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Jeffrey Long Posts

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences

From 1995 to 1997, the CDC conducted the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study investigating the connection between childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being.

Over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors.

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study.

Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three.


Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to
• risky health behaviors,
• chronic health conditions,
• low life potential, and
• early death.

As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.

With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; attempted suicide, 1,220 percent.

ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one. And the majority of respondents who reported at least one ACE reported more than one.

For the small minority (12%) of people with a score of 4+ the consequences are dire and get worse as that number increases.

What can we do?

For more information:

The complete infographic can be found here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Adverse Childhood Experiences collection.

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Hope – The Church in 10,000 years

clockIn the Winter 2000 issue of the Whole Earth Magazine I came across an article about Long Now Foundation’s work to create a 10,000 year clock.

The following comment in the article caught my eye. “Danny Hillis’s idea was that by slowing down the usual speedy movements of a clock, he hoped to slow us down and have us think about the long term. The purpose of a clock that runs for 10,000 years is to encourage us to create things that require 10,000 years to measure. A great civilization for instance.”
This intrigued me because it stands in stark contrast to the pessimism for the future of civilization found in the pop-culture church today. Apocalypticism has been a popular theme throughout history, as showcased through Christian History Magazine’s excellent issue on the topic. Thus the appeal of such books as “Left Behind” should be no surprise.

But it is my contention that such hopelessness about the future is not only unbiblical, but does great harm to the ministry of the church. Yes, Jesus will return, as is told in the scripture. And yes, he judges and will judge individuals and governments for their complicity in sin. But you cannot find one text in the Bible that will say He is coming today, or tomorrow, or in a decade, or a century or a millenia. Only that He will return soon, for which we have no calendar to measure. So, our calling is readiness, rather then speculation.

The unfortunate by-product of apocalyptic thinking is a lack of hope for what the Holy Spirit will do through the Church today. In his book “Learned Optimism,” Martin Seligman documented his research that both animals and humans responded in the same manner to helpless situations. They gave up trying to change their environment. I believe that the same happens to congregations when they believe that they are helpless to change the world around them.

By contrast, I believe that we are called to live hopeful of the work that the Holy Spirit wants to do through us as believers and through our congregations.

Also, the following two short and excellent articles, Cultural Pessimism and Cultural Optimism are excellent reading to further grasp both what destruction is done through this hopeless thinking, and a further understanding of what the Holy Spirit can do through the Church.

And so, rather then limiting ourselves to the end-times apocalypticism prevelent today, I call upon the Church to wonder at what a culture could come if we were to live expecting His soon return, while simultaneously wondering at what the Holy Spirit could do through us through 10,000 years.

Originally published in 2009

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Why Orthodoxy?

Christianity congealed over time by collecting and affirming texts, interpreting those texts, establishing its self-government, affirming traditions, and approving creeds.

This process began with the life of Jesus and continued as his apostles spread the gospel. The content of that gospel was wrestled with during the proto-orthodox period culminating in the 4th century at the councils of Nicea and Constantinople and the clarification of the canon of the holy scripture.

This is historic Christianity. It is what Christianity became, and then was passed down from generation to generation in the tradition of the church.

Protestants and evangelicals claim to be the arbiters of true Christian faith by appealing to the sole divinity of the Bible while simultaneously disregarding the tradition that birthed it.

This doesn’t work. It makes the faith susceptible to at least three problems.

The first is historical and scientific accusations that tear down its divinity. Because there is no authority to say what the Bible is, except the Bible itself. Defining the Bible as divine is completely arbitrary. So if it has flaws, how can it be considered divine?

The second is the lack of a hermeneutical rule that provides boundaries to its interpretation. As a consequence, Protestantism is splintered into thousands of pieces, each claiming to be authoritative. Many people’s faith is a fierce individualism: “jesus, the Bible and me.” All the while Christianity becoming increasingly irrelevant as seculars see through the charade.

Third, Christianity can’t be known without practicing it. Western Christianity gave us absolutely no tools for spirituality, and as a consequence devolved into a rationalistic dualism. “Spirit” couldn’t be known, because it wasn’t scientific, therefore it was relegated to a ghetto.

My conclusion, and the trajectory of my religion. We cannot pluck the Bible out of the context of the church that birthed it, manifest in the Orthodox Church.

If we are going to separate the Bible from the tradition that birthed it, as Protestants do, we have no option but to approach them as nothing more than historical documents. But when we do so, and I believe it is appropriate, we must apply the same rigor we do to other historical documents. And accept the consequences of those discoveries, even as they tear down its authority as a divine document.

