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Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Intellectual Cowardice behind 'Agnostic Atheists'



For certain questions, the answer seems so obvious they feel ridiculous to ask. Questions like: "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" Or (usually asked after you've rammed into something and are doubled over in pain) did that hurt? The answers for each are pretty evident.

What about the question "How Just how much meat do vegetarians eat?" This question strikes one to be much like the others, with the answer being "None, of course!" But in reality that isn't the case. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that two thirds of those who self-identified as vegetarians ate meat, fish, or poultry on at least one of the two specific days they were polled on.1A Daily Beast article cites other studies with similar findings.2

It may seem bizarre those who eat meat on a semi-regular basis would identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, but as the author of the Daily Beast article, himself a vegan , states: "some vegetarians like the taste of meat, and we sometimes do things we want to do even when we know we shouldn't."3



This is all nonsense. As I've explained before, the term agnostic atheist is self-contradictory. The theist believes in some type of God, the atheist does not believe in some type of God, and the agnostic makes no claim either way; he neither believes nor denies God's existence. His answer is a simple "I don't know." The so-called agnostic atheists try to claim that while the term atheist describes the beliefs of a person, the term agnostic describes the knowledge claim of the person. They do this by abusing the term agnostic by breaking it down to its Greek gnosis which translates into the English knowledge. I've explained all of this in my article.

I bring this up to prove a point; sometimes people will use labels for themselves that are not true to reality but as a way of expressing what they would like the facts to be. That's what I'm finding with a relatively recent movement with the atheist community. Within the last five years or so there has been a growing number of people who define themselves as "agnostic atheists." They claim to be agnostic in that they don't know if a God exists but an atheist because they don't believe a God exists. They even use cute little drawings to demonstrate their point.

Dodging the Need to Support a Belief

So, why would atheists begin to try and change the meaning of agnosticism and atheism to be somehow compatible? What is the advantage? Simply put, the so-called agnostic atheists don't want to bear the burden of proving what they believe. By claiming that they believe in no God but they don't know whether or not He exists, they think they have removed themselves from having to justify their non-belief. "I can lack a belief in God, but I don't claim to have any knowledge of a god or Gods' existence" is the way many would frame it.

Such statements are intellectually cowardly. If anyone claims any kind of believe and also claims he or she has no basis for that belief is to say the belief is entirely ungrounded and may be disregarded. The so-called agnostic atheist will quickly respond "I didn't claim a belief, I said I lacked belief." Ah, but that's a poor attempt at dodging the question. As I argue here, any reasonable aware person understands the concept of God, the concept of ultimate beginnings, and the fact that effects have causes. By claiming to be an atheist, they are negating the claim that God does exist. They aren't neutral but they are saying "I have heard of this concept of God and my belief holds it isn't true." Thus they are making a claim of their own and they need to provide evidence for why they disbelieve the theist's claim.

An intellectually honest person who has no knowledge of something would say he doesn't believe one way or another. For example, I don't follow baseball, so if two baseball fans who disagreed asked me who I think was going to win the World Series next season, I would be agnostic on the question; I have no belief on the subject. But if they both provided me with relevant information and their reasoning, I can make a decision based on that knowledge. It may not be a great decision due to my lack of experience, but I can at least tell them which in my mind is the more likely conclusion based on what I now know. At that point, I am no longer agnostic. I have reasons upon which to base my belief. This is all explained in my article "If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe."

To be a true vegan and shun the consumption of all animal products is really tough. It requires dedication and sacrifice. You can't honestly call yourself a vegan if once a week you indulge in a juicy In-n-Out Double Double. Similarly, the person who uses the term "agnostic atheist" is trying to have it both ways. He or she wants to deny God's existence, but doesn't want to bear any burden for the justification of that disbelief. The so-called agnostic atheist is hoping push all of the work onto the theist. But that isn't reasonable. Any moderately intelligent person understands the concept of God and at least some of the reasons for why people believe he exists. They should have the intellectual honesty to at least stand up for their own non-belief.

References

1. And, Ella H Haddad. " What Do Vegetarians in the United States Eat?" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/626S.full.
2. Chituc, Vlad. "Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/11/why-drunk-vegetarians-eat-meat.html.
3. Chituc, Vlad. 2015.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trusting in Science Alone will Starve Our Ability to Know



Every group has its biases. Enlightenment thinkers believed reason could provide the ultimate answer to all questions. The Victorians stressed common manners and proprieties. Both were helpful in some ways; manners provided a common framework for engaging with large populations pushed together as modern cities developed and reason is an appropriate way to seek understanding. But they shouldn't be practiced to the exclusion of other ways we understand.

Today, the dominant framework most people assume will provide answers and meaning is neither manners nor reason, but science. Atheists and "freethinkers" especially tend to hold to an over-confidence in science as the path to discovering truth. As an example, I wrote an article entitled "Three Intractable Problems for Atheism" where I pointed out that the origin of universe, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness are unexplainable if all that exists is matter following physical laws. One comment I received was "We don't know YET, because we've only just in the past century begun to seriously uncover the origins of the universe. If that day comes, and you don't like the answer, what will the next goalpost be?" What those who respond in such ways never say is why they think that science is even the right discipline to answering these questions at all.

Fingers and Forks

In fact, science will never be able to answer these questions because it isn't designed to do so. Let me offer an example. Early cultures primarily used their fingers to eat their food. They would pick and tear at a piece of meat or tear off a hunk of bread. Even in Jesus's day, this was pretty common. But using your fingers has some drawbacks, too. If your hands are dirty, they can contaminate the food. You can't touch things that are too hot, and the buildup of greasy food on your hands means you'll need to wash after a meal.

That's why the fork is such a great invention. It solves health issues that accompany eating only with one's fingers. But it does more than that. It allows one to keep an item from moving so it can be cut, adjusting the size of your bite to fit you individually. It skewers smaller food items, like individual beans, that would be hard to grasp with your hands. It also reflects proper manners, providing a symbol of separation from animals.

Forks have given human beings a great step forward in our culinary history, allowing us to eat in ways we couldn't have without it. However, if the chef places a bowl of tomato soup in front of me, the fork is no longer useful. The benefits that the fork conveys when consuming solid food are the very reason it fails when applied to liquids. To close the tines of the fork so it may hold liquid would rob the fork of its unique abilities to skewer other foods. I need a different tool.

Now imagine a person from "the fork is the only way to true nourishment" camp who seeks to eat the soup with his fork. He tries to eat the soup and quickly becomes frustrated. He can dip his utensil inn the soup for a long, long, time. He'll never get all the soup and probably burn more calories than he consumes trying. At this result, he may then conclude that soup isn't really food at all.

