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Friday, October 24, 2014

Flight to Heaven

Posted by jlwile on February 25, 2014

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

Not long ago, I wrote a review of the book Proof of Heaven. It was written by a neurosurgeon who was convinced that he had died and gone to heaven. I expressed quite a bit of skepticism, for reasons that are discussed in the review. Shortly after, I got an email from a reader who suggested what he considered to be a better book, Flight to Heaven. I put the book into my “queue” and finally got a chance to read it while I was in Central America. I agree with the commenter that this is a much better book, but I am a bit skeptical that the author, Captain Dale Black, actually went to heaven.

Captain Black is currently a retired airline pilot who owns a real estate company with his wife. He has two grown children and has worked tirelessly to improve aviation safety. He has also flown as a missionary pilot in 50 different countries. Indeed, the book starts with a harrowing experience he had while flying for missionary purposes in Africa. He sets up the desperate situation and uses it to introduce the airplane crash that caused what he thinks was his visit to heaven. Once he completes the retelling of the crash, his visit, and his recovery, he resolves the book by finishing the opening tale about his experience flying in Africa. It is an exciting way of getting the reader hooked early on in the book.

When Dale Black was nineteen, he had his pilot’s license. He had wanted to be a pilot for quite some time, and he worked hard earning the money necessary to take the required classes. He wasn’t ready to fly jets yet, but he was able to be part of a three-man group that was flying a twin-engine cargo plane making several deliveries throughout California. Upon takeoff, the plane couldn’t get enough lift, and it crashed into, ironically, a monument built to honor the pioneers of aviation who had passed on.

Of the three-man team, Dale Black was the lone survivor.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

An Atheist Detective Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on February 19, 2014

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I like to discuss the stories of other atheists who have become Christians (see here, here, here, here, and here.) This post adds to that list of stories.

J. Warner Wallace is a successful homicide detective. He specializes in cold cases – unsolved murder cases that remain open, waiting for someone to examine them in a new way that will lead to finding the killer. He has been trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA), which is a methodology that examines a person’s linguistic usage to determine the veracity of what he or she is saying when being interviewed about a case. He also used to be an atheist. As he says in his book, Cold-Case Christianity:

My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview… (p. 16)

However, a fellow officer kept inviting him to church. He was able to avoid going for a while, but he eventually felt obligated to accept the invitation. He says that he managed to ignore most of what the pastor was saying during the service, but he noticed that the pastor painted Jesus as a smart guy with a lot of good things to say. As a result, Wallace purchased his first Bible, just to see if this Jesus fellow was the great teacher that the pastor made him out to be.

What Wallace found changed his life.

As he began to read the Gospels, he noticed something:

I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts. (p. 17)

Of course, it didn’t take him long to realize that he could treat the Gospel accounts like one of his cold cases. He could evaluate the testimony of those claiming to be eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Jesus, look for corroborating evidence, and try to determine whether or not the accounts are accurate. When he did that, he came away believing that the Gospels are, indeed, accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. As a result, he became a Christian.

His book takes you through his analysis, so that you can see exactly how he evaluated the “cold case” of the Gospel accounts. To make sure you have all the requisite skills necessary to follow his analysis, he gives you 10 tips on how to be a good detective. They are all great tips, but his first one is the best. He tells the story of the first homicide case he ever worked: a woman who had been murdered in her bed. A seasoned detective who had seen far too many cases took the lead, and as soon as he saw the crime scene, he thought he knew what had happened. Based on his experience, he concluded that the husband was the killer. However, as they investigated the crime, they found that the woman was single. All the signs that pointed to the husband as the killer (no forced entry, the victim didn’t put up much of a fight, etc., etc.) ended up being explained by a completely different killer (a friendly neighbor).

This taught Wallace to avoid presuppositions. The lead investigator let his presuppositions guide him in the case, and for that particular case, those presuppositions were completely wrong. Following them hampered the investigation. Each case is unique, and you should avoid any presuppositions you have about it. This is his first tip for any detective, including anyone who is trying to determine the veracity of the Gospel accounts. If you avoid presuppositions, you can allow the evidence to guide you.

