Apologetics

Understanding the Value of the Maker Thesis

Melissa Cain Travis is an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University and a PhD candidate at Faulkner University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God (Harvest House, 2018). Hank Hanegraaff recently dialogued with Melissa on the Hank Unplugged podcast — concerning “Women in Apologetics.” The following is adapted from the discussion on the “Maker Thesis.”

Hank Hanegraaff: I want to talk a little bit about your new book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, subtitled What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God. In that book, you have a moniker called the “Maker Thesis.” What does that explain?

Melissa Cain Travis: I write about the Maker Thesis in the article, which just came out in the Christian Research Journal, entitled, “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker.” The idea behind the Maker Thesis is that the enormous success of the scientific enterprise that we have watched unlock many of nature’s secrets strongly implies the existence of a Maker. Not only does it strongly imply the existence of a Maker but it implies one who desires to share some of His mind with His creatures. We would say that because we are made in His image. This is the reason we are able to share in His mind. From what we observe, it looks very much as if one of the main goals of this development of the natural world was the existence of rational beings who can investigate its deep structure. As we investigate the deep structure, we thereby understand something of the mind that seems to be behind it all.

Turns out that there are features of the universe in general, and features of planet Earth in particular, that make man’s home incredibly hospitable to the scientific enterprise.

To go along with that, we have the kind of minds that are suited to carry out that kind of investigation. This coincides very well with the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei — the idea that mankind is not just a creation but he is the crown of creation, made in the image of God. As such, we are endowed with these cognitive faculties that allow us to have not just moral awareness but also higher rationality.

I think using resonance as I do in the Journal article is perfect for describing this crazy situation we find ourselves in.

There was a fourth century Alexandrian bishop named Athanasius, Saint Athanasius, and he is one of my absolute favorite Christian saints. I have loved reading his works. He used the analogy that always comes to my mind when I am thinking about the cosmic resonance behind the Maker Thesis. He said,

Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony (Contra Gentiles 31.4).

I just love that. I think it is so appropriate to the thesis of my book. When we observe the world and we observe our own nature, we see this incredible resonance that leads us to understand that there is a Maker whose mind we are able to tap into just a little bit when we carry out the natural sciences.

Hank: I love that you quoted Athanasius. It reminds me of the power of one. If you think about Athanasius in the forth century. It was “Athanasius contra mundum” — Athanasius against the world. He was willing to stand against Arianism, and his arguments ended up winning the day. I also love the fact that he overtly said what many have said throughout the centuries, that God became man so that man might become God. Now, he did not mean that man can become as God by nature. We are gods by grace. We participate, as Peter said, in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), but he opened a door, which points out just how special we are. We are so special that God has invited us into fellowship within the Trinity. I mean it is incredible to think that the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence wants that kind of relationship with us, a relationship that brings us into the fellowship with the Triune God.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely! Many of the church fathers talked about this very same thing. They talked about how nature is like this grand book and because we are made in the image of God, we can read that book. We can discern some of His wisdom and power in the things that He has made.

Hank: We think about the Bible, rightly so, I have spent a lifetime memorizing the Bible. But, there also — as you just pointed out, Melissa — is the book of nature, and we can see God’s imprimatur, we can see His fingerprints on the universe that He has created.

Melissa: Yes! These arguments actually go pretty far back. They even predate the existence of Christianity. We see roots of these ideas in ancient Greek philosophy, most particularly Plato. And then by first century BC to first century AD Judaism, we see these ideas about a Creator having resonance with the mind of man absorbed into or, I guess a better word would be, inspiring the writings of Judaism such that the extrinsic platonic forms that in Greek philosophy just kind of exist out there somewhere are now placed in the mind of a creator God, as the pattern that God used to create the universe.

Then our early church fathers come along, and we see the appearance of this wonderful metaphor about the book of nature — the idea that the creation is this communication vehicle by which God reveals Himself to mankind. They saw creation as a natural revelation that can be used in tandem with the special revelation that we find in Scripture. They saw these two in complete harmony and actually synergy because they thought by observing the world we better understand Scripture, and by reading Scripture we better understand what we are seeing in the world.

Then, of course, we see these ideas communicated in both the Old and New Testaments. Psalm 19 is famous one where we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV) and they send a message to all the earth. Then in Romans 1:20, Saint Paul tells us that God’s power and wisdom are so clearly seen in what has been made that mankind is without excuse when it comes to knowing and worshiping the Creator of all things.

In the book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, what I have tried to do is weave together this glorious intellectual history with the most up-to-date findings of science and the most up-to-date progress in philosophy, and show how these very ancient arguments have not been debunked by the rise of modern science. They have in fact been truly vindicated by modern science.

To listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode, click here.

Read the article “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker” in volume 40, number 1 of the Christian Research Journal.

To subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, click here.

Check out other Christian Research Journal articles from Melissa Cain Travis:

What the Size of the Cosmos Doesn’t Say about Mankind

Motherhood and the Life of the Mind

To request a copy of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God by Melissa Cain Travis, click here.

 

Apologetics

Apologetics to People with Imagination, Narrative, Story, and Image

Holly Ordway went from being a militant atheist to a cultural Christian apologist and joins Hank to tell the tale of her journey as well as share her powerful perspective on the role of imagination in apologetics. Dr. Ordway is an accomplished author and professor in the Department of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

The following is adapted from Hank’s conversation with Holly during the Hank Unplugged episode From Atheist to Apologist with Holly Ordway.

Hank Hanegraaff: You are teaching the significance of imagination in Christian apologetics, and that is an often-overlooked aspect. I have a son-in-law teaching philosophy at the Airforce Academy, and he talks about emotion in apologetics. There are missing elements in much apologetics such that people approach the task like a hammer and a nail — if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. It becomes, therefore, all about rational argumentation at the exclusion of other significant aspects vital for transforming the person. I think I got this metaphor from your book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith.

Holly Ordway: Right. I think people typically have a very shallow and limited understanding of what the imagination is. They tend to think imagination equals imaginary things. They’ll say, “Oh, unicorns,” things like that, “well, how is that relevant?” But really, I am drawing on the work of, for instance, my colleague, Michael Ward, who does lots with imagination in apologetics and literature, and he has pointed out that it really is the imagination that constructs meaning. It is our reason that judges whether our meaning is true or false, but before we can have that judgment, we need to have it be meaningful.

For instance, often times we will have a discussion with a skeptic about the historicity of the Resurrection. We can go around and around in circles and get nowhere, putting all these great arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection forward, and the skeptic may even say, “Yeah, that’s convincing, but you know, no whatever, I’ll just go home and still not have my mind changed.” We might think that is because the skeptic’s heart is hardened, well maybe, but actually I think more often it is because the word “resurrection” is just jargon without actually having any real meaning or resonance. So, it is just an intellectual game, and we do not get anywhere until the words we are using, the concepts we are using, have real meaning. This is where the imagination is so critical. [See, for example, chapter on “Longing” in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, especially the discussion on pp. 140-142 regarding stories which end with a “eucatastrophe” i.e. “good catastrophe,” spoken about by J.R.R. Tolkien.]

Hank: You know this is part and parcel of the discipline of hermeneutics as well — learning to read the Bible in the sense in which it is intended. One of the things you point out in your literature is that when you approach a writing, you have to first determine the genre you are reading, which is critical for understanding the meaning of the words.

Holly: Absolutely! We do this all the time as we normally read things. If I pick up a book of short stories versus a newspaper, I will come to it with a different set of expectations. Now, I may find deep profound truth in a short story, and I may end up deciding that some stories in the newspaper are not actually very well reported and that they are untrue, but I bring to the reading an understanding of the genre, and I have certain expectations of how I am going to interpret those texts. This is just second nature. This is the point I made in my article for the Christian Research Journal, “‘Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet’: Metaphor and the Work of the Apologist,” from 46-6.

When we read children’s books to little kids, you might have a book about the first day of school, and it has got little bears and lions dressed up in clothes going to school. However, we do not think, “Oh no! We can’t read this book to our kids, they are going to be scared to go to kindergarten, thinking they will get eaten by a bear.” No! We realize that it is an anthropomorphic technique to make the story more engaging, and we get it. What is more, the child gets it, too! The child instinctively recognizes that this is a story world, and the expectations are different than for a realistic book about this is what your first day of school is going to be like.

We do that just naturally as readers of ordinary text. But, somehow, we turn to Holy Scripture and we kind of get freaked out. We think, “Oh no! It’s different.” And it is different, but it is still a literary text. God chose to inspire the human writers of Scripture to write in particular literary genres. He did not have to do that. He could have inspired all the writers to be uniform, but He did not. We, therefore, really have to approach the different parts of Scripture according to their genre.

Hank: Is it fair to say that kids are hardwired for grammar from birth?

Holly: I think so. I do not want to go into great detail on this because I am not a linguist, and I might say something that will make all the linguists listening to this just tear their hair out, but it certainly does seem to be the case. Kids have an intuitive understanding of grammar from the beginning, and an intuitive understanding of the way stories work. This comes up so early and so naturally that I really do think it has a lot to do with the imprint of the image of God in us.

