It Would Be So Much Easier to “Believe the Science” If We Could Trust the Scientists

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During this Corona Virus crisis those who have questioned the conclusions of scientists and the decrees of politicians have often been depicted as “science deniers,” a term most often assigned to anyone who questions the accepted pronouncements of climate change. As with climate change, however, the reason many people question or disbelieve the edicts from those at the top is simply that they don’t find the people making them to be trustworthy. Too many examples abound of scientists and politicians who are mistaken, revealed to have an agenda, or who act hypocritically.

There are some obvious violations of trust, such as “Dr. Lockdown” in the UK, Neil Ferguson, who was the architect behind the shutdown and social distancing there, discovered not to be social distancing from the married woman with whom he had a sexual tryst last week. Or the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who got a haircut last week, despite the fact that barbershops and salons remained closed under stay-at-home state mandates. While seemingly minor offenses, they go to show that sometimes authorities that enforce restrictions on others feel they themselves are above the law. This certainly does not encourage trust in the “experts.”

Less nefarious, but more to the point, scientists and doctors are sometimes wrong. Notice how the protocols for ventilator use have changed. Previously the experts said to use ventilators “this way.” Now many are saying to use them “that way,” or not at all in many cases. The shortage of ventilators has now become a glut. This is one of the problems with “trust the science.” Either the doctors were right in their first use of ventilators or they were wrong. If they were wrong, then they should not have been believed. If they were right at first, they need to explain now why the protocols have changed. The same is true of the use of face masks.

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The very nature of science is one of ever-changing conclusions, as old “settled facts” are refined, revised, or overturned. In addition, scientists disagree among themselves, so that science does not speak with one unified voice in regard to many practical applications. This has become obvious in the home-made videos of doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis challenging the protocols they believed were killing patients. Scientific data has to be interpreted and two scientists can agree to the facts yet disagree on the interpretation of those facts.

When we factor in experts with a vested interest in certain conclusions, our skepticism about “always believing the experts” proves wise. Over 50 years ago Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutionsexposed the illusion that science is a completely neutral venture. Science has to be funded and often comes with an agenda, scientists sometimes seek to enhance their careers at any cost, and sometimes they are simply wrong in their conclusions. As an example, Neil Ferguson predicted in 2005 that up to 200 million people could die of the bird flu. In reality, in the years before and after that prediction only a few hundred people died of the bird flu.

This is not an anti-science piece. It is rather a warning against scientism, the belief that science is the only path to knowledge because the material world is all that exists, and only science is equipped to discover knowledge of the material world. Scientism breeds a naivete and credulity about scientific authorities that is unhealthy because it is uncritical. Yes, science should be believed when it stays in its lane and recognizes its limitations, but when it seems less than objective and its purveyors stand to benefit from its conclusions, we the people ought to challenge the pronouncements of science and the resulting fiats from politicians until they can actually prove them to be true and necessary for the common good.

What the Book of Revelation Says about the Economic Crisis

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Did anyone imagine a few months ago that most of the world would essentially shut down its economic engines in so short a time? The economic effects of the Coronavirus are yet to be seen, but the biblical book of Revelation does predict a global economic disaster shortly before the end of this age.

Revelation 17-18 describe the fall and total ruin of “Babylon.” At various times in church history Babylon has been interpreted differently. In the first century many Jews and Christians considered Rome to be Babylon because it destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D. and resembled ancient Babylon in its love for its own glory and power (1 Pet. 5:13). This would make the emperor the antichrist, an easy identification considering Roman citizens were often required to offer an annual sacrifice of incense and declare that “Caesar is Lord.”

During the Reformation the pope was considered the antichrist by many reformers, making the Roman Catholic Church the Babylon of the 16th century. Fast forward to 1990 and Saddam Hussein, who tried to reconstruct the ancient ruins of Babylon by building what art historians called a “Disney for despots.” For a few months, prophecy wonks declared this the predicted end-times rebuilding of Babylon in a literal sense and Hussein the obvious antichrist. Pictures of the majority of Babylon still in ruins and the capture of Hussein hiding in a hole ended that chatter quickly.