After giving you his 10 tips for being a good detective, he then shows you how he evaluated the Gospels. He shows you why he thinks the Gospel accounts indicate that the sources for the four Gospels were actually there at the events discussed in the Gospels. He then shows you what he considers strong corroborating evidence for the eyewitness reports. He then ends with a discussion of the possible biases in the eyewitness accounts. I have read many, many Christian apologetics books, but I honestly think that this one has the best analysis of the Gospels.

Even though this is primarily a book showing the evidence that supports the veracity of the Gospels, there is also a lot in it for believers. Indeed, it taught me some new things. In evaluating whether or not the accounts in the Bible are authentic, he spends time discussing the “little details” that show the sources for the Gospels were actual eyewitnesses to the events reported. He notes, for example, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s mother is never called by name. She is simply called “Jesus’s mother” or “the mother of Jesus.” Why is that? He explains:

The answer might be found in the nineteenth chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus entrusted Mary to John at the crucifixion. Jesus told John that Mary was now his mother, and He told Mary that John was now her son. ..Writing the Gospel of John many years later, it just may be that John was uncomfortable calling his own mother by her formal name. (p. 91)

This is something I never noticed, and had I noticed it, I am not sure I would have made the connection that Wallace made. This is just one of the many nuggets found in this book.

In addition, I strongly encourage all Christians to learn how the Bible came to be. In his book, Wallace goes through a “chain of custody” for all four Gospels, to make sure that the Gospels we read today have not been significantly altered from their original form. This chain of custody provides the best concise description I have ever read of how the Bible came to be. That section alone is worth the price of the book.

In the end, I think this book is one of the best additions to Christian apologetics that has come out in a long time. I strongly recommend it to everyone, but especially to skeptics of the Bible. If you are interested in what the evidence says, it is worthwhile to hear from someone whose career is devoted to following the evidence, regardless of where it leads!

An Odd View of an Old Debate

Posted by jlwile on November 20, 2013

Mr. Strock's book

Carl Strock is a journalist-turned-columnist who recently retired from the Schenectady Gazette after 25 years of service. After he traveled to Israel and wrote some decidedly anti-Israel columns, the Gazette received numerous complaints. In response, his editor told him to stop writing about Israel for a while and submit all of his columns to her for editing. This bothered Strock, because he saw it as censorship. After continuing his columns with less frequency, he eventually retired. However, he has not stopped writing. He has a blog at the timesunion.com and has written a book, From D’burg to Jerusalem, The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman.

Why am I writing about Mr. Strock? Because in his book, he mentions a debate he had with me back in 2006. I had actually forgotten about the debate, but when a reader in Schenectady told me about being mentioned in his book, I recalled the event. I got his book and planned to read the entire thing, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I did read some parts of the book, including the chapter that discusses the debate. I found his view of that event to be very odd.

Here’s what prompted the debate: Strock had written some columns in the Gazette regarding creationism and intelligent design. Since he obviously knew little about either subject, his columns provoked some rather heated responses, which he seemed to find surprising. Eventually, he tired of people pointing out his ignorance, so he said:

I will meet any of them in open forum, and we’ll see who’s ignorant of what. (p. 161)

A student who was using one of my textbooks at the time contacted me, and (of course) I agreed to meet Mr. Strock in open forum. Strock was surprised, but he agreed to the debate. I thought the debate was amatuerish but informative. Based on what he has written in his book, he obviously disagrees.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Proof of Heaven

Posted by jlwile on August 12, 2013

The cover of the book

Dr. Eben Alexander is an academic neurosurgeon. He has taught at esteemed institutions such as the Duke University Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has also done surgery at world-renowned hospitals like Boston Children’s Hospital, the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Obviously, his academic credentials are impeccable, and he seems to be a very well-respected surgeon by many health care professionals. Of course, the reason I am telling you about him is that he wrote a book called Proof of Heaven, in which he details a Near Death Experience (NDE) he had. This NDE radically changed him from a materialist who believed that the human mind is simply a product of the brain’s physiology to a theist who believes that our consciousness is a supernatural gift from our Creator.

I decided to read the book because I have always been skeptical of NDEs. At the same time, however, I really haven’t done much reading about them. My skepticism, then, is based largely on ignorance, and I am happy to admit that. It seemed to me if anyone could provide a good, scientific analysis of a NDE, it would be a neurosurgeon who actually experienced one. I read the book, hoping to be persuaded by the evidence. However, I have to say that I finished the book a bit more skeptical about NDEs than when I started.

