“Godless” Europeans Believe in Trolls and Elves

The other day I was thumbing through my Wall Street Journal and the following quote was enlarged within this book review article (if the link leads you behind a pay wall just google “wsj the God profusion” to get the free view). The quote said, “Europe’s churches are empty–but don’t take that as a sign of reason’s triumph. More than half of Icelanders believe in elves and trolls.”

I couldn’t skip the article written by Naomi Schaefer Riley and I was thoroughly entertained reading it. I won’t type out the entire article here save for few quotes. I encourage you to read it. But essentially the article is a review of a book entitled, “The Triumph of Faith” by Rodney Stark. The author of the book argues against faulty polling that erroneausly suggests the world is becoming more god-less. When in fact, the world is ever becoming more faith-filled.

He makes the case against the Enlightenment dogma that says reason will triumph over and eventually bury faith and religion, and ultimately God himself. Enlightenment evangelists and apologists are quick to point out that religion and belief in God are for the less educated, ignorant, illiterate, and even country hicks. Surely the more educated urban dwellers would never be led into such silliness, right? But the facts show something quite different. The author of the article correctly points out that “college-educated Americans are more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts with only a high school diploma.” In South America, nearly all of their countries are “now less than 5% secular.” And in the rest of the Southern Hemisphere and the Middle East, religion is growing very rapidly.

The article then touches on something I have never considered before. The book goes into an area detailing how government sponsorship of religion (think the United Kingdom) is actually a “hinderance to the growth of faith. Monopoly destroys competition, and competition causes growth.” I won’t go into much detail on this point for now, but I’ll be considering this idea for a very long time I’m sure.

The article then talks about the famous empty churches of Europe. Generally speaking, the empty church phenomenon is relegated largely to the European continent. But do empty churches point toward a lack of belief in the supernatural? Not according to the facts. In fact, supernatural beliefs in Europe are wildly far reaching and far fetched.

The article states, “In Austria, 28% of respondents say they believe in fortune tellers; 32% believe in astrology; and 33% believe in lucky charms. More than 20 percent of Swedes believe in reincarnation; half believe in mental telepathy. More than half of Icelanders believe in huldufolk, hidden people like elves and trolls. It seems as if the former colonial outposts for European missionaries are now becoming more religious, while Europe itself is becoming interested in primitive folk beliefs.”

Quite comical.

I’m not saying that America will not follow the European trend. With all the immoral filth being trotted about in the name of progressivism, we may well be on our way to teaching our children about little trolls and worshipping boxes of Lucky Charms cereal. Who knows? But despite these primitive folk beliefs in Europe, America and indeed the vast majority of the world, is absolutely not on the fast track toward secular naturalism.

Far, far from it.

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Denominations, Speaking in Tongues, and Atheism

I just read an article posted on Facebook reporting that the Southern Baptist Convention will now permit its missionary members to exercise the Spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. This practice was actually banned by the SBC ten years ago. Click here for the article.

This propelled me to consider the different Christian denominations and the diversity of friends I have who seem to come from all kinds of Christian backgrounds. I’m friends with Baptists, Pentecostalists, Bapticostals, Methodists, Catholics, and others. I even met an Amish guy recently and we had a lengthy conversation about our views of Christianity. That was really fun. He (Clay) was a great guy to talk to. As for me, I consider myself strongly non-denominational for many reasons, but that’s not my point here.

Sometimes an atheist or skeptic will use denominational groups within Christianity as an argument against the truth of Christianity. They will claim that their differences and disagreements are proof that Christianity is some kind of man-made fiction. I think I have a good way to answer this charge by using a sports analogy similar to one used by John Lennox.

I have a four-year-old who is playing his first year in T-ball. I’m an assistant coach on his team. Among the coaches on the team, we all have our own personality and our own ways of teaching the kids. While not changing who we are, we sort of conform to the way the head coach does things and we have been able to really coach these kids to be some really good, young players.