But if we choose to approach the Bible as divine, we have to accept the decisions of the early church fathers as divine. And there is no justification to limit those decisions to the canon. If the canon is divine, so are the decisions of the councils. And their theology. And their practices of worship. And the heir to that tradition is the Orthodox Church.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with concluding that the Bible, the councils and church fathers aren’t divine. That’s a matter of faith.

But I feel you can’t consider the Bible divine, as Protestants and evangelicals do, without taking very serious the early church fathers, the councils, early christian theology, and early church worship practices.

The more I explore that, it doesn’t look anything like western Christianity.

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Choose Wisely

Our humanity consists of intimate experiences, beliefs and emotions to be cherished and closely held.

We choose daily to whom we will share them.

Choose wisely. Once released, they can never be retrieved.

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Biblical Scholarship and its role in interpreting and applying the Bible

So what is biblical scholarship?

The scholastic approach to study of the Bible is called Biblical criticism. The term “criticism” should not be mistaken for criticizing. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines literary criticism as: “The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.” Biblical criticism, then, studies biblical writings as historical and literary documents rather than as divinely inspired revelations of God. The goal is to make discerning judgments about who wrote them, the times they lived in, and the sources they used in the composition of their writings.

The critical approach to biblical study began when the same tools of investigation applied to the natural sciences were applied to the study of the humanities. A major shift occurred with the development of Renaissance humanism in the fifteenth century, when the humanities began to be regarded as subjects to study, rather than simply read. This included history, literature, and ancient and modern languages.

Scholars attempted to apply scientific inquiry to these fields. Whereas the natural sciences rely on empirical methods, the humanities could only use critical tools. Information about the past had to be systematically collected. The languages of the texts had to be studied.

These new critical approaches to the ancient texts attempted to reconstruct the times in which they were written. The point was to understand ”the world behind the text.”

Biblical criticism arose as these historical critical methods were applied to the Bible. It approached the Bible in the same manner as any other ancient text: as historical and natural documents, rather than divinely inspired revelations of God. By studying them as historical and literary documents  it was hoped to gain a better understanding of 1st Century Christianity. To get as close as possible to the 1st century world out of which these the books and their authors lived.

How is Biblical Criticism helpful?

  • An enormous amount of work has been done in the field of biblical scholarship that brings us closer to the ancient world.

One of the cardinal teachings of the Evangelical Christian community about the Scriptures has maintained that Scripture is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. This authority is based on what the Scriptures **said** as written by writers inspired by the Holy Spirit and not what the scriptures **mean to me** Since what was **said** is determined both by the writer, his readers and the sociohistorical context, and since the contemporary reader is so removed from that context… … [in order to determine what the text said] all who seek a normative witness must use every available literary and historical means to gain a more accurate understanding of what the evangelist **said** – WBC p. xxxv

The three most significant fields of study are textual, historical, and source criticism.

Textual criticism

As more manuscripts were discovered, researchers were able to examine multiple papyri and compare them with each other. New technologies such as ultraviolet and multi-spectral imaging revealed changes made to some manuscripts. It became apparent that over the course of the Bible’s travel from Jerusalem and Rome to today errors had crept into the texts as generations of scribes reproduced each other’s manuscripts.

In most instances, this was little more than the addition, misspelling, or dropping of a word. Scribes may have had trouble seeing the document they were copying, and copied a word incorrectly, or dropped one altogether. Sometimes a scribe reached the end of a line, and accidentally skipped the next one, leaving out an entire sentence.

Other changes were intentional, though not malicious. Some scribes fancied themselves as editors. They corrected events that were historically inaccurate and made sure places were named accurately. They also corrected spelling and grammar as they saw fit.

In some extreme cases scribes made overt attempts to change the text for doctrinal purposes which impacted the meaning of the verses involved for generations after them. A scribe added commentary to 1John 5:7-8 to make the doctrine of the trinity more explicit. And somewhere along the way, an additional ending was added to Mark’s gospel, probably for the purpose of completing what originally seemed an unsatisfactory ending.

Textual criticism developed as a method to trace the history of these errors as they had been introduced into the Bible and attempt to determine the original writing. By meticulous comparison of the manuscripts, researchers could determine words, sentences, and stories that were either redacted or added to what eventually became the official canon.

Textual criticism is also known as lower criticism.

Historical criticism

Historical criticism focuses on finding the place of each book in its original historical context. The historical critic tries to determine who wrote the book, when it was written, and where. This is done by comparing biblical texts with ancient history, contemporary books, and current findings in archaeological studies.

