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Religion

By Sarah Beth Costello

For centuries, many have questioned the existence of God, the existence of truth and its correlation with morality. Apologist Frank Turek presented an argument, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” in April 2009 and returned Thursday night to speak again.

Turek is the co-author of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” and founder of www.crossExamined.org. He has debated this topic with well-known atheists and believes in the existence of God and truth.

The event was co-sponsored by Intervarsity, Campus Outreach, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Baptist Student Union. Turek will return Monday for the second part of his presentation, which will focus on the possibility of miracles and the relevance of the New Testament.

“Truth is what corresponds to reality,” said Turek at the start of his presentation. “In today’s culture our first duty is to state the obvious. People are denying the obvious, they’re denying there’s truth out there.”

Turek explained the law of non-contradiction, which states that two contradictory ideas cannot both be true. Turek argued that all truth is absolute truth and “applies to all persons, at all times, in all places.” He provided six examples of statements people use to discount truth: “There is no truth, you can’t know truth, truth is relative, it’s true for you but not for me, no one has the truth and you ought not judge.” If any of these statements are true then the Bible cannot be true, argued Turek.

“If you apply the claims to themselves,” said Turek, “you can see why they’re self-defeating, and when it’s logically self-defeating it can’t be true.”

Turek also explained the three major worldviews, which are theism, pantheism and atheism. Though many regard the term “religious” as being a follower or practitioner of a religion, Turek argued,”if you define religion as someone’s explanation for ultimate reality – how we got here and where we’re going – everybody is religious to some extent.”

Turek’s argument was met with some debate and conflicting opinions.

“I like that (Turek’s) trying to rationally justify (his beliefs). I think that discussion needs to be had,” said Michael Kleinmann, president of SANE who said he respected Turek even though he did not believe Turek is correct.

“The university is an institution where the free exchange of ideas are shared,” said campus outreach chaplain Michael Lopes. “It’s important in our setting to have representation of different views.

Turek will speak again Thursday in Whitley Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

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By Sarah Beth Costello
Oct. 9, 2009

This article was featured as a guest column in the Burlington Times-News

Every five seconds, a child dies from lack of nourishment. More than one billion of the world’s population are starving, according to Bread for the World. The World Bank estimates 500 million of the world’s population live in “absolute poverty.” Human brutality has ended millions of lives from the Rwandan and Sudanese genocides to Hitler’s mass extermination of Jews prior to and during World War II.

Human suffering has prompted scholars, educators and philosophers to explore the age-old question “where is God?” When chaos and calamity occur, the natural inclination is to demand answers for the unprecedented events. For some, suffering is the dominant roadblock preventing them from accepting God.

Bart D. Ehrman is such a man. The professor and department chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina is a self-proclaimed

Dr. Bart Ehrman

Dr. Bart Ehrman

agnostic who vacated his Christian principles after arriving at the conclusion that the existence of suffering discredits the existence of God.

On Oct. 7, Ehrman and Christian apologist and renowned author Dinesh D’Souza engaged in a debate at UNC to address “God and the problem of suffering.” Erhman used emotionally based arguments, such as his background and personal experiences, while D’Souza took a more logic-based approach.

Ehrman and D’Souza agreed that there are two types of suffering: moral evil and natural suffering. Moral evil relates to human inflicted suffering and natural suffering includes uncontrollable catastrophes. Ehrman’s study of the Bible led to his agnosticism because he said while God continually intervened in scriptures, his hand is not evident today.

“I became increasingly disturbed about why God doesn’t do anything [today],” said Ehrman. “If God answers prayer, why doesn’t he?”

Ehrman argued that global suffering –mass genocides, war, disease and poverty– are indicators of a God-free world.

“I gave up my faith,” said Ehrman “Why would God create a world like this? Couldn’t he have created a world that didn’t require [suffering] and the shifting of tectonic plates?”

Yes, God could have created a perfect world, but he chose to create beings with an ability to make their own decisions and follow his commandments voluntarily. C.S. Lewis explained in “Mere Christianity” that God did not create evil, rather evil is a perversion of what is good. Evil and suffering is the result of man’s disobedience.

“Suffering,” said D’Souza, “does not call into question the existence of God, but the nature of God.”