As the season has proceeded we have played several different opponents and each team’s coaches have a different style of coaching and you can see it on the field. Some coaches are very passive and overly nice. Some coaches scream a lot (that wouldn’t be me…or would it?). One team has been coached to pester the other team, distract the batters, be loud, and talk smack. And other teams are absolutely out of control with no order or discipline. I can even detect the early stages of rivalries forming. Some teams just don’t like other teams for some reason or another. It’s nothing personal. It’s just the way humanity and sports works. Differences arise.

But aside from all the glaring differences in the makeup of the various teams, we are all doing one thing and it’s the same thing: playing baseball. The Christian church is a lot like this.

As Tim Keller writes about in his book, “The Reason for God,” Christianity has always been able to cross cultures and cross any kind of human personality and still be a message of truth and good news to humanity. So yeah, there are many denominations. But that in no way disproves the truth of Christianity. At worst it may show that Christians make up a broad spectrum of people with different cultural backgrounds and different worship preferences. But at best, it shows how malleable Christianity can be without compromising its message. Christianity is confronted with a wide diversity of people all over the globe. It reaches the ultra-spiritual African tribal people, to the pantheistic Asian people, to the people influenced by the “Enlightenment” of the western European world and in America, and many other cultures.

So remember this when someone tries to say denominational groups prove Christianity false. That’s simply wishful thinking and the charge proves absolutely nothing.

Daniel, Babylon, and the Ancient Primordial Soup

I’ve been doing some reading about Daniel (from the Bible) in a book by the great Oxford University mathematician, philosopher of science, and Christian apologist, John Lennox entitled, “Against the Flow, The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism.” While studying the history, it is pointed out that in order to draw parallels with the Babylonian society of Daniel with today’s Western society, we must first understand the worldview of the ancient Babylonians.

Ancient Babylon was an ultra-modern, polytheistic, yet secular society. The people found meaning and salvation through science and technology, much like many people do today. After all, the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). At this time of great prosperity and ultra-modern secularism, Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. He ordered many of the young men of Jerusalem back to Babylon to be stripped of their old way of life and be socially engineered into being a Babylonian and serving the king in various capacities. Daniel and three of his friends were just a few of the young men who were ripped from their families and taken to a foreign land to learn a new language, new literature, and all new customs.

Daniel found out real quick that these people did not believe in Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Daniel believed that Yahweh was the one true God, creator of heaven and earth. But after studying in Babylon (think about being away at college) he obviously had to study their gods. While they had many gods, the very beginning of the long line of gods began with a goddess named Nammu. She was the goddess who gave birth to all other goddesses.

I have three points I have learned about the time period, Nammu, and the view the ancient Babylonians had about her. I’ll share them and parallel it all with today’s world.

  1. Nammu was dubbed the “Primordial Sea Goddess.” This name for her gives us some great clues related to how the ancient people viewed their gods. In all of ancient Sumerian and Greek mythology, the gods all seem to be dependent on a pre-existing form of matter. These gods seem to originate inside an already existing cosmos (in this case, the sea). This is hugely important in drawing the distinction between these phony gods and the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible clearly exists outside of the cosmos. He created the cosmos and therefore He transcends it altogether, just as the Bible teaches. This leads me into my next point.
  1. The most vocal and militant evangelist of the New Atheism movement, Richard Dawkins, has been quoted many times saying this line: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” The problem with this is that Judeo-Christian monotheism is not some streamlined version of pagan polytheism. Christians believe in a God that cannot be compared to the gods Dawkins speaks about. They are two totally different categories and I’ll show why this is the case.

John Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK puts it nicely when he says, “We make a great mistake if we think of monotheism as a linear development from polytheism, as if people first worshiped many gods and then reduced them to one. Monotheism is something else entirely. The meaning of a system lies outside the system. Therefore the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe. Monotheism, by discovering the transcendental God, the God who stands outside the universe and creates it, made it possible for the first time to believe that life has a meaning, not just a mythic or scientific explanation.”

So this argument that atheists simply believe in one god less than a Christian sounds very clever but fails miserably to make its point. While all the other gods that humanity has ever believed in which Dawkins speaks about are products of heaven and earth, our Christian God actually created heaven and earth and exists wholly apart from them.

