Dr. Ray Bohlin Publicly Debates in Belarus

Something wonderful and heretofore-unseen happened in March 2018 in the formerly Communist country of Belarus, part of the Soviet Union until 1990. The capital city of Minsk was the site of a public debate between two scientists: Dr. Mikhail Gelfand, an atheist biology professor at Russia’s Moscow State University, and Probe’s own Dr. Ray Bohlin, a Ph.D. in molecular biology.

Ray had submitted a number of intelligent design-related topics to Dr. Gelfand who refused them all, deciding instead on the topic “Evolution or Creationism?” It was clear he was expecting a religious rather than a scientific argument from Ray, who presented “Is intelligent Design Science?” with the primary evidence that the DNA genetic code requires an intelligence. Dr. Gelfand did not respond to any of Ray’s points.

Belarus debate

Following their presentations, the debaters responded for an hour to written questions submitted by the audience. One question was, “Would either of you consider changing your mind if shown sufficient evidence of the other side?” With clear contempt, Dr. Gelfand dismissed the possibility that there was evidence for anything other than evolution. Ray related how, in his graduate studies in evolutionary biology, he continually asked, “Show me the evidence for evolution. Please convince me.” By the end of his studies, he was more of a skeptic of evolution than ever before.

Belarus debate - Shaking handsConcerned about making his flight back to Moscow, Dr. Gelfand gathered up his things. He was very surprised when Ray came over and, smiling, shook his hand after having been insulted several times during the debate. Christian kindness and compassion is its own kind of culture.

Following the debate, 55% of participants in an online vote chose Ray as the winner. The debate was uploaded to Russian YouTube with over 1000 views that weekend  (Link to English YouTube video is here). There was quite a bit of social media buzz about it, including requests to bring Ray back to Belarus in November for another debate.

The following weekend, along with his Probe colleague Todd Kappelman, Ray traveled several hours by train to Brest (on the border of Belarus and Poland) for another debate, this time with a professor of the history of Slavic people, Dr. Alexander Svirid. In his presentation Ray pointed out that the fossil evidence for human evolution is sparse and open to many interpretations. His opponent was not able to refute what Ray said, but suggested that the way information has “evolved” from the early computer software to what we have today is evidence of evolution. Ray pointed out that it takes an intelligent mind to rewrite and update software. Dr. Svirid was quite gracious and complimentary of Ray, remarking that “each of us would have been a good student of the other.” (Link is here.)

Monday through Friday for two weeks, Ray and Todd spent time with friends and potential church leaders. (Feel free to ask us for more information about that.)

Churches

This was Ray’s 14th trip to Belarus, and every time he goes, he speaks in the churches of people who have become friends. The first Sunday (of three), he preached in a church outside Minsk where one of his excellent translators is a teaching elder. He preached on Romans 1:18-20 in every church he spoke at, because after the previous day’s debate, many young people asked why the belief in creation mattered. Drawing on his worldview perspective sharpened by 40+ years of speaking and writing for Probe, he said that if there is no God, there is no purpose or meaning to any living thing—especially humans. Romans 1 assures us that we all know there is a Creator, so maybe the Creator’s intended purpose and meaning for us gives us worth and value. This is especially good news in a country that was recently Communist, which denies the worth and value of people. Questions continued through lunch, turning Sunday into another four-hour marathon like the (debate) day before.

The second weekend was jam-packed with ministry opportunities. On Friday night, Ray answered questions at an English club (for those working on learning to speak English). He heard the one question he can always count on: “What do you like about Belarus?” People always love his go-to answer: “Chocolate!”

On Saturday afternoon, he spoke at a student conference sponsored by CRU (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ). Both the Christians and the seekers in attendance were interested in hearing Todd address problems and issues in technology, and Ray was asked to address the problem of evil. Todd and Ray, along with their translator Sasha and his wife, took the train to Brest, arriving very late at night.

Brest debateThe next morning was the second debate, arranged by the pastor of Brest Bible Church, who had seen the YouTube videos of Ray’s 2016 debate and 2017 lecture, and really wanted him to come to his city.

