News & Articles

← Return to Articles

Christmas for the Skeptic

12.14.17 | For the curious and the skeptical | by Soma Eastside

     

    Introduction:

    Virgins giving birth. Angels flying overhead. Magical stars appearing in the night sky. There is a lot about Christmas that sounds more like a fairy tale than recorded history. No wonder modern people find it difficult to believe.

    Over the next 12 days leading up to Christmas we would like to offer you 12 pieces of evidence that make it plausible for thinking people to put their faith in Jesus.

    We are not trying to convince you to believe something blindly. We want you to consider these pieces of evidence and to give them some thought. Where the evidence leads you will be something for you to decide for yourself, in your own time. Our goal is simply to help you see that Christian faith is not baseless ignorance. It is not a blind faith. In fact, following Jesus requires us to use our reason as much as our hearts.

    If you believe you are an open minded person, then take this journey with us.

    If you are curious to hear what evidence there is for this global faith, then take this journey with us.  Come read our daily posts this holiday season.

    Who knows, you may discover the hope and joy that everyone is singing about. Or maybe you will just become more informed about the beliefs of your Christian friends. Either way, we hope you will join us for these 12 days of Christmas for skeptics.

     

     ON THE 1ST DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME- 

    A Writer for our code

     If there is anything which the advances of molecular biology have taught us over the last century, it is that we are coded beings. When Crick and Watson discovered the double helix, the twisted-ladder structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), it was a breakthrough of gigantic proportions. Their work which proved that we are coded beings, eventually won them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. The information in DNA is stored in a code made up of four chemical bases Adenine (A) Guanine (G) Cytosine (C) and Thymine (T). The complete DNA instruction book, or genome, for a human contains about 3 million bases and about 20,000 genes on 23 pairs of chromosomes.

    Thanks to David McCandless we can compare the many lines of code required for human DNA to the lines of code needed to run popular software programs and machines. The complexity of our DNA is off the charts.

    Whereas Microsoft Office 2013 boasts 44 million lines of code, and facebook boasts over 60 million, our DNA contains over 3,300 Billion lines.

    Behind each of these codes is a code-writer, and it is rational to conclude the same is true of our vastly more complex DNA.

    But not everyone agrees with this thought.

    Some look at our universe and the origin of life and they think that it is all the product of random chance. Nobel Physicist Steven Weinberg in his book “The First Three Minutes” explains,

    “This all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe… this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

     

    - Steven Weinberg (p. 154)

     

    But to believe the complex code of our DNA arrived here by sheer chance is like believing you can give a typewriter to a monkey and it will eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare. It’s just not true.

    That did not stop Jesse Anderson though.  According to BBC News he set up a number of virtual monkeys, “small computer programs,” which he uploaded to the servers at Amazon. The coded apes regularly generated random sequences of text, each nine characters long. Another program would compare these sections with Shakespeare and keep them if they matched.

    He did claim that “the monkeys successfully randomly recreated A Lover’s Complaint and The Tempest”

    But in 2003, the Paignton Zoo carried out a more practical test by putting a keyboard connected to a PC into the cage of six crested macaques.

    “After a month the monkeys had produced five pages of the letter ‘S’ and had broken the keyboard.”

    Complex code comes from a code-writer. Even a secular scientist like Sean Carroll sees this. In his book “The Big Picture”  Sean Carroll who is a theoretical physicist at California institute of Technology admits,

    “It’s a bit of a leap, in the face of all our commonsense experience, to think that life can simply start up out of non-life, or that our experience of consciousness needs no more ingredients than atoms obeying the laws of physics.” (page 13.)

    When CNN interviewed Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome project they discovered that he believes in a code-writer as well. In fact, he calls the code in our DNA “the language of God.” In his interview he explains

    “As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.

    I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory.”

     

    - Francis Collins

    To reason from the complexity of 3 billion lines of code to a code-writer is a rational step that Collins and other scientists have taken. What about you?

     How else do you account for your code?

    Jesus tells us that we are not here by accident. The same one who designed the stars also wrote your code. You do have a designer. You do have a purpose. Your code is not a randomly generated sequence without meaning or purpose. Life is not a “tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Your code did not randomly assemble itself out of nothingness any more than the space shuttle assembled itself.

    You have a designer. Your face, your skills, your height, your gender, your dreams, and your abilities, are all a gift from your code-writer. When he wrote your code, he inserted his own image and likeness so that you would be a unique reflection of his glory. This is the first piece of evidence you can ponder in these twelve days of Christmas for the skeptic.

