Adopting Families: Extraordinary Ordinary Families

Isabelle 2-2 Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

“Isabelle 2-2,” Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

This summer my family vacationed with a group of sixty extraordinary ordinary families. Almost all of these families had adopted children with special needs, and many of them had adopted their children from other countries. Down syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, limb differences, dwarfism…you name it, children with these conditions were there. And it was beautiful.

That week was the first time I spent an extended amount of time around special needs children, and I was both amazed and humbled. I expected to meet families of great strength and spirit, and they are, but they are also ordinary families.

Most of the moms had met through online groups, especially Reeces’ Rainbow. But few of the fathers had met or corresponded with each other. It was conversations with fathers that inspired me and one in particular provided a breakthrough moment, making this whole special needs adoption process very real to me.

At the poolIn a pool filled with a hundred children, most of whom had special needs, a beautiful blond girl was in her floater near me, clearly enjoying being in the water. She was splashing and giggling and looking lovingly with her huge blue eyes and charming smile at her daddy. I struck up a conversation with the dad about his daughter. After talking for a while, he happened to mention that one of the ways their family raised money for Lyla’s adoption was by selling t-shirts.

Suddenly I made the connection. We had bought one of those t-shirts! My wife wore it for months, and all of my children knew who Lyla was and had been praying for her. In that moment I realized that before me was a little child of God who only a couple of years earlier had been languishing in an orphanage. I told dad that we had one of the shirts and he looked me straight in the eyes and said a simple, “Thank you.” Even now as I write this down, my eyes are leaking.

You can help special needs orphans and adopting families by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer!

Ordinary People

These adopting parents and siblings are just like you and me. They aren’t independently wealthy, and they aren’t Mother Teresa either. The fathers work jobs just like everyone else and are fully sold out to their adoptions. The moms mostly stay at home with their children, making their important contributions one day, one child at a time.

I spoke with several of the dads, and their stories were simple. I asked, “Why did you adopt? How did you get to that place in your life?” There were no lightning bolts, no visions of angels. They just heard the stories and saw the pictures and were convicted that someone had to do something. And the someone was them.

“Samson,” who died before he could be adopted

Their children (biological and adoptive) are outrageously typical. They are sweet, friendly, shy, demanding, generous, whiny, clever, humorous, mischievous and perfectly lovely to be around. That is, they are children are just like everyone else’s children.

Extraordinary People

These families radically transform their lives and families. In many of their home countries, orphans are on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and people with special needs are even lower. The trauma experienced by these children in orphanages is often physically and psychologically devastating, and the parents who graft them into their families take on the medical and therapeutic costs of healing and caring for these precious ones.

They spend months or years raising tens of thousands of dollars to fund the adoptions. They often sell off many their own possessions and spend countless hours fundraising through crafting and activities in their community. Many radically simplify their lifestyles in order to make the adoption happen.

Adopting families open their homes to social services and CPS agency workers in what must be a stressful and intrusive process to evaluate the quality of their home and home life, in detail.

Single moms who adopt children have to do it all—work and fundraise and raise other children they may have.

These are courageous men and women of faith and conviction. Some are Christian, some are of other faiths, but all of them are striving to improve the life situation of orphans, one at a time.

Transformed Children

Adopting families and those who contribute to their adoption funding are literally rescuing children from mostly terrible conditions. The life of a special needs orphan (especially in current and former communist countries) can be particularly brutal, because a person’s value is based on their potential contribution to society. Viewed as a drain on society, those born with special needs are often consigned to poorly-resourced orphanages with underpaid staff.

In most Eastern European countries, orphans with cognitive disabilities are sent to adult mental institutions at 4-6 years old, where they stay until they die or are adopted (huge majorities, at least 90%, of those who remain die within a few years). Special needs orphans without cognitive disabilities age out of the system at around age 16, and are released without job skills and illiterate. Human traffickers are usually waiting for them, and you can guess the rest.

Here are some “Before-and-After” photos of Reece’s Rainbow children whose lives have been transformed by adoption.

RRAT 14 4RRAT 14 3RRAT 14 2 RRAT 14 1 JoJo 1 month homeBy rescuing “the least of these” adoptive families literally transform the children’s lives. Here is one of our favorite blogs about these kinds of rescues, and you can read about various adoption stories here.

