Unbelievable The Conference 2013

25 May

Lots of plugs to start us off!

Opening address by Alister McGrath – Joy, Meaning and Purpose: What our culture needs to hear from Christians

Why apologetics matters
We can be a channel for God to reach out and touch people’s hearts and minds.
Something wonderful has been entrusted to us. It’s like holding a diamond up to the light, we are holding Christianity up to be seen for what it really is.
We need to connect with our culture and be able to talk about the Gospel and Christ in words, images and stories.
There are stereotypes of Christianity in our culture that need to be changed.
We are called to be an “ambassador for Christ”
We need to translate the Gospel into words and terms that ordinary people understand. Use of vocabulary to describe our faith is very important. How will we unpack Incarnation, Justification etc in basic English?
We are to defend our faith against misrepresentations. We need to be confident in the Gospel and in the God who stands behind the Gospel.
We are to commend our faith. Don’t restrict ourselves to other people’s agenda, we must enable all of Christianity to be seen and talked about.
We need to make the point that Christianity is more than simply being true, it is something that transforms our lives. We need to show Christianity for what it really is.
Each of us can do something about making Christianity known by the world.
2 Corinthians 12 – My grace is sufficient for you
God empowers us to do things that we never thought we could do.

Seminar time! We are split into 3 different seminar groups, so I won’t be able to cover all that is going on.

Seminar A
Fuz Rana – Science and Faith in conflict? How science reveals the rationality of the Christian faith.

Fuz starts with a quote from Alister Mcgrath’s book “The Twilight of Atheism”
Science and religion are viewed like this: Science involves reason, evidence, logic and testing. Religion involves faith, dogma and superstition.
However, 33% of scientists believe in God. 14% believe not in God but in a Universal Spirit or Higher Power. (Pew survey in the USA)
How can someone be a person of faith and a scientist?
The Christian worldview is compatible with the preconditions necessary for the operation of science.
Science is impossible outside of worldview.
What is science? Facts of nature, methodology, methodological naturalism.
Methodology – making observations; develop models; confirmable, falsifiable predictions; test with experiments.
Assumptions – The physical universe is real. the universe is good, valuable and worth studying. Laws of nature (patterns, order and regularity). Exist and are the same throughout the universe. Physical universe is intelligible. Humans have the ability to discover me characterise the universe.
Is science compatible with Christianity?
Christians believe the universe is real, creation is good, God is revealed in nature, God is a God o folder, God’s providence ensures the uniformity of nature, humans made in God’s image, humans have dominion over creation.all this is compatible with science.
Is science compatible with naturalism?
Troubling questions for naturalism:
Why not a chaotic universe, if it is without purpose?
How can humans think rationally and deliberately? (Given we are created and run by random biological processes)
Darwin had doubts “Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind?”
Naturalism “steals” from Christianity.
Science is a natural outlook on I’ve,
Recent scientific advances support Christian theism.
Cosmological, teleological and ontological.
Cosmological – need for a first cause.
Research de on starters that the universe has a beginning. Matter, space, time and energy.
Cosmology proves there is a beginning and a need for a first cause.
Even if we accept the multiverse model, it still needs a beginning.
Teleological – design
Universe’s fundamental parameters must be fine-tuned.
It has dimensions, force constants and particles.
Ontological – the existence of the argument for God proves the existence of God
Fuz now focusses on biochemical design
Chemical evolution is inadequate.
William Paley (who wrote Natural Theology) suggested the “Watchmaker Argument”. We know a watch is created, so there must be a creator.
Cell’s chemistry shows tell-tale features of human designs:
-Irreducible complexity
-Chicken and egg systems
-Information systems
-Genetic code
-Quality control systems
Critics respond that when scientists talk about biological processes in engineering terms it is a metaphor, not a reason to suggest design. But these processes are being used BY scientists AS machines, so showing that they description is not merely a metaphor.
It’s now getting very scientifically technical. I will try and make sense of it put can make no promises! (I failed!)
Biochemical engineering to create self-replicating cells synthetically may well have many ethical questions, but is also a huge pointer to the fact that creation NEEDS an intelligent creator!
Fuz states that he believes that the theory of evolution does a great job of explaining speciation but falls down when it comes to arguing for changes from one major group to another (micro good, macro bad)
-Bad design
If there is a challenge to the design argument it is the evidence for “bad design”. Fuz says that very often when people refer to a “bad” design they are failing to fully understand the design and that what may seem to be bad is actually optimal. “Bad” designs can also point to the idea of entropy.