    You obviously have a code. It allows you to comprehend these words, to ponder the reason for your own existence, and to order that double macchiato with the extra foam.  

     On the first day of Christmas your true love gave to you, a code-writer behind your code. He designed you in love to have a purpose and meaning in life. Don’t miss it.

     

    ON THE 2ND DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME –

    ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

    If skeptics are asked why they find it difficult to believe in Jesus, what do you think would they say?

    For some, the hang up is a perceived lack of evidence.

    The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell was quoted as saying, “We may define "faith" as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of "faith." We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”

    And, as an article in the Huffington Post stated,

    “A complaint often voiced by scientific atheists is that there is simply no evidence for God”

     

    It is unfortunate that this is the perception among unbelievers, because there actually is quite a bit of evidence that exists if you are willing to look for it. One of those pieces of evidence comes from the field of archeology.

    For a brief overview of 10 archeological finds that support the reliability of the Bible watch this 11 minute video from Dr. Charles Dyer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo7CKYPFxDw

    The Bible contains different genres of literature between its covers - poetry, law, personal letters, history, biography and prophetic prediction, to name a few. Archeology provides an objective backdrop against which can either verify or discredit some of these texts.

    Over and over again it has verified it.

    In fact, archeology was one of the litmus tests that reporter Lee Strobel used when investigating the first Christmas . As an investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune Lee was “far more interested in facts, evidence, data, and concrete reality.”

    Taking all of the skills he had developed working for the Chicago Tribune he began to investigate Christmas.  Strobel went to interview archeology expert John McRay PhD and author of the 432 page textbook Archeology and the New Testament. McRay studied at Hebrew University, and the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise in Jerusalem. Strobel brings up several questions about archeology with McCray, the second of which is the existence of Nazareth. He writes,

     “Skeptics have been asserting for a long time that Nazareth never existed during the time when the New Testament says Jesus spent his childhood there….Atheist Frank Zindler noted that Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, by the apostle Paul, by the Talmud (although sixty-three other Galilean towns are cited), or by Josephus (who listed forty-five other villages and cities of Galilee, including Japha, which was located just over a mile from present-day Nazareth. No ancient historians or geographers mention Nazareth before the beginning of the fourth century”

    McRay responds by mentioning the claim of Dr. James Strange from the University of Florida.

    “Strange notes that when Jerusalem fell in AD 70, priests were no longer needed in the temple…so they were sent out to various other locations, even up to Galilee. Archeologists have found a list in Aramaic describing twenty four ‘courses’ or families, of priests who were relocated, and one of them was registered as having been moved to Nazareth. That shows that this tiny village must have been there at this time.”  

    Renowned archeologist Jack Finnegan, agrees

    “From the tombs [that have been excavated in the vicinity of Nazareth] it can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.” (The Archeology of the New Testament Page 46).

    These claims have been supported by a 2009 archeological discovery reported by NBC News.  Archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority was in charge of the dig.

    Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexandre inspects Roman 1st-century pottery found in an excavation which reveals for the first time a Jesus-era house from the Jewish village of Nazareth.

    NBC reports

    "This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with,"

    Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends, she said. "It's a logical suggestion." NBC News reported here on the archeological discovery of a house in Nazareth in 2009. When you are thinking about the Christian message don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is no archeological support.

    As Paul Barnett says

    " through archaeology we are able to fill in background details that enhance the narratives in both the Gospels and in the book of Acts. Archaeological findings have confirmed that the texts of the New Testament are from first to last historical and geographical in character" (Paul Barnett, Is The New Testament Reliable? p.164)

    ON THE 3RD DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME-

    A Moral Compass

     

    As we saw above, archeology provides many pieces of evidence that demonstrate the reliability of the Bible.

     In addition to this though, scientists and philosophers have proposed other pieces of evidence.

    One of these is what philosophers call

    "The Moral Argument"

    The Moral Argument points out that all of us have a universal sense of right and wrong and that one of the most logical explanations for this is that our creator has put that there.

    Now granted, this is a philosophical argument and so it may take a while for us to get our head around it.

    But take a minute to ponder C.S. Lewis' way of putting it.

    My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?

    A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.

    What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I..., find myself in such violent reaction against it?

    A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.

    Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies.

    Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense.

    Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

    CS Lewis – Mere Christianity 

    What Lewis is trying to explain, is that our moral sensibilities are a piece of evidence that point us towards belief in a moral Creator. Every culture you go to has this sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. This holds true across religious as well socio-economic boundaries. You can even hear it on the playground among young children. They know "That's not fair" when someone cuts in line, or steals their Oreos. But where does this ability to discern right and wrong come from?

    The Bible tells us that we are created in God's image and likeness and so because God is a moral being we his creatures are moral beings also.

     

     

     ON THE 4TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME -

    eye-witness accounts

    Ten days ago I returned from the Middle East. I had traveled there to work among Syrian refugees building a home for a widow and distributing food to families. The time was amazing and eye-opening.

    One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the homes of Arabic speaking believers and listening to them talk about their faith in Jesus. They were so hospitable opening up their homes, serving us hot Turkish coffee and engaging in conversation.

    One of the refugees was talking about what made Jesus attractive to him. He said "I grew up with a concept of God that was angry and distant. But then I read the Bible and I saw the humility of Jesus." He was attracted to a God who was humble enough to come down and live among us.

    The incarnation  of Jesus is one of the pieces of evidence that skeptics should consider this holiday season. Jesus is truly a God who understands.

    Nat King Cole sings about this beautifully in Hark the Herald Angels Sing,

    "veiled in flesh the godhead see"

    According to the Christian faith, God took on flesh and came into our world as a real person and his name was Jesus.

    This is what was so attractive to my new friend in the Middle East. God was like an artist who was willing to insert himself into his own art.

    Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood have been known to regularly appear in films which they were directing.  Liu Bolin, is another example of this. Liu is an artist from China who is known as the invisible man because he uses his body as a canvas and literally paints himself into background of scenes that he creates.

    Here is Liu inserting himself into a scene of a supermarket and a comic book stand. 

    In each of these examples we can see someone inserting themselves into their creation. There is a parallel here with the God of the Bible.

    I am not sure what motivates these artists to insert themselves in their work like this. But I am sure what motivated the incarnation of Jesus. The Bible tells us clearly the motivation for God's incarnation.

    It is love. 

    God came into our world and took on flesh to suffer the same frustrations and pain that we suffer. So he truly understands what we face.

    Now you may be reading that and thinking, "Wow! That is quite a big claim. What evidence can you give me to back it up? How can I know this is truly God in the flesh and not just some made up story generated by wishful thinking?"

    There are several answers to your question. But the first place I would begin is the nature of the texts themselves. I don't know if you have read the New Testament recently. But, when you do you will see these texts do not read like fables. They read like eye-witness accounts. In fact, this is exactly what biblical scholar Richard Baukham says about the stories we find in the gospels, in his book "Jesus and the Eye-witnesses"

    You can watch this 10 minute video in which Dr. Baukham unpacks his theory.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=292NTf1cCNw

    This Christmas take some time to read these texts for yourself and see if you agree with Dr. Baukham. His case is compelling. The divine artist has inserted himself into his creation, he has appeared in his own story so that he could understand what we face in our everyday lives. When he came there were many who saw him, who touched him, who listened to him and who testified to his reality.

    He knows what you face. He understands how hard life can be. And he is here to help you make it through. You are not alone this Christmas season.

    On the 4th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me a God who understands.

     

    ON THE 5TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME-

    Modern Science

    Yes you read that right. One of the gifts we can thank Christianity for is the rise of modern science. Electricity, Antibiotics, the eradication of polio, gravity, and a host of other advances would never have been possible without a Christian understanding of reality.

    I know this runs counter to what you may have heard in school or on the news. But think about it for a minute. What type of environment was needed for the modern scientific method to emerge? And why was it that these great advances in thought took place in Western Europe and not in Central America or Northern India?  

    In order for experimental science to emerge it needed two foundational beliefs. First, it needed the belief that nature was not divine. Second, it needed the belief that reality was rational and predictable. In a culture where nature was worshiped and there was a spirit behind every object, no one considers investigating, dissecting, or manipulating the natural world. Their fear or their devotion makes such activities unthinkable. In the same way, if you believed that the natural world was a myth or subject to change based on the whims of the gods, then you would not take the trouble to investigate and run experiments.