Choosing the Right Utensil When Searching for Truth

Science is like a fork in humanity's quest for knowledge. It can do a lot of things. It has improved our health and allowed us to create new polymers. It has shown us facts about the material universe and its laws. But from where that universe and its laws originate, science cannot answer because it simply isn't designed to do so. It cannot tell us about things like consciousness since consciousness is immaterial.

When pressed, atheists usually try to escape their dilemma in one of two ways: they either claim science will get there eventually (what I call a Science of the Gaps argument). But that's just wishful thinking and as they seriously consider what human consciousness entails—things like the capacity for free will on a purely materialist framework—they begin to deny things like consciousness and free will are real.

Science, like a fork, is useful in the hand of humanity. It can serve us well as we seek to cut into the mysteries of the universe and digest what we discover there. However, it shouldn't be the only tool on the table. To ignore other ways of consuming knowledge is to limit not expand our intellectual palate.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Using Public Funds to Establish Atheist Beliefs



What counts as state-sponsored indoctrination? That's a question that has increasingly come under examination, especially with regard to the establishment of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise." The amendment limits the power of the Federal government from creating or giving favor to a specific religious entity or belief system.

Atheist advocacy groups have taken the first portion of that statement, known as the establishment clause, and interpreted it very broadly. Organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Americans for the Separation of Church and State continue to file lawsuits against cities or public agencies for displaying crosses on hilltops or Nativity scenes at Christmas. They complain that these displays amount to an endorsement of one kind of viewpoint, and since their content is religious it violates the establishment clause.

Such charges have followed into even the public school system, where attempts to teach the problems with neo-Darwinian evolutionary models have been shut down. Neo-Darwinism has at its core unguided and purposeless changes in the genome, which are then established and propagated through natural selection. If one were to challenge this viewpoint, one must presuppose some kind of non-purposeless process; we call such causes intelligent and the challenging idea is labeled intelligent design.

Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. While intelligent design does not support any specific religion itself, these groups feel that any school district teaching intelligent design is using a public institution supported by tax dollars to advance a particular religious view. They claim this violates the First Amendment's Establishment clause.

The most well-known of these challenges was the high-profile Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board trial, where this line of reasoning was used extensively. Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. An article in Time magazine summarized their charge well, saying "intelligent design is inherently religious since it relies on a supernatural creative force, which cannot be tested or proven by scientific experiments."1

Geese and Ganders

Here's the thing in all of this, it is impossible to take a position and not use public agencies or public tax money to thrust some kind of belief system upon others. If one holds that displaying a Nativity scene or a cross on a mountaintop advocates for a specific religious position, then demanding the public schools teach that there is no God who took part in the origin or the development of life also advocates for a specific religious position, namely the position that any belief system holding a contrary view is wrong. If affirming a religious claim violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, then demanding a denial of that claim does so as well, for the subject of the claim is religious in both instances.

So, how is it the public schools are leveraged and my tax dollars are spent on actively advocating for a no-God position regarding life and this isn't also violating the Establishment clause? If any kind of intelligent agency proposal is banned, then there is a clear bias towards a non-belief in God presented in the instruction.  It seems to me those who complain about religious messages being offered through public agencies aren't worried at all when the message is the one they wish to communicate, only when it is one with which they disagree. That is the kind of position the First Amendment was meant to guard against.

References

1. Scully, Sean. "'Breathtaking Inanity': How Intelligent Design Flunked Its Test Case." Time. Time Inc., 20 Dec. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What if Morality was Based on Empiricism instead of Christianity?



The Western world is what it is because of the enormous influence of Christianity. Without a Christian understanding of human beings as those who bear the image of God, our society would be a far different place.

However, atheists have been pretty vocal in their contention that a society based on empirical mortality and not Christian values would be better for humanity. Neil deGrasse Tyson has recently advocated for such a virtual society he named "Rationalia." Tyson's proposal is problematic on many grounds, but he isn't the only one advocating for such a world.

New Atheist Sam Harris doesn't believe a Christian worldview is necessary to ground moral principles, either. In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris tries to argue for a secularly based moral framework. He believes that values and morality "translate into facts that can be scientifically understood: regarding negative social emotions, retributive impulses, the effects of specific laws and social institutions on human relationships, the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, etc. The most important of these facts are bound to transcend culture—just as facts about physical and mental health do."1

Viewing People through Empirical Lenses

Is Harris right? What would happen if a thoughtful, advanced culture viewed individuals through only an empirical framework? Physical and mental health states, as Harris mentions above, would feed into the value society places upon those individuals. This isn't speculation; we have a couple of good examples to show how this happens.

Along with Christianity, ancient Greek thought has significantly shaped western culture. At its zenith, Greece was one of the most advanced civilizations the world has ever seen and its philosophers continue to impact how we understand our world. Aristotle sought to scientifically categorize the various relationships between people in his On Politics. There, he begins

As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.2

Aristotle then goes on to systematically build his case. There are different kinds of communities to which we all belong: households/families, villages, city-states. He also notes there are also two kinds of necessary relationships for the human species to survive: the male-female relationship, which is necessary for the propagation of the species, and the ruler-servant relationship. Of the second, Aristotle's observations lead him to conclude that some people are naturally predisposed to be slaves of other, more capable men:
But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.3
When reading Aristotle's reasoning, one can see how systematically it moves from empirical observation through reason to its conclusions. Certain people are not smart, or not capable of leadership, or they don't measure up in any one of a myriad of ways. To Aristotle, it makes sense that those individuals are naturally predisposed to be the servants of others—the Gammas and Deltas of Huxley's Brave New World.

Darwinian Theory Leads down a Similar Road

But many people would dismiss this example as an argument against a "scientific approach" to morality simply because it's old. They may be tempted to say something like "We've learned so much in 2500 years, no one would come to such conclusions today." Yet, the modern eugenics movement, based on Darwinian evolutionary theory, took the United States by storm, classifying certain people as less worthy to reproduce. This even led to a Supreme Court case where the Court upheld the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck. Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. famously ordered Buck's sterilization concluding:
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.4
Adding to this, just two years ago famous atheist Richard Dawkins held that for a pregnant woman who has discovered her unborn baby has Down's Syndrome, morality means killing the child:
For what it's worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do. I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare.5
Each of these positions begin with a natural or empirical understanding of human beings. They measure people based on their output. But Christianity holds there is more to a person than his or her observable advantages for each one bears the image of God, which gives each one transcendent value. What other rational basis can one offer for holding that all people, even those with mental disabilities, hold inherent worth? There is no empirical measurement that makes us otherwise equal and at that point Aristotle and Dawkins may well be right.

What would a society without Christianity look like? It looks pretty scary indeed.

