Monday, December 28, 2009

A Rational Look at the Bible - Part 1

The Uniqueness of the Bible – Part 1

Often when I am talking to people about God or the reasons that I am a Christian, they ask me questions about the Bible. Most of the time they say, “You don’t really believe the Bible do you,” or, “Why do you even read the Bible? It’s old and irrelevant.” These questions are usually based on false assumptions or ignorance.

There is no greater book in the entire world than the Bible. The Bible has sold more copies than any other book in history. The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. The Bible is unique in its survival, teachings and especially its influence on civilization. There is no other book ever written that can even come close to influencing the world as much as the Bible. Now, in this article I am not claiming that the Bible is inspired or inerrant, these issues will be dealt with in later articles, but what I am claiming is that mankind hasn’t had any book with such uniqueness and influence than the Bible.

Let us first think upon the uniqueness of the Bibles continuity. The Bible itself is the only book that was ever written over a fifteen hundred year span of time. No other book even comes close to this time span. The Bible was also written by more than 40 authors. These authors came from very different walks of life. The Bible was written by kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fisherman, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, and shepherds.

For example, Moses was a political leader and a judge. He was also trained in the universities of Egypt. David was one of the greatest kings of Israel. He was also a poet and musician. Before he was king he was a shepherd. And even while he was king he was a distinguished warrior. Amos was a herdsman. Joshua was a military general. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for a pagan king. While Daniel was in exile he was a prime minister and advisor in Babylon. Solomon was a king and a first-rate philosopher, one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Luke was a physician and distinguished historian. Peter was a lowly fisherman. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul was a Pharisaic rabbi, and Mark was Peter’s secretary.

The Bible was also written in many different places. Moses wrote while he and the Israelites were in the wilderness. Jeremiah wrote his book in a dungeon. Daniel wrote on a hillside and in a palace. Paul wrote while in prison. Luke wrote while traveling around the ancient world and John wrote while in exile on the isle of Patmos.

The Bible is unique in the different times it was written. King David wrote the Psalms in times of war and sacrifice. Solomon wrote in times of peace and prosperity. Daniel wrote while in exile in Babylon. It was also written in different moods. Some writings were written from the heights of joy. Others from the depths of sorrow and despair. Some during times of certainty and conviction, and others during times of confusion and doubt.

The Bible was also written in three continents and in three different languages. The Bible was written in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Hebrew was the language of the Israelites and practically the entire Old Testament. In 2 Kings 18:26-28 and Nehemiah 13:24, it is called “the language of Judah,” and in Isaiah 19:18 it is called, “the language of Canaan.” David Dockery wrote about the Hebrew language and said, “Hebrew is a pictorial language in which the past is not merely described but verbally painted. Not just a landscape is presented but a moving panorama. The course of events in reenacted in the mind’s sight.” He expressed emphasis on the phrases used throughout the Old Testament like “he arose and went,” “he opened his lips and spoke,” “he lifted up his eyes and saw,” and “he lifted up his voice and wept.” These expressions illustrate the pictorial strength of the Hebrew language.

The Bible was also written in a wide variety of literary styles. In the pages throughout you will find poetry, historical narrative, song, and romance. You will also find didactic treatise, personal correspondence, memoirs, and satires. There are also biographical and autobiographical writings. There are books on law and prophecy and books that have parables and allegories. There is no other book which features such a wide variety of literary styles.

The Bible also addresses hundreds of controversial subjects, subjects that create opposing opinions when mentioned or discussed. The writers of the Bible considered many important and controversial subjects ranging from marriage to revelation of God. You find writings on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, adultery, obedience to authority, lying and telling the truth, character development, moral responsibility, parenting, and the nature of God. Yet through all the different topics and with all the different writers there is an amazing degree of harmony from Genesis to Revelation.

I would say that in spite of diversity, the Bible presents a single unfolding story when centers of God’s redemption of human beings. Paradise Lost in Genesis becomes Paradise Regained in Revelation. The relationship to God is shattered in Genesis and restored in Revelation. The unifying thread is salvation from sin and condemnation to a life of complete transformation and acceptance.

Most importantly, the Bible is focused on one Person. The leading character of the entire Bible is the one true God, revealed to us through Jesus Christ. The Law of the Old Testament provides the foundation for Christ. The historical books show the preparation of Christ. The poetical works aspire to Christ and the prophecies display the expectation of Christ. The New Testament records the historical manifestation of Christ, the propagation of Christ and the interpretation of Christ. The consummation of Christ is also found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. It is clear that from Genesis to Revelation, the whole of the Bible is what is called “Christocentric.”

In relation to my last point, F.F. Bruce wrote, “Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible.” It is like each book is a different chapter leading to a final, corroborative ending.

When you compare to Bible with the compilation of Western classics called the Great Books of the Western World you can see just how unique it is. The Great Books contain selections from 450 different works by close to 100 authors spanning 2,500 years. The writers include Homer, Plato, Aquinas, Dante, Spinoza, Calvin, Shakespeare, Human, Kant, Darwin, Tolstoy, and Joyce, just to name a few. While these authors are all part of the Western tradition of ideas, they display numerous conflicting and contradictory positions and perspectives on almost every topic. The Bible is completely unique in its unity in regards to the vast amount of topics it speaks of.

