Posted tagged ‘Charles Darwin’

The Myth of Human Rationality

November 17, 2018


Ed Atkinson was recently interviewed with Austin Fischer by Justin Brierly on his podcast, Unbelievable, on the issue of doubt. (A Tale of Two Doubters) The personal of story of both men involves their public dealings with doubt. One ended up on the unbelieving side of the faith divide, and the other on the believing side of the divide.

The point that intrigued me most about the discussion was when Ed Atkinson brought up Jonathan Haidt, who wrote a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionOne of the topics Haidt addresses is what he calls “the rationalist delusion”, which Atkinson summarizes as a “wild overestimation of our rationality that was … birthed to us in the Enlightenment”.

Atkinson says, “We like to think of ourselves as very rational beings [who] very rationally work and think our way through the world sorting through the syllogisms and … coming to what is the correct answer.” The work that Haidt and others have done on the subject have debunked that view of ourselves. Atkinson says, “Our decision-making process really isn’t very rational.”

I have often thought about this very thing. When I look back on my own journey, I recall that I went off to college with a passionate desire to discover meaning and truth, believing it was attainable, and having a very naïve confidence in the rationality of the human mind. What I found in college was a very mixed bag. Though my quest for meaning and truth never waned, my confidence in the rationality of the human mind was disappointed.

I came to distrust that confidence in myself and in others, especially in others whose confidence in their own rationality seemed unwavering. Elevated self-confidence often seems more like human will than pure rationality.

Since that time I have been continually disappointed in the rationality (or lack thereof) of the human mind, especially in those who seem to have no doubt about their own rationality. That I am sometimes guilty of the same over-confidence only adds to my disappointment and angst.

As a lawyer whose vocation is getting at the truth through the presentation of the evidence on both sides of a matter to a neutral judge, I have had generous opportunity to test human rationality. What I have found (over and over again) is that human rationality is affected by other things that have nothing to do with reason.

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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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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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The Evolution of C.S. Lewis

January 4, 2015

Flagstaff Mountain Flowers


C.S. Lewis had a profound influence on me as a thinker and as a man of faith. In this piece, I trace the evolution of C.S. Lewis in his thinking from materialist to theist.

We begin looking at Lewis a few months after his honorable discharge from the British Army following service in World War I at age 20. Lewis say fighting and was injured during the War. He published a book of poems, Spirits in Bondage, influenced by his experiences. The opening poem, Satan Speaks, paints a grim portrait of nature and the way that young Lewis had come to view the world. (more…)

Connecting to Our Theological Hardwiring

December 22, 2014
Julia4 at Hershey

Jesus instructed His disciples to let the children come to Him, and he instructed His disciples to become like children to enter the Kingdom of God.

“Faith comes naturally and normally for children. Certain assumptions about the world and its creator seem to arise intuitively at an early age. For example, children tend to believe in spiritual beings without any trouble, and they distinguish between fairy tales and God in sophisticated ways. They believe the world was made for a purpose and by something greater than human beings. Essentially we have the beginnings of theology in some way hardwired.” (A statement from an article in Christianity Today, The Great Congruence of Science and Faith.)

Faith and science hardly seem to be a place of congruence in popular opinion and even less congruent with that popular opinion is a statement about theology hardwired in children. Or is it? Charles Darwin once commented that he could not trust his “inward conviction… that the Universe is not the result of chance”. (The Darwin Project, UK) Darwin recognized the “hard wiring”, but he rejected it on the basis of evolutionary principles. (See also Random Thoughts on Evolution)

Children come by this inward conviction naturally; adults have a harder time with it. Modern thinkers might say that other things are hardwired into people, such as sexual tendencies and gender identity. The Bible recognizes that we are born into sin, which is why we need to be born again. There is something in the way a child approaches the world, however, that is productive toward faith.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” (Luke 18:16) The context in which He spoke those words is as important as the words themselves. People were bringing small children to Jesus for him to pray for them, but the disciples attempted to keep them away from the important things Jesus was doing. Instead of continuing with whatever he was doing, Jesus stopped and welcomed the children. Then he said something even more important:

“‘Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” (Luke 18:17)

God does not want us to lose that “theological hard wiring”. We have in us a tendency toward sin as well as a tendency toward faith. Paul would say that truth is written on our hearts so we are without excuse, regardless of the intellectual gyrations we use to quash that hard-wired tendency to believe in God.

As we get older, we become more self-sufficient and more self-important. We become more dependent on ourselves, and we have a hard time allowing anyone or anything to dictate to us. We blaze our own trails. We chart our own courses. We separate from our parents, and we separate from God. We lose the wonder of childhood. We become jaded, hardened and tend toward the sinful tendencies if we are not careful.

Disillusioned Politician


Is it any wonder that we need to be born again to see the kingdom of heaven? We need a different approach than what we would naturally take as we get older. We need to become like a child to approach God, stripped of the self-reliance that we strive to attain as adults.

Faith opens the eyes of the believer up to the wonder of God in the world. The congruence of faith and science and reason and the reality in which we live is natural and normal, but we live in a fallen world that is tending away from God, tending toward destruction and decay. Faith takes us in a different direction.

At the end of the day, what is more reliable about our ability to reason over that inward conviction? Both reside in finite human frailty. One will take us to the gate of heaven; the other will take us no further than the grave. One is not more prone to error than the other. Or is it?

Without faith we will not see the kingdom of heaven. If we will not receive what God has provided for us like a child, we cannot grasp it at all. The congruence of faith and truth is found in God who can only be worshiped in spirit and truth. Spirit requires that we let go of our own conceptions that are limited by our finite experience and knowledge and ability to reason and open up to what God would reveal to us.

To approach the world like children, as God instructs us, is to remain open to correction and change of direction as God would guide us. In fact, in the same context in which Jesus said we must be born again, Jesus added:

“‘You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:7-8)

If we are to be born again, born of God, was must be open to the influence of God, to the direction of God. We must be sensitive to the wind, the breath of God, His Holy Spirit. Like a child, we may not always be happy or understand the direction that we are going, but a child would not think to go in any direction apart from God in whom and on whom we are utterly dependent. We need to plug into the hard-wiring God built into us that is connected to Him and walk away from any sinful tendencies we might have.

Reprinted from NavigatingByFaith

Random Thoughts on Evolution

November 15, 2014

sad chimpanzee


I am fascinated by the Theory of Evolution, but it is more of a curiosity than anything else. How can so many scientific people be so religiously attached to one principle? I am no scientist. I will admit that; at the same time, I note that many rational people are downright dogmatic on this topic.

I have also not heard an evolutionary explanation of the origin of all things, including man, that makes sense to me.

I am not talking about evidence for evolution seen in the adaptation of species over relatively short periods of time. I think there is sufficient proof of evolution in that sense. I am talking about the big picture, the forest, not the trees. Evolution does not satisfactorily explain the big picture, not even close, and it seems to me that the forest gets lost in the trees. (more…)


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