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.)

Whoa, Feelings! Are We Losing Our Minds Over Emotion?

February 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

In the first Star Wars film (Episode IV), the Reverend Obi-Wan Kenobi preaches Humanistic New Age Theology while teaching Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force aboard the Millennium Falcon. From Obi-Wan’s sermon, we learn that “you must do what you feel is right,” “a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him,” and as a follower you ought to “let go of your conscious self and act on instinct.” Observation is secondary, so “your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them… Stretch out with your feelings.” The Jedi wisdom from the likes of Mace Windu and Yoda also exhort Luke to rely on his feelings.(1)

jedi4

Well, enough with the Star Wars trip. In more recent years, I’ve noticed it seems increasingly acceptable to substitute “feel like” for “think” in normal speech. I work in graphic design and am no stranger to hearing phrases like, “I feel like that blue is too harsh.” Color isn’t a feeling; it’s perceived with the eyes and mind. But “I feel like” commonly precludes descriptions of many types of experiences, mainly ones more accurately perceived by sight and sound. Rooms that look cluttered “feel” cluttered. Music that sounds happy “feels” happy. About people we see who are visibly upset, we “feel like” they’re upset.

An emphasis on feeling has, I feel, been pervasive in many Christian churches as well. Alistaire Begg spoke about knowing vs. feeling in worship(2), as certain churches seem to have given themselves over to Emotionalism and Mysticism, conflating emotional high with experiencing the Holy Spirit and genuine worship. A worship leader at one such church beckoned the congregation, “Hey, how do ya’all feel this morning?” Alistaire says, “Don’t ask me how I feel. Ask me what I know… You have to get yourself under the control of the Scriptures. It is what we know, the verities of the Scriptures which then fuel our hearts and our emotions and lead us on.”

Christian author and philosophy professor J. Budziszewski (3) affirms that “the mind is an instrument for thinking, not for feeling” and that “our modern writers are…confused about the difference between feeling and reasoning…” He suggests a proper relationship and balance between the two: “Am I suggesting that feelings and intuitions are irrelevant to thinking, that they should be ignored? No, they should be taken seriously. To ignore human feelings is as dangerous as to have no human feelings. The right way is to recognize them as part of the data with which any account of human matters will have to reckon. The wrong way is to treat them as though our feelings about a subject proved anything about it all by themselves.”

We have feelings and emotions because God does. Ours is a God of reason (Isaiah 1:18) but also emotion. He loves (John 3:16), hates (Psalm 11:5), has compassion (Gen. 19:16), grieves (Gen. 6:6), and rejoices (Isaiah 62:5).(4) Experiences are meant to be multi-faceted. The fullest experiences involve not only reasoned thinking but feeling emotions. The only reason to abandon reason or emotion is when we’ve lost control of one of them—and then we ought to seek to regain it. Sin can affect both reason and emotion. Obviously, both have value and are needed to assess the world properly, and to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Our mouths can’t help but speak from our deepest convictions (Matt. 12:34, Luke 6:45). If it comes naturally to say that “I feel like we are drifting toward a more prevalent Cosmic Humanism”, could that actually be true? Maybe that’s an overreaction; language is subject to trends and people often use terms without thinking about the implications, but that in itself may be a sign that we aren’t thinking enough. Feel and think as creatures that were made to use one to keep the other in check.

(Related post: Putting Anxiety in its Place)

1) The Jedi Q, by DT Strain, http://dtstrainphilosophy.blogspot.com/2006/01/jedi-q.html

2) Wretched Radio: Alistaire Begg isn’t nuts about some contemporary worship music, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJhCWrdckpc&sns=em

3) Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law by J. Budziszewski, page 220.

4) Does God Have Emotions? by Matt Slick, http://carm.org/does-god-have-emotions

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

Atheism and Occam’s Razor (& Why Christianity Makes the Cut)

September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

A recent dialog.

