Archive for the ‘Materialism’ category

When the Why Questions become Rhetorical

July 26, 2018


I am not sure that I am up to the task of writing what I want to write, but I’m going to attempt it anyway. These thoughts occurred to me as I was listening to Justin Brierley interviewed by David Smalley. Brierley hosts the British show, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio, while Smalley hosts the atheist counterpart, Dogma Debate.

Both men are cut from the same cloth in the sense that they usually host people with opposing views, and they do it in a refreshingly even-handed, civil manner, giving deference and respect to both “sides” and both individuals. They are shining examples of open, intellectual discourse. I much prefer the informal, civil discussion to the formality and contrary tone of a debate.

Much of their discussion focused on the “problem of evil”. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen to people? Either He isn’t all-good, or He isn’t all-powerful. This is the classic problem of evil. For David Smalley, the answer is either that “God doesn’t care, or God doesn’t exist”, and if God doesn’t care, then David Smalley concludes, “God isn’t worthy to be worshiped”.

Many very smart people, like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, have run their faith aground on these rocky shores.

As the two men discussed their respective views, and as Smalley questioned Brierley (because Brierley was the guest of Smalley in this show), I listened with interest and some mild frustration and disappointment. To paraphrase (and very poorly, I’m afraid), Smalley repeatedly asked unanswerable questions, and Brierley repeatedly tried to answer them.

I don’t blame either man. This is the condition of our finite beings. How can we know what we don’t know? We have a lot of unanswerable questions and insufficient answers.

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Self-Sufficiency Sufficient to Love God

July 2, 2018


“They [Adam and Eve] wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.”

The quotation is by CS Lewis in the Problem of Pain. As he notes, tt’s axiomatic that, if God exists, we are not God, and this isn’t our universe.

By “God” (capital G), what is meant is a “maximal being” – that is a Being having maximal qualities. Thus, we say of God that He would have to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-merciful, etc. All characteristics of which God is the standard find their greatest expression in God.

We are not talking about flying spaghetti monsters or Zeus-like personalities when we refer to God, capital G.

If such a God exists, and I believe this is more or less self-evident, than anything we call our own, including our own self-sufficiency, is mere illusion.

I find it interesting that many naturalists, like the late, great Stephen Hawking, agree that self-sufficiency is nothing but an illusion. We are all merely dancing to the tune of our DNA, says Richard Dawkins. Ravi Zacharias describes a lecture given by Stephen Hawking many years ago in which he eloquently laid out the evidence that we are determined (by natural influences) in everything we do. Hawking ended with the uplifting thought that, even though we have no control over anything that we think or do, we still feel as if we do – to which Ravi Zacharias says the audience audibly groaned.

For the naturalist, the conclusion, some say (like Hawking and Dawkins), is inescapable. We aren’t the captains of our own souls as we suppose, and our end is “predetermined” by naturalistic causes as our beginning and everything in between. Such a fatalistic view might be sufficient to undo us completely, but for our ability to imagine otherwise – even if it isn’t true – according to these naturalists. Some very small consolation!

For the Christian, however, we find our consolation in the very God whose existence belies our illusion of self-sufficiency and self-control. We find that this God made us in His image, which suggests we are made with some capacity for free will and self determination – even if it subsists within the sphere of God’s ultimate providence.

We find that God is loving and desires us to reflect Him and His love without coercion from Him. Even if our ability to govern ourselves is ultimately illusory, the fact that we believe we have this ability, is all that matters because believing it to be so, believing that we can choose other than we can, even if we can’t truly exercise this choice freely as God does, means that we can, nevertheless, reflect God’s love back to Him without coercion.

Love, after all, is not coerced. Love is the complete absence of coercion.

Though we may not be self-sufficient or self-controlling as we suppose, we can still reflect God’s love back to Him by virtue of the appearance (the illusion if you will) that we are or can be self-sufficient and self-controlling. Feeling as if we can deny God and go our own way, we freely exercise our will to submit to Him and to choose His way, and this act of love is genuine to the extent that we genuinely believe it and mean it.

A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

June 26, 2018


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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Reflections on the Influence of Stephen Hawking

March 19, 2018

Lets all go to Mars, sculpture by Stephen Hawking (Depositphotos Photography ID: 169212920 Copyright: irisphoto11 Editorial use only)

Stephen Hawking recently passed away after living a remarkably full life in spite of being stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease at an early age. He was one of the most influential people of his time, not because of his condition, but because of his mind. He was brilliant and pioneered new understandings of the universe through applied mathematics in the field of cosmology.

Hawking is a voice that people listened to, not only in science, but in the application of science to such things as philosophy and the origin of the universe. Hawking may have toyed once with the idea of God, but he became an atheist. He chose, as have many a modern scientist has chosen since the 19th century, to view the world without reference to God.

In this article, I explore some comments made by Hawking’s colleague, John Lennox, who begins a recent interview by extolling the brilliance of Stephen Hawking and his scientific achievements. I also introduce two very young geniuses who have different takes on the subject o God.

The context of the article is this: when Hawking went beyond the science that he knew so well, he stumbled into a realm of philosophy as to which he was wasn’t as well informed. This is not because of any lack in intelligence, of course. John Lennox quotes Martin Rees, a cosmologist and astrophysicist and 40 year colleague of Stephen Hawking, who points out that Hawking is not well read in the areas of philosophy and theology:



This unfamiliarity with the sophistication of philosophy and theology led Hawking to make some very unsophisticated statements, like “philosophy is dead” (which is, itself, a philosophical statement which, if true, undermines the very statement Hawking made). Without diminishing Stephen Hawkins’ contributions to science, we need to view philosophical comments for what they are worth and consider the influence of these unsophisticated statements on how we do science in the future

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Reflections on Gauging the Light and the Dark

December 28, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 80301160 Copyright: SergeyNivens

I’ve heard the following Chinese parable from Ravi Zacharias a couple of times. It’s on my mind today:

An old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped through the fence. When the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. This time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”

The next day, when the farmer’s son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors came around again and commiserated with the old farmer about his very bad luck, but the farmer’s reaction was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Or was it bad luck?

We like to jump to conclusions, and we have a tendency to jump to those conclusions pretty quickly. We do this even with ultimate, worldview positions. We have a tendency to want to measure everything by the tools that are convenient and familiar to us, but sometimes we need to be willing to venture off from the light of our comfortable positions into the darkness of unfamiliarity to gain a bigger perspective.

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Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

December 7, 2017

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

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The Ends of Science and Beginning of Faith

October 12, 2017

Photo by Ted Wright near Grandfather, NC

I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.

And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.

US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.[1]

These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.

In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

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