Foetus in the womb

The Ethics of Abortion: A Pro-life Perspective (Pt 2)

Welcome back for Part 2 of this series, in which I’m presenting a pro-life case against abortion. In Part 1 we examined the controversy surrounding abortion, and I argued that the rightness or wrongness of abortion rests predominantly on the nature of the unborn. This was expressed with the question “what is the unborn?”. The objective of this week’s post is to examine the scientific data relevant to the question, and to demonstrate that the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being.


Defining the Pro-life Position

Before delving into the question of the nature of the unborn, let’s define two key terms: “abortion”, and “human being”. Abortion is the intentional killing of a human foetus[i], while a human being is a distinct, living, and whole member of the species Homo sapiens. Typically, ethicists who argue in favour of abortion contend that the unborn, though a human being in the biological sense, lacks some further property or capacity which grants them personhood. Such arguments will be considered in future posts; this post will deal solely with scientific evidence.

The pro-life position can be clearly and concisely laid out as follows:

  1. It is wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.
  2. Abortion intentionally takes the life of an innocent human being.
  3. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

Over the course of this series we’ll examine the premises of this argument, and I’ll offer a defence of each by appealing to science and philosophy.


The Scientific Case[ii]

Now we come to the question outlined in Part 1: what is the unborn? Upon reflection, there seem to be two options. Firstly, the unborn could be a distinct, living, and whole member of the species Homo sapiens from the moment of conception; that is, a human being. Alternatively, it could be some other kind of entity that becomes a human being at birth or at some other stage during pregnancy. Obvious candidates for this kind of entity include (1) a mere clump of cells that do not function in a coordinated manner, (2) a living but non-human being, or (3) a part of the woman’s body. The following paragraphs will outline several scientific facts that undermine these three options and demonstrate that the unborn is a human being.

  • The unborn is alive

A common misconception regarding abortion is that no one knows when life begins. Insofar as one uses “life” in the biological sense, this is demonstrably false. Although there is some debate among biologists as to how to define life precisely, there exist several criteria which, if fulfilled, most scientists agree indicate that an organism is living. Intriguingly, the unborn entity fulfils those criteria from the moment of conception, and thus we can infer that human life begins at conception. These criteria are, minimally, threefold: an entity must be able to convert food to energy (metabolism), react to stimuli, and must be capable of cellular reproduction (growth)[iii]. The unborn, from the moment of conception, performs all three of these functions. Therefore, the unborn is alive.   

An additional consideration which lends support to the view that the unborn is alive is this: abortion kills something. Of course, everyone knows that an organism that has been killed must have been alive prior to its death. In other words, it’s impossible to kill something that isn’t alive. With these considerations in mind, it’s evident that the unborn is a living entity.

  • The unborn is biologically unique

When sperm and egg unite during fertilisation, each contribute twenty-three chromosomes to the formation of the new being. These chromosomes contain the genetic material that guides and directs its development over the course of its life, and they are relevant because they distinguish the unborn from every other cell in the mother’s body. While all the mother’s cells contain the forty-six chromosomes that she received at fertilisation, the cells of the unborn contain forty-six of its own distinct chromosomes. The unborn’s chromosomes consist of a unique combination of the mother’s and father’s chromosomal sequences. Since every cell in the mother’s body contains her unique chromosomal structure, and every cell in the unborn child’s body contains its unique chromosomal structure, the unborn is a distinct being; it is not merely a part of the woman’s body.

  • The unborn has the genetic constitution of a human being

In addition to having its own chromosomal makeup, the unborn has the genetic constitution characteristic of human beings. Each of the unborn’s chromosomes contains a DNA molecule, which includes sequences called genes. These sequences make up the genome, which is a set of instructions for constructing an organism. Different types of organisms have different genomes, and thus it is possible to determine the type of being an organism is by examining its genome. Upon examination, it becomes clear that “the conceptus [unborn] is a new, although tiny, individual with a human genetic code”[iv].

  • The unborn functions as a whole

Another relevant fact is that the unborn, from conception, is a whole organism that directs its own internal growth and maturation. Unlike a dead body, which contains living cells but is unable to function as a coordinated whole, the unborn “is a whole organism, with certain capacities, powers, and properties, whose parts work in concert to bring the whole to maturity… the early embryo… behaves like a single organism with an intrinsic goal-directedness for which its cellular parts interact and communicate”[v]. There are several reasons to think this is the case, one of which is the fact that the embryo forms a natural protective coating for its own benefit and use prior to implantation. This coating, known as a zona pellucida, is not the mother’s organ, nor is it a tumour or some third organism[vi]. Rather, it is an organ of the embryo. Activities such as this, in which cells coordinate to produce organs for the benefit of the whole, are characteristic of whole organisms.


Drawing Conclusions

Now that the relevant facts have been outlined, all that remains is to see how they support or undermine the various answers offered as to the nature of the unborn. To recap, the unborn could be:

  1. A part of the woman’s body.
  2. A mere clump of cells that lacks the ability to function as a whole.
  3. A living non-human being, e.g. canine, bovine.
  4. A distinct, living, and whole member of the species Homo sapiens.

This list is meant only to include the most common suggestions; it is not exhaustive.