Again, the uniqueness of the Bible does not prove that it is inspired or inerrant. But it does challenge any person seeking the truth sincerely to consider its unique quality in terms of its continuity. The Bible has no equal in this respect and deserves to be highly regarded on the bases of this fact.

-Joel Varner

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Rational Look at Abortion - Part 3

Prenatal Development

In my last article I showed from medical testimony that from the moment of conception, a fetus is a distinct human being. Some will realize that because a fetus is a human being, killing this human being would be wrong. For others, they will look at the fetus as morally insignificant because of the level of their development.

During the several days following implantation, the embryo doubles in size every day. In only a span of six weeks, the baby goes from looking like a "clump of cells" to looking like a baby, though only a half of an inch tall. At the moment of fertilization, a new and unique human being comes into existence with it's own distinct genetic code.Twenty-three chromosomes from the mother and twenty-three chromosomes from the father combine to result in a brand-new and totally unique genetic combination. While the heart, lungs and hair of the woman share the same genetic code, the embryo has it's own distinct genetic code different from it's mothers.There is enough information in this tiny zygote to control human growth and development for the rest of its life. Until implanting into the lining of the uterus, each cell lives off of stored energy and newly manufactured DNA; at this stage in development the zygote is receiving no direct sustenance from the parents.

In Geraldine Lux Flanagan's book, The Beginning of Life, it is stated, "In the hours of conception every aspect of the genetic inheritance for a new individual will be determined once and for all: to be a boy or girl, with brown, or with blue eyes, fair or dark, tall or short; all the rich detail of physical attributes from head to toes... The new genetic program is achieved when the two parent pronuclei come to lie side by side within the egg for perhaps a day, as their contents combine in the ultimate biological union of male and female. In the instant when the union is consummated, the whole egg substance divides into two entirely new cells, identical to one another. These are the first two cells of the baby-to-be. So begins the first day of the first nine months of life."

In National Geographics In the Womb documentary, the narrator says, "Over the course of the first trimester or first three months, the single egg will begin to transform itself into a fully formed baby. But all the features of the human body, nerves, organs, muscles, are mapped out in the fragile first weeks."

Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger wrote in A Child is Born, "[At] five weeks old, [the embryo] is well past the stage when it looks like a formless clump of cells. The skin layers are still barely developed, and the tiny body is quite transparent. The head and tail can be distinguished, as well as the heart, the vertebrae of the spinal column, and the beginnings of a tiny hand." An important thing to keep in mind is that abortions aren't performed until the fifth week after conception for the safety of the mother. At week 5 you can see from the statement above that the embryo's head can be distinguished and that the heart, vertebrae of the spinal collumn and the beginnings of a tiny hand can be clearly seen.

Another point to make is that since when is it okay to kill somebody based on their level of development. Sure, embryo's aren't as developed as you or I, but 4 year old girls aren't as developed as 16 year old girls. Does that mean 16 year old girls are more human and deserve more protection and rights than 4 year old girls? You could also look at mentally or physically handicapped individuals. Does their lower level of development make it okay to dispose of them as an inconvenience for those who care for them? It would also mean that anyone who is more mentally or physically developed than you would be able to do what they wish with you because they are more advanced in their development. Does that make sense? Would they be justified in killing you on the grounds of their superior level of development?

"By six weeks, the cerebral hemispheres are growing disproportionately faster than other sections of the brain. The embryo begins to make spontaneous and reflexive movements. Such movement is necessary to promote normal neuromuscular development. A touch to the mouth area causes the embryo to reflexively withdraw its head."

The Biology of Prenatal Develpment, National Geographic, 2006.

"Day 49 has been elected to be the final day of the scientifically recorded day-to-day diary of development. On this day, the embryo is seven weeks old and is considered to be essentially complete. The creative enterprise of prolific cell division, differentiation, streaming migrations, establishment of new cell communities, and specialization: these come to rest when the foundations for all the working parts of the body are in place."

Geraldine Lux Flanagan, Beginning Life. New York: DK, 1996. pp. 55, 56.

"Measuring one-and-one-fourth inches from crown to rump and weighing about one-thirtieth of an ounce, the (56-day-old) embryo is now all but fully formed. All body systems are in place and elaborated. Architecturally, the organism is more or less whole... Though the energy output is about one-fifth that of an adult, the heart is functionally complete... A great passage has been made."

Alexander Tsiaras, From Conception to Birth. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2002. p. 183.


"The little fetus moves more and more every day, and the jerky body motions during the embryonic stage are now replaced by slower and aparently more goal-oriented movements. The hands often find their way to the mouth, ultrasound scanning shows, and the arms and legs are stretched and bent. The occcasional breathing movement also appears; the fetus can be seen to yawn or hiccough now and then and seldom lies perfectly still for any length of time. "

Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger, A Child is Born, 4th edition. New York: Bantum Dell, 2003. p. 122.