References

1. Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print. 1-2.
2. Aristotle. "Politics." The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 2001. Print. 1127.
3. Aristotle, Pol. 1132.
4. Russell, Thomas D. "BUCK v. BELL, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded, 274 U.S. 200 (1927)." American Legal History – Russell. 18 November 2009. Web. June 24, 2013. http://www.houseofrussell.com/legalhistory/alh/docs/buckvbell.htm.
5. Dawkins, Richard. "Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar." Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Richard Dawkins Foundation, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2016. https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/abortion-down-syndrome-an-apology-for-letting-slip-the-dogs-of-twitterwar/
Image courtesy Wellcome Library, London and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 [CC BY 4.0] license.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Irrational Faith of the Naturalist



Does man have an immaterial soul or is nature and the material world all there is? Atheists deny the existence of the supernatural, but they also tend to believe there is no fundamental immaterial substance to human beings, either. All our thoughts, feelings, and existence could be reduced to physical states like chemical reactions or electrical impulses. We call this belief philosophical naturalism as the person who holds it believes the natural world is all there is.

One of the greatest problems the naturalist faces is how to account for the fact that human beings are conscious creatures. We can think abstractly and conceive ideas. While many have attempted to explain the evolutionary biological development of man, no one seems able to offer any explanation of the evolution of consciousness, as Richard Swinburne has noted. They just assume that consciousness will pop into existence if the body is complex enough. But how is that science?

J.P. Moreland, in his book The Recalcitrant Imago Dei underscores the problem:
Prior to the emergence of consciousness, the universe contained nothing but aggregates of particles/waves standing in fields of forces relative to each other. The story of the development of the cosmos is told in terms of the rearrangement of micro-parts into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law. On a naturalist depiction of matter, it is brute mechanical, physical stuff. The emergence of consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing. In general, physio-chemical reactions do not generate consciousness not even one little bit, but they do in the brain, yet brains seem similar to other parts of organisms' bodies (e.g., both are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like heterogeneous rupture in the natural world. Similarly, physical states have spatial extension and location but mental states seem to lack spatial features. Space and consciousness sit oddly together. How did spatially arranged matter conspire to produce non-spatial mental states? From a naturalist point of view, this seems utterly inexplicable.1
Thomas Nagel has also complained that naturalists are shirking their responsibility in assuming the appearance of consciousness. Although Nagel is an atheist, he also recognized consciousness is something fundamentally different than physical reactions which can be explained in materialist terms. In other words, your mind is not your brain. He concluded any account of consciousness on natural grounds alone would fail, writing "since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth."2

Evolutionists and naturalists have left a gaping hole in their theories. The retort of "we'll find it; we just haven't yet" is akin to a man telling the IRS "I know I owe you money, but I'm going to win the lottery soon and when I do, I can pay you." It's another of those science-of-the-gaps claims. But the naturalist isn't even playing the right lottery as he keeps taking his chance betting on material items when the lottery is being played with immaterial numbers.

There's no avoiding the problem of consciousness for the naturalist. Any science that continues to assume one can get something from nothing isn't explaining anything; it's simply a statement of faith. And it's the most irrational kind of faith at that. Christians don't even believe that we can get a something from a nothing. We at least start with God.

References

1. Moreland, J.P. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. (London: SCM Press, 2009). 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 45. Print

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is Rejecting God a Sign of Rationality or Resentment?



It is natural to believe in God. The vast majority of people throughout most of history and across all cultures have had some kind of belief in the divine. Yet, atheism and agnosticism seem to be on the rise, especially in Western culture. What motivations are causing more and more people to dismiss God as a real option? Is it really a mark of rationality to dismiss the idea of God?

Many atheists I speak with will say that they've come to the conclusion there is no God simply from rational reflection. This is a possibility, but it begs the question as to why throughout the annals of history where we have the writings of so many highly rational people, there haven't been more atheists. It also doesn't explain all the rational people today who do believe in God. Finally, it sounds a bit pretentious to say that one can turn off one's experiences, feelings, and biases and use reason alone to come to such a profound conclusion.

In his book Faith of the Fatherless, Paul C. Vitz claims that people reject God for willful reasons as much as rational ones. Vitz sees their unbelief rooted in part or in whole on their will and attitudes of who God is and how they perceive him. He explains:
Some people reject God and religion because of the awful things that have sometimes been done in the name of God or religion. This unbelief has a basis in reality and can be quite rational. Believers have debated these criticisms, but these criticisms certainly cannot be rejected out of hand. Others reject God and religion because of experiences with pain and suffering or because all they know are very simple-minded teachings about Scripture. Such responses for the unbeliever in question are not irrational, but from the perspective of a serious believer such responses are unjustified by a deeper understanding of the issues.

But, sometimes the various arguments about bad religion disguise or cover up a deeper reason for rejecting God and religion. Some people have an intense hatred and fear of the Good, of the True, and of the Beautiful. All of these are attributed to God and are rather often found in holy, religious people. But why would anyone have such motives? How can this be? Such individuals resent goodness because by comparison they know they are not good, perhaps even quite bad; they resent truth because they prefer lies over the restrictions that follow accepting truth. Many even prefer their own ugliness to others who present or create beauty. They take pleasure in destroying or deconstructing what is good or beautiful or true out of envy and personal resentment.

Finally, there is a most important personal factor, which is perhaps best described as free will. After all, the individual, whatever the cultural and personal pressures favoring or opposing atheism, must ultimately decide which way to go. At any given moment, or at least at many times, every person can choose to move toward, away from, or against God.1
In my experience, factors of resentment and will powerfully motivate a lot of atheists in their unbelief. It explains so many visceral reactions I've encountered with unbelievers who don't simply disbelieve in a divinity, but seem to actually hate the Christian God.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is an atheist, succinctly summarizes the problem in discussing his own non-belief. After drawing distinctions about rejecting religious beliefs and institutions, Nagel confesses it isn't these things that alarm him about atheism:
I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.2
Nagel himself admits it isn't only rationality that undergirds his  atheism. He is honest enough to say he has some emotional motivation as well. He doesn't want there to be a God to whom he is answerable.

To be sure, Christians can believe in God for opposite but reflective motivations. It may not be rationally based reasons why they came to faith but a desire to satisfy an emotional relationship. The rational justification of belief may come afterward. But labeling non-believers as "free thinkers," "brights," or "rationalists" is disingenuous as it is clear non-belief can easily have its origins in emotion and bias.

References

1. Vitz, Paul C. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Dallas: Spence Pub., 1999. Kindle. (Kindle Locations 2351-2358).
2 Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print. 130.
Image courtesy Bradley Gordon and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, June 06, 2016

For the Naturalist, Why Die for an Idea?



