Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Atheist gets her PhD in astronomy and astrophysics and finds evidence for God

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

Christian apologist Terrell Clemmons tweeted this testimony by Sarah Salviander, a research scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the prestigious University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Salviander writes:

I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did well in school.

I just want to point out that I hope that all you Christian parents are taking seriously the obligation to make your kids do well in school, because even if they start out as atheists when they are young, they can still find their way back to God through study, as Sarah did.

She had a bad start, that’s for sure:

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when science fiction was enjoying a renaissance, thanks largely to the popularity of Star Wars. I remember how fascinated I was by the original Star Wars trilogy. It had almost nothing to do with science—it’s more properly characterized as space opera—but it got me thinking about space in a big way. I also loved the original Star Trek, which was more science fiction. The stoic and logical character of Mr. Spock was particularly appealing to me. Popular science was also experiencing a renaissance at that time, which had a lot to do with Carl Sagan’s television show, Cosmos, which I adored. The combination of these influences led to such an intense wonder about outer space and the universe, that by the time I was nine years old I knew I would be a space scientist someday.

Canada was already post-Christian by the 1970s, so I grew up with no religion. In retrospect, it’s amazing that for the first 25 years of my life, I met only three people who identified as Christian. My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial. I was ignorant not only of the Bible, but also of the deep philosophy of Christianity and the scientific discoveries that shed new light on the origins of the universe and life on Earth.

She documents a phase of following Ayn Rand and embracing “Objectivism”, but eventually she rejects it for failing to answer the big questions of life.

More:

I began to focus all of my energy on my studies, and became very dedicated to my physics and math courses. I joined campus clubs, started to make friends, and, for the first time in my life, I was meeting Christians. They weren’t like Objectivists—they were joyous and content. And, they were smart, too. I was astonished to find that my physics professors, whom I admired, were Christian. Their personal example began to have an influence on me, and I found myself growing less hostile to Christianity.

This is why I think it is so important for Christian parents to raise their children to get advanced degrees… either to become professors themselves, or to finance others (e.g. – our own children) to do advanced degrees. It is so important for university students to see Christian professors on campus. And failing that, it’s important that we bring Christian speakers in to debate non-Christian speakers on the important issues. This will not happen unless we recognize how important it is, and then make a plan to achieve it.

More:

I had joined a group in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS) that was researching evidence for the big bang. The cosmic background radiation—the leftover radiation from the big bang—provides the strongest evidence for the theory, but cosmologists need other, independent lines of evidence to confirm it. My group was studying deuterium abundances in the early universe. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, and its abundance in the early universe is sensitive to the amount of ordinary mass contained in the entire universe. Believe it or not, this one measurement tells us whether the big bang model is correct.

If anyone is interested in how this works, I’ll describe it, but for now I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that an amazing convergence of physical properties is necessary in order to study deuterium abundances in the early universe, and yet this convergence is exactly what we get. I remember being astounded by this, blown away, completely and utterly awed. It seemed incredible to me that there was a way to find the answer to this question we had about the universe. In fact, it seems that every question we have about the universe is answerable. There’s no reason it has to be this way, and it made me think of Einstein’s observation that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible. I started to sense an underlying order to the universe. Without knowing it, I was awakening to what Psalm 19 tells us so clearly, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

That summer, I’d picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and was reading it in my off hours. Previous to this, I’d only known it as an exciting story of revenge, since that’s what the countless movie and TV adaptations always focused on. But it’s more than just a revenge story, it’s a philosophically deep examination of forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice. I was surprised by this, and was starting to realize that the concept of God and religion was not as philosophically trivial as I had thought.

All of this culminated one day, as I was walking across that beautiful La Jolla campus. I stopped in my tracks when it hit me—I believed in God! I was so happy; it was like a weight had been lifted from my heart. I realized that most of the pain I’d experienced in my life was of my own making, but that God had used it to make me wiser and more compassionate. It was a great relief to discover that there was a reason for suffering, and that it was because God was loving and just. God could not be perfectly just unless I—just like everyone else—was made to suffer for the bad things I’d done.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite, favorite books as well, and had the same impact on me as it did on her.