For example, we know the second temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. Because this was such a cataclysmic event, we can approximate the dates some books were written by whether the book shows evidence the author knew about its destruction. Mark’s gospel and the early letters of Paul do not show evidence of experiencing the destruction, while Matthew and Luke’s gospel do. This, along with other evidence, allows us to date Mark’s gospel at around 65-70AD and Paul’s letters to around 50AD. Matthew and Luke’s gospels were likely written around 80-90AD

Another tool is the context of the language used by the author. Robert Alter, in his book “Strong as death is love,” explained why The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel can be placed in the Late Biblical period:

Biblical language, like any language changed through time. The temporal distance between the sunset strands of Genesis or the Book of Samuel and these Late Biblical texts is comparable to the distance between Shakespeare and John Updike. Just as in the four centuries separating Shakespeare from Updike the English language underwent profound changes — terms once in common usage replaced by others, palpable modifications of grammar and syntax — the Hebrew through these centuries exhibits a similar set of changes. P. xiv

The historical critic also tries to flesh out the original meaning of texts in their historical context. To ascertain the text’s primitive or original meaning in its original context. We have learned much more about the Bible and its times as we have discovered more and more documents from the 1st-3rd century, especially those of a similar genre. The gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 helps us understand the gospel genre. And the study of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature gives insight to the language and context of the book of Revelation.

Historical criticism is also known as higher criticism.

Source criticism

The final type of scholastic study is Source criticism which tries to determine the original sources of a biblical book.

The similarities between Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels are well known. In the fifth century, St. Augustine claimed the gospels were written chronologically, by order of their listing in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark and Luke, with each author thoughtfully elaborating, or supplementing the work of his predecessors.

This view prevailed until the late eighteenth century, when Johann Jakob Griesbach published a synopsis of the Bible, laying the gospel stories side by side. It was noticed that Matthew and Luke relied heavily on Mark, as opposed to Augustine’s belief that Matthew was the earliest source.

By comparing these gospels with each other, scholars noticed that both Matthew and Luke had access to Mark’s gospel, and used it as a source in their writing. They also contributed their own material: stories and sayings not found in the other gospels. But scholars also found a substantial amount of stories and sayings that Matthew and Luke shared in common, but didn’t get from Mark. Scholars have hypothesized a source document existed which they call the “Q” gospel that both Matthew and Luke drew upon, but was foreign to Mark.

To learn more,

Peter Enns’ interview of Dr. Christopher M. Hays (DPhil, University of Oxford,) author of Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

Also, the rather unique Quartz Hill School of Theology has an excellent series of articles.

  1. Bible Study Methods and Textual Criticism
  2. Literary Criticism
  3. Redaction Criticism
  4. Form Criticism
  5. Tradition Criticism
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What is the Bible?

2Thessalonians 3:11-18, and Hebrews 1:1-2 from Codex Vaticanus B

This article focuses on the text of the Bible, its collection and transmission. See future articles about ethics and theology.

The New Testament

The Christian Bible is made up of two volumes, The New Testament and Old Testament. The New Testament is the collection of 1st century books and letters collected about Jesus and the early church. The Christian Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible. Individual books of the Bible are written in either Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The New Testament, considered the first volume of the Christian Bible, is a collection of 1st century books and letters about Jesus and the early church. The individual books of the New Testament were not written by a single author at a specific time. Consequently, it is a tapestry of leaders, writers and editors spanning around 70 years.

Historians consider them the primary source documents for Jesus and the primitive church. They are the story of Jesus and the church, told by the church. While advocates and critics of the Bible’s pedigree will fight over these books’ accuracy, the important point to keep in mind is that no matter what else we can or cannot say about these books, they contain some of the best sources we have for Jesus and the early church.

The New Testament is made up of four genres:

  • Four gospels which outline the life, and teachings of Jesus the Messiah,
  • The Acts of the Apostles, a history of the 1st century church,
  • Twenty-one letters, known as epistles, of the 1st century leaders,
  • Revelation, a 1st century Apocalypse.

Christianity before the Bible

These books are believed to have been written in the 1st century, no later than 150AD. In its infancy, Christianity existed without authoritative texts. The books that arose from that movement and eventually came to be our Bible did not themselves claim to be revelation. Jesus didn’t write anything down. He didn’t dictate his sayings to an author. Following his death and resurrection, sayings of Jesus were passed around. These included sayings, sermons, and stories about his life, death and resurrection. Spirit-filled believers and teachers traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.

Writing of gospels and letters

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you. Luke 1:1-3

Eventually, authors collected these traditions into the four books we know today as gospels. These gospels contain a tapestry of sayings, parables, and narrative from a variety of sources. The titles of these books come from the names of the authors that Christian tradition attributed to them, though the authors wrote anonymously. Three of them, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called synoptic gospels because they are collections of stories and sayings that appear to have relied on common sources.

