Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

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.

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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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Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Erhman – Part 6 – Postscript

May 27, 2018


I have taken some time in previous blog articles to summarize my comments about an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris. Ehrman talks about his early induction to a fundamentalist Christian world and losing his faith. He talks about the issues with biblical interpretation that led him away from belief.  I provide some comment on issues that factor into loss of faith, and the most recent articles address a modern view of miracles that avoids wrestling with evidence of the resurrection, and an observation that I share with others: that atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible similarly (two sides to the same coin).

On way to summarize Bart Ehrman’s story is the rejection of a rigid, wooden Christianity that imposes (or tries to impose) a “literal” meaning to everything in the Bible.  For Erhman, this is an all or nothing proposition.  Either it is all literally true, or it is all literally false.

As many people have noted, this is a false dichotomy.  It fails to appreciate nuance, different genres in the Bible, the significance of symbolic, metaphoric and allegoric meanings, context, and many other things.  It is the position of someone insisting that the Bible be read in a certain way and read through a particular lens, rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

When we approach the Bible, or any literature, with our own assumptions and presuppositions, we have already begun to dictate where we will end up. Ehrman originally approached the Bible with the assumption that it was all literally true (whatever “literally” meant to him and the people who influenced him). Ehrman now approaches the Bible with the assumption that it is all literally false, and that colors the way he reads it.

Harris’ example of Hume’s standard for determining the proof of a miracle comes back to mind.  If we set the bar “exceedingly” high, as Hume says we should, we rig the analysis, from the start, to discount every miraculous claim.  That the standard we have set is impossible to meet is the ultimate point.

This way of approaching a subject doesn’t seem very scientific or scholarly to me.  Yet, Harris is a scientist.  Erhman is a scholar.  While skepticism is a useful tool, it needs to be employed with a dose of humility, and the same skepticism should be applied to the “hermeneutics of skepticism” employed by the skeptic.

When the interview starts, Harris talks about people failing to use skeptical scientific tools.  Harris is, generally, referring to the scientific method. The scientific method is primarily a skeptical approach, demanding proof.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach.  The danger, however, is that we sneak all kinds of presuppositions into our scientific approach which, by their very nature, will dictate outcomes.  This really is not what the scientific method, in its purest form, is meant to be.

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Under the Sun

May 24, 2018


“What advantage does a man have for all the work he has done under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). The Book of Ecclesiastes is sobering, though it is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I was drawn to it in college because of the candid assessment of life that it reveals. That candid assessment was refreshing to me as a young adult as I surveyed life and my place in the world.

We work most of our lives to earn a living, to keep up appearances, to obtain things, to advance our station in the world, to keep our yards neat and clean. We go about our labors often without much thought for why we do it. I don’t mean that we don’t have goals. Of course we do, but our goals are temporal.

I am reminded of the carrot attached to a stick mounted on the harness of a horse. We chase after those carrots. When we catch one, there is always another carrot to chase. Often we don’t achieve our goals, and we are left unsatisfied as a result. The truth is, though, even when we do achieve our goals, we are rarely satisfied by having attained them.

The author of Ecclesiastes takes a step back from the busyness of life, as I was doing in college. The author contemplates the arc of life, the beginning to the end, and asks what it all means. We rarely do that. But, if you stop to think about it, what is the point? We labor and toil on this Earth through our 60, 70, 80 or more years, but for what? What do we get in the end?

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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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Can We Be Certain of God’s Existence?

February 14, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 5872621 Copyright: ccaetano

Can we be certain of God s existence? The short answer is, no. If the question is whether we can have something like mathematical certainty or proof, we have to answer that question in the negative. There is no evidence, no proof or argument that can provide certainty that God exists for finite beings such as ourselves.

Such evidence, proof or argument would have to be built on premises that are 100% certain, and that kind of certainty is impossible for beings that are not all-knowing. The best we can do is to put forth evidence, proofs and arguments that suggest a probability that God exists – to show that the likelihood is more probable than not that God exists.

To this extent, doubt is the common experience of saints and sinners alike.

To put this another way: Can we be sure that God doesn’t exist? The only certainty is that we can’t be certain.

Many believers have doubts, and many nonbelievers have their own doubts.

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Faith, Reason, Leaping & Falling

January 13, 2018

Parallel Sidewalks in Pest along the Danube river

I came to the conclusion in college that a person cannot reason his way to knowledge of God. I don’t remember all of the details that led me to this conclusion, but the conclusion was solidified for me in a lecture given by a professor on Western Civilization featuring Thomas Aquinas.

This lecture was given every year by this professor and eagerly anticipated by students at my college, which is why I attended it. As I remember the premise of the lecture, my memory of it being simplified now so many years later, science and reason can and does lead one to God. I determined then, and I believe now, that this is not true.

Not that science, reason and faith are incompatible. It’s just that science and human reason are not adequate for the task. Just as God must, necessarily, be Other than the material universe, we who are limited to the senses that are part and parcel of the material universe are limited in our ability to “see” and know anything beyond it.

The material universe consists of and is limited to the space/time continuum. By definition, God (if He exists) is Other than the space/time continuum. He is “outside” of space time. He is timeless and immaterial. Our science and our minds exist in space time and are limited to it and by it as a first principal.

In my way of thinking, a God who exists outside of this material world (our immediate environment) would have to reveal Himself to creatures such as ourselves. We could not “ascend” to Him.

Yet this is not to say that we can’t know anything of God. If such a God were to reveal Himself to us, we could know Him, but would we recognize the significance of that revelation? Jesus claimed to be a direct revelation from God. John, the apostle, said, “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” (John 1:10)

Is Jesus who he claimed to be?

I was influenced in reaching the conclusion I came to in college about the value of science and reason in this endeavor, no doubt, by Immanuel Kant and Soren Kierkegaard. They came to the opposite position of Aquinas. They essentially say it is impossible for a finite being such as ourselves to reason or discover our way to God. There will always be a gap in our knowledge that we will never be able to close by the reason and evidence that is available to us.

This made more sense to me. There will always be a gap between a finite being and an infinite being.

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