Dinesh D'Souza

If a father disappoints his child, said D’Souza, the child will not say, “I refuse to believe in you.” Instead, the child may question his father’s character, but to immediately discredit his existence would be idiotic and illogical.

“God’s design was not that He would be a cosmic bell-hop, but to create autonomous beings to deal with situations as we should,” said D’Souza.

According to Ehrman’s argument, God can’t exist because suffering is prevalent. So how can we account for the good: a newborn baby, a sunrise, the unexplained healing of a cancer patient? Is it just chance, or is the good that people do just second nature? If God must be good to exist, how can there be any good without him? If our nature is to commit moral evil, our nature cannot be good.

It may seem easier to live life without surrendering to a God who requires sacrifice. Somewhere along the way Ehrman decided life is too hard to commit to an unseen God. But his alternative is a depressing one. Ehrman believes all we have is now. His philosophy is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” and by the way, try and stop world poverty while indulging yourself in lovemaking and beer.

D’Souza said humans are like ants on a construction site with a tiny window into reality. What kind of ant questions the actions of a builder who can see the whole picture? We may never understand suffering in its full context. But I’d rather follow a God of mystery than live an empty and hopeless life without Him.

Sarah Beth Costello
May 9, 2009

The jump from home to college is a difficult transition for most students. Balancing class work with social life, and adjusting to new schedules often force students to reevaluate their priorities.

Many students arrive on campus eager to practice their faith as they did at home and discover the difficulties involved with the new surroundings and responsibilities. Other students are happy to leave home for something new and different.

According to the Registrar’s Report for the 2009 spring semester, the majority of Elon students have religious backgrounds.

A graph depicting the distribution of religious affiliations at Elon University according to the Registrar's 2009 Spring Report. Graphic by Sarah B. Costello

A graph depicting the distribution of religious affiliations at Elon University according to the Registrar's 2009 Spring Report. Graphic by Sarah B. Costello

The largest church denomination on campus is Catholicism with 21 percent of students professing to be affiliated with the Catholic Church.

“Christians” make up 9.5 percent of the population, followed by Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Jews, etc. Only 4.1 percent of Elon students claimed to have no religious preference.

Despite the broad range of church denominations and Christians on campus, many students find it difficult to continue practicing their faith as they did at home.

Robert Wohner is a rising junior at Elon from New York. Wohner was raised in a Baptist home, but has found it difficult to be as active in church due to the busyness of college life.

“My [involvement in church] is definitely less because I’ve got a lot of things on my mind and other priorities,” said Wohner. “You go to college to experience new things. I expect that when I’m older I’m still going to be a Christian.”

Wohner says Christianity is his foundation, but not necessarily his priority right now. Some students have completely opposing opinions. Sarah Bean, a rising sophomore, was raised in a Catholic home. “It was like [Catholicism] was chosen for me, but I don’t mind it,” said Bean who has been a devout Catholic for most of her life.

Religion is a priority for Bean who has experienced some difficulty finding Catholic friends on campus.

“It’s hard to find other people that have the same beliefs as you,” said Bean. “I haven’t gone to a Catholic church all semester, but now I have a friend who’s Catholic.”

While some students back off from religion and some struggle to keep religion a priority, others change or ado¬pt new practices altogether.

Chad Zimmermann is a Christian, but became interested in Zen meditation after taking a religion class on eastern religions with Barbara Gordon. Zimmermann is the former president of Iron Tree Blooming, a meditation society that meets on campus. “It’s not something that I would classify as religious,” said Zimmermann. “It’s a group of people that meet for a specific purpose.

Students meet together to relax and meditate, which Zimmermann says attracts a lot of Christians. Though Zen is derived from Buddhism, “When I was going there, there was no one who was Buddhist. Meditation is used for me as relaxation to regenerate the body.”

For many, college is the first experience living outside of home. And while finding the balance and reassessing priorities is difficult, things won’t be any different after college. Life will always be busy, there will always be responsibilities.

Sarah Beth Costello
May 7, 2009

Image courtesy of http://tinyurl.com/ojv4e4.

Image courtesy of http://tinyurl.com/ojv4e4.

“The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights,” said Thomas Jefferson to the Virginia Board of Visitors in 1819.

