Denial and post-truth – the real problem with faith

The film Denial has been recently released in British cinemas after its premier at the Toronto film festival on ‘9/11’ last year and its UK premier on Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January 2017.  It gives the outline of the libel trial brought by notorious Holocaust denier David Irving against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt for her calling him a falsifier of history in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Denial (2016 film).jpg

The UK judge found Irving to be a Holocaust denier, an antisemite and a racist who had deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence, and ordered him to pay more than £2m in legal costs.

There are many issues raised by the libel case, and many have commented on the timely recollection of it in view of false-truth and its spread through social media.  Historian Richard Evans, president of Wolfson College in Cambridge and involved in the research behind the trial, draws parallels between Nazi propaganda and our era of ‘alternative facts’.

False-truth is the end result of a generation of spin and of acceptance of lies in public life, particularly in the political process.  Eventually it reached a tipping-point and it is now the norm.

One can understand people changing their mind when circumstances change, but this has developed into saying one thing and doing another in public life.  The backlash against the ready acceptance of this behaviour has resulted in the popular revolt against ‘the establishment’ in its various forms.

However Denial finishes by raising another question which is not addressed and needs to be addressed.  It ends with David Irving continuing to deny the Holocaust when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight.

Why do people not change their beliefs, or rather hold on to their beliefs?  This is the real issue raised both in Denial and in much current public debate.  Richard Dawkins frames the issue the wrong way round.  He says that people adopt their beliefs when they are young from their parents and teachers.  There is nothing surprising about this, although he uses this to buffet religion and to accuse parents of child abuse.  Rather, the really surprising thing is, not that children adopt the religion of their parents but, why they rarely change it.

This psychological prejudice is so common to the human condition that it merits more study and comment in public life.

However it is A-B-C to those Christian preachers who spend much of their time explaining the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who taught the need and difficulty in changing people’s beliefs.  He taught that it was so difficult that when it came to true religion it needed nothing short of the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit of God – this is what Jesus meant by ‘you must be born again’.  Human prejudice is too strong to change from the outside; it must come from personal awakening, personal conviction.

Government tries strong arm tactics using the law and sanctions to force conformity to its secular morality, but ‘he that complies against his will is of his own opinion still’.  In addition, there are not enough law enforcement officers to be effective, as the police are discovering with paedophiles now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, more than the immigrants coming into the UK, and the justice system cannot cope with the number of law-breakers of the growing number of laws.

Law enforces conformity through sanctions, but the Christian Gospel of love gives motivation to keep the law, is cheap and effective through the self-policing Christian conscience, as well as giving peace of conscience for daily living.  Try it – it begins with changing your beliefs about Jesus Christ.

The Ark of Noah – and The Unsinkable Dream

I have just finished reading The Unsinkable Dream by Johan Huibers, the Dutchman who has built a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark. Its Dutch title is Let Your Dream Sail.

It is a wonderful read about an amazing project with so many lessons that you should simply purchase the book for yourself.

The Ark is currently on a tour around the ports of South America, such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Olympic Games are being held at present.

You can read about it and support it here: www.arkofnoah.org.

Ark Of Noah Foundation video on Vimeo; more Ark of Noah Foundation videos here.

Sing Psalms

A new website promoting four part harmony Psalm singing has been recently launched.

A series of Psalmody CDs called Worthy to be Praised produced by the Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) are available. These have one disc of Psalm singing and one disc to teach the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts for the tunes on Disc 1.

As well as 12 Psalm portions sung in four part harmony, Volumes 4 to 7 include some Scottish Gaelic Psalm Singing and one track of children’s voices. Samples of both English and Gaelic singing can be heard on the web site.

The discs are attractively produced and make ideal gifts. They can be purchased on-line by PayPal or credit card.

Metrical Psalm Resources

  • Exclusive Psalmody
  • Psalms Only: Tradition or Scripture? by Gavin Beers
  • What’s that Tune? a unique index of Sol-fa tunes helps both beginners and seasoned singers of the Scottish metrical Psalms to find the name of a tune from hearing the first line of its melody.
  • “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk of all his wondrous works” 1Ch 16:9; Ps 105:2
  • “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” Jam 5:13
  • Conception is not fertilisation

    When does human life begin? by Dr John R Ling, June 2011, The Christian Institute.  45 pp booklet.

    The blurb states: “When does human life begin? It is a fundamental and decisive question because your answer reveals your understanding of the nature and status of the human embryo. It also shapes your stance on the big bioethical issues of the day such as abortion, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. There are many voices sowing confusion, but the Bible is unmistakably clear that human life begins at conception. In this booklet, John Ling provides a wide-ranging explanation of biblical truth, the historical Christian perspective and evidence from modern science to support this position.”

