Monday, August 29, 2016

The Grace Effect

by Larry Alex Taunton
254 pages / 2011

This is the story of an adoption, and also the answer to a question. As the author details, in a late-night conversation with the late Christopher Hitchens the atheist asked, in effect, "What has Christianity done for the world lately?"

He had, earlier in the evening, conceded that it was Christian thought that had led to many of the advances that set the West apart and above the rest of the world – science, human rights, humanitarian efforts, etc., all spurred by a Christian understanding of the world. But Hitchens also thought that Ancient Greeks had given us a lot...and now we had left them behind. So why shouldn't we do the same with Christianity? It is one thing to say Christianity did something for us in the past, but is that any reason to keep it now? Hitchens wanted to know how Christianity benefits the world today.

The answer Larry Alex Taunton gave him was an 11-year-old HIV-positive Ukrainian orphan named Sasha.

The majority of the book is an account of the overseas part of the adoption process that the Tauntons went through to bring Sasha into their family. There in the former socialist republic we see evidences all around of just what is wrought when an atheistic worldview holds sway for decades and decades. Officials and even judges have to be bribed – repeatedly – to do the duties that their salaries already pay them to do. Sasha's orphanage has no toilets, only holes in the ground, little oversight, and not nearly enough food. And yet the bureaucrats there make a show of being concerned whether the Tauntons are going to give Sasha her own room, and they forbid the Tauntons from feeding the starving girl any fast food!

Every step in the adoption process takes forever because no one can be counted on to just do their job. The primary motivator for each official they meet seems to be only their own self-interest - they just don't care about the many orphans, and speak of them as if they were somehow less than human.

In contrast the Tauntons come from the Christian West. As a society we are turning our back on God, but many vestiges of Christian influence remain. One example: while we have our bureaucrats too, bribery is the exception rather than rule. And many in our social services are motivated not by their wage but by the opportunity they have to do good. That might not be consistent with their secular faith, but a sort of Judeo-Christian ethical peer pressure persists, motivating people here to act better than they otherwise might. Doubt it? Then you have only to look at how people act where Christian influence has long since seized to be. Taunton paints a scary picture.

Cautions

I will note one caution specifically for Dutch Reformed readers. "The grace effect" that Taunton speaks of in the title is the civilizing, wealth-building, human-rights-respecting impact that Christianity has wherever it flourishes. In spots he also calls this "common grace," noting that it is undeserved (thus grace) and also extends to even unbelievers (thus common, as in, common to all) in countries that have a Christian heritage.

Some Reformed Christians have a problem with the term "common grace" noting that, unless someone turns to God, this "grace" only increases the unbelievers's guilt (because even after receiving all this he's still in rebellion). And, in turn, that will increase God's wrath against persistent unbeliever. Thus they think "grace" the wrong word to use here.

Conclusion

But let's not get hung up on the terminology and instead focus on the point that Taunton is trying to make. He want atheists to wonder why society is so much better off when Christians, rather than atheists, are in charge. Could it be that our Maker knows what's best for us, and His commands are for our best? If that's so (and it is) then a society that obeys Him in big ways or small, will do better than a society that does not.

And that is exactly what we see happening in the world around us. Even an atheist such as Hitchens wanted to live in the more Christian West, rather than in the atheistic East.

Christopher Hitchens didn't know what to make of the Taunton family's decision to adopt a special-needs child. He didn't get what they would go to that trouble for someone they didn't know, and to whom they had no obligations. Taunton's point was simple. This is just what Christians do, because this is what Christ has done for us. When we seek to be Christ-like, then the world around us benefits too.

So what has Christianity done for the world lately? Taunton says the contrast can be see at its clearest in how the West and East treat widows, orphans, the disabled and sick, and all of society's weakest and most vulnerable. This is a very engaging, and easy read. And at just over 200 pages, it is a pretty quick one too. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys non-fiction, apologetics, economics, or human interest stories. I think it would interest them all!

 To buy a copy of The Grace Effect at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Should Christians Approach Origins?

by John Byl and Tom Goss
42 pages / 2015

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that the authors put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate. In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:
  • the difference between historical and operation science
  • why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
  • why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
  • the basics of materialism and naturalism
  • what the various origins positions are
  • why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
  • how dating methods can be unreliable
  • what books would be good for further reading
And that isn’t even all of it!