Atheist:

I think you might misunderstand atheism if you think I need proof that it is true. Atheism is a nonbelief. Atheist simply don’t believe that there is any god. We are making no claims, and therefor have no burden of proof. It is the same thing as not believing in Bigfoot. There’s really no need or way to produce evidence that it doesn’t exist. All you can do is discredit the “evidence” for it. If indisputable evidence comes along, then you would be foolish not to believe it. Atheist simply need hard evidence of god’s existence before they will believe.

I agree with you that we need to make some basic assumptions to be able to argue anything. Or else we are left with nihilism or we are living in a computer simulation or something…haha. But your argument just adds unnecessary assumptions. You said that your authority for using reason is because a god created us and he has reason. We are still left with the same question, just on a larger scale now. Who created god, or where did his reason come from? Did god create reason, or is reason something outside of god that he simply conforms to? Let’s keep things simple, and using Occam’s razor cut out the unnecessary assumptions.

My morality is not a list of 10 (or however many) black and white rules that were given by an outside source. It’s basically grounded on the assumption that all humans are equal and should be treated with the dignity that I myself would desire (unless they do something to violate another in some way). Basically the old golden rule and common sense. It is circumstantial, subjective and not set in stone.

Christian:

I think I do understand that atheism is another belief system. Instead of God, the atheist worships something like human reasoning. It seems as if you would like to portray atheism as passive non-belief, but non-belief requires belief in something, as you plainly reveal in your statements: “Atheism is X” is a claim, and so is “We are making no claims.” I don’t deny that “we need to make some basic assumptions to be able to argue anything,” that’s absolutely true. What can’t be done on atheism however, is explaining WHY we make the assumptions. You unknowingly borrow from Christianity.

If I had made the claim that a Creator God requires an endless regress of Creators, I would most definitely be multiplying assumptions. But I haven’t made that claim, you have. The God of the Bible is the eternal first cause, which is by nature a necessary being that is uncaused. God didn’t create reason nor did He adopt reason, but reason is a part of His nature. That is by far the more simple and parsimonious answer.

You say your morality is grounded in certain assumptions; How does that put atheism on firmer ground than theism? What you assume is that all humans are equal, should be treated with dignity, and how we would want to be treated. I agree, as those happen to be Biblical principals! Do you not assume that these rules are objective and should be relevant to everyone else? You label them subjective in speech but not practice. And why do you assume them in the first place? I don’t suggest that you necessarily get them from reading the Bible, but I do suggest that they are moral values that we can’t NOT know because we are made in the image of a moral God, another Biblical principal. To explain our real world experience of reason and morality on a worldview of origins in mere matter and motion is to multiply assumptions far beyond what is necessary.

Getting to the Bottom of Reason

August 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Claim:

Any conclusion about the origin of the universe that asserts “God” is of course a non-sequitur, since that would constitute a religious a priori assumption.

Response:

God is presupposed in Christian apologetics and this is circular, but so is every other argument, as the above statement shows. What does he presuppose? Is the ultimate presupposition reason? A defense of reason BY reason is circular also. Is knowledge the ultimate presupposition? Logic? Objective morality? Those all assume what is to be proven.

Design arguments and other evidentialist approaches will go so far but fail to make sense of ultimate presuppositions, the knowledge, reason, moral reasoning, reliability of the senses, and uniformity in nature we all assume before we even begin to make an argument. The God described in the Bible provides a basis for those assumptions.

Atheist:

I have to say, I’m not a fan of presuppositional apologetics. I just don’t see the point of arguing with someone who does not actually have any interest in argument, and whose views do not rely on either evidence or reason.

Why don’t you try presupposing that you have a million dollars in your checking account? When the salesman at the Ferrari dealership calls security to escort you out, just tell him that the validity of accounting is “the ultimate presupposition.”

I’m sorry if I sound harsh, and other contributors to the site might disagree with me, but personally I think presuppositional apologetics are useless, and I have no interest in arguing about them.

