Month: December 2015

4 Ultimate Questions about Existence

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There are four ultimate questions I want you to think about. These four questions make up a worldview. A worldview is how you personally interpret the world. It includes your beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and values about society, yourself, and existence. Each of us, whether we are aware of it or not, interpret the world. Let’s run through these.

The first question I want you to think about is: what is the nature of reality? Is there a God or not? If there is, what is that God like? Is he one God like Judaism or Islam or three distinct persons yet one God (The Trinity) many gods like Hinduism, or is the universe itself god (Buddhism)? If there is no God like Atheists believe, is the universe all that exists? Or is there a supernatural realm like angels and demons we can’t see? If you get really skeptical, a question you might ask: Is the physical world really real or are we in some dream state right now and just haven’t woken up yet? Like a dream within a dream.

The second question is What is a Human Being? Sounds simple to answer but there are many interpretations. Are you and I just a highly evolved biological machine similar to a crocodile or bird? One Atheist has said: You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, and all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today. The Bible has a radically different worldview. It says you were in fact created in the image of God who is creative, intellectual, has a will, and develops personal relationships with people.

The third question: What happens to a person at death? Do people stop existing when their brain waves no longer function? Are individuals transformed to a higher state of existence? Will we reincarnate into another life form on earth? Hindus believe that if you live a good life you will go to heaven and not return to this life again, and if you are bad, you will turn into some lower animal form like a giraffe or fish. If you are really bad, maybe you will turn into a cat. Just kidding, I am a dog fan. Then there’s the Christian belief that individuals will enter into the spiritual realm (heaven or hell) based on their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The fourth and final question is: How do we know what is right and wrong? Is right and wrong strictly products of human choice. Are right and wrong determined by what makes us feel good? Atheists say a sense of right and wrong are an evolutionary development as a survival mechanism for the species. So lying isn’t really wrong; only if you get caught. The Scripture says because we are made in the image of God, whose character is good and who has revealed what is right, we are to obey him. An example might be a strategy game. You have to play by the rules in order to win the game. Same is true in this world. God is the Creator and we are the characters in His story.

These are 4 ultimate questions people ask when framing their worldview. Do you have any other suggestions to add to this article? Your comments are appreciated. Thanks!

Meet Sam the Skeptic

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I played Baseball growing up. Pitching was by far my favorite position in the game because it was a challenge for me to think strategically about every batter I competed against. For instance, I knew the first batter was the most consistent hitter on the team and usually the fastest runner. Therefore, I would throw Fastballs on the outside of the plate so the batter would more likely hit the ball towards 1st base. The 4th batter in the line-up was the most powerful hitter on the team. When I challenged him, I would throw junk balls like a curve-ball or a circle change up. Very rarely would I throw a Fastball because if he got a hold of it, it would be over the fence for a home run.

Pitching in Baseball is similar to the Christian life. We are not competing for a trophy or to win a tournament, but evangelicals are battling against philosophies, ideologies, principalities, and powers that wage war on the souls of humankind. If we do not recognize what people believe and why they believe it, how is our congregation going to determine what pitch to throw to unbelievers? Just like every batter is different, so is every person. Some are Atheists, others are followers of another religion like Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism, and some might have misconceptions about the Christian worldview. Every good Baseball coach realizes that in order to win the game, you need both a good offense to score runs and a defense who understands the strengths and weakness of their opponent. As a spiritual coach, it’s vital to identify what others believe and why in order to be effective in sharing our faith.

The Apostle Paul commands us in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, and to do this with gentleness and respect.” Colossians 4:6 also says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Today is your chance to do just that. Are you prepared to read Sam the Skeptic’s objections? He’s going to share with you for a few minutes why he has doubts about the existence of God. Afterwards, I will ask him three questions about his worldview. Alright. Are you ready? Here we go.

Hello! I am Sam. Thank you for having me share my journey towards skepticism. Like you, I was raised in a Christian home my whole life. In fact, my Dad has been a pastor for over 20 years at an evangelical church in downtown Chicago. He still preaches at the same church and works with international students there. My Dad and I still have a great relationship, even though our perspectives are quite different.

