Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Voice at the Table

So, I owe you one last statement about the global warming issue (and then it looks like I'll have to post a bit about Noah's ark). Here it is, and it flows out of the statements that have gone before...
Christians ought to be speaking into the discourse.
Here's my reasoning. I have shared that the entire discussion is taking place within an inaccurate metaphysic, that the universe is all there is, that there is no God. Those of us who know better ought to bring our perspective to bear on the issues. In particular, that the atmosphere and Earth are well-designed to maintain life-support temperatures has special importance to the problem, and research and solutions that take this into account are essential.

But also, I have shared that this is a justice issue, that billions of people stand to be affected by the decisions made and the solutions chosen. The potential for injustice is great, and those whose welfare is most likely to be overlooked are the world's poor and voiceless. As such, Christians need to be the ones to stand up for them, ensuring that they have a voice and that their vulnerability is not ignored in favor of the comfort of those in wealthy nations.

In turn, the reason Christians need to care that justice is done in this issue is quite simply because God cares and has always cared about justice. His heart is ever for the most vulnerable, and He has always demanded that His people care about justice. Through the prophet Micah, He proclaimed,
He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
Likewise, Jesus cared about our response to the plight of the poor. In His 'Great Commission,' He tells His closest friends to make disciples in all the nations and to teach them to observe "all that I have commanded you." Interestingly, as recorded in Matthew's gospel, the last teaching that Jesus had given them was that the sheep would be separated from the goats (the ones to eternal life and the others to banishment) on the basis of whether they had fed the poor, clothed the needy, welcomed the stranger, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner (Matthew 25:21-46).

As in Old Testament times, and as in Jesus' day, it is God's people who are expected to have a heart for the voiceless and to see justice done. For this reason, Christians of all professions--scientists, economists, politicians, statesmen--need to do their best to understand the complex issues surrounding anthropogenic global warming and speak into the weighty decisions that are being made.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's a Justice Issue

The fifth statement that I can make with confidence about the controversial issue of global warming is this...
There is a justice component to the anthropogenic global warming issue.
By this I mean that there is the potential for human suffering, either if global warming is real and continues at dangerous rates, as a result of the implementation of some of the proposed solutions, or both. And if widespread human suffering is a possible consequence of whatever decisions are made, then there is the potential that widespread injustices will take place, that the health and welfare of some will be overlooked in favor of that of others, that some will have no voice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Particular Metaphysic

So far, I've posted three statements about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) about which I have a good deal of certainty. They were 1) Despite what much of the media say, there is a good deal of disagreement among scientists about the validity of claims about AGW, 2) The issue is primarily a political--not a scientific--debate, and 3) the Earth is remarkable in its ability to maintain life-friendly surface temperatures throughout life's history and despite huge changes in the amount of solar energy reaching it.

The next (and, I think, last) three statements I'll make on the subject are quite interrelated, so much so that it is difficult to decide which should come first. Here's what I came up with...
The anthropogenic global warming debate is being carried out almost entirely within a particular metaphysical perspective, that of naturalism.
Now, regular readers will realize that I frequently blog about the issue of scientific naturalism. I have argued that there is neither historical, philosophical, or practical justification for adopting a naturalistic approach to doing science, and I have shown that all of the latest important scientific discoveries have undermined a naturalistic understanding of the world in which we live and supported a theistic one. I have even argued that naturalism cannot logically ground either the scientific enterprise or the reliability of human reasoning.

My goal here is not to advance or defend those arguments again. Rather, it is simply to point out that in this important debate about anthropogenic global warming, its possible consequences and those of proposed solutions, we continue to act as though nature is the whole show despite overwhelming evidence and reason to the contrary.

Is this important? I suggest it is. If either AGW or its proposed solutions are as significant as people and the media seem to think, then it only makes sense that we begin our search for truth from within a metaphysically accurate worldview rather than from within a worldview that excludes the accurate answers. Let me illustrate this with just one practical example by referring back to yesterday's post.

The default position throughout the history of Western thought has been to acknowledge that things that appear to be designed--like the universe itself and living things and their components--are designed. It has only been very recently that scientists and others have kidded themselves into thinking that the design apparent in everything we see in the world around us is, in fact, only apparent. Let's see where these two very different approaches lead with regard to the thermal regulatory efficiency of the Earth and its atmosphere (discussed yesterday).

