Is Teaching Children Religion Indoctrination?

This point often comes up in debate: the atheist will claim that teaching your children that your religion is true is indoctrination. They will claim that we should tell our children that our beliefs are merely one among many, or that we should present our beliefs and let our children decide for themselves.

I think for the Christian to do that would be child abuse, or at the very least neglect.

Consider this analogy: should I teach my sons to treat women as being equally valuable to men?

The atheist cannot say “no”. Of course we should teach them that, we should teach them common decency and morality and how to be good people. We shouldn’t leave open to them the option of treating women poorly. We should explain to them why we must treat women as being equally valuable (they are as much persons as you are, etc.) but in the end, they must accept our answer here. Any other answer is unacceptable, and they will be punished for it if they don’t treat women well.

The atheist might say “but we are sure about women being equally valuable to men, we are not sure about religion”. But of course, the Christian is sure about religion. The atheist, if atheism is true, is right in saying that we shouldn’t teach children to be Christians. We shouldn’t teach them false things. But of course the atheist can’t assume atheism to be true to make their point, they are attempting to convince me, a Christian. And if Christianity is true, and if we are sure of it (as I am), then this argument fails.

The atheist might attempt to sidestep this and suggest that since people disagree about religion, even if we are confident ourselves we shouldn’t teach it. But they leave themselves open to the obvious response: people disagree about treating women equally too. Lots of them. I am sure you’ve probably noticed that.

Finally, the atheist says that gender equality is based on reason and evidence, and we present this to our children. While we just force our children to believe Christianity without presenting any reason or evidence. But of course that is false, a good Christian parent is one who makes a compelling age-appropriate case for Christianity. Not only with arguments, but with how they live their own life, full of love and holiness and obedience.

So where does the atheist go from here? Can they make a case that we should teach our sons to treat women as being equally valuable to men, while we should not teach them to follow Christ? I do not think the atheist can make this case.

If God is omniscient, all possible universes exist in his mind, and you shouldn’t expect any specific afterlife.

This is the title of a reddit post which presents a fascinating and original argument against God. It contains some premises that many Christians will be reluctant to accept, but given my particular idiosyncratic ontology and philosophy of mind, it does seem to be effective against me. Unless I can come up with a good response, I may be forced to change some of my beliefs. But it is early days yet. Here is the argument:

  • P1: God exists and is omniscient.
  • P2: Omniscience entails fully detailed, perfect knowledge/representation of everything.
  • P3: “Everything” includes all “possible/hypothetical worlds” (if this is not true, God can’t entertain counterfactuals, which is a pretty weird hole in omniscience).
  • P4: These possible/hypothetical worlds would be known in full, perfect detail/representation (P2)
  • P5: A perfect representation of a person would experience itself as an actual person with consciousness (like a simulation or “matrix”).
  • P6: Some portion of these worlds contain holy books telling them that God has such and such plans for it and the people within (P3).
  • P7: Some percentage of the worlds in P6 in which a given person experiences going to hell, or just living on forever in their body, in whatever sorry state they died in, and every other possible afterlife. Regardless of what they did in life (P3).
  • P8: There are more undesirable afterlives than desirable ones, as there are more ways for something to be miserable or suffering-inducing than for them to be perfect and happy.
  • P9: There is no way to determine whether one is in the specific world God created (if he even created any), or instead exists within a “simulation world” (P5 & P6).
  • P10: There are more “hypothetical/possible” worlds than actual, specifically created ones (trivially true unless he creates all of them, in which case the conclusion is still valid).

 

I give some suggestions towards a response in the thread, but I am not yet convinced I have a good response. Probably there is something simple which I am missing, but I thought I’d share it to praise it for being original, and to get the opportunity to hear other people’s opinions on it.

More fine tuning quotes

Here is a collection of more quotes from notable scientists that support our fine tuning argument. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Drs. Zehavi, and Dekel (cosmologists): “This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with ‘common wisdom’.”
  • Ed Harrison (cosmologist): “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God – the design argument of Paley – updated and refurbished. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one…. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument.”
  • Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
  • Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.”
  • Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

Fine Tuning: Why Privilege Life?