When I was about 16 years old, I met Atheists in high school who later became my best friends. They started asking me tough questions. When I went to my youth pastor and even my Dad, they didn’t have any adequate answers. They would either say “I was sinning” or “I didn’t have enough faith.” But I kept telling them, didn’t Thomas the Apostle have doubts about the resurrection of Christ? Christ didn’t just dismiss him. He said touch my hands and feet. He gave Thomas concrete evidence. Yet I was pushed away from church.

Here were a couple of questions that were asked. If God is real, then why can’t we see Him? There’s no way to empirically verify the existence of God, but we can verify science through data and observation in the natural world. For instance, when I drop this book, it falls to the ground. This is the law of gravity. It is part of the natural order. We can test it over and over again and have confidence that this law exists in the universe. When lightning strikes, it’s not because the Norse god Thor is angry. Lightning is a sudden electrostatic discharge between electrically charged regions of a cloud and another cloud. What was once thought of as a supernatural cause can now be easily explained through science and observation. The same is true about the beginning of the universe. Today Christians substitute God for the unexplainable, but eventually quantum mechanics and string theory will be advanced enough to explain everything naturally. There will no longer be a need for God.

Next question: If God exists, then why are there so many religions and denominations in the world? It seems to me that people are a byproduct of their environment. If they grew up in India, they become Hindu. If they were raised in Chinese culture, they practice Buddhism. If they were born in the Middle East countries, they follow Islam. If they live in Norway or Sweden, they embrace secularization. And lastly, if they were born in the United States, they attend 1 of thousands of different denominations in Christianity, which I find ironic because doesn’t your Bible say in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. Yet some follow Luther, some follow Calvin, Wesley, or John the Baptist, but wasn’t it Christ that was crucified for you? So then, I don’t think people follow a religion because they have proof for it; I think they follow their religion because of family or societal pressure.

Here’s another question. If the Bible is without error and wholly trustworthy, then why are there so many contradictions? For example, in Genesis 1 God creates the vegetation before he creates humans. In Genesis 2, God creates man before he creates vegetation. Which one is it? Also, how old was Ahaziah when he began to reign? 2 Kings 8 says he was 22 but 2 chronicles says he was 42. Which one is true? Also, I am not even sure that Jesus existed. There is no good historical evidence other than what the Bible tells of Him. If you could give me some historical proof that he existed or rose again from the dead, I would believe it.

This last question was an emotional one for me that really led me to fully doubt God. If God is all good and all powerful, then why would he allow suffering and evil in this world? If He is all good, couldn’t he prevent an innocent child from suffering at the hands of an evil person? If he is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the power to prevent murder, rape, theft, genocide, natural disasters, and diseases that bring human misery to the world? When my grandpa passed away, I saw him suffer for days from bone cancer. He would moan and cry out on the bed and I felt helpless and unable to relieve him for days. This really made me question God’s goodness and love for me.

I will end with this: How many of you saw the Christmas advertisements going around this year from the American Atheists club? It said, “Santa Claus won’t be mad. You don’t need to go to church. Just be good for goodness sake.” I think that’s a fair statement. Don’t be good because you will get a reward in heaven. Be good because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what I believe.

CHRISTIAN: One of your main objections to Christianity dealt with the problem of evil. You said that if God was all-loving and all-powerful he should be able to stop evil and suffering. However, if God stopped evil, wouldn’t he be limiting someone’s free will to choose bad rather than good?

 SAMS ANSWER: Good question. The typical evangelical answer is because of free will. If God overpowered our wills, and made us choose only the good, then we wouldn’t be truly free. Here’s the problem though.  There are many possible worlds he could have made without evil. No world at all, a world with no free creatures, a world with free creatures who could not sin, a world with free creatures who would not sin, or a world with free creatures who would sin, but all would be saved in the end.

