our lives according to the correspondence view of truth, because we wouldn't live long if we didn't.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Objective vs Subjective

Central to understanding Postmodernism is the distinction between an objectivist view of reality and a subjectivist view. You see, Postmodernism is characterized by a radically subjective view of truth, of morality, of religion, and so forth. In my talk earlier today, I illustrated this with a truth-claim relevant to my vocation (and avocation)...
There is an owlet on the nest.
As an avian ecologist specializing in owls and other birds of prey, I have been contracted over the years to ascertain whether and where owls are nesting. So, ascertaining the truth value (the truth or falsehood) of the above statement (in specific instances) has been bread and butter to me. On an objectivist view (also known as a correspondence view) of truth, the truth value of the statement depends upon, resides in, or is determined by the object--in this case the owl. The claim is true only if there really is an owlet in the nest.

But the Postmodernist takes a subjectivist view of truth. On this view, the owlet is not the truth-maker. Rather, the truth value of the claim depends upon, is determined by, or resides in the subject or observer--in this case, the biologist. In other words, it doesn't really matter whether there is, in fact, an owlet on the nest. If we can find even one observer who believes there is an owlet on the nest, then we can deem the claim to be true.

Of course, while Postmodernists talk as if this is reasonable, no one really lives as though it were true. Let's say I'm bidding to do some owl nest monitoring for the local Forest Service, and their contracting officer discovers that I espouse a subjectivist (a Postmodern) view of truth. She would rightly pass me by for a biologist with an objectivist view. Because if the Forest Service is going to pay out good money, they want to know whether "There is an owl nesting here" corresponds to reality, not merely whether they can find a person who can convince himself that an owl is nesting.

The owlet on the nest below was a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Wednesday Luncheon

I'll be speaking Wednesday at the luncheon meeting of the Bend Apologetics Guild. I'm looking forward to discussing the topic of Postmodernism. Postmodernism is the spirit of our age, and every one of us is daily bombarded with its empty philosophy--its self-refuring truth claims, its hypocritical morality, and such. Its influence is pervasive, and a big part of the reason that (according to a 2003 Barna survey)
Only 9% of born-again Christians have a consistent biblical worldview.
So, I'm looking forward to Wednesday and to scrutinizing some of the flawed aspects of Postmodern thinking. I'll have the opportunity to challenge some of my fellow followers of Christ to ...
not be taken captive by empty philosophy (Col. 2:8)
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2).