Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good response to scientific arguments for theism?

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.


I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do Christians have to do something extraordinary to make a difference?

Here’s an interesting article from Relevant. (H/T Eric Chabot from Think Apologetics)


Ordinary” has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary”? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church and has an ordinary job?

We think our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works.

[…]In a world intoxicated by such freedom, everydayness is boring. This vision of reality affects us all. Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified by boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around me is much more difficult than chasing the dreams I have envisioned for the grand story of my life. Other people—especially those close to us—can become props. “The Poor” can be instruments of our life project. Our big ideas to “change the world” can become ways of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy Him and to enrich the lives of others.

[…]Taking a summer to build wells in Africa is, for some, a genuine calling. But so is fixing a neighbor’s plumbing, feeding one’s family and sharing in the burdens and joys of a local church. What we are called to do every day, right where God has placed us, is rich and rewarding.

Sometimes, the best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are.

I want to quote from a post by Wes Widner. He is a talented software engineer, and a very practical person.

Here’s a challenging post he wrote about about short-term missions.

Here’s what was said:

Because of this misunderstanding of the great commission and what it truly means to make disciples of those around us, we tend to overlook questions of stewardship and logistics. In fact, since we think the imperative is to go we tend to start to think that any cost is acceptable and questions of logistics are a mere nuisance.

How much does a round-trip plane ticket usually cost to travel overseas? $1,000, $2,000? More? Once you count the cost of food, lodging, transportation, etc. you can often approach figures well over $3,000 just to send a single person overseas. Is this really the best way to reach the lost?

[…]Why do we go? Why do we really go? If our real aim is to make disciples as we are commanded to, then we will gladly step back and examine the questions raised above (and many will come to the conclusion that short-term, long-distance mission trips are simply not a good idea) but I believe the main reason most Christians go is to satisfy a desire for an emotional experience which they equate with “being close to God”. And therein lies the heart of our dilemma.

So that’s the first point to make – do the people who want to fly off to far-flung places for a few weeks want to make a difference? If so, how does throwing away thousands of dollars do that?

In my own life, I’ve favored stewardship and strength over recklessness and thrill-seeking. I have been working out a slow and steady apologetics-focused plan that started when I was in high school when I was reading C.S. Lewis and winning awards in computer science. From there, I got my BS and MS in computer science and have proceeded to built a gapless resume and a fortune which I use to support Christian students and fund apologetics events. I have sponsored dozens of apologetics events during the last 15 years, and let me tell you, I can fund several campus events with as much as people spend on a 3-week mission trip. And it’s a much higher impact. A much better use of funds. We need to be influencing the university, that’s where future leaders come from.

Let’s take a look at another concern.

Look at this post by a male reader of The Thinking Housewife blog.


Since I wrote you last, I have decided to sign up for a few online dating sites, mostly out of curiosity. I could not imagine finding a serious mate on, say, OKCupid, but anything is possible. In poring over many hundreds of profiles in the past few days, a few things stand out to me.

  • I have not seen any woman make her desire for children, or even marriage, the central focus of her profile. Even though I filter profiles based on the “wants kids?” question (which is, surprisingly, often answered “yes”), nothing in the written profile suggests it is important to them. (This is occasionally not the case for Asian women)
  • The emphasis is instead on career, activities, hobbies, favourite movies/books/music, travel, and political inclinations (always to the left, sometimes the feminist left)
  • The surpreme goal of women my age appears to be to start an NGO in a Third World country.
  • Every woman my age has read Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Most are doing (or have done) advanced degrees, often in education or healthcare.
  • It is rare that a woman expresses interest in cooking, though most express interest in restaurants and food.
  • I have never seen a woman mention that she desires a good home, a place to call her own, or that she is otherwise domestically inclined.

I suspect these line up with your readers’ experiences too. That said, it may be that women view these traits as being desired by men, and they may be at odds with more deeply held needs.

So marriage and family are not viewed as ways to make a difference, and all the effort is put into travel, education, politics, social work and career.