Let’s take the world with free creatures who could not sin. We could still have several good choices and it wouldn’t limit our freedom. For instance, it’s my wife’s birthday. I could either get her flowers, chocolate, nice jewelry, or pay for a cruise. There are 4 positive choices. I have free will, right? The only difference would be I don’t have a choice to get upset with her, forget to buy her a gift, or simply ignore her for the rest of the day. Wouldn’t that make our lives more enjoyable?

In my opinion, I would rather live in a world with limited free will, as long as those choices are good and not evil. Because once evil enters into the world, humanity suffers. Did you know that 21,000 people die every day from hunger related causes? This is one person every 4 seconds, and it is children who die the most. Now, I understand. Human sin affects everyone, and even children are guilty. But think about it for a moment. If you were God, why not punish just the evildoers. It just doesn’t make sense that a God of justice would allow so many innocent children to starve simply because of their lack of natural resources. Couldn’t he bring daily manna from heaven like he did for the Israelites or create a wellspring of water free of contamination? As Christians, you believe in miracles so why does he not do this?

CHRISTIAN: How do you think the universe was created from nothing? It seems impossible to me unless an intelligent being brought the material world into existence.

 SAMS ANSWER: That’s a fair question. I do want to point out though that your question is already biased. You say how you think the universe was “created” from nothing. This implies that there was a creator. A more neutral word might be where the universe originated from. The main problem of the argument from first cause (Cosmological Argument) is the idea that every event has a cause. We now know with the understanding of quantum mechanics that it’s possible for particles and events to have no cause. Quantum mechanics also reveals that particles can appear out of nothing and then disappear back into nothing. This is a real and measurable process known by the scientific community as the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift.

How many here believe in the Big Bang? The big bang says that the universe could arise and expand from nothing but a random quantum fluctuation of vacuum energy. Alan Guth calls this inflation theory. You don’t need a deity. This could all have happened naturally. Also, scientists have proposed that our universe could be part of a much larger universe. This is called the multi-verse theory, which would allow for an infinite chain of events. As a skeptic, I could also say, “If God created the universe, then who created God?” If the answer is that God is uncaused, then the same answer could be applied to the existence of the universe. That it is uncaused too. That would be how I personally feel towards that question.

CHRISTIAN: If you don’t believe Jesus was God, then how do you explain the historical fact that his tomb was empty, there were several eyewitnesses to his postmortem appearances, and many of his disciples died for their faith?

SAMS ANSWER: Good question. Personally, I don’t even think Jesus existed. First, no secular evidence outside the Bible supports the life of Jesus. No birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates, nothing. Second, the earliest NT writers seemed confused about the details and theology of Jesus’s life, which became clearer later on in the history of Christianity. For instance, the Trinity wasn’t developed until 200 years after Jesus’s death by the church leader Tertullian. Third, the resurrection story is contradictory. John 20:1 says only Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on Sunday morning, Matthew 28:1 said Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary of Magdalene showed up, and Mark 16:1 says both Mary’s plus a woman named Salome. Which one is it? Also, after finding the tomb empty, Mark 16:8 states they ran away and said nothing to anyone, but Matthew, Luke, and John all say the women ran to tell the disciples.

Now to the supposed resurrection. There are various hypothesis that explain the apparent resurrection of Jesus. The swoon theory argues that Jesus did not die on the cross, but fell unconscious and was later revived in the tomb in the same mortal body. The second hypothesis argues Jesus was stolen from his burial. His tomb was found empty not because he was resurrected, but because the body was hidden somewhere else by the apostles or some unknown person. Grave robbing was a known problem in the first century Judaea. Lastly, the vision hypothesis argues the sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences. It’s similar to modern day ghost hunters who desperately try to find the supernatural that they hear and even say they “see” ghosts. However, there is no empirical evidence for this. These are just some of the reasons why I don’t think Jesus rose from the dead or even existed. Thanks for your question.

In Meet Sam the Skeptic part 2, I will give all the counterarguments for the existence of God from a Christian perspective.