OK, that’s enough for this post. Go read the rest, and please share it. This woman is an expert Christian apologist and her life will have an influence. Are you going to be like her? Will you mentor others to be like her? Will you marry someone like her? Will you raise children who are like her (which is my plan)? We really need everyone to pull their weight now, because everywhere you look, the truth of Christianity is under attack.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: News, , , ,

The story of how the Failed Atheist failed at atheism in the UK

My friend The Failed Atheist has posted his testimony on his blog. Some of the phrases might be a bit unfamiliar, because he grew up in the UK. I always thought that the UK was filled with Christians who loved England and all wanted to be knights when they grew up. I didn’t grow up in the UK, but my room as a child was still filled with books on knights and chivalry. Some of them with scribbled drawings in them! I also knew about the Battle of Britain and Spitfire airplanes were pictured on my wall posters. Anyway, I digress.

Here are the first 3 paragraphs of his story:

Within the next few months I would have been a Christian for ten years and that seems like a long time. Not only did my life go in the direction I had never expected but I’m also the sort of person I never expected I’d be. Over the last ten years I’ve often been asked how and why (two very different questions) I became a Christian which to most people seemed an obvious and embarrassing mistake. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because most people post 9/11 and Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ have gone the other way.

School Nativity

I could write a lot but I will try my best to stick to what I think are the most salient points and not ramble. So, I grew up in a secular non-religious single parent family and as far as I can remember like most British children I was in the school nativity play (I was a shepherd) and was occasionally read the odd Bible story by a neighbor. Although the only one I can actually remember was the wise judgement of Solomon found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. I spent one year at a Church of England primary school and if I’m honest the only thing I can remember is that the Priest was a bit of a weirdo.

My Early Doubts

My interactions with anyone I knew who were religious amounted to the JW’s stopping by to give me a copy of the Watchtower which I probably fed to the dog. I also happened to live very near to a massive Mormon temple but it was years before I even knew what  a Mormon actually was and why they wore magic underwear. I remember a friend of mine in Biology class when I was about 13 asking me whether I thought there was a God, I can almost remember verbatim what I said to him, “I like the idea of there being a God but there is no evidence for one”. If most people are brutally honest I reckon most people would prefer to be born in a universe where their existence mattered to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator of the universe. The reverse being what Bertrand Russell so eloquently summarized the astronomers view of the human life to be “...a tiny lump of impure carbon and water crawling impotently on a small and unimportant planet…“. Of course I should point out that the degree to which we prefer something to be true has no bearing on whether it is in fact true. I digress.

So by 13 I was persuaded that the universe I inhabited was not created by any deity, and that evolution alone explained life’s journey from the single cell organism to complex carbon based life as reflected in natures pinnacle creation the ‘wise man’ Homo sapiens. Most people I grew up with were either atheists or agnostics although my next door neighbors were Roman Catholics but if I’m honest I didn’t have a clue what that even meant. I just remember my mate coming back one Sunday with tons of money telling me it was his ‘Holy Communion’. I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think to ask but I remember being jealous, I could’ve done with people pinning cash to my tracksuit bottoms.

His blog has an excellent list of recommended books, as well, separated into categories.

It’s funny how people remember the little opinions they had when they were very young, one way or the other. I remember feeling very protective of God from the beginning, and thinking how he would not be very happy with my parents or the mean kids in school. We were always on the same side, and everyone else was on the other side. Sometimes I wonder if Christianity is easier that way, when you don’t think of your parents as God or exemplars of godliness, then when your parents fail you then think that God is a failure by extension. I remember showing my mother hard verses of the Bible as a child, (e.g. – Matt 10:34-38), and when she said they were false (she is a Muslim-raised atheist), I remember thinking “well, so much the worse for you when you meet him, then” and “well, I don’t even know how I ended up in this family of insolent God-haters”. I remember thinking that my real parents were probably angels and my human parents had probably stolen me from them. I was just a kid, so all this made sense to me then. I was so different than anyone in my family – I am the first Protestant and almost everyone else is Muslim or Hindu, with just a few Catholics and atheists. I’m very happy working alone, though.

Filed under: Commentary, ,

The apologetics of Jesus

From Eric Chabot of Ratio Christi. (H/T The Poached Egg via J Warner Wallace)

He lists eight ways that Jesus makes his case.

Here’s one of the ways:

2. Jesus Appealed to Evidence

Jesus knew He could not show up on the scene and not offer any evidence for His Messiahship. In his book On Jesus, Douglas Groothuis notes that Jesus appealed to evidence to confirm His claims. John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This may seem an odd question from a man the Gospels present as the prophetic forerunner of Jesus and as the one who had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, however, did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.”