The Thinking Housewife adds her own thoughts:

Right now, in this country, there are many children growing up in single-mother homes. Growing up without a father and with a mother who is usually not at home and who may bring strange men into your life is a desolating experience that has been proven to damage many people. I have a friend who is a teacher in a white working-class neighborhood. Many of the children there are growing up in homes of never-married or divorced mothers. These children are hungry for attention and love. Their situation portends further social chaos. Do you think the young Evangelical women you mention would brag about helping these white children? Would volunteer work with them have the same cachet?

I suggest to you that it would not.

I understand that people in Third World countries are materially poorer than these white children I mention. But in the Christian view, the immaterial is foremost and the spiritual conditions of these white children are nothing less than dire and probably worse than that of most children in the Third World. They are being raised by nihilistic popular culture.

[…]Christianity will not flourish in the Third World if it is dying in the West. We need these idealistic women to do their work at home, and that work includes becoming wives and mothers themselves.

The idealism of these women is not wrong, but the direction it has taken is. Volunteering in the Third World has become a status symbol for Christians.

This is definitely something that I have seen with young, umarried Christian women. There is very little effort into choosing the right man, and planning for marriage and parenting with him. Everything is about missions trips, graduate degrees, changing the world with broad brush strokes. Being in the spotlight. Being recognized by everyone as important.

Last link – this time from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

He writes:

You can make a difference as long as you’re making a difference with someone else with whom you have a difference (here I mean difference in ability). So maybe you know a little bit of theology. Let’s say you know like three theological truths. Well, you can teach those to somebody who know less than three theological truths, or don’t know those three. You can teach them what you know. That means just about anybody can participate as long as you find someone who knows less than you do, and there’s a lot of them around.

Take what you know, take the circumstance you’re in, and bloom where you’re planted.  And that is when you learn best. When you’re teaching someone else, you learn it better. It’s very simple. You have a small group. Sometimes your group is two or three people. You have an audience of one, over coffee at Starbucks. You could be sharing, talking, teaching, instructing. You take those opportunities, and you are faithful in those smaller opportunities, and more opportunities will probably come your way.

You may not have an audience of 100 or 1,000 or 3,000. I rarely have that size audience, anyway. But Jesus said, “If you’re faithful in smaller things, you’ll be given greater things.” Jesus wants you to make a difference in small ways. The fields are white with harvest.  There are all kinds of need out there, and you’ve been gifted to meet that need. So it stands to reason, to coin a phrase, that you will be used as you become better at what you do by the One who distributes these gifts, God, through the person of the Holy Spirit.

My answer to the question is then, keep your eyes open, and take the opportunities that come your way, look for opportunities.  Bloom where you’re planted. Do whatever you can, wherever you’re at. And then watch the Lord work and see what He decides to do with what you’ve done.

Here’s the Scripture he mentioned from Luke 16:10:

10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

Even more than teaching another person what you know, you can just care for them and encourage them. You can just love them.

My view has always been to learn skills through study and save money I needed to be able to respond to challenges. If opportunities arose, then I could do something. I also made big plans. But even with these big plans, I always thought that I should be flexible. There have been times when opportunities to mentor someone one-on-one came up, and when they did, I invested heavily in those other people.

So I did have big plans. But then along came individuals, some of them from rough situations, who needed my help. What should I do? Keep trying to make my big important plan happen? What if the person who came along had a story that fit my abilities and experience so well that I was sure that God had placed us together for me to love and serve this person?

I’ve always felt that I should be flexible about letting my big plans go and working on these one-on-one relationships. But in order to do that, I had to accept that I might never get the recognition I wanted. That I might never get the excitement that I wanted. But sometimes, I got the joy that comes from supplying another person with what they needed, so that their wounds are healed and they move closer to God.

If we all slowly and carefully built up the skills and resources we needed to be able to make a difference with one person at a time, in the places and times where we are right now, then wouldn’t that change the world?

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , ,

William Lane Craig lectures on failure in the Christian life

I found this audio on Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 web site.

Here is the MP3 file.

And here is my summary.