"Where once it seemed that the mental development of a baby began at birth, now it appears that birth could be a relatively insignificant event in developmental terms."

In the Womb, National Geographic, 2005.

From the statements above regarding the development of the embryo, it is clear that it is more than just a clump of cells. The embryo is a distinct, self-integrating human being. Distinct, self-integrating human beings, like you or I, deserve the right to live and prosper. Why is it that just because the baby is still in the womb that we can be justified in taking it's life?

My next article will deal with the common objection that though embryos may be living human beings, there is a difference between being alive and being a person. Abortion may kill a living human being, but not a person. There's more to personhood than biology. I hope you will come back in a couple of days and read my response to this objection. Thank you.

Joel Varner

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Rational Look at Abortion - Part 2

When answering questions regarding the continued legality and moral justification of abortion, one must first understand what the unborn are. What does it mean to abort a fetus? You may be surprised to learn that the science is conclusive and the answer is unanimous – human life begins at the moment of fertilization. Having an abortion means taking a human life. There is no way around it. It may be shocking to some people to realize that the unborn are distinct human beings. There is so much misinformation out there and lack of understanding on the part of both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life individuals and groups. People on both sides of the debate argue their view without any evidence. This is why I will be providing statements from medical examiners, scientists, Pro-Choice supporters and even the United States Senate. There should be no question whatsoever whether or not the unborn are human beings, and this being true, there needs to be accountability on the part of supporters of Amendment 73 for taking the life of a human being. Below I will now provide the testimonies of professionals regarding the unborn being distinct human beings from the moment of conception.

I felt it would be important to start with the testimony of Faye Wattleton, the longest reigning president of Planned Parenthood. She has been arguing since 1997 that everybody knows that abortion kills human beings. She says in an interview with Ms. Magazine, “I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.” Naomi Wolf, a prominent feminist author and supporter of abortion, provides a similar statement. She says, “Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life…we need to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that the death of a fetus is a real death.” You can see from this statement that Wolf is honest in saying abortion kills, but that she thinks she can justify abortion rights morally. In later articles I will show that there is absolutely no possible way, morally or ethically, to justify the killing of a human being.

I also came across a relevant statement from the author of A Defense of Abortion, David Noonin. Noonin says in his book, “In the top drawer of my desk, I keep [a picture of my son]. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clear enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows [my son] at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.” (pg. xiv).

With the three statements above from Pro-Choice advocates we can see that they understand the reality of abortion. All three of them acknowledge abortion as taking a life. All three of them also believe that the killing of certain human beings can be morally justified. Below I will provide excerpts from modern teaching texts which deal with embryology and prenatal development.

In the textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th Edition, Keith L. Moore writes about the beginning of human development at fertilization and the beginning of a new human being. “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoo development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” He also explains the significance of the so-called zygote cell. “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).”

T.W. Sadler, in his book Langman’s Medical Embryology, 10th Edition, he writes, “Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.” As we saw from the quote above, the zygote is the beginning stage of a new, completely distinct human being.

In 2008, Keith L. Moore wrote in his most recent book Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 7th Edition. In it he bluntly states, “[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being.” There can be no question that life begins at the moment of fertilization. To make a clearer statement, National Geographic released a video in 2006 entitled The Biology of Prenatal Development. In the video it is stated, “Biologically speaking, human development begins at fertilization.” Below are expert testimonies relating to life’s beginning."

"When fertilization is complete, a unique genetic human entity exists."

C. Christopher Hook, M.D.Oncologist, Mayo Clinic, Director of Ethics Education, Mayo Graduate School of Medicine

"Science has a very simple conception of man; as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man."
Jerome Lejeune, M.D., Ph.D.

"It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive...It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception."
Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth Harvard University Medical School

"I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception."
Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics, University of Pennsylvania

"The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter – the beginning is conception."
Dr. Watson A. Bowes University of Colorado Medical School

"By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception."
Professor Hymie Gordon Mayo Clinic

The official Senate report reached this conclusion:

"Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings."

Now that there is no doubt that a human life begins at fertilization, the most common objection to ending abortion is that even though an embryo is technically alive at fertilization, it is still only a clump of cells. They also say that until the heart or brain are functioning, women should be free to have an abortion. That is where my next article will begin. Please come back soon to read my article on prenatal development. Thank you.

-Joel Varner

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Rational Look at Abortion - Part 1

My reasoning for this article is simple. I want to provide a rational, justified argument against abortion without resorting to a religious worldview. I am confident that the Pro-Life view can be justified and easily understood when articulated properly. I am going to base my argument solely on scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning. I will not invoke the name of God or tell you what the Bible has to say on the issues surrounding the subject of abortion. My scientific evidence will be complete and thorough. My philosophical reasoning will be direct, understandable and clear. I will not include rhetoric, although I will provide examples which follow the logic of my argumentation. I understand that this can be an extremely emotional subject, to which I, also, am not immune. I have strong views on this subject, as I’m sure you do. I am hopeful that most people reading this article have taken the time to understand the issues and consequences of abortion, whether you are Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. I feel that there is a real danger in approving or voting for something in which we don’t fully understand. This is also the case in the rejection of the Pro-Choice view. This is why I am providing a rational, unemotional, non-religious argument. I hope that while you are reading this you will allow logic to overrule your personal emotions on the subject.