    The aim of the booklet is to highlight the biblical teaching that the child in the womb is a human person with potential and not simply a potential human person pp. 14, 26. It serves a useful purpose to show that abortion is unbiblical, however its answer to the question in its title is unsatisfactory.

    Unsatisfactory confusion

    Whereas there are many useful points made in this book, the book does not clear up confusion at the point where clarity is most needed. Indeed it only adds confusion. On p.5 Ling asks: “When does human life begin? It is certainly a big question. It therefore demands a careful answer. Yet people are often dreadfully confused about the beginning of human life – how strange it is that we can be so unsure about when and how we began.” On p. 6 it says: “human life begins at the earliest time point, namely, conception. Conception and fertilisation are synonyms for what happens on day one.” It goes on: “This is when a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s ovum. As a result of this irreversible event, a new, genetically unique, single-celled entity, technically known as a zygote, is created. This is the beginning of human life.” It continues: “But how can we be sure, beyond any doubt, that conception is the correct answer? Although there is much supporting evidence from the biological and medical sciences and from other sources, such as philosophy and history, the Christian will, above all, be interested in what the Bible has to say. The primary purpose of this booklet is to explain just that.” So we await with interest Dr Ling’s biblical analysis. On p. 7 he promises: “what follows is not an attempt at simplistic ‘proof-texting’ but rather the exegesis, albeit briefly, of several key passages.” Sadly, this claim is too high. This booklet simply addresses the subject dogmatically and emotionally, but not exegetically.

    No exegesis where it matters

    Although Dr Ling shows that the Bible teaches the personality of the child in the womb, at no point does the book even try to exegete the Scriptural teaching on conception.  I did this exhaustively in the 1980s and I came to the conclusion that the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments is that the biblical meaning and use of the word “conception” refers to implantation in the womb. The Evangelical Times published my conclusion at that time, and I have read no exegesis in the intervening decades to contradict this conclusion.

    Dr Ling blames the British Council of Churches for “an entirely novel way of thinking about the early days of human life to say that pregnancy did not begin until implantation”, however it is not a novel way of thinking and it did not begin with the British Council of Churches.

    Dr Ling relies on definitions from dictionaries rather than exegesis of the Bible for his definition of conception pp. 31-32.   He is selective in his choice of dictionaries. Current medical dictionaries disagree with Dr Ling and they do not make fertilisation and conception the same thing. Rather the current medical definition of conception is implantation, which agrees with biblical exegesis. However Dr Ling asserts: “‘Conception’ and ‘fertilisation’ are the same – let no-one drive a wedge between them.” p. 32.

    Dr Ling argues against conception being implantation and he downplays it: “implantation is essential to the continuing growth and development of the embryo, but it marks neither the beginning nor the end of anything.”  Exegetical study of Scripture would have yielded a different opinion.

    Unorthodox relationship between soul and body

    This book is unsatisfactory in dealing with the soul.  “Human life is a continuum from fertilisation until natural death. Neither the Bible nor biology knows of any stage or event that is so definitive that it can be said, “Before this, I was not, now I am”. In other words, there is a demonstrable continuity throughout each human life.”  p. 13.  This is palpably wrong. The most important discontinuous event is ensoulment – when God breathes the human soul into the body.  Dr Ling gets round this as he appears to believe that the human soul is present from fertilisation p. 40, although it is puzzling why he does not plainly say so in so many words. It may be because of his doctrine of the soul. The whole thesis of the booklet is based upon this thought that soul and body are present from fertilisation, but there is no biblical nor indeed any proof of it. It is simply dogmatically asserted.

    However, there are multitudes of fertilised human eggs which disappear every month in a woman’s menstrual flow. Do all these have souls?  Dr Ling simply responds: “very little evidence has been produced to support the claim that many embryos are lost before implantation.”  This does not address the question.  Further, he does not even consider the fact that the hormonal effect of breast-feeding is that the mother does not ovulate as readily, nor is the lining of the womb as conducive to receiving a fertilised human egg, which appears to be a divinely-created form of hormonal contraception to discourage implantation until the previous child is weaned Hosea 1:8.  As children were weaned after several years in biblical times, I disagree with Dr Ling’s lame conclusion: “Those who use this argument cannot be confident in what they claim.”

    When a fertilised egg divides into identical twins or triplets, were there two or three souls in that one egg waiting to take their place in their respective embryos?  There is no biblical exegesis in this booklet about when the soul enters the body.   In response to the twinning issue, Dr Ling asks “if twinning does occur at a time subsequent to fertilisation, why does that matter?”  He quotes Dr Peter Saunders: ““There are clearly two embryos with two destinies in the embryo which twins.”  But what is Dr Saunders view of the body and soul?  Dr Saunders’ article which Dr Ling quotes says: “ It is true that some Christians have said that human beings can be divided into body and soul but this is based on the ancient Greek idea of body and soul being separate entities; a notion which finds no support in the Bible.  Biblical principles affirm therefore that the soul and the body begin life together – and given that the body begins with fertilisation it must follow logically that the soul does also.”  This is not biblical exegesis but assertion masquerading as reasoning.  It is based upon the gratuitous assumption that the soul is present from the moment of fertilisation, based upon an unorthodox understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul, with no biblical exegesis at all.