  • the topic of failure is not one that is often discussed by Christians
  • failure #1: failure in the Christian life which is the result of sin
  • failure #2: when a Christian is defeated while trying to serve God
  • the consequences for failure #1 can be worse for the Christian
  • the consequences for failure #2 can be worse for the world as whole
  • how is it possible for a person to fail when they are obeying God? (#2)
  • how can it be that God can call someone to a task then let them fail?
  • failure is not persecution – persecution is normal for Christians
  • failure is not trials – testing is normal for Christians to grow

Bill’s failure:

  • Bill had submitted all the coursework for his second doctoral degree
  • but he had to pass a comprehensive oral examination
  • he failed to pass the comprehensive exam
  • Bill and Jan and his supporters had all prayed for him to pass
  • how could God allow this to happen?

Solution to the problem:

  • God’s will for us may be that we fail at the things we try in life
  • there are things that God may teach us through failure
  • Bill learned that human relationships are more important than careers
  • we need to realize that “success” in life is not worldly success
  • true success is getting to know God well during your life
  • and failure may be the best way to get to know God well
  • it may even be possible to fail to know God while achieving a lot
  • the real measure of a man is loving God and loving your fellow man


  • give thanks to God regardless of your circumstances
  • try to learn from your failure
  • never give up

The ending of Bill’s story:

  • Bill spent an entire year preparing for a re-take of his exam
  • Bill was awarded his second doctorate “magna cum laude” (with great distinction)
  • Bill learned that American students are not well prepared for exams
  • the year of studying remedied his inadequate American education
  • in retrospect, he is thankful for the failure – he learned more

If you like this, you should pick up Craig’s book “Hard Questions, Real Answers“, which has a chapter on this problem. And here is a similar lecture that Dr. Craig gave at his home church in Atlanta on the same topic. I’m not posting this because I’ve had a catastrophic failure or anything. But I think in this economy, I am seeing a lot of my plans dashed and I am being forced to circle the wagons a little and take fewer risks. I am being forced to aim for smaller goals, and plan for future difficulties. It does bother me that I can’t comfortably take risks to achieve the best goals that I want to achieve. But I have to play the hand I’m dealt, and do what looks doable right now. Some of my friends are having the same problem of having to recalculate what is probable and what is possible.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don Johnson: six reasons why people reject Christianity

Here’s a post on practical evangelism by Christian scholar Don Johnson.

His list of reasons why people often reject Christianity:

  1. Christians behaving badly
  2. Disappointment with God
  3. Weak or absent father
  4. Social pressure
  5. Cost of discipleship
  6. Immorality (especially sexual immorality)

And here’s the detail on #6:

Of all the motivations and reasons for skepticism that I encounter, immorality is easily the most common. In particular, sexual sin seems to be the largest single factor driving disbelief in our culture. Brant Hanson calls sex “The Big But” because he so often hears this from unbelievers: “’I like Jesus, BUT…’ and the ‘but’ is usually followed, one way or the other, with an objection about the Bible and… sex. People think something’s deeply messed-up with a belief system that says two consenting, unmarried adults should refrain from sex.” In other words, people simply do not want to follow the Christian teaching that sexual intercourse should take place only between and man and woman who are married, so they throw the whole religion out.

The easiest way to justify sin is to deny that there is a creator to provide reality with a nature, thereby denying that there is any inherent order and purpose in the universe.

Aldous Huxley admitted that this is a common reason for skepticism:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption…. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. …

For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was …liberation from … a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…. There was one admirably simple method in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons. (Ends and Means, 270-273)

Indeed, similar tactics have been used extensively up to the present day. If you are looking for two great resources that document the extent to which the work of the world’s “great” atheistic thinkers has been “calculated to justify or minimize the shame of their own debauchery,” (Spiegel, 72) I recommend Intellectuals by Paul Johnson and Degenerate Moderns: Modernity as Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior by E. Michael Jones. The bottom line is that these skeptical scholars didn’t reach their conclusions by following the evidence where it led. They didn’t “discover” that the world was meaningless and then proceed to live accordingly. They lived sinful lives (usually involving some type of sexual deviancy) and then produced theories that justified their actions.

It’s important to understand that an atheist is not identical to a Christian, except not religious. There is something else going on in their minds when they reject very obvious evidences like the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability arguments, etc. The something else that is going on is hinted at when you look at atheist attitudes to abortion. According to a recent survey of atheists, 97% of them were pro-abortion!