Let’s begin by considering whether the unborn could be a part of the woman’s body. Upon first impression, the fact that the unborn is located within the woman’s body does provide some reason to think that it could be her body, or, rather, a part of it. Just as other internal organs, such as her heart and lungs, are both within and part of her body, the unborn could also be part of her body.

However, the fact that the unborn has a unique chromosomal structure from the moment of conception rules this option out. We know that if a cell is part of a woman’s body, then it will have the same chromosomes as every other cell in her body. Since the unborn does not have the same chromosomes, we can conclude that it’s not part of her body.

Alternatively, could the unborn be a mere clump of cells that lack the ability to function as a whole? A shaving of skin cells contains living human cells, but it would be a mistake to think that therefore those cells are a living human being. Similarly, it could be the case that the unborn is a clump of cells that doesn’t qualify as a human being.

Once again there are good grounds for rejecting this suggestion; namely the observation that the unborn, from conception, directs its own internal growth and maturation. In the words of Christopher Kaczor, “the human embryo is a whole, complete organism, a living individual human being whose cells work together in a coordinated effort of self-development towards maturity”[vii]. This observation demonstrates that the unborn is utterly unlike a shaving of skin cells.

Thirdly, it could be the case that the unborn is a living non-human being. There are innumerable other living organisms besides Homo sapiens, and given this, it may at face value seem reasonable to take this position. However, the genetic constitution of the unborn is conclusive evidence against this. If an entity has the genetic constitution characteristic of human beings, then it is a human being. The unborn has said genetic constitution, and therefore the unborn is not only a living being, but a living human being.

Of the offered alternatives, this leaves only one: the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being. We know the unborn is alive, as it fulfils the biological criteria for life. We know the unborn is a distinct entity because it has a unique chromosomal makeup. We know the unborn is human because it has the genetic constitution characteristic of human beings, and we know the unborn is a whole entity, as it directs its own internal growth and maturation. Hence, pro-choice advocate Peter Singer writes “there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being”[viii].

What is the unborn? It is a distinct, living, and whole human being. 

 


 

Citations:

[i] The Clarkson Academy. (2015, November 27). The ethics of abortion part 1 – Scott Klusendorf at The Clarkson Academy (session 1). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG6zulqxzlw&t=645s

[ii] I’m indebted to Zachary Arden for his help in writing this section; many thanks!

[iii] Klusendorf, S. (2009). The case for life: Equipping Christians to engage the culture, p. 37. Wheaton Illinois: Crossway.

[iv] Beckwith, F. J. (2007). Defending life: A moral and legal case against abortion choice, p. 67. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Benedict, A. & Moraczewski, A. (n.d.). Is the biological subject of human rights present from conception. The Fetal Tissue Issue: 33-60. As cited in Beckwith, F. (2007). Defending life: A moral and legal case against abortion choice, p. 80.

[vii] Kaczor, C. (2015). The ethics of abortion: women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge p. 113.

[viii] Singer, P. (2000). Writings on an ethical life. New York: Ecco Press, p. 127, as cited in Kaczor, C. (2015). The ethics of abortion: women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge p. 7.

UFO landing - newspaper article

Fake News versus Good News

The best way to start this article is probably with an astonishing claim somehow related to political figures currently popular with the media – perhaps a new Russian edition of The Apprentice involving selling off former Soviet military, hosted by a Trump lookalike … But we’re all used to fake news and clickbait, and we actually need something better.

In a world with climate change, homelessness, disaster, politics, and the seemingly endless deaths of celebrities – and normal people – many are looking for good news. Some will go to the internet looking for it, and most will then, eventually, discover that a lot of the ‘news’ available is fake.

Followers of Jesus claim that he offers good news. But the internet, and the world around us, offer a multitude of claims, and many are false. Perhaps the majority of claims on the internet are false, or at least misleading. Living in an information age, we need a good filter to find the reliable information, and we either learn to be sceptical quickly or start believing a lot of nonsense. The central claims of the Christian faith are bits of information in a huge biosphere of alternatives. How to find the golden thread of truth amidst the blonde toupees of falsehood?

Two key steps in practice, I think, are to find sources we can generally trust, and set aside sources that are not trustworthy. So, tackling the challenge head on, what kind of news can we not trust? The main thing here is perhaps to try to weed out sources that are heavily motivated by something other than truth. They might still be true, but sources not typically directed towards the truth undercut the rational basis for holding what they say to be true. Fake news has a motivation of some kind, in our era often to do with money or political control. Sources that are never self-critical or open about their flaws are also suspect. Sources that limit the important claims to things that can’t be checked also raise questions. But, doesn’t everyone have selfish motives in some sense? Who can we trust? The scientific community, CNN, and the New York Times, are popular sources for many of the educated and thoughtful in our society. The feeling is that they’re rational, progressive, and open to new ideas, while also solid and reliable. Whatever you think of these particular sources, these organisations have huge communication power because they are trusted by hundreds of millions.

