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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label truth. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Comparing The Matrix, Tolerance, and the Truth

Are you a Neo or a Cypher? If you recognize those names, then you are probably one of the many people who've seen the hit 1999 movie The Matrix or its hot sequel The Matrix: Reloaded. Rarely do popular films come out that spur conversation on such heady topics as the nature of reality, God, fate, and freedom the way these movies have. I'd like to explore one aspect of The Matrix scenario that you may use as a springboard with your colleagues at work or school.

Photo courtesy shaquenova

First, some background. Neo is a computer programmer/hacker living a life of quiet desperation in 1999. After a series of events, he discovers that his life isn't real. He, like all of humanity, has been enslaved by computers who feed his brain with electrical impulses that simulate sensory experience. Life is really a virtual reality program called the Matrix. Once Neo is set free from the Matrix, he seeks to free others.

Cypher, on the other hand, is one of the villains in the original movie. Escaping the Matrix years earlier, he now finds that life in the "real world" isn't pleasant. He's trapped underground in a world with no sun, only porridge to eat, and none of the comforts of life.

One pivotal scene is where Cypher reinserts himself into the Matrix to speak with one of its Agents. There he says:
"You know I know that this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. And after nine years do you know what I've realized?... Ignorance is bliss."

Does Experience Define Truth?

Cypher wants to be put back permanently. He doesn't care that his senses would be deceived. His only concern is to feel the pleasures of life - and to have his memory erased so he won't know the truth of his condition.

All of this raises an interesting question: is Cypher's choice unreasonable? Christopher Grau examines this choice. He writes:
"Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy? Is he right to want to get re-inserted into the Matrix? Many want to say no, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experiences will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience? Remember, once he's back in, living his fantasy life, he won't even know he made the deal. What he doesn't know can't hurt him, right?"(1)
Most people naturally recoil at the idea of living in an existence that's a lie. Even though Cypher will experience greater pleasures by being plugged into the Matrix, they won' be real events; they're merely sensory illusions. We find such an idea repugnant because humanity finds value in that which is objectively true. Truth has what we call intrinsic value, or value in itself, and believing something that's not true is looked upon as tragic.

All of this sets me to thinking about beliefs people hold about religion. We often hear that faith is a personal decision, a private matter between that person and God. The problem here is different religious beliefs contradict each other. Islam and Buddhism cannot both be true. Hinduism has radically different concepts of God from Christianity. And if beliefs are shown to be contradictory, then there are at least some good people holding to beliefs that are simply false.

The Value of Objective Truth

Although many people speak of things like tolerance for all beliefs, if I am holding to something that's not true, then my belief is ultimately tragic; I'm caught in the Matrix unaware. Even if my beliefs give me pleasure, stability of life, a strong morality, self-worth, or self-identity, it is still not enough to continue to hold them. Those are the exact things Cypher was seeking in his deal with the Agent.

No, reality holds an intrinsic value. That is, it has a value unto itself. If I believed in something that is false, I would want someone like a Neo to come and help escape that false system. Of course, I should be on my guard so that I wasn't deluded into abandoning one set of false beliefs for another. And there are good ways to do this. (2)

The idea that there is one true way to understand the world is a basic premise to the Christian worldview. Christianity is the only religion that challenges its adherents to check it out against competing belief systems. Paul says as much to the Thessalonian church: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess. 5:18) It's why Christians are commanded to preach the gospel and convert those who don't believe (ref. Matt 28:19).

If Christianity is true, that is if it really does correspond to reality, then it seems to me that Christians should do everything in their power to try and spread that message as much as they can. Isn't this more right to save someone from a system you believe is false than just letting him live with the status quo? Who is the nobler person? Neo seeks to free others while Cypher seeks his own contentment.

So who are you? Are you a Neo or a Cypher? The choice is yours to make.