I'm writing this blog post on June 6, which is 72 years to the day that the Allied forces, led by the United States, invaded the beaches of Normandy, France. By all accounts, the Allied invasion proved to be the decisive turning point in the war, giving the Allies the upper hand. It also proved to be one of the costliest in terms of casualties with 2,500 Americans dying in the initial invasion, and most of those at Omaha beach. The British and Canadian troops saw about 1900 fatalities.1

It was no surprise that the invasion of a German stronghold would inflict heavy casualties. That's one reason why the invasion force was so large; the Allies knew they would lose a lot of men. But, why would those men—most of whom were less than 20 years old and had their entire lives ahead of them—assent to participate in something with such a high chance of death? How does this benefit them? Wouldn't being alive be better, even if it was alive with a dishonorable discharge or perhaps spending a few years in a military prison?

Freedom is the most common response given for the sacrifice made by these brave men. Both the veterans who survived the invasion and those who remember their deeds say they sacrificed their lives to allow others to live freely. Denis van den Brink, communications officer of the city of Carentan, France, a city that was an immediate beneficiary of the Allied efforts, put it well:
The allied army, more specifically, the American Army, they came to liberate, not to conquer. That's what it says in the Coleville cemetery, where 10,000 Americans are resting forever. That says it all, for the very first time in the history of mankind, they came to fight, die, win, victory, and then go home. That's the one and only example in the history of mankind and we had all these foreign Soldiers coming and dying and to fight for our land and then to free our land and then instead of staying they just went away. 2

How Does a Naturalist View of Life Make Sense of This?

The heroism of the soldiers at Normandy is beyond doubt. It is recognized by the theist and the atheist alike and I don't doubt the sincerity of either. However, how does a worldview such as naturalism make sense of fighting and dying for someone else for the sake of an idea? How does upholding the value of liberty, especially for a people you don't even know, become more valuable than life itself on a purely evolutionary paradigm? Why would freedom be so important?

I've heard some atheists try to explain away this difficulty by saying it is simply the law of reciprocity in action. You wouldn't want to be enslaved, so you act as you would have others act if you were the subjugated. I've shown why this claim fails before. If we evolved a sense of reciprocity, it may not benefit our survivability but it may in fact increase the number of individuals who die because they place themselves in life-threatening situations just because they see another person in a life-threatening situation. It would be very easy to see how such an instinct would lower then subsequent populations instead of bolstering them. And on a side note, it sure seems like such an instinct is pretty repressed especially when one considers experiments where witnesses do nothing other than watch when a person is being victimized.

Of course, the second question one must ask is by what criteria does one measure whether ideas such as freedom and liberty are truly valuable at all? As I said above, wouldn't survival be better? If the primary driving force for the advancement of human beings is their evolutionary growth, then they must be able to survive and reproduce. That would means survivability would be the highest moral calling, not massive self-sacrifice for an abstract concept like liberty. But we place ideas like freedom, liberty, and self-sacrifice above survival. Why? Who says these should be valued more highly? Where did that idea come from and how does it integrate within a naturalist worldview?

The sacrifices of D-Day can teach us much. It provides a stark contrast between human beings as rational, moral beings, and all other animals, whose highest motivation is only to survive. It shows that humans are different in kind and not simply by degree. And it shows there are values that naturalism cannot explain. I for one thank God for those who provided that sacrifice, and it makes me more confident that there is a God to thank.

References

1. Phipps, John. "Cost of the Battle." D-Day Revisited. D-Day Revisited, 2012. Web. 06 June 2016.
2. Mack, Christa. "72nd D-Day Liberation of Normandy Observed." www.army.mil. United States Army, 6 June 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Confusion of Atheistic Moral Grounding



Is morality evidence for the existence of God? At first blush, the answer seems to be no. Certainly there are many moral people who don't believe in any kind of God just as there are people who are strong believers, yet perform some of the most vile, immoral acts. Christopher Hitchens famously dared believers "to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion." This is usually the way such exchanges progress.

But framing the debate in such a manner makes two fundamental mistakes: it begs the primary question while creating a biased set of assumptions. We can look at each of these in turn.

Atheists Acting Morally Begs the Question of Moral Grounding

It doesn't seem to be a grand claim to say human beings are built to be moral beings. By that I mean the vast majority of humanity is inherently sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong, even if their understanding of what constitutes right and wrong are debated. The quip that the young cannibal is still instructed by his mother to clean his plate demonstrates this. It is human to understand actions can have moral implications.

The problem comes in when we begin asking "how do we know which actions are moral and which are not?" What is the "thing" that moral actions share but is missing from immoral ones? It cannot be something as simple as  survivability, for there are many scenarios where people have freely chosen to die for a moral cause. Take abortion, for example. Certainly, if  survivability is the only guideline, then abortion clearly diminishes the survival function of the species and is thus immoral.

This is worse if the natural world is all there is, for we never claim rape or murder for a male lion seizing a female to copulate or a black widow eating her mate.

When one claims that God is necessary for morality to be real, he is not claiming no one can act in ways recognized by a society as moral if they don't believe in God. Rather, he is asking what grounds choices as right or wrong intrinsically? What is the fundamental thing that anchors right and wrong? What is it that stands above and beyond all human beings and even all nature that is at the core of morality? Morals must transcend nature to be prescriptive. What is it on an atheistic worldview that does this transcending?

Slipping in Moral Assumptions

One possible counter by non-theists would be it isn't something as crude as  survivability only that grounds morality. One must consider human flourishing, the quality of life we would experience if we deemed immoral acts moral. But such a move doesn't help them in their quest, for terms like flourishing are loaded with moral implication. To flourish beyond  survivability means to advance toward some goal. What is the goal to which we are advancing and why should human beings objectively be the ones to advance? They say cockroaches will be the only ones left after a nuclear war; perhaps homo sapiens have had their run and it's time for the cockroaches to take a turn.

To claim that one's quality of life is the judge or that morals evolve from a concept of reciprocity ("I wouldn't like it if someone did that to me so we shouldn't do it to them") falls into the same trap. Why does it matter whether you like it or not? There's a big difference between preferences and the oughtness of moral values and duties. Moral quandaries are not about what one likes or doesn't like. Situations like the Heinz dilemma show just how problematic these become.

By appealing to one's actions ("I act morally"), to survivability, or to reciprocity, the central question of moral grounding remains unanswered.  None of these responses nail down the foundation of morality; they never answer what makes moral values different than preference or cultural convention. Of course, one could hold that there is no other moral grounding, making objective morality a useful fiction. But if morality isn't real, then no one is really moral at all, including the atheist. It seems the only coherent foundation allowing morals to be real is a transcendent God.
Image courtesy Dean Hochman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Atheists Admit Their Disbelief Linked to Emotional Discomfort


Recently, I was on a college campus as a young atheist asked what I thought was the cause behind the growth in the number of people, especially young people, who don't identify as any particular religion. I answered that it is a pretty big question and I think the reasons are varied and diverse as the group to which he was referring. He didn't seem satisfied with that answer.