How does the Christian claim to be offering good news stand up in light of the two key steps? Christian claims are centrally claims about Jesus, a historical figure, so to make sense of it we need to zoom back to the early Church. I’ll leave you to do the research, you can check out many of the facts on this site. I believe that the early Christians were not motivated by money or power, as they gained neither, and exchanged what they had, including secure conservative religious beliefs (they weren’t motivated by, say,  fear of death), for risk and discomfort. They also make claims open to public examination, and the accounts are down to earth and honest about suffering and human failure. The central claims, unlike most worldviews, are about public reality, not private inner experience or an idealised future state. Jesus lived a human life, died a shockingly human death, and rose from the dead publicly. The claims lack features which fake news tends to have. Christian faith is also open to new information – the Spirit is still active, and, while it’s 500 years since the remarkable Protestant Reformation ‘officially’ began, the community of Jesus followers should be always reforming. Christianity, unlike ethically arid secular worldviews, provides a moral imperative for social progress, but the desire is grounded in an unchanging reality and a realism about human wilful brokenness and fallibility.

We’ve touched on two key steps, but there’s a third that probably should be added too. This is what I’ll grandly call the wisdom criterion. It goes something like this: “how important is this topic, anyway?” Most of the news swirling around crying out for attention can safely be set aside because it simply doesn’t matter whether it’s true or false. Time is limited, and the opportunities in life are great for those who will take them. Jesus, as recounted by the redeemed formerly broken tax collector Matthew told a confronting story about ‘talents’, silver coins, left behind by their owner to be invested. We’ve all been given some.

New information will pop up on your Facebook feed or homepage any minute now. Is it important? Is it well-motivated? Is it up for public scrutiny or an implausible claim to secret knowledge? No matter how cynical, I think we’re all looking for good news – Jesus offers it, reliably.

Asking a difficult question

So you think I’m going to hell?

In our conversations with others about God – we will eventually encounter difficult questions like these:

“So you think I’m going to hell?”

“Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you are going to hell?”

“But why do I need Jesus?”

How do we answer such a pointed questions without sounding judgemental and bigoted?

Rather than being caught out – these questions are actually wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Check out this short clip where Greg Koukl outlines a tactical and gracious way you can answer these questions so you’re not caught out:

Foetus in the womb

The Ethics of Abortion: A Pro-life Perspective (Pt 1)

In 2015, 13,155 abortions were performed in New Zealand[i]. Those figures account for 18 percent of pregnancies during that year, and, depending on one’s stance on abortion, represent either women’s rights to reproductive choice or a tragic loss of valuable human life. As a Christian, I’ve always adhered to the pro-life position, but it wasn’t until I was recently challenged in a discussion that I began to look into the philosophical and scientific facts regarding abortion. I was somewhat surprised to discover that, contrary to the impression given by the media, the pro-life case is strong, appealing to the best knowledge we have regarding embryology, and undergirded by sound philosophical reasoning. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to present what I believe to be a sound case against abortion by appealing to science and philosophy. Of course, one could offer a theological case, but since many people don’t believe in Scripture, it seems evident that the pro-life cause will be better served by appealing to facts that are held in common by both religious and non-religious persons. I’ll present the case over several posts, so be sure to check in regularly for more content.


Simplifying the Debate:

The first step towards productive discussions about abortion is to simplify the debate. Much public dispute stems from abortion’s apparent complexity. Often in conversations concerning abortion one or more parties will exclaim, “well, it’s a complicated issue”. On one hand, it’s easy to understand why this attitude prevails when one considers the plethora of issues that confront both pro-choice and pro-life advocates. For those unfamiliar with abortion terminology, “pro-choice” typically refers to those who are in favour of abortion, while “pro-life” refers to those who stand against it. A keyword search on stuff.co.nz reveals recent articles dealing with protests, demonstrations, parental consent, teen abortions, counselling and advice, secret abortion clinics and clandestine procedures, not to mention abortion laws and women’s rights. Taking all of this into account seems like an insurmountable task, and even if one could, making the opposing parties to see eye to eye seems equally if not more difficult. However, appearances can be deceiving. Although there are numerous issues surrounding abortion that warrant consideration, the moral issue rests predominantly on one question: what is the unborn?

Greg Koukl offers a helpful illustration to clarify this point[ii]. Imagine you are standing at your sink, scraping the remains of dinner from a stack of dirty plates and preparing to wash the dishes. Your 5-year old son enters the kitchen while your back is turned, and asks “Mum (or Dad), can I kill this?”. What’s the first thing you’ll say in response? “Sure, have at it”, or “No, leave it alone”? No—before you can answer the question directly, it’s necessary to determine what the thing in question is. If it’s a cockroach or spider, perhaps you’ll say yes. If it’s a cat or a dog, obviously not. If it’s a sibling or friend, definitely and unequivocally not.

Similarly, when we ask the question “can we abort the unborn?” we must first determine what the unborn is. If it is merely a clump of cells, then killing and removing said cells from the mother’s body is morally unproblematic. Just as one might remove a tumour or appendix without moral quandary, so one may expel the unborn. However, if the unborn is a human being who possesses a fundamental right to life, then abortion becomes, at face value, an egregious moral evil. As Christopher Kaczor writes, “If… [the unborn] is an innocent person, a being with a right to life, then having an abortion would seem to be wrong, for the right to life of one person entails the duty of others not to intentionally kill him or her”[iii]. To put it simply, if the unborn are human persons, abortion is most likely wrong. However, if they are not, abortion is morally unproblematic.


