Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christian Belief III

Continuing our series on basic Christian convictions we turn next to the idea of eternal life. One of the things we learn in the Bible is that death is not the end of our existence. Man has always yearned to live, to survive the death of his body, but apart from any revelation from God he has no reason to think that there's any life beyond this one.

The New Testament makes it clear, however, that the death of this physical body is not unlike the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Just as the butterfly emerges transformed from the chrysalid, so, too, we are assured, we take on a whole new form of life and being.

This makes, or should make, an enormous difference in the way we view this life. If the atheistic materialist is right and death really is the end for each of us, then this life has precious little meaning. Death obliterates everything, nothing we do ultimately means a thing. Our lives are like the flash of a firefly's light in the dark night. It appears and then it's gone, forever. If death is the end then there's no reason at all why anyone should live one way rather than another. Nothing really matters, so whether one lives like Adolf Hitler or Mother Teresa it's all the same. When Hitler and Mother Teresa died they both ceased to exist, their fate, their destinies were the same so what difference did their decisions about how they would conduct their lives ultimately make?

If death is the end, there's no ultimate justice, no recompense for those who've done terrible things and caused great suffering. Such people will not be punished and those who've done wonderful things fare no better than those who didn't. So what's the point? If death is the end then we're just temporary assemblages of atoms that are destined to become topsoil. There's no dignity or value in being just a lump of flesh and bone. If atheism is true then man has no dignity or worth. He's just an animal to be herded and manipulated to suit the whim of whomever has the power to impose his will on the rest.

Christians, however, believe that when we die something of us lives on. Call it our soul, the totality of information that gives an exhaustive description of who we are. This information that describes us exists in the mind of God and is reinstantiated in some other body, some other mode of expression, when this material body is no longer able to function. Because our soul is information in the mind of God, it never ceases to exist. It's always in His database, as it were, ready to be downloaded at the next iteration of our existence. Because of this each of our lives, being eternal, is infinitely important and meaningful. Because of this we can hope that justice does exist and we have a reason for believing that the moral choices we make really do matter. Our eternal destiny may hinge upon them.

Why do Christians believe this? What do they base their hope upon? Consider just a few of the words of Jesus on the topic:

"Whoever believes [in me] may have eternal life." (Jn.3:15).

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life." (Jn.3:36)

"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst but the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (Jn.4:14)

"Already he who gathering fruit for life eternal." (Jn.4:36)

"My sheep hear my voice...and I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (Jn.10:28)

It's clear that Jesus believed that there was life after physical death, but this raises a question: Why should we place confidence in the words of an itinerant rabbi who lived in an obscure corner of the world two thousand years ago. The answer is that Christians have always believed that Jesus was not just a rabbi, not even just a man, but that he is in some sense divine. That He is God.

That'll be our topic in the next post in the series.

Christmas Message

I'm (Bill) going to be away for the Christmas holiday and probably won't have access to post anything so I thought I would leave you with a singularly unique thought that might be inspirational during this special time of the year.

I came up empty with nothing to say that would capture the significance of Christmas...until I found this which says it all much better than I ever could...

God bless all of us during this celebration of God's gift to us, the birth of Christ.

Creation Myth For Young Materialists

Joe Carter has a clever creation story for young materialists that deserves as wide an audience as possible so we post it here, with Carter's introduction, in its entirety:

Throughout history children have been awed and thrilled by retellings of their culture's creation story. Aztec's would tell of the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes, Phoenicians about the Zophashamin, and Jews and Christians about the one true God -- Jehovah. But there is one unfortunate group -- the children of materialists - that has no creation myth to call its own. When an inquisitive tyke asks who created the sun, the animals, and mankind, their materialist parents can only tell them to read a book by Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins.

No child, though, should have to go without an answer which is why I've decided to take the elements of materialism and shape them into an accurate, though mythic, narrative. This is what our culture has been missing for far too long -- a creation story for young materialists.


In the beginning was Nothing and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it explode. The explosion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.