This first article on “A Rational Look at Abortion” will focus on an overview of my argument and the logic behind it. I will not write in detail on each point of my argument at this present time. I will provide a different article for each part of my argument and I will post each one of them separately but as soon as I finish each one. I ask you to be patient and to come back to this site each day to read the next article.

I want to start by saying the main focus and every issue surrounding the abortion debate comes down to one question - “What are the unborn?” Without answering this question we cannot justify our belief about whether abortion is right, or whether abortion is wrong. We cannot say that abortion is or is not a moral action without first knowing what it means to abort a fetus. If the unborn are not human beings, then I see no problem, scientifically or philosophically, with having an abortion. Even further, if the unborn are not human beings, I don’t see aborting a child in the womb as any worse than biting off a finger nail or shaving. But, if the unborn are human beings, we would have to justify taking their lives as strongly and responsibly as we would taking the life of any other human being. If the unborn are, in fact, human beings, then we need to look at this issue with a different set of lenses. Instead of looking at abortion as solely a woman’s right of choice, we will have to look at it as the taking of a life. And this is where my argument will begin. Are the unborn human beings?

My argument will be based on the scientific evidence we have today on the development of the embryo inside the womb. The evidence which I will provide will show without reasonable, if any, doubt that the embryo, even from it’s earliest stage in conception, is a human being. I will not use false or disputed evidence. I will base my argument solely on the scientific evidence which is agreed upon by the majority of the scientific community that conducts research on this subject. I will be open and honest in everything I say and I will not add emotional opinion to the application of the evidence.

My argument will also be based on logical philosophy. There will be points in the philosophical argument that are graphic and disturbing. I will use examples from the application of my logic which will be strong, but not extreme, which will enhance and clarify my reasoning against abortion. I will also show how the Pro-Choice view is elitist, unscientific, illogical, discriminatory, unjustified and even, to many people’s surprise, not Liberal. I will provide an argument for where our society is headed morally and ethically if abortion remains legal. I will be fierce in my argumentation, but I will not bring in irrelevant concepts or lines of reasoning. I hope your interest has been sparked and I hope that you will come back to read the first part of my argument. Thank you.

-Joel Varner

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Morality and it's Justification in Theism

The existence of true, objective morality is one of the most important philosophical, ethical and personal questions which needs to be justifiably answered. The importance of justification is that many people have many different views about the same subject, especially when it comes to morality. I agree firmly that all people have the right to believe what they want. The problem is that many people believe things that have no evidence to support their beliefs. For example, when we look at many of the scientists and philosophers before the discovery of an absolute beginning of the universe, they believed that the universe was most likely eternal. But what was their justification for that belief? There wasn't any scientific proof for the universe being eternal. Even philosophically, they would not be able to justify their belief. But now, we look at science and philosophy and we see that the belief of a finite universe is justified. We can look at the Big Bang model, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and philosophically, we can see that it would be impossible to come to "today" if there were an infinate number of past events. So, believing in a beginning of our universe is a justifiable belief. Now the question is whether or not we can justifiably say that objective moral values either do exist or do not exist. I will be making the argument that objective moral values do, in fact, exist. I will also argue that the only justifiable explanation for objective moral values is God.

I will lay out my argument as follows:

1.) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

2.) Objective moral values do exist.


3.) Therefore, God exists.

This is a logically valid argument and if premises (1) and (2) are true then the conclusion (3) must also be true. Now, let us look at the premises to see if they are true.

Premise (1): If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

By objective moral values I mean moral values which are true whether anyone believes them or not. They are valid and binding regardless of their acceptance from society. They would be an absolute standard of right and wrong, good and bad, ought and ought not. But are they truly objective? I strongly believe so, and hopefully I will provide the evidence to justify my belief.

The reason I say that objective moral values cannot exist without God is that there would be no standard for them to be valid and binding. Without God, morality is relative. So I could argue that if God does not exist, then even though you may not think it is good to beat a child, that is only your opinion. For a drunk, abusive father could think it perfectly okay to beat his child. And if your morality is relative, then you cannot say that him beating his child is wrong. It may be distasteful to you, but not to him. Again, we can look at slavery. If God does not exist, and objective moral values do not exist, then slavery isn't actually wrong. You may not like the idea of slavery, but that doesn't mean there is anything outside of you and a slave owner that could say slavery is a moral abomination. Or we can look at Nazi Germany. If God does not exists and objective moral values do not exist, then Hitler was justified in what he did to the Jews. After all, morality is relative in an atheistic worldview. How could an atheist say that Hitler was wrong? He thought he was right and carried out his beliefs. What he did may not be acceptable to our modern day society, but that doesn't mean he was actually wrong in what he did or that what he did was actually evil. So, in my opinion, without a moral Lawgiver, there are no objective morals. I find it interesting that so many atheists pass moral judgments. Many people, like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris say that Christianity is horribly wrong and evil. But where do these moral judments come from? They are not justifiable in an atheistic worldview. Nothing is really right or wrong. I really don't believe that atheists can truly live out their worldview when it comes to morality. If you are an atheist and someone pointed a gun to your head (which I don't condone, I'm just using an illustration) would you say, "I'd rather you not shoot me but it's not really wrong if you do. It's only my opinion that you shouldn't kill me,"? Or again, say you lived in Sodom in ancient times and a group of men came to rape you. Do you believe they would be justified in raping you because they believe it's okay?

