Editor’s note: The following is a series of letters written in 1796 by Reverend Richard Watson, Bishop of Landaff in London. Each letter is a point-by-point response to Thomas Paine’s anti-Christian tract The Age of Reason.
I have lately met with a book of yours, entitled – “The Age of Reason, part the second, Being an Investigation of True and of Fabulous Theology;” – and I think it not inconsistent with my station and the duty I owe to society, to trouble you and the world with some observations on so extraordinary a performance.
Extraordinary I esteem it, not from any novelty in the objections which you have produced against revealed religion, (for I find little or no novelty in them), but from the zeal with which you labor to disseminate your opinions and from the confidence with which you esteem them true.
You perceive, by this that I give you credit for your sincerity, however much I may question your wisdom, in writing in such a manner on such a subject.
I have no reluctance in acknowledging that you possess a considerable share of energy of language and acuteness of investigation, though I must be allowed to lament that these talents have not been applied in a manner more useful to human kind and more creditable to yourself.
I begin with your preface. You therein state – that you had long had an intention of publishing your thoughts upon religion, but that you had originally reserved it to a later period in life. I hope there is no want of charity in saying that it would have been fortunate for the Christian world had your life been terminated before you had fulfilled your intention.
In accomplishing your purpose, you will have unsettled the faith of thousands, rooted from the minds of the unhappy virtuous all their comfortable assurance of a future recompense, have annihilated in the minds of the flagitious all their fears of future punishment.
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hat tip to CofeehouseTheology.
By Steve Tsai
Normally when engaged in discussion with others, there is a rule called the “burden of proof” that keeps the conversation honest and profitable. The burden of proof is a principle that states that the person who asserts a proposition has the burden to defend it by reason or evidence. Notice here the person who has asserted the proposition must prove it true. Then and only then does the other person respond to the substantiated claim with counterevidence or a counterargument (which is called the burden of the rejoinder). The point here is that if you assert it, it’s your responsibility to prove it. And the converse point is, you don’t have to disprove what is unproven. There’s no need to go about disproving wild unsubstantiated claims.
Now I think this is a fair thing to ask of the atheist, that is, asking him to bear the burden of proof. If God’s existence is impossible, improbable or simply fortuitously untrue, it seems common sense dictates the atheist should give evidence for these claims. At least you would think.
At this point, modern atheists have one more trick up their sleeve, one that supposedly counteracts the burden of proof. The issue has to do with the etymology of “atheism,” defined not as a positive belief in the non-existence of God, but simply a lack of any belief in God. The prefix “a-“ is understood as “without,” and “theism” (as you well know) means “belief in God.” So they will argue, the atheistic position is not one of positive affirmation in God’s non-existence, but rather simply a lack of belief in the existence of God. Atheists are without, or lack belief in God. So because the atheist has asserted nothing, she has nothing to prove. She does not have to prove the non-existence of God, because she never positively asserted God’s non-existence. She simply has to shoot down arguments by theists, since they do make a positive claim and must bear the burden of proof.
If you sense something has gone amiss, you are correct. I think this is an unfair ploy designed to shift the burden on the theist while allowing the atheist to continue taking the offensive. It’s much easier to tear down others rather than erect an edifice of one’s own. And many times, rhetorically the aggressive person seems like he is winning.
Here are a few good responses to this ploy:
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This isn’t death – it’s glory!
It is not dark – it’s light!
It isn’t stumbling, groping,
Or even faith – it’s sight!
This isn’t grief – it’s having
My last tear wiped away;
It’s sunrise – it’s the morning
Of my eternal day!
This isn’t even praying -
It’s speaking face to face;
Listening and glimpsing
The wonders of His grace.
This is the end of pleading
For strength to bear my pain;
Not even pain’s dark memory
Will ever live again.
How did I bear the earth-life
Before I knew this rapture
Of meeting face to face
The One who sought me, saved me,
And kept me by His grace!
Martha Snell Nicholson
Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D.
Biola University, La Mirada, California
Dr. Hazen is Director of the M.A. Program in Christian Apologetics and professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics at Biola University. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he is the editor of the philosophy journal, Philosophia Christi. He is also the author of numerous articles and books. Dr. Hazen has received the highest faculty award at Biola and recently lectured on Captiol Hill and in the White House.
HOW WERE PEOPLE SAVED BEFORE JESUS DIED FOR OUR SINS?
Since the fall of man, the basis of salvation has always been the death of Christ. No one, either prior to the cross or since the cross, would ever be saved without that one pivotal event in the history of the world. Christ’s death paid the penalty for past sins of Old Testament saints and future sins of New Testament saints.
The requirement for salvation has always been faith. The object of one’s faith for salvation has always been God. The psalmist wrote, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed God and that was enough for God to credit it to him for righteousness (see also Romans 4:3-8). The Old Testament sacrificial system did not take away sin, as Hebrews 10:1-10 clearly teaches. It did, however, point to the day when the Son of God would shed His blood for the sinful human race.
What has changed through the ages is the content of a believer’s faith. God’s requirement of what must be believed is based on the amount of revelation He has given mankind up to that time. This is called progressive revelation. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Adam believed Him, demonstrated by the name he gave Eve (v. 20) and the Lord indicated His acceptance immediately by covering them with coats of skin (v. 21). At that point that is all Adam knew, but he believed it.