A far more plausible understanding of Babylon in these chapters is that it symbolizes “the prevailing economic-religious system in alliance with the state and its related authorities and existing throughout the ages.” (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 850). That is, Babylon stands for the seductive power of economic prosperity and the system that empowers it, which is political, economic, and religious in nature. Therefore, Babylon has manifested itself in various kingdoms and empires throughout the ages.

What Babylon does is seduce us into trusting in and loving economic prosperity in a way we should only trust in and love God. Possessions, wealth, and economic prosperity are not wrong in themselves, but they become idolatrous so easily that Paul warned that the love of wealth, power, sex, prestige, opportunity, and comfort (the things money can buy) is the source of all kinds of evil in the world.

Revelation 17-18 predicts the total collapse of this world economic system shortly before Jesus returns. Chapter 18 describes the universal mourning that will take place because of the loss of all the material possessions brought to us by the system. It will be a total collapse. There will be no restocking of shelves, no supply chain, and no hope that it will ever be restored. The fall of Babylon is the prelude to the return of the Son of God in judgment.

Does this mean that the present crisis is the fulfillment of the fall of Babylon? Not necessarily, although time will tell. In that case unbelievers are called to repent and believe in Jesus before it is too late. The present crisis does show us how easily that which we take for granted and think is unshakable and will always be progressing to greater delights can be taken down in a few short weeks.

This is a call for believers to repent of our greater love for God’s good gifts than for God himself. It is a call for us to forsake our hope that a bigger and better house, car, savings account, wardrobe, vacation, or 401K will make everything perfect. How easily God is left out of such plans. The problem is not the items. The problem is our love for them, our dedication to them to the neglect of God and Christian service, our hope found in them such that if they fail to materialize, we are devastated.

The book of Revelation was written to predict the end of history, but also to encourage Christians to faithfulness now. In Revelation 14:12 John writes, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” We may see the collapse of the global economic system in our time, but even if we do not, it is coming. It is time to purge ourselves of love for that which will fade, rust, and fall. It is time to turn our attention to knowing God, longing for the return of Christ, and boldly sharing the hope of Christ in a confused, terrified, and spiritually blind world.

Social Disorder Is Often the Occasion for God’s Reformation of the Church

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The Cornona virus has brought social disruption on the scale only rivaled by wars and terrorist attacks. It can be for Christians a great temptation to panic and retreat from society, and to circle the wagons to wait out the attack so we can get back to our normal, comfortable way of life and church.

Theologian David Wells, however, calls us to see if God might be doing some house cleaning in the American evangelical church through social upheaval:

It is, perhaps, one of the oddities of God’s providence that reformation in the church’s life, of which the evangelical world surely stands in need, has often been abetted, if not triggered, by social disorder. Before God rebuilds, he often pulls down and plucks up. Unhealthy habits of mind and injurious patterns of life that might have been in the making for long periods of time are often more easily swept away by social chaos than by a preacher’s appeal to conscience.

It was so with unhappy regularity throughout the Old Testament, and it seems to have been so throughout the life of the Church. The moments of deep transformation, such as those that occurred at the time of the Reformation, also seem to happen at times of great upheaval in society.

I believe that we are now living in such times, and though I see many of the omens that would portend a very troubled future and perhaps the disintegration of Western civilization, this is also a moment when, in God’s mercy and providence, the Church could be deeply transformed for good–provided that, unlike the frog, it knows how to jump out of the pot.

David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1993), 91.

Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism in Your Church

Is evangelism a part of the DNA of your church? Is it assumed that every member is consistently starting and continuing gospel conversations with their unbelieving neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, and classmates? Is equipping for this practice woven into everything that comes from the pulpit? Are there testimonies about witnessing opportunities regularly featured during Sunday morning worship?