Another argument I hear is that God and Christians are immoral for saying homosexuality is wrong. But where do their moral judgments come from? They don't want to be bound to the Christian view of morality, so why should Christians be bound to the atheists view of morality? Some may say that homosexuals don't have a choice in their sexuality so it's wrong to discriminate against them. I wholeheartedly agree that discriminating against homosexuals is wrong, but why? And something to think about, if you base your morality on societal tolerance and if homosexuality isn't wrong because they can't help it because their genetic make-up causes them to be that way, then why do we discriminate against pedophiles? Are they not born with a tendency to be sexually attracted to children? Even serial killers shouldn't be discriminated against on this view because they are born with a violent disposition.

Premise (2): Objective moral values do exist.

The case for objective moral values seems to be intrinsically obvious. I haven't met anyone on the street who thought raping children was only relatively wrong. But I have read works from atheist and have heard them lecture on morality. They argue that raping a child is, in fact, not wrong. It may not be socially advantagous, but there's no standard for raping a child being right or wrong, good or bad. Now, you must reflect on this question. Do you believe it is objectively (valid and binding) wrong to rape a child whether or not anyone else believes that it is?

We can also take the example of Nazi Germany. Hitler decided that it was okay to kill 6 million Jews because in his opinion, Jews were not really human. No matter what anyone may say, there is extremely strong evidence that Darwinian evolutionary theory influenced Hitler and helped to pursuade the masses in Germany. Hitler read works from Nietzsche about "the will to power" and from Darwin about "survival of the fittest." He was influenced by this theory in that he looked at the Jews as an inferior race which was hindering human evolutionary development. His idea of the "perfect man" came from his views of the "survival of the fittest," in which he viewed the Arian race as superior physically, genetically and mentally. He blamed all of the problems Germany was facing, whether it be economic problems or the spread of disease, on the Jews. On his view of morality, he was saving his country and his people from oppression and destruction by killing the Jews, the mentally and physically handicapped, the elderly, the weak, and homosexuals. He believed these people were poisoning and contaminating the genetic line of the Arian race.So based on his view of morality, he was being a moral person. And if there are no objective moral values, then we may say that he was wrong in his view of morality but saying that would be the same as someone saying "guacamole is disgusting." Morality, like your taste in certain foods, is relative in an atheistic worldview. In fact, atheists like Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins agree that morality is subjective. Peter Singer believes that we should be able to kill babies even up to 28 days after they are born. Where he gets that number I do not know. It would seem to me that killing a 35 year old person or a 28 day old person would be the same. Peter Singer also promotes euthanasia and the killing of the mentally and physically handicap. In his view, an adult ape is more valuable than a newborn or a handicapped person. "Afterall," he might say, "we are all just animals."

Another argument I hear which tries to dismiss objective moral values comes from sociobiologists. They assert that because moral beliefs are shaped by biological and social influences, that those beliefs are not objectively true. But this argument is fallacious because it commits the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is the fallacy of arguing that a belief is mistaken or false because of the way that belief originated. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland state in their book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, "how or why a belief came to be held is irrelevant to the truth of falsity of the proposition that is the object of that belief." Many atheists commit the genetic fallacy when discussing morality. But lets follow this argument for a little bit. If morality is only based on social influences then slavery wasn't truly wrong in the ancient world. Even Nazi Germany wouldn't be considered evil because in German society it was acceptable to kill Jews. In early American society it was acceptable to be racist and own slaves. Right now we say that racism is a horrible thing. But in an atheistic worldview, it's only horrible if you believe that it is horrible. So atheists cannot justifiably say that anything is really wrong according to their worldview. How can an atheist say, "you shouldn't be racist," or "you shouldn't kill people," and expect anyone to accept what they say if there isn't a true standard of "ought" or "ought not"?

Hopefuly, you do believe that the Nazi's were absolutely wrong in their persecution of the Jews. I hope you believe that even if Hitler succeeded what he set out to do and killed or brainwashed every one into believing what he did was right, it would still be absolutely wrong. I hope you believe that slavery and racism were wrong in early America, eventhough society said it was okay. I hope you believe that no matter what anyone else believes, raping children is objectively wrong.

Conclusion (3): Therefore, God exists.