You Can Help

Adopting children internationally is quite expensive.[1] The reason I like the financial model used by Reece’s Rainbow is that when money is donated to a child’s dedicated grant, it stays connected to that child until a family is actively in the process of adopting the child. Families who commit to a child can set up their own account. In either case, Reece’s Rainbow strives to ensure that money dedicated to a child helps that child’s adoptive family when the time comes.[2]

Reece’s Rainbow’s annual fundraising campaign is Angel Tree. Angel Tree Warriors select a child, and commit to raise $1,000 to jump-start a child’s adoption grant, increasing the chance that a family will be able to afford to adopt him or her.

You can help by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer! We are so grateful to those people who helped our family raise $1,000 for Isabelle 2-2!

In this last ten days of the year, will you please take some time and look at the pictures of these children and find it in your heart to help their warrior reach their $1,000 goal?

As a Christian, God has adopted me into his family, making me an heir to the inheritance of the promises of Abraham, and one of his children.

Romans 8:15: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:3-7: So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Ephesians 1:5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

Helping families do this for children is one way my family pays this gift forward to others.

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Videos Links

Here are a few videos documenting the conditions in orphanages in Romania, China, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

Romania

China

Bulgaria (The orphanage shown here has since closed; here is a follow up BBC story )

Ukraine

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[1] I originally thought that the high cost was due to corruption and bribes in the children’s home nations. It turns out, however, that most of the money goes toward the demanding travel and nation-stay requirements, and American social service and legal fees.

[2] Reece’s Rainbow is not an adoption agency, and must comply with US and home-country rules for disbursing funds.

Historical Evidence that Jesus Actually Existed

ravenna-jesus-212x300One of the more remarkable theories by skeptics of Christianity over the last century is that Jesus Christ never even existed. Fortunately, the historical record is quite clear, and the actual existence of this man in history is well documented by ancient historical standards.

In a forthcoming article in Biblical Archaeology Review Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk, a professor at Purdue University, carefully summarizes and discusses the historical evidence for Jesus in early non-Christian sources. This article is well-documented, with two-thirds of the published web-page dedicated to footnotes verifying or explaining his conclusions and broader scholarly debates. (It isn’t actually new information, but is an easy-to-understand and thorough discussion.)

You can read Mykytiuk’s whole article here, but based on reading and analysis of non-Christian sources, the following facts about Jesus can be known from two prominent ancient historians who briefly mention Jesus (and excluding dubious changes to those historians’ writings).

What do we know about Jesus?

  1. He existed as a man [Josephus and Tacitus]…
  2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.
  3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies…
  4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.
  5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus…
  6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him…
  7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.
  8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.
  9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.[1]

While there is no good reason, historically speaking, to exclude Christian writings (such as those in the New Testament or by early church fathers), the non-Christian evidence about the historical facts of Jesus’ life and death is clear, despite the small number of people who claim otherwise.

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[1] It is worth noting that several of Mukutiuk’s conclusions parallel those of two Christian apologists who focus on the resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas developed the “minimal facts” approach to the resurrection, and with Michael Licona has written extensive scholarly work on this question (see examples here and here.

The Virgin Birth: Myth, Made-up, or Misinterpretation?

Source: http://iconreader.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/vmdirect.jpg

Source: http://iconreader.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/vmdirect.jpg

One of the most frequent challenges to traditional Christian doctrine is over the “virgin” conception and birth of Jesus in Mary.

Some people argue that miracles never happen (a philosophical assumption, rather than an empirical fact), and therefore the virgin birth of Jesus could not be true.

Others argue that the virgin birth was a mythological addition to the story of Jesus’ life, and was originally derived from other ancient “virgin birth myths,” and so it is not true.

This last one is particularly popular these days, and The Apologetics Guy has put together a concise response to the myth objection. His key points are these:

“The Virgin Birth wasn’t Copied from Myths”, either Horus, Mithra or Caesar Augustus.

By the way, LutheranSatire has put together a very clever video refuting (and yes, mocking) the myth-copying hypothesis:

Apologetics Guy then addresses the accusation that the virgin birth was made up later on, arguing that

“Making up a fake story about Jesus’ virgin birth wouldn’t make Christianity more attractive to the Jews. It would actually make people suspicious about Jesus…The Virgin Birth Wasn’t Emphasized…[and] The Virgin Birth is Different from Myths” in important ways.