When presenting the fine tuning argument, skeptics may respond that we are unduly privileging life as something special in the universe. For example, someone might object that the universe is also fine tuned to produce iPads. Why is the existence of life significant in a way that entails God, but iPads are not? The restriction to life is ad hoc. So here I will give an attempt to respond to this claim, and give some reasons why theism predicts life.

The claim of theism here is that there exists a deity, and by this we mean that there exists an all powerful, all knowing, always good creator of the universe. Or something along those lines. Importantly, we think that God is in some sense the goodest thing possible, perhaps even Goodness Itself. And we also think that God is intelligent. Perhaps God’s intelligence is somewhat different to our intelligence, since God is timeless and unchanging and simple. But still rightly called intelligence.

Since God is good, we can say that in creation, He is pursuing something good. In fact if we believe Leibniz (and I do, this fits well with Calvinism) then we can say that the world God creates is actually the best possible world. The best possible world must include some good things.

I claim now that intelligent beings are some of the goodest things. Since God is Goodness Itself and is intelligent, the least we can say is that intelligence is very good. We can indeed go further and say that intelligence is fundamentally linked to goodness, as all of God’s attributes are. And further still, we can argue that in creating the best possible world, God would create beings in His image. He is Good, so His image bearers must be at least very good.

Given this, we have some pretty good reasons to think that God would design a world that could support not just life, but intelligent life. Many atheists, especially Kantians, think there is something special about humanity, namely: reason. Our ability to reason is unique, and morally significant. Kantians think that reason is the basis for morality. So it seems like the Kantians would agree that if there is a God, then God would create beings with reason. Intelligent beings.

Since we can demonstrate that if theism is true, then the universe will support intelligent life, we can indeed rightly use a fine tuning argument. This is not ad hoc, we have not arbitrarily selected intelligence to examine, we have shown how intelligence is significant for God.

Ligonier West Coast Conference on Apologetics

Ligonier Ministries recently had their 2018 West Coast Conference, this time the topic was Defending the Faith. I have not yet made my way through all the videos, but so far they are very valuable. Here is a link to each video, it doesn’t seem like Ligonier have put them into a playlist yet.

Historical Evidence for the Resurrection

Introduction

This argument is largely an adaptation of arguments previously made by many apologists, so if it seems familiar I have likely stolen some ideas. I’ll investigate some facts around the supposed resurrection and try to work out what the best explanation is.

Before we begin I will state that for the purposes of this discussion I will be treating the works contained within the bible as historical documents (that is, documents from history), not as scripture or inerrant or even reliable. I hold these positions, but to assume them here would be circular reasoning. I shall attempt to come at them from a neutral position, without assuming anything about their reliability that I can’t back up with sources from respected historians. I will also attempt to take the consensus of experts in their field as the default position for the purposes of this argument.

Also before we begin, I will just state that we are certain that Jesus existed. Ehrman is the most respected non-Christian NT historian I can think of and he compared the belief that Jesus didn’t exist to belief in Young Earth Creationism. There is virtually unanimous consensus that Jesus existed among NT scholars, and even the rare proponents of Christ Myth Theory admit that they are basically alone in their beliefs. It is not a hypothesis worth considering, given scholarship on the issue. If this is a problem for you, you should probably read some more on the issue. Ehrman dealt with this issue here and here.

 

Empty Tomb

The first thing we have to establish is that Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This first point is largely uncontroversial, Ehrman writes that the crucifixion is as sure as anything in history1 and that Jesus was most likely buried in the aforementioned tomb2. Ehrman has since changed his mind on the tomb for what I consider to be dubious reasons (read here for more on why I disagree with Ehrman), but other important scholars like Géza Vermes3 and Dale Allison4 still assert that Jesus was buried roughly as the Gospels describe. Gary Habermas is a noted expert on the facts surrounding the resurrection, and has surveyed that around 75% of relevant scholars affirm the empty tomb.5

Looking at the claim that the women who found the tomb found it empty, we have a few ways of evaluating it. When discussing biblical events, scholars have come up with a few heuristics that allow us to determine reliability. The empty tomb accounts satisfy the criteria of multiple attestation, lack of legendary embellishment, embarrassing features of the narrative, use of proper names, public knowledge of the burial and the tomb’s location.