    Evolutionary anthropologist and science writer Loren Eiseley has stated:

    ‘The philosophy of experimental science … began its discoveries and made use of its methods in the faith… that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation… It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.’1

     

    Peter Harrison, then a professor of history and philosophy at Bond University in Queensland, Australia (and one-time Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford) explained:

    “Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science. …

    Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western science.”2

     

    Other views of reality did not offer this unique combination of beliefs. Christianity did. It combined a belief in the goodness and rationality of the natural world with a belief in its non-divine status. By claiming that the natural world was the creation of a rational creator Christianity  provided both of these needed ingredients at once.  

    When weighing whether to embrace Christian faith or not, this is one piece of evidence we should all consider. What would the world be like without the development of modern science? What would the world be like without Jesus Christ?

    1 Eiseley, L., Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men who Discovered It, Doubleday, Anchor, New York, 1961.

    2 Harrison, P., The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23(3):14–15, 2002.

     

    ON THE 6TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME –

    POWER TO FORGIVE OTHERS

    Welcome back to 12 Days of Christmas for the Skeptic where we are offering a different piece of evidence each day to help you see the reasons why thinking people find it rational to put their faith in Jesus. As we said at the beginning, Christian faith is not a blind faith. There are compelling reasons for believing.

    Today we consider the power that the Christian faith gives people to forgive others.  

    To understand this, it helps to look at some of the claims that Jesus made about himself. One of the claims he made about himself was that he had the power to forgive our sins.

    In Luke’s gospel, Jesus encounters a prostitute. Luke calls her a “woman who has lived an immoral life” and Jesus tells her point blank "Your sins are forgiven." Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' And he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'" (Luke 7:48-50).

    This offer of forgiveness is for prostitutes, tax-collectors and everyone else. In fact, when his followers begin to preach around the Mediterranean world, they are quoted as saying

    everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

    (Acts 10:43)

    This forgiveness is something we do not often think about because we feel we are pretty good people.  But personal forgiveness is one of the gifts of having faith in Jesus. To feel forgiven by God is a great relief that brings peace to people's hearts this time of year. It is this personal experience that gives true Christians the power to also forgive the people who have wronged them.

    One of the worst stories in the news last year was the story of Dylan Roof. Dylan was a young white man who killed nine members of a Bible Study group in South Carolina at a historic black church. When his initial hearing came up before the judge, many of the family members were there.

    But shockingly, instead of anger and rage, these family members of the victims expressed forgiveness. This was a radical and beautiful example of how Christian faith gives people the supernatural ability to forgive others who have hurt them in the most painful ways. 

    The Huffington Post, in their Article "Victims’ Families Meet Dylann Roof" reports that Nadine Collier, the daughter of victim Ethel Lance, said to Roof

    "I forgive you, I will never talk to her ever again, never be able to hold her again. I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”

    Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, also spoke to the suspect.

    “Hate won’t win,” she said. “My grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.”

    If we are to take a scientific approach to faith, then we must account for data like this. Alana Simmons and Nadine Collier were quoted by a reputable news source saying these things. How do we account for their strange reaction to this tragedy?

    How can we explain their reaction in the most simple and straight forward way?

    The most straightforward explanation is that it was their faith. The power to forgive Dylan came directly from their own personal experience of Jesus forgiving them. 

    They were living out the verse in the New Testament that says,

    “Forgiving each other: as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

    Jesus’ forgiveness in their lives gave them ability to turn around and forgive a murderer. Who can Jesus give you the power to forgive?  

    The power to forgive others is a gift that has taken hold of many hearts and many homes. You can see it in the outpouring of forgiveness the Amish community showed following the school shooting in 2007. You can also see it in the life of Corrie Ten Boom who survived the Nazi concentration camps.

    As you consider evidence that makes Christian faith both rational and believable don't overlook this power that it gives people to forgive others.

    On the 6th Day of Christmas your true love gave to you the power to forgive others. Have you received it yet?

     

    ON THE 7TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME -

    A GOLDILOCKS PLANET IN A FINE TUNED UNIVERSE

    Do you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks stumbles into a cabin in the woods to find a table with steaming hot porridge. This children's tale has been used by the scientific community to describe our planet.

    In an interview with Professor John Webb of the University of New South Whales, ABC News quoted him as saying, ""I think it might have been my friend Dr Charley Lineweaver and Stuart Gary, who first applied the term "the Goldilocks Zone" to describe the habitable zone around a star when the temperature is not too hot or too cold,"

    The distance of a planet from the nearest star is one of the factors necessary for life as we know it.

