April 12, 2017

Easter?

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 13, 2017

Easter?

Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Christian “gospel” or good news is that God loves us and has defeated death.

God (God the Son) became a human being in the man Jesus. By suffering and dying on a cross, Jesus took our punishment for sin onto Himself. Then God (the Father) raised Jesus from the grave (tomb).

Jesus’ return to life in the same body but somehow wonderfully renewed is a sign that grounds this good news in reality.

By faith in Jesus—i.e., by believing Jesus' resurrection occurred plus trusting in and submitting to Jesus as Lord—we receive forgiveness and (with help from God the Holy Spirit) we become new creations who learn to love truly and have hope of eternal life.

It's an interesting story. But is it true? Did Jesus actually resurrect?

In the little book Finding the Real Jesus: A Guide for Curious Christians and Skeptical Seekers, investigative journalist and former atheist Lee Strobel argues that Jesus really did resurrect.
(Significantly, Strobel's conversion story has just been released as a movie, named after one of his several other books: The Case For Christ.)

Strobel first dismantles some popular claims that purport to cast doubt on the Jesus described by the New Testament (e.g., claims from the Qur’an that Jesus wasn’t killed, claims from the scholar Bart Ehrman that the New Testament can’t be trusted, claims from others that the later Gnostic gospels are more reliable than the New Testament).

Ably sweeping away the skeptical confusion, Strobel then sets out a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection, a case that consists of (at least) five facts.

Fact 1: Jesus was killed by crucifixion.

Fact 2: Within days of Jesus’ death, Jesus’ disciples believed that He physically rose and appeared to them.

Fact 3: Paul, a former foe of the early church, claimed he saw the resurrected Jesus.

Fact 4: The skeptic James (Jesus’ half-brother) believed Jesus resurrected.

Fact 5: Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Strobel points out that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, whether skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection or not, concede the historicity of these facts.

Also, Strobel defends each of the above historical facts, emphasizing that the witnesses not only suffered immensely for the alleged truth of their belief but also knew, because they claimed to be eye witnesses, whether their belief was true or not.

Significantly, this makes them unlike the general religious person (or religious fanatic) who might suffer and die for his/her belief but doesn’t know first-hand whether his/her belief is true. Rather, the witnesses knew the truth of their resurrection claim, and they were willing to give up physical comfort and suffer immensely to proclaim Jesus’ actual resurrection.

Strobel’s conclusion: the best explanation of the evidence is Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.

I think Strobel is right.

Because of what we know about dead bodies (e.g., irreversible cell death and decay), a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused.

Also, in view of the general evidence suggesting God’s existence (see Strobel's book The Case for a Creator), and in view of Jesus’ self-understanding as God, this means that a God-caused resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation.

(Asserting prior to investigation that Jesus' resurrection is impossible or improbable assumes there is no God who sometimes does miracles. But this assumption is at issue. Thinking otherwise commits the question-begging fallacy, the mistake of assuming as established what is at issue.)

Moreover, the witnesses’ declarations concerning Jesus’ resurrection should be taken seriously. As New York Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed points out (in a different case), “Declarations against interest are regarded as having a high degree of credibility because of the presumption that people do not make up lies in order to hurt themselves; they lie to help themselves.”

All this counts in favour of taking the resurrection reports handed down to us via the historical facts as truthful.

The result: Jesus’ miraculous—i.e. God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by, plus makes good sense of, the historical evidence.

Happy Easter!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further reading:

March 29, 2017

False dichotomies in public discourse

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 30, 2017

False dichotomies in public discourse

Sometimes there are only two alternatives, but sometimes not.

The false dichotomy fallacy (a.k.a. false alternatives fallacy) is a mistake in reasoning which occurs when we assume that there are only two options, when there are actually three (or more), yet we go on to assume that one of the two options must be the way to go.

Let’s say I tell you everything is either black or white. This is a false dichotomy. Why? Because the truth is that there are shades of grey (apparently at least 50!) as well as shades of red, orange, green, etc.

The false dichotomy fallacy is prevalent in much of today's public discourse.

Here are some examples I've noticed in newspapers, Facebook, etc.