If you think about it, God makes us in His image, He is a Creator, and He is also an Author and Artist, because again, He did not have to give His revelation to us through Holy Scripture; He could have done it in different ways. Ultimately, He gives His full self-revelation in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, He did not have to give us a written revelation too, yet He did, and He did it through narrative, poetry, and story, as well as through history and theology. If that is how God chooses to communicate with us, it must be pretty deeply ingrained. We are creatures of narrative, story, and image.

Listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode with Holly Ordway here.

More articles from Holly Ordway:

T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’ for the Apologist / What Has Poetry to do with Apologetics?

Once upon a Time: The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales

Confronting the Apologetics Challenges of a Secular Culture: Reflections on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Truth in Darkness: The Hunger Games as an Unexpected Resource for Apologists

Check out this bookstore resource:

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith

Apologetics

Top, Pop, and Slop Apologetics

Q: Please offer some insights into how you do research and study in order to discover the truths that you teach?

A: Well, that is a big question. I have often used three words to describe what I do here at the Christian Research Institute. There is “top,” “pop,” and “slop.” In order to be able to do what we do, not just individually but as an institute, it is important for us to engage in top apologetics. In other words, grapple with the deep issues on a deep level. But, to remain there would be a disservice for our constituency.

So, what I attempt to do is take the complex and make it simple and transferable. If you do not do top apologetics, you end up doing slop apologetics, which means all you are doing is regurgitating things that people have said, which may or may not be true. But, if you do top apologetics, then you can take apologetics and popularize that for your constituency. That is what we have been doing at the Christian Research Institute for many, many years, by taking the complex, making it simple and transferable so that you might not only hear but remember and then use what you have learned for God’s glory and for the extension of His kingdom.

We have two tracks that we run on. It is not just an intellectual track. It is not only the truth track. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6 NIV). He is the way and the truth, and He is the way and the life. There is a track that we run on that is very important — truth matters. If you are guided by the Book of Mormon, you are going to fall into the abyss. If you are guided by the Qur’an, you are going to miss the mark. You have to have a reliable authority. A reliable map, if you will.

But, the map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal, the cradle should not be mistaken before its occupant. There is, along with the truth line, as it were, there is a life line. That involves experiencing deification, what Peter spoke of when he said we are to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). I said on yesterday’s broadcast when I did an interview with Frederica Mathewes-Green, the Eucharist or Communion or the Lord’s Table — lots of different monikers by which you can describe this — is the principle means by which we experience the graces by which we can experience deification.

Now, we will never become what God is in the Godhead, it is an abomination to think that we would, be we are brought into fellowship with the Trinity. We are brought into union with God. We are brought into a state where we can live the Christian life not just by our own energies but by all His energies, which so powerfully work in us.

I look at primary resources when I do my research. I look at extrabiblical Christian sources. The writings of the church fathers. I look at ancient non-Christian sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plinius, and the list goes on. I am very aware of historical and current scholarship. All of that is what we do at the Christian Research Institute so that the answers that you get are reliable and trustworthy.

— Hank Hanegraaff

Discernment in an Age of Information Overload (Hank Hanegraaff)

In Essentials Unity: E-Q-U-I-P The Mission of the Christian Research Institute (Hank Hanegraaff)

Becoming a “Seasoned” Apologist (Adam Pelser)

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics (Dan Story)

When Salt Loses Its Flavor (Doug Groothuis)

This blog is adapted from the June 6, 2016, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Apologetics

Truth & Post-Truth

cri-blog-hanegraaff-hank-post-truthIt is quite stunning. The editors of the Oxford Dictionaries have selected their word of the year for 2016. It is hard to imagine what it might be. Even harder to imagine that this is the word for the year when you actually hear the word. Their choice could not be more apropos as a sign of the times. It is an authentic reflection of the state of our culture. The word of the year? Well, here it is—post-truth.

Post-truth is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Think about that for a moment. Objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. The Oxford editors actually explain that:

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom [Brexit] and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase ‘post-truth politics’.

The OUPblog indicates,

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The bottom line here is that post-truth in the year 2016 stands in stark opposition to plain truth in the past. One is based on subjectivism, the other on objective facts.

All of this of course begs a simple question: What is truth? Or maybe more importantly: Why is truth important? To answer that question, it might be significant to go back a time when Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate. “What is truth?” was the very question that Pontius Pilate posed to Jesus Christ (John 18:38). Here the Roman prefect of Judah was standing toe to toe with the personification of truth and yet he missed its reality.

I would say that postmodern people who hold that emotion trumps fact, that feelings trump biology, that there is no such thing as objective truth, very much like Pilate, miss truth’s very essence. They stare at truth but they fail to recognize its identity. What is that identity? Well, truth is an aspect of the very nature of God Himself; therefore, to put on truth is to put on Christ, for Christ is truth (John 14:6; Eph, 4:24; 6:14). Christians are to be the bearers of truth.

