Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Reasonable Faith in Science?

One of my favorite things I get to do as an apologist is answer questions on behalf of Reasonable Faith. I recently received a question that I've been thinking about in greater detail since I answered it. The person was wondering if it is reasonable to have faith in science as opposed to God because science has such a strong track record of answering our questions. This is a great question because the person recognized that belief in science still requires faith and that there is knowledge outside of science, therefore, he avoided the trap of scientism.

The careful wording of this question allowed me to answer very affirmatively. Christians have nothing to fear from science, even when a person is talking about whether it is reasonable to put their faith in it. Yes, it is reasonable to put faith in science and to be honest, more people should probably put more faith in it. The only caveat is that we must recognize what it is reasonable to believe that science can do.

The Trajectory of Science
If you grew up before the 90s, you surely remember all the great technological advances we were supposed to have by the year 2000 that never came, the most memorable being flying cars. Maybe the timing was just off and we'll have all the great things we thought we would have, but it will just take a bit longer. I actually think this is likely. Just because we thought we could solve problems quickly doesn't mean we will never solve them. The technology that will exist 100 years from now will be astounding by current standards. Even with all the scientific advances that are all but certain to come, what will science actually tell us about God, or more specifically, will it fill in gaps in our knowledge so that we don't need God as a Creator and Designer of the universe?

In a Time magazine article in 1966, famed atheist astronomer Carl Sagan said that the only thing necessary for life to begin was for a planet to exist that is the right distance from the right type of star. Since then, scientists have discovered hundreds of factors that must be finely tuned for life to exist. The ministry Reasons to Believe has a list of them here.

Over the last two hundred years, the more we learn about life such as the complexity of the cell, DNA, etc., the more apparent it becomes that this universe and the living things in it could not have developed by chance. The foundation of the question was based on what science has done in the past, so to be consistent, we should then expect that future scientific discoveries to show it is even less likely than currently thought for life to begin by random chance.

If the question specifically referred to faith in scientific naturalism, the belief that there are only natural forces, to provide naturalistic answers tp natural theology, then this too would be unfounded. Scientific naturalism has no greater explanatory power or better results than when scientists assume God exists. Taking it a step further, truly putting faith in science would mean following biblical moral guidelines, including those on sex and abortion, since that is what the science shows is best for human flourishing.

Science for Salvation?
Setting this aside, the most important thing to keep in mind is what it means to have faith in Jesus or science. No matter what technological and scientific discoveries are made, we will die. Even if we could upload our consciousness, and for the sake of argument, our soul (if you think they are separate things), into a computer and live for billions of years, but eventually, entropy will rip it apart. Then what? Ten billion years may seem like a lot, but compared to eternity, it's nothing.

The Bible is clear that salvation comes from Jesus only (John 3:18, 8:24). If we put our faith in science, what do we get? Nothing. There's no benefit to trusting in science at the expense of trusting in Christ. We still die and face the consequences of our sins. If we put our faith in Christ, we are forgiven and spend eternity in paradise. Faith in Christ is obviously the better choice, but only if it's true. The scientific revolution has only increased our knowledge of the world and yet the probability that life could exist and evolve continues to shrink to incredulously small numbers. If scientific discoveries were making it easier to explain life, I would say it is reasonable to put faith in science over God, but science is moving in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Talking to Strangers Review

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book because Malcolm Gladwell is such a great conversationalist and writer that I was sure what he had to say about talking to strangers would be great for evangelism and apologetics. I was expecting this book similar to How to Win Friends and Influence People, but it's not. Rather than giving simple advice on how to communicate with others, the book discusses the deeper issue of how we understand (or don't understand) other people. The book is not what I expected it to be, and thank goodness for that because it is even better.

Gladwell is an excellent storyteller and he uses those stories to make his case. His ability to do that is unmatched and all but guaranteed this book would be enjoyable to read. However, this book had an edge to it that was not present in his other books, which only made it better. I was so captivated by this book that I finished it in about 36 hours. Not only did he tell great stories about interesting topics, but he describes what happened behind the curtain of very well known true events such as the Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, and Larry Nassar cases; Neville Chamberlain's meetings with Hitler; enhanced interrogation techniques; the suicide of Sylvia Plath; and more.

We live in a complicated world and our minds cannot make sense of all the data, so we simplify things. We ignore or don't pay attention to details and make assumptions about others. This book smacks that mentality in the face by revealing the complexities in our interactions with others. I loved it for that. It's reminiscent of the Freakonomics books in that way. A more apt title might have been How NOT to Talk to Strangers because primarily tells us what not to do when talking to others. The book gives a glimpse into how our minds work and it demolishes the stereotypes that cause friction when we talk to others.

While this book is interesting and informative in a broad sense, it's most direct application relates to racial relations and prejudice. Gladwell moves beyond finger-pointing and name-calling to get to the deeper issues that create tension in our society. Recently I've seen a lot of book recommendations to help people understand what is happening in our country regarding race. I can't comment on those other books, but I can say as a social scientist, that this book is excellent and I don't know of another one I would recommend before this one to understand discrimination.