If the Earth's remarkable efficiency at maintaining life-friendly surface temperatures is designed (as the evidence would suggest), then we would do well to understand it better in order to work with that design to prevent future failure. If, on the other hand, we rule out design with regard to the atmosphere (and crust and plate tectonics and life and all the other interrelated factors mentioned yesterday), we are likely to miss important cues that would help to solve whatever real problems arise.

But what is actually going on is a worse option. And that is that the idea that the universe and life are designed has become so unpalatable to so many moderns--for reasons having to do with the theological and moral implications--that the features and efficiency of the Earth's thermoregulating mechanisms are not merely dismissed as only apparent but are in fact ignored altogether. I trust that you can understand that this is not the way to go about arriving at an accurate understanding of these important issues. Just as the relatively recent discoveries of the roles and purposes of the human tonsils and appendix required that researchers be open to their being designed (and eschewing the naturalistic conclusion that they were the useless byproducts of an evolutionary process), so, too, breakthrough discoveries about the threat of AGW likely require an openness to the design of the entire system, design attested to by all of the evidence available from life's long history on Earth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Efficiently Regulated

Here's my third statement about global warming...
The Earth is truly remarkable in its ability to maintain life-friendly surface temperatures for billions of years despite drastic changes in the amount of solar energy reaching it. The mechanisms in place for this thermal regulation have always been (apparently) extremely efficient.
The complexity of the thermal regulation about which I'm talking is mind-boggling, so I'll try to keep it simple. During the tenure of life on Earth (some 3.86 billion years), the solar energy reaching Earth has increased by 30 percent. And yet, the Earth's surface temperatures have stayed within a very narrow life-friendly range.*

If you've read much about the global warming issue, you're undoubtedly familiar with some of the factors that go into determining the Earth's surface temperature. A short list includes the atmosphere and its make-up (amounts and proportions of greenhouse gasses and such), the amount of energy coming from the sun (natch), and the Earth's albedo (read 'reflectivity'). But besides the obvious factors that play into these things, a host of other factors have played a role in maintaining this delicate balance throughout life's history. These include the amounts and forms of life on Earth, the timing and extent of extinction events, the varying rate at which once-living material has been stored in the Earth's crust and mantle, the timing of the re-release of such carbon deposits to the atmosphere,** and more.

As scientists continue to research these things, more factors are added to this list. The point is that all of these very different things act--and always have acted--in concert to keep Earth at a life-supporting temperature even though the energy input has varied drastically through time.

Now it is possible that the humans alive today have the capacity to throw this efficient, time-tested thermal regulatory mechanism out of whack. It should be noted, however, that some historical occurrences would seem to have involved perturbations to this system that would have dwarfed--in terms of abruptness and magnitude--even the sum of current human perturbations. (As just one example, think of Chicxulub, the meteorite that wiped out the last of the dinosaurs when it struck the coast of the Yucatan, sending debris 3000 miles in every direction and blotting out the sun for two years or more.) It is also noteworthy that every once in awhile (though with seemingly less fanfare than the dire predictions receive), a scientist will go on record as being amazed by the unexpected resiliency of the atmosphere (explaining, in part, why the predictions made by the models have failed to actualize).

Again, what I have shared in this latest certain and confident statement does not prove that anthropogenic global warming is false, nor does it mean that it's true. It seems, however, that it should play a part in the search for the truth on this issue, but it just doesn't seem to come up much; perhaps it's another of those 'inconvenient truths.'

* There have been periods--though not while humans were alive--when the Earth was quite a bit warmer than today, but no so warm as to preclude the flourishing of living things.

** You'll notice that these last two factors have to do with plate tectonics and the resulting earthquakes and volcanoes. This is yet another aspect of the Earth that is necessary for life's existence, and one that is believed to be unique to Earth (among other identified planets both in our solar system and outside it).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Political, Not Scientific

I'm up and running on a promised series of posts each of which is a confident and certain statement about the threat of anthropogenic global warming. This confidence and certainty are all the more startling because of my first claim (in yesterday's post), which had to do with the fact that this issue involves a great deal of debate and controversy. It is precisely because there is such a diversity of opinion--even among the appropriate scientists--about human-caused global warming that my claim to be able to make several statements with certainty should be at least provocative.