What kind of person likes abortion? The kind of person who wants to be sexually active with no consequences, even if it means taking someone else’s life. The desire to do as they please and retreat from obligations to others is the key. Now dispensing with God and his obligations is not an unreasonable view if there is no evidence for God, but it does provide a motive for people to not look for that evidence if happiness is their main goal. When I discuss these issues with atheists, I find that no work has been done to read anything. Not even debates, where there are two sides. They don’t want to hear the case for Christian theism, and they work hard to avoid stumbling across it by accident, too.

God and the cosmic authority problem

Tough Questions Answered has a quote from Christian philosopher Paul Moser that I think is relevant:

It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans.  Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.  Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.

So we’re not dealing with unbiased truth-seekers here. The goal might not always be sex, but let’s be honest. Who wants to have to spend time reading the Bible, praying, going to church and reading thick books by Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Licona and Hugh Ross so that we can answer questions? No one. Who wants to give up premarital sex so that we can create a stable marriage for children so they can grow up in a safe place where knowing God is natural and easy? No one. We just don’t want to have to do stuff for God, even if it’s good stuff. We don’t want to have build a life that is a testament to God’s existence and character, especially if it means that other people will think that we are weird and maybe even a bit mean. We want to do what we want to do instead, and be liked by other people.

That’s the real challenge of Christianity: setting aside what you wanted to do, and letting God be your customer, instead. You’d be surprised how many Christians aren’t comfortable with the idea of serving God and being viewed in a bad way by non-Christians. They aren’t OK with the self-sacrifice, and they are really not OK with the social disapproval. It’s hard to be chaste, and to be known to be chaste by your peers, for example. Much easier to just give in and do what everyone else is doing.

Let’s illustrate with C.S. Lewis

And here’s a relevant quote from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” to illustrate:

You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve…. Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand…. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

– Uncle Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters

I’m not a big fan of Lewis, but I think he is onto something there. That’s really what the Christian life is like, and no wonder more people don’t choose it. Who wants to do your duty for God, as part of a relationship with him, in a universe that seems so unfair? It’s a tall order, and most people prefer to do their own thing instead of building something nice for God with their lives.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: I am not a Christian because it works for me

Here’s a must-read post from Cold-Case Christianity author J. Warner Wallace.


Life on this side of my decision hasn’t always been easy. It’s been nearly seventeen years since I first trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I still struggle to submit my prideful will to what God would call me to do. Christianity is not easy. It doesn’t always “work” for me. There are times when I think it would be easier to do it the old way; easier to cut a corner or take a short cut. There are many times when doing the right thing means doing the most difficult thing possible. There are also times when it seems like non-Christians have it easier, or seem to be “winning”. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that I’m not a Christian because it serves my own selfish purposes. I’m not a Christian because it “works” for me. I had a life prior to Christianity that seemed to be working just fine, and my life as a Christian hasn’t always been easy.

I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.

I think this is important. There are people who I know who claim to be Christian, but they are clearly believing that God is a mystical force who arranges everything in their lives in order to make them happy. They are not Christians because it’s true, but because of things like comfort and community. But people ought to become Christians because they think it’s true. Truth doesn’t necessarily make you happy, though. Truth can impose intellectual obligations and moral obligations on you. Seeing God as he really is doesn’t help us to “win” at life, as the culture defines winning.

Winning in Christianity doesn’t mean making lots of money, or being famous, or winning human competitions, or being approved of by lots of people. Winning for a Christian might involve things like building relationships with people and leading them to know that God exists and who Jesus is. That has no cash value, and it’s not going to make you famous. Actually, it will probably cost you money and time, and make you unpopular with a lot of people.

The Bible doesn’t promise that people who become Christians will be happier. Actually, it promises that Christians will suffer for doing the right things. Their autonomy will suffer, as they sacrifice their own interests and happiness in order to make God happy, by serving his interests. Christianity isn’t something you add on to your before-God life in order to achieve your before-God goals. When you become a Christian, you get a new set of goals, based on God’s character and his design for you. And although you might be very successful in the world as part of serving God, there is no guarantee of that. Christianity is not life enhancement.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

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