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All these things are necessary aspects of a church with a culture of evangelism. Frankly, if these and other habits are not present in your church I can almost guarantee that evangelism is not part of the culture. And yet it absolutely is what was intended when the Great Commission was given.

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A very good article appeared this week on the 9Marks website: “Building a Culture of Evangelism Takes Time, So Be Patient and Get Busy.” Here is an excerpt:

In most churches, the role of the church in evangelism is largely reduced to programs. Local churches create programs or events in order to share the gospel with the surrounding community. Unfortunately, such programs tend to displace the more important work of cultivating a culture of evangelism. They tend to divert members’ attention away from cultivating friendships with unbelievers and toward propping up a program—particularly, event-driven programs. (Watch The Gospel Blimp film for an older, slightly cheeky illustration of this tendency.) The result is as surprising as it is unintended: a church full of busy Christians who simply have no time for non-Christians.

This is an excellent read and well worth the time of any pastor or evangelistically minded member. I might also add my own short guide to cultivating a culture of evangelism and apologetics in the church.

4 Easy Ways to Start Gospel Conversations with Health Care Providers

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The hardest part of a gospel conversation for me is the transition from small talk or general conversation to spiritual matters. Once the conversation gets spiritual, I feel comfortable. I have known people with the opposite skills. Some make the transition seem easy, but then stumble and fumble when the objections to Christianity come.

As I have been going through my battle with cancer over the last six months, I have felt burdened about the doctors, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and patient assistants that I have encountered. I have felt moments of defeat when I could not think of any way to naturally turn conversations to spiritual matters. I have also experienced opened doors through a few simple questions that encouraged surprising conversations. You can read more about the power of questions in my book, Every Believer Confident: Apologetics for the Ordinary Christian.

#1 Ask, “How Has Suffering Affected Your Beliefs?”

If you are talking to a Health Care Provider (HCP) who sees suffering up close, you can ask a question like, “Has your experience caring for suffering people moved you toward a belief in God or away from belief in God?” Now, not all HCP see suffering up close. Others, however, see it every day. My daughter is an ICU nurse and sees intense suffering every shift. I have found, however, that even those HCP who do not see suffering up close can be challenged with this question. I asked a top oncologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania this question, and he admitted he had never really thought about it. However, the question sparked a fruitful conversation about spiritual matters for ten minutes.

#2 Ask, “How Can I Pray for You?”

You can ask, “How can I pray for you while I am laying here in this hospital bed?” My mother-in-law suggested this one and I have found it is a good, non-threatening way to bring up spiritual issues when you don’t know what else to say. Some surprising conversations can arise from this simple question.

#3 Bring a Book with an Interesting Title

Bring a book with you that has a provocative title. Most HCP are used to seeing patients glued to their phones, so I have found many will ask me what I am reading if I carry a book. Some of the books I have brought with me were The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Replacement Parts: The Ethics of Procuring and Replacing Organs in Humans, and Gospel Wakefulness. When people ask me what I am reading I try to explain in enough detail with an eye to making them curious. This indirect method allows you to talk about the book and not yourself. The title of a book I was reading sparked a great conversation with three nurses at once during one of my chemotherapy infusions.

#4 Bring Something to Give Away

Bring a little Gospel of John to give away. Another oncologist I see is from a foreign country, so asked her if she was atheist or Orthodox (the two major religions in her home country). She surprised me by telling me that she was Catholic, and that opened the door for more discussion on what she believed. Just then her assistant came to ask her a question about the next patient. So, I quickly pulled a small Gospel of John from my pocket and asked her if she would be willing to read it. She seemed very happy and promised to read it. I also leave them in waiting rooms.

Conclusion: Confidence in the Gospel

You may have additional ideas of how to share the gospel with HCP. I would love to hear them. One thing we must keep in mind: we cannot know until we broach the subject how a HCP will respond to our attempts. Satan loves when we prejudge that someone will respond negatively if we start a gospel conversation. We must have confidence in the gospel and its power, regardless of how we think someone may respond.