The third weekend, with both men very tired, meant being driven to Brest and back the same day, to speak at a conference in another church. Todd, who doesn’t use a cell phone or wear a watch, spoke to the issues and challenges of technology, particularly smartphones and computers.  Ray, playing “good cop” to Todd’s “bad cop,” explained how helpful technology is to him as he tries to explain science to students and various audiences, especially the visual component of technology. Powerpoint is invaluable to him for showing graphs, tables and pictures, as well as showing videos using animation to demonstrate molecular machines inside the cell. Getting personal, he also explained that his wife Sue, a polio survivor who is no longer able to walk (and thus can no longer accompany him to handicap-unfriendly Belarus), needs the technology of her scooter to be mobile at all. Otherwise she would be bedridden, or unable to leave their home—which is what happens to most disabled Belarusians.

On Sunday, their last day, both Todd and Ray gave a short 20-minute talk in the small house church of a pastor and his wife who have become good friends of the Bohlins. That night at another small church, Ray answered lots of questions about the Minsk debate.

He was especially glad for the question, “Why bother?” Why, indeed, would anyone from Probe go 5500 miles to the former Soviet Union, giving time, energy and passion to the point of utter exhaustion, year after year?

It’s an opportunity to provide unbelievers with a reasoned, rational response to evolution.

It’s an opportunity to model to Christians how to engage in controversial issues without defensiveness or anger.

We pray something sticks, planting a “pebble in people’s shoes,” so to speak, sowing seeds of new information and a different perspective by asking questions for which the listeners have no answers. It starts a journey.

For over forty years, that’s what Probe Ministries has been doing. Sowing seeds, asking questions, planting pebbles in people’s shoes so they think.

In 1973, when Probe was founded, there was no glimmer of hope for debates like these behind the Iron Curtain, much less in the Soviet Union. But look what God did in March 2018! There is a great hunger for honest answers to honest questions in Belarus. The debates are possible because they are about science, not religion . . . because true science—the study of what God created—is the truth that points to Romans 1.

And for that, we thank and praise God.

 

Note: The funding for this trip is several thousand dollars short of what was needed to cover expenses. There is still an opportunity to invest eternally in what God is doing through Probe in Belarus! You can donate here and designate Dr. Ray Bohlin. All gifts will receive a tax-deductible receipt.

©2018 Probe Ministries


Dangerous Worldviews

Warm greetings from cold, cold Belarus, a country which is part of the former Soviet Union (between Poland and Russia). My husband and I are here this week to teach Christian worldview and apologetics to Christ-followers. One’s worldview (and everyone has one, whether they know it or not) is comprised of a set of beliefs or presuppositions that are like a pair of glasses through which we interpret the world and our experiences in it.

In order to help our friends understand the importance of viewing reality accurately, which is only possible with a pair of glasses that consist of truths that align with what God has revealed in scripture, we brought along a prop. We brought a pair of goggles called “Drunk Busters” that give the wearer a dizzying approximation of what being drunk does to your vision. State police and drivers’ education programs use them to demonstrate why it’s deadly to drink and drive.

We ask for a volunteer to first navigate a simple obstacle course of chairs, catch an object we toss to them, and pick up that object from the floor. No one has any trouble doing these things.

Then they put on the goggles. They usually say, “Whoa!” It’s very disorienting.

Navigating their way around the chairs, catching the objects we toss, and picking up anything from the floor suddenly becomes not only difficult but comical to those watching. Nothing is where they think it is. Their eyes lie to them about reality. If they were behind the wheel of a car, they would be very dangerous.

Then we make the point that having the wrong worldview, the wrong set of beliefs and assumptions about reality, is also very dangerous.

It is dangerous eternally for a person to believe that God does not exist, or that God is anything other than what He has revealed Himself to be in His word and in His Son. It is equally disastrous for someone to believe in no God (atheism), and for someone to believe in a divine impersonal force that permeates everything (variations on pantheism).