One of the most important differences is that the Christian tradition of the virgin birth occurs prior to the other myths commonly cited, as Catholic.com notes,

“The parallel between the birth of Jesus and the pagan god exists, but the Christian tradition antedates the pagan mythology…and none were ever believed to be historical figures like Jesus.”

Finally, The Apologetics Guy doesn’t address a more text-critical view–that the gospel writers had to contrive Jesus’ conception by a virgin because they misread an Old Testament messianic prophecy from Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (NAS)

Evidence Unseen addresses several of the anti-virgin conception claims, one of which is the claim that the Hebrew word alluding to the messiah’s birth (almah) doesn’t really mean virgin, but instead is a general term referring to an adolescent young woman. After discussing the language issues, they conclude,

“while the term almah does not exclusively mean virgin, it is certainly compatible with virginity –especially when we see that there was no other Hebrew term to use that would be any better.”

In short, Christians can continue to be confident in the integrity of the doctrine of Jesus’ virgin birth. It was clearly not copied from other pagan myths, it was not made up by the later church, and Matthew did not misinterpret the Old Testament prophecy.

Merry Christ-mas!!

 

 

 

Quick Discipleship Tip: Teach your children about context

Daniel 1Reading the Bible and talking about it with your children makes a difference in the way they will approach scripture.

Tonight I sat down with 10 year old E to read the Bible. She asked me to randomly open the Bible and randomly point to a verse, and then she would ask me a question about the verse. So I did, and the verse was Daniel 1:11: “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,”

She read it, thought about it for a moment, and said to me, “I think I need to read more so I can get the context.”

She has picked up, through our Bible reading, her Bible study with Mom, and her devotions, a key skill in rightly interpreting the Word of God.

When God doesn’t answer prayers the way we want

Image Source: huffpost.com

You won’t live very long on this earth before you have an experience that causes you to ask God for a healing. What we usually have in mind is that we want God to physically heal a person so that they can go on living life here with us “like normal.”

Sometimes, however, God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. This situation is poignantly addressed in this beautiful blog post at scribblesandcrumbs.

The author describes her struggles to understand the suffering and eventual deaths of two people, her friend Chelsea and her son Charlie. Chelsea, an adult:

So many rallied around and prayed for healing for her. She was so deeply loved by many, many faithful Christians, but her healing did not come in this life.

And Charlie, her own young child:

I can’t tell you how many times Charlie beat the odds. I can’t tell you how many nights where all medical options were exhausted, and it was up to Charlie and God to pull him through. He had so many close calls, so many near death experiences. People rallied together. They prayed through the night, and Charlie would pull through.

God brought healing, and then Charlie got sick again. And again. And again.

I wrestled with the purpose of Charlie’s sickness all throughout his life, and after his death, I still do.

Her set of questions about our understanding of God versus the reality of God is insightful, and she points to the centrality of hope for coping with the things we don’t understand…

Sometimes God doesn’t answer prayers in the way we want. Sometimes horrible things happen.

God can still be good and still be strong and still be loving. Our world is sick and broken and muddied since the fall of mankind.

The tragedies we encounter sometimes push us to question or even reject God’s existence, out of our pain and misunderstanding of God’s perspective, his purposes, and his sovereignty. This is because we want God to do what we want him to do–we have such a high view of ourselves that in times of struggle we want God to comply with our will. When he doesn’t, we blame him for not really being a loving God. Instead, scribblesandcrumbs points us to the hope that she and millions of others find in their tragedies.

We can choose to reject or resent God for the times it feels he doesn’t listen or doesn’t answer or even the times that it feels he doesn’t have any regard for our lives.

I know those times, but I can tell you that, because of him, I can also see the beauty, see the joy, see the hope, see heaven. I see what was intended, and that only builds my hope for so much more after this life.

When the healing doesn’t come, hold on to hope. This world is the beginning. This world is a shadow compared to what is to come.

Indeed.

PS: If you are struggling with tragedy, you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some ideas I had for finding hope and meaning in the midst of community.

