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Atlanta, 5 August 2015

Hello, again! Yes, Tanzania was great! The history of this nation of 47 million is interesting, as I learned. Dar es Salaam used to be the capital of German East Africa, although after World War 1 the British took possession. In 1964 Tanganyika (on the African mainland) and Zanzibar (the large islands just off the coast) united to form Tanzania. By the way, I'd been saying it wrong. Locals say Tan-ZA-ni-a, not Tan-za-NI-a. Live and learn.

The first night down there (like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam is below the equator), I taught church leaders from Dar es Salaam and Arusha -- some of whom drove 9 hours to be present! The second night was a lesson for the entire church on Discipleship, with a special emphasis on being lifelong learners. After all, the word disciple in Greek is mathetés, meaning student or pupil, from the word meaning to learn (manthánein). There's also a special word for a female disciple, mathétria.

Then we had an extended Q&A session on everything you can think of! Afterwards, there was a palpable buzz in the fellowship. Christians, former members, and guests were clearly thinking -- and enjoying learning. A great reminder that all of us who are Christians are enrolled in the school of Jesus Christ.

On the way back from Africa I transited in Dubai 4 am-10 pm, catching some much-needed sleep and then spending time with old London friends (although actually Mark is from Italy and his wife Nadine is from France). So many reminders that we are all part of a huge global family. The Arabian peninsula, by the way was hot, regional temperatures reaching 51º (126 ºF)!

Please take a look at some of my photos. (Make sure your browser is set to view pictures.)

Photos, L to R and Top to Bottom:
1. Kenya Airways -- I had four flights with Kenyan; Leopard (not Cheetah).
2. Mosque in Dubai; preacher Samson and his wife Judy (Dar es Salaam).
3. Street scene; ancient skull (from Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge, where palaeo-anthropologists have made so many discoveries). The national museum had lots of ancient artifacts, proof that this planet was radically different in the not-so-distant past.
4. With Samson & Joachim (church leader in Arusha); Samson & Judy planning church leaders' dinner.
With Joachim & Eva and Judy; photo of camel scene in the hotel lobby (I confess). Street scenes. Note that many in Tanzania & Zanzibar are Muslims; the women cover up.
This is our last installment on God in the Answering Skeptics series. Several future lessons are connected with this unit, but they fall under different categories, like Science or Jesus Christ. (To be determined, as the series is under construction.)  We'll now spend a few weeks looking at how science helps us to believe. As usual, a recap of last week precedes today's lesson.
Recap: Coming to Terms
  • Atheist: One who denies the existence of God. Point out to him that this anti-position cannot be proved, and share why you believe Christianity is true and reasonable.
  • Theist: One who affirms the existence of God. Christians are theists.
  • Hard agnostic: One who claims that God is unknowable (whether he exists or not). Focus on God's initiative in revealing himself to us.
  • Soft agnostic: One who does not know whether God exists. Encourage them to have the integrity to be true seekers.
The Answering Skeptics series:
Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion


"The world is eternal -- no need for God."

Says the atheist, "You believe God has always existed. I say the world has always existed. So there! [No creator required]" How should we respond?

This one is easily answered. The conclusion of physicists and astrophysicists is that the world has not always existed. The current view (as of 2015) is that the world of time and space, matter and energy came into existence about 13.8 billion years ago. In other words, nothing became something. Thus the something has not always existed. The evidence that the cosmos had a beginning is the Big Bang, in which the entire universe exploded out of nothing. Intrigued? Learn more.

In fact, the "creation" (the term scientists often employ) strongly suggests that there is a God. Otherwise, how can we account for the world, especially with its degree of intricacy, apparent design (intelligence), and personality?

It is sometimes imagined that, given sufficient time, the present universe was bound to happen. But we do not know that. Since time itself appears to have begun in the Big Bang, the assumption of "sufficient time" isn't valid. (It's obviously meaningless to claim that, given a long enough stretch of time, time was bound to come into existence.) The initial conditions could just as easily -- and probably more easily -- have prevented the existence of the cosmos. Odd as it sounds, a big topic for scientists is why there is anything, as opposed to nothing! The mind-bending arguments may be difficult to follow. At least we should know the bottom line: Science has determined that the world has not always been here.

Who made God?
But what about God? "Who created him?", the skeptic may gibe. Yet by definition God is uncreated; he has always existed. Only those things that come into existence require a cause. But Yahweh is uncaused; he always was. He is spirit (John 4:24) -- not composed of atoms or subatomic particles or photons. Yahweh isn't part of the physical world, and in some sense stands outside it. (He is the "I am.") Yet just because he's outside the scope of scientific investigation doesn't mean he isn't real, since (refer to an earlier bulletin) much of the real world is non-physical (truth, justice, beauty, love, numbers, etc).

At this point, if you are following the argument, you might want to consider the Kalam cosmological argument, for whom the credit must go to medieval Islam. It is also supported by the laws of thermodynamics (the conservation of mass and energy).

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Science and faith: allies, not enemies
This form of the Kalam argument doesn't tell us what that cause was, yet for most of us the conclusion is obvious. In brief, the universe, which has existed only a few billion years, begs a Creator. God, who -- unlike the universe -- has always existed, is the best explanation. I am making a plausibility argument, not offering a rigorous scientific proof. Science cannot prove God -- but the evidence suggests a God. As we see (and will continue to see in the coming weeks), science is the friend of faith.
Chariots of Fire
Last year I recorded an audio series on the prophet Elijah. This year the written version is nearly ready, thanks to the tireless labor of Amy, Joe, and Toney -- I owe you! -- who converted audio to print. This little book is named after my all-time favorite film, which is titled after 2 Kings 6:17. If you like, you can now pre-order Chariots of Fire. the meantime, I continue to plug away on several book manuscripts. They're coming along slowly. It's hard to find more than a few hours a week to write, given my other responsibilities. Upcoming works include Genesis -- a new version of the 1997 original; Exodus -- a slim and practical volume similar to last year's book on the Psalms (Thrive!); Campus ministry -- something to help Christians navigate the intellectual world of the university so that their faith is strengthened (not weakened);  Evidences -- in the vein of Compelling, but written at a more popular level; and Amos -- the printed version of my audio series, The Lion has Roared.

I hope everyone reading this newsletter realizes that I appreciate our partnership in the international teaching ministry. Let's all work together to spread the good news, using the gifts God has given us to reach all who are receptive to hearing his voice.

2 Cor 4:5,
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