    Conception is not fertilisation

    The most obvious biblical refutation of Dr Ling’s assertion that conception and fertilisation are the same thing is to point out that the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ was not created by fertilisation – however He was conceived.   Conception and fertilisation are not the same thing.

    The next thing to notice is that the consistent biblical idea of ‘conceive/conception’ is that the mother conceives the child Gen 4:1,17; et passim.  Obvious – but completely overlooked by Dr Ling and in most discussions of the subject.  Conception is a comment about the mother’s state, not about the stage of embryo development.  Conception is to be with child, to be pregnant 2Samuel 11:5. To equate fertilisation with conception is to confuse two completely different issues.  Thus we can say that the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘conceived’ by His mother Mary, but no egg was fertilised.

    Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist Lk 1:24,36 and Mary conceived Jesus Lk 1:31; 2:21.  The Greek word sullambano means “to take hold of, seize, capture, catch’.  Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated ‘conceive’ but exegesis and analysis shows that the general idea is that the womb ‘takes hold of’ the blastocyst (the technical term for development at the stage of implantation) so that the mother is “with child” or becomes pregnant.  Shortly after this she becomes aware that she is with child.  By this stage, God has breathed the human soul into the conceived child.  The obvious ‘discontinuous’ events which makes the difference are implantation sullambano and ensoulment Gen 2:7.

    “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb” Lk 1:31 – implantation takes place in the womb but fertilisation takes place in the fallopian tubes.

    Biblical exegesis of ‘conception’ is the crying need of the hour and Dr Ling has not supplied it.

    Historical review

    In the 1980s Enoch Powell, M.P., brought forward a Bill to outlaw experimentation on the human embryo.  This important subject is not even mentioned on his Wikipedia page at the time of writing this blog post.  The debate in the 1980s was between the human embryo being “a potential human being” (the humanist polemic) and a human being with potential (the Christian polemic).   Powell’s Bill was introduced at a time when the mood in the House of Commons was in favour of protecting, and against experimentation on, human embryos.  The experimentation lobby managed to stall for time and to sideline Powell’s Bill, and the ensuing debate was lost because of this faulty traducian theology promoted by the pro-life camp.  This continues to be the focus of attack in the medical press: Can a cell have a soul? John Burn, BMJ2008;336:1132 doi:10.1136/bmj.39581.436875.94

    It will not help the Christian cause to keep peddling this unbiblical, traducian, theology.  It lost us the debate in the 1980s and it will not win the debate in the 21st century.

    This post may be reproduced if the following is included:
    © Donald Boyd 2011, published at http://www.donaldboyd.org

    The Religious Affections

    A Treatise concerning the Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards is an excellent book for helping with self-examination.

    Edwards lived in the time of the First Great Awakening in America (1725-50) and saw revival on a great scale. In God’s providence, America’s foremost theologian was on hand to witness and analyse these events. He saw many lives changed but also he saw many spiritual still-births which came to nothing Hosea 13:13. He analysed the true and the counterfeit in religion and the result is The Religious Affections.

    This book teases apart what is purely natural from what is purely spiritual – what is uniquely from the Spirit of God. There are many things in religion which arise simply from our own natural psychology, which the Holy Spirit may use, and which men and the devil may abuse. Edwards searches for those marks of grace which can be attributed only to the Spirit of God. In this way, one can determine whether or not anyone is born again of the Spirit of God Jn 3:6. Thus Edwards helps us with the Christian duty of self-examination: “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?” 2Cor 13:5.

    Let Jonathan Edwards guide you into this wonderful world of the Holy Spirit’s new creation in the heart of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” 2Cor 5:17.

    Book reviews

    Young Christians need guidance on many things in order to witness for Christ in a hostile world. Those who have access to wise and judicious senior Christians to guide them are privileged. Those who have effective preaching in a supportive congregation are in the environment encouraged by Scripture. Yet many people do not have either of these, and to fill this vacuum we have good Christian books.

    So where should we begin? Peter says: “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” 2Pe 1:5-7. So there is plenty of scope for development, self-improvement and growth.

    First, young believers need to be established in their faith. This means becoming familiar with Effectual Calling and self-examination.

    An explanation of these can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It has been said that to understand the Shorter Catechism is to be a theologian. So young people should learn it off by heart so that they have a compendium of theology ready to hand, in their heart and memory. This is a good place to begin – read, mark, learn and inwardly digest – and enjoy.