This would be an ideal book to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. The small size means this is only an overview but you won’t find any better. And for those that want to continue on, the Resource pages in the back are a fantastic place to start. It lists two dozen of the best books on the various aspects of the origins debate. You can pick up a copy (or two or three – these would make a great give away) at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spectacular Sins - and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
by John Piper
121 pages / 2008

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the chief end of man "is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever," John Piper demonstrates that the glory of God (or, more specifically, of Christ) is the chief end of everything - even of evil.

Piper begins by telling us that sometimes "the bruised heart needs a tire iron" – more confrontation than comfort. In a time when the persecution of the church is beginning also in the West, His people need to hear more about God's sovereignty than His tenderness, because, as Piper puts it,  "wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians." To do that, Piper takes us through the most spectacular sins of history - not the Holocaust, not the fall of the World Trade Towers, but the sins of God's followers against Him. The word "spectacular" in the title is no mere accident. Piper demonstrate how each of these sins is a lens through which we see Christ's greatness all the more clearly.

The first sin is the rebellion of Satan. Though the Bible never explains why and how Satan fell, Scripture does make clear that even evil supernatural powers were created through and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Clearly, He did not make them evil, but He created beings who He knew would rebel against Him (just as we do) - so... why? Paul makes that clear to Timothy, an early example of at least a potential wimpy Christian. Paul reminds Timothy that God "saved us and called us to a holy calling... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (see 2 Timothy 1:8-12). It was within God's plan to use the evil intentions and actions of both demons and humans to make His grace available to His people.

Piper looks further at how God uses sin for His eternal purposes in looking at the sin of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the most horrific and spectacular sin of all, the crucifixion of the Son of God (especially the betrayal by His own disciple). In all these sins, God shows both His eternal foreknowledge of man's evil and His sovereign power to glorify His Son as the only Savior from sin. Every situation of great sin in the Bible (and in human history in general) only makes the glory of Christ shine that much greater.

Knowing that even our sins, and the sins of those who oppress us, are no surprise to God, but serve His purpose to glorify our Savior,
  • takes us from a wimpy worldview to a weighty one;
  • enhances our delight in the work of God; and
  • moves us to a life of confident service to a God who is both tender and sovereign ("able and willing").
You can buy a paperback copy of John Piper's Spectacular Sins at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here, or you can download a pdf copy for free by visiting here (see the download button on the left).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Undeniable

How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed
by Douglas Axe
274 pages / 2016

There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among these second sort, Douglas Axe's Undeniable is special – he wants us to understand that evolution is not only wrong, but hopelessly inadequate.

His is a hard book to sum up. There's a reason Axe presents his argument over 274 pages – he needs that space to address and answer the many objections critics have raised up against the idea of an Intelligent Designer. So maybe the best way to sum it up is to share with you some key quotes.

On intuition

Let's begin with what Axe means when he says we intuitively disbelief the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
"By elementary-school age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists." 
But it isn't just children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
"Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature."
Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.

Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well made creation is. It's hard to avoid the reality that all these creatures we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete.  When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.

This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
"The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years."
On why evolution is a non-starter

There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
"Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."
It's no different today:
"[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: 'Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.'" 
As Axe puts it,
"What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?"
On what evolution lacks

Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
"The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did."
Evolution isn't living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
"Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind 'We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.'"
Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme's efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler."

So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
"Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how....What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident." 
On why there is no reason to think evolution can do wonders

Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.
"Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection."
This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."
"The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls." 
Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments.

So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. This is ridiculous!

Evolutionists point to time as their theory's saviour - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?

But this is only another example of why a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." So even if we grant time and countless trials we still know inventiveness - especially on the scale of living things! - isn't going to happen. Inventions aren't created by accident.
"The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself."
Conclusion

This is one of those pivotal books that's going to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Douglas Axe wants us to understand that not only is evolution not true, it is so obviously so that even a child can see through it. Axe is a Christian, which comes out clearly in the conclusion to the book. He is not a creationist, but rather an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent, but unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. And while he is not a creationist, creationists can embrace the whole of his book. His argument is that biology blows up evolution, and he simply doesn't touch on the biblical stance on our origins.

Axe has set out to show that believing in creation by a brilliant Creator is a matter of common sense. And because he's trying to reach the non-scientist there are only a few places where the science requires some tough slogging. But once I got through them the rest of the book was an easy and thrilling read. Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how mainstream science might ridicule those who don't believe in evolution, we are on solid scientific ground.

You can pick up a copy of Undeniable at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here.