    If a planet is too close then the heat from the star makes life impossible. In the same way if it is too far then the planet becomes too cold to sustain life.

    This is an interesting piece of data when considering whether we are the product of random chance or not. If this was the only factor necessary for life it would be easy to think that life spontaneously arose by chance. However the more scientists have investigated it, the more they have discovered that being in the Goldilocks zone is just one factor among thousands necessary for life to form. These factors include the size of our moon, the thickness of earth's crust, the electromagnetic force in the right ration to the nuclear force, the strong force and much more.

    In an article by the New York Times  titled "Zillions of Universes? Or did ours get lucky" Dr. Steven Weinberg a Nobel Laureate from the University of Texas "compared the situation to a person who is dealt a royal flush in a poker tournament. It may be chance he said but

    there may be another explanation: "Namely, is the organizer of the tournament our friend?"

     

    In 2012 Ben Stein produced a movie called "Expelled" in which he investigated this idea that we have sprung up in the universe by random chance. He has some interesting interviews with scientists and philosophers. One of these conversations is with renowned atheist Richard Dawkins. In this clip Dawkins makes the most amazing statement that perhaps life on earth was seeded from another civilization outside of our universe.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pckg3Kud8_A

     

    This simply shows us how compelling the data must be. When he is pressed as to the origin of life even a published atheist like Dawkins feels it is more reasonable to posit a designer rather than random chance.

    When we look at all the factors necessary for our universe to exist and for life to exist we are faced with a dilemma. It seems that to believe we are the spontaneous product of random chance takes more faith than to believe that these conditions were created by a designer beyond our world. Jesus tells us that that designer is a benevolent being who made us in his image and who desires a personal relationship with us.

    Next time you watch the sunrise or take a deep breath stand in awe of the many factors that had to be arranged perfectly for you to enjoy those things.

    And, as C3P0 once said,

    "Thank the maker!"

     

    ON THE 8TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME-

    A MULTICULTURAL FAMILY

    Another piece of evidence that points towards the validity of Christian faith is its international acceptance. Other world religions are broadly mono-cultural. Yet people are found on every continent who are worshiping Jesus.

    As Lamin Sanneh explains in his book "Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West" -  He writes,

    "Christianity seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder..

    ..Christianity has felt so congenial in English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian and so on, that we forget it wasn't always so..

    Christianity being a translated, and translating, religion places God at the center of the universe of cultures, implying free coequality among cultures."  

    This is unique among the world religions and it is one of the reasons why the message of Jesus been accepted so far and wide.

    In my life I have had the privilege of visiting churches and worshiping Jesus together with them

    • in Spanish in Mexico and Honduras. 
    • in Russian in the former Soviet Union
    • in Telugu in India
    • in Arabic in Lebanon

    It is so inspiring to see the global nature of the Christian movement. You can see the global distribution here in this interactive map from the Pew Forum

    http://www.pewforum.org/interactives/global-christianity/#/global,ALL

    This multicultural community is just what the Bible describes when it tells us what heaven will be like-

    "I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne" (Revelation 7:9).

    This is indeed one of the most compelling reasons why thinking people put their faith in Jesus.

    It is exactly what you would expect to find, if the God of the bible is truly the Creator of all peoples. These believers experience faith in Jesus as a way to join a global community that transcends cultural differences.

     ON THE 9TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME -

    Human Rights

    We may not realize it, but the recognition and protection of human rights as we know it comes directly from the Biblical worldview.

    In his New York Times Opinion Piece,  Peter Wehner makes the case that we should thank Christianity for the modern understanding of human dignity.

    To make his case, he quotes secular humanist and French philosopher Luc Ferry. Luc Ferry claims "in his book A Brief History of Thought,... that in contrast with the Greek understanding of humanity,

    “Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity — an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

    On the other hand if we take our directives from the natural world, civilization would try to base itself on survival of the fittest. Nature does not provide us with the ideas of equality or dignity. Instead in nature we see might making right and the strong eating the weak.

    Thanks to Jesus though humanity has another vision to aspire to. As Wehner explains,

    " Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

    (blessed are the poor in spirit

    and the pure in heart,

    the meek and the merciful),

    his touching of lepers, and his association with outcasts and sinners were fundamentally at odds with the way the Greek and Roman worlds viewed life, where social status was everything.

    'Christianity placed charity at the center of its spiritual life' "...

    We have been profoundly shaped by the Christian message and the consequent human rights. Our own U.S. constitution reflects this and so does the charter and existence of the United Nations.