Since 1775, the Christian community has dedicated specific days for the nationalization of prayer. President Harry Truman in conjunction with Congress was responsible for signing in the National Day of Prayer in 1952.

President Ronald Reagan modified this law in 1988, officially setting the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Since the enactment of this national day, every president has signed proclamations and encouraged Americans to pray and intercede for America. In 2008, all 50 governors signed similar proclamations.

May 7, 2009 marks the National Day of Prayer this year. The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a Christian organization that seeks to encourage the Christian community on this day, specifically intercession on behalf of “the seven centers of power: government, military, media, business, education, church and family.”

shirley_dobson

Shirley Dobson

The National Day of Prayer is an annual event that seeks to promote prayer for all religions. The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a Christian organization, led by Shirley Dobson, that exists to encourage the Christian community on this special day. The Task Force believes prayer is the core of America’s principles.

Prayer has played a vital role throughout history, according to the official National Day of Prayer Task Force Web site. From the founding of America, to the day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” as proclaimed by President Lincoln, past presidents and officials have made it their duty to advocate prayer.

According to the Web site, “[The National Day of Prayer] enables us to recall and to teach the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. It stands as a call to us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.“

This year’s theme is “Prayer…America’s Hope,” which is based on the Bible verse in Proverbs 33:22, “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” This year’s honorary chairman is Beth Moore, founder of the Living Proof Ministry.

OBAMA AND THE NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER

Ceremonies were held annually in the East Room on the National Day of Prayer during the past eight years of President George Bush’s term in office. Bush usually invited Christian and Jewish leaders for a ceremony and prayer. President Barack Obama, however, decided against a ceremony in the East Room, but will still sign the proclamation as is the custom.

Dobson spoke out against the president’s minimal involvement in the national event. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer,” said Dobson.

Sarah Beth Costello
April 19, 2009

Frank Turek during his presentation, "I Don't Have Enough Faith the be an Atheist."

Frank Turek during his presentation, "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist." Photo by Sarah B. Costello

The room was packed. Attendees sat on the floor and stairs, sitting shoulder to shoulder in the hot and cramped room that easily exceeded fire safety regulations.

Hundreds gathered Thursday night in the LaRose Digital Theater in the Koury Business Center at Elon University to hear guest speaker, Frank Turek, present a case for the existence of morality, truth and God. Campus Outreach and Intervarsity sponsored the event.

The audience consisted of a diverse crowd. Most were members of Campus Outreach and Intervarsity. There were also many locals from the surrounding community and churches as well as Elon faculty and staff. In addition to the large gathering of Christians, there were also students that professed to be atheists. Regardless of religious affiliations, the presentation proved to be rather controversial.

“As a Christian I found it incredibly discouraging,” said Elon sophomore, Robert Wohner. “I hate when religion is used as a political tool. I hate that he used religion to promote conservative ideas. Religion and politics really don’t have to mix.”

Turek is the author and co-author of several books, including “Correct, Not Politically Correct,” “Legislating Morality” and “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” which was the premise of his presentation.

Turek received his masters from George Washington University and a doctorate in apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Turek is the founder and president of CrossExamined.org, and uses his skills in debate and knowledge of apologetics to present cases of Christianity, specifically to students on college campuses.

Roughly 75 percent of students walk away from their faith after graduating high school. According to CrossExamined.org, “intellectual skepticism” is one of the dominant reasons so many young people vacate Christianity for atheism or other religions.

Turek said that many college campuses today discount the Bible and regard students as intellectually lacking for acknowledging the Bible as truth. He argued that the believability of the Bible begins with the existence of truth. Either the Bible is true or false, said Turek, “but it cannot be true for you and not true for me.”

Due to limited time, Turek was not able to discuss the 12 points he tackles in his book. He plans to return in the fall to present the second half of the series. Turek discussed two specific questions Thursday night: “Does truth exist?” and “Does God exist?”

Turek said that it is important for Christians to be able to defend their beliefs, especially in today’s post-modern society that regards truth as relative.

“The greatest commandment,” said Turek, “is ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind’ – Christians don’t get brownie points for being stupid. We’re supposed to know what we believe and why we believe it.”

WHY WELCOME UNPOPULAR OPINION?

Turek was welcomed by many, viewed with skepticism by some, regarded as harsh, brash, defensive and weak by others.