  1. The third point I want to make draws a connection between the mythical goddess Nammu and the idea of macro-evolution. Remember from above that Nammu was called the “Primordial Sea Goddess.” Anyone with a basic familiarity with macro-evolution probably has ears that perk up when they hear the word “primordial.” Today’s evolutionists will use this word to form the term “primordial soup.” According to Webster, primordial soup is a mixture of organic molecules in evolutionary theory from which life on earth originated. Today’s evolutionary theorists, despite all the advances in science, et al, are still thinking the same way the ancients of Babylon thought thousands of years ago! Like today’s evolutionary theorists, the Babylonians thought life itself emerged from a primordial sea as evidenced by the primordial sea god, Nammu. Their old philosophy was much like that of today’s evolutionists in that they deified the basic forces of nature without ever knowing how to explain how the basic forces of nature could possibly originate on their own. While they derived all life from somehow pre-existing matter, the Christian God created the matter, it did not create Him!

Lennox notes in his book that “this idea that mass-energy is primitive, and all else derives from it, is the essence of the materialistic reductionism that tries to dominate Western society. On this view, mass-energy is subject to the laws of nature…and must have latent capacity to produce all we see around us…

Isn’t it amazing that there truly is nothing new under the sun?

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” –Ecclesiastes 1:9.

Michael Shermer is Confused

I’m watching a live debate between Frank Turek (a Christian) and Michael Shermer (an atheist). Before the debate, Shermer was peddling (he retweeted it) the photo in this blog post.  

 

The problem is that Shermer thinks this is a good argument against God. Thinking Christians will actually agree with the statement in the photo! Indeed, no one needs religion to be moral or to determine right from wrong. I don’t know of a single person who would argue such a silly position. 

A person can be far away from God and be a good, moral person. 

The difference is that they have no way to ground a standard of morality without stealing it from God. 

An atheist has no way to justify the fact that lying or stealing is actually wrong. On an atheistic worldview, these things are based on social constructs and mere opinions. What if opinions change? 

I’m surprised someone like Shermer would be so shallow in his thinking to not realize this kind of silliness. I have written in more depth on this subject on this website if you want to read more on it. 

Quick thoughts…

On morals: People who believe in Darwinism cannot adequately explain why anyone should obey any kind of moral law. On Darwinism, why shouldn’t the strong prey on the weak to get what they want? If nothing exists beyond this world and beyond this life, why not rape, steal, and kill to get what you want? Why should the powerful stand up for the weak and poor among us? It’s a noble thing to do, but on Darwinism it’s senseless. On Darwinism, there is no ultimate standard, but the Darwinists go on acting like there is. 

On love: Darwinists obviously believe in natural selection and macroevolution. It is widely known that on this view, love is merely a chemical reaction in the brain. It’s a way to describe the devolpment of these chemical reactions in order for us to survive. If a Darwinist is to be consistent in his worldview, he should be ready to say his love for his wife and children are illusions. He should be prepared to tell them that the love isn’t actual; the love is merely a means that helps his own genes survive. That’s it. Nothing more. 

Let’s see some examples of how Darwinists should be living and acting if they truly are consistent. There does exist consistent Darwinian atheists. Their views are alarming, as follows.

On the value of life: There is a Darwinist named James Rachels who you should know about. In his book, Created From Animals, he says that retarded people are nothing more than animals. He says they should be used the way humans use non-human animals—as lab subjects or possibly for food.  Another Darwinist, Peter Singer, thinks parents should be allowed to abort their children after they have been alive outside of the womb for up to 28 days! He also says newborn human babies are of less value than the life of a pig!

The bottom line is that if only material things exist, then horrible behaviors espoused by some Darwinists and some atheists such as baby killing and eating retarded people, really aren’t wrong. They’re simply chemical reactions in the brain. None of these things can be objectively wrong because on a view of natural selection there are no moral laws if our brains are reacting to chemicals. In fact, our governmental laws could not be enforced if the world operated on Darwinism. Raping and murdering would simply be considered unfashionable at most. Fortunately, all rule of law is based on a transcendent moral law, just like the transcendent morality cited in order to convict the Nazi’s at the Nuremberg trials. 