Response:

Maybe you don’t realize this, but you already make presuppositions about your deepest convictions. Fan or not, in that way you’re a presuppositionalist too. Ultimately it’s by faith that you adopt reason as your ultimate authority. If not, what evidence do you use to support the use of reason? Anyone making any kind of argument, including yours, starts with the assumption of reason. That does not mean reason (and evidence, but really we reason to evaluate evidence, so basically we’re talking about reason) doesn’t play an important part. If I presupposed a million dollars in my checking account, reasoning from the evidence of a balance far less than that would prove the presupposition wrong. But that isn’t an ultimate presupposition—something you CAN’T prove so you have to assume. You can, however, reason about other evidence and determine if your presupposition makes sense of what we can observe.

So your highest authority is human reason, and you don’t come to that by evidence. Christians presuppose God as their highest authority, and God cannot ultimate be proven, so we didn’t come to that by evidence either. The atheist’s faith in reason is the same as a theist’s faith in God. The Bible provides a basis for faith in reason: The God therein reasons, and made us in Him image. On atheism, all that exists is basically matter and motion. There is no reasonable basis for reason in that worldview. Everyone reasons because we’re made to use it and on faith assume it works, but Christianity can offer a rational basis for it.

Atheist:

Ok I’ll bite again. It should go without saying that neither of us is a logician, so there is a fairly good chance we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. I’ll give it my best shot though.

“So your highest authority is human reason, and you don’t come to that by evidence.”

Actually, I think we do come to believe in reason through evidence, and I don’t think reason is an authority: Modus ponens (for example) is not just something we take by faith, it is something that has been vindicated time and time again. I’m curious as to what exactly you think reason is. You seem to be under the impression that the laws of logic were handed down from on high, that they were gift-wrapped rather than discovered over time. I think the opposite is true, that we discovered through trial and error which rules of thought work and which don’t. This discovery is ongoing (see the Monte Hall problem, or the sunk cost fallacy). So I think reason isn’t so much an authority as it is a set of observations about which rules work and which ones don’t; it’s a construction. Do you see the difference between what you think I think, and what I really think?

“The atheist’s faith in reason is the same as a theist’s faith in God.”

I have to strongly disagree here. Belief in the effectiveness of reason can be justified by testing the system, but the same cannot be said for faith in God. It should work that way with Christianity. After all, you should be able to move mountains with your faith, but Christians never seem willing to actually test their beliefs.

“The Bible provides a basis for faith in reason: The God therein reasons, and made us in Him [sic] image. On atheism, all that exists is basically matter and motion…but Christianity can offer a rational basis for it.”

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your argument seems to be:
1: God is a being capable of reason.
2: God created man in his image.
3: If God created man in his image, then man is also capable of reason.
4: Therefore, man is capable of reason.

Line 3 seems very shaky to me: the God of the Bible has many qualities that are not given to humans: omniscience /omnipotence /omnibenevolence, the presence of a mind without a physical brain, invisibility, the ability to turn bread or wine into various parts of your body with an incantation…but I digress. I think you’re being a bit greedy in your interpretation of man being created “in God’s image.” If I asked ten people what that meant, I would get ten different answers, and I doubt more than one or two of them would be similar to your take concerning reason. I don’t think you can get to reason through the Bible, and I certainly don’t think the better way to establish the legitimacy of reason is through the Bible. I think you’re presupposing reason and the Bible separately, and if that’s the case then your line about presupposing the Bible to establish reason is bunk, and you’re just presupposing too many things.

Response:

Thanks for the reply! When you justify reason by saying it’s been vindicated time and time again, you are saying that since it has worked a certain way in the past it will always work the same way in the future. This is the “uniformity in nature we all assume before we even begin to make an argument” I mentioned in my first comment. This uniformity is valid at all times and in all known places of the universe, which is why we can make predictions and inferences and do science at all. Most say “That’s just the way it always works,” but that’s no way to explain it.

Bertrand Russell, in The Problems of Philosophy, admits the principal of induction has no foundation in observation/sense experience. He rightly argues that it is ultimately circular reasoning. The principal of uniformity is not a scientific law but an act of faith that you use to undergird scientific law—we presuppose it in order to act on it.

