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




Civil Discourse? – Radio version

Conservative Bridgebuilder

Think about the last time you channel-surfed the television news talk shows. Chances are, you encountered at least a few talking heads yelling at each other. Often, controversy reigns. Politics, religion, sex, or sports can ignite passion that can spill into incivility–on radio and TV, in workplaces, universities, neighborhoods, and families.

Are you exhausted or disgusted with debates and discussions that become food fights? This article considers some inspiring stories of risk-takers who build bridges of understanding across philosophical, political, and religious lines. They’re helping put the “civil” back into “civil discourse” and have good lessons for us all.

First up is conservative commentator Cal Thomas. As vice president of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” Thomas saw his share of partisan political debate. But he tells a humorous story about civility.{1}

The Moral Majority often mentioned Senator Ted Kennedy in its fund appeals. The senator and his liberal friends often mentioned Falwell in their own letters, each side alerting their constituents to concerns about the other.

Once, by mistake, Falwell’s group sent Kennedy a “Moral Majority membership card.” When The Washington Post asked Thomas if his organization would request the card back, Cal replied, “No, we don’t believe any man is beyond redemption. In fact, we’d like to invite the senator to visit Lynchburg [Virginia] and visit Jerry Falwell’s school.” The Post ran the quote.

A couple of weeks later, a Kennedy aid phoned to say, “The senator has decided to accept your invitation.” “What invitation?” replied Thomas. “The one for the senator to visit Lynchburg,” came the response.

Kennedy made the trip, dined with Falwell and gave a warmly-received speech on tolerance and diversity at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University). Thomas says that began his own “treasured friendship” with Kennedy, who met with Falwell “on several subsequent occasions.” Cal notes, “More of eternal value was accomplished that night and in the subsequent relationship than years of political bashing and one-upmanship had produced.”

Thomas and his friend Bob Beckel, a liberal Democratic strategist who was Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign manager, have co-written lively USA Today columns called “Common Ground.” The two examine important issues—agreeing and disagreeing—but remain good friends. Disagreement needn’t torpedo friendship.

A Jew Among the Evangelicals

What do you get when you assign a leftist Jewish journalist to the evangelical Christian beat for major newspapers on both US coasts?

Maybe you’d expect mutual animosity: “Those wacko God-squaders are at it again,” or “The biased secular humanist liberal media is ruining America.”

But this leftist Jewish journalist made a significant discovery, one he feels can instruct his colleagues and us all. He says to effectively cover the strange tribe to which he was assigned, it helps to know its members as neighbors and friends.

Mark Pinsky‘s book, A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed,{2} tells how this “nice Jewish boy from Jersey”{3} ended up attending church “more often than many Christians” and sometimes more often than he attends his own synagogue.{4} During his ten years covering religion for the Los Angeles Times, he focused on major evangelical leaders and had little connection with grassroots evangelicals.

When he moved to Florida in 1995 to write for the Orlando Sentinel, they were everywhere: in the neighborhood, at kids sporting events, birthday parties, PTA meetings, Scouts. Still a committed Jew, Pinsky found they were neither monolithic nor, as The Washington Post once claimed, “poor, uneducated and easy to command.”{5}

Disclosure: Pinsky, whom I’ve known since our university days, is a personal friend. His Duke Chronicle column was titled “The Readable Radical.” He was at the vanguard of late-1960s campus leftist causes. I didn’t always agree with his politics, but I admired his concerns about justice, hypocrisy, and the disenfranchised.

He still votes with the Democratic left, but he also understands the Christian subculture he covers better than many of its members. Mutual respect characterizes his relations with its leaders.

Mark’s personal stories of “how people just like you wrestle with feelings, values, and beliefs that touch the core of their beings” provide “a glimpse of someone learning to understand and get along with folks whose convictions differ from his own.”{6}

Get to know your intellectual and philosophical adversaries, he recommends. Take them to lunch. Ratchet down the rhetoric. Maybe connection can produce understanding and civility can grow into bridgebuilding.{7}

Not bad advice in a world too-often filled with brickbats and name calling.