Begging the Question:

When approached from this angle, it becomes clear that some pro-choice arguments implicitly beg the question. In philosophy, to “beg the question” means to assume what one is meant to be proving. In this instance, the following arguments assume that the unborn are not human persons rather than proving it. I’ll deal with these in more detail in future posts, but consider the following examples:

  1. It’s okay to oppose abortion personally, but we shouldn’t force our views on others.
  2. If abortion is made illegal, women will be forced to get dangerous illegal abortions.

Regarding the first argument, no one would defend the view that although they’re personally against killing toddlers, they don’t want to force their views on others. If killing toddlers is truly wrong, then no one should be allowed to do so, even if they don’t think that it’s wrong. In the same way, if aborting unborn human persons is truly wrong, then no one should be allowed to do so (except perhaps in exceptional circumstances). So why is this argument sometimes offered in defence of killing the unborn? Because it is assumed that there is a fundamental difference between the unborn and the toddler, namely, that the unborn is not a human person. However, this is the very question that must be answered before drawing conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of abortion.

As for the second objection, it also assumes that the unborn are not human. Otherwise, as Scott Klusendorf aptly discerns, the advocate of abortion would be claiming that “because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so”[iv]. Such moral reasoning is clearly absurd. If, however, we assume that the unborn are not human, then the objection merely claims that because some people will die attempting to rid themselves of a non-human entity known as a foetus, the state should make it safe and legal to do so. This makes far more sense, but is based on a very contentious assumption. These two examples of question-begging arguments underscore the importance of determining what the unborn is before deciding whether or not it can be killed.


Note that so far no case has been offered to show that the unborn actually are human beings with a right to life. In this post, my aim has been only to sharpen our focus and tease out the underlying question that should play a significant role in determining one’s stance on this issue; namely, what is the unborn? Perhaps the unborn are not, in fact, human beings, and can therefore be killed without wrongdoing. We’ll take up that question in future posts.

 


 

Citations:

[i] Abortion statistics: Year ended December 2015. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/health/abortion/AbortionStatistics_HOTPYeDec15.aspx

[ii] Koukl, G., Klusendorf, S. (2006). Making abortion unthinkable. [MP3]. California, CA: Stand to Reason.

[iii] Kaczor, C. (2015). The ethics of abortion: Women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

[iv] Klusendorf, S. (2009). The case for life: Equipping Christians to engage the culture, p. 23. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.

Homosexuality and the Christian

Review: Homosexuality and the Christian

Homosexuality is undoubtedly one of the most controversial issues that the modern church faces, and contention exists on several planes for the twenty-first century Christian. Theologically, an increasing number of believers are questioning the stance that the church has historically taken, namely that homosexual behaviour is outside the bounds of what God intended for human sexuality. Socially, there is increasing pressure on believers to reject that stance, while practically, many Christians are uncertain how to respond to friends and family who reveal same-sex attractions. Mark Yarhouse’s Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, sets out to address a number of questions regarding homosexuality, drawing upon the author’s experience as a psychologist, counsellor, and Christian to offer a wealth of wisdom.

The primary purposes of the book are, firstly, to honestly answer difficult questions regarding homosexuality, and, secondly, to stimulate conversation among Christians and suggest new ways of thinking, with the intent of better supporting same-sex attracted Christians. The book is predominantly targeted at Christians who either experience same-sex attraction, or are unsure of how to support others who do. However, a non-believer seeking to better understand the traditional Christian perspective on homosexuality would certainly benefit by reading and reflecting on the content.

It’s important to note that Yarhouse’s suggested changes in thinking don’t constitute an alternative morality that stands in opposition to biblical sexuality. Rather, what he suggests is a shift of emphasis from questions of causation and orientation-change to those of sexual and religious identity. Much of what Yarhouse suggests is based on his exposition of sexual identity, which I’ll unpack in the paragraphs below.

Homosexuality and the Christian is divided into three parts. Part One: The Big Picture, addresses questions such as “What does God think about homosexuality?”, “What causes homosexuality?” and “Is it possible to change sexual orientation?”. To answer such questions, Yarhouse draws from scripture, church tradition, and science and reason. Summarising and critiquing a number of major academic studies, he distils an immense quantity of information in such a way that it is easy to understand, even for those with no familiarity with the topic. He then brings together the threads of those studies to draw modest, reasonable conclusions.

In Part One Yarhouse also underlines the role and significance of sexual identity. Sexual identity, he writes, is how an individual labels themselves regarding their sexual preferences. A number of factors contribute to the shaping of a person’s sexual identity, including one’s sexual attractions and the beliefs and values that one holds regarding sexual attractions and behaviours. What he suggests is that, rather than focussing on the causes of sexuality and whether sexual orientation can change, Christians should consider the role that sexual identity plays in a person’s experience of same-sex attraction. Instead of crafting their identity around their sexual attractions, we should encourage believers to found their identity in Christ. This principle holds not just for Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but Christians in general.

Part Two: Honest Answers to Questions Facing Families, offers practical advice to families in which a member has revealed same-sex attraction. Yarhouse deals specifically with situations when a teen, adult child, and spouse announce same-sex attractions or orientations. His tone is gentle and compassionate throughout, and he emphasises the reality and significance of these situations by sharing stories of families and individuals he has counselled. Those stories underscore the fact that real people are dealing with these issues, and they should be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness, regardless of what conclusions they ultimately reach.