“I hated his brash style because it was very confrontational,” said Wohner. ”People will ‘caricature’ Christians as being brash, angry white guys who sound like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh when Christians should speak with a loving tone. What he was saying in his argument would completely turn off non-Christians. I think he’s hurting the Christian message by doing what he does.”

Not all Christians in attendence agreed with Wohner’s statement. Some said Turek’s argument was sound and effective.

“I think Frank Turek was very effective, both in his presentation, and in communicating his points to those in ‘opposition,'” said Micah Fox, a seminary student at Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Turek was indeed a unique and different guest compared to previous Elon guests. But Campus Outreach and Intervarsity extended the invitation to Turek because of his ministry to college students, and his potential impact on the Elon audience.

“We were really excited about [Turek’s presentation] because we feel that on a college campus there’s probably lots of ideas going back and forth, and we wanted to present a stance on the existence of God,” said Campus Outreach adjunct chaplain, Michael Lopes.

Chaplain Michael Lopes (Video by Megan Wanner):


DOES TRUTH EXIST?

Turek began his segment on the existence of truth by providing a definition, which he said is “telling it like it is.”

“Truth is what corresponds to reality,” said Turek. “In today’s culture our first duty is to state the obvious. People are denying the obvious, they’re denying there’s truth out there.”

Turek explained the law of non-contradiction, which states that two contradictory ideas cannot both be true. He compared two brilliant Oxford professors, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox, who possess opposing opinions in regard to a higher power.

Dawkins says there is no God, while Lennox says there is a God. Turek argued that either God exists or he doesn’t, but both men cannot be right, therefore, one must be wrong.

Turek argued that all truth is absolute truth and “applies to all persons, at all times, in all places.” He gave six examples of statements people use to discount truth: “There is no truth, you can’t know truth, truth is relative, it’s true for you but not for me, no one has the truth and you ought not judge.” If any of these statements are true then the Bible cannot be true, argued Turek.

“If you apply the claims to themselves,” said Turek, “you can see why they’re self-defeating, and when it’s logically self-defeating it can’t be true.”

Turek Explains the Law of Non-Contradictions (Video by Megan Wanner):

DOES GOD EXIST?

“Does God exist? Whenever you talk about this question you have to define what you mean by god. And the god I’m talking about is a theistic god; a god who’s beyond the world, created the world and sustains the world,” said Turek.

Though many regard the term “religious” as being a follower or practitioner of a religion, Turek argues “if you define religion as someone’s explanation for ultimate reality – how we got here and where we’re going – everybody is religious to some extent.”

Photo by Sarah B. Costello

Photo by Sarah B. Costello

Turek said that there are only three major religious worldviews: theism, pantheism and atheism. Theism includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which teach “God made all.” Pantheistic religions include Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age, which teach that “God is all.” And atheists say there is “no God at all.”

Turek spent the second half of his presentation arguing for the existence of God by providing scientific and logical evidence. He introduced the acronym “SURGE”, which stands for the Second law of thermodynamics, Universe is expanding, Radiation afterglow, Great galaxy seeds and Einstein’s general relativity.

He spent several minutes discussing each letter in surge, explaining why this was evidence in favor of a beginning of the universe and the existence of God.

CONFLICTING OPINIONS

After Turek’s nearly two-hour presentation, he opened the floor for a question-and-answer session that lasted for another hour. Eight individuals took turns at the mic. Most welcomed the opportunity for a chance to talk, rather than ask questions.

Turek comprised his argument for the purpose of presenting what he believes to be the best logical answer for the earth’s existence. He uses science, logic and contextual examples to support his arguments. While his case is well researched, some have problems with Turek’s lack of Biblical references.

“By trying to make his argument purely scientific, he really undermined Christian ideals. He argued that God created the big bang which is not consistent with the Bible,” said Wohner.

The question-and answer-session was a very heated battle of wits as some individuals attempted to engage Turek in a debate. Ironically, the “answer” part of the question-and-answer session was overlooked by most at the microphone.

“How is it appropriate to have a question-and-answer session where the questioner is a lot less educated than you?” asked one student. “I really appreciate the fact that you said ‘I am a fallible human being,’ but the way that you present arguments, you do present as facts, and you don’t make the point that you also could be wrong throughout your presentation.”