Confronting Our Liberal Bias

Religious and political conservatives often complain about bias in secular universities. Here’s how two university professors faced that issue in their own teaching

Elizabeth Kiss is president of Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. Before that, she was a Duke political science professor and director of Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics.{8} With public policy lecturer Alma Blount, she wrote an intriguing 2005 article, “Confronting Our Liberal Bias.”{9} They note:

In the wake of the 2004 presidential election, we’ve witnessed the deep divide in this country around themes of religion and politics, the war in Iraq, and U.S. foreign policy. As faculty members at a leading university, we’ve also been struck by an uncomfortable realization: we need to confront liberal bias in the academy.

They cite two seminal experiences. In one, “colleagues tried to block an invitation to a conservative faculty member to speak in a class.” In another, comments about “how liberal bias threatens open inquiry” met anger and disbelief.

Kiss and Blount considered how their own liberal assumptions subtly influenced their teaching. “Creating a culture of open inquiry on campus,” they write, “means we first must face our everyday temptation toward political bias.” They continue:

Political bias, from either the left or the right, is corrosive of open inquiry. It is the “in” joke or flippant comment suggesting that all rational people are on your side. It portrays opponents in the worst possible light, suggesting they are ignorant, self-righteous, or evil. Bias breeds an enclave mentality that encourages smug and lazy thinking. It blinds us to the complexity of public issues.

Blount and Kiss are arguing not for academic neutrality, but rather for conviction with disclosure, appreciating dissent as part of the learning process. They advocate political diversity in assigned readings, welcoming differing student viewpoints in class, inviting guest speakers of various perspectives, plus modeling dialogue and debate. “Confronting liberal bias won’t be easy,” they conclude. “But it’s the right thing to do.”

Their refreshing candor is all too rare. An excellent example for all sides in making civil discourse more “civil.”

“Gotcha” Politics

President Bill Clinton’s Special Counsel and scandal spokesperson was Lanny Davis, a prominent attorney and now-ubiquitous television figure.

Now, some of my readers may consider Bill and Hillary Clinton to be Mr. and Mrs. Antichrist. But I ask you to please segment your emotions about the Clintons momentarily to consider their former coworker’s passionate appeal for civility in public discourse.

Davis, a liberal Democrat, has authored an important book, Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics is Destroying America.{10} He says, “The politics of healthy debate have been replaced by the politics of personal destruction, and the media, politicians, lawyers, and the Internet revolution are all complicit,” as are the American people who reward the politicians and consume the media.{11} With admirable transparency, he admits concerning parts of his past, “I am ashamed to say all this today—but I was just as much caught up in the gotcha culture as partisans on the Republican right.”{12} He regrets having jumped into “food fight” TV on occasion,{13} and admits to some past blindness to “politically expedient hypocrisy.”{14}

Davis often seeks to build bridges. During the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey “had been barred from delivering an anti-abortion, ‘pro-life’ speech to the convention.” Davis, who is pro-choice, asked some of his fellow liberal delegates to join him in a resolution to allow Casey to speak, in the name of freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent. Alas, he was shouted down.{15}

In 2000, his longtime friend Senator Joseph Lieberman—Democratic vice presidential candidate and an orthodox Jew—garnered liberal criticism for “bringing up God too much.” Reflecting on a famous Abraham Lincoln speech invoking divine assistance and encouraging prayer, Lanny wondered, “Would my liberal friends have regarded Abraham Lincoln as ‘bringing up God too much?'”{16} He decries intolerance and “contempt or disrespect for the deeply religious and those who believe in the power of prayer.”{17}

At the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast, rock star Bono, advocating bipartisan cooperation to fight poverty, cited Jesus’ statement, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”{18} “You cannot believe in Bono’s words,” comments Davis, “without being tolerant of those whose religious faith leads them to political views vastly different from that of a pro-choice Democrat.”{19}

May his tribe increase.

Bridgebuilding: From Food Fights to Finding Common Ground

How can we cultivate respect and learn to disagree without being disagreeable? Maybe you’ll enjoy this story.

I entered university in the turbulent late 1960s. The Vietnam War, Civil rights, sexual revolution, and campus upheaval permeated our lives. The fraternity I joined was quite diverse. We had political liberals and conservatives; athletes and scholars; atheists, agnostics, Christians, and Jews. Late night bull sessions kept us engaged and learning from each other.

