Honor the Lord with Your Amygdala

November 25, 2019 § 11 Comments

The Oatmeal, an online comic by Matthew Inman, published an amusing and illuminating illustrated treatise on the “backfire effect.” This is the natural, and often sinful, cognitive bias that causes some to resist evidence contrary to their beliefs. The amygdala (the emotional core of our brains) goes into defense mode when we’re presented with “facts” we don’t like. The sin (my observation, not The Oatmeal’s) comes in when we reject ideas without utilizing our God-given reason, or when we spiral into an emotional tirade at the presenter.

Oatmeal GWUsing one of the examples in the comic, the suggestion that our beloved George Washington wore false teeth made from the teeth of slaves may illicit such a response. (There is evidence that Washington purchased teeth from slaves for false teeth, but it’s rather slim and inconclusive despite being presented here as “fact.” Or is that just my amygdala talking? You can investigate the sources cited in the comic yourself on that.)

The author says that the backfire effect “makes sense from an evolutionary perspective” and follows that up with an archetypal caveman scenario. But it also makes sense from a Biblical perspective. We are created to hold firmly to personal convictions. To believe. As fallen creatures though, we often let emotions get the best of us and set aside reason when our beliefs are challenged.

Because “we’re all going in the same direction”, the author concludes with the assurance that he’s “not here to tell you what to believe” before telling us what to believe: that it’s okay to stop, listen, and change. I’m not sure if the “change” encouraged is a change in how we respond—now that we know how our brains often handle new and unwanted information—or a change in our worldview when presented with new ideas about the world or ourselves. Both are good and healthy responses, the latter depending of course on the ideas.

In any case, the only reason to believe anything at all is if we are convinced that it’s true. This includes foundational or presuppositional beliefs, like the existence of God, or the tenets of naturalism, that we ultimately must accept or reject on faith.

Matthew Inman is neither shy nor particularly clear about his brand of atheism, but in this video he masks a sad, nihilistic worldview with plenty of jokes—some either profane, throwing shade at religious belief, or profanely throwing shade at religious belief—all while professing faith in “Jibbers Crabst”.

The overall aim of his post about belief seems to be the awareness of what’s going on when we learn new things, and realization that we don’t have to blow up at others who challenge our deeply held beliefs. Atheism and sarcasm aside, that’s an earnest and respectable goal.Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 9.54.06 AMSometimes the truth hurts. But the truth is meant to ultimately give us joy. The good news of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died to save sinners—begins with the bad news that we all are sinners who need a savior. There’s a classic example of new information that many an amygdala reject (1 John 1:9-10).

We should keep an open mind, even about our deeper convictions. But as G.K. Chesterton tells it, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. Otherwise, it could end up like a city sewer, rejecting nothing.”

(The “classroom-friendly version” of The Oatmeal comic is linked above, but there is a “regular version” with some profanity that really isn’t a necessary or funnier way to make the point.)

The Limits of Science and the Transcendence of God

March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?

Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.

GOD around nature

RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES

How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.

Stephen Jay Gould rightly recognized science and religion as separate areas of inquiry, but he strictly defines science as “fact” and religion as “values”, which is a limited perspective of both. Gould maintains that these separate “magisteria” do not overlap(1), but when it comes to science and Biblical Christianity, that’s only partly true.

Science cannot explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.

Science cannot explain science because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it. Science has no adequate explanation for itself.

J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(2) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”

God CAN explain science. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.

The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.

The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(3), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(4) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(5).

The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(6)

We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(7)

TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES

If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.

While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.

Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.

This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(8). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(9). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.

Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”

SCIENCE AND FAITH

Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.

Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.

If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.

In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.

1) Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), Wikipedia contributors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria)
2) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
3) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
4) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
5) 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
6) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.”
Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011 (blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic)
7) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
8) “
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
9) My post:
“God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)

The Routes of Faith Testing

July 7, 2013 § 4 Comments

Abraham and Isaac by Ferdinand von Olivier, 1817

Abraham and Isaac by Ferdinand von Olivier, 1817

Sometimes God will ask us to do something He doesn’t intend to have us finish. That may sound like another way of saying we are doing something we shouldn’t, something we thought was the will of God, but then we receive a course correction. That’s always possible, but the test of Abraham in Genesis 22 shows that God does challenge the faith of His children by defining and then changing our course. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, it’s hard to imagine the weight of that in Abraham’s mind as the two of them journeyed up the mountain to the altar site, Isaac having no idea what was ahead. But there was also tremendous faith displayed in the confident response of Abraham to his son’s inquiry.

“Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together. (Genesis 22:7-8)

Despite whatever anguish that may have welled inside Abraham from God’s command to sacrifice his own child, the overruling conviction was Abraham’s faith in God providing some way to redemption. We know how the rest of the story goes. Altar built, son bound, knife in hand, Abraham’s hand was stayed by God at the right moment.

“Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from Me.” Abraham looked up and saw behind him a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. So he went over and got the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:12,13)

God doesn’t change His mind, but He may change ours.

There was a church that had sold an aging building and ended up “wandering” 13 years looking for a permanent home moving from one rented space to another—3 schools and a conference center. A familiar scene for many churches. This wandering church had actually made a land purchase, only to use it for a down payment on another piece of land that was not to become their permanent home either. Several land opportunities came and went.

Along the way the wandering church met a church with a building and a very similar vision and decided to join forces in youth ministry, something both churches had struggled to maintain independently. The ministry was strengthened by this. But the grittier side was that both churches had mountains to climb. The small, wandering church faced the daunting task of building on a newly acquired property with very limited funding. The church with land and a building was faced with the very real possibility of losing both due to dwindling numbers and a tragically injured pastor. Nonetheless, both churches remained faithful with what they’d been given and were confident God would see them through the days ahead. Both churches had done their due diligence.

Then God stayed the hand. The church with the building offered it to the wandering church at the cost of taking over the remaining mortgage payments. The wandering church accepted, inviting the others to join them and allowing them to keep the building they had built just 10 years earlier. Both congregations could now continue in worship and service together, neither having to make the sacrifices they had been faithfully preparing for.

The wandering church is ours, and today was our first Sunday in a new 20,000 square foot building with nearly twice as many saints as last week. But new challenges are ahead. Remembering that churches aren’t beautiful buildings but people, and that we are not an elite group of people because God chose to make our path easier—these may be among the new challenges. But God knew how wearisome we all had grown from the old challenges and the climb that was ahead of us. We worship today with a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Tests of faith come in different forms. Sometimes we go through the fire and sometimes we are given a reprieve when God sees we are willing to go through the fire. Either way, He is there with us, and we can have the confidence of Abraham that “God will provide.”

Evidence for God in the Laws of Logic

December 27, 2012 § 3 Comments

This is an ongoing debate at AskAnAtheist.com.

Atheist

I’m an atheist myself and I’m not presenting any doubts about my atheism with this question but I seem to have trouble with trying to get evidence from theists who want to try to convince me that God exists.

I was talking with a very fine gentleman, who is my neighbor and a strong believer in Christ and God. He asked me why I don’t believe and as is the standard reply there is not enough evidence to prove the existence of God. I told him I am a person of science and logic, and I need proof in the form of hard, observable evidence.

…I’m having a hard time figuring out what exactly good evidence, that’s not miraculous or magical but could prove god if we found it, might look like.

LogicGodAndNeighbor

ZJ, great question.

I think the best evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible comes from a presuppositional approach. This takes a look at whatever truth we presuppose and weighs it against reality we experience. Here it is…

The first thing is for the Christian to admit that his argument is ultimately circular reasoning, because he is appealing to the Bible as his best evidence for the existence of God. In other words, Christian theism appeals to Christian theism.

On to the atheist’s position: You state you are a man of science and logic. Science is done by applying the laws of logic, so let’s say that human logic is your ultimate commitment and authority. Logic dictates the major decisions you make in life and drives your conclusions about God and the universe. Is that a fair assessment?

Now what is the basis for you claiming logic as your ultimate commitment? It’s logic. You defend the use of logic by virtue of logic, therefore your argument for your ultimate authority is ultimately circular.

So atheism and Christian theism, and for that matter any other worldview, are on equal ground when it comes to circularity of its logic. They appeal to their own ultimate authority to justify their own ultimate authority. ALL arguments are, at their most foundational level, circular. Does this make sense?

So which worldview is true? It would have to be the one, if any, that makes sense out of our sensory experience. That’s really the best we can do, since any facts we find or evidence we observe is experienced by our senses.

Here is where I think atheism does NOT make sense of the world and Christianity DOES.

Atheism and accompanying Naturalism does not explain our basic dependence of logic and reason. What is there about a universe that began with basically matter and motion that could have given rise to the laws of logic and reason?

The Bible describes a God who uses logic as a part of His nature, who created man in His image (Gen. 1:27) and invites us to reason (Is. 1:18). On Christianity, logic and reason make sense.