My young interlocutor may have believed that nonreligious belief is on the increase because human beings are less gullible than in past generations and more willing to believe science can explain the world better than religion. It seems to be a common assumption with those I engage online, even though science cannot banish God. But even if atheists mistakenly assume science can somehow disprove God, this isn't the real basis for their atheism.

Two new studies by the American Psychological Association confirm that disbelief in God for a significant percentage of atheists is not due to dispassionate reasoning, but the effect of emotional or relational discomfort with what they perceived God to be. According to an article in Psychology Today, which summarized the findings, "54% of self-reported atheists indicated some relational and emotional reasons for nonbelief. In the second study, 72% of 429 American adults who expressed some level of atheism or agnosticism endorsed similar reasons."1 Those are pretty high percentages of self-described atheists who admit to an emotional or psychological component contributing to their disbelief.

As the article notes, this isn't a new revelation. Previous studies have shown that atheists have negative feelings toward their conception of God2 and those emotions play a part in their being atheists. Dr. Paul C. Vitz in his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism explored the link between what Vitz calls "interpersonal trauma with attachment insecurity" of atheists in history. He sees a link between disbelief on God and defective fathers in the lives of atheists, along with other factors.

What Atheists Themselves Say 

The interesting thing in these studies is that the findings are not a result of third party inference, but the admission of atheists themselves. It's nearly three quarters of atheists who are admitting an emotional reason as contributing to their atheism. Those numbers may be higher in actuality as self-reporting usually leads to lower than actual results. Some people may not realize certain emotional motivations and others may not want to admit to them. Regardless, the two studies referenced report the majority of atheists who participated do indeed have emotional reasons for not wanting God as they understand him to exist.

The reason all of this is important is a practical one. Just as dispassionate reasoning alone doesn't usually account for one's disbelief, it follows that dispassionate reasoning alone will only go so far in helping one believe in the God of the universe. As human beings, we are relational creatures. That's part of how we reflect God's image. If you're a master at facts and argumentation in defending the faith but you don't bother to get to know the person, you aren't going to be very effective. People are people and all want to feel like individuals who hold worth. That includes nonbelievers. Don't lead off conversations with your best arguments. Get to know one another. Build relationships. Show them real care and you may find a real person who's willing to share real hurts. Only then will they be really ready to listen.

References

1. Tix, Andy, PhD. "The New Psychology of Atheism." Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
2. Bradley, David F., Julie J. Exline, and Alex Uzdavines. "The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God." Science, Religion and Culture SRC 2.3 (2015): 120-30. Web.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Doesn't God Prove He Exists? Because It Wouldn't Help Disbelief



One of the more popular questions that atheists ask is "Why does God make it so difficult to believe in Him? If he would just give us some proof he exists, I'd believe." I've heard such statements many times, but I don't think their claim is true. I think the atheists are misstating their case in what devotion to a real God means. They fail to understand the stubbornness of the human heart and the animosity the natural man holds against God.

One way to better understand how people in the real world react to a righteous and holy God, we can simply look to the past. For argument's sake, let's assume the stories of the Israel's deliverance from Egypt are true. There, God does a series of miracles to free the Israelites from their slavery and set them in a promised land. These are not run of the mill miracles, either, but show-stopping affairs. God dried up the Red Sea and then drowned the Egyptian army in that same sea. He provided both meat in a desert and manna with the dew each morning. He cleansed the bitter waters and also produced water from the rock at Meribah. He led them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God gave as much evidence as one could possibly want to the Israelites.

Ignoring Evidence is a Very Human Thing to Do

One would think such grandstanding would make believing in Yahweh a slam-dunk, right? Unfortunately, no. Even though the Israelites were direct witnesses to some of the most obvious proofs of God's existence, it did not stifle their desire to abandon God and do what they pleased. The psalmist summarizes the reaction of the people in Psalm 106. Time after time, they disobey God, they don't trust God, or they turn to foreign gods. God's provision of proof didn't make the Israelites more faithful; it simply highlighted how selfish and demanding their hearts were. Nothing other than getting everything they wanted at the time they wanted it would do.

When I read the accounts of the ancient Israelites, I find their reaction to be completely human and believable. Even if you're an atheist who doesn't hold to the historicity of the accounts, you must admit that stubborn rejection of proof is a real possibility. In fact, this scenario is more probable than not. That's why people still start smoking cigarettes regardless of how big the Surgeon General's warnings appear on the package. No one is saying, "Why didn't anyone provide proof that cigarettes cause cancer?" They all know it does, but their desire trumps the evidence. The proof doesn't matter.

The resurrection of Jesus is a really good example of just how this plays out in the question of God's existence. We have as much evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus as we do any event in ancient history. If Jesus rose from the dead, then it provides evidence that God exists. There is compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, there is evidence that God exists. However, atheists will contort, excuse, deny the resurrection as not evidence, or even deny that Jesus ever lived at all (!) because they don't like the conclusion. They won't use the same standard to measure the resurrection as they would other acts of ancient history.

Thomas Nagel is a famous atheist philosopher who admits that modern materialist explanations of the emergence of consciousness fail. In his book The Last Word, he made a very honest statement about his lack of belief in God. Nagel wrote:
In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.1
I think most people would agree. While many people form an idea of God that comports to their view of the world, most don't want to be beholden to a holy, righteous God that tells them the things they want to do are not good and they shouldn't do them. As long as that is fundamental to the human condition, proof of God's existence will never suffice to change their minds. It can always be explained away.

References

1. Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print. 130.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Banning God from Government isn't Neutral



At the last Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, atheist groups plan on holding a demonstration entitled "Keep Your Theocracy Out of Our Democracy." According to a press release by the Coalition of Reason, the event is a way of "demanding a separation of religion from government" as well as "to raise the visibility of the voice of non-theistic voters and the issues that they care about."1 ;The theme of separation of church and state plays prominently in the press release and will do so at the event as well.

The theme of; Eastern Iowa COR spokesman Rocky Gissler summed up, "An elected government official takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that applies to all citizens, and their 'sincerely-held beliefs' should not supersede the supreme law of this country. When religious bias is allowed to influence our laws, it can result not only in discriminatory actions toward whole groups of people, such as the LGBTQ community, but grievous harm to individuals."