When I was a freshman and a new believer in Jesus, our fraternity agreed to allow a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting in the chapter room. I posted a sign inside the front door for all the guys to see, announcing the date and time. As a gag, at the bottom I wrote “Attendance Mandatory.” Needless to say, the sign quickly filled with graffiti. My favorite said, “Jesus and His Lambda Chi Alpha disciples will be autographing Bibles in the hallway during intermission.”

The night of the meeting, one fraternity brother welcomed visitors from the head of the stairway, literally tied to a cross. Some members heckled the speaker, who gracefully engaged them in dialogue. He demonstrated how to disagree but remain friendly.

Our diversity taught me lots about tolerance and civility. We lived, worked, studied, and played together and forged friendships that have endured despite time and distance. Many of us still gather for reunions and still enjoy each others’ company. That environment was a crucible that helped me develop communication and relationship skills.

How can you cultivate civility? Consider three suggestions:

1. Learn about views different from your own. Read what others believe and ascertain why they feel and think as they do. Ask yourself how you might feel in their situation.

2. Discover Common Ground. Starting where you agree can help overcome many emotional barriers.

3. Befriend people with differing views. Friendly conversation or shared meals can help open hearts. Conservatives, take a liberal to lunch, and vice versa.

Paul, an early follower of Jesus, had good advice on how to deal with those who differ. It applies in many contexts. He wrote:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.{20}

Notes

1. Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded By Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) 55-56.
2. Mark I. Pinsky, A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006).
3. Ibid., vii.
4. Ibid., 18.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., vii.
7. Ibid., 148.
8. http://kenan.ethics.duke.edu
9. Alma Blount and Elizabeth Kiss, “Confronting Our Liberal Bias,” Duke University News & Communications, May 19, 2005; http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2005/05/politicalbias._print.ht, accessed March 4, 2007. Article first appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the KIE Connection newsletter, produced by the Kenan Institute for Ethics; http://kenan.ethics.duke.edu/newsletter/KIE.pdf, accessed March 4, 2007.
10. Lanny Davis, Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics is Destroying America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
11. Ibid., 199.
12. Ibid., 188.
13. Ibid., 88.
14. Ibid., 125-126.
15. Ibid., 211-212.
16. Ibid., 212.
17. Ibid., 214.
18. Luke 6:31 NIV.
19. Davis, op. cit., 213.
20. Colossians 4:5-6 NIV.

© 2007 Probe Ministries




“How Do I Answer This Atheist’s Argument?”

I’m a young Christian doing some study at ______ University. I am currently engaged in a debate with an atheist who reckons his argument is indestructible. I have tried to critique it but he reckons that my logic is false.

This is his proof for the non-existence of god:

First, in order to discuss the existence of god, we must define god. So I say god must be conscious. That way we can distinguish god from any random forces that might be out there just spitting out universes. But I’m conscious and I’m not god so we must further define god so that god can be distinguished from a highly advanced alien race. So god must be the First Cause. There we have it, god must be conscious and the first cause or god doesn’t exist. If god isn’t conscious OR if god isn’t the first cause THEN god doesn’t exist. Let’s examine what it means to be conscious or to have awareness. When one is aware of something and that something moves or changes then one is aware of that movement or change. The change causes a change within the one who is aware of it. Example: When a leaf blows across the road the position of that leaf in my mind changes. My mind changes from knowing where the leaf was to knowing where the leaf is. To be Conscious is to be Changeable. So we can say, If god isn’t CHANGEABLE or if god isn’t the first cause then god doesn’t exist. Now, let’s examine what it means to be the first cause. The first cause must be uncaused for there can be no cause preceding the first cause. Now since no change can occur without cause (unless of course you believe that things like the universe can just pop into existence without cause) God must not be able to change. To be the First Cause is to be unchangeable. So we can say, If god isn’t CHANGEABLE or if god isn’t UNCHANGEABLE then god doesn’t exist. Logically nothing can be changeable and unchangeable. SO GOD DOESN’T EXIST. There are only 5 logical objections to My Proof.

• God Being Consciousness
• God Being The First Cause
• Consciousness Requiring Change
• The First Cause Requiring Unchangeableness
• Something Not Being Able To Be Both Changeable and Also Totally Unchangeable.