In brief, Dr. Alexander came down with a very rare case of Escherichia coli meningitis, which he maintains completely shut down his cortex, the portion of the brain that is associated with “higher” functions such as thoughts and actions. He maintains that for all intents and purposes, he had no consciousness, since the part of the brain associated with consciousness was simply shut down by the bacteria that were attacking it. Despite this complete lack of higher brain function, he had a vivid experience of completely different places: An underworld he calls “The Realm of the Earthworm’s Eye View” (p. 30), a glorious land of beauty he calls “The Gateway” (p. 38), and the realm of God Himself, which he calls “The Core” (p. 45).

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Riddle of the Feathered Dragons

Posted by jlwile on July 31, 2013

Despite the fact that no evidence of feathers has ever been found associated with a Deinonychus fossil, this model of the dinosaur at Canada's Royal Ontario Museum is covered with feathers in an attempt to emphasize the supposed evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds.
(Click for credit)

Dr. Alan Feduccia is a world-class evolutionary biologist whose research has focused on the natural history of birds. He is the S.K. Heninger Distinguished Professor Emeritus at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and even his abbreviated list of publications is the envy of most scientists. He has received numerous honors for his scientific accomplishments, including having an extinct species of bird named after him: Confuciusornis feducciai.

Despite his incredible scientific accomplishments, he is ridiculed by some in the scientific community because he doesn’t think that dinosaurs evolved into birds. There are those who call him a “BANDit” (BAND stands for “Birds Are Not Dinosaurs) and lump him in with the hated creationists and the global warming “deniers.” Why don’t these people listen to a man who has contributed so much to the biological sciences? Because they follow the consensus, and the consensus is that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Anyone who questions this consensus, regardless of the data they present, are simply ignored and ridiculed.

In his latest book, Riddle of the Feathered Dragons, Dr. Feduccia has something to say about this consensus:

The word “consensus” has no place in science and is never a validation of any hypothesis, yet one frequently sees trust in “consensus” for validation of important scientific concepts. (pp. 4-5)

I couldn’t agree more. When you hear the word “consensus” used to support a scientific argument, you know the speaker has stopped thinking. Rather than examining evidence for himself or herself, the speaker is simply allowing the majority to rule. Majority rule might be a good system in some social applications, but it is the worst possible method for doing science.

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The Human Body: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Second Edition

Posted by jlwile on July 25, 2013

This is an example of Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings of the human foot's anatomy. (public domain image)

The Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, mathematician, engineer, inventor, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and anatomist Leonardo da Vinci said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”1 Indeed, the entire human body is a testament to the creative mind of God. That’s why Marilyn Shannon and I used Psalm 139:14 in the title of our our human anatomy and physiology book, The Human Body: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. The book was published in 2001 and has been used by many high school students around the world. Several students have written me over the years saying that the book helped them in their university-level studies, and some have even said it sparked their interest in a career in health care.

Of course, most textbooks need to be updated from time to time, especially to keep up with advances in the field. For example, when our book was published, scientists weren’t sure what the human appendix did. Many considered it a vestigial organ, but creationists and intelligent design advocates did not. As a result, the best we could write at the time was that the function of the human appendix was unknown. Several years after the book was published, however, scientists determined the function of the appendix (see here, here, and here). Even some evolutionists now agree that the appendix provides such a vital function that it is not vestigial in any way. In fact, one group says it is so important in some mammals that it evolved independently at least 32 separate times over the course of earth’s history!

It is not surprising, then, that the publisher of our book decided it was time for a new edition. However, since I am no longer a part of that company, I was not involved in its production. As people began to understand this, some asked me what I thought the new edition would be like. I told them that the co-author of the first edition (Marilyn Shannon) was involved in the project, so I expected the second edition of the book to be very good. She is incredibly knowledgeable in the field (she teaches it at the college level), and she is a strong Christian who has a good understanding of how faith and science interact. I didn’t know who else was working on the project, but I suspected that as long as she was the guiding force, it would turn out well.

I was recently able to review the book, and I was pleased to see that my expectations were correct. The second edition is an excellent course on human anatomy and physiology that will prepare students well for advanced study at the university level. It is “user friendly” enough to be used independently by home-educated students and is rigorous enough to prepare students who have already taken Exploring Creation with Biology for the Advanced Placement Test in biology.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Science & Human Origins

Posted by jlwile on March 25, 2013

I was recently asked to review the book Science & Human Origins for Apologetics 315. While the book is not perfect, it is definitely worth the read.