The complaint that religious belief should have no influence on governmental decision-making is a recurring one among atheist groups today. That's exactly what the title of this protest communicates. I also just wrote about how atheist Justin Scott has been quizzing the various candidates on whether they plan to cater to atheist values and telling Marco Rubio "there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief." When engaging with Mike Huckabee, Huckabee asked Scott whether he thought the public schools should be anti-religious. Scott's reply is telling. He said, "Not anti-religious. I believe there's value in teaching religion in terms of history, in terms of literature, but not in terms of 'This is truth.'"

Secularism Makes Truth-Claims about the World

What Gissler, Scott, and others like them fail to realize is the sentiment of holding religion as an untruth is not taking a neutral position. There's a big assumption that because something may be classified as secular it is unbiased, but that simply doesn't follow. For example, Gissler's statement above takes a particular moral stance on the same-sex marriage debate. He is allowing his secularism to inform him of what legislation he deems appropriate and which legislation he deems discriminatory.

When one looks at education, we can find the same trend. To teach evolution as the dominant explanation for the diversity of life on the earth is understandable in a science class. However, by labeling evolution as "secular" and any and all competition theories as "religious," an inherent bias is set up. That's problematic, because neo-Darwinism needs to be falsifiable to be a scientifically solid explanatory theory. ;But what would the parameters of what falsification look like? Instead of blind natural processes, diversity would require some kind of purposeful creator. Atheist claim this is forbidden.

The preference of atheists to assert secularism over other types of beliefs are clear. Atheists demand that none of their tax dollars goes to anything even remotely resembling faith. Nativity scenes, crosses existing on public lands, and even food pantries for the poor have all been targeted by atheist groups who hate any association of tax dollars with even the hint of a theistic belief system. But what about Christians who are supposed to support secular programs in schools to the exclusion of their beliefs? Why should only those who make the claim "God does not exist" get the free ride? That's what the protesters are really demanding; they want their beliefs to be the only ones in government. But our government is founded upon the belief that it is God who gives us certain rights . Take God away and all those rights the atheists are demanding fold like a house of cards.

Demanding Freedom or Oppression?

It's easy to try and play off secularism as a neutral position, but secularism isn't neutral. It stands opposed to most religious belief systems. If our country is truly going to be a free one, then its citizens must be able to draw upon their first freedom of the free exercise of religion. We must be able to exercise that freedom in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the voting booth. And those whom we elect should be able to exercise their beliefs and draw upon those beliefs to inform their views while in office. Anything less is demanding as oppressive a government as the one our Founders fled.

References

1. "Godless Expression of Free Speech from Atheist Voters at Final GOP Debate." Uniterdcor.org. United Coalition of Reason. 26 Jan 2016. Web. 28 Jan 2016. http://unitedcor.org/godless-expression-of-free-speech-from-atheist-voters-at-final-gop-debate/

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Do Religious Candidates Pose a Threat for Atheist Voters?

It's an election year in the United States and presidential candidates have been stumping for votes across the country. Most have been holding various town hall meetings where they could meet with voters and answer their questions or concerns. Interestingly, one YouTube vlogger named Justin Scott has been attending some of the meetings as a representative of the atheist community. Here's how Scott approached Republican candidate Marco Rubio with his question:
I'm an atheist voter. I represent millions of atheists and non-theists around the country, one of the fastest growing voter blocs and you said earlier that you want to stand up for religious freedom and all of that. My question is for atheist voters that are looking for somebody that will uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group.

I just noticed your recent ad. It mentioned nothing about policy, it mentioned nothing about ideas. It simply talked about wanting us to follow faith and find God and go to heaven and things like that, which is fine for those people that align with you.

My question is how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists. You know, there's, there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief, so I'm curious your thoughts.
Notice the core of Scott's question. He states atheist voters are looking for a candidate to "uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group." He then asks Rubio "how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists."

Scott's line of questioning is strange. Must the president of the United States focus on non-theists in order to uphold their rights? If that's true, then he must also focus on every group of every religious persuasion, a daunting process in a widely diverse country of 330 million people. Scott also includes a couple of ad hominems in his question, using the label "pastor-in-chief" and implying Rubio may be pandering to a certain religious group.

Notice, there are no specifics tied to his concerns. He doesn't point to any legislation Rubio sponsored that violates the First Amendment rights of non-believers. He offers no specific instances where Rubio personally showed animus towards non-believers and Rubio does a great job of answering Scott by pointing to the First Amendment. (You can watch the entire exchange here.)

Scott's similar question to Mike Huckabee offers more illumination on Scott's concern:
I'm an atheist, and I feel as if the Republican Party lately is hell-bent on tearing down separation of church and state. I want to know your thoughts on that. I also want to know why should I vote for you. Why should millions of atheists around the country support a candidate that has made comments like you've made about us?
At this point, Huckabee asks Scott "What have I made about you?" Scott again dodges any specific charges, simply offering a generalized caricature of the comments as "they haven't been pretty." Huckabee answers he would in fact uphold the First Amendment and how if guarantees Scott and any other non-believers "to be atheists as much as it guarantees me the right to be a Christian, or somebody else the right to be a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, or Buddhist." Huckabee is right here. The separation clause of the First Amendment simply says the Federal Government cannot compel any religious belief or non-belief upon its citizenry.

One point Scott seems to miss here is being a passionate believer about one's particular faith is not a disqualifier for office, even the office of president. If one holds to Christianity, that doesn't simply mean the person attends Sunday church. It means the Christian worldview will shape his or her understanding of all reality. That's protected by the very First Amendment that also protects Scott's view of reality.

Because Scott can't seem to offer specifics of where the candidates demonstrate a predilection to abridge the rights of non-believers and cannot even name exactly which rights he means, his question strikes me as pandering. He's unjustifiably biasing a candidate solely on their religious views. Thus, Scott really fails to add any substance to the discussion on the candidates and how non-believers will fare under their leadership.

Tomorrow, I will explore a bit more of Scott's comments and specifically his concern with religion in schools. But for now, the lack of detail should be more troubling for those who are cheering Scott on than for any of the candidates.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does "We Believe as We Are Taught" Explain Christianity's Popularity?



The vast majority of people across the globe believe in some type of deity. However, much has been made of recent polls showing that in western nations such as Europe and the United States there is a growing number of people who do not believe in God. One recent article pointed to a poll of Icelanders that claimed no Icelander under the age of 25 believes God created the world. 1 Given the fact the poll was conducted by an atheist group and they also found 42% of those that same 25 and younger set identified as Christian, I would question the poll's methodology before making the grandiose claim of 0.0%.

But the desire of those like the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association to trumpet how more and more people are disbelieving God raises another issue. What are they trying to say? How does the fact we see some growth in the number of atheists and agnostics correlate with that is true and what is not? Certainly, such an argument would be counter-intuitive for the atheist. If truth was found by percentages, then the theists' numbers provide overwhelming evidence for God's existence.