One of the most surprising experiences I have had with these attempts was with a Physician Assistant that initially showed no interest in spiritual matters. I moved back into conversation about my health, but before the appointment was over, I asked her why she didn’t have much interest in spiritual matters. Was it her studies in science and medicine or her exposure to so much suffering that moved her away from any specific belief in God? She suddenly opened up and the conversation became friendly and fruitful.

You may be the best person to reach your HCP. Don’t let their education or expertise intimidate you. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!

God Interferes in Our Free Will, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.

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Jared Wilson exposes the myth so many Christians believe that God has limited himself and his power in order to respect the complete exercise of our freedom (or free will) to choose him or not:

“One of the chief ways we distort the biblical picture of God’s love is when we presuppose, as many Christians do, that love demands freedom. Where we get this notion, I do not know, but it is not in the Bible. In fact, we find in the Bible quite the opposite: the love of God violates human freedoms constantly and consistently. If there’s one thing any biblical figure can count on, besides that God loves him, it is that he is not in control of his own destiny…

“If my daughter is unaware of the Mack truck bearing down on her, or if she is aware that putting her finger in a light socket will electrocute her but she wants to do it anyway, do I love her if I am able to intervene but defer to her freedom? Or am I a loving  father to tackle her out of the truck’s way, to slap her hand away from the socket?”- Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, 26.

As I often say to my students, it all sounds good until you open your Bible.

Christians, Don’t Let Atheists Misuse Science Against Christianity

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Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

My original title for this post was going to be “Three Reasons Why Darwinian Evolution Is So Universally Accepted, and Three Reasons Why It Is Beginning to Crumble.” But you probably wouldn’t have clicked on it to read it.

For many Christians seeking to defend their faith, the question of science’s commitment to evolution over the Christian explanation of creation presents one of the biggest challenges. For anyone without a scientific background, trying to answer scientific objections can be intimidating and overwhelming. The intent of this article is to show you why Darwinian evolution is so fiercely protected in the scientific community, and why the commitment to Darwin’s version of evolution is losing support in the scientific community.

Why is it that among the intellectual elite, evolution is the predominant view of the origin and development of our universe, specifically biological life, and even more specifically, human development and progress? There are at least three reasons for this near-universal acceptance in the sciences and three reasons why it is beginning to crumble in the sciences and among the masses of the world.

  1. Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection can seemingly explain so much. That is, Darwin imbued his theory with the ability to explain almost every phenomenon in our world by long periods of time, chance, and a mystical power called natural selection. Add to that our understanding of genetics and DNA, and Neo-Darwinism, as it is called, claims to explain even more.
  2. In order for science to be possible, the world and everything in it has to be reliable, repeatable, and predictable. Darwin’s theory displaced the idea of a personal Creator with the impersonal force of natural selection, which until recently, could conceivably account for the stability of the world (at least enough to do science).
  3. Although few scientists and philosophers want to admit this, Darwinism allows them to ignore the question of God in the origin and development of the world, especially human progress. If you think this is biased, a growing chorus of these revered experts are admitting just that. Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University has written that, “The priority given to evolutionary naturalism in the face of its implausible conclusions about other subjects is due, I think, to the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism…” (Mind and Cosmos, 29). In other words, we must continue to accept that there is nothing but the physical universe or else we have to consider the God question, and we certainly can’t do that. This reminds me of Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin who said that we have to start with naturalism despite all its absurdities because, “we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review (Jan. 9, 1997), 31).

These three points seem unassailable in higher education, the sciences, and in any appeal to the relationship between science and faith. Any other theory to explain our universe is vigorously opposed in schools and the public square. Yet, Neo-Darwinism is a minority belief in places of the world where religion is strongest, especially Christianity. And for good reason, too.