 

Why I am Convinced God Exists 2: Assumptions and Evidence Standards

Michael Angelo's Creation of Adam (Source: Wikimedia.org)

Michael Angelo’s Creation of Adam (Source: Wikimedia.org)

In attempting to answer the question “Does God Exist?” I had to make some assumptions. In this post I discuss the rationality of my process, and lay out the handful of assumptions that underlie my broader analysis. These assumptions are, I believe, entirely reasonable: 1. I exist. 2. I can reason. 3. There are true answers to many questions related to God’s existence. Based on these, I discuss specific standards of evidence and proof used by various disciplines.

Previous Post: Introduction

In my previous discussions, I’ve used the term rational a couple times, and so it’s important that I tell you what I mean by that. Rationality is a term used in economics and political science to describe a process of thoughtfully pursuing goals using reason. That is, a person is considered rational when she has a goal she’d like to achieve, is able to reason through a set of options for pursuing that goal, and follow a path she believes will help her achieve that goal. This evaluation and path selection assumes she has enough information to make those judgments, and that she can reason through the consequences of selecting different paths. This doesn’t require perfect or complete information, but having enough credible information to make a reasonable prediction.[1]

Here, my goal is to conclude whether God exists, and rationality refers to my reasoning through the various paths that come up on that journey. As a result, I haven’t specifically addressed every question that could possibly be asked about what the world would be like if God doesn’t exist. Rather, I’ve selected the most pertinent lines of inquiry that I reasoned would help me answer the question for myself. Other people will probably have other lines of inquiry that will satisfy their intellectual curiosity on this question. If they’re rational, they’ll think systematically, too, and will pick questions that will, on balance, enable them to more or less objectively answer the question. The alternative is to cherry-pick paths that will lead them to the answer they want to be true, which is intellectually faulty and dishonest.

After I wrote about 12 single-spaced pages of analysis, I stopped. Had I made unreasonable assumptions that would inexorably lead me to the conclusion I wanted to be true? That is, since I want God to exist, did I frame the whole set of questions in such a way as to inevitably lead me to the conclusion that God exists? As I thought about it, I backtracked to my initial questions to figure out my underlying assumptions. I concluded that they are reasonable and realistic and need not lead to the conclusion that God exists. They are:

  1. I exist. By implication, this also means the material universe, what Carl Sagan called the cosmos, exists.
  2. I can reason. That means I have the intellectual ability to think through a series of questions and answers, imagine contrary views, evaluate contrary arguments, compile and evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions based on that process.[2]
  3. There are true answers to many questions. Some statements are true and other statements are false. By true, I mean true in the conventional way that people use the word and its partner, truth. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a true statement or belief as “Consistent with fact; agreeing with the reality; representing the thing as it is,” and truth as “Conformity with fact; agreement with reality; accuracy, correctness, verity (of statement or thought).”[3] So the true answer to whether God exists has to be consistent with the facts, agreeing with the reality of the way things are. Ascertaining the truth of a statement involves the exercise of reason (see my second assumption, above).[4]

That’s it—those are the core assumptions from which I’m working. Fundamentally, this is a search for the true answer to the question, Does God Exist?. Again, I don’t claim especially comprehensive or specialized knowledge in some areas, but I know how to evaluate many facts, I know how to compare and contrast ideas, and I know how to think reasonably logically.[5] I think I’m competent to evaluate whether an idea, concept, or statement conforms to reality within the normal bounds of normal human intelligence.

My process, therefore, was not to develop my own professional expertise, research agenda, or even a deep familiarity with the original professional academic research in any of these areas. Rather, I did my best to evaluate other people’s work while also thinking systematically through my own ideas and considering in broad strokes the alternatives. And that has to be enough. (Even if I wanted to acquire professional expertise in some of these fascinating areas, I already have a full-time job and my lovely bride has said she is not going to put me through graduate school again!)

Now that I have discussed my basic reasoning and assumptions, let’s turn to specific issues related to the standards of evidence or proof one might need in any area of study.

Standards of Evidence

Convincing someone of something depends on the standards of evidence the first someone requires. What kind of evidence would be adequate to prove that God exists? Logic, legal reasoning, experimental science, statistical reasoning and historical reasoning all provide input into addressing this question. In the end, I conclude that science and experimental reasoning provide language but not tools for evaluating whether God exists, because they are only appropriate for testing material things and processes. Since no one makes a serious claim that God is a material being, materialistic methods for “testing” for God simply aren’t appropriate.