Usually, atheists don't argue that point. They take the tact that religious beliefs are held because they are taught or caught like a virus. Richard Carrier claims "The most fundamental reason for the persistence of religious belief is the very simple fact that we believe as we are taught." 2 Atheists sometimes make the related argument that goes something along the lines of, "If you were born in Afghanistan, you'd be arguing for Allah's existence right now!"

However, there are several problems with this claim. We can look at least three:

1. It Commits the Genetic Fallacy

Just because we're taught something doesn't make it wrong. We believe other things, like molecules are comprised from atoms. We hold to that belief without having to do our own experiments. Even counter-intuitive beliefs like how quantum particles behave as if they know we're going to look at them before we do in double-slit experiments. Even if my fourth grade teacher was a crook and a liar, does that mean I shouldn't believe Father Serra was responsible for building the California Missions? There are a whole host of things people believe because they are taught. One cannot dismiss the belief simply by questioning the source.

2. Christianity's History Shows the Opposite

While it's true that some people will accept their faith system without question, it doesn't mean this was the way the faith system itself grew. Islam has a history of conquest and pressing its belief system onto subjugated groups. Christianity, however, grew differently. Christians for 2000 years have been going into places where people believed something else and converting them. Although a group such as the Greeks or the Irish or the Romans held to a particular belief system, one that they were taught, they converted to Christianity freely because they were presented with the truth of the Gospel. They changed their beliefs, even though it many times meant more danger and persecution.

3. Atheists Will Abandon Their Beliefs Today

Finally, there are beliefs that are abandoned as unsupportable EVEN THOUGH we've been taught them. Most every adult I know was taught that Santa Claus existed as a child, but I know of not a single individual who has remained committed to that belief. I certainly have never heard of an individual who grew up not believing in Santa Clause but decided at 35 Santa was real!

However, I know many very reasonable people who grew up atheist but as an adult abandoned atheism for Christianity. C.S. Lewis is one example. In countries like Afghanistan today, people are converting to Christianity though they were taught Islam and the punishment of apostasy is death. Ravi Zacharias was born in India, but he isn't arguing for Hinduism.

The claim that religion succeeds because of mental laziness is itself as lazy claim. It's also one that turns on itself; I could use the same concept to argue that the increase in non-belief isn't because of thoughtful reflection, but it is simply a reaction to what atheistic teachers are telling young people in colleges. In order to determine the truth about God, we mustn't look to polls. We need to investigate the truth claims each offers.

References

1. Staff. "0.0% of Icelanders 25 Years or Younger Believe God Created the World, New Poll Reveals." Iceland Magazine. Imag Ehf., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/00-icelanders-25-years-or-younger-believe-god-created-world-new-poll-reveals.
2. Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. Print. 261.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Need an End Game for the Origin of Life



Antony Flew was one of the more formidable philosophers who argued against Christian theism over the course of his career. Flew was intelligent, a powerful writer but fair in his argumentation. But he never let his ideology get in the way of his investigation. As he said, "My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato's Socrates: 'We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'" 1

Even as an "areligious unbeliever" philosopher, Flew had become more and more bothered by certain inherent problems associated with the neo-Darwinist conception of evolution. Primarily, Flew was concerned about the origin of life, or as the question he later asks in his book, "How did life go live?" Even prior to his announcement that he was renouncing atheism and identifying as a theist, he wrote:
Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin's friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism. 2

The End Goal of Life Must be there in the Beginning

Flew identifies three key questions about the origin of life that are philosophical in their purpose. He asks, "How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and 'coded-chemistry'?"3 These are key issues in the debate over the origin of life.

The first concept, that of the goal of an organism is tied in come ways to the second concept. Living things reproduce. Without reproduction, evolution is a non-starter. When one discusses the origin of life, one of the goals of that organism's function must be to make more of itself; otherwise we only see a recurring series of dead ends. But we don't see this as a result of any other laws of nature. Just how did this function of organisms that are living and have some kind of end goal (e.g. surviving and reproducing) come about? And how did the DNA, which represents the coded chemistry, become representative of those functions?

Goals and desired ends don't come about by random acts. Neither do codes. Codes are really arbitrary. Flew points to David Berlinski's example of Morse code, noting the connection of dots and dashes to specific letters is the connection a mind makes.4 The codes are a vehicle to carry information, but they aren't the important part of the equation. The message is. Therefore, codes exist first in the minds of the code-builders who construct them for a specific purpose, to communicate messages over a certain medium.

So, the purpose or design or the end game—what is known in philosophy as teleology— of an organism is crucial to not simply sustaining life but to life's origin. From the very beginning, we see life must have the goal of survival and replication built in.  It uses coded DNA to carry out this goal; and the code itself implies a goal-oriented creation.

The very first life requires purpose and cannot be explained away as mere randomness.The question becomes, how can you get goals without a mind?

References

1. Flew, Antony. "Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology." Philosophy Now, Issue 43. October/November 2003. Web. 22 Jan 2016. https://philosophynow.org/issues/47/Letter_from_Antony_Flew_on_Darwinism_and_Theology
2. Flew, 2003.
3. Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print. 124.
4. Flew, 2007. 127.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy



When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:


In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.

References

1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Absolute Irrationality of Expecting Absolute Proof for God



In a recent blog post, Sean McDowell interviewed atheist-turned-theologian Guillaume Bignon about his path to Christianity and some of the pieces that contributed to his conversion. There are many good pieces to the interview, especially the concept of clarifying what the Gospel is and what it is that Christians actually believe. I've written before about why this is crucial since we live in a post-Christian culture.

Another point Guillaume made is that he first became more sensitive to the concept of God when he gave up the idea of absolute proof being essential to believe. He explains:
An important piece I came to understand prior to my conversion was that my standard of proof was completely unrealistic. I wanted airtight proof before I could believe in God, and I came to realize almost none of the things I knew in life enjoyed this kind of support: my name, my date of birth, the reality of the outside world, the existence of other people, and a multitude of other things I was yet fully rational in believing. So my expectations about God suffered from a double standard.1
Guillaume's demand for proof of God is a common theme in the many atheists I've spoken with over the years. They really expect God to do things like make limbs grow back or write his name in flaming letters across the moon. Yet, even miraculous signs like the resurrection of a decomposing corpse have been dismissed by those whose hearts are sufficiently hardened.

How Much Proof is Reasonable?