You can see my review here.

Cosmos, Bios, Theos

Posted by jlwile on February 11, 2013

Dr. Henry Margenau was the Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and Natural Philosophy at Yale. He died in 1997, but five years before that, he and Roy Varghese, an international journalist, teamed up to edit a book entitled Cosmos, Bios, and Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo sapiens. I came across an old review of the book some time ago, and it sounded intriguing, so I decided to put it on my reading list.

Margenau and Varghese contacted some of the most important scientists of the twentieth century and ask them about their views regarding God and the subject of origins. In the end, they got responses from 60 prominent scientists, 24 of whom had won the Nobel Prize. Most of them responded to six questions that Margenau and Varghese asked:

1. What do you think should be the relationship between religion and science?

2. What is your view on the origin of the universe: both on a scientific level and – if you see the need – on a metaphysical level?

3. What is your view on the origin of life: both on a scientific level and – if you see the need – on a metaphysical level?

4. What is your view on the origin of Homo sapiens?

5. How should science – and the scientist – approach origin questions, specifically the origin of the universe and the origin of life?

6. Many prominent scientists – including Darwin, Einstein, and Planck – have considered the concept of God very seriously. What are your thoughts on the concept of God and the existence of God.

As you might expect when 60 deep thinkers are asked such serious questions, the answers were varied and incredibly interesting. Before I discuss them, however, it is important to make two points. The first one is made in the preface of the book:

Cosmos, Bios, Theos makes no pretension to being a statistically significant survey of the religious beliefs of modern scientists. (p. xiii)

So the reader should not use the responses contained in this book to infer the general attitude among scientists toward the existence of God or the question of origins.

The second point is that not all the scientists responded to those six questions. Instead, some simply wrote a few pages of general thoughts about the topics of God and origins. Others permitted the use of interviews that had already taken place between them and Roy Varghese.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Not God’s Type

Posted by jlwile on December 17, 2012

I read an incredibly interesting book about another atheist-turned-Christian. In this case, it’s Dr. Holly Ordway, and while her conversion was quite different from mine, she was also heavily influenced by the objective evidence that supports the validity of the Christian faith.

My review was published by Apologetics 315. You you can read it there.

An Atheist Who Rejects Materialist Neo-Darwinism

Posted by jlwile on October 5, 2012

Thomas Nagel teaching at New York University (click for credit)

Dr. Thomas Nagel is a Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University. He has a long list of academic publications, which include books and journal articles. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the British Academy. He has been awarded both the Rolf Schock Prize for his work in philosophy and the Balzan Prize for his work in moral philosophy. Oh…and he is an atheist. He recently wrote a fascinating book entitled, Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

The book is fascinating on many levels. Probably the most obvious is the fact that while he is an atheist, he speaks very highly of the Intelligent Design movement. In fact, he credits the Intelligent Design movement for stimulating his thinking on the subject of origins. He disagrees with their belief in a Designer, but he has given them a fair hearing, and he says this:

Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair. (p.10)

But wait a minute. Aren’t the Intelligent Design arguments fatally flawed? Don’t they rest on an incredibly poor understanding of the nature of science? Not according to this philosopher. He has read both the Intelligent Design advocates and their critics, and he says:

Those who have seriously criticized these arguments have certainly shown there are ways to resist the design conclusion; but the general force of the negative part of the intelligent design position – skepticism about the likelihood of the orthodox reductive view, given the available evidence – does not appear to me to have been destroyed in these exchanges. (p. 11)

But wait a minute, isn’t the only motivation behind Intelligent Design the desire to “prove” the existence of God? Nagel says that’s certainly part of the motivation, but not all of it. After all, he mentions David Berlinski as someone who is sympathetic to the negative claims of the Intelligent Design movement but has no desire to believe in a Designer. He also says:

Nevertheless, I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. (p. 12)

In the end, then, religious motivations exist on both sides. Some Intelligent Design advocates are motivated by their desire to lend evidence to their belief in a Designer, but some evolutionists are motivated by their desire to be liberated from religion. This even-handed observation is obviously true, but it is rarely made by those who do not believe in God.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »