The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

An interesting book about an even more interesting friendship.
An interesting book about an even more interesting friendship.
Larry Alex Taunton is a columnist who started the Fixed Point Foundation, an apologetics organization that is probably best known for arranging high-profile debates between well-known atheists and Christians. For example, it arranged the famous “God Delusion” debate between Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. John Lennox. Other notable debates include The “Is God Great” debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. John Lennox and the “God on Trial” debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza. Because his organization has arranged such debates (and because he often moderates them), Taunton has met and gotten to know the participants, including Christopher Hitchens, who many recognize as an outspoken atheist. Despite the fact that Hitchens and Taunton were polar opposites when it came to their core beliefs, they developed a deep friendship, which is the topic if this book.

Taunton’s publisher suggested that he write the book shortly after Hitchens passed away in late 2011, but Taunton wasn’t interested at the time. He didn’t see how he could write a book about their friendship that was both interesting and uplifting. However, as time passed and he thought more about it, he realized that there was a way he could get the job done. I have to say that he was right. This book is both very interesting and quite uplifting. I have already relayed one very uplifting part of this book at the end of a previous blog post. Now it’s time for me to share more.

The most interesting aspect of the book, of course, is the friendship that developed between these two men. It’s interesting simply because it’s so rare these days. Many people spend so much time characterizing those with whom they disagree as “the enemy,” it seems unfathomable that a Christian apologist and a vocal atheist could be real friends. Indeed, as Taunton himself says:

The truth is, there were those who did not want us to be friends. This is a sad commentary on our society and the degree to which we have lost our ability to reason with one another. I speak exclusively to Christians when I say this: how are we to proclaim our faith if we cannot even build bridges with those who do not share it? (p. xi)

I couldn’t agree more. Of course, the problem goes both ways. Taunton reports on one Hitchens fan who was taken aback by their friendship:

That same night while speaking to an audience of some 1,200 people, Christopher made a passing reference to a road trip we had taken together through the Shenandoah Valley. At the book signing following the event, a man, an atheist and a devotee of all things Christopher Hitchens, asked his hero why he would undertake such a journey. “Have you ever seem the Shenandoah at this time of year? It’s beautiful.” Having signed the book, Christopher closed it, handed it back, and reached for the next one. “That’s not what I meant. I meant why would you do it with him? You know, a Christian?” “Because he is my friend, and you, sir, are an idiot. (p. 115)

I can just hear Hitchens saying that to his crestfallen fan!

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Thoughts From Two Adoptive Fathers

A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)
A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators Convention. I have spoken there at least twice before, and I have not been disappointed. This weekend was no exception. I met a lot of really interesting people, including one second-generation homeschooling mother who was pregnant with her middle child at the same time her mother was pregnant with her youngest sibling. What an incredible experience that must have been!

In contrast to that situation, I had a nice, long talk with a gentleman who related his adoption story to me. Being an adoptive father myself, I am always interested in hearing such stories, but this one was unlike anything I had heard before. He and his wife had several children of their own, but they are all grown up and out of the house. Because he and his wife had “extra time” on their hands, and because they genuinely wanted to serve “the least of these,” they decided to become emergency foster parents for babies who are abandoned. In that role, they care for the infant until he or she can be permanently adopted. He told me that it doesn’t usually last very long, because lots of people are looking to adopt infants.

However, one of their emergency foster children (a little girl) had serious digestive issues pretty much at birth and spent a long, long time in the hospital. In fact, the poor little girl had to have a lot of her small intestine and all of her colon removed, which meant she couldn’t eat normally. Essentially, she had to be continuously fed through a tube. This made her long-term prognosis questionable, and as a result, the agency could not find a permanent home for her. After much prayer, he and his wife decided to adopt her.

The good news is that the girl is now 3 years old, and while she still has some special nutritional needs, she can eat normally. However, because of the way she got nutrition for so long, she actually doesn’t like to eat. Thus, they are working on getting her to enjoy eating. I rejoiced with him that his daughter’s long-term prognosis is now very good, and eventually, the conversation turned to the effects that an adopted child’s previous traumas have on her future life. On that topic, he offered me a profound insight.

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When Children Became People

Jesus granted children an importance unheard of at that time in history. (click for credit)
Jesus granted children an importance unheard of at that time in history.
(click for credit)
Dr. O.M. Bakke has an odd name. No, really – his name is Odd Magne Bakke, and he is an Associate Professor of Church History at the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway. For many reasons, including the fact that he is the father of three children, Bakke investigated the lives of children in ancient times. He focused on A.D. 100 to A.D. 450, contrasting the prevailing views of the Romans at the time to the developing views of Christians, as seen through the writings of the early church fathers. The result is When Children Became People, an eye-opening book that left me both disgusted and astounded. As I have pointed out previously (here and here), Christianity was absolutely essential in producing modern science. I had no idea idea, however, how essential it was in producing our modern view of the importance of children.

As anyone familiar with the Bible probably knows, there was a time during the ministry of Jesus when children were brought to Him so that He could bless them. The disciples rebuked the children, but Jesus said:

Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:14)

Until reading this book, I had no idea what a radical statement that was in New Testament times. As Bakke documents in his book, children were not valued in Rome. Instead, they were not really considered human beings. For example, when a child was born, the father could refuse to accept him or her into the family. Indeed, the father generally had eight to nine days to consider the matter. If the father decided the child was worthy of being a member of the family, a ritual was held, celebrating the child’s good fortune. If not, the child was simply abandoned, a practice referred to as expositio. As Bakke informs us:

…as far as the Eastern region of the Roman empire was concerned, expositio was socially accepted and widespread from the time of Alexander the Great onward. (p. 29)

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Review of Evolution: Still A Theory in Crisis

Dr. Michael Denton's latest book
Dr. Michael Denton’s latest book
Back in January, I read that Dr. Michael Denton was about to release a new book on evolution. I ordered it right away and started reading it as soon as I could, because I thought that his previous book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, was amazing. For a long time, I considered it the best discussion of evolution that was available to the general public. However, like all books on scientific issues, much of the information became outdated over the years, so I was really excited that he was releasing a new book on the same subject.

Dr. Denton earned an M.D. from Bristol University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from King’s College London. After earning his Ph.D., he was appointed to the faculty at La Trobe University in Australia. He then did pathology work in England, Canada, and Australia. Eventually, he ended up on the faculty at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, which tells you he is a member of the “intelligent design” community. His dual training in medicine and biochemistry, as well as his experience working in several different countries, gives him an interesting perspective on science in general and evolution in particular.

Like his previous book, this one is encyclopedic. It covers a wide range of topics, but unlike his previous book, it is focused on the difference between structuralism and functionalism. The way he constructs the two positions, all Darwinists fall into the functionalism camp. They believe that structures develop in nature because they are functional. After all, natural selection is constantly weeding out poor adaptations and preserving useful ones. As a result, whether or not it is functional determines whether or not it exists in the biological world. Denton, however, argues for structuralism, a view that was quite in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this view, there are certain structures that are inherent in the world, and life makes use of those predefined structures. As Denton writes:

It is hard to imagine two scientific frameworks as diametrically opposed as structuralism and functionalism. Where functionalism suggests that function is prior and determines structure, structuralism suggests that structure is prior and constrains function. (Kindle e-reader, Chapter 1: Introduction)

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Review of Shadow of Oz

shadow_ozDr. Wayne D. Rossiter earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in February of 2012 and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University. His book, Shadow of Oz, has already caused me to write two blog posts (here and here). In one of those posts, a commenter called Rossiter’s book a “must read,” and I have to agree. While I have issues with some of the content, on the whole it is a valuable addition to the wealth of information that has already been written on the subject of origins. As a result, I encourage you to read this book and seriously think about its contents.

In some ways, the main thrust of his book is obvious: the standard view of Neo-Darwinism (random mutations filtered by natural selection) is incompatible with the Christian faith. I don’t know many people who would disagree with that statement. Nevertheless, the way Rossiter makes that point is rather profound. Early on in the book, for example, he gives five extended quotations from different authors regarding the history of the universe. The first and fourth are from Dr. Carl Sagan (atheist), the second is from Dr. Richard Feynman (atheist), the third is from Dr. Richard Dawkins (atheist). The fifth is from Dr. Karl Giberson (Christian who is a staunch evolutionist). The passages are indistinguishable, and that’s the point. As Rossiter says:

I could have chosen any number of brief atheistic accounts of the history of the universe, and not one of them would differ in any functional way from the one offered by Giberson. (p. 25)

Rossiter’s discussion of Dr. Kenneth Miller’s views on origins is equally insightful and perhaps even more damning. He shows that, like Giberson, the “creation” account that Miller believes is indistinguishable from that of an atheist. Further, he shows in rather stark terms just how confused Miller is when it comes to what he believes. For example, Rossiter quotes Miller as saying that he tells his students that he believes in Darwin’s God. However, as Rossiter makes clear, that statement is pure nonsense:

…as Miller admits earlier in his book, Darwin was not a believer in God. He became a staunch agnostic, who demanded strict naturalistic answers for life’s workings. As so, it’s quite appropriate that Miller should claim to share Darwin’s view. (p. 163)

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Deep Wisdom About Adoption

Katie Davis and her 13 adopted daughters on her wedding day.
Katie Davis and her 13 adopted daughters on her wedding day.

About four years ago I read a book that touched me more deeply than I can describe. It is entitled Kisses from Katie and was written by Katie Davis, who is one of the most amazing people about whom I have ever read (and I have read about a lot of people). At the ripe old age of 16, she decided that God was calling her to be a missionary. During her senior year in high school, she did some part-time missionary work in Uganda, and after she graduated high school, she went back there to do full-time missionary work. I blogged about her book, and I encourage all those who follow Christ to read it. It is a remarkable tale of what can happen when a person listens to God’s still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) and follows His lead.

One of the many reasons I was touched by Katie’s story is that we share something in common; we are both adoptive parents. I wrote an article about how my wife and I adopted our daughter, and it barely compares to Katie’s story. My wife and I had a comfortable home, a good dual income, and the young lady we adopted was a healthy teen who attended our church. Katie had no husband, was doing missionary work (for which there is never enough money), and the 14 daughters she ended up adopting were unhealthy strangers with whom Katie didn’t even share a common culture. However, she has the heart of Christ, and that’s all it really takes. If you are wondering why there are only 13 daughters in the picture at the top of this post, one of them was taken back by the birth parent after Katie had lovingly nursed the little girl back to health.

Because her book touched me so deeply, I read her blog from time to time. She doesn’t write very often (I can’t imagine how she finds any time to write), so I don’t visit it very often. However, I recently went there to catch up, and I read an incredibly touching post that I simply had to share. It is written to the adoptive mother who doesn’t really feel like a mother, and the message of the article resonated with me, because it mirrors my own experience as an adoptive parent.

Most of the people who have observed my daughter and I together for any length of would call me a doting father. I am wrapped around her little finger, and there is simply nothing that can be done about that. Why? The answer is simple: I love her. It’s important to note, however, that such intense, emotional love didn’t happen right away. Katie describes this masterfully:

From the moment I met my children I loved them in the way that a heart feels they must love another human being, especially one in need of care. I felt that God made it clear to me that I was to raise them and this intensified my love into a fierce, protective, sacrificial love, but it didn’t change the fact that it takes some time to make strangers into family.

That’s exactly right. At first, we weren’t even considering adopting Dawn. We just knew that she needed a safe place to heal, and we provided that, because the Lord was leading us to do that. Once we decided to adopt her, that kind of “caring love” intensified into something much more sacrificial, but it still didn’t make me into a doting father. As Katie says, it takes time to make a stranger into a member of your family.

As I have written previously, God molded my heart and my wife’s heart around our little girl so that now, she is an inseparable part of our little family. But that didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen over the course of a few months. As Katie writes:

Love is a thing that grows.

If you have recently adopted a child, give your love the time it needs to grow. I assure you, it is well worth the wait!

Science and History Synchronized…Sort of

This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.  Plato and Aristotle are at the center.
This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.
Plato and Aristotle are at the center.

I have been writing an elementary science series that introduces science topics in roughly chronological order. Currently, two of the books are available, and the third is being printed as I type these words. The fourth is finished and is currently being reviewed by two science PhDs and one historian. I have just one more to write.

