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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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Monday, March 18, 2013

Why God Exists: Minds Come From Minds

Many people who hold to a naturalistic explanation of the world believe that who we are—our thoughts, our feelings, even our falling in love—is merely the product of electrical and chemical reactions happening in a single organ of our bodies: our brains.[1] But as philosopher J.P. Moreland has noted, it is virtually self-evident to most people that they are different from their bodies.[2] We see that in the way we treat people with physical defects. A person who was born with no legs is not considered 80% of a person because he only has 80% of his body. Rather, we understand intuitively that feelings of pleasure and pain, the concept of knowing (such as knowing that 2+2=4), and relationships we experience with others are things that happen to us, not to our bodies.

There's something fundamentally different about conscious experiences and physical effects. Physical effects, such as the effect of gravity on any mass, are governed by natural laws and are simply brute facts of cause and effect — if you let go of a ball, it will fall to the ground. The ball doesn't have the "idea" to fall to the ground, nor does the earth have the idea of pulling the ball down. Laws of nature are by their very definition fixed and do not contemplate whether or not to act. However, conscious decisions are not mere cause and effect. They are more than that. Take the act of raising my hand. I can choose whether to raise my hand or not in normal circumstances. If I decide to raise my hand, I can do so, but it's not inevitable that my hand will raise until I've chosen to rise it, unlike the inevitability of a ball falling when it is not supported by anything.

We see that our minds can affect our bodies in other ways, too. Some people have a medical condition where they cannot feel pain, while other people feel pain in limbs that they no longer have. Certainly the experience of feeling pain is different from the physical process of pain receptors receiving stimuli and transmitting electrical signals to the brain. And the concept of what it means to be in pain is something that cannot be explained by physical interactions. The ability to cognitively understand you are experiencing pleasantness or unpleasantness is independent of simple cause and effect laws.

Most naturalists (that is, people who believe that everything can be explained by using only physical explanations) will say that there really is no such thing as a mind[3] or they will believe the mind somehow shows up, but is only a result of physical states[4]. Basically, naturalists believe that we somehow evolved our minds from more primitive chemical interactions that happen to occur within one organ of our bodies — the brain. But there are huge problems with this view and the general understanding of what it means to be a person.

Evolution cannot account for the existence of minds

Is it possible that evolution can account for the emergence of a conscious mind from all those chemical interactions? Since chemical interactions are responding to the laws of nature, like the ball above, I can see no way how this independent decision-making capability will "pop" into existence. In fact, if such a possibility were to exist, it would undermine all of our scientific principles. We count on the laws of nature to be consistent. Imagine if a plastics manufacturer mixed his chemical ingredients together and the carbon decided not to bond with the hydrogen! It would be tough to get that new iPhone this way![5] As J.P. Moreland noted, the emergence of consciousness from a physical organ "seems to be a case of getting something from nothing."[6]

Computer simulation programs and artificial intelligence are sometimes claimed as showing how intelligence may emerge from the mechanistic antecedents, but this is the stuff of science fiction, not science. Even a computer program that has the capacity to "learn" has been programmed to write the results of a precedent condition and pass that back through only a predefined series of options. Thus an AI program may generate new sentences if programmed to do so, but it can never decide to not run its own program.

So, how in a universe that starts with only natural laws, these brute facts of cause and effect, can consciousness come into existence? How do you evolve consciousness from non-conscious materials that only interact mechanistically? In all that we observe, we note that minds only have their origin in other minds. Plants don't produce thinking plants, but thinking people can produce new thinking people. If you think about it, you will soon see that matter and the laws of nature are simply powerless to create intelligence. And the fact that you can think about it argues that there must be a mind who produced man.


1. As an example,see Karen Fisher's article "The Drive to Love: The neural mechanism for mate choice." The New Psychology of Love, 2nd Edition. RJ Sternberg and K Weis (Eds.) New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 87ff.

2. Moreland, J.P. & William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 228.

3. The idea that there is no mind and all that we experience is simply a result of chemical processes is known as physicalism. See Geoffrey Paul Hellman and Frank Wilson Thompson's paper "Physicalism: Ontology, Determination, and Reduction" in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 72, No. 17, Seventy-Second Annual Meeting of theAmerican Philosophical Association Eastern Division (Oct. 2, 1975), 551-564.

4. This view is known as epiphenoninalism. For a more detailed explanation of all these views and the reasons they fail, see J.P Moreland. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM Press, 2009.

5. Granted, this is a simple illustration, but it really doesn't matter how big or complex the reactions are. The more complex the interaction, the more difficult it may be for us to predict all the results, but it doesn't mean the results won't follow directly from their precedent conditions.