    British historian,  J. M. Roberts, who has published multiple books and served as the warden of Merton College, Oxford,  writes in The Triumph of the West,

    'We could none of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, dead, and buried, and then rise again.' "

    It is true we do not always live up to these standards.

    We still fall prey to greed, marginalization and oppression. But the fact still remains, the vision of a world where all human rights exist and each person has equal dignity and respect should be credited to the Christian message.

    Check back in tomorrow for the 10th Day of Christmas for the Skeptic.

     

    On the 10th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me –

    Love

    Another piece of evidence that should cause us to consider the claims of Christianity is the outpouring of love that followers of Jesus exhibit. We talked about this earlier when we discussed forgiveness. But Christian charity is bigger than forgiveness.

    The message of the Bible is that the underlying force of the universe is love. And that Jesus was the embodiment of that love.

    One of the cool stories about my Church during Christmas 2016 was that we tried to show love to a formerly homeless mom and her four kids. After being homeless for almost an entire year she was able to get into an apartment of her own. As soon as people in the church heard we were trying to bless her over Christmas they jumped into action.

    People who had never met her were buying her children gifts and giving generously so that we could match one of her December paychecks. People were calling me to come to their offices. Another friend drove over to my house after work to shove $100 bills in my hand. It was an outpouring of love and it was beautiful.
    Now where does that love come from?

    In the blockbuster film Interstellar there is a scene where two of the scientists are having a discussion and one of them makes the case that love is the clue to our existence.

    interstellar-34

    You’re a scientist, Brand

    – BRAND

    I am. So listen to me when I tell you that love isn’t something we invented – it’s observable, powerful. Why shouldn’t it mean something?

    – COOPER

    It means social utility – child rearing, social bonding

    – BRAND

    We love people who’ve died … where’s the social utility in that? Maybe it means more – something we can’t understand, yet. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of higher dimensions that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen for a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t yet understand it.

     

    There is a lot of truth to what Dr. Brand is saying. Love is something you have felt and something you have shown to others and this is yet another evidence that we were created in the image of a loving God and put here to love Him and to love each other.

    On the 11th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me –

    a person I could not forget

    If we trust Richard Bauckham in his argument, that the New Testament texts are reliable eyewitness accounts, then the next step is to look into them for ourselves. And when you do that you will see the person of Jesus standing out like no human being ever has. He says and does things that are unheard of. Reading them for yourself with an open mind will make it obvious why these texts have sparked personal faith in the lives of billions of people around the world.

    In fact, in 2013 when Time Magazine ran an article that set out to answer the question “Who’s Biggest? The 110 Most significant Figures in History” Jesus came in at number one.

    The authors explained

    Historically significant figures leave statistical evidence of their presence behind, if one know where to look for it, and we used several data sources to fuel our ranking algorithms, including Wikipedia, scanned books and Google n-grams.

    After doing their research they concluded that the most significant figure in history was Jesus.

    Jesus is what unites true believers during Christmas. It is not the gifts or the music or the decorations. Those are just effects. Some of these effects remain true to the spirit of Jesus who is the original cause. Other Christmas traditions are sadly off the mark. But the important thing is to take some time to look past those effects and get back to the original spark that caused them. Consider reading Matthew 7:1-8:17. Read Luke 15. Consider the kind of things Jesus said, and the kind of things people reported that he did. And you will see for yourself why he is such an attractive figure that recording artists from Nat King Cole, to Bob Dylan, to Justin Bieber have had no problem singing his praise.  Another such recording artist who still sings his praise is Bono.

    Bono is not shocked by the idea that so many billions of people call themselves followers of this man Jesus. That makes total sense to him.

    In an interview that he gave with Gay Byrne in 2013 with RTE he explains how that all fits together. Watch how he explains the influence that Jesus has had on him, his family and believers around the world.

    Welcome to the 12th Day of Christmas for the skeptic. SO far we have seen…

    On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me – A writer for our code

    On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me – Archeological evidence

    On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me –A Moral Compass

    On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –Eye-witness accounts

    On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –Modern Science

    On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –Power to Forgive others

    On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –A Finely Tuned Universe

    On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –A Multicultural Family

    On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –Human Rights

    On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –Love

    On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me –An unforgettable person

     

    ON THE 12TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME –

    Bold claims

    If you are a skeptic, you may or may not be moved by some of the things we have been discussing here. This is because of the nature of relationships. We are not discussing here an abstract principle like gravity, or Newton’s third law. We are discussing having a personal relationship with God. And while all of these pieces of evidence are interesting, and potentially compelling, your skepticism could still find a way around them.

