Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TOMS Shoes

Before I move on to Part 2 of the argument from special revelation, I want to take this opportunity to make you guys aware (if you aren't already) of the TOMS shoe company. For every pair of shoes you purchase, TOMS will give a pair to a child somewhere without shoes, thereby helping children in about 25 countries now avoid disease and attend school. All because of shoes.

This week, TOMS will give away their one millionth pair. Tonight, I had the privilege of hearing TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie speak at my university. He told the story of how he started the company and its rapid growth in the last four years. He credits the success--rightly, I think--to the power of giving. Sure, the shoes are comfortable. Yes, they look cool. I own three pair. But it's no secret the company never would have taken off like it has without the emphasis on charity. There is something within us that sees children without shoes and a guy with a clever idea, and says, "Yes. I want to give to that."

So what's my point? Well first, that you should seriously consider making your next shoe purchase a pair of TOMS. But there are a couple other things I'd like to point out as well.

TOMS is successful because of generosity. I don't know what your feelings on tithing/giving are, but whether you are a Christian or not, you simply cannot go wrong when you give a portion of your income away. Period. If you don't do this, I challenge you to start.

Second, capitalism is not evil. It is morally neutral. And TOMS is one great example of how it can work very successfully for the betterment of humanity. Mycoskie himself pointed out that his idea worked much better--and impacted many more people--as a business model than it ever would have as a non-profit, charity organization.

And thirdly, and most importantly, charity is supposed to be one of the defining characteristics of the Christian, both individually and corporately. This is why I thought this a worthy topic to interrupt my series on Jesus: this is something He would champion. That's right, I think Jesus would wear TOMS. And in connection with this, TOMS has unwittingly opened the door for God to speak to countless people. Charity and generosity are from God. This means that every time someone (Christian or not) decides to act in a charitable way, they are acting in accordance with the will of God Himself, thereby creating a connection (however slight) between themselves and Him. Maybe they'll feel good about it and ask themselves why. Maybe they'll be moved by poverty and wonder at this. However it happens, the point is this: when charity is there, Christ is present. And Christ changes people.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Apologetics Journal

Just a brief post to plug a new journal titled Hope's Reason: A Journal of Apologetics.

Spearheaded by Stephen Bedard, the journal is a peer-reviewed, scholarly publication and promises to be a great resource for those of you interested in keeping abreast of current Christian scholarship. I'd recommend it as a good introduction to this level of writing.

You can find more info about it here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 1)

If you've been following this blog for a while, you might remember my brief discussion of the Christian idea of revelation. I'll not rehash what I said there, but I will add briefly the distinction between "general" and "special" revelation.

The difference is fairly obvious. General revelation deals with the aspects of God's nature that can be inferred from the world, or from other sources common to humanity, apart from any direct information (revelation) from God. Up to now, all of the posts in this 'Arguments for God' series have dealt with general revelation.

Special revelation is the more specific type of revelation I was talking about in the earlier post linked above. It goes beyond general revelation in both scope and detail, although it should not contradict it.

As mentioned in that other post, Christianity is one of several 'revealed' religions, meaning we understand our specific knowledge of and beliefs about God to have been given to us by Him directly. The following will be a very brief sketch of why we believe this.

It all revolves around this guy named Jesus who lived roughly two thousand years ago. He began His ministry, which lasted only about three years, somewhere around AD 30.*  Jewish by birth, He accepted the authority of the Hebrew scriptures and yet interpreted them in radically new ways. This combined with His highly unusual statements about Himself and His unique relationship to the Jewish God eventually made enough people angry enough to get Him killed. While He was alive, however, He caused quite a ruckus everywhere He went. The blind saw. The lame walked. The hungry were fed, the poor helped, the dead raised, the empty filled.

More important even than all this, this man predicted His own death on several occasions and said that afterward, He would live again. Naturally, His followers had a difficult time with this...until it happened. In the New Testament, we have assembled numerous, independent eyewitness and second-hand accounts of people who knew Jesus while He was alive, saw Him die, and then saw/spoke with/touched Him after He was resurrected. Naturally, a genuine, predicted resurrection tends to validate one's teaching about such things as God and death. Such was the birth of Christianity.

Now before you say it, yes I realize that this is a bit of a fantastic story. Yes, I realize that saying a guy died and then got up seems crazy. I really do. And yet I believe it happened. And in affirming this, I stand on a long tradition of sincere, reasonable, honest people, many of them among the most brilliant minds in history. The least the skeptic could do is give us the benefit of the doubt and listen to our reasons for believing such a tale. We do have reasons.