I'll trust that my first statement passed muster, that no one is really willing to argue logically and evidentially (as by a willingness to hear from every scientist) that no scientist doubts or harbors skepticism about the idea that human-caused warming is occurring at an unprecedented and dangerous rate. My second certain statement is a corollary of the first...
The global warming alarm as cast in the various media is not primarily scientific but political.
This statement likewise seems so obvious as to require little support. The issue became part of our collective awareness through a politician, not through a scientist. The issue is kept before us by politicians and by political journalists. Indeed, the only confusion on this point likely stems from the frequency with which those politicians appeal to science--"all scientists agree that anthropogenic global warming is occurring at a dangerous rate." This claim we know is untrue, and so can see it as a mere ploy, an attempt to disguise a primarily political discussion as a scientific one.

I hope that even those of you who are not scientists can as readily (as those of us who are) see that though scientific evidences ought to ground our conclusions about the validity of anthropogenic global warming, such evidences have become a minimal part of the rhetoric associated with this issue.

Monday, April 19, 2010

No Debate?

I promised to offer half a dozen statements about global warming that I can assert with confidence and certainty. Here’s the first one…
Despite vehement claims to the contrary, there is a good deal of disagreement among scientists in the relevant disciplines as to whether the central claims about anthropogenic global warming are true.
Let’s unpack this a bit. The central claims of the global warming alarmists I take to be… 1) The Earth is warming at an unprecedented and dangerous rate, and 2) the primary cause of this warming is human development and resource use. My purpose in this post is not to address (at least directly) whether these two statements are true or not. I’m not an expert in meteorology, climatology, paleo-climatology, or the like. Both statements may be true, or both may be basically false. The first might be true and the second one false. Each may be partly true and partly false. But while I won’t tell you what to conclude about the veracity of these twin statements, I can tell you a good deal about how such claims should be supported.

These statements are truth claims, statements purported to describe the way things are. Moreover, because they deal with atmospheric, planetary, and solar physics and chemistry, they would rightly be considered scientific truth claims. Now, the credibility of such claims should rest upon evidence and reason. That is, if they are to be believed by reasonable people, the preponderance of the relevant evidence should be such that these conclusions are strongly warranted. If contrary evidence exists, it should be acknowledged appropriately, and good reasons should be given why such evidence does not undercut the conclusion. All of this evidence should be dealt with within a logically sound format. Premises (that deal accurately with the evidence) should be strung together in a sound deductive argument that leads to a sure conclusion or in a strong inductive argument that yields a very high degree of probability.

Is this what we see regarding global warming? No indeed. Instead, very early in the argument, what we are told is,
There is no debate among scientists with regard to anthropogenic global warming.
Really? No, seriously? Is that all you can say?

This happens to be a claim about which I am sufficiently expert to draw a conclusion. It is thoroughly false. There is a heated and vigorous debate among scientists about the truth value of statements 1 and 2. And not only is there wide disagreement about these general claims, there is also deep disagreement about more particular claims. For example, a third claim is that carbon dioxide is a significant and controllable component of this (alleged) human-induced warming. This, too, is very much contested. And this is important because much of the proposed solution (to the problem which may or may not be actual) involves curbing our collective ‘carbon footprint.’ This, in turn, brings us to a fourth claim, that the solution to the problem is ___________ (The Kyoto Protocol or other political legislation).

If you’re tracking with me at all, you probably realize right away that, even among those scientists who generally agree with the other three claims, there is no consensus—but rather wide disagreement—about the correct solution.

We have come to give scientists a much greater level of authority and credence than they (we) deserve. At the same time, we have chosen to abdicate our right to assess a set of scientific evidence and argumentation, choosing instead to allow others to tell us what to think. And far too often, these twin failings have been exploited by those who would sell us a bad bill of goods.

Again, it may very well be that anthropogenic global warming is a real threat. If so, it’s quite problematic that in lieu of a careful treatment of all of the relevant evidence in a sound, reasonable argument, we are—early and vehemently—assured that “all scientists agree…”, an assurance that is easily demonstrated to be false.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earth Warming

Later this week is the day designated Earth Day. Each year I like to take the opportunity that Earth Day affords to blog a bit about environmentalism. There's at least a couple of reasons for this. For one, Christians have the most reason to care about the Earth, since we recognize it as the Lord's and because God has commanded us to be good stewards of it. Nonetheless, stewardship of the environment is one of those areas in which some of those Christians who take the Bible most seriously are guilty of some of the shoddiest thinking or are guilty of ignoring the issue completely. On the other side, those most concerned about the environment are frequently those who--because of an innacurate worldview (one other than the Judeo-Christian understanding)--are incapable of arriving at right conclusions about either the problems or the solutions on environmental issues.