I love what Os Guinness said when he articulated that Christianity is not true because it works, that would be not truth but pragmatism. It is not true because it feels right that is subjectivism. It is not true because it is my truth that is relativism. Christianity is true because it is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. Truth, therefore, we must say, clearly and correctly is anything that corresponds to reality. As such, truth should never yield to the size and the strength of the latest lobby group. Nor is truth really a matter of preference or opinion; rather, truth is true even when everyone denies it and a lie is a lie even if everyone affirms it including the editors of the Oxford Dictionaries. Truth properly understood is essential for you and I to have a realistic worldview.

It is sad to say that sophistry, sensationalism, Scriptorture, superstition, and post-truth subjectivity has sabotaged truth in our epic of time. Our view of reality is seriously skewed when that happens. The death of truth spells—this is pretty serious—the death of truth spells the death of civilization. As such, the redefinition of truth in post-Christian America is no small thing. I think we ought to stand with Alexander Solzhenitsyn who initiated the Velvet Revolution and he did so because he understood that one word of truth properly defined outweighs the entire world.

—Hank Hanegraaff

This blog adapted from the November 21, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Apologetics

Answering Accusations about Genocidal Gods

cri-blog-copan-paul-god-and-genocideThere are atheist philosophers, who say they love to believe in a God, but they cannot abide the God of Christianity, and so often they see no difference between the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam. Talk about the distinction between the two.

With regard to the Old Testament, we see that war is geographically limited to the land that God had promised to Abraham, whereas within Islam there is no such geographic limitation. Anything that is outside of the world of Islam is considered the abode of war; therefore, justifiably take-able to be put under the rule of Islam.

There is also something that is in God’s plan for bringing judgment upon the Canaanites. Of course, it is a twofold thing, to drive out the Canaanites and those who remain behind leave themselves vulnerable to attack. It is primarily driving them out (Exod. 23:27-31; Deut. 7:20-24; Josh. 24:12-13).  Then you have a certain time limit here, this is part of God’s unfolding purposes giving the land that is inhabited by the Canaanites to the people of Israel but not until the Canaanites have reached the sufficient low point in their wickedness and then can judgment fall (Gen. 15:12-16). There is a historical length or time limit here that is involved, whereas in Islamic jihad there is no historical or temporal limitation.

We also see that in the history of Islam the oppression and war is indiscriminate. Islam attacks Christianized lands and overruns them, whereas with the Canaanites they were a wicked people basically engaged in activities such as infant sacrifice, bestiality, and so forth, acts that would be considered criminal in any civilized society. I can go down the list and talk about a lot of other differences but that is just a sampling of some of these sorts of differences that exists between the Old Testament and Islam.

People so often want to make a distinction between the God of the Old Testament who is a God of violence and cruelty, and the God of the New Testament who is often perceived to be a God of love. What is wrong with reading the Bible or thinking about God in that way?

What we see in the Old Testament is God showing both kindness as well as severity. Paul says this in Romans 11:22, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (NASB). Both of those continue through the testaments, but you see in the New Testament both the love of God intensified and the judgment of God intensified.

Yes, even from the lips of Jesus He talks about these things. Jesus does not shrink from identifying with the God of the Old Testament. He talks about capital punishment being exerted in the Old Testament (Matt. 15:4). He talks about judgment being poured out through the Flood (Matt. 24:38-39), or on Tyre and Sidon, warning His contemporaries in Bethsaida and Chorazin that if these signs have been performed to you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented and sackcloth and ashes, and warns them about the judgment that is to come (Matt. 11:21-24); namely, the destruction that falls through the Roman Empire in AD 70. You see Jesus’ language very full of this.

You see Stephen (Acts 7) as well as Paul (Acts 13) both affirming the driving out the Canaanites. We see in Hebrews 11 that God uses warfare to bring judgment and so forth. We see even in Hebrews 2 that if punishments were meted out in the Old Testament, everyone received a just compensation for his deeds, how much greater will the judgment be if we neglect so great a salvation.

I think it is just a total misreading to talk about a wrathful God of the Old Testament and of a loving Heavenly Father of the New Testament. This is just the heresy of Marcion (circa AD 100-165), who talked about two different Gods, one mean and nasty and the other kind and loving. No. The New Testament affirms and identifies with the God of the Old Testament.

—Paul Copan

Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has authored and edited thirty scholarly and popular books, including Is God a Moral Monster?

For further related study, please consult the books: Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, and Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan.

This blog adapted from the June 29, 2015 Bible Answer Man broadcast.