As we have seen, if objective moral values do exist, then God must exist. I have shown that objective moral values do, in fact exist and that objective moral values cannot be justified on an atheistic worldview. If you believe it is always, objectively wrong to beat children, then you must agree that God exists. And if you believe God exists, then you are justified in believing objective moral values exist. It logically follows from this argument I have presented.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and, as always, feel free to comment and raise objections about what you've read. Don't forget to read and think about the quotes by atheists and Christians on the subject of morality below this paragraph!!!!

Quotes from Atheists:

"If morality is always relative to one’s own society, then you, coming from your society, have your moral standards and I, coming from my society, have mine. It follows that when I criticize your moral standards, I am simply expressing the morality of my society, but it also follows that when you condemn me for criticizing the moral standards of your society, you are simply expressing the morality of your society. There is, on this view, no way of moving outside the morality of one’s own society and expressing a transcultural or objective moral judgment about anything, including respect for the cultures of different peoples. Hence if we happen to live in a culture that honors those who subdue other societies and suppress their cultures, then that is our morality, and the relativist can offer no cogent reason why we should not simply get on with it." — Peter Singer.

"The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval." — Peter Singer

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." — Richard Dawkins (emphasis mine)

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." — Richard Dawkins (emphasis mine. Notice how Dawkins says there is no evil and no good, only indifference, and yet says the God of the Old Testament is evil!)

Quotes from Christians:

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." - G.K. Chesterton

"lf law is, in fact, some form of legislated morality. The question is whose morality will dominate." - Frank Schaeffer

"History is a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity." - James A. Forude

"To denounce moralizing out of hand is to pronounce a moral judgment." - H.l. Mencken

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Did Jesus Christ Actually Exist?

I have noticed that many people actually hold to the belief that Jesus Christ never existed. While I am surprised that people hold this view, I do understand that it needs to be addressed. The existence of Jesus is obviously extremely important in regards to Christianity and history itself. I hope that after reading this you will also look for more information of the facts concerning the life of a carpenter from a small village in Israel who changed the world as we know it. I will start with a quote:

"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself... While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went thought the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While he was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth - His coat. When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever were built, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life." - Anonymous

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." - John 1:1

Now, many things were said in that quote. Many who read that will say, "That quote is irrelevant because it's based on unsupported presuppositions and about a person who never existed." This is the basis for this post. Did Jesus actually exist? And if He did, can we really know what He was like when He was on this earth?