Part Three: Questions for the Church, challenges the church to adjust its thinking and to treat same-sex attracted individuals with respect and compassion. Yarhouse contends that this can be accomplished while also remaining faithful to the traditional view of sexuality. He also makes suggestions as to how the church can better respond to people who struggle with same-sex attraction over a long period of time. Part Three had the most impact on my own thinking; in particular, chapter eight, titled “Whose People Are We Talking About?”.

In chapter eight, Yarhouse speaks of how the Church, for the most part, does not treat believers who experience same-sex attraction as our people. He writes:

I don’t think Christians who are sexual minorities feel like they are part of “us”… [that is,] part of the Christian community. They often play the same tape over and over in their heads: they don’t belong; they aren’t good enough; people would reject them if they knew what was really going on… Few churches reach out to the Christian who is a sexual minority. (p. 158)

As a solution, he suggests that we emphasise that their first and primary obligation is to God, just like every other believer. This ties in with his emphasis on identity, and how we should form our identity around Christ:

What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us. We are all supposed to be working toward… Christlikeness. (p. 165)

When we think of Christian sexual minorities in this way, we include them in a process that all Christians, regardless of sexuality and attractions, are a part of. By making the focus Christ-likeness, rather than a change of orientation, abstinence, or whatever else it might be, we can recognise that all Christians are aiming for the same goal.

In conclusion, Homosexuality and the Christian is a book well worth reading, both for Christians and non-believers who wish to better understand homosexuality and the appropriate Christian response. If you recall, Yarhouse’s purpose in the book is twofold, firstly to answer difficult questions that many people have about homosexuality, and, secondly, to stimulate conversation among Christians and suggest new ways of thinking. The book fulfils both purposes, all while treating the topic with sensitivity and candour. Those who are searching for a theological tome that delves into exegesis and analysis of scripture will need to look elsewhere. But, for those who simply want candid answers, practical advice, and stimulus for thought with straightforward practical application, look no further than this book.

Old Antique Book

Foundations for interpretation

bible-08Some of mankind’s most enduring questions have been those surrounding the topic of epistemology, or the study of knowledge. What is true knowledge? Where does it come from and how do we obtain it? Are some forms of knowledge more authoritative than others? 

Throughout history, man has sought to understand reality (ontology) and how we can know this is so (epistemology). From the pre-Socratics to their namesake, from Plato to his infamous student, Aristotle, from Kant to Nietzsche – a major part of Western philosophy has been the question of, “How can we know what there is to know?” As we will see below, Christianity is no different.

A  primer in Christian epistemology

A distinctly Christian epistemology is grounded in revelation – God stopping down to our level to communicate truth to us. While modern philosophy believes that man possesses all that he needs (his autonomous reason) to scale the summit of reality, Christianity is a little more pessimistic about man’s ability to reason their way to Knowledge. Due to the noetic effects of sin, we are prone to bias and hubris in our philosophical pursuits. At risk of oversimplifying – we need a helping hand in our epistemology.

In Christian theology, there is a distinction between God’s two books –  general and special revelation. General revelation is the truth of God as revealed in creation and providence – his existence, wisdom, power, goodness, and righteousness perceived through the things around us (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p41). All man has access to this level of truth through a logical and scientific interpretation of the world. What we choose to do with these truths – suppress or embrace – is an entirely different matter.

Special revelation, or God’s second book, is his authoritative written Word as found in the Bible. This provides particular knowledge about God, salvation and the human condition that we attain through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, correcting our systematic distortion of general revelation at the same time (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p40).

An important question then arises – how do we, as fallible human beings, faithfully interpret what God is communicating to us through his Word? If God’s general revelation can in some ways be interpreted through reason and the scientific method, how should Christians approach his covenantal Word? To our detriment, various philosophical trends have attempted to answer this question for us and we may not have even noticed.

Philosophy check

The development of postmodern thought in the 20th century has lead to a form of linguistic reductionism where words are removed from their context and given an entirely different meaning from that of the original author. Rather than the locus of meaning being found in the author’s intent, it is now found in the interpretation of the reader. “What does this text mean to you?” becomes an all-to-frequent question at Bible studies.

Christians are naturally affronted by this turn of events and seek to reclaim the meaning of the author for interpreting texts. The reaction to this postmodern hermeneutic is often not balanced – instead of reclaiming ground via a convincing interpretive framework, the reaction to this textual twisting is to force texts through a grid of literalism that the Bible does not require. Passages containing clear figurative language are interpreted literally and much confusion abounds.

Think about your own experience – we use turns of phrase and figures of speech constantly. Do we ever interpret these with the same degree of literalism that we enforce on Scripture?. A few examples will suffice:

  • “Are you getting cold feet?”
  • “I’ve been kept in the dark on that one”
  • “Speak of the devil”
  • “She has a bubbly personality”
  • “You got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning”
  • “He let the cat out of the bag”

Why would we demand a literal interpretation of all biblical texts, regardless of form, if we don’t do this in our everyday use of language?

A more holistic approach is required – one that takes into consideration the original languages, literary features, historical context, redemptive-historical context, and theological truths to name a few. The Bible is definitely more than a text to be critically interpreted, but it is no less than this and so we should seek to interpret faithfully and in a way that does honour to author and Author alike.