6. Moreland, J.P. "Argument from Consciousness" JP Moreland's Amazon Blog. 12 June 2008.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Answering 'God of the Gaps' Objections

There are many atheists who like to escape from arguments highlighting the difficulties in their worldview by claiming an appeal to God is the same as making a "God of the gaps" argument. For those who don't know, a "God of the gaps"  argument is when someone supposedly sees a process they cannot explain (say the rain falling) and instead of finding out the natural causes for rain, they simply say "God did it." Atheists say that all appeals to God for otherwise unexplained phenomena are just God of the gaps" arguments and as science advances, these "God of the gaps" explanations will become fewer and fewer and cover less and less ground. They reason that we will one day be able to explain everything in terms of modern scientific notions and God will become superfluous.

Image courtesy Victorvictori
While such a tale sounds plausible, it really isn't the case. There are certain things that fall outside the realm of science (such as the answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?") There are other things, as Robert Larmer has written, that when scientific knowledge grows, so does the mystery behind the thing itself.

As an example, the theist will object to the atheists' claims of life coming from non-life or the appearance of consciousness from non-conscious material, stating that there is no such warrant for believing these things can happen. Such events have never been seen before in human history. But the atheist will say that positing God for them is making a "God of the gaps" argument. Larmer addresses this objection head on:
Claims regarding events traditionally described as miracles and claims regarding the origin and development of life are where "God of the gaps" arguments are most commonly met. In the case of events traditionally described as miracles, it seems very evident that our increased knowledge of how natural causes operate has not made it easier, but more difficult to explain such events naturalistically. The science underlying wine-making is considerably more advanced today than it was in first century Palestine, but our advances have made it even more difficult to explain in terms of natural causes how Jesus, without any technological aids, could, in a matter of minutes, turn water into high quality wine. Indeed, it is the difficulty of providing a naturalistic account of such events that leads many critics to deny that they ever occurred; though this looks suspiciously like begging the question in favour of naturalism. It is clear that if such events have occurred, the advance of science has made them more, rather than less, difficult to explain in terms of natural causes. Employing a 'God of the gaps' argument that the occurrence of such events would constitute good evidence for supernatural intervention within the natural order seems entirely legitimate."1


1. Larmer, Robert A. "Is there anything Wrong with 'God of the gaps' Reasoning?". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52. 129-42.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Moral Relativism Starves Our Need for Morality

Have you ever read one of those "stupid criminal" stories? You know, criminals like Ells Cleveland. Cleveland was arrested in Honolulu and questioned on suspicion of robbing four banks. "Four?" responded Cleveland, according to the detective's affidavit. "I didn't do four; I only robbed three banks!"1 There's something that feels so satisfying about a crook who gets caught by his own foolishness. That's because humans have an innate sense of morality within us. We not only have consciences, but we also feel the need to have right and wrong boundaries within which to live. The Bible tells us clearly that when people who never hear about the Bible instinctively do the things the Bible commands, "they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." We are hard-wired to be moral beings.

But we don't need to rely solely on the Bible to see this claim as true. Modern science is starting to discover this truth as well. Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom has been studying infant development and has come to the conclusion that human beings are hard-wired for morality. It exists and can be seen even before babies can speak. In very careful experiments, 6- to 10-month-old babies were shown a puppet being helped by a "good" puppet friend and hindered by a "bad" puppet friend. The helper and hindering puppets were then placed on a tray and brought to the child, where they overwhelmingly reached for the "good" puppet. The results surprised Bloom, who had previously believed that babies were blank slates upon which any type of morality could be impressed. Bloom concludes, "Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone."2

Relativist claim: All forms of expression are healthy

The claims of relativism, however, deny this basic premise. Relativism holds that there is no inherent good or bad, right or wrong. Much like Bloom's initial belief, relativists think that morality is something denies the moral sensitivities we're born with. But no one can live this way in real life, and relativists contradict themselves even in the way they rear their own children. They set down rules, the biggest of which is "you shouldn't make other people feel bad." They worry about negative judgments affecting children's development. But any statement that tells a person what they should or shouldn't do is by definition a prescriptive statement. It's a prescription for behavior, and like a medicine that is prescribed to cure an illness, the statement is given with the belief that behaving a certain way will be better for those involved. However this doesn't make sense. Medicine works because basic human biology is the same for everyone. A doctor doesn't dispense medicine made for animals, but discoveries made that treat human illnesses in Europe or Asia will work effectively in the US, too.

To believe that morality is not similarly universal means that the same prescriptions will not work in different cultures or contexts. But if we are to "stop being so judgmental" because such actions are "bad" for people, then the relativist has underscored the fact that they believe there is a right and wrong way for people to act. In fact, I would venture to guess that even a relativist would have a problem with parents who never corrected any of their children's' naughty behavior, but allowed them to do whatever they wished. Our society would classify such parents as criminally negligent and they would be charged with a crime. That's because our society naturally recognizes that moral boundaries are essential in raising quality human beings and that to remove them is actually harmful, not beneficial.


1 Dooley, Jim. "Suspect charged in 4 Hawaii bank robberies." Honolulu Advertiser. January 5, 2008. Accessed online at 5/20/2010

2 Bloom, Paul. "The Moral Life of Babies." New York Times Sunday Magazine 9 May 2010: MM44.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The "God Particle": Does the Higgs Boson replace God?