Either you affirm LGBTQ ideology or you are homo/ transphobic, so you should affirm LGBTQ ideology.  Missing third option: be genuinely hospitable and respectful to those who identify as LGBTQ (etc.) AND hold to the wisdom of reserving sex between one man and one woman in permanent monogamous marriage.

Either people suffer a terrible death without dignity or you should support physician-assisted suicide, so support physician-assisted suicide. Missing third option: offer better palliative and hospice care to everyone so nobody suffers a terrible death without dignity.

Added bonus: security of vulnerable persons is protected and promoted.

Either you bring an unwanted child into the world or you should abort the child, so support abortion choice. Missing third option: instead of supporting the choice to kill the baby, help mothers in their pregnancy plus find people who will adopt and care for the “unwanted” child.

Added bonus: we create a culture in which social problems require social solutions, not killing.

Either use In Vitro Fertilization's leftover frozen human embryos (human beings) for research (which kills them) or throw them out with the garbage (which also kills them), so use them for research instead of wasting them. Missing third option: let the embryos be adopted and implanted by parents who want them. Yes, there is an adoption agency for this!

(For further thought: maybe we shouldn't even make human beings in a Petri dish in the first place, since successful IVF usually requires the making and probable destruction of “leftovers.”)

Either we open borders to illegal immigrants or we are racist (etc.), so welcome everyone. Missing third option: welcome immigrants, yes, but maintain the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants to discourage queue-jumping by illegal immigrants.

Either we have personal, subjective knowledge of God or we have intellectual, evidence-based knowledge of God, so we should seek only subjective knowledge—after all, in our feeling-based culture, “spirituality” is the way to go. Missing third option (if God exists in fact): know God by using not just the heart but also the mind. Such knowing involves subjective knowing coupled with—and checked by—knowledge of objective evidence, logic, and truth.

Added bonus: this helps us avoid self-delusions or delusions by other deceiving spirits.

False dichotomies—don't be deceived by them!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

March 16, 2017

Islam and Christianity

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 16, 2017

Islam and Christianity

What follows are some of my thoughts about Islam and Christianity.

Before I begin, please know this: Vandalizing Mosques or otherwise treating Muslims with hatred and disrespect is wrong, period.

But know this, too: Thinking carefully about Islam is NOT Islamophobia. One can have non-phobic, reasonable concerns.

Let's proceed.

The focus of Islam is the Qur'an and Muhammad. Muhammad, according to the Qur'an, is the “seal of the prophets,” i.e., Muhammad is God's latest and greatest prophet. He calls us to submit to God and His Messenger (Muhammad).

According to the Qur'an, Jesus is to be respected. But, although born of a virgin and doer of miracles, Jesus is merely a prophet. Jesus is not God in human flesh, contrary to the New Testament.

According to the Qur'an, and contrary to the New Testament, Jesus didn't die on the cross (somebody else did) and Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death.

About the Qur'an: Its revelation about Jesus comes to Muhammad via an (alleged) angel, 600 years after Jesus' life, 1000 kilometers away, in a cave.

About the New Testament: It contains historical testimony for Jesus' life that is close to the events temporally and geographically (i.e., it contains accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses).

The Qur'an's chapters are ordered from longest to shortest, not chronologically. Chronologically, the Qur'an's peaceful verses occur before Muhammad gains power, whereas its calls to jihad (war on unbelievers/ infidels) occur after Muhammad gains power. According to the Qur'an, the later verses abrogate (cancel) the earlier verses.

According to the Qur'an's last revelation, Muhammad orders his followers to kill infidels, i.e., those who don't agree with his views about God.

According to Islamic tradition (hadith) and biographies of Muhammad (sirah), Muhammad is a warlord, responsible for hundreds of murders plus the enslavement of men, women, and children. 

Also, according to Islamic tradition and the Qur'an, Muhammad has a low view of women (their testimony is worth half that of a man, more women than men will be in hell, they can be beaten) and Muhammad married a girl when she was six, consummating the marriage three years later.

Yes, the Bible has calls to war in the Old Testament. But the Bible's calls to war are specific and limited to particular times and places, whereas the Qur'an's call for jihad is Muhammad's latest revelation and is open-ended—and continues.