There are many common standards used and familiar to many of us, and different disciplines make use of different proof standards. The “proof standard” leading to the conclusion that my ancestor Caleb Albee fought in the Revolutionary War is different than the proof standard that education affects the probability that a person will vote. The legal standard expected of juries for convicting criminals is different from the experimental standards for concluding that the rate of chemical reactions varies based on changes in the ambient temperature in which the chemicals interact.

Some common proof standards

Beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the burden of proof a prosecutor must meet in a trial in which someone is accused of a crime. The jury must find the evidence and reasoning so strong that any reasonable doubt about the accused’s guilt must be overcome. Note that this doesn’t eliminate any doubt, or any possible other explanation for a crime. Even though this sounds really difficult to understand, thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens are able to apply this proof standard every year in nearly every jury trial held in our nation.

Preponderance of the evidence. This is the burden of proof that must be met for someone suing someone else in a civil suit, such as breaking a contract or agreement, or that the tree branch that fell on my car is your fault because the tree is on your property. Lower than the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard, this simply requires a jury to assess whether, when all the relevant evidence is considered, someone broke a contract or ought to be held responsible for some bad outcome. Again, thousands of our fellow citizens apply this proof standard in civil jury trials every year.

Reasoning to the best explanation. This is a proof standard for drawing conclusions about historical events and relationships, such as in my hobby, genealogy.[6] This leverages documentary and archaeological evidence about the past: events and people, their lives and relationships based on contemporary accounts, documents and circumstantial evidence. This is fundamentally the basis for the discipline of History, which seeks to document whether, where, how, and why certain events happened. Since for most of human history there are no eyewitnesses now living, everything we know about the past is based on reasoning to the best explanation. (I have recently come to learn that in Logic, this is called abductive reasoning.)

Scientific statistical reasoning. This is based on probability and sampling theories, in which the likelihood of outcomes and relationships can be calculated; and hypothesis testing.[7] There are normally two major types of errors to avoid: rejecting a true statement instead of accepting it as true (a Type 1 Error), and accepting a false statement as true instead of rejecting it (a Type 2 error). Probabilities can be calculated for avoiding those errors. (In terms of God’s existence, a Type 1 Error would be rejecting the statement “God exists” when it is in fact true. A Type 2 Error would be accepting the statement “God exists” when it is in fact false.)

  • The standard point at which a statement is normally accepted as empirically supported is at the 95% probability level, though that standard is arbitrary. You have seen this used when the news presents public opinion poll results that include a margin of error notation (such as ± 3%). Billions of dollars in spending each year hinges on people applying this proof standard to marketing and political decisions. The important thing about this kind of reasoning is that it hinges on a probabilistic standard of proof rather than an absolute standard; even if we obtain a result for which we are 99.9% sure, we still allow a small probability (0.1%) that our conclusion is wrong. The lower that probability, the higher the confidence that we’ve correctly identified a true statement or rejected a false one.
  • Explanatory power is the statistical concept that permits us to calculate the proportion of variation in some phenomenon that is explained by a set of independent variables. Any group of explanatory factors will explain some amount of the differences in a thing we’re trying to understand. In my research, for example, I often am trying to explain why people vote or do not vote. The outcome is easy to understand: either a person votes or she doesn’t vote. If I have 10 variables that are plausibly related to that behavior, I can calculate rather precisely how good a job each one does individually. I can also calculate how good a job they do collectively.[8] One important point here is that even in the most rigorous analysis of individual behavior we never even come close to explaining 100% of the variation in anything (aggregated social statistics are an exception).
  • So as a social scientist using statistical and econometric methods, I am comfortable with (1) finding explanatory factors that are plausibly, logically and statistically related to a phenomenon I’m trying to explain. (2) Thinking probabilistically about how likely they are to actually be related to the thing I’m trying to explain, and being comfortable with that probability being a good deal less than absolute certainty. And (3) happy when a reasonably high level of explanation is provided by my factors without even coming close to explaining everything. I am satisfied with sufficiency and coherence, rather than incontrovertible proof, and every social scientist and economist that uses statistics operates on the same principles.