Seminar B
Trevor Stammers – Abortion: What every Christian should know
An emotive subject.
Trevor starts by showing us pictures, first of Harold Shipman and then Kermit Gosnell
Shipman was “front page news” but Gosnell wasn’t. Shipman killed the elderly, Gosnell practiced illegal and despicable abortions.
Trevor quotes from an article that argues for the “abortion” of new-borns, referred to as “after-birth abortion”.
If people are to accept abortion as ok, they must also be able to argue in favour of late abortions and killing new-born babies.
Abortion is defined as the deliberate termination of a pregnancy with the primary or sole intent to prevent it resulting in a live birth.
Abortion is the most common surgical procedure in the world, 42 million per annum.
Approx 200k in the UK.
1 in 3 women of reproductive age have had an abortion in the UK.
1 in every 4 pregnancies in the UK ends up being aborted.
A – The continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy was terminated.
B – there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
Abortion for handicap can be performed until birth.
C – the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week.
Abortion for rape?
– less than 1% of abortions are performed following rape
– rape sacrifices a second innocent victim (should the baby die for the crime of its father?)
– although scant evidence, that which exists shows that 75% keep the baby
How is it done?
– up to 9 weeks – medical abortion (pills)
– up to 16 weeks – surgical aspiration
– after 16 weeks – induction of labour with “ensured” death of the fetus. This is generally caused by stopping the heart of the fetus.
Complications of abortion
1 – premature birth
More than 50 established papers in peer-review journals have established this link.
Increased risk increases with number of abortions – doubling at around 2-3 abortions.
Women requesting abortion are rarely told about it.
2 – mental health consequences
25 year longitudinal birth cohort study of 1265 kids in NZ.
History of pregnancy/abortion/no pregnancy over 15-25 year interval.
Data on childhood, family and confounding factors.
– controlled confounders
– significantly higher dependence on drugs etc
3 – demographic changes
How is it justified?
1 – “A woman’s right to choose”
2 – Children should be wanted
3 – No return to “back street” abortions
4 – contraceptive failure (up to 75% of abortions because of this)
Biblical principles
– Inviolability of life – made in the image of God, killing an innocent human being.
– shedding innocent blood is a serious sin (Psalm 105:38).
– Jesus’ human life began at conception and His innocent blood was shed so that no other innocent blood would have to be.
Modern philosophers would argue that babies have no right to life. (Personal thought, where does that fit in with basic human rights?)
Christian response
– carry our cross (including sexual purity, generous giving and prayer)
– speak up in defence of the weak (get informed, write letters, blogs and social media)
– bear one another’s burdens (volunteer for a pregnancy crisis centre, donate baby clothes)
Women must have ALL the facts, not just the ones deemed appropriate by the bodies responsible for abortions!
Trevor says that, in his view, we behave politically towards sex insanely!

Before we break for seminar 3, we are back all together in the main room. Justin reading out some of the tweets from the day. And the good news for those of you that haven’t made it this year is at there will NOT be a DVD of the talks for this year, as they will all be available online, for FREE!!!
Justin also speaks to Zoe from RE Today (www.retoday.org.uk), talking particularly about their resource “Science and Belief”.

Seminar C
Amy Orr-Ewing – C S Lewis and suffering
Suffering doesn’t happen in a neutral, abstract vacuum of philosophising. Pain and suffering is a living reality for everyone!
We must be careful not to rush in with an intellectual argument.
But the idea of suffering is an abstract thought for some, leading to the question “If there is a loving God then how can there be such suffering and pain?”
The issue of human suffering is deeply baffling.
Why does God allow suffering? Atheists argue that either He is loving and not able to step in or able to step in but not loving enough to do so.
If real evil exists and we see it as wrong then that presupposes a Christian framework.
How does morality evolve? Is it from personal opinion? Is it from societal opinion? Or is it given by God?
The Christian answer to pain and suffering needs to be put in context with other positions.
Naturalism – denies the existence of evil. It as that the world is neither good nor evil and thus what happens is what we should expect to happen.
Pantheism – ultimately the goal is oneness with The One. Therefore all distinctions are illusory. And so good and evil are illusions. “Thinking in opposite categories is alien to our thought.”
Islam – fatalistic religion. A transcendent god who is in control of the universe. Stronger than Calvinism on predestination. God decrees both good and evil.
Christianity – The Bible doesn’t deny pain and suffering. The Bible talks of a good God creating a good world with creatures made in His image, with the capacity to love and to choose. In order to be able to love, man MUST have to have the ability to choose. Because humans have free will, they are able to abuse this. God does not step back and observe the pain and suffering of humanity. He steps in to time and space in the form of Jesus and experiences life with us before suffering, dying and rising to make it possible to get back to God in spite of the pain and suffering.
Why is it that God sometimes intervenes and sometimes doesn’t?
Karma, the law of cause and effect, is an Eastern philosophy. But in the Bible Karma is not how suffering is described. Luke 13:1-5 says that suffering is a consequence of the fall (so suffering WILL happen) but no one suffers just because of what they have done. However, suffering is prophetic of the future that can come if we are not made right with God.