Next time, we'll dive into them.

* Or 'CE' if you're into the somewhat politically correct time delineations being used these days. However, the dates themselves are still based on the life of Christ, and since it is after all Him we are talking about, I say we go old-school and use 'AD.'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Teleological Argument (Part 2)

The argument again:

(1) The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance, or design.
(2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
(3) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design.

Last time we discussed briefly what fine-tuning is. We will not even deal with those who deny its existence (I know of no one who actually does this, but I'm sure they're out there somewhere). It is a fact that if any of the cosmological constants were changed even the smallest bit, life as we know it would be impossible. In fact, the universe likely would not have formed at all. This is fine-tuning. That said, let's deal with the premises.

Premise (1) should be relatively uncontroversial. At least, I can't think of any other options. Can you?

Premise (2), then, is where the crux of the argument lies. In order to avoid the conclusion of design, many have asserted alternative explanations of the universe's evident fine-tuning. They fall rather nicely into the categories of physical necessity and chance. We'll tackle them one by one.

The first option, if you can call it that, says that the universe is the way it is necessarily. Consequently, the uncanny precision of the cosmological constants need not be a concern, because they could not have been otherwise.

I don't know about you, but to me this smacks of nonsense. Indeed, it reminds me a little of the 'explanation' atheists sometimes give for the existence of objective moral values. The theist asks, "Why should the cosmological constants be so absurdly fine-tuned?" The atheist responds, "By necessity." How is this any different from just saying, "Because..."?

Besides, isn't this just obviously false anyway? Think about what's really being suggested here. When we say that the universe exists the way it does necessarily, we are saying that it could not have been otherwise. That is, if we could wind the clock back to any point in the past and start it again, things would turn out exactly the same way the second time. Every snowflake. Every weather change. Every decision. Everything. But it sure seems like I could have decided not to eat way too much pizza for lunch today. Doesn't it?

Similarly, there is no obvious reason to assume that the constants themselves could not have been different. Especially considering the chaotic randomness that would have been the beginning of the universe on such a view.

The second option offered is simply chance. Yes, the odds are astronomically (pun intended) against it. But it's like the lottery...somebody's gotta win. We just happen to be that lucky universe. Right?


This response is often given in a slightly more sophisticated form and called the 'Anthropic Principle.' Basically, the principle states that we can only observe things that are compatible with our existence. In other words, we should not be surprised to find that the cosmological constants are fine-tuned for human life, since if they weren't we wouldn't be around to know about it. Clever, huh?

But does it work? John Leslie provides us with a nice analogy: suppose you were sentenced to die by firing squad. Suppose further that your executioner is a bit overzealous and provides a squad of one hundred trained marksmen. You are, in good execution style, blindfolded, but naturally you are listening intently. Suddenly, you hear the loud, nearly simultaneous clap of all one hundred rifles. And then...you're still there...listening to the silence. Now, put in this scenario, one could reason as follows: "Well certainly I should not be surprised at the fact of my continued existence. After all, the only worlds in which I could observe that I exist are those where I do in fact exist. Nothing peculiar here."

But of course no one would reason this way. Of course you should be surprised. One hundred marksmen missed! All of them! You ought to wonder about this!

Similarly, the fact that we must live in a universe tuned for our existence in order to observe that it is tuned for our existence does nothing to eliminate our surprise when we find just how unlikely this is. As astronomer Fred Hoyle put it, it sure seems like someone has "monkeyed with physics."

Recognizing this, skeptical physicists have begun to conjoin the Anthropic Principle with various multiverse theories. Put simply, these assume that our universe is only one of a potentially infinite number of actual universes. If this were true, it would explain the unbelievable odds against our universe being finely tuned for life, since if there are an infinite number of universes, then there are going to be some with life (actually, there will be an infinite number of them, but that's outside the scope of this post).

A full discussion of multiverse theories and so-called Many Worlds Hypotheses is far too detailed to cover here (you can bring it up in the comments if you want). I'll just say that there's no evidence for these kinds of claims whatsoever. None. It's not even clear whether there could be, in principle. The fact that physicists have resorted to seriously entertaining such things is a clear indication, I think, of the power of the teleological argument.

Next time, we'll dive into what is in my opinion the strongest argument for Christian theism: the life and work of Jesus Christ.