The Bible provides a basis for uniformity in nature: God 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 this for granted, but there is no logical reason for our base assumptions on Atheism.

Thanks for clarifying your view, but I think you are still assuming something so basic that it’s hard for you to see how it is ultimately circular. You say that reason is “discovered”, and that’s true in that we just assume a way of thinking that conclusions follow from the premises. We “discover” ourselves thinking in a way that best makes sense of reality. But it still is valid to ask why, at the foundation of all this, there is a requirement for reason to work that must be assumed. It makes sense that we think in a way that seeks conclusions from the premises because that is the way God’s mind works. If you assume there is no God, then you have to look in vain for an alternative, or really just stop your critical thinking short of analyzing your ultimate principals.

I call human reason the atheist’s ultimate authority because that seems to be what he relies upon to give him answers above all else. We make something our authority if we follow it. If you can think of something else that might be your ultimate authority, please offer it up. It would have to be something that you don’t get to by use of reason. 🙂

Regarding the “omniscience /omnipotence /omnibenevolence” of God, I’m sure you are aware that “omni” means “all.” These divine attributes are only exclusively held by God in their perfect state. In knowledge, God is perfect, but we are limited. In power, God is perfect, but we are limited. In charity, God is perfectly good; we recognize His moral law, an obligation to do good, but are not perfect in that regard either. We have even these characteristics found in an infinite Creator, just in a finite degree.

And we may presuppose reason and the truth of the Bible separately, that’s not a problem. The problem is trying to explain the use of reason without the Bible.

From Circular Reasoning to the Gospel

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Presuppositional apologetics acknowledges that its arguments (and ultimately every argument) are circular. At its most basic and foundational level, every belief is taken on faith. Starting with this fact, here’s how a defense of Christianity might move on to account for the “preconditions of intelligibility” while exposing that contrary worldviews cannot, and then lead into an evangelistic opportunity.

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Skeptic: Any argument for the truth of Christianity is a circular argument. Instead of appealing to reason, you are appealing to your own conclusion as your premise. You are saying the Bible is true because the Bible is true.

Believer: Arguing for the existence of God is a circular argument, that much is true. But any argument for ultimate commitment is circular.

Skeptic: But I argue using reason.

Believer: So do I, but reason is your ultimate commitment. Your defense of reason by reason is circular. You and I both hold to circular arguments in supporting our ultimate commitments. The difference is that Christianity provides a basis for the reason we both use in the argument. The eternal and all-knowing God described in the Bible is a God of reason, who created man in His image. We can reason because God endowed us with it and invites us to use it. But without appealing to God, you can’t account for your use of reason.

Skeptic: I can account for reason by the fact that there is knowledge.

Believer: If the universe is basically matter in motion, how can your worldview account for knowledge? If knowledge is your ultimate commitment, your ultimate authority, then your use of knowledge to explain knowledge is still circular. What can knowledge appeal to? God has a mind and we’re made in His image, according to the Bible. Christians can actually make sense of knowledge.

Skeptic: I don’t have to explain why there is knowledge and reason. There are plenty of phenomenon left for us to discover, but it will be discovered through science, not religion.

Believer: In order to do science, we presuppose predictability and uniformity in nature. Why do you assume that you can expect certain results from experiments based on what happened in the past? There’s no scientific basis for uniformity that other than past experience of uniformity, but the Bible explains uniformity and predictability (for example, see Genesis 8:22).

Skeptic: That is simply a bad explanation. Science is and always has been the right way to figure out the universe.

Believer: When you talk about good and bad and the right and wrong way to do something, you are presupposing universal and objective moral absolutes that determine good and bad, and right and wrong. Moral sensibilities can’t be accounted for on any belief system that excludes a moral law giver. All that can be said is that rightness is justified on the virtue of rightness. (or “Be good because it’s good to be good.”) The God of the Bible is a moral Being, and “good” is a part of His very nature. His moral law is written on the hearts of His creation (Romans 2:15), and He offers a solution for our falling short of the requirements of the law in the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.

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