Abraham believed God according to the promises and new revelation God gave him in Genesis 12 and 15. Prior to Moses, no Scripture was written, but mankind was responsible for what God had revealed. Throughout the Old Testament, believers came to salvation because they believed that God would someday take care of their sin problem. Today, we look back, believing that He has already taken care of our sins on the cross (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:28).
What about believers in Christ’s day, prior to the cross and resurrection? What did they believe? Did they understand the full picture of Christ dying on a cross for their sins? Late in His ministry, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21-22). What was the reaction of His disciples to this message? “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” Peter and the other disciples did not know the full truth, yet they were saved because they believed that God would take care of their sin problem. They didn’t exactly know how He would accomplish that, any more than Adam, Abraham, Moses, or David knew how, but they believed God.
Today, we have more revelation than the people living before the resurrection of Christ; we know the full picture. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our salvation is still based on the death of Christ, our faith is still the requirement for salvation, and the object of our faith is still God. Today, for us, the content of our faith is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Recommended Resource: Salvation by Lewis Sperry Chafer.
Hat tip to GotQuestions.org
By Charles R. Swindoll
A commentary on 2 Peter 3
Entertainment is everything today. So important, in fact, that we have television programs and magazines devoted solely to the subject. All of which makes it real difficult to be committed to substance rather than the superficial. This includes reading widely, probing deeply, seeing with discernment, rejecting the false, learning the facts. In short, thinking!
Critic Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, correctly argues that television is converting us from a “word-centered culture” to an “image-centered culture.” Even the news broadcasts are under increasing pressure to entertain more than inform.
Ted Koppel, the penetrating [former] host of Nightline, calls this “Vannatizing” (after Vanna White, Wheel of Fortune’s celebrity hostess, whose role on the highly rated game show is a matter of looking cute and saying “hello” and “bye-bye”). Toddler talk. Don’t think, just look. Don’t question, relax. “There’s not much room on television for complexity,” says Koppel. “We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing.”
I can handle “Vannatizing” a game show. But when it comes to our faith, “Vannatizing” is intolerable. When will we ever learn that sacred things cannot be staged and remain sacred? What will it take to finally convince us of what Muggeridge stated so well, “You cannot present an authentic message by means of an inauthentic medium”?
My hope rests in the remnant of believers who still believe in thinking . . . who have an insatiable hunger for learning . . . who appreciate the hard work that goes into knowing where they stand theologically and yet knowing where they need to bend practically.
What I’m pushing for is more who know what they believe, and why. Folks who can spot phony baloney before it hits the headlines . . . who know some guru is spouting heresy even though his promises sound inviting. Folks who don’t wait to be told every move to make, who are challenged within to grow, to study, to learn.
Such discernment never comes automatically. Thinking is hard work, but, oh, so rewarding. And so essential for survival.
Furthermore, you won’t feel quite so intimidated the next time some guy who just heard you’re a Christian leans over and asks why. Your defense will make better sense.
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J.P. Moreland, Ph.D.
Biola University, La Mirada, California
With degrees in philosophy, theology, and chemistry, Dr. Moreland has taught theology and philosophy at several schools throughout the U.S. He has authored, edited, or contributed papers to thirty-five books, including Does God Exist? (Prometheus), Universals (McGill-Queen’s), and Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge) and Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell).
He has also published over 75 articles in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, MetaPhilosophy, Philosophia Christi, Religious Studies, and Faith and Philosophy.
Dr. Moreland served with Campus Crusade for 10 years, planted two churches, and has spoken on over 200 college campuses.
Click here to read Dr. Moreland’s curriculum vitae.
DOES AN ANGEL OR EAGLE FLY IN REVELATION 8:13?
By Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Recently a friend from my church sent me a question on Facebook. She had read Revelation 8:13 out of both the New King James Version (NKJV) and the NIV (New International Version). The NKJV said that in one of John’s visions he heard an angel flying through the middle of heaven crying out woes over the earth. But the NIV said it was an eagle that was flying, not an angel. She wanted to know how two such different English translations could come from the same Greek word.
Here’s what I wrote her in reply:
“Ah, the perils of using the KJV (or the NKJV)! The translators of the KJV did a marvelous job for their day with the couple dozen manuscripts available to them. But now we have rediscovered thousands, including dozens earlier and more reliable than what the KJV translators had access to. What is remarkable is how carefully preserved in general the Bible was, but there are differences.
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By Niall Firth
It sounds like something straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, in a chilling echo of the computer Hal from the iconic film, scientists have developed robots that are able to deceive humans and even hide from their enemies.
An experiment by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception. The team developed computer algorithms that would let a robot ‘decide’ whether it should deceive a human or another robot and gave it strategies to give it the best chance of not being found out.
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When: November 18-20, 2010
Where: Marietta, Georgia
What: Experience seasoned teaching by Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Greg Koukl, Randy Newman, Frank Beckwith, Craig Evans, Craig Blomberg, Mike Licona and over twenty other influencers in Christian apologetics as they equip you about the issues facing contemporary Christian witness. Click here for more information.