Now that I am near the end of the series, my publisher came up with a great idea. Since there are some excellent history courses that homeschoolers use at the elementary level, he suggested that I write a guide which synchronizes my elementary courses to them. That way, if a homeschooling family wants to, they can learn science and history side-by-side. I thought, “How hard can that be?” After all, my science is presented chronologically, and many of these history programs are presented chronologically. It should be easy to synchronize them, right?

Wrong! Science progressed slowly at first and then picked up steam as time went on. As a result, my courses speed through ancient history and the middle ages, slow down a bit in the renaissance, slow down even more in the Age of Reason, and will slow down even more after that. Understandably, this isn’t how most history courses are paced.

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Counting To God: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist (click for credit)
Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist
(click for credit)
Douglas Ell graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with degrees in math and chemistry. He then went to the University of Maryland, where he earned a Master’s degree in theoretical mathematics. Not satisfied with only three degrees, he also went to law school and graduated magna cum laude. After that, he began his career as an attorney.

When he was a child, he went to church, but the older he got, the less he believed in God. By the time he was in high school, he wrote to his minister and stated that he no longer believed in God. His minister wrote back and gave him a book to read, but Ell never read it. By the time he got his law degree, he was a full-fledged atheist. In his new book, Counting To God, he describes what he believed at that point in his life:

It seemed you could explain just about everything with logic and science. It seemed God had no place in our modern world. I treated God like a joke. (p. 19)

In his early thirties, Ell had a son, and this caused him and his wife to start attending church. Ell treated it like a social club, but he did notice something: Many of the people in the church he attended (including the minister) had an inner peace that he could sense. He wanted that peace, but didn’t see how he could have it, because he didn’t believe what they believed.

In his mid-forties, a new career opportunity forced him to spend a lot of time on airplanes. As a result, he started reading about science, mathematics, and religion. The more he read, the more he saw a connection between the three. He eventually saw seven specific ways in which science and mathematics support the existence of God:

1. The evidence that the universe had a beginning
2. The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3. The complexity of life and our inability to discover a naturalistic explanation for its origin
4. The fantastic, futuristic technology that exists in all of life
5. The mounting evidence against neo-Darwinian evolution
6. The specialness of earth
7. The mathematical nature of the universe

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An Interesting Observation from China

This is a Christogram, a  combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ.  This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)
This is a Christogram, a combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)

Recently, I read an article by Dr. Paul Copan entitled, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures.”1 In that article, he makes the case for how faithful Christians have transformed the societies they have served. For example, he discusses the Ethiopian famine that took place in 1984 and 1985. Brian Stewart, a CBC journalist, noted that it was Christians who were on the front lines of the famine, giving aid to the suffering. Their service was such a powerful witness to him that it started him on his journey to becoming a Christian himself.

While Copan’s article is interesting, it led me to a book that I thought was even more interesting. It is entitled Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, and it is written by David Aikman, who served as a journalist for Time Magazine from 1971 to 1994. In his role as a Time correspondent, he visited China several times and even lived in China for two years as Time’s bureau chief. He returned to China in 2002 to gather the information he needed to complete his book.

He begins the book in a dramatic way. It is worth quoting at length:2

The eighteen American tourists visiting China weren’t expecting much from the evening’s lecture. They were already exhausted from a day of touring in Beijing. But what the speaker had to say astonished them.

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

This was not coming from some ultra-conservative think tank in Orange County, California or from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was a scholar from China’s premier academic research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing in 2002. (emphasis mine)

In his book, Aikman suggests that Christianity will transform China to the point where it won’t even be communist anymore. He suggests that in the next thirty years, nearly one-third of China could be Christian, making it one of the largest Christian nations in the world and a strong ally of the U.S.

I have no idea whether or not that will happen, but I can say this: It is very sad that most Western scholars refuse to even consider the conclusions of the Chinese scholar quoted above.

REFERENCES

1. Paul Copan, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures: How Faithful Christians Have Transformed Societies, Christian Research Journal 37(04):43-47, 2014
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2. David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, pp. 5-6
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Flight to Heaven

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.

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