Atheism and naturalism do not explain the origin of absolute, objective moral law that everyone is aware of. We may disagree on the interpretation, but everyone lives as if laws of right and wrong exist. They couldn’t logically have evolved within humans because it’s impossible to imagine the first moral act that doesn’t appeal to some other moral standard for good or kindness or truth. And if they evolved within humans, humans would have no basis for applying them to other humans or to the idea of God, as many atheists do when they morally condemn God actions in the Old Testament. Atheists may clam no universal moral code exists, but when they do they appeal to some universal moral code that says they are right in their claim, which is self-contradictory.

The Bible describes a moral God who is transcendent, exercises moral judgment, and has written moral law on our hearts, to which our consciences bear witness (Rom. 2:15).

Atheism and naturalism do not explain the laws of nature and scientific dependence on uniformity, that experiments done the same way will yield the same results, that things will happen in the future the way they happened in the past. In a universe of undirected chain reactions, this type of apparent direction doesn’t make sense.

The Bible describes a God who set the universe in motion at creation (Gen. 1:1) and established the regularity of the earth’s rotation (Gen. 1:14-19; Jer. 33:20), seasons (Gen. 8:22, Psalm 74:17) planting/harvest cycle (Jer. 5:24, Mark 5:26-29) and is responsible for the whole natural order (Col. 1:16-17, Eph. 1:11, Heb. 1:3). We take all this and more for granted, but there is no logical reason for our base assumptions on Atheism.

Only the God of the Bible when compared to other gods in various world religions can be shown to be internally consistent and His Word consistent to the reality we experience.

Since every worldview is ultimately circular in its defense, EVERY belief begins with faith, even a system that purports to be based on “fact” and “evidence”. Christianity is set apart because it actually makes sense of the world.

Atheist

Godandneighbor you are basing most of your argument on the premise that both a logic-framed and a Christian-framed type of reasoning are circular. No that is completely incorrect and faulty and that fault unravels the rest of your entire argument. Logic itself is the absence of circular reasoning. Your argument even mis-defines the term circular reasoning because you explain circular reasoning occurs when you make an argument with someone who agrees with you. Completely wrong, how valid a form of reasoning is has nothing to do with how much you appeal to your listener. You’re either right, wrong or just completely making no sense at all.

Let me give you an example; pretty simple: All Greeks are human and all humans are mortal; therefore, all Greeks are mortal. It’s a valid argument, it makes logical sense. A lot of Christianity fails this because there’s so much expectation that for people to conform with it, no questioning must occur and if people simply use logic to challenge biblical directives it’s so easy to find fallacies, nonsense and inconsistencies. But I think many Christians are fine with that, the human brain naturally seeks authority that is not always logical, just one who’s only objective is security, watchfulness and confidence. And that’s what matters – for them. As for me, I am not satisfied, I want knowledge that is as close to reality as possible, and I think the only way to achieve that is through logic and reason. Every instance I’ve seen from the point of Christianity, theism and references in the Bible fail miserably and ridiculously, to be honest.

GodAndNeighbor

“Logic itself is the absence of circular reasoning.”

Not exactly. An argument is circular when the reasoner begins with what he or she is trying to end up with. If you decide to justify logic because it is logical to do so, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

“Your argument even mis-defines the term circular reasoning because you explain circular reasoning occurs when you make an argument with someone who agrees with you.”

Where do you think that I said that? Because I actually didn’t make that argument.

“A lot of Christianity fails this because there’s so much expectation that for people to conform with it, no questioning must occur and if people simply use logic to challenge biblical directives it’s so easy to find fallacies, nonsense and inconsistencies.”

Example?

“I want knowledge that is as close to reality as possible, and I think the only way to achieve that is through logic and reason.”

Right, many people think that the only way to understand reality is through logic and reason. But, as I explained, there is no way to justify your love for logic and reason without using logic and reason (you’re doing it right now). 🙂 You can accept any proposition on faith to acquire a belief, but not all beliefs make sense of reality. Christianity does.

Atheist

1st part: no and no. When did I say there was any purpose to justifying logic? You utilize logic to reach a conclusion about what you are trying to discover or answer. You’re twisting definitions again using a convoluted (nonsensical) logic of your own. Just slow down and think dude.

2nd part: You did say that because you claimed someone, whether atheist or Christian might want to *admit* their argument is circular, and it’s ok because it “appeals” to the corresponding philosophy. You can debate whether you said this or not, I’m mostly debating that it just doesn’t make sense from the perspective of the logic and reasoning process. If it’s supposed to make sense, explain it again because so far very little of what you said makes sense.

3rd part: you want an examples? Noah, Adam & Eve, resurrections, Hell, God himself. Like I said I wanted evidence from Christians and all I get are citations of more miracles, and very little evidence they’re also all not hogwash also.