Each author seems to have had a variety of sources at their disposal. The majority of NT scholars believe Mark was the primary source for Matthew and Luke. Where stories and sayings overlap in Matthew and Luke that have parallels to Mark, it is understood that those gospels used Mark as a source. [See Daniel B. Wallace: The Synoptic Problem.] But Matthew and Luke also overlap in ways that are independent from Mark. Modern scholars believe these sayings existed in a written collection lost to history. They call this collection “Q,” short for “source” in German.

The choices each gospel author made of what to include and exclude, and how to organize their writing allowed each author to tailor his message to the specific needs of their audience.

Letters

Christianity also spread through the exchange of letters attributed to Jesus’ apostles, most notably Paul. These letters were addressed to specific city churches throughout the Roman empire. But they were also circulated amongst other churches.

Other books written at the time of the early church

In the 20th century, we became aware of many other gospels and letters circulating at the time that didn’t make the final cut of our Bible. We have found books attributed to the apostles Thomas, Judas, and Peter, as well as Jesus’ mother Mary. For a variety reasons, these documents are not considered authentic. But they give us a window into the diversity of the early church.

Diversity of first century Christianity

This variety of letters and gospels helps us to see that first century Christianity was a very diverse movement. The books of our Bible are representative of a movement that was being shaped and formed over time, from a variety of influences. Scholars call this time “proto-orthodox” because it is a time when orthodoxy was being worked out. This is a different perspective on early christianity that contradicts the common view that the bible represents a unified message originating from the apostles.

Collecting the gospels and letters into the canon

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, different Christian groups began to identify specific gospels and letters as legitimate and held them as collections.

The process of collecting these books was motivated by the necessity to nail down the authoritative voice of Christianity. Some groups told fanciful tales about Jesus to lend credence to their philosophy. The early church fathers identified these groups “gnostics,” but we now know that gnosticism, like early Christianity, was not a unified movement either. There were many different groups with different beliefs and ideas.

As the church developed towards orthodoxy, her leaders tried to determine which of these writings to include in the canon, by ascertaining which they believed came from the authentic oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings, and which were legitimate letters of the apostles. They based their decisions on the claim that they had been written by an apostle or close associate of an apostle. On whether the message of the book reflected the character of Jesus, and if it agreed with other writings. And finally, the degree to which the book was being read and practiced by a wide spectrum of churches.

The writings of the early church fathers and historians identified many different lists of what different Christians believed should be included in the Christian Bible. But by the 4th century, there was near unanimous agreement about which gospels and letters should be included in the Bible we have today. In a letter from 367 AD Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria listed the 27 books that we now consider the New Testament canon, using the word “canonized.”

The Old Testament

The early church was a sect of 1st century Judaism and believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies of a Messiah. Acknowledging Christianity’s Jewish origins, the early church adopted the Septuagint, the latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. It includes the stories, experiences, myths, history, and prayers of the Jewish people and how they understood and interacted with their god.

“In approximate round dates, the process which produced [the earliest books] Exodus and the Pentateuch probably began around 600 BCE when existing oral and written traditions were brought together to form books recognisable as those we know, reaching their final form as unchangeable sacred texts around 400 BCE.” [9] Around the 3rd century BCE, work began to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This work was completed in 132 BCE, and came to be known as the Septuagint. This was the version of the Old Testament used by the church for centuries. It includes many books not found in the Protestant Bible.

Identifying the books of the Bible as holy scripture

As the New Testament books made their journey from their original author to their inclusion in the canon, a change occurred in how to understand them. These books became more than mere books. Leaders claimed these authors were inspired by God and that their words were His revelations. The label of divine scripture was assigned to them in an effort to discriminate orthodoxy from heresy, though none of the texts themselves claimed to be oracles. The church adopted the word “scripture” to describe them, and elevated these books to the same level the Jews held the Old Testament.

To learn more:

The Formation of the Proto-Orthodox New Testament

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Copernicus

In the 16th century, the world went through a radical reorienting of our place in the universe.

For centuries, astronomers tried to make sense of the strange motion of celestial bodies across the sky we now know are planets. While the stars traveled a predictable path across the sky, the planets danced in strange patterns. Renaissance astronomers built elaborate models to try and predict the motion of the planets in the sky. But because they believed the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth, they could never get their models quite right.

Model of the Copernican (Heliocentric – Sun centered) and Tychonian (Geocentric – Earth centered) orbital systems.  In the lower right, you can toggle between them. Other controls allow you to speed up or slow down the rotations, show the moon phase, show the zodiac and set the date. 

The idea that the heavens revolved around the Earth was no insignificant belief; it was founded on what religious authorities believed to be the clear teaching of the Bible. Any model astronomers proposed had to be consistent with this geocentric worldview. This limited their ability to see possibilities contradictory to biblical and clerical authority.