They Live Inconsistently

I’ve noticed how many liberal, skeptical-minded nonbelievers tend to have strong convictions as it relates to protecting the environment, liberating the poor, eradicating diseases, and justice for the oppressed. All these things are worthy causes, though we all hold different methods by which we think they should be addressed.

I also notice some glaring contradictions with this kind of thinking among skeptical non-believers. These non-believers create an inconsistent worldview for themselves. They like to say things like, “all senses and convictions can be explained through biological evolution.” They readily admit that since we have evolved via natural selection, we can’t completely trust our own senses. They say our belief in God is simply a belief that has helped us survive, not that there is an actual God. They think beliefs, even our false beliefs, are beneficial to our survival and that is how our false belief in God originated. Maybe so. But here’s the rub with this kind of thinking: If we cannot trust our faculties as it relates to the falsity or truth about God, then why should we trust our faculties as it relates to anything at all, including macro-evolutionary science? To put it another way, if our cognitive faculties tell us only what we need to survive, not about what is actually true, why trust those faculties about anything at all? What a glaring contradiction!! Couldn’t it be then that this idea of macroevolution is simply an imaginary one that has merely assisted our human development? Why trust it?

We know God exists not because we have tangible proof, but because of cumulative clues that point very strongly toward His existence. We have the Cosmological Argument about causation of the universe. We have the teleological argument regarding the undeniable design features of the universe. We have the Anthropic Principle, which describes the delicate fine-tuning of the universe to allow life to survive. We have the regularity of nature. We have the existence of undeniable, objective moral values and duties. All of these things (plus many more) cumulatively form a solid basis for God’s existence.

But there are a few more things to add to the list. Remember what I wrote in the first paragraph. Many people have a very deep conviction to protect the environment, stand up for the oppressed, help the poor, and eradicate disease. As I pointed out, under a macro evolutionary view of the world, we have absolutely no reason to trust our convictions in these areas. After all, under this view, how can we trust anything we think to be true? Why should we carry a strong conviction about environmental issues? A Darwinist, if he is to be consistent, should admit it’s all just an illusion. The point is this, if there is no God, we should not trust any of our cognitive faculties at all.

But the problem for the Darwinist is that he does trust his cognitive faculties in areas he is most passionate about! He goes on about his every day life using his cognitive faculties and trusting them probably more than he trusts anything else. He has no real basis to say nature will go on regularly but he goes right on benefiting from nature’s regularity. He has no ultimate purpose for his social causes but he goes right on crusading for them.

However, if we believe God exists, we have every right to trust our cognitive faculties. We have every right to know the list of evidences for God is actually real. We can ground all the questions about the regularity of nature, moral obligations, helping the poor, or caring about God’s creation. Believers can crusade for justice and environmental stewardship because we have ultimate purpose in doing so.

Just like the bible states in Romans 1:19-20, everyone knows God is there. But isn’t it funny that those who deny him cannot actually live that way consistently?

Altruism and the Existence of God

Altruism is a behavior and feelings that show a desire to help others and show a lack of selfishness.  The reality of altruism is a huge problem for atheism and Darwinian evolution.  We know altruistic behavior has existed for as long as knowable human history.  An example of why this creates major problems for Darwinian evolutionists can be understood in the following examples.  A newspaper runs a story at Christmastime detailing the difficulties of a less fortunate family that is very needy.  A man reading the story is compelled to anonymously donate a large portion of money to this needy family to help them get through winter, to have necessities, and gives them the ability to provide some extra Christmas gifts to the children of the family.  This anonymous, altruistic action offers absolutely no kind of evolutionary advantage yet things like this happen all the time.  It stands to reason that, since this kind of behavior offers no evolutionary advantage, the trait of altruism should have disappeared long ago, if Darwinian evolution were true.