But this week I thought I'd address the issue that most people get emotional about when the environment is mentioned--global warming. And so my goal will be to offer about a half dozen statements about which I can be very certain with regard to the complex and controversial issue of global warming. I hope you'll read along this week.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Friend Shelby

I hope you're all reading along with the month-long series "Why Is Christianity True?" at Apologetics315. Today's post is by my good friend Shelby Cade, and deals with the evidence from Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy and the Resurrection. Check it out and then link from there to his apologetics blog.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Advice from a NT Textual Expert

My last post was about the fixation on end times prophecy and current events in which many American evangelicals get caught up. It brings to mind something that stuck with me that was said by Daniel Wallace, the New Testament textual critic that gave a keynote address at our recent Central Oregon apologetics conference.

He said that we have the most textual evidence for (copies of) the gospels, followed by the epistles, and that Revelation comes in a distant last. He took this to reflect the amount of study spent on the different New Testament books by the early church, and believes that theirs would be a good practice to follow.

Yet many evangelicals spend far too much time speculating--nay, asserting--that their understanding of Revelation gives them warrant to declare its fulfillment in modern world events. (If only they knew their history as well, they might approach the topic of prophecy more humbly.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Prophecy Event

[Be sure to check out--each weekday this month--the essay posted at apologetics315 in the series, Why is Christianity True? (My contribution will be published there at noon on Wednesday, April 7)]

I was somewhat disappointed to read in The Bend Bulletin this morning that Tim LaHaye and like-minded evangelicals will be bringing their "message of biblical prophecy" to Central Oregon this month. LaHaye is the author of the "Left Behind" series of fictional end-times novels so popular among evangelical Christians today.

My take on this issue is similar to that expressed by Mark Noll in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which calls out the modern American church for its anti-intellectualism.
Paul Boyer's When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1992) documents the remarkable popularity among American Bible-believing Christians--again mostly evangelicals and fundamentalists--of radical apocalyptic speculation. Boyer concludes that Christian fascination with the end of the world has existed for a very long time, but also that recent evangelical fixation on such matters--where contemporary events are labeled with great self-confidence as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies heralding the End of Time--has been particularly intense.
Referring to the deluge of books like this that came out in the weeks following the start of the Gulf War, Noll writes,
The books came to various conclusions, but they all shared the disconcerting conviction that the best way of providing moral judgment about what was happening in the Middle East was not to study carefully what was going on in the Middle East. Rather, they featured a kind of Bible study that drew attention away from careful analysis of the complexities of Middle Eastern culture or the tangled twentieth-century history of the region toward speculation about some of the most esoteric and widely debated passages of the Bible. Moreover, that speculation was carried on with only slight attention to the central themes of the Bible (like the divine standard of justice applied in all human situations), which are crystal clear and about which there is wide agreement among evangelicals and other theologically conservative Christians. How did the evangelical public respond to these books? It responded by immediately vaulting several of these titles to the top of religious best-seller lists.
I lament with Noll how an
unsound hermeneutic has been used with wanton abandon to dominate twentieth-century evangelical thinking about world affairs.
An so, Tim LaHaye is coming to Bend, where, according to The Bulletin,
The prophecy conference... is being sponsored by more than 50 churches in the greater Central Oregon area.
That means nearly every nearby Bible-believing church (excluding at least my own, Antioch) is perpetuating this problem, and thereby helping to make the true message of Christianity even more inaccessible to the reasonable people in need of it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Empty Tomb

The 5th historical fact that needs explaining is that
The tomb was empty.
Unlike the other facts we have discussed, this one is not accepted by virtually all scholars. Nonetheless, there is powerful evidence for it, and about 75% of the scholars who study the subject accept it. Habermas and Licona lay out three sets of evidence. The first is what they call the Jerusalem factor. By this is meant that the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus took place immediately after the events in the same area where the events occurred. Those who desired to deny the claim of Jesus' resurrection--and there were many, both among the Jews and the Romans--needed only to provide a corpse, the verifiable proof that Jesus was still dead. There is no evidence that this was ever done. Habermas and Licona...
We certainly would expect to have heard from Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, if Jesus' corpse had been produced. When he wrote against Jesus' resurrection, it would have been to his advantage to include this damaging information, had it been available. In short, if a body of any sort was discovered in the tomb, the Christian message of an empty sepulcher would have been falsified. Anything but an empty tomb would have been devastating to the Resurrection account.
A second set of evidence for the empty tomb is enemy attestation. Several independent sources attest to the fact that early critics of the Resurrection accused the disciples of stealing Jesus' body. If the body were still in the tomb, there would have been no need to account for its absence.
When the boy tells his teacher that the dog ate his homework, this is an indirect admission that his homework is unavailable for assessment. Likewise, the earliest Jewish claim reported regarding Jesus' resurrection was to accuse the disciples of stealing the body, an indirect admission that the body was unavailable for public display. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus' enemies.
A third set of evidence for the empty tomb is the testimony of women. In those days, women were seen as untrustworthy witnesses, and their testimony was not even admissible in legal cases. If the empty tomb story were fabricated by the early Christians, it would not serve their case--in such a culture--to have women as the first and most frequent witnesses to the fact. Yet all four gospel accounts have it that way, and two gospels never have men at the empty tomb. The best explanation for this quirk in the accounts is that this is what actually occurred, that the gospels record no more nor less than what truly happened.