The final session is a Q&A session with 5 of the main speakers (sadly Amy Orr-Ewing had to leave early, so was not a part of this)
Q – How can people prepare themselves to respond when non-Christian friends object to your beliefs?
A – Do your research so you are able to respond with information. Having support (church, Christian friends etc) is important as being a Christian apologist can be a lonely experience.
Q – How should we respond to the media, who can come across as overtly atheistic?
A – Not respond like with like (don’t try and get celebrities on side to promote Christianity) but keep plugging away and showing Christianity positively. Possibly respond, when programmes you don’t like are on, with positive suggestions of improvement, showing good, intelligent Christian alternatives for them.
Q – In the light the recent killing “in the name of Islam” in Woolwich, how can we best respond to Muslims?
A – Offer comparisons between their faith and ours. Things like Allah being unknowable and God being knowable through Jesus. Open dialogue.
Q – How do you do apologetics with apathetic students?
A – Get people talking. Encourage engagement with student life (being salt and light)

Recommended books from today
Ron Nash – Faith and Reason
Alister McGrath – C S Lewis: A life
Hugh Ross – Why the universe is the way that it is
C S Lewis – A grief observed
Pete Grieg – God on mute

5 Responses to “Unbelievable The Conference 2013”

  1. Steven Carr May 25, 2013 at 17:15 #

    ‘If people are to accept abortion as ok, they must also be able to argue in favour of late abortions and killing new-born babies.’

    Surely if your god wanted me to be against killing babies, he wouldn’t have ordered babies to be killed.

    Or killed children himself because their parents had committed adultery.

    2 Samuel 12
    Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

    15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child…..18 On the seventh day the child died. .

    Praise the Lord!

    • Steven Carr May 25, 2013 at 21:11 #


      All those babies going straight to Heaven and enjoying eternal bliss.

      No wonder the Lord is against it.

  2. Sylvester June 1, 2013 at 20:43 #

    Hello, I came across your blog post via Unbelievable (love the blog name!). What was your impression of the conference? Can you think of anyway in which an atheist attending may have left still unconvinced by the arguments? And were you yourself convinced by the arguments or did you have any questions/doubts as the answers you’d heard on the day? cheers

    • youthpasta July 5, 2013 at 10:01 #

      Sorry for the delayed reply.
      Sadly, having just led a Bible study on Revelation 8 and 9, I can very easily see atheists hearing the arguments and going away still not believing.
      The issue is always a 3 parter. First the atheist has to be truly open to changing their view. If they are not then even an appearance from God will not help. Then the argument put forward to them must be clear and complete. Finally, we must leave the rest to God. Leave out the middle and we might still see change. Leave out the other 2 and change won’t happen.
      In that context, I think that the seminars that happened could very well impact on an atheist’s life and belief (or lack thereof) as certainly part 2 was fine. But it is the other 2 that we cannot control.

      For me, the day was great. I enjoyed the sessions and the fact that I took a young person with me and he enjoyed it made it even better.

      • Steven Carr July 5, 2013 at 10:20 #

        ‘First the atheist has to be truly open to changing their view. If they are not then even an appearance from God will not help. ‘

        Oh, more Christians wishing they had some real evidence, and resorting to a fantasy world where their god exists.

        If only you could win the lottery and so spend lots of money on evangelism, wouldn’t that also be great?

        Dream on about your god showing up somewhere. All you have are dreams.

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