1. Grau, Christopher. "The Value of Reality: Cypher and the Experience Machine." Philosophers Explore The Matrix. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 18. Print.
2. See Esposito, Lenny "Testing for Truth" 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Israel, O Israel

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16-17

I returned last week from a 10 day trip to Israel and it was amazing. I joined Dr. William Lane Craig for his Reasonable Faith tour of the Holy land, which was guided by Sar-El Tours, whom I recommend.  The days were jam-packed and we went everywhere – from Megiddo to Mount Carmel, from Galilee to the Dead Sea, from Joppa to Jerusalem. Each day was crammed full of sites, history and biblical insights.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1.    Cesarea Maritima

This was one of our first stops on the tour.  The seaside palace was built by Herod the Great as one of his living quarters.  He created an artificial port where ships could dock and take on cargo for Rome and western destinations, and built up an entertainment infrastructure to make it enticing (it isn’t only in modern times that government supports the local sports complex). The thing that moved me first, though, is seeing that it was here where the Pilate inscription was found.  Until 1961, there had been no archaeological evidence that a Roman procurator named Pilate ever existed.  We had the Biblical account and a few second-hand mentions. But, that all changed when this stone slab, which was inscribed with his name, was found here.

2.    Sea of Galilee

Staying at Tiberius, we awoke on day 2 and jumped on a boat to head out to the Sea of Galilee.  This was the first place where we could know that Jesus had been here. On the quiet lake, even with a bunch of other people, it was deeply moving.  We went on to Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations and even saw what is most likely Peter’s house, where he stayed. A great time of reflection.

3.    Spring of Gideon

In our trek from the northern region to Jerusalem, we made a pit stop at the spring of Gideon.  Talked about in Judges 7, this is the spring where Gideon pared down his fighting force to a mere 300 men.  The passage reads "'Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.' And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water." I had always pictured the spring as having space around all sides, but it actually comes from a northern-facing cliff in the hill.  Judges 7:1 says the Midianite’s army was to the north, so if you knelt all the way down and put your mouth to the water, you would basically have your back to the enemy, but if you scooped up the water with your hand, you could keep an eye on the northern hillside and the enemy camp.

This incident – one that would have occurred in about the 12th century BC- makes much more sense once you see the actual spring. You get it.  You can see that the descriptions in the Bible do not read like the accounts of the gods on Olympus or some such mythology.  These are real places and we have real evidence.  The inconsequential details, like how people drank, are reinforced by the topography. Even history from over two and a half millennia ago rings true. It is truly an amazing land and was a remarkable trip.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Belief is About Truth

I recently saw Inception, which was good movie that opens the door to many questions. One of those is the question of changing people's beliefs.  Can we change someone else's beliefs?  Absolutely and we do it all the time in a myriad of ways answers Ophelia Benson. Writing in U.K.'s The Guardian, She states:
"We're offered potential beliefs all the time, in news reports and advertising and conversation. We don't accept them all; we reject some, we doubt others, and even those we accept we may be prepared to change or reject if we learn more. We know perfectly well – or if we don't, we should – that it's not sensible to believe everything that turns up."

But she says there's an even more important question we must ask - how do we test the beliefs we hold?

The important issue isn't how we acquire a belief so much as how we test it, question it, evaluate it. Belief isn't a straight yes or no thing, or at least it shouldn't be. Once we're past childhood (and assuming we've had a decent education), we should know better than to believe whatever we're told.

Benson says that people treat religious beliefs as the exception to this rule.  Maybe some (or possibly most) people do. However, I do agree that it shouldn't be so. Being rational means holding onto true beliefs. And Christianity has always been a faith that challenges both its adherents and its skeptics to put it to the truth test. For examples of this, we can look to the New Testament.

Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess 5:21) And in 1 Corinthians 15 - the oldest passage of the New Testament - Paul writes that if Jesus did not rise from the dead (as a real fact of history), then the Christian faith is worthless, we are deceived of God, and to be pitied above everyone else!

Christians shouldn't be afraid to face questions that ask about the truth of the Christian faith. We do a disservice to the believer and the seeker when we say that we shouldn't question faith. This doesn't mean we need to engage in any off the wall objection that someone thought of - people will many times be motivated not by a search for truth but simply want to waste your time. We should be willing to talk with those who have honest questions and show the reasons for Christianity. Christianity is not merely a belief - it is a true belief and we need to get that message out to the church and the world.

Image courtesy Mike Grauer Jr and Licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.
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