First, did Jesus exist? Many will find this question absurd. Many will be adamant that He either did, or did not, exist. But often times when I come across someone who does not believe that Jesus existed they won't have an answer to justify their beliefs. This is a very important belief which, in my opinion, demands justification. People often tell me that you can't know history or that Jesus was a fabrication of the Church centuries after the supposed events took place. Hopefully this post will clear up any questions concerning the existence of Jesus. And please feel completely free to raise any questions that you have!!!
Let us look at the historical evidence concerning the life of Jesus Christ. I will use the New Testament Gospels, the New Testament Epistles, historical writings from the 1st and 2nd centuries, and also books that were not included in the New Testament. The reason I am using the New Testament Gospels is because they are historically reliable. You have to understand that when the Gospels were written, they were written separately. The New Testament wasn't written as a book. The letters were put together later and became what we know as the New Testament. This is important to remember because when the Gospels were written they were written as letters. All four of the writers, independently, wrote about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I will use the New Testament Epistles because they were written even earlier than the Gospels and were written by a former self-proclaimed enemy of Christianity, Paul, who was formally called Saul of Tarsus. He was a devout Jew who persecuted the early Christians and came to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through a personal encounter with the risen Lord. There is no other reasonable reason why Paul would convert from his lifelong faith in Judaism to Christianity if he did not have an experience with a real person. And he wouldn't likely be persecuting Christians if Jesus Christ didn't even exist. Christianity started in Israel. The Gospel writers couldn't have written and talked about a fictional character and gotten that many followers in the very same area that they were claiming Jesus lived and did miracles and rose from the dead. Philosophically, if Jesus never existed then why would the apostles suffer and die for something they knew to be a lie? It doesn't make any sense. They wouldn't gain anything from creating a religion and sticking to it through persecution and death if it was based on a fictional person.
I would say that one would be hard pressed to find any knowledgeable person today that doesn't believe that Jesus Christ existed. Even the American revolutionary Thomas Paine never questioned the existence of Jesus Christ. Thomas Paine hated Christianity and held it and it's followers in utter disdain and contempt. Even so, Paine wrote, "He (Jesus Christ) was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality had been preached by Confucius, and by some of the Greek philosophers, many years before; by the Quakers since; and by many good men in all ages, it has not been exceeded by any." When I come across people who deny the existence of Jesus I just show them that their belief is not justified by any relevant evidence. When people do their homework on Jesus they will discover what F.F. Bruce, who is a professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, discovered. Writes Bruce, "Some writers may toy with the fancy of a "Christ-myth," but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the 'Christ-myth' theories." And F.F. Bruce is definitely not alone.
Otto Betz writes, "No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus." In response to those who deny the existence of Jesus, British New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall states, "It is not possible to explain the rise of the Christian church or the writing of the Gospels and the stream of tradition that lies behind them without accepting the fact that the Founder of Christianity actually existed." I am aware that just stating what authoritative figures have to say isn't sufficient, but it is, in my mind, extremely useful. The views of New Testament scholars (by the way, N.T. scholars aren't only Christians. There are atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, etc., who are New Testament scholars) are important to look at with regards to the existence of Jesus because they study the books written about Him. Now, on to the evidence!
I will start with the evidences from non-Christian sources. Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120) was a Roman historian who lived through the reign of 12 different Roman Emperors and was called the "greatest historian" of ancient Rome and was known for his moral integrity and essential goodness. His most popular works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals cover the period from Augustus's death in A.D. 14 to the death of Nero in A.D. 68. The Histories begin after the death of Nero and proceed to that of Domitian in A.D. 96. While writing about the reign of Nero, Tacitus alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christians in Rome. By showing that Christians were in Rome around 30 years after the death of Jesus (A.D. 33) gives evidence to the fact that Christianity was spreading rapidly, having started in Israel and spreading all the way to Rome within a matter of three decades. One thing to note is that Tacitus, along with many other pagan writers, spelled Christ as "Christus." Here is what Tacitus had to say, "But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for the enormities. Christus (Christ), their founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition (most probable, the belief in the resurrection of Jesus), repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also." F.F. Bruce points out that Tacitus is the only pagan writer who mentions Pontius Pilate and says, "And it may be regarded as an instance of the irony of history that the only surviving reference to him (Pilate) in a pagan writer mentions him because of the sentence of death which he passed upon Christ." So from Tacitus we have evidence that Jesus, in fact, existed, was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, that Christians were in Rome worshipping Jesus as God, and maybe even an allusion to Christ's resurrection.
Another ancient piece of evidence we have is from Lucian of Samosata, who was a Greek satirist in the latter half of the 2nd century (around 160 A.D.). He spoke scornfully of Christ and of Christians but never assumed or argued that Jesus never existed. Lucian wrote, "The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws." This is another important piece of evidence in the search for the historical Jesus. We see by Lucian's writings that Christians were in Greece in the latter part of the 2nd Century, that they worshiped Jesus, who was crucified, that Christians were willing to give up their life for their belief in Jesus as God and that they denied to gods of Greece. It is also important to note that Lucian says that Jesus was crucified on the account of His novel rites.
Suetonius, a Roman historian, also speaks of Christ. He writes in his work Life of Claudius, "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (another misspelling of Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome." Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts refers to this event in Acts 18:2, which took place in A.D. 49. Again, we see historical evidence for Christ's existence.
Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor in A.D. 112 wrote to the emperor Trajan to find out how to deal with Christians. He explained to Trajan that he had been killing men, women, and children and that so many were being put to death that he wondered if he should continue killing every Christian he found or only certain ones. Pliny goes on to tell Trajan that he "made them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do." In the same letter Pliny says, "They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up."
One of my favorite ancient works which talks about Jesus is from Thallus. Thallus wrote around A.D. 52 about Christ and also the darkness that the Gospels talk about at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Thallus' works now only exist in fragments but Julius Africanus writes about Thallus in his work Chronography. Wrote Africanus," Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.)" The text in parentheses is original to Africanus' writing and was not added by me. Interestingly, another secular historian wrote of the same eclipse. Phlegon confirms that darkness came upon the earth at the same time as Jesus' crucifixion and he too explains it as a solar eclipse!