The bigger point Guillaume made is most of the things we believe and believe reasonably are not the things we demand such proof of. For example, most people believe they know who their biological father is or was. They believe this without running paternity tests to have scientific proof that the man listed on their birth certificate contributed 50% of their DNA. However, we also know it isn't a stretch for a woman to be unfaithful, get pregnant, and then pass the child off as her spouse's progeny. We don't know exactly how many children such as this exist, but the odds are strong it‘s much more than a handful.

Given this fact, is it unreasonable for you to believe that the man you believe is your father is actually not your biological parent? Should everyone run DNA tests before claiming their heritage? Of course not; such a demand would be unrealistic, unnecessary, and irrational. Imagine a friend kept saying "But you don't KNOW that man is your father without proper proof! You're just taking their word for it and it is in their best interest to cover up that embarrassing indiscretion!" None of those statements are false, so why dismiss the friend?

The demand of the friend is unreasonable because we include all we know and experience in our beliefs. You don't only look at the fact that some chance exists your father isn't really yours. You also consider the character of your parents, what their relationship to each other is like, and your interaction with them. None of these things prove paternity, but that doesn't make it unreasonable of you to hold to your belief.

Being reasonable doesn't require airtight proof. As Guillaume said, there are millions of beliefs we hold where we would never demand such a level of evidence before believing in something. On the contrary, demanding airtight proof is usually a sign of being unreasonable. I pray more atheists will follow Guillaume's lead and realize that point.

References

1. McDowell, Sean. "Former French Atheist Becomes a Christian: An Interview." Sean McDowell.org. Sean McDowell, 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2015. http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/former-french-atheist-becomes-a-christian-an-interview.
Image courtesy Charles Knowles and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Three Intractable Problems for Atheism


Is science doing real work while people who posit a creator are being intellectually lazy? That's what atheists like Richard Dawkins would have you believe. In an interview with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Dawkins claimed pointing to an intelligent designer is "a cowardly evasion, it's lazy. What we should be doing as scientists is rolling up our sleeves and saying, right, Darwin solved the big problem. Now let's take that as encouragement to solve the other big problems, like the origin of life and the origin of the cosmos."1

Is Dawkins right? In fact, he has the whole thing backwards. Darwin had the easier time constructing his evolutionary model because he didn't have the details to worry about. Scientists in Darwin's day didn't know about the complex structures of DNA or how the telltale evidence of the Big Bang proves the universe must've come into existence at a specific point in the past. Darwin could sluff over the biology. However atheists today don't have that luxury.

1. What Started the Universe?

The first problem is the most fundamental. Why does our universe exit? Why should it be here at all? Usually when bringing up this issue, you will hear people retreat to talk of the Big Bangs and quantum vacuums. But both of those things assume what is being asked.

You cannot have a bang unless there is something to go bang and something else to trigger the bang. If before the Big Bang there is nothing, then nothing cannot bang. Quantum vacuums, which have become the easy excuse in trying to solve this problem, are not nothing either. As I've explained before, these fluctuations have attributes and potentials. The fact that they fluctuate means they are in time and they have energy states. Just as an idea isn't nothing, to define quantum states as nothing is to misunderstand what nothing is. Out of nothing nothing comes is foundational to all scientific studies. If you give up on that, you're not doing science any more.

So, instead of starting with nothing, maybe we assume the thing that banged is the eternal thing. But if the singularity that banged existed from all eternity, then why didn't it bang earlier than when it did? We know the universe is using up its energy, so we know that it's only been around a limited amount of time. Why? What was that thing that changed to make the singularity explode into the universe we see? What ever it was that changed, it certainly wasn't nothing, because if nothing changed, then the universe would never have come to be.

2. What Started Life?

In 2011, John Horgan wrote an article for the Scientific American web site entitled "Pssst! Don't tell the creationists, but scientists don't have a clue how life began." There, Horgan explains how the search to understand the origin of life from nonliving chemicals has given science exactly zero answers.2 The problems are legion: the speed at which microorganisms emerged from the time that earth was capable of supporting any life is pretty fast. It really doesn't give the incredibly complex chains of molecules like DNA or RNA much time to "stumble" into the right configurations to start replicating, especially given the harsh environment and the capacity for destruction even after a fortuitous assembly.

Just what those things were that first came together is problematic, too. As David Berlinkski pointed out, there is a real chicken and the egg problem, given the need for proteins to assemble DNA or RNA and the need for DNA or RNA to carry the blueprint for those very proteins. Even the RNA Word hypotheses Horgan mentions are not immune to monstrous problems, such as the astronomical odds it would take to assemble any kind of self-replicating chain of RNA. That's why there is no functional model at all for how life came to be; there's merely a bunch of speculation containing an incredible number of holes.

3. Where Did Consciousness Come From?

Even if one were to get chemicals to self-replicate, that wouldn't be the end of the difficulty to explain how beings like us got here. While reproduction is a defining feature of life, life has different levels. A plant is a living being, but it isn't conscious; it cannot think. Human beings are known as thinking creatures. But, just how does this consciousness arise from non-conscious material? What model is there for this? Again, there isn't one.

Consciousness is an incredibly tricky thing. A lot of materialists want to redefine consciousness as the electro-chemical reactions happening in the brain, but that makes no sense. Consciousness is something qualitatively different than electrical connections, otherwise we would have to consider that our tablets and smart phones are conscious right now. Consciousness is qualitatively different from physical processes, which means that it cannot be grounded in only the physical. It requires a completely different explanation, one that science cannot offer.

In his article, John Horgan is honest in reporting that science is completely in the dark concerning the beginning of life. Yet, he balks at one workable explanation available to him, the idea of a creator. At the end of the article he writes that creationists' "explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God." Of course, this is as old as it is uninformed. Asking what created the creator is like asking which golfer is going to win the Daytona 500. It's a clear category error and is really Horgan's way of ignoring the only other option out there.

These three problems should offer clear signs that there is more to the world than matter in motion. Science is a field that relies upon observation to draw conclusions. In our entire history, no human has ever seen a thing come from nothing, seen life emerge spontaneously from non-life, or seen consciousness emerge from unconscious matter. It just doesn't happen. So why would anyone think all three happened, and happened without the guidance of any intelligent entity? If you're a golfer in Daytona, you can pull your driver from your bag, but it won't do you much good in this competition. Scientists can continue to talk about these problems, but they won't get any closer to the answer.

References

1. Teitelbaum, Jeremy. "The Dean and Richard Dawkins." UConn Today. University of Connecticut, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://today.uconn.edu/2014/04/the-dean-and-richard-dawkins/
2. Horgan, John. "Pssst! Don't Tell the Creationists, but Scientists Don't Have a Clue How Life Began." Scientific American. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc., 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/pssst-dont-tell-the-creationists-but-scientists-dont-have-a-clue-how-life-began/.
Image courtesy rosipaw and licensed via theCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.
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