The physicists at CERN have announced today that they are nearly certain that they have identified the elementary particle that gives mass to all matter, the so-called "God particle" otherwise known as the Higgs boson. Almost immediately, I've seen atheists crowing about how science has once again displaced God and I've seen Christians troubled at the discovery that's supposed to somehow rock their faith. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The real facts are that we've known about the twelve elementary particles (six quarks and six leptons, see image) as well as the four forces for about 40 years now. The Higgs boson was an anticipated missing piece to the puzzle. However, when writing a book on the search for the Higgs, physicist Leon D. Lederman decided to have a bit of fun and nickname the particle "the God particle."  After the book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" was published, its title has caused confusion for both reporters and the general public ever since.

In seeing so much confusion about the implications of the Higgs boson discovery, I interviewed Dr. Barry Ritchie, Professor of Nuclear Physics at Arizona State University, which is a cutting edge institution in this field.  Here's Dr. Ritchie commenting on the Higgs and its implications to theology:
"Lederman's choice of that name, that moniker, was first of all whimsical. It certainly wasn't something that indicated a theological perspective of any kind.  He's offered up a number, well at least a couple anyway, explanations as to why he chose it: one of them had to do with profanity, the other was talking about how difficult it would be… how difficult it was to find and so forth. 

"But again, the important thing to realize is it was meant to be whimsical, it wasn't meant to be something that has anything to do with theology. What the Higgs boson does is it tells us again the origins of mass; it tells us that we think we do understand how the particles of the universe interact with each other and things like that. All those things are independent of any understanding of God. This may be the way God works. If the standard model is correct, then this must be the way that the universe that God's made comes together in terms of these subatomic particles. But it's, it's…   The applicability of the Higgs boson to learning about the existence of God is about as relevant as being able to balance a checkbook is to the existence of God. There's not a theological angle on this."
The entire interview is great, as Dr. Ritchie also discusses the current understanding of our universe's makeup, recent attempts to explain the origin of the universe by appealing to quantum vacuums, and how the man of faith can also be a man of science. To hear the entire interview, click here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Are Mormons Christians?

Every so often I have the opportunity to go onto a college campus and answer questions from the students. Recently, a student who identified himself as a Mormon wished to ask about my position on whether Mormons are Christians. He said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has Jesus' name in the title, so they are certainly Christians, too. He then asked "why do evangelicals insist that we are not also Christians?"

I answered by asking a question of my own. "Why do property lines exist?" I asked him. "Why do we make sure that we mark the beginning and ending boundaries of our lands? The answer (as I'm sure most people know) is so there is no confusion or encroachment by others. Property lines define the beginning and the end of my land. As a landowner, it is important to know where that land starts and stops. I shouldn't assume land that isn't mine as much as another shouldn't assume to own land that I paid for.  I also have to care for my land; it should be both nurtured and protected.

This idea of defining boundaries is also important when discussing religious beliefs. For example, not every religion could be considered theistic. Zen Buddhism is a faith that really doesn't believe in a God as such-- it is an atheistic faith. Other religions hold to differing beliefs about the nature of God, and still more about who Jesus is.

One of the ways Christianity has set up its defining lines is by the historic creeds of the church. The early church fathers knew that this would happen as they were warned by Paul who said that others may come and spread a gospel contrary to the true one[1]. The apostle John also warned the Christians that there existed many pseudo-Christs (e.g. anti-Christs) even during his time.[2] So it shouldn't be a surprise that the church when confronted with a heretical belief would work to make sure Christianity was properly defined. The Nicene Creed was created to be such a boundary point. It is a measuring line to tell what beliefs are necessary for one to be considered a Christian.

The Nicene Creed affirms that God is a single being made up of three persons, it affirms that Jesus was fully God and fully man, it upholds the virgin birth of Christ, and the atoning work of the crucifixion. But the Latter-Day Saints officially reject the Nicene Creed. Each of these doctrines, which are considered essential to the makeup of Christianity, is specifically contradicted in Mormon theology. God is not a single being, but three beings. Joseph Smith considered Jesus a normal man who was just exalted in the same way that every Mormon can be exalted. In Doctrine and Covenants he writes, "The difference between Jesus and other offspring of Elohim is one of degree not of kind."[3] He also taught that Jesus was conceived naturally, from God the Father having physical relations with Mary.

So, in no essential category can a Mormon who holds to the doctrines of the Mormon church also claim to be a Christian without completely destroying the very definition of Christianity itself. This should not be surprise, given that Joseph Smith in his first vision has God labeled these very creeds as "abominations."[4] Therefore, Mormonism by its own admission stands counter to the very beliefs that define what a Christian is.

This is a question that I think has confused many Mormons. They certainly see themselves as a Christian denomination and are quite confused at the hard lines being drawn by those who follow the historic Christian faith.  Hopefully, my response to this student will bring a bit more clarity to others as well.


[1] Galatians 1:6-9
[2] 1 John 2:18
[3] Doctrine and Covenants 93:21
[4] The History of Joseph Smith 1:19. See
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