4th part: love of logic? Are you serious? And again I don’t need to justify logic, it’s the method to get from point A to B in understanding. As an analogy I might choose to drive a car instead of swim to get from A to B. Driving is simply practical and available. A Christian like you who thinks others must love logic, but you yourself don’t might prefer swimming because he or she is told that is the best way, even though there is no water between point A and B.

GodAndNeighbor

“you claimed someone, whether atheist or Christian might want to *admit* their argument is circular, and it’s ok because it “appeals” to the corresponding philosophy.”

Yes, I think people should understand that any argument for an ultimate conviction is circular, but that is not a requirement for circular logic. Most circular arguments are fallacious because of the relative size of the circle—they appeal to something that could actually be supported by something greater and more foundational. But at the most foundational level, circular reasoning is unavoidable because we’ve run out of things that we can prove and are left to presuppose an ultimate conviction. That ultimate conviction (for me, God; for you, autonomous human reasoning) is accepted by faith.

“When did I say there was any purpose to justifying logic? You utilize logic to reach a conclusion… it’s the method to get from point A to B…”

You DIDN’T say that there is any purpose to justifying the use of logic, but I don’t think you could come up with one if you were asked to. You don’t see the need because for you, it’s just there. You presuppose it, because it’s “simply practical and available.” You’re a “man of science” so you don’t ask why, but I’m asking, Why do science? Why are there LAWS of logic?

We presuppose (assume, take for granted) something basic and foundational that we can’t prove or support with anything MORE basic or foundational. It makes sense that an atheist, who thinks there is no God and no creator or first cause, would look at something like the laws of logic and say we should just assume them, rather than actually utilizing that same logic to explore how they got there in the first place. You could think about it, but it’s most likely your atheistic worldview that prevents you from doing so.

I have no problem with using logic; it’s what God gave us to reason, learn and discover Him. Obviously it only gets you so far, because holding it in the highest regard leaves you without any purpose or even desire to look into why it’s there, even to the point of abandoning logic.

“…you want an examples? Noah, Adam & Eve, resurrections, Hell, God himself.”

On Christianity, these are not fallacious, nonsensical or inconsistent. They only are on atheism, a worldview that can’t make sense out of the world we observe.

Atheist

Why do science, why place logic in such high regard? Sure I can answer that. Think of the universe as basically a giant computer. When we use a computer we perceive the output in the form of images and sounds that are made to process in a way that makes sense to the user. But at the most foundational, basic level all that information is just a series of 1′s and 0′s which would be incomprehensible to humans if we viewed it in that format.

The universe is the same, there is a subatomic, basic building block of energy, matter thus reality itself all of which can be decoded by pure mathematical reasoning. Some things are still unexplained like the behavior and relationship of certain particles that make up dark or empty matter, but were getting closer. However this giant computer called the universe came about, even if God made it, it’s still bound by the laws of logic EXCLUSEVELY as the language that explains reality.

I am not depending on logic because I “like it better, and relying on it isn’t a matter of presupposing it as the best available option, it is the ONLY option. I don’t even count the explanation from God’s perspective as an alternative because the origins of that language, that mindset, were developed before the concept of logic was evident to us. They (the authors of the bible) did have a kind of logic but the tools and methods of observation were inadequate to them. There’s no doubt that all the political strife during that period of history was extremely counterproductive to logic and reasoning as well.

You say I as an atheist my ultimate conviction is autonomous human resoning as opposed to your source of reasoing are both accepted by faith. Why? You need to explain why that is true. I don’t think faith applies in my case at all, so the two approaches are simply incomparable. Logic is the default, it doesn’t need validation. God, or just saying it is so because God says it’s so, does need validation because it VIOLATES logic.

You have repeatedly stated assertions to the contrary but no evidence backing it. You can keep stating those, and I’m sure you believe them yourself because either you keep saying it to yourself, or others keep telling you this unsubstatiated information, so that even reasoning becomes useless. It’s no concern of mine if this is comforting for you, and it’s better actually if that’s what gives you comfort and reassurance. But for me it’s inadequate, my way is to question, doubt and reason until I’m closer to making sense of the world. Religion and God can’t do that because it’s impossible, I’ve tested it and tested it and results have come up with a failing grade almost every time. It’s not by choice or belief, it’s just what the evidence has SHOWN.

GodAndNeighbor

“You say I as an atheist my ultimate conviction is autonomous human resoning as opposed to your source of reasoing are both accepted by faith. Why? You need to explain why that is true. I don’t think faith applies in my case at all, so the two approaches are simply incomparable. Logic is the default, it doesn’t need validation.”

ZJ, you already demonstrated that you accept the supremacy of logic by faith: You say’s it’s your default and it doesn’t need validation. That is a presupposition, something you just assume because you can’t support it with any kind of evidence. Think about it: You rely on the laws of logic because to you they require no validation. They can’t be proven by logic. When you believe something without proof, that’s faith.

Not only that, but you admit an understanding that logic is a law. Law requires a law-giver. You also call logic a language, and language doesn’t happen on its own; it’s written. And no one looks at a “giant computer” and says, “We don’t know how it came about, but it sure wasn’t any intelligent being.”

Now how does the idea of God “violate logic” when you can’t postulate a better reason why we use logic?

I imagine that civilizations 2,000 years in the future might look back at the world of 2012 and say something like “political strife during that period of history was extremely counterproductive to logic and reasoning.” That’s true today! 🙂 There is no marked difference between our use of logic and the ancient world’s—technology, yes, but not basic human reasoning.

The fallacious emotional appeal aside in your last paragraph, you say that your way “is to question, doubt and reason” but you won’t question your use of reason. How can that be? And what sort of tests have you run on God that you conclude that He is impossible?

Atheist

The language of logic is autonomous to human intervention because, as I’ve demonstrated reality at its most basic building blocks is like a basic series of 1′s and 0′s that make up all data that a computer expresses as images and sounds. I just happened to have determined this method of interpreting reality works best. The fact that interpreting reality requires logic is not faith, and the fact that I trust it is not faith either because I’ve gained adequate evidence that logic is reliable in the same way you know seatbelts will help save your life in a crash. Faith does not compel you to use seat belts, logic dictates that you will not fly through the window of your car in a collision if you wear your seatbelt. Faith is being compelled to believe something that contradicts obvious and available evidence that what you believe is false. Your assertion that my dedication to logic is anyway remotely a type of faith is patently ridiculous. I suggest you seriously take a look at what you’ve determined the definition of faith to be.

To answer your question about testing God, just observe the workings of religion. People are told to pray, sometimes prayers are answered from believers perspective but a casually observing relative or friend can easily deduce a coincidence occurred that the praying believer got overemotional about when their sickness went away for example. Churches ask for your money and ask you spread the word of God: it’s a business with an objective only to benefit itself. It doesn’t care about congregants it feeds off off the ignorance of the many that are taught to ignore or manipulate evidence and distrust the very logic that makes humans perfectly capable of answering life’s mysteries for themselves. And you my friend are a poster child of this very same form of manipulation and deceit. You just don’t see it and won’t accept it.

Furthermore, I have said repeatedly in my arguments “what if God was real?” What would that look like from an evidential understanding of his existence? I keep referring to the “What if?” scenario which in case you didn’t realize it is a form of LOGIC argument that given a particular form of evidence gained would actually support a shift in my position about a godless universe to a godly universe. There’s another test you asked me to provide an example of. However the results still point to and confirm a godless universe. Your ramblings give no indication whatsoever that you could conceive of the possibility of a godless universe. You are so unREASONABLY convinced that is not possible it clouds any hope of you ever even accepting LOGIC as an answer. But there’s a name for that, and I guess it’s fine for you: it’s called FAITH.

GodAndNeighbor

“The language of logic is autonomous to human intervention”

If by this you mean that it is independent of humans, you’re right on that. We discovered the laws of logic; we didn’t invent them.

“I just happened to have determined this method of interpreting reality works best.”

Well you’ve done nothing more to hypothesize the origin or purpose of the laws of logic. You’ve only observed how they work. Observing a computer in action does not explain where it came from and how you came to use it. You refer to the basic structure of the universe as a language of 1s and 0s and intelligible data and relating it to a computer, which destroys any argument that such a basic structure is a natural and random process. That alone should compel you to look a little deeper; obviously such a structure requires the input of intelligence and design, and of course, logic.

“The fact that interpreting reality requires logic is not faith, and the fact that I trust it is not faith either because I’ve gained adequate evidence that logic is reliable in the same way you know seatbelts will help save your life in a crash.”

That’s assuming that the future will be like the past, which is something we all rely on. It’s called the Principal of Uniformity, the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate now always have across time and space, and from that we assume they will continue to operate the same way into the future. Uniformitarianism seems very reliable, BUT it’s still an “assumption” (look it up and see). You are depending on the laws of logic to be upheld by the laws of uniformity, WHICH you still can’t logically account for on Naturalism. It’s just another presupposition to accept by faith. Christianity accounts for the principal of uniformity (see my first comment).