Experimental evidence of physical objects and processes (that is, conclusions that are based on the process of hypothesis testing, controlled experimental manipulation, and replication). Since this particular proof standard requires the ability to manipulate and replicate experimental conditions, it is inadequate to evaluate claims that cannot be subjected to experimental replication or manipulation. For example, we can’t replicate the creation of something from nothing, in which there is by definition nothing to vary or manipulate in the experiment; thus creation ex nihilo is an event not subject to scientific experimentation. On the other hand, experimental evidence is adequate for learning all kinds of things about the way the material world operates.

Basic Logic, including the Law of Noncontradiction, which says that “No proposition may be simultaneously true and false” and its partner, the Law of the Excluded Middle, “Every proposition must be either true or false.”[9] (Note that is a more formal restatement of one of my underlying assumptions.)

Understanding these standards of evidence and proof helps me reason about God’s existence in three specific ways.

  1. First, I can be okay with not having 100% proof of God existing, but with finding sufficient arguments and evidence for me to conclude that some things are very likely to point to God’s existence. Admittedly, this is a bit subjective, and the question is not subject to actual probabilistic calculations at all! But the principle is that in the rest of my intellectual life I don’t expect or get absolutely perfect or complete explanations for anything, so I’m comfortable with some gap between what I successfully explain and a perfect explanation.
  2. Second, a variety of kinds of arguments and evidence can be brought to bear on the question of God’s existence. When I teach students about methodological variety, I use the metaphor of triangulation, in which methods and accumulation of different kinds of evidence provide a process of narrowing the set of potential explanations to those that seem most plausible.
  3. Third, given what I observe in the world around me, I can reason out which theory and factors best provide a comprehensive, if not complete explanation for the world and for human behavior. Do the principles of an atheistic worldview do as good a job explaining things as the principles of a theistic worldview? If not, which theism provides the best or most reasonable explanation, or demonstrates the greatest explanatory power, for the way the universe and human beings actually operate? Again, I don’t need absolutely complete explanations, just logical, plausible, sufficient, coherent, and (hopefully) parsimonious ones.

In particular, I think it’s interesting to note that none of the legal or scientific standards of evidence requires 100% elimination of every other possibility every time in order to conclude that a person is guilty, that an historical event happened, or that an hypothesis is supported or refuted. On the other hand, the Law of Noncontradiction allows us to identify logical options and eliminate directly contradictory statements as equally true, so we can organize the logical outcomes in certain situations.

Extraordinary Evidence?

Finally, let me address the famous objection put forward by atheist astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”[10] I have two responses to this. First, I am interested in evaluating extraordinary claims, such as “God exists” using evidence that is available. And the evidence one requires must be appropriate for the question one has. As I discussed earlier, as a political scientist my research questions drive my research methodology, and the same principle ought to to the question of God’s existence. It seems to me that what Sagan sought was the kind of scientific evidence that is simply inapplicable to the question with which I’m dealing. But my second thought is that I am willing to apply the principle within analytically-appropriate knowledge domains. So I think it is reasonable to expect extraordinary evidence to support Dr. Sagan’s claim that “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”[11] Or that nonliving matter spontaneously became living. Or that the universe started all by itself, creating everything from nothing, for no reason, or that it has eternally existed, or that the multiverse is actually scientifically provable.[12]

In conclusion, in seeking to answer the question Does God Exist?, there are several standards of evidence that come into play to some degree. Few, if any, of them hold absolute proof up as even possible to achieve. So whenever I think it’s possible to do, I will lay out my best understanding of the logical options for an issue. (For example, in the next section I’ll point out that on the question of God’s existence there are only two possibilities: Either God Exists or God Does Not Exist; there is no in-between state.) So there is a true answer! Then, thinking through other related questions, the various standards of evidence will come into play in ways that seem appropriate to the particular aspect of the questions at hand.

Does God Exist?

In this post I address a relatively simple yet profound truth: God either exists or God does not exist. There is no in-between state. What we believe about God’s existence is entirely irrelevant to whether God exists. And whether we can even know about God’s existence is also irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, there is a yes or no answer to this question. The real question is whether we can acquire sufficient reasons to conclude that one of these two is more likely to be true than the other.

Yes or No

Does God exist? There are only two answers, Yes and No, and they both can’t be true. That is, either God Exists or God Does Not Exist. Therefore, I have to evaluate which one of those answers corresponds to reality and the way things actually are, can be logically supported, and is evidentially supported.