All of this changed in 1543 when Nicolaus Copernicus published “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” In it, he demonstrated the motion of the heavens can only be explained without the Earth being the geometric center of the system. In fact, rather then stationary, the Earth revolved around the sun. Conceptualizing this heliocentric model required a wholesale reorienting of the relationship of the earth to the heavenly bodies. Worldview quite literally meant a different view of our world.

Some historians mark the publication of Copernicus’ “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” as the starting point for the Scientific Revolution of the 16th century. But it did not come without resistance. It took 200 years for this new heliocentric model of the solar system to replace the geocentric model.

The Copernican revolution seems insignificant to most people today. The revolution of the earth around the sun is such a broadly held conviction it seems irrelevant. But the shift in worldview caused by the revolution was far-reaching, especially for Christianity.

Hans Kuhn wrote: “To describe the innovation initiated by Copernicus as the simple interchange of the position of the earth and sun is to make a molehill out of a mountain… If Copernicus’ proposal had no consequences outside astronomy, it would have been neither so long delayed, nor so strenuously resisted.” 1

It was the beginning of a slippery slope in which science examined evidence, proposed a hypothesis, and come to a conclusion that sometimes interfered with the Bible. It forced religion to reassess the relationship of the Bible and clerical authority to the physical world, a conflict that goes on today.

Copernicus showed us the universe does not revolve around the earth. We soon learned, it doesn’t revolve around the church either.

1 (Kuhn, Thomas, The Copernican Revolution. Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought.)

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Scientific Literacy and 21st Century Faith

Adam and Eve by Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto

In 2010, new discoveries in genomic research challenged a fundamental Biblical teaching: that humankind originated from a unique couple: the biblical Adam and Eve. Christianity Today reported:

According to a consensus drawn from three independent avenues of research, the history of human ancestry involved a population “bottleneck” around 150,000 years ago—and from this tiny group of hominids came everyone living today. …the size of the group was far larger than a lonely couple: it consisted of several thousand individuals at minimum – The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today 1/16/15

While some dismissed this as an attack on faith, many Christian scientists conceded research’s validity. A BioLogos paper co-authored by Dennis Venema, biology chairman at Trinity Western University, and Point Loma Nazarene University biologist Darrel Falk declared flatly: The human population, “was definitely never as small as two … The data are absolutely clear on that.”

This story highlights a huge problem for Christianity. What should we make of scientific discoveries that create complications for the Bible? These discoveries threaten many people’s biblically informed Christian beliefs. Skeptics use research as ammunition to dismiss Christianity. And the media misuse research to cynically grab headlines.

The kneejerk reaction has always been to reject anything that contradicts the traditional understanding of the Bible. Research is blamed as a godless attack on true faith. And individuals who wrestle with these problems are accused of lacking faith.

Unfortunately, this unwillinginess to engage modern science has resulted in an exodus from Christianity. Many people now believe that to be a Christian, you need to check your head at the door, or at least keep it down to avoid detection. Others simply walk away.

Christian leaders must educate congregants in a new literacy. Rather than be afraid of the sciences, we need to learn to understand and engage them. This doesn’t require a degree in biology or astronomy. It requires understanding the process and tools of scientific study and the tools available to tell fact from fiction. Above all, we need to learn how to engage our faith in the modern world, and build bridges between believers and people who have been disenfranchised from Christianity as a result of these conflicts.

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Ockham’s Razor and the Case for God

 

I wrote this paper for my Systematic Theology course at Northwest University. I became interested in Ockham’s Razor after reading an article in the summer 1986 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine recommending it as a tool for refuting pseudoscientific claims. As a young, intellectual, evangelistic Christian I was always looking for ways to make the gospel accessible to people outside the faith. I recognized the possibilities of using Ockham’s Razor as an apologetic argument. But with a twist. Instead of being a proof, as apologetics usually is, it was a methodology.

Looking back, it was quite the undertaking. While probably not an original idea, I had to formulate my arguments independently because I didn’t have access to an extensive religious library. And this was before the internet, so selecting resources was challenging.  However, I made use of a very early network technology, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS.) These were computers hosted in someone’s house, with a modem attached. To connect, you dialed their number and connected with a text based terminal. You could then upload files, and leave messages for others to read when they logged in (there could only be one person connected at a time.) Specifically, I connected to the anarchist Black Flag BBS, where a few atheist members were kind enough to let me bounce ideas off them and provide push back. This was a great experience and helped refine my thoughts.