Consider the following story, which is true.  In May 2012, several groups of people were attempting to climb Mt. Everest as they do every year.  A young Israeli climber was nearing the summit when he came across another climber who had run into trouble.  This Turkish climber had fallen and lost most of his equipment, including his oxygen tank and his face mask.  He was clearly going to die very soon. The Israeli halted his ascent and spent several hours helping the distressed Turk back down Everest.  He saved the Turks life and lost three of his own fingers and four toes to frostbite.  He also lost his lifetime dream of reaching Everest’s summit.

In addition to all that, since May 2010, Turkey and Israel have been political enemies.  There is no love lost between these two countries.  So why did the Israeli risk his own life and give up his own dreams for such a self-less act?  It’s possible that he could have gained a better standing in the mating world had he had he been able to place “Everest Conqueror” on his dating resume.  The act did not do a thing to save and propagate his own DNA.  He did not save one of his relatives or even someone of his own ethnicity.  These are things that atheism cannot adequately answer.

What does atheism and Darwinian evolution have to say about this subject?  Natural selection tells the evolutionist that all humans strive to propagate their genes through future generations.  Some evolutionists claim that altruistic prestige that goes along with say, being a fireman, attracts healthy, beautiful females to altruistic males who, if they survive the risk of dying, have the ability to better propagate their genes over men who are less willing to risk their lives.  This is a flimsy argument on its own merit.  Oftentimes, complete slobs who are lazy and cowardly can attract beautiful women.  Maybe the slob has huge amounts of money from an inheritance or lottery winnings, as “luck” would have it.  Moreover, based on Darwinian evolution, it seems strange to me that any woman would want to reproduce with a man who consistently risks the gene pool by tempting death or giving away his family’s money to help others.  Let me be clear.  I understand things like this happen, it just doesn’t make sense based on Darwinian evolution.

Evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton has another explanation to the problem of altruism.  He claims that an altruistic person will still save his genes because he is more likely to rescue or die for his own kin.  He says you can save two of your children at the expense of your own life.  But if you’re saving cousins, your one life would have to save four cousins to make it worthwhile.  Or if you’re saving second cousins, you would have to sacrifice your one life for eight of your second cousins in order for the statistical formula to work and for your genes to be properly propagated.  These genetic computations seem very, very questionable.  Who would really be ready and willing to calculate these formulas in preparation for an altruistic action?

Geneticist E. O. Wilson has recently shied away from his lifelong belief that evolutionary processes could account for altruism.  He has begun to use an example that compares people to ants.  Ants will “choose” to assume roles that will shorten their own lives to enhance the colony.  But, as mathematician and the history of science research fellow at Boston University Amir Aczel asks, what is analogous to the human “colony?”  Is it one’s family, race, community, nation, etc.?  Aczel reminds us of examples of people jumping in icy water to save a dog or firemen rushing into a fiery building to save a cat.  Neither act will be beneficial to the “colony.”

People all over the world are paid modest wages to fight as soldiers and to serve as policemen and first responders. They do altruistic acts for people of different races, ethnicities, languages, religions, etc. European Christians risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.  Soldiers form brotherly bonds that cause one another to fight to their death to save their comrades.  As Aczel (who is agnostic) points out, “To claim that these are acts that propagate one’s own genes would seem preposterous.”

So what could be the cause of this kind of behavior?  The answer to me is very simple.  It is caused by decency and goodness that is rooted in a decent and good God who upholds all of creation (Col 1:17, Psalm 100:5).  Christians have a great deal of evidences for objective morals rooted in God such as goodness, selflessness, kindness, and generosity.  We are friends of a good God (James 2:23) and friends and helpers to one another (Matt 5:42).  Christians have very good evidence for God’s existence, the truth and authenticity of the Bible, and the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  If we follow the evidence where it leads without a presupposed worldview, we can find the answers to many, if not all, of our questions.

 

(Some of the material in this article has been adapted from the book by Amir D. Aczel, Why Science Does Not Disprove God (New York: HarperCollins, 2014).