Let’s lay out the logical options as a big picture roadmap for my analysis.

  1. One of these two statements is true, and the other is false: Either God Exists or God Does Not Exist.
  2. The question of God’s actual existence is independent of my belief about this. That is, it doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not, God either exists or does not exist.

Therefore, any person’s belief that God does not exist has no bearing on whether God actually exists. Similarly, any person’s belief that God does exist also has no bearing on whether God actually exists.

After I made these points at a recent talk, a young man suggested that there might be a third option—that we can’t know whether God exists. He was confusing knowledge about God with God’s actual existence. (In philosophical terms, the question of God’s reality is ontology, but the question of acquiring knowledge about reality is epistemology, and this was the difference.) Thus, it’s useful to address a third point related to knowing whether God exists:

  1. God’s actual existence does not rely on my possessing knowledge about God or about God’s existence.

What this means is that God may exist even if I don’t know it. Not knowing it does not bear on God’s existence.

It also means that God may exist even if I possess incorrect information about God. The relative correctness of my information does not affect God’s actual existence or actual nature, only my understanding of God.

Finally, it’s important to note that if God exists, there may be evidence of God’s existence. God may or may not have intentionally conveyed information to humanity about himself (or herself, or itself). Even if there isn’t evidence we can perceive, that doesn’t affect whether God exists, only that our knowledge about God doesn’t have evidence. On the other hand, we might be able to perceive at least some or all of the evidence for God’s existence.

(There are some important implications for the answer to these questions, and a person who concludes that God exists or doesn’t exist has some more work to do in accounting for the way the world works, or for explaining God more thoroughly. That set of questions is beyond this series, but are on my agenda to address down the road.)

My First Conclusion: God either exists or does not exist. The arguments and evidence must point me to which one of these statements is true, even if I don’t attain 100% certainty.

In my next post, I will address an important aspect of God’s existence. Most human conceptions of deities suggest that there exists a realm or dimension beyond the physical realm. If this realm is nonmaterial, it is one in which nonmaterial beings or deities could exist. Is there evidence that the non-material realm or reality exists in which a being like God could exist?

Next Post: Let’s Get Real(ity).

[1] An irrational person is someone who ignores the evidence and information and then follows a path unlikely to end with her goal being achieved, or that she just wanted to follow despite the evidence. So it would be irrational of me to use materialist methods to study nonmaterial things, because the method would not reasonably be expected to provide evidence about the subject.

[2] All of this begs the question, “How can a mere collection of neurons, blood vessels and electrical impulses actually do this and have any confidence in the result?” Late in my process I discovered the so-called “Argument from Reason,” which I’ll discuss later. I believe this provides a compelling argument for an intelligent, creative, reason-based being behind everything. But at first I just intuitively believed that I had the capacity to reason to a true conclusion.

[3] OED Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 20, 2014.

[4] Again, this raises the question of how a mere collection of neurons, etc., determine whether a statement is true or false and then trust themselves that they have come up with the right answer.

[5] Thanks especially to a couple of computer programming courses back in the 1980s, and to Dr. Valli Koubi who took the time to walk our International Conflict class systematically through the logic of Expected Utility Theory when I was at the University of Georgia.

[6] See, for example, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997).

[7] See, for example, Gujarti, Basic Econometrics (McGraw-Hill, 2003); an accessible introduction is Cuzzort and Vrettos, The Elementary Forms of Statistical Reason (St. Martin’s, 1996).

[8] This is calculated with a statistic called the coefficient of determination, which is the proportion of the variation in the probability—technically the logged odds—of voting explained by the variables.

[9] Horn, Laurence R., “Contradiction”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Accessed at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contradiction/ August 29, 2014

[10] Sagan, Carl (writer/host) (December 14, 1980). “Encyclopaedia Galactica”. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Episode 12. 01:24 minutes in. PBS. Cited in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan#cite_note-74, Accessed 2 November 2014.

[11] Sagan, Carl, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4.

[12] See the excellent discussion of this claim by Rob Lundberg, “Responding to the ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidences’ Objection,” at http://roblundberg.blogspot.com/2014/01/responding-to-extraordinary-claims.html.