It is notable that throughout history, from Celsus to modern scholars, opponents of Christianity have tried to explain the empty tomb rather than deny it. According to reports that are found in Matthew 28:11-15, Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 108) and Tertullian (On Spectacles 30), for almost two centuries or more, the Jewish leaders tried to explain that the tomb was empty because Jesus’ disciples stole His body. This means that the Jewish hierarchy even acknowledged the fact that Jesus’ body was no longer there.

It is attested to in every Gospel, and a strong argument can be made that the creed discussed in the next section also includes the implication of an empty tomb. According to the late historian of ancient Rome and fellow at Oxford, A. N. Sherwin-White, “even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” And with respect to historical reconstruction, he says that “we are seldom in the happy position of dealing at only one remove with a contemporary source.” The empty tomb, in light of the multiple reasonably close sources attesting to it, is quite likely. If you are still unconvinced of the empty tomb, I’d like to hear an alternate explanation for the early beliefs and accounts, and why your explanation is better than mine.

 

Apostle’s Beliefs

Ehrman also tells us that the legend of the resurrection began at the latest two years after Jesus was crucified6. Ehrman refers to an early Christian source, a creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. A very early Christian creed, which James Dunn dates to 18 months after Jesus’ death.7

So we have an early belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Given what we know about the early church from Acts, this must have originated from the Apostles. There is no other plausible source for this creed. Let’s examine the claims of the Apostles as they appear in Acts. Acts 2:29-32 records Peter’s words:

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

I contend that Acts is fairly reliable in relating to us church history. The accuracy of Acts in most areas is attested to by NT historians, with Martin Henge stating8:

‘Luke-Acts looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, which is still relatively recent, and moreover is admirably well informed about Jewish circumstances in Palestine, in this respect comparable only to its contemporary Josephus. As Matthew and John attest, that was no longer the case around 15-25 years later; one need only compare the historical errors of the former Platonic philosopher Justin from Neapolis in Samaria, who was born around 100 CE.’

There are some passages of disputed accuracy in Acts, but the above mentioned section is not one of them. I’ve been unable to find any scholar who takes issue with the above passage. And non-Christian scholar Gerd Lüdemann believes that the section is historical9.  We have no reason to doubt it, and it is in line with what we know about the 11 from other sources.

So the disciples that Peter refers to, the 11, believed they were witnesses to the risen Christ. They believed it so strongly that some would die for it, and all would have reasonably believed they would die for it. Notably Peter himself, whose death is recorded by Clement of Alexandria. The 11 are threatened with death or imprisonment as early as Acts 4.

All this points to the fact that the Apostles truly believed what they claimed. We will investigate soon whether they could be correct. It should be noted that I am not claiming “They died for their beliefs, therefore their beliefs are true”. That doesn’t follow. My claim could be better summarized as “They died (or believed they would die) for their beliefs, therefore they truly believed them”.

 

Possible explanations

We have now established that the Apostles all believed they had seen the risen Christ, and that the tomb was empty. Let’s begin then trying to explain these facts

Perhaps the Apostles simply hallucinated Christ’s appearances. This would be plausible, except for the fact that 11 of them would have had to hallucinate simultaneously. And not just hallucinations, but detailed coherent hallucinations that were completely outside the realm of what they expected. This is unlikely. And does nothing to explain the empty tomb.

Some have speculated that someone pretended to be Jesus, or was at least mistaken for him. This again fails to account for the empty tomb. It also seems unlikely given that the 11 knew Jesus well, after spending 3 years with him. It is unlikely they would have all mistaken someone for him, especially to the extent where they would die for it. Remember that these are fairly rational, intelligent people, judging by what they wrote.

Others have speculated that Christ did not really die on the cross, but was taken down and recovered in the tomb. This would be almost as great a miracle as the resurrection itself. Jesus was scourged before he was crucified, a process that often killed. And then there is only one known person to have ever survived crucifixion, who did so after being up there only a few hours and receiving medical attention. Two other people were taken down at the same time and died. It is unlikely Jesus could recover on his own in a cold wet cave.

Some have suggested grave robbers to explain the empty tomb. This does nothing to explain Christ’s appearances to the 11, and is just unlikely. They weren’t all that common, and probably wouldn’t carry off a body with no reason.

Perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb. This is possible, but it doesn’t explain the appearances to the 11. It also doesn’t explain why Peter and John also found the tomb empty, unless they made the same mistake. It is unlikely both groups would.