  1. As science progresses in the 21st century, it is becoming apparent to more and more top scientific minds that natural selection and DNA are making the Darwinian consensus unbelievable. As just one example, natural selection is finally being exposed to be the magic show that it is (as C. S. Lewis called it). The further into the depths of genetic mutations we go, the more it is becoming obvious that the statistical chances of functional mutations are abysmally low. Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt,demonstrates that the chances of a mutation resulting in just one new functioning protein fold in the DNA needed to produce a new species from an existing one (macroevolution) is somewhere in the range of 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Not good odds at the casino, but enough apparently for evolutionists. Genetics is just one of the dozens of scientific realities that reveals that Darwinian evolution fails scrutiny. The more we learn about our world in detail, evolution is simply not plausible.
  2. The question of unavoidable design in the universe that arises out of these studies is becoming hard to ignore. The complexity of our world screams the intricate intentionality of biological, chemical, and cosmological systems that make life on this earth possible. Richard Dawkins admits that the world seems designed. Thomas Nagel tries to find some answer for an intelligence in the universe because of the undeniability of human consciousness, while yet stopping short of God. They and others are like them live in denial of the divine, just as Romans 1 describes. The obvious alternative is that a personal, loving, all-powerful Creator made the universe, and especially human beings in his image, to inhabit this world. The results of the fall explain the equally powerful testimony of natural brokenness and human depravity.
  3. The real issue is the white-knuckled determination of secularists in science and philosophy to not allow the Divine Foot in the door. “Anything but God” seems to be the motto. All the while, they seek to conjure a twisted morality out of thin air and cobble together explanations about human behavior through “evolutionary biology,” which even a secularist like Thomas Nagel calls speculation, guesswork, bare assertion, and incomplete (Mind and Cosmos, 43). The root of the problem is a willful rejection of the triune, biblical God who created the world for a purpose and who has revealed himself clearly in his Word and his Son. Modern science began with the conviction of a personal Creator in the 17th century, but now tries to continue without the foundation. To borrow C. S. Lewis’ metaphor in The Abolition of Man about doing away with character and then demanding virtue, we have rejected the rock of truth and then demanded our secular Styrofoam foundations hold up the edifice. This is why the average person in many places around the world does not buy the naturalistic, Neo-Darwinian explanation of all things. He lives in the real world that is much more than biology and knows intuitively that there is a greater explanation than mere mechanics. As Oxford professor John Lennox reminds us, understanding the assembly line and the internal combustion engine does not preclude the need for a Henry Ford to explain the Model T.

In short, the consensus about the Neo-Darwinian explanation of the universe is beginning to crumble, as evidenced by the subtitle of Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Yet the scientific community is still by and large committed to it for now. And the vast majority who cling to it do so with outmoded and long-rejected 20th century ideas. Christians can have confidence that the biblical description of our Creator and his work, the fall and its consequent curse, and the redemption found through Christ are rooted in reality and truth. The message of the gospel can overcome the delusion of a universe that came from nowhere and evolved by time and chance in an unguided process going nowhere and for no purpose.

Don’t Knock Systematic Theology

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Biblical theology is all the rage, especially among young, reformed-ish types. In contrast to the perceived stuffiness of systematic theology (or so they’ve heard), biblical theology provides a storyline that delights with previously unnoticed insights.

This is not to knock biblical theology.  It is an important tool in the theological bucket, and my own understanding of Scripture has been greatly expanded with the help of biblical theology. Some, however, have seemingly abandoned any interest in systematic theology, thinking that it is merely a man-made construct of the modern era that kills the liveliness of Scripture. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Carl Trueman, one of my go-to thinkers, writes this important piece that summarizes the mutual importance of both biblical and systematic theology:

If the danger with Systematic Theology is that it can so emphasize conceptual unities that it misses the particularities of the biblical text, then the danger with Biblical Theology is that it so emphasizes the particularities that it misses those underlying unities. The answer to missing the trees for the wood is not to miss the wood for the trees. 

You will want to read the whole article. It is well worth it for anyone who loves the Scriptures and wants to continue to grow in the thorough knowledge of God’s eternal, redemptive work.