    Pastor Tim Keller in Manhattan says that God’s way of convincing us is not so much to give us a water-tight argument, but to give us a water-tight person – Jesus.

    As our final day of the 12 Days of Christmas for the skeptic I want to thank you for considering and reading all of these thoughts.

    To conclude, I would like to encourage you to look into the evidence of Jesus’ claims. During his life he made astounding claims about himself which are recorded in the New Testament. As Nicodemus, who was a skeptic himself, says in John’s Gospel

    “no one ever spoke the way this man does” – Nicodemus

    But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

    Considering the personal claims of Jesus will require some homework on your part. Take one of the early biographies of Jesus found in the New Testament (the Gospel of Mark is a good one) and read it from beginning to end with an open mind.

    The question Jesus  poses to Peter is the same one he poses to you and to me.

    “Who do you say that I am?” – Jesus

    Read the New Testament documents and try to answer that question.

    As you read along, look at what Jesus claims about himself.

    You will see he claims things that no regular human being has ever claimed.

    Other religious leaders tell their followers, I can show you the way to God, or the way to nirvana. Jesus is unique because he says “I AM the way” (John 14:6).  Other religious leaders tell their followers, I have come to teach you the truth. But Jesus says “I AM the truth” (John 14:6). Other religious leaders tell their followers I can lead you to the light. But Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12).

    One of his other bold claims is that he has the authority to forgive your sins.

    But how can a mere man have such authority?

    This claim confounded his listeners and left them offended on multiple occasions. They were right when they said “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21)

    His claims have led many to believe that Jesus was more than a mere man. But there are some who object…

    OBJECTION #1 – He was crazy

    One of possible explanations of these bold claims is that he was delusional. Maybe he made these claims because he was out of his mind and deluded by false visions of grandeur. But this theory does not really explain the power he had over others. And it also does not explain how someone with a few screws loose upstairs could produce such sublime and profound teachings and parables. Teachings such as “Love your enemy… turn the other cheek…go the extra mile,” found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, have captured the hearts and minds of people in almost every culture. Does it make sense that they were created by a mentally unstable personality?

    OBJECTION #2 – He was evil

    Another possible explanation people give for these claims is that he was diabolical, inspired by evil intent, to lead people astray from reality. This is what the Pharisees, and the teachers of religious law thought about Jesus. When they heard about his ministry they said “He is possessed by Beelzebub and by the prince of demons” (Mark 3:22). But the impact and character of his life was marked by compassion for the marginalized and healing for the sick. This is not the work of a devil. Instead, in his wake he left restoration, redemption, and wholeness. Again I ask, would the devil really teach us “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”?

    OBJECTION #3 – the claims are fabricated

    This is the way most modern skeptics will avoid dealing with these claims. They will say that it was not really Matthew, Mark, Luke or John who wrote these gospels down. Instead they say these claims were fabricated at a much later date by people writing under false names. Unfortunately for them though, thousands of early manuscripts have been discovered that have put the date of writing within the first century. In fact there is a scholarly consensus that the New testament was complete before the end of the 1st Century. Look at this chart comparing the manuscript evidence for the New testament as compared to other ancient documents.

    DBW

    In addition, the people who propound that the New Testament claims of Jesus are fabricated, do not sufficiently explain what motivated these authors to fabricate these stories. For their writings and their beliefs concerning Jesus’ claims, these believers were threatened, persecuted and killed. John was exiled to die alone on the prison Island of Patmos. Peter was crucified. And yet, even in those dire circumstances, no one recanted. Instead they stood by what they had written til their last breath. What they said to the religious authorities in Jerusalem rings true ‘We cannot help but testify to what we have seen and heard”

    What will you do with his bold claims? Does one of these objections sound reasonable to you? Or maybe you have a new objection.

    I think the only way to find out is to read the claims for yourself.

    All thinking people have an obligation to look at the data for themselves and to form an intelligent and informed opinion.

    As I looked at them, I found the most satisfying answer to these bold claims was that they were the sincere words of a man who was more than a man. If you need a jump-start on your research  consider these verses.

    John 11:17-44; John 14:1-7 ; John 15:1-5

    Do not judge this man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does.

    Happy New Year!