I recommend this book to everyone age 15 above (although it may be a little graphic for some 15-year-olds when discussing rape trials). It's a great book to help people understand people better so that we can all be more understanding and patient with others, kinder to them, and more effective when we communicate. On top of these potential benefits, it's a very enjoyable book to read.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

12 Rules for Life Book Review

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jordan Peterson came to fame rather suddenly a few years ago because of a political controversy, but he's more than just a pop-sensation. He's a legitimate clinical psychologist who understands human beings better than the typical therapist. The book was helpful for me in understanding humans, including my own kids. It was filled with good recommendations for personal well-being, parenting, marriage, and other areas of life.

The book itself is written in Peterson's trademark manner. It's direct and to the point, but also sensitive and thoughtful. At times, it is a little bit of an over-the-top brain dump of seemingly unorganized thoughts, which is ironic since the subtitle is "An Antidote to Chaos." Despite this, I was still able to follow along by listening to it on Audible at an increased speed.

Content aside, the book was simply enjoyable to listen to. Peterson is a great storyteller and he can effectively weave together many trains of thought into one. I was interested in what was being said at every moment of the book and thought about re-reading it immediately after I finished it.

The content of the book was also informative and interesting. I think many of my Christian friends might not appreciate Peterson's continual mentioning of evolution, but I don't think it hurts the case he makes in his book. When he says millions of years of evolution have shaped people to behave a certain way, the same conclusion, and perhaps even a more powerful one will be reached by assuming humans have been designed by God to behave a certain way. Similarly, he often understands the Bible or other religious texts metaphorically, which might cause some people to be dismissive, but this is unnecessary. A true historical event, especially one orchestrated by God, can also be true in a metaphorical sense, so there isn't really any conflict to be had.

The conclusions and recommendations by Peterson all seem to be supported by psychological science. Even though psychology is my field of study, I'm not necessarily an expert on all that is in the book. I did not find myself disagreeing with any of the main points of the book based on scientific evidence. Where Peterson might get into trouble, at least with some people, is his willingness to draw conclusions beyond the science. Personally, I appreciated this because he shows a deep and rigorous philosophical thought. Scientists, at least psychologists, are often unwilling to delve into philosophy for fear of drawing conclusions that are not empirical, but by doing so, they handicap themselves. Peterson's willingness to do this, and do it well, was a breath of fresh air.

As for the personal growth aspect of this book, I think it could be very helpful for some people. I think most people will think the book is enjoyable to read even if they don't get huge personal benefits from reading it. For some, however, I think this book could be life-changing for them, or at least, it could be very helpful in their lives. I would only recommend that people who want to read to book for personal growth, actually read the book instead of listening to it. If they do listen to it, don't speed it up extremely fast and pause it to reflect often, maybe at the end of each chapter. I blew through this book very quickly on audio, and it was helpful, but it would have been even more so if I stopped to reflect and understand things better. This is why I said I thought about listening a second time, which I am still considering.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to everyone. I think there's something in there for everyone. Even though the book is not Christian or religious, it fits with a Christian worldview and a non-Christian worldview.

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Logic's End: An Apologetics Fiction Book Review

Logic's End Logic's End by Keith A. Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an apologetics fiction book and I was super excited to read it, but at the same time, I didn't have very high expectations. Overall, I'm a bit torn on my thoughts about this book because there was such a range of good and not-so-good aspects of it.

To begin with the good, the attempt to even try to write a sci-fi book that attempts to make a rational case for the existence of God is wonderful. I love the fact that this book, and others like it, even exist. The book recommended other apologetics fiction books at the end, along with other apologetics resources, and I will certainly read more of these books.

Additionally, the book was pretty well written. I never stopped to admire the writing, but at the same time, it never caused me to stop and shake my head due to poor writing. Along with this, I enjoyed the story for almost the entire time. The first chapter and maybe even the second (I don't remember) was a little slow, but at the same time, that's almost a necessity and is to be expected.

What I didn't like about the book was the over-the-top attempts at making the case for God (or more specifically, against evolution) and the ending. If you're going to write a fiction book to make an argument, part of the whole point is to do it somewhat subtly and in a way that will prevent critical readers from putting up defensive barriers. I think that most intelligent skeptics who read this book would be just as defensive as reading any other Christian book.

The other part was the ending. It was very abrupt and too simplistic. Perhaps this will make more sense as being a good choice upon reading the next two books in the series, but as of now, I'm not sure I want to read the next books. It seems like the emotional turmoil I felt while reading and the connection with the characters was all for naught, and I'm not sure if I want to spend my time going through that to be equally disappointed. I may vet the next book beforehand, to see if it might redeem those feelings (the door was left open so this is possible), before I read the next one.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. I wouldn't give this book to a skeptic and hope it will convince them. I also wouldn't give it to anyone who accepts evolution (Christian or otherwise) and has any formal college level or above training in the sciences. While the author is able to mount a decent case against evolution, I don't think it would stand up to the strict scrutiny of someone who's knowledgeable about evolution. I think the best demographic for this book would be Christians who do not accept evolution and for most high school or junior high students.

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