Choose Your Poison. Yes, If anyone can debunk my proof I shall withdraw it and stop using it. Furthermore I shall move into the ranks of the Agnostics. Our point of contention is that you insist that The Cause must be conscious which requires change when we both know that in order for the first cause to exist it must be totally unchangeable. Now, if you or anyone else would care to explain how something can be both changeable and totally unchangeable, I’d be glad to hear it. Until then you’re flying on a wing and a prayer, which means you’re falling. The changeable vs. unchangeable paradox is the basis of my whole proof. The basic premise is that a thing can’t both have a property and not have the same property. i.e. A line can’t be totally straight and partially non-straight or curved. As it turns out the definition of God which is used by most people and mainstream religions requires god to be changeable and totally unchangeable, thus creating a paradox. If I were to believe in ‘god’ I could still never be a Christian. Here’s a good exercise that will help you choose a religion. Try to work out in your own mind what god must be like. But don’t just say god must be all good try to prove each characteristic of your god.

This is what he is saying, and quite frankly, I don’t have an answer. Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much for your time.

I think there are two problems here, one building upon the other. The basic problem is the atheist’s understanding of God as first principle. This is an understanding bequeathed to us by Greek philosophy. Plato didn’t have a God as in Judaism and Christianity. He believed in the One (or the Good) and the Demiurge. The former was remote, untouched by changing things. The latter formed what was there into the universe. While Christian thinkers sought to pull those two ideas together, an emphasis on God as unchanging remained, even to the extent of denying His passibility; that is, that He could be emotionally affected by anything outside Himself. While I disagree with open theists regarding God’s knowledge of the entire future, I can agree with them that Christian theology (thanks in part to Aquinas) has let Greek philosophy shape its ideas more than it should. Although I believe God is unchanging in His nature and purposes, this doesn’t mean there can’t be any change of any kind in Him. We must let Scripture tell us what God is like (albeit aided sometimes by philosophical concepts); the atheist is attacking a straw man in his attempt to disprove God.

The second problem is this. Even if we concede that gaining new knowledge does entail change (and this change cannot be allowed in God), if God knows everything — past, present and future — then there is no new knowledge for him. Therefore, there is no change.

Hope this helps.

Rick Wade
Probe Ministries




Jimmy Williams Recalls Debate with Madalyn Murray O’Hair at SMU

Jimmy Williams, founder of Probe Ministries in Dallas, remembers vividly his encounter with Madalyn Murray OHair, her husband, and her son John Garth, in the Umphrey Lee Student Center of Southern Methodist University on March 28, 1966.

The president of the freshman class, Charlie Williams (no relation), was active in the student group of Campus Crusade for Christ, which Jimmy directed at that time. Hearing of Mrs. OHairs visit to the campus, Jimmy recalls that Charlie invited her to enter into debate with me.

The debate, Jimmy remembers, was mostly a monologue with Mrs. OHair doing most of the talking. Her intimidation tactic was to shock listeners, using the f-word and a stream of other profanities, something we were not accustomed to hearing from a woman in those days. There is no question that she was a gifted and intelligent woman, but her demeanor was harsh and mean-spirited. I challenged her on a number of areas, but she quickly brushed them off with more four-letter words and continued with her agenda of things she apparently thought must be said to the group.

After the debate, refreshments were served, and we chatted with her husband and her son. I asked Mr. OHair if he shared his wifes beliefs, and he said he did not. Then I turned to John Garth, who must have been about ten years old, and asked him what he thought about all of this. He seemed to be a great kid. Looking somewhat confused, embarrassed, and sad, he replied, ‘Well, Im not sure. I guess Im caught somewhere in the middle.’ When I learned the news earlier this year that authorities had finally located the dismembered bodies of Mrs. O Hair, John Garth, and a daughter-in-law, it grieved me deeply, said Jimmy.

A couple of years ago I read a quote attributed to Mrs. OHair, who said that the one desire of her heart was to find someone in the world who really loved her. When I read it, I regretted I did not express to her that day in the student center that I did and Jesus did.

After serving with Campus Crusade at SMU eight years, Jimmy spent four years in California (1968-1972) overseeing the campus works of Campus Crusade throughout the southwest U.S. Grappling with issues among students during these turbulent years on the West Coast provided the main motivation to found a new ministry (Probe Ministries) to address the spiritual needs and questions of university students. Jimmy moved back to Dallas and founded Probe Ministries in 1973, serving as its president for twenty-five years. He has personally visited 181 universities to minister and lecture throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Russia.

 

©2002 Probe Ministries.