I’m posting this reasonably unedited as an expression of my thinking and writing in 1989. I’m not sure if the idea holds up. I don’t like my grammar in places. I would switch humankind for man. And my representation of atheism and agnosticism are too simplistic, with a tone of disdain. In some cases I just couldn’t bear to let things stand, so I struck-out the offending text. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed revisiting it. Click here if you’d prefer to read in its original Commodore Amiga font glory


Believing in God can be difficult. We can’t see Him with our eyes, hear Him with our ears, touch Him with our hands, or smell Him with our nose. Modern scientists have put His creation on the back shelf while they revel in man’s early history as an ape. It seems that belief in God is only for those who need something to believe in, not for the intelligent, thinking, reasonable person.

But, is faith in God truly so unreasonable? No it is not. On the contrary, it can be shown that Christianity is the most reasonable of all worldview. This is not to say that it doesn’t still require faith; all world systems require faith. But because it provides the simplest answer to the questions of the universe, Christianity is the best worldview, and most worthy of having faith placed in.

William of Ockham was a fourteenth century philosopher, logician and theologian. As with other philosophers of his time, Ockham spent much of his time in political struggles. His chief involvement pertained to the relationship between the secular world and papal power. His views eventually led the pope of the time, John XXII to excommunicate him, prompting him to move to Bavaria, where he lived out the rest of his life.

When not busy fighting the pope, Ockham devoted his energy to philosophical study, particularly in the area of metaphysics. As with his relationship to the pope, Ockham soon developed an adversarial relationship with the teachings and followers of Plato. Plato had the idea that in the metaphysical realm there existed universal forms: perfect forms of all the things that we experience here on Earth. Later philosophers and theologians refined these ideas, and eventually determined that these eternal forms were existent in the divine mind of God. Ockham resisted this idea passionately. In dealing with this issue, Ockham wielded his historic razor, the principle “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,” which roughly translated means that things must not be multiplied beyond necessity. This principle may be rephrased in many different ways, but the central meaning is always the same: the simplest explanation for any given problem is most likely to be the best.

In dealing with the teachings of Plato and his followers, Ockham stated that the theory of Forms wasn’t necessary to our understanding of the universe. We can explain the existence of our universe, and its creation by God, without Plato’s cumbersome Forms. While Ockham was not the originator of this principle of parsimony, his prominent use of the principle gained him the notoriety of having it associated with his name.

What makes an argument necessarily simple? Edward Cornell gives three rules for recognizing simplicity.

  1. Coherence. Since an explanatory hypothesis is a possible patterning of facts which purports to explain them by arranging them in a more indelible sort of order, we should expect it to be self-consistent, or free from internal contradictions.
  2. A hypothesis is simpler than another if it resorts to fewer ultimate principles to explain things. One hypothesis is said to be simpler than another if the number of independent types of elements in the first is smaller than in the second.
  3. An hypothesis is simpler if it uses fewer ad hoc assumptions than another. [2]

The last point states that the system with the least special assumptions that cannot be related to any of the other fundamentals in the system, is the simples one. This means that while a system may appear complex, if it is able to deal with the most number of problems with the least assumptions, it is the simplest and best system.

Today, we still find Ockham’s Razor in use, primarily in the school of naturalism. Naturalism asserts that anything that is real can be explained by scientifically verifiable concepts. Therefore the idea of a creator outside of the scientific realm is impossible. Ockham’s Razor is applied by the naturalists to show that everything in the universe can be explained through natural law, and scientific procedure, and thus there is no need to bring a god from outside to explain the existence of our universe.

And so, the question before us is this: what is the most reasonable explanation for the initial creation and continued existence of our universe, and the nature of mankind in it? In determining this, two ideas are drawn together. The first is Theissen’s congruity argument: “…the postulate which best explains the related facts is true.” [3] The second idea is Ockham’s Razor: The simplest explanation is the best. Therefore, it follows that the postulate which best explains the related facts is the postulate which is absolutely necessary. We must then show that Theism is the simplest explanation for the related facts of the universe.

Theists claim that God is the ultimate explanation for the universe. The standard cosmological argument for the existence of God states that because the universe acts in a cause/effect manner, there must have been an initial first cause. However, this argument is only capable of determining that there must have been a source outside of our universe that caused the universe. This leaves us open to the possibility of a first cause that then died, disappeared, or otherwise ceased to exist. So, the cosmological argument cannot get us any farther than a finite first cause.

Instead, an appropriately infinite Theistic argument would come from the position that both the creation and continuing existence of the world make necessary an outside force. Ronald Nash puts this idea in more understandable terms:

Imagine a series of dominoes individually set on end next to one another so that toppling one causes a chain reaction, one at a time toppling each domino in the series. In order for this to be accomplished, the dominoes must be set on some surface. This surface functions as a necessary condition for the series of falling dominoes every bit as much as the finger (or whatever) that pushes the first domino. If that finger is the first temporal cause, the floor or table can be viewed as the First Cause in the logical sense. It is the underlying ground of support without which the series could not exist as a series. [4]

Theism, then, not only explains the initial first cause of the universe, but it also explains the continuing existence of the universe.

