Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

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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Turning Idols toward God: the Human Intellect

August 30, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 20592505 copyright: olly18

Human beings can make idols out of anything, including making an idol of human intellect/mind. As with all created things, the human intellect is limited, finite and utterly unable to save us from our human condition, but many people, nevertheless, put their faith in the human intellect. This is ultimately idolatry when we trust in our own intellect instead of trusting in God.

Putting our faith in our own intellect is also, ultimately, foolish. What do we know that God doesn’t know? What can see understand that God doesn’t understand? Relying on ourselves in this way, to the exclusion of relying of God, is (to put it mildly) short-sighted. It is sin, to put it bluntly.

It is the same mistake that Eve made in the garden when the serpent tempted her by saying “you will be like God”![1] We want to be our own gods, relying on our own intellect.

This basic prideful condition, which is the essence of sin, is why “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise”.[2] Of course, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness” to God.”[3] As Isaiah says:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

For these reasons, and others perhaps, Christians today tend to distrust science, worldly thinking, philosophy and even the mind, itself. Christians have all but abandoned the world of science, philosophy and the intellect to secular institutions and minds, and this is a terrible mistake!

Christians are reluctant to acknowledge science. Christians are fearful of philosophy. Christians are even distrustful of their own minds. Many Christians have abdicated the realm of the intellect to modern culture and secular institutions. But here’s the thing: this is sinful too!

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When Scientists Stray From Science

August 23, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 151533714 Copyright: avemario

Methodological naturalism is the basic approach of science. Since science is the study of the natural world, the methodology of science is limited to the parameters of the natural world. Methodological naturalism is theologically neutral.

So what does that mean?

On a very fundamental level, it simply means that science is the study of the natural world, and, therefore, science is limited to naturalistic methodology. Science is limited to the observations of matter, energy, space, and time.

Another way of putting it is that science has no preoccupation with anything that is super natural. Science is limited to a focus on the natural world. Science doesn’t bother itself with anything but the natural world (though scientists might stray beyond it).

None of this should be in the least bit earth-shattering. Confusion arises, however, when we begin discussing the supernatural, the metaphysical, the theological, and even the philosophical realms in relation to science.

There are those scientists, for instance, who have recently suggested that the advance of science today has done away with the necessity of philosophy. People like Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson have made statements like that, though they have both backed off of those initial statements more recently. The backtracking is advisable as those statements, themselves, are philosophical in nature, and not scientific.

To suggest that science has done away with necessity for philosophy is to ignore the limitations placed on science in its very methodology. Science, itself, is not philosophical, but evidence from science can support premises that are philosophical, and scientists themselves draw philosophical conclusions from scientific facts.

Science may inform philosophy, but it can never replace philosophy. To think otherwise is to exalt science beyond its natural parameters (pun intended) and to fail to appreciate the difference between science and philosophy.

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There Is No Proof of God?

July 29, 2017

A popular skeptical notion about spiritual things is that there is no proof of God. But is that a reasonable statement?

What does the skeptic mean by proof? Does he mean strict proof, mathematical proof or proof beyond a doubt? If that is what the skeptic means, then the skeptic will always remain a skeptic, because that kind of proof is unattainable.

There is nothing inherently bad or wrong in being skeptical. Skepticism or doubt is not a sin as some might suppose. “Doubting Thomas” was a disciple of Jesus after all! Honest skepticism is not a problem. In fact, honest skepticism is healthy; it drives us to test truth claims and weed out falsity.

The demand for strict proof that God exists, however, is not honest skepticism. While we might attain to some proof beyond a “reasonable” doubt, strict proof, mathematical proof, or proof beyond any doubt is impossible. I will try to explore why that is in this blog article.

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In Need of a Raja

June 28, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 42117413 Copyright: vverve

Most of us have heard the story about the blind men and the elephant. I heard it in a world religion class in 1978, my first year of college. The story is most often told in the context of the world religions. And, the story is most often told as an allegory suggesting that all religions are really getting at the same thing (the elephant).

If you haven’t heard the story, I will re-tell it. If you have heard the story, please bear with me because telling the story with its original conclusion is an important exercise in understanding the message.

If your antennae are up, you might have caught the hint that this story, with the original conclusion, has a twist. The story usually isn’t told with the original conclusion, so the point of the original conclusion is often “lost in the translation”. And, the original conclusion leads to a very different point than the commonly asserted message.

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Nothing New Under the Sun?

June 20, 2017

Photo by Amanda Leutenberg

“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”[1]

This was the explanation for the Athenians wanting to hear what Paul had to say. They brought him to the Areopagus so they could hear “the new teaching” he was explaining in the synagogues and market places.[2] They wanted to hear, presumably, because it was new.

I have a friend who, basically, doesn’t want to entertain the Gospel because it isn’t new. He is always looking for a new way of looking at things. He is a very philosophical and thoughtful person, but he thinks he would be bored in heaven (as he imagines the heaven of clichés would be – and he is probably right about that[3]).

But the writer of Ecclesiastes said two thousand years before Christ “there is nothing new under the sun”.[4] To prove a point, my friend who is always looking for some new thought to chew on is no different than the Athenians in Paul’s day, who were interested in “nothing except telling or hearing something new.”

Another good friend of mine, Gary Hill, who is a chief author of the Discovery Bible (an incredible NASB Bible packed with scholarly resources for the serious Bible reader[5]), described to me how seminaries require doctoral students to choose theses that have never been covered before. The pressure to come up with something new encourages people to go searching for premises that often stray from the way, the truth and the life.

The desire for something always new is nothing new under the sun. It is an age old desire that the writer of Ecclesiastes criticized 2000 years before the Athenians idolized new ideas 2000 years before post modernists championed the idea “that truth is relative and truth is up to each individual to determine for himself.”[6] The idea that each individual can manufacture his or her own truth is simply an extension of this lust for something always new. (more…)

The Descent and Ascent of Man

May 27, 2017

Image ID: 150736070 Copyright: claverinza

When Charles Darwin wrote The Descent of Man[i], the title was a play on words. In the context of the book, Darwin meant the word in the sense of “derivation from an ancestor”; “the fact or process of originating from an ancestral stock”; and/or “the shaping or development in nature and character by transmission from a source”.[ii] Descent, of course, can have a quite different meaning.

The word, descent, can also mean “the act or process of descending from a higher to a lower level, rank, or state”; “an inclination downward”; and/or “a downward step (as in station or value”), as in decline. Darwin probably meant the word in this sense, also, in that philosophers and scientists and thinkers of all types before him had mostly viewed man standing apart from the rest of the natural world, standing above it (just a little lower than the angels). Darwin’s theory revealed man descending not from heaven, but descending (ascending) from lower life forms. This is the play on words.

In thinking about these things many generations after Charles Darwin coined the book title, in the context of all that has developed since his time, the subtlety and nuance of the play on words strikes me, but not in the way Darwin likely intended.

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