But the wrong worldview can also be dangerous for Christians whose pair of glasses consists of a prescription with some truth and some error. The majority of American Christians who claim to be born again do not have a biblical worldview. What they believe differs from what the Bible says. For example, many believe in reincarnation. Many trust in astrology. Some believe that God is distant, angry, and doesn’t particularly like us, that this “Gee-Oh-Dee” will begrudgingly let us into heaven only because Jesus died in our place. They don’t understand that God is Father, Son and Spirit, Who have always loved us and welcome us enthusiastically into the circle of Their divine love, fellowship, joy and camaraderie.

Some believers think that they put their trust in Christ to save them when they die, but Jesus has nothing to say about their life between salvation and death. So they live their lives depending on the surrounding culture to give them wisdom and instruction about how to be educated, how to choose a mate and be married, how to parent, what kind of job to get, how to spend their money and other resources, and where to find satisfaction in their lives while they wait for heaven. They miss what Paul meant by “Christ, who is our life” (Col. 3:4). The phrase “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) is only an abstract concept unrelated to the way they live their lives: essentially, “Jesus is in my heart, and I keep Him stashed there till it’s time to go to heaven.”

It’s dangerous to have the wrong worldview that misses the glorious truth that real life is only found in Jesus, that any love we give or receive comes from Jesus to and through us, that light comes from Jesus and all else is darkness. And it’s far more tragic than bumping into an obstacle course or dropping a ball tossed to us.

How’s your worldview? If your beliefs and the things you assume are not corrected and established by God’s word, invite Him to change your prescription, and expect Him to joyfully start to transform your thinking!

Lord Jesus, transform me by renewing my mind (Romans 12:2). I don’t even know what I don’t know; I don’t know what my blind spots are, and I don’t know what I have wrong in my thinking. I invite You to change me from the inside out so I think like You!

 

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/dangerous_worldview on Feb. 15, 2011


Ash Plumes and the Sovereignty of God

volcanic ash cloud

Sunday, April 18, 2010 – This is not a story with a happy ending, because the story hasn’t ended yet. Ray Bohlin, Todd Kappelman and I, along with millions of other travelers stranded around the globe, are in Frankfurt, Germany far longer than the eighteen hours we expected to be here on our way home from Minsk, Belarus.

Matrushka dolls from BelarusFor two weeks, we were privileged to share some of Probe’s worldview and apologetics material with young adult believers and future church leaders in Belarus. This country was part of the former Soviet Union, located between Poland and Russia. Until “freedom came” (their term) in 1991 with the fall of the USSR, it labored under the oppression of communism. The spiritual darkness of this country is part of the oppression as well. One of Ray’s spiritual gifts is discernment, and he feels the weight of oppression and darkness from the moment we get off the plane. Even though God has blessed me with a sunny disposition, the unending ugly gray, featureless, monstrously huge apartment buildings thrown up by the government to house millions of citizens as if they were animals, depresses my spirit as well.

But it was a good, rich time with our friends in Belarus; they appreciated our teaching styles, the (very different!) material we presented, and the way we loved them. The warm reception from those we spent time with last year was encouraging to us, as were the tears at the farewell ceremony from this year’s new friends. We have been invited back with opportunities to expand our ministry there, and we look forward to returning next year.

Belarus is not kind to people with disabilities. As one now living in the throes of post-polio syndrome (muscle weakness, fatigue and pain), the ubiquitous stairs make getting around more difficult than I am used to in the U.S., especially since many of my supporters and friends gave generously to allow me to buy a mobility scooter. Neither a scooter nor a wheelchair are of any use in a country with lots of stairs but not elevators or usable ramps, so we don’t bring them to Belarus.

Our time with Belarusian believers was wonderful, but we gladly flew to Frankfurt, where we were grateful for simple things that are easy to take for granted, like absorbable and flushable toilet paper, and safe tap water. Before leaving Minsk we learned about the volcanic eruption in Iceland, but it was too far away to have any impact on our flight. We checked our bags all the way through to DFW from Minsk, since we only had a one-night stay in Frankfurt. My small sack with nightwear and a change of clothing was inadvertently stuck in one of the checked bags instead of a carry-on, but I shrugged it off since it was only one night.