By the way, 53% of drivers and passengers killed in car crashes in 2009 were not wearing restraints, and that means 47% of them were wearing seatbelts. So much for faith in uniformity. (DOT source)

“Faith is being compelled to believe something that contradicts obvious and available evidence that what you believe is false.”

I think that most if not all available online definitions of “faith” would disagree with yours. Faith is belief WITHOUT proof or evidence, not in contradiction to it, or against evidence to the contrary. That’s quite an equivocation. 🙂 So it stands that if you cannot support your use of logic or your assumption that the future will be like the past, you are clinging to those beliefs by faith.

“To answer your question about testing God, just observe the workings of religion.”

Your attempting to test people here, not God, but frankly you’re not very scientific or logical about it. You make some sweeping generalizations and wild assumptions about the intent of churches that may be true of a few of them but plainly false on the whole. That’s no test, it’s just crazy spouting.

“I have said repeatedly in my arguments “what if God was real?” What would that look like from an evidential understanding of his existence?”

Um… I couldn’t find “What if” anywhere in your previous comments, so where did you repeatedly ask this? Anyway, I don’t see how you can say “the results still point to and confirm a godless universe” when you can’t account for your position, other than by saying that logic is just “available and convenient” and that it seems to work. That is a non-answer, and requires much more faith than I’m capable of.

Atheist

I don’t really get what you mean by whether the future must be like the past in how it relates to the validity of logic. The difference between the future and the past is that we’ve gained more in a continuum of logical conclusions that build up upon themselves as far as human understanding. To you that may seem like a system that feeds off of mistakes or inadequacies, because there are many, but it is always open to revision. If it was proven to be faulty, how could we reliably know more now, almost everything really about the universe than we did in the past? That understanding doesn’t change reality itself, only how much less we leave things up to imagination and superstition to explain things.

Eventually logic may replace faith altogether because, as I still feel correct in justifying, it’s flawed. My previous definition didn’t exclude that “faith is belief without proof or evidence,” but as we both agree it is that also. But even that definition alone supports the claim of its gross inadequacy in applying it to unlock the mysteries of universe. It’s important and useful for the faithful because some people don’t care about the nitty gritty details of “Why?” When a Christian sees the sun come up every morning they can thank God based on faith that it is his power that grants us a new day every morning. If that’s fine for you too, I’m glad.

Logic naturally tells me it’s more than that because I know there’s plenty that goes on behind the scenes that really there’s little pratical value in knowing. The sun rises every morning the same way today and into the forseeable future as it did thousands of years ago. So looking at that example are you suggesting that if I was alive 500 years ago I couldn’t have used logic to figure out God had nothing to do with the sun rising? I don’t see how the use of logic itself would differ, but the big difference is that I would much more likely lack the tools and prerequisite information to deduce how the sun is rising. I’d imagine even then some individuals let doubt creep in about the prevailing, and inaccurate, assumption. That doubt is logic at work and wasn’t it Galileo the one such individual who took that doubt further and turned it into evidence?

GodAndNeighbor

“I don’t really get what you mean by whether the future must be like the past in how it relates to the validity of logic. The difference between the future and the past is that we’ve gained more in a continuum of logical conclusions that build up upon themselves as far as human understanding.”

Logic depends on the fact that future seems like it will be like the past, based on past experience that every time we do something a certain way, it achieves the same result, with very few exceptions. From that experience, we ASSUME that in the future this will continue to be the pattern. Christians have faith in a Creator who set up the universe to behave in a very ordered and consistent manner. Humans observe these patterns of consistency and give them names: The Law of Uniformity, the Law of Cause and Effect, the Laws of Logic, etc. Christians and athiests both have faith that the future reflects the past, but Christians do because we trust that a consistent Creator caused the universe and makes sense of it. Atheists have faith that the future reflects the past simply because as far as we can recall or observe it always has. It’s just there. That’s a logical reason to continue to have faith in the laws of nature and logic, but it’s not based on anything but experience. The Christian’s faith in the Creator who set the universe on its course and makes sense out the laws of nature and logic. The atheist has faith in laws, the existence of which he can’t explain on his own worldview. This requires more faith than a theist’s faith in God, because here the atheist is, using logic for which he has no basis, because he has no evidence whatsoever that Naturalism can produce logic, uniformity, morality, mathematics, music, or any of the things we empirically observe.