For no particular Reason - for Reason is rarely particular -- Time and Chance took a liking to this wet little blue rock and so decided to stick around and see what adventures they might have. The pair thought the Earth was intriguing and pretty, but also rather dull and static. They fixed upon an idea to change Everything (just a little) by creating a special Something. Time and Chance roamed the planet, splashing through the oceans and scampering through the mud, in search of materials. But though they looked Everywhere there was a Missing Ingredient that they needed in order to make a Something that could create more of the same Somethings.

They called to their friend Everything to help. Since Everything had been Everywhere she would no doubt be able to find the Missing Ingredient. And indeed she did, hidden away in a small alcove called Somewhere, Everything found what Time and Chance had needed all along: Information. Everything put the Information on a piece of ice and rock that happened to be passing by the planet Pluto and sent it back to her friends on Earth.

Now that they had Information, Time and Chance were finally able to create a self-replicating Something which they called Life. Once they created the Life they found that it not only became more Somethings it began to become Otherthings too! The Somethings and the Otherthings began to fill all the Earth -- from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the sky. Their creation, which began as a single Something eventually became millions of Otherthings.

Time and Chance, though, where the bickering sort and were constantly feuding over which of them was the most powerful. One day they began to argue over who had been most responsible for creating Life. Everything (who was constantly eavesdropping) overheard the spat and suggested that they settle the debate by putting their creative skills to work on a new creature called Man. They all thought is was a splendid plan - Man was a dull, hairy beast who would indeed provide a suitable challenge - and began to boast about who could create an ability, which they called Consciousness, that would allow Man to be aware of Chance, Time, Everything, and Nothing.

Chance, who had always been a bit of a dawdler, got off to a slow start so it was Time, who never rested, that was able to complete the task first. Time rushed around, filling the gooey matter inside each Man's head with Consciousness. But as he was gloating over his victory he noticed a strange reaction. When Man could see that Everything had been created by Time, Chance, and Nothing his Consciousness would fill up with Despair.

Chance immediately saw a solution to the problem and used the remaining materials she was using to make Consciousness to create Beliefs. When Chance mixed Beliefs into the grey goo, Man stopped filling with Despair and started creating his own Illusions. These Illusions took various forms - God, Purpose, Meaning - but they were almost always effective in preventing Man from filling up with Despair.

Nothing, who tended to be rather forgetful, remembered her creation and decided to take a look around Everything. When she saw what Time and Chance had done on planet Earth she was mildly amused but forbid them to fill any more creatures with Consciousness or Beliefs (which is why Man is the only Something that has both). But Nothing took a fancy to Man and told Time and Chance that when each one's Life ran out that she would take him or her and make them into Nothing too.

And that is why, my young friends, when Man loses his Life he goes from being a Something created by Time and Chance into becoming like his creator - Nothing.

The End

Well, it's certainly the end if you're a materialist.

Behe on Dover

BeliefNet has an interview with Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe on the Dover verdict. Behe's not impressed:

What is your reaction to Judge Jones' decision in the Dover intelligent design case?

I'm very disappointed in it, because not only did he say that the school board was motivated by religious feelings, but he said that intelligent design itself is religious. And I simply disagree with that. It seems that he simply adopted all of the arguments of the plaintiffs and just dismissed out of hand the arguments of the witnesses for the defendants [the Dover Area School Board, which instituted the policy of reading a statement informing students of gaps in Darwin's theory of evolution and directing them to an intelligent design textbook titled "Of Pandas and People."] So, it's a drag.

Judge Jones says the motivation behind the school board's policy was primarily religious and so violated what is known as the Lemon test, arising from the 1971 Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman,-that the primary motivation for public policy decisions cannot be the promotion of a religious perspective.

I don't know what the motives of the Dover board were. I didn't listen to their testimony. But the question is, can ID be investigated solely because of interests other than religious ones? I think the answer is clearly yes. It's an explanation that immediately suggests itself when one learns about the complexity of life. And so does not necessarily arise from religious motivations.

You can find the rest of the interview at the above link.