The Future of Western Values

The Foundation of Western Values with Dr Ravi Zacharias

You can view a recording of the event here:

The Foundation of Western Values

Examining Christian Values in the Public Square

with international speaker Dr Ravi Zacharias

A cultural revolution is underway across the western world – and our shared meanings and values are being shaken apart with titanic force. Yet God in His wisdom has set foundations on which our lives are to be built, shaping both our public and private values. In this presentation Ravi examines and responds to the challenges facing these foundations within modern culture.


Ravi ZachariasRavi Zacharias has spoken for 44 years in universities and in public forums all over the world – from the opening of the United Nations General Assembly to the White House, and has spoken to the seats of government in England, Canada and the U.S.  He has authored or edited over twenty books and his weekly radio program airs on 2337 outlets worldwide.

For a full bio – including a list of his books – visit RZIM here.


Mark Powell The evening will be introduced with a TED-style talk by Mark Powell, who will speak on The impact of Faith on Business and Leadership.  He will unpack how we all have a faith from which we get our values – and how such faith links to modern business and leadership in more ways than you might think.

A popular New Zealand business leader with more than 30 years executive experience, Mark is best known for his role as CEO of the Warehouse Group, an iconic New Zealand retailer.


John Peachy The evening will be MC’ed by popular Christian radio talk-back personality, motivational speaker and leadership coach John Peachy.

 

 

 

 

Ravi is a dynamic and fascinating speaker who Thinking Matters is hosting for this once-only Auckland event you won’t want to miss.  Please let others know!

WHEN: Friday 3rd March 2017
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Harbourside Church, 48 Esmonde Road, Takapuna
COST: $5 Individual – $10 Family (cash at door)
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: We have very limited seating for this event.  Please see details here.

SIDE NOTE: Ravi will also be conducting a series of events in Dunedin from Sunday 26th February until Thursday 2nd March. You can check out details of his Dunedin events here.

Translation – Part 1


Today’s guest post comes to us from Luke Williamson.

*****

Translation is Impossible!!!!! (Or is it?)

In a scene of Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku laments her slide into cynicism. The difference in her monologue in the dub and in the subtitles is subtle, and both touch the same notes. However, the Shizuku of the subs closely pairs her cynicism with a self-condemnation, and she speaks less in terms of grades and vocation. She has a slightly heavier and more internal sense of guilt.

English-speaking anime viewers hotly debate dubs and subs. Clearly, most fans believe that at least some translations are good. Our experience of anime largely depends on translation.

Christianity, too, assumes that translation can work. Most of us do not know Hebrew or Greek. Nobody today is a native speaker of the ancient Hebrew or Koine Greek of the Bible. Why do we think translation can work? Should we?

Translation is like many tasks. Experience shows that it can be done, but if you list the difficulties, it seems impossible. In fact, not only translating the Bible from ancient Hebrew, but everyday translation in our world today would seem unworkable under a sceptical gaze. Let me explain, using examples from English and Chinese, my burgeoning second language.

To start with, a few vocabulary difficulties:

  • The English please is often translated qing (?).
  • Qing is often translated ask.
  • Ask is often translated wen (?).
  • Wen often forms half the word for essay.

So it is not a matter of substituting words; the vast vocabularies of each language are different systems. The translator cannot use the vocabulary system of the original sentence; he must fit the idea within his audience’s vocabulary system – they are the audience, after all! He must also change the grammar, for the same reason. And I have not even mentioned culture yet. Not only is the translator leaving behind the original systems of vocabulary, grammar, and culture, but the interactions between those systems. How can any message survive such radical linguistic surgery?! And all that is just a very simplified explanation of what translators must do!

Yet we see translation work all the time. Translating in your head is integral to learning a new language. Infants learning multiple languages translate in their heads without even realising they are achieving an intellectual feat. Adult language learners go through a more arduous and conscious process, but also manage to achieve it.

In New Zealand, many professionals learnt English as a second language. Their performance in an English-saturated society testifies to the human capacity to learn language – and, therefore, to translate. Sure, these professionals may make some mistakes, as everybody does, but all the time houses are sold, disputes settled, and medicines prescribed using English by people who would not know it unless they had been successful translators. They have performed translation exercises in language classrooms, they have paused and figured out how to ask for what they need in their multiple languages, they have made rapid half-conscious translations in their heads to keep up with the breakneck pace of native-speaker conversation. I do all these things in my continuing effort to learn Chinese, and I can tell when I converse in Chinese that it is working, slowly but surely. The social, as well as the professional sphere, shows translation in action.

Translation, then, works in spite of seemingly overwhelming difficulty. It is easy to to compose doomy rants about why It Can’t Be Done, yet is obviously being done all around us. This does not prove that any given translation is good. For example, it does not prove that the English Bible is translated well. However, it does give us a good reason to question those doomy rants in general.

In future posts, I will zero in on the translation of the Bible. As we will see, this task comes with special difficulties, but also with special advantages.

Cup of coffee and notepad

2016 – The Year in Review

Thinking Matters 2016 – The Year in Review

Hello everyone, the year just gone has been an amazing year for Thinking Matters up and down the country and God has blessed us abundantly. To remember all that has happened, here is a brief summary of 2016 for Thinking Matters.

