Monday, January 25, 2021

Christians and Conspiracy Theories: Have We Lost our Minds?



Shortly after the attack on the US Capital, a close friend sent me the following text:

"Not sure if you are experiencing similar things with people (mostly Christian), but it seems like there is a lot of hysteria and conspiracy theories being tossed around about what is going to happen over the next week or so.  I am honestly finding it very frustrating because it just seems people are taking things and running with them as if they are true, without really taking the time to check sources or see if it makes sense."

My friend's frustration is certainly understandable when one considers that Christians are supposed to be proclaimers and lovers of truth and abstain from falsehoods.1  But if this is indeed the case, then why are so many Christians taken in by conspiracies?  I fear that what we are witnessing is the rotten fruit of anti-intellectualism within the evangelical church. 

In his book Love God with all Your Mind, philosopher J.P. Moreland explains that "it is safe to say that from the arrival of the Pilgrims to the middle of the nineteenth century, American believers prized the intellectual life for its contribution to the Christian journey.  The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in early Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, and studied art, science, philosophy, and other fields as a way of loving God with the mind.  Scholars like Jonathan Edwards were activists who sought to be scholarly and well informed in a variety of disciplines.  The minister was an intellectual, as well as spiritual, authority in the community."2.   However, this is clearly no longer the case.  To a large degree, American evangelicalism has strayed from the Scriptures, church history, common sense and its rich intellectual heritage. 

So, how did we get here?  How have we gone from being a thoughtful, intellectually vibrant people to those who are sometimes quick to believe conspiracies and falsehoods?  Moreland explains that "[i]n the middle 1800s...things began to change dramatically, though the seeds for the change had already been planted in the popularized, rhetorically powerful, and emotionally directed preaching of George Whitefield in the the First Great Awakening in the United States from the 1730s to the 1750s.  During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman's Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements.  But their overall effect was to overemphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationship to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, 'anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism."3.   And, while Moreland is clear that there was nothing wrong with emphasizing  personal conversion, he argues that the emphasis on personal feelings and emotions resulted in an "intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity."4

When the church as whole walks away from its rich intellectual heritage, and begins to emphasis emotions and personal experience over the life of the mind (Matt. 22:37) and intellectually careful and precise sermons,  the result is what we are seeing today.  And a people who do not value evidence-based beliefs will quickly be taken in by falsehoods.

We must find our way back.  Dr. Moreland argues that the evangelical church must "move toward a clearer, more biblical understanding of the Christian mind and how Christ Himself wants to shape our thinking...As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must ask how we can become the kind of people we need to be to bring honor to Christ, to help turn the culture toward Him, and to be lights in the midst of darkness for our families, friends, churches and communities...We must rededicate ourselves to being deeply spiritual of whom it can truly be said that 'Christ is formed in you' (Galatians 4:19).  And, given the times in which we live, we must also obey Jesus' admonition to be as 'wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16, KJV)."5

Surely the reasons people are quick to believe conspiracy theories are multi-faceted and my goal is not to oversimplify, but to perhaps identify one of the root problems.  While this post may not offer a complete answer, hopefully it serves as the beginning of one.  

I am encouraged by the many Christians I know that represent a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.  But we have a long way to go.  We must learn to think well again.  We must return to our rich intellectual heritage and take seriously the words of the Apostle Paul:

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor..." (Ephesians 4:25).  

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. John 4:24, 1 Cor. 13:4-6, Ephesians 4:15; 4:25
2. J.P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: Revised and Updated, p. 16,
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 16-17.
5. Ibid., 19; 40.

Related Posts

5 Theses on Anti-Intellectualism by Justin Taylor

Video: Loving God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland

What Are the Laws of Logic? by J.P. Moreland

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Preview: Return of the God Hypothesis by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer

About the Author

Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. He has authored the New York Times best seller Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2013), Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2009), which was named a Book of the Year by the Times (of London) Literary Supplement in 2009, and now, The Return of the God Hypothesis (HarperOne, 2021).

About the Book

The New York Times bestselling author of Darwin’s Doubt and Intelligent Design scholar presents groundbreaking scientific evidence of the existence of God, based on breakthroughs in physics, cosmology, and biology.

In 2004, Stephen C. Meyer, one of the preeminent scientists studying the origins of life, ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed article advancing the theory of Intelligent Design. Then, in his two bestselling books, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, he helped unravel a mystery that Charles Darwin did not address: how did life begin? and offered further scientific proof to bolster his arguments on the history of life and our origins, concluding that life was designed.

In those previous books, Meyer purposely refrained from attempting to answer questions about “who” might have designed life. Now, in The Return of the God Hypothesis, he brings his ideas full circle, providing a reasoned and evidence-based answer to the ultimate mystery of the universe, drawn from recent scientific discoveries in physics, cosmology, and biology.