Meanwhile, atheists continue to describe these patterns of logic and nature as laws (which require a law-giver in any logical sense) and language (which requires a writer in any logical sense) and complex computers (which require a designer and builder in any logical sense), borrowing from theism in the use of these things, but denying the obvious. You’ve actually made a very good case for Christian theism. 🙂

You seem to think that faith equals religion and you’re far removed from it. Faith is held in any belief system, including atheism. Christianity can justify it, whereas atheism only can by borrowing from Christianity.

“how could we reliably know more now, almost everything really about the universe than we did in the past? “

We certainly do not know “almost everything” about the universe. We know really very little. And you concede that there are “mysteries of the universe” yet to be unlocked, presumably by logic and science. Why do you put so much faith in the idea, with so little that we know about the universe, that God does not exist? It’s this confidence that makes me surprised at your great faith in atheism. I think when you say “I know there’s plenty that goes on behind the scenes that really there’s little pratical value in knowing”, you’re including God in this, and that may be why you refuse to look any further.

Faith’s Role in Reason, Knowledge and Absolutely Everything

December 10, 2012 § 3 Comments

A discussion with an agnostic:

First: I’m agnostic. I don’t find any theism particularly convincing, but I also don’t see any real evidence against the existence of some sort of God-like force, so I’m content here. But just color me atheist for the purposes of this discussion.

Anyway, science and logic can only answer how the universe functions. For example, neuroscience attempts to explain how our minds function, while physics does the same with how the laws of the universe function (though even the laws of the universe are just our own interpretations of phenomena), Etc.

However, they do not even come close to answering why things happen really, such as why the universe exists at all. This is one of the fundamental reasons why religion is so pervasive and alluring for some. We all want to know why we are here and how, and it is easy to fall into a belief system even if there is no actual evidence for it.
Wikimedia Commons
Now, it could very well be that non-existence is impossible, so sheer existence simply spontaneously appeared (a la the big bang, or whatever universe may have theoretically come before it). But the universe is ordered, rather than chaotic. Certain laws do govern everything, even if we can never truly know them. And to me, it would seem awfully strange for a spontaneous universe––which would have no real reason or advantage at all to be ordered––is, well, ordered. In fact, it would be remarkably easier for everything to simply be in chaos. Einstein shared this view, and he had a “profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence.”

Furthermore, an infinite regress into the past of causal events is impossible. So there had to have been at some time an unmoved-mover––something completely independent of determinism––that began our little universe (or, again, whatever came before it). This isn’t an argument for God, but it is an argument that, for me at least, there’s more to our existence than meets the eye. At the very least it’s evidence that there must be something that does not adhere to our universe’s laws.

But this is all speculative. Still, I personally find it laughable to think that we are even close to understanding our universe, or even ourselves. Nothing is set in stone. Even the theory of gravity seems to be rupturing with holes. These dark matter hypotheses? No more than a dubious theory to make up for the holes and for what we don’t understand. And once again: we have not even a drop of understanding of WHY our universe exists at all in the way it is, let alone ourselves.

So after over two thousand years of philosophizing and empirical studies, it seems the only thing we can really say we know is the good ol’ Socrates’ axiom (which assumes the cogito):

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all.”

I’m content with that.

Christian response:

Michael,

Our knowledge and understanding is indeed limited. I appreciate you sharing your perspective, and I think many are in the same place you are, resisting outright atheism because the universe begs for certain explanations that are incompatible with atheism or naturalism. I don’t think I could be content with that. 🙂

Plato AristotleIt’s tempting though, to think that agnosticism is a kind of non-position. The conclusions you describe and a conviction to keep a distance from certain theistic conclusions is actually a commitment to a certain agnostic position in its own right, which is also a belief system. The claims of atheists seem ignorant of the obvious, and the claims of theists seem to claim too much knowledge. As a Christian, I obviously believe that a certain amount of knowledge of God is possible, and even the strictest agnostic who says God is unknowable admits a minimal amount of knowledge of God when he claims to know that God is unknowable. Complete knowledge of God is impossible for any finite human mind, but I think we can all agree that some knowledge is possible. Even Socrates’ axiom “the only thing I know is that I know nothing at all” is a declaration of limited knowledge.

Reason is the thing that we all champion that gets us to whatever conclusions we have. You’re right about your observations of the laws of logic that beg for some explanation beyond what we can see and prove. Reason is one of those ultimate commitments that we are forced to assume. When we do, even reason becomes suspect, because we can’t defend reason without using reason, so this reasoning becomes circular.

Turns out that ALL reasoning about ultimate origins or ultimate authority or ultimate commitment is ultimately circular. I don’t think most people think about this, but at its most basic level, ANY belief or principal, from atheism to theism and everything in between, is ultimately taken on faith. We presuppose reason, logic, morality, and other unprovable principals when we do anything.