According to the New Testament, Jesus promotes his message by allowing his blood to be shed on a cross. But Muhammad, according to the Qur'an and tradition, promotes his message by shedding the blood of others.

Yes, most Muslims don't follow the violent Muhammad, which is good. They elevate his peaceful traits above the violent.

But why do this, if Muhammad's call to violent jihad is his latest revelation and this latest revelation abrogates the earlier peaceful revelation?

If Islamic reform means (at least in part) getting back to basics, what are those basics?

We live in an open society. Surely we should encourage investigation of the evidence of competing religious truth claims, while showing respect to those who hold them.

Such investigation isn't a sign of disrespect, nor is it, in the case of investigating Islam, a case of Islamophobia (just as investigating Christianity isn't a case of disrespect to Christians or Christophobia).

Let's welcome Muslims to Canada, especially if they are fleeing persecution. Let's also encourage careful thinking.

Love and truth-seeking can co-exist.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Providence.)


Recommended resources: 

March 02, 2017

Questioning Islamophobia

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 2, 2017

Questioning Islamophobia

There's much talk lately about Islamophobia, so let's be clear on this at the get go: Muslims are people we should love and respect—and welcome.

Although I disagree deeply with Islam (the religion that centers itself on Muhammad and the Qur'an), I believe Jesus' command to love my neighbour requires that I respect those with whom I disagree. After all, all people—including Muslims—are made in the image of God.

But let's be clear on this, too: having reasonable, evidence-based concerns about Islam—especially when adherents closely follow the violent life and teachings of Muhammad—is not an instance of Islamophobia.

Please note: I am NOT saying that all Muslims are monolithic in their views, that all Muslims are terrorists or supporters of ISIS, nor that any Muslims should be treated with prejudice or in any way unjustly.

Rather, I am saying that we need to do some careful thinking.

With this end in mind, let's assess a meme I often see circulating on the internet.

The meme has two pictures with a caption under each. The first picture is of a meeting of several white-robed-white-hooded Ku Klux Klan members. The caption: “No-one thinks that these people are representative of Christians.”

The second picture (immediately below the first) is of a dozen black-garbed-black-masked ISIS fighters with weapons at the ready. The caption: “So why do so many people think that these people are representative of Muslims?”

The apparent implication: just as the KKK isn't Christian, so too ISIS isn't Islamic.

Let's pause and think.

Most or all the Christians and Muslims I know are decent people, and, yes, we should protect them from being misrepresented. So far so good.

But the questions we should be asking are these: Does the KKK actually follow the example and teachings of Jesus? (Answer: clearly no.) Does ISIS actually follow the example and teachings of Muhammad? (Answer: very apparently yes.)

The more I learn about the life and teachings of Muhammad (see resource list below), the more I am convinced that Muhammad was an extremely violent man bent on world domination by force—and he teaches his followers to be and do likewise. (It's interesting that the present leader of ISIS has a PhD in Islamic Studies.)

Unlike Jesus, who shed his own blood for others to spread his message, Muhammad shed the blood of others to impose his message.

Now consider the notion of phobia. A phobia is an irrational or ungrounded fear, aversion, or hatred.

Consider arachnophobia, an irrational ungrounded fear or hatred of spiders. Clearly, it's possible to have reasonable, non-phobic concerns about some spiders if the spiders display evidence of being harmful or lethal to humans.

In recent years I've seen too many public discussions shut down because people who raise important questions are dismissed as "phobic" when in fact they're not. The if-you-disagree-then-you're-phobic card is a smokescreen against truth—it's an ad hominem fallacy—and it misleads audiences untrained in logic.

In view of ISIS and its close affiliation with Muhammad's violent life and teachings, the challenge before us is threefold: (1) we should encourage Muslims who do not emulate Muhammad's violence to continue doing so; (2) we should challenge Islamic leaders whenever they preach Muhammad's violence as behaviour to be emulated; and (3) we should do 1 and 2 in such ways that show love, compassion, and respect to Muslims.

Yes, this is no small challenge. It also isn't Islamophobia.

Speaking truth and loving others can—and should—go hand in hand.

Recommended resources:

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)