Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

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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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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Sizing Up God

December 26, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 147545805 Copyright: kamchatka

In ancient times people saw gods in the rocks and trees, idols they made and volcanoes and lightning and thunder. These were gods that were larger than they, but they were accessible. Their gods lived in their environment. Their gods were arbitrary, but they tried to appease them anyway.

Roman and Greek gods were larger than the material world, and they manipulated the material world for their own ends. They controlled volcanoes and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but they were human-like, even in their imperfections. People could approach them. People could reason with and try to appease them.

Buddhist, Hindu and Eastern gods are not defined by the rocks, trees, lightning and thunder. They do not simply manipulate the material world. They are intimately and intricately part of the material world, and the material world is an extension of them, and the entirety of the material world is all ultimately one and the same in its essence.

Many scientists, like Einstein, who stood in awe of the universe, saw “god” in this way. People can fathom these gods/this god and understand them/it and seek to become one with them/it because these gods are made of the same stuff as people and all of the universe ultimately. These gods cannot be appeased. We can only hope to understand them.

But these gods are too small.

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Integrity and Authenticity in Belief

December 8, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 13127659 Copyright: creatista

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller lately. Today I listened to an old interview in which he said something that got me thinking. He asserted that, for many or most people, whether they are religious or secular often depends on their social influences. I suppose this would mean parents and family as well as peers. Richard Dawkins, the famously vocal atheist has said similar things: what religion we are depends to a large extent on the society in which we grew up.

Keller supported his thesis with anecdotal evidence from his own experience. He says, for him, he was religious initially because he wanted to gain the favor of people closes to him. What does that say about the power of social interactions? What does it say about our beliefs? If Richard Dawkins and Keller are right, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

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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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