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

And:

5. The Miracles of Jesus

In the Bible, miracles have a distinctive purpose: they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (3)

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2). In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.

It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. Jesus did not do His miracles for entertainment. They were done to evoke a response. So perhaps Paul Moser is right on target in what he calls “kardiatheology” – a theology that is aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions. In other words, God is very interested in moral transformation.

We see Jesus’ frustration when His miracles did not bring the correct response from his audience. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4)

I am forever pointing this out to people. Jesus didn’t get people to follow him because he was nice. And he didn’t just talk to people who agreed with him. He even promised “a wicked generation” his resurrection – which he called “the sign of Jonah”. This is the way we should be – using whatever evidence we can dig up from science, history, law, and even the social sciences (when arguing moral issues).

Read the rest here. Surprise! Jesus loves to convince people, and not just by quoting the Bible to people who already accept the Bible, either.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

Were the earliest Christians willing to die for their beliefs about Jesus?

From Jonathan M., writing at the Cross Examined blog.

Excerpt:

The Martyrdom of Jesus’ Brother James

According to John 7, “After this, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” Thus, there is good evidence to believe that neither James (Jesus’ half brother) nor any of Jesus’ younger siblings believed his message, nor his personal self-claims, during his life. This is further supported by Mark 3:20-21 – “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

It seems absurd that the early church would invent fictitious stories about the unbelief of Jesus’ own family had they been faithful followers all along. For a Jewish rabbi to be lacking the support of his own family undermined his perceived credibility. Yet it can be confidently established that James and his brothers later became active Christians following Jesus’ execution and subsequent resurrection, even being martyred for their confession. According to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:9:1,

“And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.” [emphasis added]

Some skeptics have claimed that the James mentioned in this passage is actually the brother of Jesus, the son of Damneus (a high priest who is mentioned towards the end of this passage). The title of “Christ”, we are told, is to be expected because Josephus would consider any high priest to be a “Christ”. The problem with this argument is that Josephus does not call any priest elsewhere in his writings a “Christ”. Jesus ben Damneus was not a high priest at the time of James’ trial but only became one at the time of his later mention. Thus, there is no basis for thinking that Jesus ben Damneus would have been called “Christ”. Moreover, when Josephus tells us of a character’s parentage, he always does it the first time the character is introduced (not in subsequent references). This means that Josephus’ later mention of Jesus ben Damneus has to be the first time the character is introduced. The passage is also thought by Origen to be speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jonathan has also posted two other reliable martyrdom accounts for Paul and Peter.

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

Is there a difference between Christian martyrs and Muslim martyrs?

I found an interesting post on the Truth in Religion & Politics blog that asks and answers the question.

Excerpt:

What is so unique about the earliest disciples of Jesus being martyred for their claim Jesus was raised from the dead?  Many believers of various religious systems–Muslims for example–die and commit suicide regularly for what they believe to be true.  Christian apologists arguing for the historicity of the Resurrection use the fact that Jesus’ disciples and subsequent followers allowed themselves to be killed, without recanting their conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Is this line of reasoning valid?  Does the fact that others die willingly for their religious faith undercut the veracity of the argument for the Resurrection?

The most important aspect of this detail is the historical proximity of the disciples to the event.  The disciples were contemporaries of Jesus and the Resurrection event.  They were witnesses to Jesus’ life; witnesses to His death; and claimed to be witnesses of His being alive after having been buried.

If we claim the Resurrection was a story invented by the disciples, we have to also have to claim they died for an event they knew they invented themselves.

[…]Keep in mind I am not arguing for modern or even 2nd century Christian martyrs as evidence, but rather the first disciples who claimed to be actual witnesses to the events themselves.  Muslims who die in suicide attacks are not first hand witnesses to Allah, or miracles of Allah.  Mohammad did not perform miracles, he claimed only to be a prophet.  Given this aspect of Islam, Mohammad’s cohorts were getting their theological insight second-hand from someone who claimed to speak for God.  They are not in parallel circumstances as the first martyred disciples who claimed to see with their own eyes the events for which they were killed.  Muslims willingly die for what someone told them was true, and in fact they do believe the message of Mohammad is true, but they lack first hand experience of his claims; they could not necessarily have known his claims were false.  Jesus’ disciples claimed to be eye witnesses to the Resurrection, they would be in the position to know their own story was false.

Lots of people die for their beliefs, but only the first century Christian martyrs were in a position to know whether they saw Jesus after his death or not.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , ,

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