February

  • Thinking Matters Team-talk – Auckland

We started the year with a Thinking Matters team building and strategy weekend where the team members from around the country each shared their perspective on the future of Thinking Matters in New Zealand. It was a real encouragement knowing that there are other people around the country all pulling in the same direction.

12633579_10207327129189324_2621039258756363361_o

  • University Challenge – Auckland

Zachary Ardern, a PHD student from the University of Auckland delivered a Seminar on the 21st on being a Christian at University hosted by Reasons For Faith at Windsor Park Baptist, an apologetics ministry partner. The event was well attended by many young adults.

 

 


March

  • Are We Alone in the Universe? God and Planet Earth – Auckland

    god-and-planet-earth

In March, Jeff Zweerink of Reasons To Believe delivered a talk on the subject of whether life only exists on planet earth. Jeff was stopping over in New Zealand on his way home after a series of conferences in Australia. He delivered two public talks, one at Windsor Park Baptist, and one at the University of Auckland, and also spoke on radio Rhema.

 

 


April

  • The Missional Church Conference – Auckland

We had a resource desk and briefly spoke at this conference organised by Multiple – a multi-denominational church planing network.

  • NZ Association for Christian Schools – Leadership Conference – Queenstown

Thinking Matters had a resource desk at this bi-annual gathering of principals and leaders from all the Christian schools in New Zealand.  Rodney Lake was one of the keynote speakers where he spoke on the importance of apologetics in Christian Education.


May

  • The Power of a Question – Alan Shlemon speaking tour

Alan Shlemon, a speaker with Stand To Reason (www.str.org), kicked off his two-week New Zealand tour by speaking at Hamilton South Baptist Church on the 28th of April on how to have conversations about God without losing friends. He also delivered this talk at both Confident Christianity Conferences and also at various churches around NZ.  During his 13 day whirl-wind tour of New Zealand, Alan spoke 42 times.

  • Confident Christianity Conference 2016 – Auckland and ChristchurchConfident Christianity Conference 2016

Building on a successful conference last year, the Confident Christianity Conference series 2016 was a resounding success with conferences in both Auckland from the 29th to the 30th and Christchurch from the 6th to the 7th of May. A free session on Friday was followed by an all-day series of sessions and workshops on Saturday with subjects as wide and varied as the History of Christianity in Victorian England to how to share the Gospel with Muslims. Alan Shlemon was the keynote speaker at these events.

  • Truth and Tolerance in a Whatever World workshop – By Alan Shlemon – Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch

    Truth and Tolerance in a Whatever World DVD Set

Alan led a workshop for Parents, Pastors, and Christian educators on how to prepare Christian children for an increasingly hostile culture. He addressed the importance of Apologetics, how to have meaningful conversations, the importance of Truth, and thoughts on how to address the subject of Homosexuality. He trained over 550 Christian teachers at these events.

  • Apologetics Workshop University of Waikato – Hamilton

Thinking Matters University of Waikato organized an all-day apologetics workshop on the 22nd of April for the students covering how to talk to Atheists, how to have God conversations, and the necessity of God for the existence of an objective Moral standard.

debate-poster

  • Debate: Morality Does Not Need God – Hamilton

In partnership with StudentLife, TSCF, and the University of Waikato chaplaincy, Thinking Matters organized a debate between Drs Ron Smith and Matthew Flannagan about God and Morality on the May 11th, moderated by Professor Frank Scrimgeour. The event was well attended, with over 150 people present and had lively audience participation.

 

 

 


June

  • Mining For Truth – Hamilton

During the Month of June, Thinking Matters Hamilton launched a Monthly Apologetics group which hosted several guest speakers and also worked through some Towards Belief episodes each month until the end of the year.  They meet on the second Saturday of each month at the Lady Goodfellow Chapel at the University of Waikato from 6:30pm to 9:00pm. For more information on how to get involved, don’t hesitate to contact us.

  • Faith Bible College – Tauranga

Rodney Lake delivered an undergraduate “Introduction to Apologetics” course throughout a week at Faith Bible College.

  • Impact Youth Camp – Rotorua

Rodney gave several youth talks to a group of teenagers at a youth camp in Rotorua.

 


August

  • Unshaken Youth Conference – TaurangaUnshaken Conference

The second annual Youth Conference, Unshaken 2016 on August 12th, was a success, with a high number of high-schoolers and school leavers. Topics covered included Homosexuality, Abortion, Evolution, and the Exclusivity of Jesus.

  • Apologetics Workshop University of Waikato – Hamilton

Thinking Matters University of Waikato organized a workshop on August the 22nd for students covering topics like the New Age, and evidences for the existence of God.


September

  • Jesus the Game Changer TV screening on Shine TV

Jesus the Game Changer

Beginning the second week in September, Thinking Matters in partnership with Olive Tree Media and Shine TV sponsored a weekly screening of the documentary series Jesus The Game Changer, produced by Olive Tree Media. This provided Thinking Matters with a unique opportunity to reach more people through television using the TV episode to point people to an online article discussing the video episode.

  • Science and Christianity – Friends or Foes? – Tauranga

Beginning September 11th and running till October 2nd, TM Tauranga in conjunction with St Enoch’s Presbyterian, organized a lectures series on Science and Christianity. Speakers were Professor Jeff Talon, Dr Shawn Means, and Professor George Seber presenting talks on Astrophysics, Evolution, and Mathematics.