While there are many things that theists see as evidence for God—many of which you described—theists can’t empirically prove God and ultimately accept His existence on faith. What sets apart theism from athiesm, both taken on faith and ultimately circular, is that when theism is presupposed, it provides logical answers for reason, logic, natural laws, morality, origins, etc. God, at least the one described in the Bible, provides a logical basis for what we have to assume when we assume He does not exist. Many insist on rejecting what can’t be logically proven. The problem is, that’s everything, so rejecting anything that requires faith is impossible. The choice to accept Christian theism on faith, however, leads to answers to the why questions you mentioned. I think the biggest obstacle is not really the truth claims within Christianity, but the initial step of faith INTO Christianity.

Why the God of Christianity over other forms of theism? That’s a separate discussion, and usually a later discussion. What I hope you can see first is that ANY belief—even what many call non-belief—is acquired by faith. When we place faith in the existence of an infinite Creator God, the universe actually begins to make sense.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Hebrews 11:3

Students Telling the Good News is Hardly News

September 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Newsflash: Christians talk about their faith in school.

That’s the thrust of an article this week in The Guardian: How Evangelicals are Making Children their Missionaries in Public Schools. The subhead, “Adults can’t proselytise in schools – but kids can. Hence a new scam by fundamentalists to circumvent church-state separation.”

Katherine Stewart’s sleuthery uncovered the shocking truth that Christians encourage other Christians to evangelize. This “news” is no recent exposé, but came out around 30 A.D. at Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, where believers are called to “go and make disciples”. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” —speaking of a local missions effort— “and to the ends of the earth.”—to meet the need for the Gospel in other parts of the world. For the past two mellennia, evangelical Christians have been heeding the call to be missionaries for the Gospel wherever they are and wherever the Lord leads them to go.

As one serving in youth ministry, I encourage young people to follow Scripture, to live out their faith at school, or at work, or wherever they happen to be; to be prepared to have an answer for those who may ask about the hope they have; to share the love of Christ with others because it is simply too good to keep to ourselves. This adult is guilty as charged.

Also not new is the presence of various religious clubs in public schools, which date back to the pre-colonial era. Albert Mohler, on his Sept. 27th podcast notes that “from the very beginning of the school systems in America, children have been able to speak to one another, prosthelytizing for various ideas or ideologies or worldviews or of course religious faiths as well.” He rightly points out that what would be required to make sure that school kids didn’t share their beliefs, or learn at home or at church from adults how to share their beliefs, is to repeal the right to free speech and liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution. Nothing particularly new there either.

Katherine’s article continues, speaking of Christian clubs and organizations in schools: “These initiatives are “student-led” in the same sense that a pee-wee soccer league is student-led. Yes, it’s the kids kicking the ball, but you have to be pretty detached from reality to imagine that there would be kids on that playing field in the first place without the grown-ups organizing and funding their activities, and cheering them from the sidelines.” 

What kind of success would you expect of a pee-wee soccer league run exclusively by pee-wee soccer players? The expectation that such initiatives exist without any involvement from parents or other supportive adults and their vision is indeed a detachment from reality. And again, nothing new, in any context.

The article concludes: “At their core, [evangelical Christians] do not accept that we live in a diverse society with a secular form of government. If their activities degrade support for the public schools or even destroy them, they will not be sorry to see them go.”

Actually, most Christians do understand that society is diverse in its beliefs and that administrations progressively have sought to secularize government as best they can. Many Christians also see that without the fundamentals taught in Christian theology, principals of government wouldn’t exist, and neither would the value in education (Education in America was largely founded upon Christianity). The framers of the Constitution understood this too, and that the protections afforded by “separation of church and state” were meant to go both directions, that legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Guardian has finally caught on to evangelical Christianity’s ancient zeal to spread the Gospel. Sadly, it has missed the point.

Faith Unleashed

May 19, 2007 § Leave a comment

I was out running one fine day when I saw another jogger with his dog trotting about 10 feet ahead of him without a leash. My thought was, How does he control the dog when it’s up ahead with no leash? I watched them as they reached the corner and the jogger issued a command: “Left!” The dog turned left, and they both continued down another street.

At the time I envied the guy, wishing my dog was as obedient as his. Later I began to relate with the dog, so dependent on his master for guidance.

Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”

All the dog knew was to follow a path until it was told to do otherwise. Many times God doesn’t tell us what we should do until it is time to do it.

Are we content in staying the course, ready to obey when our Master tells us the way to go? God is in control of our journey, and if we’re paying attention, His instruction will come at just the right time.

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