Christianity takes Theism a step farther and explains man’s nature within the universe. The Christian sees man as having been made in the image of God, and thus, able to make decisions apart from outside stimuli. But the Christian also sees man as being a fallen creature, and so it is not capable of consistently responding adequately to the world around him.

Atheism, asserting a naturalistic worldview, believes that nature is the only thing that exists. We come to know this universe through the scientific method. As Bertrand Russell puts it, “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” [5]

It is also a highly mechanistic worldview. Everything in existence is seen as having a necessary and sufficient cause. In dealing with the issue of first cause, they believe that nature is its own eternal, necessary and sufficient cause. Infinite regression is not a problem. Nature causes nature. Using the previous domino explanation we could say that the first domino was never pushed, but that the dominoes have always fallen, and will always fall. Also, nature is the surface upon which the dominos rest.

Mankind is seen by the atheist as reacting to the world by pure determinism. Man’s actions are completely predetermined. He can neither do anything to change his actions, nor does it matter whether he change his actions. “The human race must struggle alone, with what of courage it command, against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for its hopes and fears.” [6] Choice and free will have no meaning in this worldview.

The last school of thought to be discussed here is agnosticism. Agnosticism differs from the other worldviews in that it does not attempt to make ultimate assumptions about the world. An agnostic sticks his head in the sand, and says “I don’t know.” In response to the questions of first cause, the sustaining of our universe, and man’s relation to the world, the agnostic gives the same answer: “I don’t know.” This philosophy is carried a little farther by the belief that “not only do I not know, but you can’t know either. In fact, no one can know the answers to these questions.”

Application of Ockham’s Razor to these three worldviews involves determining which one answers the questions of the universe with the least assumptions.

To begin, atheism attempts to draw the universe under the unifying force of nature. This is a very simple explanation, but it falls down under the weight of scrutiny. The atheist believes that everything in the universe is continent on nature. All that is needed to dispute the atheists’s claims then, is to show one thing that cannot be explained in a naturalistic way, and that one thing is human reasoning. [7] C.S. Lewis explains:

All possible knowledge… depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside out own minds really “must” be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeing in our minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them – if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work – then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid, no science can be true. [8]

Reason, however, must have at its foundation something outside of nature. “The knowledge of a thing is not one of the thing’s parts.” [9] When we have knowledge of a particular thing, we step out of the cause/effect relationship between us and that thing, and know it separately. In this way, reason exists separate of nature, and demonstrates that the atheist’s claim that nothing transcends nature is shown to be false. Therefore, in order to logically defend his position, the atheist must make two contradictory assumptions: nothing exists outside of nature, and that reason exists apart from nature.

The agnostic places his faith in human reason, but claims that by its very nature, a universal existence cannot be comprehended by human reason. Thus we cannot make decisions based on the existence of a theistic being. This idea can be refuted in much the same way was atheism. If it can be shown that some universal ideas are knowable, then we cannot eliminate the possibility of knowing any universal. As has been previously shown, reason is a universal idea that is comprehended by all.

This becomes a contradiction and violates the rule of simplicity stated previously: that in order for a hypothesis to be simple, it must be self-consistent or free from internal contradictions. Because of its contradiction, agnosticism is not a simple system.

Finally, we come to theism. Applying Ockham’s Razor to theirs, we find that in answer to all three principles of simplicity, theism remains simple.

First, the theistic hypothesis is free from self-contradiction. By standing on one hypothesis rather two or more, the theist avoids the possibility of contradiction. All is related to God.

Secondly, the theistic hypothesis resorts to the least ultimate principles to explain his world. Theism has one ultimate principle: God. This rules out the possibility of atheism which must rely on two principles: nature is everything, and reasons exists apart from nature.

Thirdly, the theistic hypothesis uses the least ad hoc or unrelated assumptions to explain the world. “Under one assumption, the [theist] succeeds in unfolding the implications of his theory of immortality, rational universe, and truth.” [10]

We can now show that theism is the simplest and best explanation for the related facts of the universe that we live in.

So what do we do with this understanding? The logical next step is to ascertain which theistic religion best explains the universe. Though it is not the nature of this paper to defend this position, I believe it can be shown clearly that Christianity is the religion that best explains man and the universe and would highly recommend investigating the ideas taught by Jesus Christ.