For all these reasons,
The empty tomb is, therefore, well evidenced for historical certainty. Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes, "All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history." (Wand, 1972, Christianity: A Historical Religion?)
So we have five historical facts, each supported by multiple independent attestations and each accepted by most scholars who study the issue (and the first four facts by virtually all such scholars). Together, these facts provide powerful support for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And--here's the main point of the 'minimal facts' argument--any alternate theory must adequately account for each and all of these. And, as the remaining chapters of Habermas and Licona's book demonstrates, they do not. No explanation yet produced accounts for these five historical facts as does the Christian one--that Jesus really did rise from the dead. And the implications are rather obvious:
If the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead, then God exists and eternal life is both possible and available.
Good news indeed, even 2,000 years later.

(All quotes from Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Skeptic, Enemy Attest Resurrection

I'm sharing the 'minimal facts' argument for the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus as found in Habermas and Licona's book. We've already discussed two historical facts, each with multiple lines of evidence supporting them and each enjoying the agreement of virtually all scholars that study the issue. These were:
1) Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Roman cucifixion
2) His disciples claimed--and believed--that he had appeared to them bodily risen from the dead.
Today, I'll share two more historical facts. These are:
3) Saul of Tarsus (better known as the apostle Paul), a persecutor of early Chistians, became a follower of Jesus after he experienced what he thought was a resurrection appearance,
4) James, Jesus' brother and a skeptic throughout Jesus' life, believed that he, too, saw the risen Jesus and subsequently became a leader of the church at Jerusalem.
Again, these two facts enjoy a multiplicity of independent attestations and are accepted by virtually all scholars.

Regarding Paul's conversion from enemy to follower, the evidence includes Paul's own testimony, that of Luke, and that of the church in Galatia. Regarding his believing in the resurrection to the point of being willing to suffer and experience martyrdom, these same three witnesses are augmented by the testimony of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth and Origen (the latter two preserved in Eusebius).

There is less information available to us regarding James' life before the death of Jesus. Nonetheless, the gospels report that Jesus' brothers didn't believe his message, the early creed imbedded in I Corinthians 15:3-8 reports the appearance of the risen Jesus to James, and Paul and Luke identify this same James as a leader in the early church. There is independent evidence as well for James' martyrdom, these including Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. It is true that the appearance of the risen Jesus to James is only recorded once (in the I Cor. passage of the New Testament), but Habermas and Licona argue that it enjoys early church tradition and acceptance of the vast majority of modern scholars...
Further, critical scholar Reginald Fuller explains that [the evidence] is sufficient. Even without it, "we should have to invent" such an appearance in order to account for two things: James' conversion from skepticism and his elevation to the pastorate of the church in Jerusalem, the center of ancient Christianity.
Here are 4 historical facts, then, that need explaining. Belief that Jesus appeared alive after being horribly crucified was taught by his disciples and held to even in the face of the threat of persecution and death. And while some skeptics argue that it was their collective desire that led them to hallucinate a risen friend, that theory cannot account for the conversion and belief of Paul, an enemy, or James, a skeptic.

But there's one more such historical fact to be addressed... in the next post.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why is Christianity True?

Beginning today, my fellow apologist Brian Auten is doing a series in which apologists from across the web weigh in on the question "Why is Christianity True?" It includes audio presentations of each of our essays and links to the authors' blog sites. A new essay will be published each week day throughout April, and my contribution is due to be posted on Wednesday, April 7.

Go to apologetics315 to check out today's installment, which includes both a foreword and an introduction. Then be sure to check out Brian's site each weekday for another reason for concluding that Christianity is true.

(Back to the "minimal facts" argument in the next post)