  • Engage Evangelism Conference – Tauranga

Thinking Matters hosted the apologetics track and had a resource desk at this evangelism conference – where both Rodney Lake and John Norsworthly spoke.

 

 


 

November

  • Jesus the Game Changer Tour

In partnership with Olive Tree Media, Thinking Matters hosted Karl Fasse to tour NZ and promote his new Series Jesus the Game Changer. From the 6th to the 13th of November, Karl spoke in Auckland, Tauranga, Matamata, Christchurch, Rotorua, Taupo, Hamilton, Porirua, Palmerston, and Wellington.

  • Evangelical Philosophical Society – Annual Apologetics Conference – USA

Our own Rodney Lake and Dr Matthew Flanagan traveled to the US where they were guest speakers at the EPS Annual Apologetics Conference (Rodney) and the EPS Annual Meeting (Matthew) in San Antonio, Texas.  The EPS Annual Meeting is one of the largest annual Christian philosophy conferences in the world – with over 200 speakers and roughly 5,000 in attendance.

 


2016 Closes and 2017 Begins

As you can see 2016 has been a groundbreaking year with public events happening almost every month. The future is looking even brighter with many more opportunities and events in the pipeline. We invite you to partner with us in prayer, and in addition, if you are moved to give, to assist us financially. Thinking Matters is a volunteer organization, but there are some things that require funding. Join with and stand along side us as we reach New Zealand with the good news of the gospel and encourage Christians to know what they believe and why. The world is changing in incredible ways with political, technological, economical, and social pressures all coming to bear on culture, providing us with a unique opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Yet in the midst of all the change, remember, God is with us, the great I AM who does not change and who is Holy and perfectly good; we have confidence knowing that God knows and has declared the end from the beginning and will accomplish his purposes, Isaiah 46:8-11. Stand with us as we seek to spread the message of the gospel over this new year of 2017.

May God bless you and yours this year,

Faith

No Such Faith (Part 3)

Previously, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, we’ve examined Exodus 3-14 and Acts 16 in order to better understand how the Bible defines faith. Today we turn to the gospel of Mark to see how Jesus’ teaching reinforces the idea of faith as active trust based on knowledge and evidence.


 A Lame Man Walks:

Our final example is found in Mark 2:1-12, where we observe Jesus establishing the same model of faith that is evident in Exodus and Acts. In this passage, Jesus had recently returned to the seaside village of Capernaum after ministering throughout Galilee. Before long he was preaching to an overflowing room of curious listeners. During his teaching, a paralysed man, being carried on a mat, was bought to see him. Regrettably, there was no way for the cripple to gain access due to the number of people surrounding Jesus. This didn’t dishearten those carrying him, however, and they soon climbed onto the roof, created an opening, and lowered the paralytic down. When Jesus observed their faith, he spoke to the crippled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Several Jewish scribes were present, and they questioned Jesus in their minds, thinking him blasphemous. Since God alone has the right to forgive sins, the scribes were understandably aghast at Jesus’ claim. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus addressed them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”. Jesus was aware that by forgiving the paralytic’s sins he was making an unfalsifiable claim. Who’s to say he couldn’t forgive sins? How could anyone present possibly prove him wrong? On the other hand, healing a man meant acting in the physical realm where the witnesses could verify his claim—or know him to be a liar if he failed. Jesus continued: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—and he turned to the paralytic, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Immediately the man stood up and walked.

Jesus’ response to the scribes is deeply significant in what it teaches about faith. He knew that no one could disprove his ability to forgive sins, but he didn’t tell the audience to simply “take it on faith”. He didn’t respond, “Look, you just have to believe”. Instead, he demonstrated his power in the physical realm by healing the paralytic, thereby lending credence to his claim to authority in the spiritual realm. Because of the evidence of his authority in the physical world, those present knew he also held authority over spiritual matters, and were able to place their trust in him. Once again, it is evident that knowledge, evidence and reason are integral to biblical faith, and are not contrary to it.

In summary, we’ve seen that Exodus 3-14, Acts 16, and Mark 2 do not describe blind belief but are instances of active trust based on evidence and knowledge. When God asked Moses to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, He gave Moses the power to perform miraculous signs in order to demonstrate that He was truly at work. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer’s conversion took place against the backdrop of the apostolic witness in Philippi and the miraculous occurrences of the evening. With these in place as evidence, the jailer had good reason to believe what Paul and Silas told with him, and thus to place his faith in Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ own behaviour towards the lame man, the scribes, and the onlookers in Mark 2 implies a model of faith that incorporates and includes knowledge and reason. These are but three examples of scripture affirming the compatibility of faith and reason, and I’d encourage you to examine other passages to see for yourself whether they also demonstrate this model of faith. With this in mind, it seems that we can agree at least in part with A. C. Grayling’s polemic as quoted in part 1. Although as bible-believing Christians we should reject Grayling’s definition of faith, we can agree that people who subscribe to such “faith” and affirm the truth of a belief against all reason are somewhat ignorant and irresponsible. As C. S. Lewis puts it: “if… [a sane man] thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid”[i]. Fortunately, Christianity requires no such faith.


Citations:

[i] Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity, p. 138. New York: HarperCollins.