Meyer uses three scientific points to refute popular arguments put forward by the “New Atheists” against the existence of God:

- The evidence from cosmology showing that the material universe had a beginning.
- The evidence from physics showing that, from the beginning, the universe was been “finely tuned” to allow for the possibility of life.
- The evidence from biology showing that since the universe came into being, large amounts of genetic information present in DNA must have arisen to make life possible.

In analyzing the evidence from these three fields, Meyer reveals how the data support not just the existence of an intelligent designer of some kind—but the existence of a theistic creator.

To learn more about Dr. Meyer's forthcoming book, and take advantage of the Preorder Special Offer, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Related Posts

What is Intelligent Design? by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer

Ben Shapiro Interviews Dr. Stephen Meyer

Video: Theistic Evolution by Stephen Meyer

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Philosopher Richard Swinburne on the Multi-verse

 

"To postulate a trillion-trillion other universes, rather than one God, in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality."1

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad


Footnote:
1. Richard Swinburne, Is There a God?, p. 68 as quoted by Peter S. Williams in Outgrowing God?




Related Posts


Article: Can Multiverse Theories Explain the Appearance of Fine Tuning in the Universe? by J. Warner Wallace

Video: Origins of the Universe- Has Hawking Eliminated God? with Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Rodney Holder

Multiverse Theory, The Anthropic Principle and Vampires

Friday, January 01, 2021

A.W. Tozer on the New Year

"I do not advise that we end the year on a somber note. The march, not the dirge, has ever been the music of Christianity. If we are good students in the school of life, there is much that the years have to teach us. But the Christian is more than a student, more than a philosopher. He is a believer, and the object of his faith makes the difference, the mighty difference. Of all persons the Christian should be best prepared for whatever the New Year brings. He has dealt with life at its source. In Christ he has disposed of a thousand enemies that other men must face alone and unprepared. He can face his tomorrow cheerful and unafraid because yesterday he turned his feet into the ways of peace and today he lives in God. The man who has made God his dwelling place will always have a safe habitation."1

Happy New Year!

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. A.W. Tozer, The Warfare of the Spirit.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Professor NT Wright on whether the Nativity stories can be trusted

 

There are no accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth beyond Luke and Matthew’s Gospels. So, how can we trust that the Christmas story happened the way they describe? English New Testament scholar NT Wright shares his thoughts. You can hear more on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast.

Christmas broadcast

About 20 years ago I was phoned up shortly before Christmas by a television station saying they were putting together a program that was going to talk about the birth narratives. They wanted a New Testament specialist to come on and say: “Actually, that stuff probably never happened.”

I said to the researcher on the phone: “Supposing I was to come on and say, ‘actually, there’s quite a reasonable chance that it all might have happened’?” There was a pause, and then she said: “I don’t think that’s what my producer was looking for.”

So, I said: “Thank you, goodbye.”

Cultural Skeptics

That’s how our culture is slanted right now. Our cultural gatekeepers don’t want to hear an ancient historian telling them that, in most of the texts we have from the ancient world, most of the incidents that we know about are described once and once only, whether it be Tacitus or Suetonius or Josephus – or Matthew or Luke.

That doesn’t mean the events didn’t happen. All historians have to say: “Well, there’s a bit of evidence; how do we weigh it, what’s the probability, what’s the likelihood?” When it comes to claims about historical accuracy, I have often read scholars who think that the New Testament writers got certain things wrong and say “maybe Luke was having an off day”.

But time again, later research often shows that we had missed something.

Dodgy chronology?

For instance, there’s the census in Luke 2.2, which is often translated to say:

“This was the first census, at the time when Quirinius was Governor of Syria.”

The problem here is that Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us the dates that Quirinius was Governor of Syria, and it doesn’t seem to square with Luke’s chronology of Jesus being born in the reign of Herod the Great. Many people have fastened on that as part of their case that the birth stories were made up later. (Of course, it’s possible that Josephus got his dates wrong, but that’s another question.)

In my own New Testament translation, Luke 2 verse 2 says:

“This was the first census before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

Several scholars have made this point but it often gets overlooked. The Greek word, ‘protos’, with a genitive, as in this case, can mean ‘before’ rather than ‘the first’. In other words, there may have been a census before the ‘Quirinius’ one – which would then fit comfortably with Jesus being born in the reign of Herod the Great.

A very different Christmas broadcast

In contrast to my experience with the television producer who phoned me, some years ago the BBC broadcast a four-part series called The Nativity. They commissioned Tony Jordan, the scriptwriter for a popular British soap called EastEnders, gave him the Christmas stories and said: “Do it.”

It was spectacular. And it was thoroughly believable. All the elements were there. It made sense as a narrative. And I thought “people need to see that”. Making sense, after all, is what history is supposed to do.

Hear more from professor NT Wright on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Theologian R.C. Sproul on Christmas

"I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history. Originally, it was intended to honor, not Mithras or any of the other mystery religion cults, but the birth of our King."1

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. R.C. Sproul, "Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?", Dec. 23th, 2016.

Related Posts

Christmas Resources from GotQuestions.org

A Christmas Testimony by Chad Vaughn