Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.
Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.
The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.
This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.
But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.
When I was in college, the first class I took was World Religions. Though I graduated with an English Literature major, I also had enough credits to be a Religion major. I didn’t need the dual major. I only took the religion classes because they interested me.
I also became a believing Christian during my college years. It was a transition that took place between that World Religion class and the summer between Sophomore and Junior years. It’s a long story that I might tell in detail some time, but the point for now is that I did a lot of reading and thinking about these things in those years and in the decades since. It doesn’t make me a theologian, but I have more than a passing interest.
Early on I learned that the creation story and flood story in Genesis, among other things, have counterparts in other religions, including other religions in the same area of the world – the Ancient Near East. Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, and other people groups had similar myths that have been uncovered from that general time period.
Zoroastrianism, in particular, was said to share many attributes similar to the ancient Hebraic view of the world, including the idea a singular creator God, a dualistic cosmology of good and evil, the ultimate destruction of evil, judgment after death, etc. The scholarly understanding when I was in college was that Zoroastrianism may have predated Hebraic thought and influenced it.
It occurred to me at the time, not having any reason to doubt that speculation, that Abraham may have been particularly open to his encounter with God if, indeed, he had lived in an area of the world and in a time in which there was this kind of influence. It made some sense. He was the right guy in the right place with the right influences setting the table for an encounter with God, the Creator of the world.
Recently I did some research on Zoroastrianism. Wikipedia acknowledges that Zoroastrianism has “possible roots dating back to the second millennium BC”, though “recorded history” of Zoroastrianism only dates back to the 5th Century BC. (Wikipedia). Obviously, dating the roots of Zoroastrianism back to the second millennium BC is just conjecture if records of Zoroastrianism only date to the 5th Century BC.
If we date the accounts of Abraham and his descendants according the biblical chronology and references, that history goes far back into the second millennium BC, but a loose consensus of modern archaeologists and theologians reject that dating in favor of first millennium BC dating. (See Wikipedia, for example) Modern scholars don’t take the Bible at face value. In fact, they presumptively dismiss it for its face value.
Scholarly views are not universal on this issue, of course. Not by a long shot. Some notable evidence and analysis exists that the modern consensus is wrong about the timeline for the life of Moses, the Exodus and other things. (See for instance Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy) The Patterns of Evidence conjecture is that historians and archaeologists who assume a particular timeline for certain events are not apt to see the evidence for those events if they occurred in a different timeline.
The Patterns of Evidence thesis is that evidence for the events described in the biblical narrative is there if we peer through the lens of the right timeline and look for them in the right time periods. Specifically, the biblical accounts of Moses, the Exodus and entry into the land of Canaan are apparent in the archaeological record and historical data on the biblical timeline (second millennium BC), not in the first millennium timeline applied by modern, skeptical scholars.
Certain archaeological finds, like the Ebla Tablets, also raise questions about the modern scholarly consensus. The importance of “looking” in the right places according to the right timelines is explored in Timing the Walls of Jericho.
Back to Abraham, though… he was reportedly from the area of Ur (southwest Iraq), which is quite a distance from the area of Canaan (later Judea) where he ended up – about 1600 miles in fact. In Ur, he may have come in contact with Zoroastrians and other influences. That intrigued me in college, and so I revisit that thought journey again today.
Leon Lederman has passed away today at the age of 96. “What’s the big deal”, you might ask. Well Leon Lederman is a big deal around these parts – Batavia, IL where I graduated from high school and where my office has been since 1994. That’s because Batavia is home to the Fermi National Accelerator Lab where Leon Lederman worked and earned a Nobel prize.
Leon Lederman was the director of Fermilab, as it is more commonly known, from 1978 to 1989, and was the principal driver behind the development of the Tevatron, the world’s highest-energy particle collider from 1983 to 2010. He also won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1988 for proving the existence of a new type of neutrino, muon neutrino.
Leon Lederman is a local, national and international legend. He taught for years at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL, which is a model for high school education for students from all over the state who are gifted in math and science. The law firm I started my career with and the predecessor to the present firm I am in drafted the legislation for IMSA, and we represented IMSA for many years even after I joined the firm.
On this day, it is more than fitting that I recognize the incredible person Leon Lederman was and the significant contribution he made to the study of physics and science. Among other things, Lean Lederman is the person who called the Higgs Boson the “God Particle” in a 1993 book he wrote by the same name.
On this day, therefore, I honor Lean Lederman by some consideration of that name he gave the Higgs Boson, which stuck somewhat to his own dismay.
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. It’s important to understand that 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.
Dr. William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher of the highest caliber.[i] He has multiple doctorate degrees and has taught at various colleges and universities. He is a prolific writer, and has debated nearly two dozen of the more outspoken atheists, agnostics and skeptical thinkers of the world on philosophical, theological and other issues.
In the short clip below, which is a segment from a longer interview on the various arguments (proofs) for the existence of God, he discusses an additional basis for knowing that God exists apart from rational bases for believing in God. This basis, or claim for the existence of God, is personal experience.
This is not an argument for the existence of God. It isn’t rational proof. Rather, it is more like a personal proof or confirmation of the existence of God apart from (not contrary to) reason. It isn’t a substitute for reason, but neither is reason a substitute for the experience.
The main ways that Dr. Craig (and most theists) usually discusses the proof of the existence of God is logic, scientific evidence and philosophy, but these aren’t the only proofs we have.
We might be apt in the western world to discount personal experience and to be suspicious of it, and for good reason. Charles Darwin was suspicious of his own intuition, being the product of evolution from lower life-forms.[ii] A good friend of his got lost in the morass of spiritualism, and that experience of seeing his friend get lost down the rabbit holes of irrational, spiritualistic notions influenced Darwin to distrust his own intuitions.
Phil Vischer, of Veggie Tales fame, got me thinking with his blog that poses the question: Is God Selfish? You really should read the article, but … (spoiler alert) … the answer is YES!
God takes a bad rap for being selfish in some circles, but (let’s face it), the answer is obvious. (Yes, … and He is jealous too!)
Again, read the article. Phil Vischer describes the selfishness of God in terms that even children who don’t like vegetables can understand. (Spoiler alert again) God is God, and he has a right to be selfish, and jealous, and…. well… He can just be and do whatever He wants. The world is His! He “wrote the book” as they say (with pun very much intended).
I know the idea of a selfish God doesn’t sit well in modern society. I have to admit that I am somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient God doing whatever the heaven He wants to do at times. I kind of like being in control and… well… it’s just plain unsettling.