William of Ockham knew that his razor was very sharp. So sharp, that it actually cuts away the ability to know universals through reason or experience. Instead, we must rely on a third form of knowing: faith. This is not an unpleasant position as it has already been seen that the other worldviews also rely on faith. It is our very nature to seek answers to the world around us, and because of our limited understanding, we must take a step of faith to reach an understanding. But this faith does not rest on unreasonable thoughts or ideas. It is not a leap of faith into a foggy chasm. It is a leap of faith to a God that we can see across the river, holding out his arms, ready to catch us. When we realize that this God who holds in His arms the fabric of the universe, is the simplest and the best explanation for the world around us, we can rest assured that He will catch us as we leap across the chasm.

[1] Elie A. Shneour, “Ockham’s Razor,” The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. X, No. 4 (Summer 1986): 310.
[2] Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Michigan: Wm. B. Eedman’s Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 99-100
[3] Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1949), p. 31.
[4] Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 125
[5] Bertrand Russel, Religion and Science, p. 243, quoted in Holes Rolstom, 111, Science and Religion (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987), p. 248
[6] Bertrand Russel, Mysticism and Logic, p. 52, quoted in Holes Rolstom, 111, Science and Religion (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987), p. 249
[7] Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 256
[8] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 14, quoted Faith and Reason (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 256
[9] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 25, quoted Faith and Reason (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 258
[10] Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Michigan: Wm. B. Eedman’s Publishing Co., 1948), p. 100

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Fires and false prophets

Fire crew member fighting Poomacha wildfire in California

When natural disasters occur, you can count on self-proclaimed prophets to rise up and declare they are caused by their angry god. When the last great wildfire ravaged Eastern Washington, a local man used it as an opportunity to accuse America for its sins. But wildfires are not unique to eastern Washington in the 21st century. They happen all around the world. When is it appropriate to listen to someone claiming a natural disaster is a symptom of god’s wrath?

In the 9th century BC, Israel found itself in a drought that lasted for three years. The drought was pronounced by the prophet Elijah and came as a result of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel doing “evil in the sight of God.” At the end of the three years, Ahab called out Elijah as “the troublemaker of Israel.” Elijah responded by reminding him that the drought was a result of him and Jezebel leading Israel into worship of the false god Baal.

To make the point that Baal was in fact a false god, Elijah proposed a test.

He instructed them to build two altars, one to Baal and the other to Yahweh (Israel’s god,) and to place the slaughtered pieces of two ox on the altars.

The test? All the prophets had to do was call upon Baal’s power to send down fire and light the altar.

So the prophets of Baal prayed, and prayed and prayed, and nothing happened. Elijah mocked them, so they tried harder, this time cutting themselves and adding their own blood to the sacrifice. Still nothing happened.

When Elijah’s turn came, he ordered four large jars of water to be poured onto the altar three times. And then he prayed. And Yahweh sent fire down from the sky, sizzling the water on the altar, and burning down the sacrifice and altar itself. He then ordered the false prophets killed, prayed to Yahweh that the drought would end, and rain came down, ending the 3 year drought.

Here’s the point. God’s seal of prophetic approval on Elijah the prophet came from his predicting the drought would come -before- it did. Likewise, the authority of the false prophets was tested when they were asked to perform a simple task that would prove they were true prophets.

Anyone can take upon himself the mantle of prophet, and claim that an event that has occurred was caused by god’s disapproval. Those types of prophets are a dime-a-dozen, and have been declaring doom ever since… well, ever since there were droughts and wildfires (that’s a long time.) It’s easy. All you need to do is stamp your message on a natural disaster and voila! You’re a prophet.

A true prophet, on the other hand, announces something specific -before- it happens. Deuteronomy 18:22 says “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

It is common-place in America for self-proclaimed prophets to pronounce doom on this nation for its departure from what they deem godly. But when you hear them speak, pay attention to whether or not they proclaim something specific that will take place or come true. If not, their message is not from Christianity’s god. They have spoken presumptuously. Don’t be afraid of them.

It has been said that God made man in his image, and we returned the favor. When you listen to what self-proclaimed prophets say, you can see that they have made God in their own image. Their god is vengeful, angry, hateful, spiteful, bigoted, unmerciful, unloving, heartless. That’s the spirit of their words-from-god.

On the other hand, the fruit of the Christian god’s spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (From Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.)

In short. False prophets not only speak falsely about god. They are prophets of a false god. A god made in their own image, not the other way around. When these prophets speak in the name of god, just insert their personal name and don’t let him discredit the Christian god.

And while you are at it, ask them to make a specific prophecy of something that is -going- to happen, in the name of their god. When it doesn’t happen, you can plainly see that they are prophets of their own false god. Hopefully god will be more sparing of them than they are of others.

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