Now it is true that a combination of these unlikely partial explanations can explain the facts that we’ve looked at. But postulating multiple unlikely events multiplies their already low probabilities, and the resurrection becomes the best explanation.

The McGrew’s (Tim McGrew is the chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University) that I referenced earlier did a similar but more detailed investigation10 to the one I have done and came up with a Bayes factor of 10^44 which is an incomprehensibly huge number. If you think this evidence is weak, then let’s quantify our discussion, and give me an alternative analysis. 

So it seems that based on the evidence at hand, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the facts we have investigated.

References

  1. A Brief Introduction to the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman 2008 ISBN 0-19-536934-3 page 136
  2. Bart Ehrman, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” [The Teaching Company, 2003].
  3. Geza Vermes, The Passion (Penguin, 2005)
  4. Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus
  5. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004
  6. http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/p96.htm
  7. James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), page 855.
  8. Hengel & Schwemer, ‘Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, pp. 7-8 (1997)
  9. Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ‘Acts and the History of the Earliest Jerusalem Church’, in Cameron & Miller (eds.), ‘Redescribing Christian origins’, pp. 165-169 (2004)
  10. http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

David Robertson at Menai Anglican Church

On Wednesday I had the privilege of hearing David Robertson speak at Menai Anglican Church. He covered many topics, mainly in the area of evangelism and apologetics in modern culture. I took some notes, here they are in their very rough and unedited form. Perhaps some will be useful:

Proclaiming Christ in a post Christian culture:

  • Acts 17:6. What kind of world was being turned upside down? Don’t just influence, turn upside down. Jesus does this. Not politics. Gospel
  • Ireland and Scotland changed quickly. Why are people dancing and singing for abortion? Surely if abortion is permissible, it is a bittersweet and necessary evil.
  • We are regressing to a Greco-roman pagan world. Not progressive.

Dangers:

  • Secular utopianism. Pinker’s enlightenment, ignores bad stuff. Things can only get better. But things aren’t. Advancing to nirvana never happens. Hitler thought he was progressive. Lewis Namier. Most academics were Nazis.
  • Religious Fundamentalism. Unthinking Christianity included, but also Islam. Progressive utopian have to believe all religions are fundamentally the same. But Islam is a political system. Welcome them and spread the Gospel
  • State fascism. Control of the state over everything. If we remove the church from culture, the state now provides the function of the church: Morality, schools (social engineering, what to think. Safe schools). Values of the elites imposed. Guilty until proven innocent in university sexual assault committees.
  • Consumerist dumbed down materialism. Affluenza. Cannot serve both God and mammon. Prosperity Gospel, exported out of the West, is evil.
  • New age paganism. Sexuality, mother earth, “cool”. Trying to be different. Nothing new under the sun.
  • Sexual confusion and dysfunctional families. Nothing surprising here. Especially pushed in schools, even primary school. Children need a mum and dad.
  • Equality: we are becoming unequal. Only focused on sexuality, but finance is more important.
  • The church. Society needs Jesus.  Don’t patronise poor people, they need the Gospel more than soup kitchens. Australia will become worse soon perhaps. Billy Graham 1959 had long-lasting impact. Moore college had a big impact. Immigrants are an opportunity. But weak on 25-40 year olds, who are sheltered. Tribalism. Struggle with answering objections. And we are going to decline in 10 years without renewal. What can we do: Don’t fight to save Christendom. Make more disciples

 

  • We will never have difficulty in evangelism if the glory of the Lord fills the temple. Don’t let them see us as fake, dead, boring, unreal. Let them think we’re crazy or wrong. But not dead.
  • Ireland makes us angry because it’s people shaking their fists at God. Our primary emotion should be sorrow, as God is being mocked.
  • How to present our views on social issues? They are shibboleth issues, testing if we are culturally orthodox. Jesus responds with a question to get to the bigger issues. Don’t answer in their framework, take it to a wider framework. Don’t avoid and don’t compromise, but go bigger.
  • Sidenote: narratives and metanarratives, new sincerity, end of post-modernism. This is good for us.
  • Society has a vision of the church. But it is wrong. The church is for glorifying Jesus and proclaiming the Gospel. Don’t use care for the poor as evangelism, it’s patronising and manipulative.
  • Australia has phenomenal opportunities to be useful in Asia for evangelism