That’s what we thought.

The Frankfurt airport was closed to air traffic at 8 a.m. Although the lines to rebook flights were impossibly long, Lufthansa (my new favorite airline) designates an office and waiting area for special needs passengers, especially those with handicaps. They got us confirmed seats on the next day’s flight, and Lufthansa gave us vouchers for hotel rooms and that night’s dinner in the hotel restaurant. Since the rooms would not be available till after 2 p.m., we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the airport. There were so many people it reminded me of being at Disneyland on New Year’s Day.

A shuttle took us and a bus full of other passengers to the hotel, ten minutes from the airport. And here we stay, so grateful to have been provided a bed to sleep in and three meals a day when thousands of people are stuck at the airport because their airline does not cover these needs, or their visa does not allow them to leave the transit zone.

As the world now knows, the ash plume continues to push its way into Northern Europe, at the same high altitude as the jets fly, where they can suck in small, jagged pieces of volcanic rock and glass that also conduct electricity and cause total engine failure. No one knows when it will be safe to fly again. No one knows when we will get to our destinations. And there is no one to get angry with, no one to blame, no one to sue.

Processing this experience through the grid of a biblical worldview colors the way we think about our “adventure.”

We know that God is in control of volcanoes, and eruptions, and winds, and the timing of it all. He is in control of the world’s flight systems. He is in control of our schedules. He knew when He allowed us to be stranded in Germany that Todd had classes to teach at Dallas Baptist University, that Ray had a number of events and meetings scheduled in his role as president of Probe, that I had several Christian Women’s Club luncheons to speak at in New Mexico this week. And He allowed us to be stranded in far-easier Germany, not in Belarus; twenty-four hours later, and our flight out of Minsk would have been cancelled. He provided food and shelter for us. He has given grace for Ray and me to have our laptops with us with easy internet access from our room, and He helped me find and disable the virus that infected Ray’s computer last week.

We don’t know how long we will be here, or when we’ll see our luggage again. We DO know that God is good, and the fact that we have been blessed with so much favor doesn’t mean that He loves the people stuck inside security at the airport any less. Or that any of us did anything wrong to have Him punish us.

And we are aware that the more the world grows flat and interconnected, the greater the fragility of the systems. So much of our comforts and our technology relies on everything continuing to run smoothly without interruption. It is good for us as human beings to be reminded that we are not the masters of our fate or the captains of our souls, as the obnoxiously humanistic poem Invictus declares. God is bigger and more powerful than we are; a nature that has been impacted by the Fall, producing things like the disruptions from volcanic eruptions, is bigger and more powerful than we are. We are tiny and insignificant in the face of something like Iceland’s exploding mountain; and yet, God still counts the hairs on our head and is still Immanuel, God with us, whether in an “adventure,” or a disaster, or the blessedly uneventful days of blessedly uneventful routine.

The bottom line: God is still good. He is still loving. He is still sovereign.

And we rest, as trustful children, in these wonderful truths. All the way to the end of the story, however it ends.

Addendum: April 20, 2010

It is a happy ending!

Late yesterday afternoon, Lufthansa summoned their international passengers to the airport because they were going to let a handful of flights depart. One of them was to the U.S., and Ray said, “It doesn’t matter what city it is, if it’s on American soil. We can always get to Dallas, if we can just get out of Germany!” Although this flight to Chicago was fully booked, not all the passengers made it to the airport, and all three of us were given seats. We arrived in Chicago at midnight, and to our amazement, all our bags were on that flight. Since they were tagged for Dallas/Ft. Worth and there was only a small window of time from when we received our boarding passes, we were amazed and delighted to see them.

We were able to get some of the last seats on a 6 a.m. flight to Dallas, and a few hours later we were back at home, grateful, blessed and tired.

And ready for a shower and a change of clothes!

© 2010 Probe Ministries