Mara Bar-Serapion was a Syrian and most likely was a Stoic philosopher. Writing a letter from prison to his son he said, "What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished (the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70)... Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good, He lived on in the teaching which He had given." The capitalization of King and Him, in reference to Jesus, was original to Ber-Serapion's writings.
Now I would like to move away from pagan writings and focus on Jewish references of Jesus. And when I say pagan I'm not using it as an insult, just a description based on the writers religion. The first Jewish reference I will cite is from the Babylonian Talmud. "It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshua. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): 'He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and let Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.' But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover." Another version of this text says, "Yeshu the Nazerene." The word "hanged" used in this passage is a common expression of crucifixion and is found in Luke 23:39 and Galatians 3:13. Also, in this text it says that Jesus was crucified "on the eve of Passover", just as John 19:14 states. Following this Jewish text there is a comment by Ammora, 'Ulla, which states: "Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him? He was a deceiver, and the All-merciful says: 'You shall not spare him, neither shall you conceal him.' It was different with Jesus, for he was near to the kingship." That last phrase most likely refers to Jesus' genealogical descent from Israel's King David.
There is also evidence of the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin. He is referred to in the Talmud with the titles "Ben Pandera (or 'Ben Pantere') and "Jeshu ben Pandera". Many scholars agree that pandera is a play on words with the Greek word for virgin, which is parthenos. Joseph Klausner, a Jewish scholar, says, "The Jews constantly heard that the Christians (the majority of whom spoke Greek from the earliest times) called Jesus by the name 'Son of the Virgin,'... and so, in mockery, they called him Ben ha-Pantera, i.e., 'son of the leopard.'"
We also have the testimonies of Josephus. Although the passage about Jesus has created rigorous debate among scholars, it is still worth mentioning. I will talk about the debate after we read the passage. It says, " Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day." The italicized parts of the passage indicate the debated parts of the passage. Many think that a Christian copyist added those phrases into Josephus' work. But when you take out everything that's italicized you still have much information about Jesus. This is not the only passage about Jesus that Josephus writes. In his work Antiquities, Josephus says, "But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned." As Josh McDowell has written, "So even the great first-century Jewish historian Josephus, writing just a little more than half a century after Jesus' life and crucifixion, attests to the truth that Jesus was not a figment of the church's imagination but a real historical figure."
I could also go into the pre-New Testament creedal confessions (which i will in a later post) but for time's sake I will move on to the Church Fathers. The reason for mentioning the early Church Fathers is that their writings came before the 4th century and provide clearer evidence that Jesus was not a mythical figure made up later in history.
Clement of Rome was the bishop of the church at Rome toward the end of the first century. The passage by Clement of Rome affirms that the gospel message came from the historical Jesus. Clement writes in his letter Corinthians (not to be confused with the letters written by Paul), "The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come." Keep in mind that this passage was written by a Roman Christian before 100 A.D. He talks about a historical person, Jesus, being the original giver of the gospel message and that He had apostles who went forth proclaiming His resurrection from the dead.
We also have the writings of Ignatius, a disciple of Peter, Paul, and John. On his way to his own execution in Rome, Ignatius, who was the bishop of Antioch, wrote a total of seven letters to his friend Polycarp. There are three references to the historical Jesus that are especially pertinant. The first is from Trallians, "Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him." The second important passage comes from his writing entitled Smyrneans. In it Ignatius writes, "He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch (of which fruit are we - that is, of His most blessed passion); that He might set up an ensign unto all ages through His resurrection." Again, keep in mind that his letters were written very close to the time of Jesus. You can see that he believed Jesus was God and that Jesus was raised from the dead, which is important because many skeptics say that Jesus was deified later by the church, which is not the case at all. The third passage from Ignatius comes from Magnesians. "Be ye fully persuaded concerning the birth and the passion and the resurrection, which took place in the time of the governorship of Pontius Pilate; for these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ our hope." We can see that Ignatius was obviously convinced that Jesus Christ was a real, historical person. To save time I will just name the rest of the early Church Fathers who wrote before the 3rd Century. There was Quadratus, who was a disciple of the Apostles and the bishop of the church at Athens. There was the Epistle of Barnabas which was written between 130-138 A.D. and talks about Jesus Christ. Then we come to Aristides who was a second-century Christian apologist and philosopher from Athens. We have Justin Martyr who is considered one of the greatest apologists of early Christianity. Then we also have Hegesippus, who was a Jew who went on a journey to discover the truth about Jesus of Nazereth and became a Christian because of his findings.
It is also worth noting additional secular sources who talk about Jesus. The Roman emperor Trajan talks about Jesus and Christianity. Macrobius, in his work Saturnalia writes a quote from Augustus Caesar about the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The Roman emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius also talk about Christians and Jesus. Juvenal, Seneca and Hierocles also talk about Jesus and His followers.
In conclusion, I will cite Howard Clark Kee, professor emeritus at Boston University, talking about the sources outside the New Testament which mention Jesus. Kee writes, "The result of the examination of the sources outside the New Testament that bear directly or indirectly on our knowledge of Jesus is to confim his historical existence, his unusual powers, the devotion of his followers, the continued existence of the movement after his death at the hands of the Roman governor in Jerusalem, and the penetration of Christianity into the upper strata of society in Rome itself by the later first century."
Hopefully this has been helpful for anyone doubting the existence of Jesus Christ. It is obvious to me, and probably all New Testament scholars and first century historians, that Jesus Christ did, in fact, exist. Please feel free to leave your comments and objections and I will be more than happy to dialogue with you. Thank you so much for spending time searching for the truth.

-Joel Varner

Welcome to Rationally Christian

Hi, welcome to Rationally Christian. I would just like to start out by saying that this blog is dedicated to rational conversations about Christianity. I found that there needed to be a place for atheists, theists, agnostics, skeptics, etc., to come together and talk about their beliefs in a place where they won't be harassed or mocked for stating their opinions. I will base my articles and comments on two very important verses in Scripture, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and body," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." I hope that you will feel comfortable to share you views with me, no matter what the subject may be, and whether you agree with me or not. There is no greater danger, in my opinion, than silencing someone's beliefs or questions in regards to the truth claims of Christianity. I ask that everybody, myself included, will think hard about what they believe and why they think they are justified in their beliefs. It's a very important topic for consideration. Why do you believe what you believe, and are your beliefs rationally justified? This is very important and I'm sure you feel the same as I about this. Anyway, thank you for visiting and WELCOME TO RATIONALLY CHRISTIAN!